It didn’t take her long to figure it out. Andrew was a sucky liar, and an even bigger coward. He could barely contain his excitement anyway, so it didn’t take much more than a clenched fist and a steely stare before he was spilling his guts enthusiastically. And Buffy was packing a bag before he even finished his long-winded tale. It was shocking enough to find out that Spike was still alive, let alone stand around and listen to Andrew's graphic account of what a psychotic slayer had done to him, embellished though it might be. God, she hoped he was exaggerating. She briefly considered calling Angel to find out, and decided against it. She still wasn't sure if she could trust him. She'd actually been feeling a little guilty about that, until she found out what happened to Spike. Now she didn't really want to give him the heads up that she was on her way.
An extra pair of jeans, some underwear. Pajamas. Toiletries. What did one pack for a rescue mission? The hell with it, she'd buy what she needed when she got there. She stuffed everything inside, snapped the lid closed, and dug her passport out of her nightstand drawer. When she turned around to leave, Dawn was standing there in the doorway, a duffle bag slung over her shoulder.
“No,” Buffy said, slipping past her.
“But, it's Spike,” Dawn answered, following at her heels like one of those annoying little dogs. "I know the whole back-from-the-dead-thing should be old news by now, but it's still kind of a novelty for me."
Buffy stopped abruptly and spun around, and Dawn nearly bumped into her. “How did you even know? Did Andrew tell you?”
She shrugged. “Didn't take much. He's scared of me. I have no idea why.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, it's not like you're scary or anything. And you still can’t come with me. You have school.”
"Think of it as a field trip."
"It might be dangerous."
"So is leaving me alone with all the cute Italian boys." Damn. She was right. "Besides," Dawn said again, "it's Spike."
"You don't even like him anymore," Buffy said.
"Well, yeah. But I still love him."
Buffy stared at her sister for a moment. "Okay, now I'm scared."
"I so get that."
Dawn grinned and held open the door.
The Wolfram and Hart elevator was as spacious and impressive as the rest of building. Even their canned muzak was better than most, though it didn't make the awkward silence between her and Angel any easier to take.
"This thing is, like, the size of my bedroom," Dawn said, looking around the elevator car. She'd had been in awe since they walked through the rather imposing front door. "Are you really the boss of all this?" she asked Angel.
He smiled at her. "It's a little complicated but, yeah, I guess so."
"Amazing what evil will buy you." Buffy could see Angel in her peripheral vision, staring up at the numbers with no discernable reaction. That just made her madder. She couldn't stand it anymore; she had to say something. "So, boss man, explain to me how you running Wolfram and Hart is a good thing."
He didn't look at her. "I don't think you're really in the right frame of mind for that conversation."
"Then why don't you explain how you let Spike get hurt? I'm really in the right frame of mind to hear that."
He shook his head. “Let him? If that idiot had just listened to me, nothing would have happened to him." He shrugged. "Besides, he’s going to be fine.”
Buffy couldn't believe what she was hearing. “You mean, except for that ‘no hands’ thing, he’s going to be fine?”
“I told you, they sewed them back on,” he grumbled. At least he had the decency to look a little embarrassed at that.
“Oh, that makes it all okay then. You're lucky that girl didn't cut off his head!"
Angel turned slowly and stared down at her, suddenly making her feel very small. His emotions had turned on a dime, his voice now quiet but unmistakably angry. “Well I’m not the one who decided to activate all those potential slayers with no thought as to the possible consequences. At least Spike will recover. Those other people Dana - that's her name, by the way, Dana - those other people she killed? They aren't so lucky.”
How dare he. Tears stung her eyes, and her hands balled into fists. Buffy took a step toward him, but just then the elevator dinged and the doors opened up.
"Saved by the bell," Dawn said, taking Buffy's arm and pulling her out into the corridor.
White-coated staff members hurried about, all of them looking like they were going someplace important.
"Where is he?" she asked Angel. He didn't answer, but turned right and started walking down the hall. He stopped in front of a door, crossing his arms over his chest.
Buffy paused in the doorway, looking at him through the partially open door. Seeing Spike was a shock, and not just because she'd thought he was dead up until recently. Even in those fantasies she sometimes allowed herself where he miraculously walked back into her life, he always made a grand entrance. Because that was Spike. It was never like this. His skin was as white as the sheets that were pulled up to his chest and the bandages that covered his arms up to the elbows. He didn't breathe. He didn't move. Buffy felt a little queasy.
"Is he okay?" Dawn whispered. "He looks dead. I mean...you know. Actually dead."
"He's just sedated," Angel said softly. "They had to do it for the pain."
Buffy looked back over her shoulder at him. He almost sounded...concerned. When she turned back to Spike, a woman walked into view. At first Buffy thought she was a doctor as she wore a white coat, but she wasn't acting very doctorly. She began to smooth the covers over his chest. She touched his face.
"Who are you?" Buffy asked, stepping into the room.
"I'm...Fred." She smiled. "Are you a friend of Spike's?"
"Oh! Buffy! It's so nice to finally meet you!" She smiled nervously, glancing over Buffy's shoulder at Angel. What the hell had he told this Fred about her, anyway?
"Are you Spike's doctor?"
"Oh, no. I work for Angel. I was just checking on Spike, making sure he's okay. And he is. Okay, I mean."
"He doesn't look okay to me."
"I..." She looked past Buffy to Angel again. "I know it must be a shock to see him like this, but he's being very well cared for here. I'm sure he'll be better soon."
"Well, I'm not. Sure, I mean."
"What are you talking about?" Angel asked.
"How do you know what they're doing to him? You're no medical expert. Have you really bought into all this, or are they using you? I haven't figured it out yet. But either way, I'll take it from here."
Angel sighed, clearly annoyed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm taking him out of here."
"What? You can't do that!"
"What do you care? Since when do you worry about what happens to Spike?"
Angel shook his head in frustration. "He's got the best medical attention he could ever receive here, Buffy!"
"That's true, Buffy. This is a state of the art medical facility. All the latest advances in..."
"In evil?" Buffy said. Fred's mouth snapped closed, and she gave Angel a helpless look.
"If you want to make this a fight, that's up to you, Angel. I am taking him out of here. I don't trust this place, and he's not staying here another minute."
"Don't you mean, you don't trust me? And did it occur to you that Spike never contacted you before this happened? What makes you think he wants you taking care of him now?"
Of course it had occurred to her. It's pretty much all she thought about on the plane ride over. Buffy looked away, back to where Spike lay motionless in the bed. How had things gotten so bad between her and Angel? And what about her and Spike? Why would he not even tell her he was alive? She'd have to think about all that later; Spike's safety was her priority now. She turned back and looked Angel in the eye, speaking quietly but firmly.
"I'm taking him with me. I've arranged for a medical transport, and it's waiting for us in front of the building. I'd appreciate some help getting him down there."
Angel stared at her for a moment, his expression unreadable. "Give her whatever she needs, Fred," he said, before turning on his heel and stalking back toward the elevator.
He'd been drifting in and out of consciousness - mostly out - for some time now. Hard to say how long, of course. The last thing he remembered was Angel coming to save the day, and in the nick of time, too. God knows what that crazy girlie would have cut off next. He couldn't feel anything below the elbow, and would have begun to panic if he was capable. As it was, he was too out of it to muster much of a reaction. He felt himself drifting back down toward unconsciousness and struggled not to, kicking his way up to the surface. With effort, he opened his eyes.
It was just before sunrise, from the smell of it. The air had a certain scent at that time that had become a warning to him over the years. Someone was in the room with him, too. Someone female. Someone familiar. His eyes fluttered closed again. Damn. He fought to maintain his tenuous hold on consciousness.
"Fred? Fred, s'that you?" He forced his eyes open again, and her face swam into view. "Buffy?"
"Sorry, but it's me," she said softly. God, it was her. It was Buffy. Maybe he was hallucinating after all.
"My hands...the girl. The slayer."
She nodded sadly. "She hurt you. I'm so sorry."
"Oh, no! They're not gone." She sat down gingerly on the side of the bed and picked up one of his hands gently in hers, holding it up slightly so he could see it. "See? They've been reattached. The doctor said it would take some time for you to heal. Nerves need to regenerate and that takes time."
He nodded, watching as she stroked the back of his hand. "Buffy?"
"Can you feel that?"
"No. Can't feel anything."
She let out a shaky breath and set his hand back down. "That's okay. Give it some time."
"Where am I?"
"We're in a place called Santa Maria, a couple hundred miles north of LA. I rented a bungalow. I brought you here to...until you're better."
He blinked hard, trying to stay awake. "Angel?"
"I took you out of the Wolfram and Hart medical facility. I don't trust them, Spike. If you knew the kind of things they were involved in...Spike?" His eyes had closed again.
"It's the medication. Are you hungry?" he heard her say.
But he was too tired to open his mouth. Too tired to speak, let alone eat. Too tired to say oh my God it's so good to see you. Please be here when I wake up. Please don't be a dream. That was the last thought he had before sinking into oblivion once again.
"So, are you going to tell me what's wrong?" Dawn placed a mug of blood into the microwave, punched some buttons, and leaned back against the counter, watching it spin.
"I don't know what you mean," Buffy said, turning the page of a newspaper.
"I mean, you went to all this trouble to get Spike out of Angel's 'evil grasp' or whatever, you spent nearly every waking moment in his room while he was out of it, but ever since he woke up you've barely seen or spoken to him."
"I see him. I speak to him." She turned another page. Just this morning she'd said...good morning.
The microwave dinged. "Here, why don't you take this mug into him. I'm sure he'd rather it was you holding the straw."
Buffy stood up. "I would, but I have to go to the grocery store. And the butcher shop. Do you need anything?"
"Yeah, a straight answer."
"Seriously, do you think he doesn't notice?"
She shook her head. He'd notice more if she went in there and made a fool of herself. "Look, I'm not good at taking care of people. You know that. I kill things for a living, remember? I've never even had a pet. All my houseplants are of the silk variety. But you, you're a natural."
"But he needs you," Dawn said to her retreating back. "Coward!"
Buffy got into her rental car and let her head rest against the steering wheel for a moment. God, she hated it when Dawn was right.
"So, big sis go out again?"
"Yeah. You're sucking down this stuff like...a thing that sucks blood."
"You mean, a vampire?"
She laughed nervously. "See? Makes perfect sense."
Spike nodded, watching Dawn's face carefully as she held the straw up to his lips. "You're a terrible liar, Nibblet." He slurped hungrily.
Dawn sighed. "Takes one to know one. And we really do need more blood. And Oreos. I'm afraid I'm the one sucking those down." Spike finished his blood and she set the mug on the nightstand. "I don't know why she's being all avoidy. She's been really worried about you. She does care. A lot."
"I know she does." Just not in the way he wanted her to.
"No, really. She's weird, I know, but I'm sure she has her reasons. I mean, there was the thing where you never bothered to tell us you were back from the dead and dusty. Might make a person think you didn't want to see them."
"Right." He sighed. "Hard to explain, that."
"It's okay. I get it."
"Yeah?" He wished she'd explain it to him.
"Look, I don't know what was going on with you and Buffy before, but I know it didn't work out like you wanted. And you and I weren't exactly best buds at the end, and that was partly my fault..."
"None of it was your fault, Sweet Bit."
His lunch sat heavy in his stomach like he'd drunk liquid lead. How the hell had he ended up here? An invalid, sewn back together like some Frankenstein monster. He kept trying to do the right thing, and he kept getting the proverbial short end. It was him, that's what it was. He was the common denominator. And now the two women he loved most in this world forced to play his nursemaid. He couldn't even feed himself, for Christ's sake. Plus, even though his legs worked fine, he'd been confined to bed rest by the demon doc that had come to check him out, courtesy of Rupert Giles. And Buffy didn't trust Angel.
It was about more than he could take.
"Spike...?" Dawn was giving him that look that always got to him, that please make everything better look. "You're going to be okay, aren't you?" When was she going to learn that he couldn't fix anything? And knew even less.
"How the hell do I know?" he answered darkly. He was surprised to see tears fill her eyes. Dammit, now he'd gone and done it. Hurt her feelings when she was just trying to help. "Hey, hey. None of that. Know I'm tough as an old piece of leather, yeah? C'mon, I'm sorry. Just sick of being trapped in this bed. Still, not as bad as being trapped in a wheelchair. Did I ever tell you about the time this bloody annoying slayer dropped a big-ass pipe organ on me?"
She giggled and swiped the tears away with the back of her hand. "Some random slayer, was it?"
"Oh, I don't remember her name. Muffy. Snuffy. Somethin' like that." She laughed out loud, and he nodded to the space on the bed next to him. "It's a hell of a story. Come sit with me and I'll tell you all about it."
The sound of his moaning woke Buffy almost immediately. Dawn was snoring softly in the bed next to her; she swore that girl could sleep through an earthquake. Come to think of it, she actually had, once. Buffy padded down the hallway in her bare feet and found him lying with teeth clenched, trying to be quiet.
"You should have called me," she said, taking the top off the medicine bottle and shaking two pills into her hand. She popped them into his open mouth, and then held a glass of water to his lips.
"Didn't want to wake you," he said.
"God, you're such an idiot." She reached out with her thumb and wiped away a drop of water that had dribbled down his chin.
"Must be comforting to know some things never change, yeah?"
Writhing in pain, and still making jokes. He was breathing hard and making an effort not to cry out, she could see. "Is this the worst its been?"
"Yeah. Feels like ants crawling under my skin." He shuddered. "And they're throwing tiny little hand grenades."
"The doctor said that's actually a good sign. It means you're healing."
"Great. 'Cept right about now I wish they'd never put my sodding hands back on."
"It'll take a little while for the medicine to work. Is there anything I can do?"
"Talk to me. Get my mind off it. Tell me what you've been doing in Italy."
"You want to hear about shoes?" she asked. He laughed, then winced, his arms jerking involuntarily. He wasn't wearing a shirt, and she could see the muscles of his upper body were tightly clenched. "You have got to relax," she said, reaching out to massage his shoulders. Leaning over him the way she was, it was hard to get the right angle, though.
To hell with it. She climbed onto the bed, careful not to jostle his arms, and sidled in behind him so that he was leaning back against her, her outstretched legs on either side of his. Her strong hands probed and prodded the muscles of his neck and shoulders, and she felt the knots begin to loosen.
"How does that feel?" she asked. He didn't speak, just groaned in appreciation. She continued to work out the kinks with her fingers, and as she felt him gradually relax, she lightened her touch until eventually his head began to loll on his neck and she knew he was asleep. She couldn't help but pause there for a moment; it had been so long since she'd been this close to him. Since those nights he'd held her and comforted her when she's been at her lowest. She pressed her nose against his neck, breathing in his scent, running her hands over the strong muscles of his back. The tears that stung her eyes caught her off guard. She scooted out from behind him, adjusting the pillows so he would be comfortable. When she slipped out of the room and into the hallway, she nearly ran over Dawn.
"I thought you weren't good at taking care of people."
"That? That was nothing."
"Yeah right. Look at him." The ambient light from the hallway fell across Spike's sleeping face. He was smiling.
"What's this, now?"
Dawn had tossed a large but thankfully lightweight package onto the bed, tied with a big red bow. "A going away present."
"Where am I goin'?" Maybe they were finally sick of him and would send him back to Angel.
"Not you. Me. I'm going back to Italy."
"Tired of bein' a Candy Striper, are you? Can't say I blame you..."
"Not really." Dawn looked over her shoulder, then sat down next to him and spoke in a low, confidential voice. "I thought I'd give you and Buffy some alone time."
Spike frowned. "Not sure that's such a good idea."
"Yeah, neither does Buffy, which is how I know it is. But...I want you to know that, that..." She was getting all choked up.
"It's okay that you leave, sweetheart."
"I want you to know that I'm really glad we got to spend some time together. Even though you had to get your arms chopped off for it to happen." She rolled her eyes. "Drama queen much?"
He laughed. "Me too, Little Bit. The spending time together part, at least."
"Okay, let me open your present for you!" She undid the bow with a flourish and lifted something blue and silky out of the box. "Pajamas, see? The perfect gift for the pathetically bedridden."
"Gee, thanks. Blue silk pajamas. What am I, Hugh Hefner?"
"Oh come on, you'll love them. They're silk. I spent a lot of Buffy's money on them. And the top is button down, so you won't have to worry about trying to get them on and off like those stupid t-shirts.
"Happen to like those stupid t-shirts." But he let her slip the top around his shoulders and over his arms, and he had to admit that the material did feel nice against his skin. Even though he felt damn silly.
Dawn nodded with satisfaction. "Yup, I was right. They match your eyes perfectly." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Sorry, but Buffy's going to have to help you with the bottoms. Bye, Spike."
He laughed. "See you soon, yeah?"
He watched her leave with a bit of a lump in his throat. Such a good girl, she was. Took good care of him. He'd miss her.
So. Now it was him and Buffy. Alone at last.