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Never Alone

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NEVER ALONE

by Lilachigh

 

Chp One - Memories

They were flying to Italy in the morning: she’d emptied the fridge, put out the garbage, cleaned their rented apartment and now Buffy stood gazing at her over-flowing suitcase, wondering how she’d managed to collect so many new clothes in such a short time. For someone who’d lost everything, there was still too much to cram into one case.

"Dawn! Have we got a spare suitcase? Dawn!"

There was silence in the apartment and Buffy wearily sank down onto her bed, remembering that Dawn had gone to the airport to say goodbye to Willow and Kennedy as they flew off to England. Buffy had said her goodbyes earlier. She felt she’d spent too many hours lately waving at people as they went through barriers to catch planes - Xander, Giles and Andrew, Faith and Wood - off to start their shiny new lives. They had all seemed so - so well, she wouldn’t say happy exactly, especially Xander, but hopeful that the worst was now behind them and that the future could only be brighter.

And of course, it was going to be brighter. She gazed at her reflection in the bedroom mirror and forced it to smile cheerfully. She was good at that. She’d learnt that no one wanted her to be sad. She’d won a mavellous victory, changed what it meant to be a Slayer, altered her own life forever.

Sometimes she was reminded of the time when Willow had brought her back from the dead. Her nearest and dearest wanted her to smile and be happy and cheerful. Then they could relax and be happy themselves. Every time she tried to talk about what had happened, about Sunnydale, about Spike, one of them would change the subject. Not as if it was too painful to think about, more that it was too difficult. She wondered if she was the only person who thought about him? Dawn had mourned briefly for the Spike who’d been her friend: the vampire without a soul. She’d never seemed too keen on the new variety.

But Buffy knew why. In Dawn’s world everything was black and white, sad or happy. Buffy had even wondered a couple of times if Willow had put some sort of spell on them, to help with the grieving. How could Dawn accept without comment that their mother’s grave no longer existed, that everything that made their life special had vanished?

“They’re just possessions, Buffy,” Willow had said once when she’d challenged her. But every possession also carried a memory with it. Good or bad, weak or strong, woven into the fabric of life. Buffy’s life had thousands of tiny holes scattered across it.

Obviously people were far more important. But then Willow hadn’t lost Kennedy, Faith hadn’t lost Robin, Dawn hadn’t lost her. And Xander... well, she didn’t understand him. He never mentioned Anya any more. That was since the one night when she’d tried to talk to him about Spike. “I don’t want to hear his name again, Buff. I’m so glad he died!” he’d snapped. “Andrew told me Anya - went - quite close to the end of the fight. Trust your lover to leave it too late. If he’d died sooner, she would still be alive.”

Buffy was guiltily glad that Xander wasn’t coming to Italy with them. And, of course, as everyone kept telling her, it was going to be great over there. Giles, Willow and Kennedy would be so much closer in England, Dawnie would be at a good school, and there were all the European potentials to train, yes, she was going to be busy, busy, busy...

And completely alone.

The thought tore through her mind, ripping at the scars in her memory that would never, ever heal. She lifted her hand and gazed at it. No damage, no marks, not even a blister to show where the flames had twisted and blazed as Spike’s hand had grasped hers. There was nothing to show that William the Bloody had ever existed, had ever fought and killed, and laughed and loved. Nothing, except the world he’d saved, of course.

Angel had said very little on the phone when she’d spoken to him. He was glad the pendant had worked. Sorry about Spike. Sorry about Sunnydale. Did she want to meet up... ? She’d said no. Perhaps later when she’d sorted out her plans. She’d realised she couldn’t face him just now. Was he truly sorry that Spike had died? She couldn’t tell from his voice and didn’t want to look into his eyes and see relief, guilt, even satisfaction.

The buzz of the doorbell jerked her back to the present. “Dawn Summers, don’t tell me you’ve lost your key again! I’m going to get you a chain for it when we get to Italy and then...Clem!”

A timid wave of droopy skinned fingers, a beaming smile from amidst the folds of skin and a “H..Hi Buffy. Good to see ya.”

“Clem!” She found herself hugging him, losing herself in his voluminous grasp. “What on earth are you doing here? I’m so pleased to see you. Come in, come in! Can I get you something? A beer, chips?”

“No, Slayer, that’s OK. I’m good.” He shifted from one foot to the other, still smiling, but she could tell he was feeling uncomfortable. “Nice place.”

She shrugged. “It’s OK. We’re off to Italy tomorrow. Dawn and me, that is. The others have all left. How did you find me? You know....” The words stuck in her throat, but she had to say them, “You know about Spike”

She watched fascinated as a tear spilled out of the demon’s eye and rolled down and along various folds of skin to vanish and never be seen again.

“Yes, that’s why...he said if he....if it happened....well, this came for you!” He thrust his hand into a voluminous bag he wore slung over his shoulder and produced a battered parcel. Badly wrapped, the sticky tape just holding it together.

The hairs on the back of Buffy’s neck stood up. Every muscle in her body shouted ‘Vampire’ and every nerve shouted ‘Spike’ “For me?” she whispered.

“Yup. It’s...it’s from Spike.”

“He posted me a parcel!” The only coherent thought in her head at that moment was ‘Spike wouldn’t know where the Post Office was in Sunnydale!’

“No. It came by hand. You know, one demon to another. Cross country. Sort of pigeon post but by, well, by us demons, demon post, I suppose.”

“And no one opened it?”

Clem looked hurt. “It was from Spike,” he said as if that explained everything.

Buffy sat down abruptly on the sofa and Clem placed the parcel on her lap and anxiously edged away towards the door. “Well, got to go, Slayer. Parked in a no parking zone. Don’t want to get fined. Have a good trip. See you when you get back.”

Buffy didn’t hear him go. The blood was roaring through her head making her dizzy. She touched the parcel with gentle fingers. The words Buffy Summers were written in a fine black script. Spike’s handwriting. How did she know that? Had she ever seen anything he’d written? The paper gave way at her first touch and she heard herself gasp - a hard, hurting sound. One of Spike’s red shirts lay underneath, the sleeves tied tightly together to hold something else inside. She could smell him - leather, cigarette smoke, the very texture of his skin. Her fingers trembled as she touched the soft material, remembering the times she’d ripped at it in passion, in lust, with the love she’d never admitted until it was too late.

Tucked inside the knot of the shirt was a piece of paper. For long seconds she couldn’t force herself to pull it out. It was a page from the calendar that had hung in the kitchen now buried deep in the Hellmouth. On the front a picture of cute kittens, on the back -

‘Have a feeling I’ll be long gone when you get these, luv. Know you haven’t got time for memories now. But you will. Always yours.’

The knotted sleeves were no problem to Slayer fingers. The shirt fell open and she stared at the two gifts he’d wrapped inside. Gifts that in all that chaos, Spike had thought to find and send off into the blue, into the future, in case she came through unscathed. The framed picture of herself and Dawn and her mother that she had thought was lost forever. And a battered, rather dirty, much loved, stuffed toy pig.

* * * *

"Buffy, I don’t understand. You’ve cancelled our flights to Italy and now I’m going to England to stay with Giles and Willow instead!" The whine that had vanished recently from Dawn’s voice was making a rare appearance.

Buffy bit her lip. "It’s only for a few days, Dawnie. I - I’m just not ready for Italy yet, and I certainly don’t want you out there on your own! I’ve heard far too much about Italian boys. I’ve booked you on a flight to Heathrow. Giles will meet you and I’ll join you as soon as I can. Then we’ll go on to Italy together. Hey, perhaps we can hire a car and drive down through France and over the Alps. That’ll be fun!"

A look of pure horror crossed Dawn’s face at the thought of her sister driving them through Europe in a strange car, then realised it had been a deliberate ploy to change the subject. "This is all about Spike’s parcel, isn’t it?" she said softly. "Since Clem, you‘ve been acting weird."

"It was weird receiving it," Buffy murmured. "I so still can’t get my head round the fact that in all that chaos, Spike thought of doing that for me. He found the photo and Mr Gordo, parcelled them up and arranged for demons to deliver them to me if I survived. I mean, come on, Dawn, would you have known where to find sticky tape and wrapping paper with all those girls in the house? Can you imagine Spike standing in line at the Post Office to have it weighed?"

"Yes, OK, major weirdness and niceness and, yes, it was lovely to see that photo of you and me and Mom and even though I’m way to old for stuffed toys, perhaps you’re not! But what can you do about it, Buffy, except be pleased and sad and fly off to Italy!"

"I don’t know, Dawn. I just feel that there’s something I have to do. Something...I don’t know exactly, that needs doing and I’m the only one who can do it. What’s more, I have the strangest feeling that I need to do it in a hurry."

"Something about Spike? But he’s dead, Buffy!"

No matter how many times Buffy heard or thought those words, she had the same reaction. Cold shivers ran across her body, but the skin on her hand that had twined, blazing with Spike’s as he died, felt as if it was on fire again. "Yes, I know that. We wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t!"

But I was dead once, no twice, she thought sadly. And here am I with a nice new life, with good friends and perhaps even Angel still there, waiting. All because Willow magicked me back. So...what if... A frisson of anticipation made her shudder. What if Spike was - somewhere - waiting for help, for a call that never came. She’d been happy and contented in her heavenly dimension. But Spike... She knew he wasn’t the sort of man who’d be content to just exist, to be warm and happy and nothing else. He was a warrior, a fighter. She’d gone gracefully, almost gladly to her death when she jumped off the tower. But Spike had gone to his fighting until the flames consumed him.

Surely he wouldn’t have gone somewhere dreadful. Was there another Hell, a spiritual Hell under the Hellmouth? But he’d done a lot of good in the end, she reasoned. He’d sacrificed himself for the world, just as she had done. So why wouldn’t he have gone to the same heavenly dimension as she had? Because you were finished and he wasn’t. The answer came as swift as a knife stroke. And she knew as plainly as if it had been written in blood on the kitchen floor, that Spike was somewhere, in some far-off dimension, waiting and he would know that the only person who could help him, who would even want to help him, was her. And even as she thought that, she could hear a voice, somewhere, echoing in her head, ‘I’m running out of time, pet. You’d better hurry.’

"Dawn, I’ve changed my mind! I’m coming with you to England tomorrow. I need to speak to Willow urgently!"

England was being very English when they arrived. A pearly grey sky and a fine drizzly rain that covered their hair and clothes in a sparkling mist. The flight had been uneventful. Buffy had tried to eat the meal, watch the movie, but all she could hear was that low, unmistakable voice, saying over and over again, ‘Hurry, hurry, hurry!’

"Buffy," Dawn whispered as they made their way outside, "everyone talks like Giles and Spike!"

The drive down to the west country, to the ancient city of Bath was smooth, motorway all the way. Giles had sent a car; the chauffeur was polite but non chatty. Dawn fell asleep in five minutes and Buffy sat stiffly upright with her sister leaning against her shoulder, wondering how she could possibly have imagined driving in this country when you were on the wrong side of the road to start with. But then, hey, she usually ended up on this side of the road, anyway, so perhaps no biggie there!

She tried to remember if Spike had ever spoken about the last time he was in England. His history with Angel and Dru had been so complicated and there were huge gaps in her knowledge. ‘I just wish you were here to show me all this,’ she whispered. ‘Then I wouldn’t feel like such a stranger.’

And she imagined she could hear his voice saying, ‘God, pack of bloody Colonials arriving to take over the place. Better mind your manners, pet. Oh, and did I mention recently, bit of speed on your part would be appreciated!’

Giles’ apartment was the top two floors of a beautiful, graceful Regency house in the Royal Crescent. Buffy remembered him telling her once that his apartment had been built a hundred years before Spike was born. She wondered if Spike had ever been to Bath. William had, perhaps. She could picture him, wandering around, reading Jane Austen, peering at the beautiful Abbey through the spectacles he’d told her he’d worn. Or had Spike and Dru cut a swathe through the polite society people one night. Perhaps the Roman Baths had run red with blood and no one had known who was responsible for the carnage.

When the Summers sisters arrived, everyone was there, including three British potentials who were going to Italy to start training. Giles looked delighted to see Buffy and Dawn, but rubbed his glasses endlessly on his tie, obviously harassed, saying that with all these changes of plan, his home was getting as crowded as the house in Sunnydale and there was only one bathroom so everyone would have to be very, very patient!

"Buffy," Willow said quietly as Dawn went off with the young girls to explore. "What are you doing over here? What’s happened. Why aren’t you in Italy?"

Buffy explained about the parcel, "And Will, I know it’s ridiculous, but I feel there’s something I have to do, and I don’t know what it is. What I do know is that I have to hurry. Will, when you brought me back..."

"Buffy, stop. That was really dark magic. I needed things, did things - "

"But could you do the same spell and bring Spike back?"

"No! Buffy, you don’t know what you’re saying. I couldn’t bring Tara back. Don’t you think I would have, didn’t want to..."

"But you told me Tara died a ‘human’ death. That was why they wouldn’t let you. But Spike’s was mystical, like mine was. So surely..."

Willow turned away. "It isn’t possible. Glory’s magic was straightforward. Even The Council knew what it entailed. Getting you back from that was dangerous and difficult, but I knew where to start, what to do. The pendant that Angel brought you, the one that Spike was wearing when.... I don’t know where it came from, but I could feel that that wasn’t magic, exactly."

"What was it then?"

"It was a sort of power. More powerful even than The First. And so old, older than anything I’d ever encountered before. Buffy, I just don’t know how to help."

And if you did know, would you? The words trembled on Buffy’s lips, but she bit them back. Nothing would be gained by falling out with Willow. She could feel that mentally her friend had moved on. She had put Tara and Oz, Spike and Sunnydale, away in neat compartments in her brain. There was no way she was going to open up those boxes and explore the contents again. It would be far too painful.

The night dragged by painfully. Buffy tossed and turned on Giles’ sofa. She knew her Watcher was irritated by her behaviour. He’d said very little over dinner, laughing with Dawn about the amount of chicken legs she could consume from the vast bucket of fried chicken he’d sent out for. He’d told Buffy that Andrew was already in Italy, sorting out their accommodation, organising a place where they could begin to train the European potentials. He hadn’t actually said, ‘Why are you wasting your time over here?’ but she could tell it was on his mind.

At around three a.m., Buffy kicked off her blanket and stole out into the kitchen. Perhaps some hot chocolate would help her sleep. She had big decisions to make in the morning and was no closer to knowing what to do than when she’d left home. Moonlight was streaming through the kitchen window and she didn’t need to put the light on. She was worried about waking the others.

"Buffy?"
She spun round, almost dropping the carton of milk she was holding. "Jeez, Giles! What are you doing, lurking about at this time of night?"

Giles peered around theatrically. "Oh yes, my apartment, my kitchen, thought I might have sleep walked next door! I do live here, you know, Buffy."

"Sorry! Just jumpy. Can’t sleep. But will soon. Look, choclately goodness in a mug. Would you like some?"

"Ah, no. I have a very nice single malt here which is relaxing me after a rather stressful day." There was a long pause, then, "Willow told me about Spike and the parcel and what you asked her to do."

"Oh."

“I rather take it that you weren’t going to mention it to me?"

"I didn’t want to make a big thing of it."

"Buffy, credit me with some common sense," Giles snapped. "You change all our plans, fly across the Atlantic, want Willow to delve into the dark arts again, are obviously in a state of high anxiety and all because, yet again, of William the Bloody. It is a ‘big thing’ as you so succinctly put it."

Buffy took a sip of her drink. It coated her lips and as she tasted it, for a wonderful, mad second, she was back in Spike’s crypt one silly evening when they’d shared a big bar of candy after they’d made love and the chocolate had got everywhere, in all sorts of places and they’d lain their giggling as Spike insisted they had to lick it off each other ..... The sound of his laughter was so clear, she could have sworn he was standing in the room with her. But he was gone. And she was kidding herself. There had been a sweet, loving gift from her dead lover. But that was all there was. The rest was just her imagination.

"I’m sorry, Giles. I know you don’t understand. I can’t...I can’t explain. I realise I’m messing everything up for everyone. I’ll try and get myself sorted. I’ll start arranging for Dawn and me to travel on to Italy tomorrow."

She sat staring out at the moonlight after Giles had gone off to his bed, patting her fondly on the shoulder and telling her that he was sure she was making the right decision. Buffy turned with a sigh to finish her hot chocolate and stopped with it half way to her lips. Floating on the surface were little round marshmallows. Little white shapes that she hadn’t put there.

 

to be continued