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The Moon Calls My Name

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Tuesday Night

 

Spike takes the stairs two at a time as he hurries toward home – his temporary home that was never meant to be home. The barebones apartment certainly doesn’t feel like home. Only she did, and she’s not here now. She’s gone off gallivanting around the world and living her life the way he hoped she would.

 

Only bothering with the key because he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself for once, he fumbles with the key and lock because his hands are shaking so badly. After several failed attempts with metal scraping over metal – strident to his enhanced hearing, he manages to slide the key inside and open the door.

 

Spike barrels across the living room and into the bathroom with the only storage space – the first place thieves would go in an apartment with no treasures. Thrusting open the warped wooden door, he sighs with relief that the ragged box that he stuffed on the top shelf is still there.

 

Tugging the cardboard down and dropping it on the floor, he crouches and flings open the neatly tucked flaps, rummaging through the papers and journals on the top – heedless that the fragile written words might disintegrate from decades of decay – and finally closing his fingers around the small bauble that he almost forgot about.

 

Spike slumps down – his back finding the wall behind him. He cradles the box in both palms. This is the only thing from Sunnydale that he has left. The rest is all bits and pieces from his life with Dru – bits he long stowed in a tiny rental space in L.A. It’s ironic that the box is from someone who almost brought about the end of the world with the slip of his knife along the Nibblet’s skin. The box used to make Spike want to howl in pain and grief, so he’d hidden it away, unwilling to view it but also unwilling to leave it lying about to fall into the wrong hands.

 

Spike doesn’t precisely know what the box can do, but he remembers the inscription and the rumors he’s heard in various supernatural circles.

 

Thumbing open the lid, he traces his fingers over the words carved there.

 

Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lulled by the moonlight have all passed away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life's busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

 

Spike knows the words well. The song was written and published when he was young but in America, and though he’d discovered it much later in his lifetime (if his vampire life counted), the words always touched his poet’s heart.

 

And now, they might be the key to everything.

 

The words carved into the bottom of the box are far from beautiful like Stephen Foster’s song. They’re in Latin and denote a spell that when paired with the symbols on the sides allowed one to communicate with the ones who were loved and lost. All Spike has to do is write a message on a piece of paper and tuck it inside. He’d been tempted when the woman he loves was lost to him, but he hadn’t let himself – his heart was too broken to bear it, but now he has a different mission.

 

Blinking away his musings, Spike scrambles to his feet and dashes to the kitchen, tugging open a drawer almost before he stops moving. He rips a sheet of paper off a notepad from the law firm, uncaps a ballpoint pen with his teeth, and writes a simple message to the young scientist whose body has only recently been overtaken by some ancient, powerful being – a being who was very recently a walking time bomb.

 

Are you out there?

 

He stuffs the paper in the box, closes the lid, and lets out a breath of air. Now, he only has to wait. For how long, he has no idea. Not taking his eyes off the box, he turns his body so that he can swing open the fridge and grab a cold bottle of his favorite beer.

 

* * *

 

Tuesday night

 

Buffy wakes from a nightmare – one of many nightmares that she has nowadays. Luckily, the dreams aren’t prophetic; she seems to have lost that power with her home. Maybe it’s because she’s no longer on a hellmouth. Or maybe it’s because she doesn’t sleep well anymore – not since she’s been circling the globe and dealing with the aftermath of the way she chose to save the world.

 

With each young girl Buffy finds, there are at least a handful of dead bodies – victims of the sudden appearance of demons and vampires in the girl’s life. Whatever the age or location, there is always sadness, some anger, and sometimes bitterness.

 

Somehow unwittingly, Buffy has stolen these girls’ childhoods. She and Willow and the scythe made the girls strong, but they’d also taken so much from them, too. Buffy should have known. She lived it. She’s never seen so many glaring eyes and tears and ironically enough, broken chairs and doorknobs and occasionally shattered glass. Their little band of rescuers has more than enough material for stake-making. Stakes for days.

 

Her nightmares aren’t about the devastation she’s created. Her nightmares are about him and how she almost rescues him but doesn’t in the end. He’s there but an elusive figure with a slash of bleached hair and a flash of black leather in the corner of her eye. She races after him and grabs his arm, but it’s either not him – a stranger with his shoulders and loping walk – or he burns up in front of her eyes as an echo of another vampire who’d held her heart in his hands.

 

Buffy has woken up screaming on more than one occasion, and Dawn, her bedmate, always wakes with Buffy, putting a loving arm around her shoulders and holding her. They both usually end up crying. Her sister knows what she’s upset about without her even saying. Sometimes, she thinks her little sister is psychic. Either that, or she’s learned how to read between her lines after all these years. Sisters know.

 

Tonight though, Dawn is out of their rented space – not even remotely a home when Buffy is alone, and the bed is cold. In her leftover panic from her dream, it takes her a minute to remember that her sister has a new friend – a witch her age in this latest stop whom she trusts enough to have a sleepover. And why not? She’s still young enough to want to stay up and watch chick-flicks, whisper about boys, and eat pickles and peanut butter.

 

Shivering and needing a break from her place of nightly torture, Buffy hugs her arms around her chest and climbs out of bed. Her bare feet shuffle across the soft carpet, which helps her wake up more. She pushes back the curtain with one hand and peers out into the darkness.

 

No matter where she goes, the night sky is still black and full of stars, especially if they’re far enough outside a city. She inevitably feels that pull to go out and hunt, to slay. . . something.

 

The full moon is big and beckoning with its cool white glow that reminds her of him, and though this country area is too small to have a sizeable cemetery to haunt, she is tempted to go out.

 

But Buffy remembers that Dawn is relying on her even though she’s close by in the larger city. The fear that her sister’s in trouble has gotten worse since Sunnydale, and in the end, the pull to be reachable wins over the urge to slay – a difference from before when the depression had consumed Buffy.

 

A heavy blanket of exhaustion settles over her shoulders, and with some reluctance, she lets the curtain fall back into place, shutting out most of the light.

 

She feels her way back to the bed and slides under the covers. Turning onto her stomach, she slips her hands under the pillow. Her fingers hit something out of place, and she sits up again. This time, she doesn’t rely on the hint of light around the curtains.

 

Instead, Buffy twists on the lamp and pulls out a slip of paper – a slip of paper that she knows without a doubt wasn’t under her pillow when she went to sleep earlier.

 

As her fingers open the folded bit of heavy parchment-like paper, she reads the words written in black calligraphy and frowns.

 

Are you out there?

 

A mixture of emotions tumbles through Buffy: confusion, irritation, anxiety. . . and love? Weirdness abounds, and her Slayer-Spidey-sense is all a-tingle.

 

Still.

 

Without exactly thinking (maybe she’s dreaming?), she tugs open the nightstand drawer and searches around for a pen. Pulling off the cap, she writes before she can talk herself out of it.

 

I’m here. Who are you?

 

Frowning with uncertainty and perhaps relief, she refolds the paper and stuffs it under her pillow. Turning off the light, she snuggles down and into darkness’s embrace. For some reason, she falls asleep without the fear of more nightmares.

 

* * *

 

Wednesday morning

 

Spike’s head is pounding when he wakes the next morning. Perhaps it’s because he drank every beer in his fridge while he played Crash Bandicoot and avoided looking at the box though it’s right next to him on the end table.

 

Now, his mind is bleary, which allows him to fumble for the lid and flip it open. Disappointment floods him as the same folded sheet of paper still rests where he left it – the creases tight and unopened.

 

Still, something – some instinct – tells him that he has to check. So, he does, his hand shaking as he smooths out the page. Of course, the side he picks is blank. He flips it over before he loses his nerve, and to his astonishment, there are words and not the words that he wrote. Something akin to peace fills his chest as he reads the message out loud in a soft whisper.

 

I’m here. Who are you?

 

Huh. The box works. Spike wasn’t crazy when he rescued it from the fire at Doc’s. The peace is replaced by suspicion as he considers where the trinket came from. Then again, Doc probably stole it, thinking he could harness the power somehow.

 

What if this is Fred? Soaring hope replaces the suspicion. Spike has to be sure before he tells Angel and the others. No need to excite them or cause them more grief for no reason. Despite himself, Spike cares about Angel and his crew. . . more than he ever thought he would.

 

The fingers of Spike’s left hand fold over his pen, and he writes another message underneath the one he received.

 

Fred? Is it you? Where are you? It’s Spike. We want to help you.

 

He tucks the paper with the new lines back into the box and closes the lid. Relaxing back, he stares at the object, willing it to work again. To keep from peeking, he decides to take a shower, wagging the treasure into the bathroom with him and setting it on the edge of the sink.

 

Nothing has changed when he finishes his shower, after he gets dressed, or before he walks out the door. So, he tucks the box in his briefcase and heads out into the dark early morning.

 

Spike passes the day at Wolfram and Hart, annoying Angel, ignoring Harmony, and looking in on the god occupying Fred’s body. Spike tries not to allude to anything, which isn’t his strong suit, and when Harmony calls him on his bad acting in late afternoon, he decides it’s time to bid the ole law firm adieu.

 

He stops at the liquor store on the way home, manhandling a couple of vamps who are threatening the shopkeeper. As he dusts the vamps without even setting down the briefcase and the box, he muses that not too long ago, he’d been batting for the other team. Until she came along and upended everything he thought he knew about the world and himself and Slayers.

 

Back at his apartment, he settles onto the sofa with the box and one of the five free bottles of whisky that the shop owner had gifted him. Both items seem to stare at him, and though he’s tempted to go for the alcohol. . . to retreat into oblivion, he chooses the box. Flipping open the lid before he can talk himself out of it, he discovers that the sheet of paper doesn’t contain anything new. His message is still there, unchanged. His heart sinks, and he snatches the bottle, slumping back onto the sofa and drowning his sorrow.

 

* * *

 

Wednesday morning

 

Buffy discovers that the slip of paper under her pillow is gone in the morning. Frowning, she wonders if perhaps she dreamed the whole thing about a message under her pillow from someone looking for her. Either that or she’s going insane. Shaking her head to hopefully rid herself of the vestiges of dreams and running her hand through her hair, she forces herself out of bed.

 

The carpet is cold under her feet, and she longs to be back under the covers now that she’s slept. Somehow, she finds the gumption to move forward, and she finds Dawn cooking eggs in their tiny kitchen.

 

Buffy finds her voice and discovers that it’s hoarse. “Hey.” She clears her throat and repeats the syllable, adding, “Have fun last night?”

 

Dawn regards her with concerned blue eyes. “Yeah. We went to Target and Starbucks in the city. It’s nice to be back in the States even if it’s just temporary and even if we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

 

Buffy isn’t sure she can enjoy anything with the weight of everything else, so she doesn’t reply. Shopping and coffee shops seem a million miles away and a lifetime ago.

 

“You sleep?”

 

Buffy jerks out of her reverie and nods, keeping her arms open and head up. She worries her sister enough. “I did. I had the strangest dream.”

 

“A nightmare?” Dawn starts to spoon scrambled eggs onto a large plate. “Want bacon?”

 

“Not really.” Buffy opens the squeaky and peeling cabinet door and snags a bowl; she opens a drawer and picks out a spoon. Both objects are smooth under her fingers, keeping her in the moment. She isn’t sure which question she answered.

 

As Buffy scoops up eggs, Dawn reaches around her, picking up the package of bacon on the counter. “Bacon is needed.” She settles another pan in place on the stove, peeling and placing strips of meat onto the nonstick surface. As the bacon starts to sizzle, she asks, “When is Willow getting here?”

 

“Tomorrow. Sans Kennedy. Thank goodness.” Buffy scrapes up eggs and eats them standing up and leaning on the counter. The eggs are warm and flavorful on her tongue. Dawn is always tweaking things when she cooks, and she’s gotten better at it.

 

“Thank goodness.” Dawn perches one foot against her knee as she flips the bacon. “It’ll be nice to just be us again.” She means like in Sunnydale. “Even if it’s just the three of us.”

 

“Three of us trying to convince a frightened Slayer to come out from hiding behind whatever spell she managed to cast.” The Slayer’s name is Abby; she’s ten years old and also a witch. Well, she has powers of some sort. Buffy thinks maybe the girl’s parents are dead, considering the blood they’d found on the property.

 

“Hopefully Willow will be able to see past all that.”

 

“Hopefully.” Buffy’s shoulders sag, and she pulls together all her energy to straighten them again.

 

Luckily, Dawn is too busy making sure the bacon doesn’t burn to notice. “Do you care if I go out with Bekah again this afternoon? She wanted to show me this bookstore with really old books. I thought maybe I’d find something that could help us with Abby.”

 

Buffy doesn’t want to be alone, and she doesn’t want to go. She stirs the eggs on her plate, making two little untouching piles like little islands in a vast sea of ceramic. “Sure.”

 

Dawn goes without much fanfare, driving the rental car away.

 

Buffy’s okay for the moment; somehow Dawn’s temporary presence grounded her. So, Buffy decides to shower. Though the rest of the place has its issues, the shower is perfection, and warm water pours all around her as her favorite shower gel scents the air. She stays in the water until it starts to cool, and then, she wraps her body and hair in fluffy towels and aims for the dresser where she and her sister have divvied up the drawers.

 

The act of dressing is soothing and familiar unlike the landscape of her current life. Undergarments, jeans, and socks go on with ease. But the blouse is different.

 

The blouse on top of the other blouses is one that isn’t new. It’s one she wore in the last days with him in Sunnydale. She’s washed it but still imagines him holding her. She usually avoids wearing it and doesn’t know how it ended up on top of her meager pile of clothing. Still. Today, she closes her eyes and allows it to slip over her head and arms.

 

Her ears detect the fluttering sound of paper, and she feels it nip at her jeans before it lands on the carpet.

 

She knows what it is before she even touches it. She holds her breath as she opens the thick paper and reads the message.

 

Fred? Is it you? Where are you? It’s Spike. We want to help you.

 

Buffy stumbles back in shock, landing on the end of the bed with the parchment still in her hand. Spike? She pinches herself hard, using extra pressure. Her flesh cries out in protest, and she blinks. She’s not dreaming.

 

She reads the message again, pushing past the swirl of emotions in her heart to focus on the words.

 

Fred? Is it you? Where are you? It’s Spike. We want to help you.

 

Why does the name Fred sound familiar? And why does Spike want to help him? Buffy has the same questions as Spike. Is it you? Where are you?

 

Tears fill her eyes as she recalls how he burned up before her, how he denied her love for him. She blinks rapidly, but the tears spill over her lashes and down her cheeks, allowing her to stare at her left palm. She still bears his scar the way her neck is marked by Angel’s teeth. Over time, Slayer healing has rendered the damage to her neck almost invisible, but the damage to her hand is newer, the scar darker.

 

She considers what she said to Angel about Spike. He is in her heart. . . has been for a lot longer than she let herself admit, and he remains steadfastly there even though he’s gone. If he’s still out there somewhere, she wants to know, to understand, to help.

 

Hunting down her pen, she chews the end of it, considering what to write. After mentally running through several variations, she jots something down before she can talk herself out of writing altogether.

 

Spike? I don’t know anyone named Fred, but I know you. It’s Buffy. Where are you? Are you hurt or lost? Can I help?

 

She settles the note in the place she found it, smoothing a blouse over it and sliding the drawer closed.

 

Then, she runs a brush through her hair, grabs a stake, and sets out to find fresh graves for that night. Pun intended. Where there are baby Slayers, there are more vamps – no cemetery needed. She needs a good slay.

 

* * *

 

Thursday afternoon

 

Spike’s head throbs when he wakes, and he tumbles off the sofa where he’s been sleeping on the edge. He grunts as he lands, knocking a glass bottle over and something else that lands on his chest where it announces its presence.

 

He opens one eye at it, lifting his now sober head from the ground. It’s the sodding box. There’s undoubtedly no reply on the paper inside. He’s not one to wait around though, so he thumbs the lid open and fumbles with the paper, skimming over the words and half-expecting to read his own handwriting.

 

What he sees has him shoving bolt upright. He pushes up on the sofa as if he hadn’t drunk two bottles of whisky the previous night.

 

Flicking on the lamp he forgot he turned off, he squints at the paper.

 

Spike? I don’t know anyone named Fred, but I know you. It’s Buffy. Where are you? Are you hurt or lost? Can I help?

 

Bloody hell. The sodding box is sending his messages to Buffy and not Fred. Where’s Fred? Is he deluding himself? Is she really gone like Illyria claimed? She can’t be gone. God, he burned up in the Sunnydale hellmouth, and he still managed to make it through. Hell, Angel even reminded him that Buffy died and came back. Twice.

 

Oh, god. The sodding doc box is sending his messages to Buffy. She knows he’s alive. . . or that he’s out there somewhere. If she even believes it’s him. He wonders if she mistrusts that it’s him. Maybe he can fool her into thinking it’s some mystical force trying to mess with her emotions. If she has any emotions about him anymore. It’s almost been a year. . . a whole year since he’s passed in her mind. In her mind, he saved the whole goddamned world. Went out in a blaze of glory. He can’t disturb that because to do so would mean. . . what?

 

He closes his eyes and rubs his temples, trying to massage the pain away. It doesn’t work because the pain has migrated to his heart. . . and to his soul.

 

Oh, god.

 

His sodding soul won’t let him lie to her. No. It’s not the soul that’s stopping him.

 

He’s never lied to her. It’s like he can’t. He’s never been particularly good at faking things or stretching the truth, but with Buffy? It’s impossible. Throwing barbs or speaking from the heart – either way, he doesn’t lie to her.

 

He doesn’t know what the hell to say to her though.

 

He thinks better when he moves, so he manages to find his feet and moves, pacing the small living room like a lion in a cage. Seconds tick by, and he tries to clear his mind, to find the words to say to the woman he loves with every fiber of his being.

 

Then, he decides, he writes, and he waits. When it comes to Buffy, he has no problem waiting. This time he waits without alcohol.

 

* * *

 

Thursday night

 

Fresh out of the shower after a night of tracking down one errant vampire, Buffy yawns and wonders why she volunteered to stay up and wait for Willow. Her flight is delayed, and there’s no particular time she’s expected to arrive except the middle of the night.

 

Dawn is asleep after a long day of reading the books she found with Bekah’s help. The volumes are piled in haphazard formation around the living room. There are three on the coffee table, one upside down on the sofa, and four stacked open under one of the lamps. A notebook filled with scribbled notes in Dawn’s handwriting is somewhere.

 

Buffy fills the teakettle with water and sets it on the gas stove to boil. She retrieves a chipped mug from the cabinet, a plastic spoon from the drawer, and a box of sleepy time tea from the half-empty pantry. She stares out the tiny open window into the darkness.

 

The moon smiles back at her surrounded by glittery stars, and she thinks of Spike again. She’s been compartmentalizing since she discovered there was nothing under the blouse that she put over her message. If she doesn’t think about it, she can’t be hurt by it. And yet, here the moon is again, reminding her. God, she feels crazy.

 

Willing herself not to cry, she forces herself to gaze at the dingy yellow wallpaper and peels open the box lid without looking. Her fingers skim over the tiny packages until she chooses a bag to unwrap. Her index finger trips over something different than a teabag and goes back.

 

She grasps the thick paper with a small sound of surprise and opens the new message.

 

I’m sorry, pet. You shouldn’t have found out this way. If I’m being honest, I was scared for you to know I’m back. Go on. Let me have it. I deserve whatever barbs you sling my way.

 

She pictures him as he was in Sunnydale at the end. . . open in a way he’d never been with her before. He was so vulnerable when he told her that he hadn’t really been with anyone who had also been there with him. She hadn’t understood it at the time – not really. She isn’t sure she quite understands it now. He was with Drusilla for over a hundred years, and they’d never been intimate in that way?

 

She reads the message again. Is she supposed to be angry with him? She isn’t. She’s just tired and exposed and alone. It’s kind of how she felt in Sunnydale most of the last year after the First showed up and the weight of everything fell like a heavy mantel on her shoulders once again. She thought it would change following the demise of the hellmouth and the activation of all the Slayers. It hadn’t.

 

Her heart in her throat, she scribbles down another message and tucks it back into the box of tea.

 

As she’s gently setting the box back into the cabinet, there’s a knock on the door. Buffy hurries toward the sound, flings open the door, and embraces Willow.

 

Willow hugs Buffy back in the kind of hug only a best friend can give. “I’ve missed you so much!”

 

“I’ve missed you, too. You don’t know how much,” Buffy echoes. “Did you get the answers you needed?” She doesn’t know what to call Willow’s astral projection; it seems like it should have a catchy nickname, but she can’t think of a one.

 

“I did.” Willow’s answer is simple but heavy with emotion. When she pulls back, Buffy catches the sheen of tears in her eyes. “I was afraid that I’d mess things up, but I-I wanted to know if she’s. . . if. . .” Tears form damp trails down her cheeks.

 

“If she’s in heaven,” Buffy finishes with more gentleness than she allowed herself. She takes hold of the handle of Willow’s roller bag and tugs it across the threshold. “Come in. There are vampires out there.”

 

“Pfff. Vampires out there? That’s nothing.” Willow waves a dismissive hand, but she enters the house in a hurry. “Lots of them? Think that’s why what’s her name is holed up behind a magic spell?”

 

“I found one newborn vamp, but no others. They’re hiding out, too, apparently.” Buffy shuts and locks the door before gesturing at the sofa. “You have the sofa, and there’s a shower.”

 

Weariness passes over Willow’s face. “Perfect.”

 

Buffy checks the box of tea while Willow’s in the bathroom. The paper is gone. Buffy considers that maybe she’s going insane.

 

* * *

 

Friday morning

 

Spike discovers the new message at a little after two in the morning. He just lost another round of Tetris when the sodding piece wouldn’t turn in time like it was supposed to. Flipping open the lid of the box is therapeutic even if there isn’t anything new. His inhalation is quick, and he drops the video game controller and sits on the floor, unfurling the bit of paper.

 

Spike scared of a Slayer? That’s a new one. I’m not angry with you. I just want to know that you’re okay.

 

He reads through the lines, or he thinks he does. What’s she trying to say? She sounds indifferent. No, not indifferent. Concerned. Worse – politely concerned. Does that mean she doesn’t care anymore? His fears are correct. He doesn’t want them to be. He resists the urge to smash the box to protect his heart, but he can’t bring himself to because he’s talking with Buffy. Even if it’s smoke-and-mirrors and some supernatural entity out there is messing with him, he can’t end the conversation. If there’s a remote chance that Buffy is on the receiving end of these messages, he can’t sever the connection. But what connection is there really?

 

Fuck.

 

Why the bloody hell is this message-in-a-bottle crap so hard?

 

He runs his hand through his hair, not caring that he’s mussing it. At that moment, he decides. He’s all in even if it leads him down a path of no return. He misses her so fucking much. Sometimes it feels like his left arm is gone, or maybe it’s his heart that’s gone – stolen and he never noticed because it doesn’t beat anymore.

 

When Spike’s new message is safely stowed away, he hears a mechanical ping from the direction of the kitchen, and at the same time, there’s a knock on the door. Stretching over the counter, Spike retrieves his phone and sees several new texts from Angel as he ambles toward the other intrusion on his conversation.

 

“Lorne,” Spike says as he opens the door to find the green demon on his doorstep. Spike hasn’t seen him since Fred was lost.

 

Lorne sways and barely makes eye contact before staring off to one side. “’Lo, Spike.”

 

Spike assesses the slurred words and smells the alcohol on Lorne’s breath. “Come on in, mate.”

 

Lorne stumbles forward and almost falls, but Spike catches him. Lorne pats his chest. “Thanks.” Lorne’s out of nicknames and out of his usual joviality.

 

Spike eases him onto the sofa. “Where’ve you been?”

 

Lorne twirls a finger. “Here and there. Everywhere.” He peeks at Spike and then hangs his head. “Need a place to crash.”

 

“Sofa’s all yours,” Spike offers. “It’s not the most comfortable in the world. The pillow’s a bit hard, but it doesn’t make sleep overly torturous.” This makes him think of Buffy and that damned chair she talked him out of sleeping on. He tries not to think too hard about that night.

 

Glancing over at the cushions, Lorne falls like a tree, and Spike darts out of the way as the tall demon brings his legs up and tucks his hands under his cheek. Moments later, he isn’t moving and his breathing evens out.

 

Spike takes a gander at his texts. All of them are from Angel asking where he is. Spike’s chest aches. He’s been on a roller coaster the last few days, and he needs a bloody break. He flicks off the phone, scoops up the box, and heads to bed.

 

* * *

 

Friday early afternoon

 

The farm is lush and green as the sun shines high above – the warmth of the rays tempering the cool nibble of the wind across Buffy’s bare skin. There’s no sign of life like the other times she and Dawn visited. Without rain to wash the blood away, it still stains the ground around the wraparound front porch of the main house. White rocking chairs wait for people, and the house is painted a bright, happy blue with white trim. Red, white, and blue, hooray.

 

“Talk about creepy,” Willow whispers from Buffy’s right.

 

“I know, right?” Dawn says.

 

“Remember, guys, she’s probably terrified,” Buffy reminds them – not that she has to remind them. They’ve seen this so many times now.

 

Donning her concentration face, Willow closes her eyes for several seconds. “I feel the magic, but it’s. . . complicated.”

 

“Complicated how? I thought we’d narrowed down the spell.” Dawn is proud of the research she’s done to help the situation.

 

Willow’s brow furrows. “I can’t quite pinpoint where she is, which is odd because I can usually just – ” She inhales sharply as her face crumples in pain. “Ohhh.” She goes to one knee, her palm to the brown earth.

 

Buffy squats and touches Willow’s arm while Dawn hovers behind her. “Hey, Wil. You okay?”

 

Willow is silent and still for a long moment and then she nods shakily. “Abby. She’s tapped into something powerful that she has entwined with her very being. I-I think she’s in over her head. Something. . . something’s keeping her from lowering the spell. And me from helping her. It’s powerful, but not anything I can’t unravel with time.”

 

“Where is she?” Dawn asks.

 

“I-I’m not sure but definitely somewhere on the property.” Her chest heaves, and she opens her haunted green eyes. “I think I need to go back to the rental.” Not house or home – they’re never home.

 

Buffy helps Willow up, and they clamber back into the car with speed because now, they’re all a little spooked. No one speaks during the car ride, and they go into full research mode when they arrive back at the small place. Buffy starts a kettle for tea, and Dawn grabs the package of unopened Oreos that they’ve been saving. Willow rests on the sofa, touching a cool, damp cloth to each cheek as if she’s overheated.

 

And they research and research until the sun goes down. Dawn heads to bed for a catnap, and Willow takes a shower.

 

Feeling weary herself, Buffy starts to pick up the books, arranging the unhelpful ones in one pile away from the coffee table and putting other books in helpful and maybe-helpful stacks. As she’s closing a volume of spells tied to the alignment of various planetary bodies, a piece of familiar-looking parchment falls against her palm.

 

Her heart hammers in her chest as she unfolds it with shaking hands.

 

I’m whole and hearty – right as rain. Well, no, I’m not. I’m physically well, but I don’t rightly know why I’ve been brought back from dust. I’m trying to suss it out, trying to find a purpose again, but. . . sod it. It’s not important. I’m a tosser. How are you? I’m not asking to be polite. I promise. It may not seem like it where you’re sitting, but I care about how you feel, how you are.

 

“What are you reading?” Willow asks, coming up behind Buffy.

 

Buffy jumps out of her skin and whirls to face her friend who is dressed in her pajamas and towel-drying her red hair. Buffy reads Willow’s concerned expression, and she begins to cry, really cry like she hasn’t let herself cry in a long time. Willow takes her in her arms and holds her tight, which makes Buffy sob harder. As the tide of feelings ebbs and then rolls away, Buffy hiccups and her breathing slows, but Willow doesn’t let go.

 

Instead she asks, “What made you so upset, Buffy?”

 

Buffy can’t look at her friend and says over her shoulder, “You wouldn’t believe me. I-I think I might be going crazy.”

 

Willow’s eyes are bright and clear as she touches Buffy’s shoulder. “I believe you.” Slowly, she peels the paper from Buffy’s grip.

 

Buffy watches, hugging her elbows and waiting for. . . she’s not sure what she’s waiting for. Validation? Confirmation?

 

Willow softens. “Spike wrote this. When did he write it? Have you been carrying this around all this time and didn’t know it?”

 

Buffy shakes her head. “He didn’t.” She pauses. “He didn’t write it before. It’s new.”

 

Willow goes into a mix between friendship- and Scooby-mode. “What do you mean? Does Dawn know?”

 

“Dawn doesn’t know, and these notes just started appearing since we’ve been here. Since Tuesday.” Part of Buffy wants to keep this a secret, and part of her is relieved that she’s telling her best friend, relieved that her best friend is here to tell.

 

“Well, that’s saying something right there.”

 

Buffy is baffled and blinks at Willow. “What?”

 

“The Tuesday thing. You know with Sunnydale and Dawn being in trouble.”

 

Buffy half-smiles. “Yeah. The notes just appear in random places. Under my pillow, in the drawer, in the box of tea, in a book.”

 

“Hold on a minute,” Willow says, and she closes her eyes like on the farm. It doesn’t matter where she is, Willow creates her own Zen space. Seconds tick by and when Buffy is tempted to shake her friend out of her trance, Willow opens her eyes again. “There’s magic there, but it’s not connected to whatever is going on here with Abby. It feels. . . older for lack of a better term. What did you do with the other notes?”

 

“They disappear after I write them and then a new note randomly appears.” A wave of embarrassment heats Buffy’s cheeks. “I felt like. . . like I had to write back, so I did. Maybe initially out of curiosity and – ”

 

“Loneliness,” Willow interrupts.

 

“Yeah.” Buffy inhales. “The first message was asking if someone named Fred was out there, wanting to help him, but I figured out it – ”

 

“Fred? As in Winifred Burkle? What about her?” The furrow between Willow’s brow deepens.

 

“You know her? And wait – Fred’s a she?”

 

“Yes to both.” Willow shakes her head. “We’ll come back to that. So, did you tell Spike it’s you?”

 

Buffy’s eyes fill with tears. “Yeah. H-he’s back. I think he’s back.”

 

Willow’s concern melts away to fierce determination, and she whips out her cell phone. “That’s it.”

 

“What’s it?” Buffy frets, wondering if she should have said anything to Willow at all and simultaneous relief that she’s not alone with it.

 

“I’m calling Angel.”