Giles closed his door, then faced Xander and Buffy.
"I need to know everything that occurred, right down to the last detail," he said.
Buffy took a seat on the edge of his bed. She felt a little fluttery, like a witness in a crime investigation. Dawn was downstairs with Spike, trying to coerce him into eating, but the offer of week-old tofu nuggets didn't set well with any of the living kind.
"Well, okay," Buffy began. "I went out for groceries this morning. There was traffic, and with the rain, I took a detour through a park, the same park in fact that I passed by on patrol last night. It's a sweet place, feels kinda charged somehow. I was thinking Willow should check its energy. Anyway, there was this white flash and a ball of crackly energy. It looked like a... I don't know... a light porcupine."
"Porcupine?" Xander said.
She nodded, "Beams of like shot out of it, and then - whoosh - there was Spike."
Giles scrubbed his forehead. "Just like that?" he said.
"Yep," Buffy said.
"Did you hear anything? Chanting, or a song? And were there any smells, perhaps. Incense, sulfur?"
"Smells, no. Songs, no," she said. "Nothing like that. One minute I'm walking home in dreadful, hair-damaging humidity and the next, ex-lover, ex-vampire magically appears in a crackling ball of plasma. I did mention the ex-vampire part, right?"
Xander leaned forward. "This is like Category 5 on the strangeness scale, Buff. I mean, you didn't happen to make a wish, did you? Cause he's used a vengeance demon before..."
"W-wish?" Buffy said, quickly. "No. It's not like that. It's different. He's different. Didn't you see? I don't know what's happened to him, but we'll find out once he's settled in..."
"Settled in?" Giles said, sounding alarmed. "We can't just..."
Buffy scoffed. "Can't just what, Giles? Where would he go? We can't just turn him out on the streets."
"I think we're the street-turning-out sort where he's concerned, Buffy," Xander said. "Something doesn't feel good here. I'm sensing definite wrongness."
Buffy shook her head. "You're wrong. This feels... right," she said.
Xander sputtered toward ungainly speechlessness. Giles studied Buffy for a moment more, making her insides go all squirmy in the CSI way.
"I'm gonna go check on Spike and Dawn. I think he needs rest. We'll learn more tomorrow," she said. Buffy got up to leave the room. "Don't go all grave-faced with concern. It's gonna be okay."
Once she closed the door, Xander wheeled on Giles. "It is not gonna be okay," he said.
"It's not him," Giles said.
"Oh, he is much with the blameliness," Xander said. He caught himself. "Wait. When you say not him, you mean as in not Spike?"
Giles reached for a book on the middle shelf near the door. "Buffy's judgement is clouded. We should call Willow. We need her back here as soon as possible."
"I'm on that," Xander said. "But Giles, if it's not him, what is it?"
Giles leafed through the book. "It's up to us to find that out," he said.
Buffy went straight down to her room. Dawn sat in their sitting area with her cell phone in her hand. The lamplight carved deep shadows under the curtain of her hair and in the hollows of her eyes. These days, Dawn departed from looking anything like a little girl. Tonight was one of those times.
"What did they say?" Dawn asked when Buffy came in.
Buffy sighed. "That there's something wrong."
"But there isn't. Is there?"
"Magic 8-ball says 'try again later,'" Buffy said. She crossed the room to stand near her sister. "I'm not ready yet to ask those questions. I don't think he could answer them, besides. And since we live nothing resembling normal lives, I'd say anything is possible."
Dawn leaned forward in her chair. Her hair fell around her face, obscuring it completely. "I wanted to call my friends. Y'know, Lane or Mickey, or Tamryn. But how can I explain this? Hey, one of my old Sunnydale chums just popped in. Literally."
"You could say that, Dawn. Abridged version suits most folks fine," Buffy said. She ran her hand over Dawn's super silky hair.
Dawn looked up at Buffy. "I think I'm gonna turn in, okay? Long day." She slipped away from her chair and headed for the door. She paused, hand on the doorknob. "Is it okay, to be glad that he's here?" Dawn asked.
"No," Buffy said, surprised. "No, we're glad. We should be glad. Brimming with gladness, see?" Buffy gave Dawn a toothy grin.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "That's kinda scary. You, with all those teeth. You should never do that," she said. She pointed to Buffy's door. "He's in your room. Sweet dreams."
"You too," Buffy said.
Buffy waited until Dawn's door was securely closed before knocking on her own. There was no answer.
"Spike," she whispered, pushing the door open. She found him sleeping, chin to his chest, in the chair beside her bed.
Buffy took his hands. "That can't be comfortable," she told him. "Come on, lie down."
She moved him to the bed, pulled back the covers and helped him slip beneath.
"Resting," he said.
"Yes you are," she soothed. She tucked him in, feeling once again like the attendant to a weary child.
She waited for a long, silent moment, watching him. She realized after a time that she was watching the way his chest rose and fell with every intake of breath. When she was sure he had gone back to sleep, Buffy settled in to rest in the chair.
"Buffy," he said, barely audible.
"Why am I here?" he asked.
Buffy reached to take his hand.
In her dream, she walked along the shore of the lake where she found him. The scene glowed with a Thomas Kinkaide quality, the kind of glowiness that made Buffy immediately check the surroundings for lighthouses and quaint little fishing boats. She could hear a low humming noise, like the sound of machinery in the distance. Otherwise, all was quiet and still.
As she strolled along the bank, though, small caterpillars drifted down from the trees on silken webs. They were few at first. Followed by more. Followed by too many. And they gleamed faintly, like tiny pulsing stars.
Buffy dodged them. She didn't want them to touch her skin, but soon there were so many she could not dart between them. The webs clogged the air. Soon what seemed beautiful suddenly seems repulsive and terrible. Buffy started to run. The caterpillars scraped her skin. The strands tangled in her hair. She could hear them – a continual clicking sound that made her eyes water and her stomach turn.
They were eating.
Suddenly, the air filled with water and webs turned to stinging rain. Lightning split the sky. Deafening thunder tore the earth from beneath her feet. As Buffy ran, the ground changed from spongy grass to rain-slicked cobblestone. She nearly tumbled, but a passer-by fleeing the storm caught her elbow.
"Hold steady, there," he said. He tipped his soggy hat and disappeared behind curtains of blinding rain. Buffy reeled for a moment before hearing another separate thunderous sound behind her. It was hoof-beats on the cobbles, bearing down on her fast. Buffy leapt clear as a horse-drawn fire engine crashed by. She turned to see the sky ahead, low clouds tinged red with flames. People scattered, all of them reaching, shouting, searching. They climbed over her, pressing her backward. Buffy floundered among them, jostled along by frightened people in nightgowns and soaked overcoats.
But above all of this, Buffy heard the sound of someone crying.
No one else marked it. No one took note of one weeping child. Buffy elbowed her way through the crowd in search of the sound. She found her way to the mouth of a grimy alley, where a small boy cowered behind a filthy trash bin. The boy hugged his knees to his chest, rocking and weeping to himself. Beneath a wasted waistcoat, his pajamas were sodden. His one remaining slipper clung useless to his left foot.
"Hey," she said. She came around to stand in front of him. He didn't respond.
"Hey," she said again, leaning closer.
The boy looked at her from his wide blue eyes, and she knew him.
Buffy awoke with a start. Spike still slept, still drew breath. All was well, creepy caterpillar dreams aside. But Buffy prickled with unease.
Something was coming. No, something was here. Downstairs, in fact, bumping around in the entry hall. Buffy crept across the bedroom. She took a stake from the dresser drawer. At the door, she tensed and listened. There was a jingling sound, followed by brisk, purposeful rustling.
Buffy slipped through the bedroom door and then the door to her suite. Footsteps. She heard definite footsteps on the hardwood. Since it was a something on the inside, Buffy ruled out a vampire threat. Demon, then. She traded the stake for a crystal candy dish from the table in the hall. Handy for head bashing, and also after-dinner mints.
She held it aloft and waited in the shadowy corner. The something came with slow and steady steps up the stairs. Buffy craned her neck to see it on the landing below. Lighting flashed, illuminating a halo of red hair.
Willow shrieked. She danced a quick, silly little dance. "Buffy, don't do that," she said.
Buffy took one step toward Willow, candy dish still above her head. "What are you doing home?"
"Not getting dashed with a candy dish, I hope," she said.
Buffy lowered the dish. "No, of course not. I was just..."
"Posing for a life drawing class?" Willow offered.
"Something was coming," Buffy whispered.
"That would be me," Willow said.
"Giles called you," Buffy said. She crossed her arms. "He called you home from Slayer recruiting."
"Actually," Willow said, walking up the stairs to stand in front of Buffy. "Xander called. He said Spike's here."
"Spike is here," Buffy said. "And you're here. And Kennedy's..."
"In Scotland. Enjoying our lovely weekend rental sans Willow. Buffy, Xander said there was something wrong," Willow said.
Buffy took Willow by the elbow and moved them back downstairs, far from the possible hearing range of Dawn and Spike.
"Nothing's wrong," Buffy said. "He's human, Wil. Heart beat. Pulse. The whole package. Walking on sunshine. Or, in sunshine. He's a little shell-shocked."
"Oh no. He wasn't in the place of harps and lambs and happy white clouds, was he?" Willow asked.
Buffy shook her head. "No. Less happy, I think. It was either hell or LA."
Willow shrugged, then nodded.
"And he sleeps a lot," Buffy added.
"Of course he does. He's been through hell," Willow said.
"We think," Buffy said. Then amended, "I think."
"Right. Okay," Willow said. "I kinda have to ask, Buffy, so don't freak. We know the who, but about the how..."
"Short answer is, I don't know," Buffy said. "That's pretty much the long answer, too. We just need some time to let him wake up. You know, move around. Adjust. It took me a while..."
"I remember," Willow said, frowning. "Maybe you should try and sleep. We'll all feel better in the morning."
"Yeah," Buffy said, distractedly. "In the morning."
Willow stroked Buffy's shoulder. They turned and went back upstairs.
Buffy paused outside her door. "I'm glad you're here," she told Willow. "And I'm sorry about your getaway plans."
"Hey," Willow said. "We live here, right? It's all just a train-ride away."
"You rock," Buffy said. She stepped back into her rooms, and went in to sleep in her not-so-comfy comfy chair.
Willow continued to the third floor, but went past her own apartments. She went to Giles' door and knocked softly.
"Giles?" she called. "It's me."