The girl was lost.
She did not know how she had come to be in this room, this warm soft room with strange yet somehow familiar pictures on the dresser and the walls.
Where was she?
She heard voices downstairs, but could not make out the words. Then one voice rose a bit above the others, and though the voice was soft and clear, almost musical, suddenly she was terrified. That voice belonged to someone who had hurt her, she remembered that much. She remembered the pain; she remembered being batted about like a mouse in a kitten’s claws, slammed into walls, her body broken by the one whose voice she heard.
Then, was she a prisoner here? She could not think why she would be a prisoner, or why the woman downstairs would have attacked her.
She rose from the bed and went to the window. She was aware that she should have been in more pain than she was; somehow she was healing at an accelerated rate. At the window, she gazed out into the night, and imagined that she heard it calling to her. It felt like the natural thing for her to do as she slipped out the window and into the first faint rays of dawn, not sparing a thought for the thin shift nightdress she was wearing.
Barefoot, she ran through the grass of the yard, and the next yard and the next, avoiding the sidewalk with its sharp stones that would cut her soft feet. She did not know where she was going, but some part of her seemed to be headed in a specific direction.
She found herself suddenly in a graveyard. She stopped short, looking around her. She thought that she should have been scared, to be here, alone at night, but it was just another thing that should not have felt natural, but somehow did – to be alone in a cemetery at night. She pondered why she would feel comfortable in a graveyard as she wandered among the tombs. She became aware all at once of the way in which she was moving – stealthy, predatory. Her feet did not make a sound as she moved quickly through the cemetery, watching for – what? What was she watching for? She couldn’t remember, but it seemed important.
All at once she found herself in front of a battered stone crypt. She stopped, that familiar feeling niggling at the corners of her mind. Why was this familiar to her? She felt as if she knew this place well. A word came to her mind as she gazed at its open doorway – “spike”. A random, meaningless word to her. Slowly she crept toward the open mausoleum door, and after only a moment’s pause, slipped into the darkness.
In the dim early morning haze, she could see that someone had been living there recently; she could tell by the scattered remnants of furniture and clothing lying about. But someone had also recently torn the place to pieces. Bits and pieces of broken chairs, ripped clothing, lay everywhere. In spite of the devastation, she still felt a sense of comfort here.
Her eyes fell on the sarcophagus at the room’s center, and somehow she knew that there was a ladder on its inside edge, and a large room at the bottom. She had the vague sense that she had at some point been very familiar with this place.
At the bottom, she found the same destruction she had seen on the upper level of the crypt. A massive bed had been hacked to pieces, which lay where they had been thrown in someone’s terrible fit of rage. Although she felt that she should know, she could not remember what had happened in this place, but she felt an overwhelming sense of sorrow and loss at the sight.
Without truly understanding why, she went and sat down against the wall, tears flowing unchecked down her face as she surveyed the wreckage that surrounded her.
So much pain in this place!
She was soon crying with abandon, as bits and pieces of memory, emotions and fleeting thoughts, began to come back to her. Names, faces, some linked together, and others unplaced, fluttered about the edges of her consciousness.
She did not even hear the stranger’s approach over the sound of her own desperate sobs. He was only a few feet away by the time she noticed him. Dark, dirty hair, old blue jeans, with a tattered t-shirt – he looked almost as bad as she felt.
“What’s this?” he asked softly, his voice laced with a hunger that seemed both foreign and familiar to her. “What’s a pretty little thing like you doing down here?”
She sat frozen with fear to the spot where she was sitting. Something was off about him; some sixth sense warned her that here was danger, death in a human disguise.
That’s what I am.
The thought flew unbidden into her mind, with a jolt of memory like electricity. She was not powerless against this thing. Rather, it was her destiny to destroy this vile creature. Snatching up a piece of a broken chair from near where she sat, she suddenly leapt to her feet, fire in her eyes.
She was the Slayer!
She flew into action, delivering blow after powerful blow, beating her opponent back with her fists and her feet. He managed to get in a couple of good blows, but eventually, she cornered him against the wall. In a moment her arm was against his throat and her make-shift stake was pulled back to strike.
In that moment she saw a flash of terror in those inhuman golden eyes…
And memory came flooding back.
Another face…deep blue eyes wide with fear…fear of her. A trembling, achingly familiar voice begging her to stop...
Please! Please, Buffy, don’t do this!
…a savage fist of iron slamming into that beautiful face, breaking, bruising -- her fist.
With a soft gasp she pulled back from her intended victim in shock, as her memory returned in its entirety. The knowledge of the things she had said and done was devastating to her. Her eyes widened in horror as specific memories assailed her mind.
Slapping her sister across the face and shaking her, screaming at her as she sobbed in fear and begged her to stop…
Oh, God! She dropped to her knees on the floor, stake clattering on the stone and rolling a few feet away. Her body shook with sobs as she remembered the things she had done to him. Countless beatings and humiliations, systematic abuse designed to break his will, his pride…his very heart. That night in his bathroom…
“Oh, Spike!” she whispered, shaking, her entire body racked with painful, heaving sobs. “S-so…so sorry! Oh, Spike I’m so, so sorry!”
The vampire watched her in wary disbelief for a few moments, as his fate dramatically changed, as the Slayer fell apart before his very eyes. He wondered briefly what was responsible for this tremendous stroke of luck. But very briefly.
Quickly and quietly he slipped up behind her and took the weak, sobbing, reeling Slayer in his arms, pinning her against him as he plunged his fangs into her throat.
She did not even resist, still sobbing in agony of spirit greater than any physical pain, welcoming her own death. But as she felt her body begin to weaken as its very life was drained from it, panic seized on her. She did not want to die! The last precious months of her life had been stolen from her by a force beyond her control, and she did not want it to end like that – before she had the chance to make any of it right. She struggled faintly, but she was too weakened to break the vampire’s hold on her.
The end was in sight; her vision was getting hazy, and her panicked mind saw only one way of avoiding it. With her last remaining strength she lifted the vampire’s arm from around her waist with both of her own. He was too lost in the heady rush of Slayer’s blood to even be aware of what she was doing. Bringing his wrist to her mouth, she bit down hard, breaking his pale skin with her blunt human teeth.
The creature writhed, howled in agony, tried to break her grip, but the dying Slayer would not release her desperate hold. Fighting against the rising bile in her throat, the Slayer swallowed back the lukewarm fluid that flowed into her mouth from his wrist until she thought it was enough.
Once released, the vampire yanked his ravaged arm away, turning his back on the collapsed girl, cradling his wounded wrist in his other hand and moaning as he knelt on the floor.
The Slayer knew enough of vampire lore to know the hold this foul creature would have on her as her sire. With an extreme effort she stretched out her hand to lift her abandoned stake from the floor, and shoved it upward through the unsuspecting creature’s back, into his heart.
Her sire’s dust slowly settled to the floor around her, over her, as all slowly faded to black.
He sat up suddenly in the silent darkness of the room, unsure what exactly had awakened him. No sound broke the stillness that surrounded him. His eyes were drawn toward the window – where she waited, her pretty features twisted into a cruel smile.
Instinctively he reached for Tara beside him, but for some reason she was not there. He was alone – alone with her. He wanted to call out, he wanted to run, but his mouth and limbs were frozen with terror, refusing to function.
As she slowly climbed through the window and approached him, her face began sliding in and out of its hideous demonic visage, and the truth of what she had become was made known to him.
Finally finding his voice, he whispered, “But I have to invite you…”
“You did, Baby,” she laughed in surprise at his words, smiling triumphantly as she reached his bedside. “You already did.”
Her soft human features formed a sweeter smile as she slowly came across the bed toward him.
A cold fear came over him as he whispered, shaking his head slightly, “But you’re gone.”
“Silly,” she murmured, her hands on his shoulders pushing him back down onto the bed. “No I’m not. I’ll always be here. No matter what you do, I’ll always be here with you.”
“T-tara,” he managed a strangled whisper through the fear that paralyzed him.
She laughed again. “She thinks she can help you. But she can’t.” She leaned in close to whisper, looking him in the eye, “I’m so deep inside you she doesn’t even know I’m here. I own parts of you she doesn’t know exist! No matter how hard you try to pretend it’s not true – you’ll always be mine.”
And with those chilling words she leaned in to claim his mouth with her kiss.
Though his mind screamed, No, stop!, his body responded to her kiss, his mouth hungrily searching hers, desperately seeking something…what? He was grasping at her, reaching for some elusive thing; he could not remember what, only that he desperately needed it.
Suddenly, her true nature surfaced, and she pulled back to slash him across his face with her fangs like razors. He tried to scream but no sound came out, as the blood gushed from his wounds. She smiled viciously as she lapped it from his face with her tongue before turning her face to sink her fangs into his throat.
He weakly tried to fight her, tried to scream, tried to get away, but was powerless against her strength. She held him pinned to the bed as she drew the borrowed life from his body with dizzying force.
“Please!” he managed to gasp out, feeling the cold emptiness aching through his body, knowing she was about to drain him completely, as his efforts slowly stilled. “I won’t – have anything – left!”
She pulled back with a hideously cruel, heartless smile to look in his eyes as she said, “That’s when I’ll stop – when there’s nothing left!” And then she tore into his throat again with her fangs. He struggled weakly against her powerful arms as a soft red mist fell over his vision – everything was fading. Still he fought vainly.
A distant voice, slowly increasing in volume, tried to cut through the haze that surrounded him, as the hard hands that pinned him down became soft, warm arms encircling him.
“Spike! Baby! Come on, Sweetheart, wake up!”
With a start his eyes flew open, wide with terror as he gasped for unneeded breath. He stared down at the arms that held him, gently, not forcefully, from behind, before rolling quickly onto his other side to face their owner.
Her own soft grey eyes were wide with concern and sorrow as her hand moved gently up to push back a damp blonde curl. “Hey, Baby,” she said softly, her hand moving behind his head to gently caress the back of his neck. “You okay?”
As the realization that it had been no more than a dream slowly sank in, his body began to shake with relief and delayed shock. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer to her. “Shh,” she whispered, her hand making a slow, comforting path up and down his back. “It’s ok, Baby. You’re safe now. You’re here with me and you’re safe.”
He clung to her with the desperation of a man drowning in his own pain and fear. “Oh, God, Tara!” he gasped, clutching, trembling fingers urgently pulling her closer. “Tara!”
Tears filled her eyes at the raw hurt in his hoarse whisper. “My baby,” she whispered, gently tightening her embrace. “It’s all right, I’m right here. I’m right here, Sweetheart.”
For a long time she just held him like that, wondering with the beginnings of despair if they would ever be able to get past the events of the past few months.
It had been two days since Dawn had performed the ritual to remove Reyem, the evil power-mad entity that had been controlling Buffy and Willow – two nights since Buffy had disappeared from her bedroom, while they had thought that she was still unconscious, recovering from the harrowing effects of the ritual – and also the magical beating that Tara had given her.
Through Buffy, this power-seeking being had terrorized and abused Spike for months, culminating in that fateful night when she had taken him to her basement and spent hours torturing him, trying in vain to force him to renounce the one thing he had that she did not yet control – the love he shared with Tara. Tara had arrived not a moment too soon, but thankfully not too late, and had fought Buffy. Eventually, to keep her from killing Spike, she had had to deal her a stunning blow which had rendered her unconscious.
Once Dawn had completed the ritual, Willow had reverted to her natural self, no longer controlled by the evil that had used her to wreak such havoc. They could assume that Buffy had also returned to herself, but really could not know for sure. One moment she had been unconscious in her bed, and the next time they had checked on her, she had been gone.
Gently pulling away so that she could look at him, Tara asked softly, “The same dream as last night?”
He nodded, tears streaking his face, and when his huge, luminous blue eyes rose to meet hers, she was stunned at the way her breath caught in her throat. Even like this, trembling, tear-soaked, vulnerable, he was the most beautiful creature she had ever known.
The intense love he saw in her eyes gave him strength, and he took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Drawing comfort from her soft arms around him, nestling further into her embrace, he chanced a look toward the window. But of course, this was reality, not a nightmare, and the drapes were closed tight against the first rays of dawn, just beginning to appear.
“Where do you think she is?” he asked in a hushed tone.
“I don’t know,” she replied, her voice soft and careful. “I’m sure she’s all right, Spike. She’s probably very confused right now. She’s probably afraid to face…everyone.”
“Do you think she remembers…what happened?” he asked quietly, his voice halting.
“Willow does,” Tara pointed out, a pain running through her heart at the thought of her ex-lover. Willow had been so distraught over the things she had done while under Reyem’s control, and the things she had caused by calling on him in the first place, that she had been unable to even be around her friends. She had gone to stay with her parents for a little while, until she “felt up to it” again. But Tara knew in her heart that if she stayed away too long, she never would return.
So here they were, in Willow’s room at Buffy’s house. Someone had to stay with Dawn, since they had no idea where Buffy was, when she would be back, or what condition she would come back in. Since Willow had left, they were elected. Or rather, Tara was.
Xander had thrown a fit about having Spike stay with Dawn, and Tara had severely informed him that she would not be staying without Spike. He had been about to protest further when Dawn had broken in, declaring that this was her house too, and if Xander said another word against Spike, he would not be welcome in it.
So it was decided that until Buffy showed up and was capable of taking care of Dawn again, Tara and Spike would stay there with her, since Tara’s tiny apartment was far too small for three people.
Tara felt odd, sleeping with Spike in the same bed where she had slept with Willow, but she knew it was nothing compared to the trauma that sleeping in Buffy’s bed would have been for Spike – so Willow’s bed it was.
Tara had always been good at handling other people’s emotional hurts, but she felt terribly inadequate to deal with what Spike had to be going through right now. In the past few months he had suffered unspeakable abuses of every kind, and at the hands of someone he had once loved with all his heart. She wanted to find the words to be his cure, to heal the hurt instantly and make it all okay again.
But those words did not exist.
All she could do was love him, hold him, reassure him from his fears, and do her best to answer his questions.
“I think Buffy probably remembers,” she nodded slowly, her cheek resting against his head.
He was silent for a moment before he began, “Do – do you think…”
But his voice caught in his throat as his tears choked him.
Tara just held him, waiting in silence until he could go on.
Finally he managed to get the words out in a whisper, “Do you think she’s sorry?”
Her tears overflowed at that as she instinctively pulled him closer. “Oh, Sweetie,” she whispered, heartbroken by his pain. “I’m sure she is. That’s why she isn’t here right now. She’s having a hard time facing what she did to you.”
They were both silent for a long time, just holding each other.
“I – I know it wasn’t her – not really,” he finally said, with a bit more control now. “I know she’s probably sorry, but – but I don’t know if it matters. I don’t know if – if I can ever – forgive her.”
“I know, Baby,” Tara replied simply, placing a feather-light kiss on the top of his head. “I know.”
“Dawnie, come on, Sweetie, you’ve gotta get up for school,” Tara insisted, gently shaking the girl’s shoulder. She was ready to leave for work, and wanted to be sure Dawn was up before she left.
“I’m not going,” Dawn immediately replied, her voice dull and expressionless, but clear, unclouded by sleep. She had been awake already, then. Tara wondered if she had slept at all.
Her heart sank at the girl’s words. She felt responsible for her – she had no one else now – and knew that Dawn needed to be in school. But it had only been two days since her sister had beaten her, tried to kill her best friend, and disappeared completely, all in the space of less than forty-eight hours. If Dawn wasn’t quite up to facing algebra and vapid high school gossip just yet, Tara really couldn’t blame her.
Still, she felt the need to try. “Dawnie, honey, I know…”
“I said I’m not going,” Dawn interrupted in that same awful, dead tone.
Tara paused. “Ok, Dawnie,” she caved, her voice soft. “I’m leaving for work now. I’ll see you about six, okay?”
No response. Tara knew it wasn’t personal, and tried not to take it that way, but she could not help but feel a twinge of guilt at Dawn’s demeanor. After all, in a way, she felt responsible for Buffy’s disappearance. If Buffy had been conscious when Reyem was defeated, the situation could have been explained to her before she panicked and bolted. Tara knew in her heart that she had had no other choice than the one she had taken, but it really didn’t help much with her sense of responsibility for what Dawn was going through.
Once Tara had left, Dawn released a heavy sigh, and the tears that she had been holding back. She had never felt so bereft – so lost and alone. Tara was trying, hard, to be what she needed, but what she needed was her sister back – her pre-possession, normal, loving sister – and Tara could not give her that no matter how badly she might want to. Dawn was trying to be strong and mature, but deep down she knew that she still needed someone to take care of her.
She sat up suddenly in her bed. She did have someone to take care of her. And she needed him now.
She got out of bed and padded down the hallway to her mother’s old room, the one that Tara had shared with Willow, and now shared with Spike. Slipping through the door, she stood there for a moment in the dim light of early morning, refracted through the tightly closed blinds, just looking at the still figure in the bed.
“Spike?” she whispered.
He jumped and rolled quickly over onto his back, his eyes wide and fearful, until he saw her and visibly relaxed. “Hey, Niblet. Why aren’t you in bed?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” she whispered.
Her own eyes were wide, wild, and frightened, and he could see that she was trembling.
“C’mere, Bit,” he said softly, patting the bed beside him.
She immediately obeyed, and sat down beside him, leaning lightly against him, not looking at him.
“It’s gonna be all right, Bit,” he softly soothed her, reaching out to take her hand in his.
To his surprise, she lay down on the bed, her back to him, nestling closer to him as she pulled his arm around her. The position was perfect for her. She craved his closeness, but did not want him to have the chance to read what was in her eyes.
My poor little Bit, he thought sadly. It’s right tragic when all she’s got left for comfort is me!
“She’ll come back, and everything’ll be like it was,” he reassured her…and himself.
“Will it?” she challenged the words, and he did not reply. Dawn always saw through the platitudes and false comfort others held out to her. He should have known better.
After a brief pause, she added in a soft, halting voice, “Would it – would I be – a terrible person – if a part of me wishes she wouldn’t?” The last words came out in a rush, as if she was trying to get them out before she could stop herself from saying them.
His heart ached for them both at her words, because he felt the truth of them, too. His lips brushed across her dark, silky hair as he tried for a soft laugh and replied, “Well, maybe, cause there’s a really big part of me that wishes that, Bit – and we both know that I’m a terrible person!”
The weak joke nevertheless brought a smile to her lips, and she clasped his hand in hers, snuggling closer to him.
“More’n likely she just needs to sort all this out for herself before she makes her appearance, Bit. When she gets back, she’ll get back to being herself again,” he assured her. “But it’s natural to feel a bit of doubt about it, love…after all that’s happened.” He swallowed hard, trying to keep his composure as he remembered once again in vivid detail the events of the past few months. Now was not the time to break down. He knew that Tara would be there if -- when -- he needed to vent, but he had to stay strong for Dawn. She needed him like he needed Tara.
So he fought back his own tears, so close to the surface all the time these days, and hugged her closer, whispering into her ear, “It’s all right, Bit. Everything’s gonna be all right.”
The sun had set, leaving only a few faint pink streaks in the evening sky, and Spike and Dawn sat on the living room sofa, watching a movie, though neither of them was paying much attention to it. Dawn was snuggled up in the crook of his arm; he felt warm and comfortable with her there. He did not know how he would have survived the past few weeks without Dawn and Tara. Actually, he knew that he would not have survived without them.
The doorbell rang, pulling him out of his reverie. He nudged Dawn with his arm behind her. She gave him a wide-eyed, adorably pouty look. When he just smiled and nudged her again, indicating for her to answer the door, she threw her hand over her eyes and said in a faint, breathy voice, “Too…weak…must…have…rest!”
Barking a short laugh, he pushed her off of him and got up to answer the door. “And you say I’m over-dramatic!” he muttered in good-natured annoyance. “Bit thinks I’m her bloody servant just ‘cause she…” His words broke off suddenly as the door opened, and he lost the breath to speak. He stared at her in silence for a long moment, scarcely able to believe his eyes.
The almost automatic sick feeling of fear that rose from his stomach up his throat lasted only a few moments. Whatever horrors had passed between them, it was obvious with one look at her that this was not the same girl who had been responsible for them. Her eyes welled with tears at the sight of him. She was shivering with the cold, and the expression on her face was heartbreakingly desolate, the look of one who desperately longs for but does not ever expect forgiveness.
So she remembered, then. As Tara had said. As for the other question that plagued his mind – the answer remained to be seen.
But she needed to come in and get warm, and she was just standing there, staring at him with those wide, stricken eyes, transfixed.
“Well, don’t just stand there, love, come in here,” he said softly, moving aside for her to enter. “Dawn,” he called slowly, cautiously. “Come in here, Bit.”
She could tell by the tone of his voice that something was up, but he could not have prepared her for what she felt at the sight of her big sister, standing in the doorway, shoulders slumped in dejection, eyes overflowing with miserable tears.
“Oh, Dawnie,” she whimpered, her face crumpling as she broke down at the sight of her, kind of half-stepping, as if she wanted to go to her but didn’t dare.
Her instinctive fears dissipating at the sight of her sister’s pain and uncertainty, Dawn went to her, wordlessly enfolding her older but smaller sister in her arms.
“Oh, Dawnie, I’m so sorry! I’m so, so sorry!” Buffy sobbed, as the younger girl held her, rubbing her back and gently shushing her.
Spike stood awkwardly to the side, overwhelmed by his intense emotional reaction to seeing her again, feeling the need to say something, but not wanting to intrude. He was just about to turn and leave the room when Buffy pulled away from Dawn and turned toward him, reaching out a hand to touch his arm.
In spite of the gentle sorrow in her eyes, he could not help but flinch away from her touch. Pulling her hand back, as she turned fully toward him, her mouth falling open slightly in hurt, she took a slow step toward him.
“Spike – please…” she whispered.
It was already more than he could bear. Shaking his head, he walked past the girls into the living room, where he sank down on the edge of he sofa with his head in his hands, trying for all he was worth not to break down.
Dawn immediately left Buffy and went to his side, sitting down beside him in silence and putting her arm around him. Buffy watched them for a moment, Dawn comforting and soothing with her mere presence, Spike fighting back his tears. Slowly she approached them, her hands held slightly out, beseeching, until she was only a few feet away. Tears streaming from her eyes, she fell on her knees beside him, reaching strong but gentle hands up to take his own hands from over his eyes.
“Please – please look at me!” she begged him, sobbing now.
He did not pull his hands out of hers, but did not look at her either.
“Oh, God!” Buffy sobbed, gasping for breath, holding his hands tightly, desperately. “Spike, I’m so, so sorry! I know it doesn’t change anything, I know I’ve hurt you so much, but I’m sorry, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what I’ve done to you!”
His tears fell at those words, his mouth working silently, struggling for control of his emotions. He had longed to hear those words for so long, but now that they were actually reality, he didn’t know how to feel about it.
Buffy continued, crying softly, “Please! Please forgive me! Oh, God, Spike, forgive me!”
He just sat there for a moment, never looking at her, before slowly unentangling his hands from hers and standing up; she remained kneeling on the floor, looking up at him through her desperate, tearful eyes.
“I can’t, Buffy,” he whispered in a voice thick with tears. “Not…yet…I’m not saying not…not ever, but…but it’s just too soon. I can’t.” And with that said he left the room quickly, going to his and Tara’s room and shutting the door behind him.
Buffy stared after him in shock and disbelief, trembling. Dawn rose slowly and put her arms around her. “It’s ok, Buffy,” she whispered, scarcely believing she was able to say the words herself. “He needs time. Do you – you remember…?”
Buffy nodded slowly, still staring after Spike, trembling as the sobs took her over again.
Dawn nodded too, looking into her sister’s eyes. “Time. Just give him time,” she repeated. Then she made herself smile for her sister’s sake and hugged her again, whispering in her ear, “Welcome home, Buffy.”
Spike lay on his back on the bed he shared with Tara, tears streaming down his face to soak the pillow on either side. He listened to the muffled sound of Dawn and Buffy quietly talking for a few moments, then a single set of footsteps going up the stairs. A moment later, he heard the bedroom door beginning to swing slowly open, and turned over on his side to avoid contact.
“Spike?” Dawn’s voice was soft, hesitant. “Are you okay?”
“Just peachy, Niblet. Why would you ask?” he said in a bitterly sarcastic tone.
Dawn frowned, fighting back her indignation, trying to remember how hard this had to be for him. “Well you don’t have to get so snippy about it,” she pointed out, a bit huffy.
He turned over to look at her as he snapped back, “Sorry, there, Bit. Next time my world goes spinning on its head, I’ll try and remember to be extra nice about it so as not to hurt your feelings.”
The anger she would normally have felt about his using that tone, those words, with her vanished at the sight of the obvious pain and confusion in his eyes, and his tear-streaked face. Silently she sat down on the edge of the bed, placing her small warm hand on his arm.
“She’s not like she was then, Spike. You know that, right?” she asked him quietly, seeking his eyes.
But he was already avoiding eye contact again. “Yeah,” he answered her with a deep, tired breath. “I know. It doesn’t make it any easier, though. I see her, and all I think about is…” His words cut off as he was unable to go any further without more tears, and would not allow himself to break down in front of Dawn. Not again. She had been his support for the past few weeks, she and Tara, and now it was his turn to be strong for her.
But she seemed to feel differently. “It’s all right,” she said gently, running her hand soothingly up and down his arm as she spoke, and he was struck by how much older she sounded than she had only weeks before. A pang struck him; the girl had been forced to do some growing up lately. “It’s okay. It’s just gonna take some time. She knows that, too. She’s not expecting miracles, okay?”
Just then, they both heard the sound of the front door opening. “That’s Tara,” Dawn said unnecessarily. “I’m gonna go tell her. Unless you want to?”
He just shook his head.
Giving his arm one more gentle squeeze, she stood up and walked out into the living room. Once more he heard the sound of hushed voices in conversation; once more one set of footsteps going upstairs; and again, the bedroom door swung open. He lay with his back to the door, waiting.
After a moment, he felt the slight pressure of the mattress shifting, as Tara lay silently down behind him, putting her arm around him. “Hey, Baby,” she said, and her warm, gentle tone by itself nearly brought back the tears. “You okay?”
He nodded without saying a word, but she knew it was a lie, and he knew that she knew.
“It’s all right, Sweetheart,” she whispered in his ear. “Everything is different now. She’s not like she was, and she’s not gonna hurt you.”
“I know,” he whispered, the tears flowing again.
“Baby, I know this is hard,” Tara went on, her soft melodic voice soothing him. “I know this is probably the hardest thing you’ve ever been through. But I want you to know that I’m here for you, and whatever you need, I’m gonna be that for you. Okay?”
Before she had even finished her simple promise, her lover had turned suddenly in her arms, taking her by surprise, capturing her still-moving lips in an almost frantic kiss. Instantly she responded, wrapping her arms around him, pulling him tighter, as he clutched desperately at her, as if he would never let go. There was a desperation in his kiss, as he urgently sought the reassurance he needed in her embrace.
He pulled away, breaking the kiss, needlessly breathless. Still clutching at her arms, his forehead leaning against hers, he whispered, “You love me.” It was a question and a statement at once.
“So much,” she whispered back immediately, nodding against his head.
“Gonna be here.”
“Not going anywhere.”
“Never,” she promised, and felt him relax against her, his insecurities relieved by her gentle reassurances. She just held him a few minutes longer, leaving soft tender kisses on his lips, his face, his throat, using the psychic connection they now shared to allow her love to flow over him, enveloping him, comforting him, until she felt the last of the tension ease from his body, and knew that he finally felt safe.
Slowly she pulled away from the embrace, her hand behind his head continuing to gently stroke through his disheveled blonde curls.
As she sat up, she said quietly, “Mr.Giles should be here soon. His plane got in at 5:00, and Xander was picking him up at the airport. He was going to come straight here.” Her eyes widened. “Oh my God! Xander doesn’t even know about Buffy! They’re gonna be so happy!”
Spike managed a small smile at her words. As he sat up and put his feet on the floor, taking a deep breath to steady himself, he resolutely echoed the reassurances she had given him.
“Everything’s gonna be okay.”
Upstairs, Dawn sat awkwardly on the edge of her bed, trying not to stare too much at her sister, who sat just as awkwardly in a chair across from her, desperately avoiding eye contact.
“We were so worried about you, Buffy,” Dawn said, forcing a smile. “We’re so glad you’re okay.”
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said in a small, timid voice. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I woke up and I was just – so confused. I didn’t even know who I was at first. I went off…”
“In your nightgown,” Dawn inserted with a grimace.
Buffy nodded slowly, not looking at her. “I didn’t even know where I was going. Somehow I ended up…at Spike’s crypt.” Her voice was almost a whisper now. “And – and then I remembered.” Her eyes welled with fresh tears. She finally met her sister’s eyes, her own stricken with guilt and panicked pleading. “I couldn’t come back, Dawn! Not right then! Not knowing what I’d done to you all! Oh God, Dawnie, I’m so sorry!”
“I know,” Dawn said, going to her sister and putting her arms around her. “It’s ok, Buffy. It’s ok.”
Buffy shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “It’s really not. I’m sorry I hit you…sorry I scared you so bad.”
“It wasn’t you,” Dawn reassured both of them.
“No. In a way it was…it was but it wasn’t…” Her voice trailed off and she smiled a sad, rueful smile. “I guess I’m still pretty confused about the whole thing.”
“We all are.”
Buffy’s eyes darkened with memory, and she looked back up at her sister with a fearful expression on her face. “Do you think he’ll ever forgive me, Dawnie?”
Dawn did not want to make promises that may or may not actually come to pass. But deep in her heart, she was sure that eventually Spike would come around. While under the control of the thing that had possessed her, Buffy had done terrible things to him. But in enough time, after he saw that Buffy was back to her true self, he would surely be able to move past it.
“I think so, Buffy,” she answered truthfully, with a hesitant nod. “It’s just gonna take time, you know? I mean…it was really, really hard on him, Buffy. It’s gonna take a while to…to get his trust back, you know?”
“I know,” Buffy whispered.
There was another brief awkward silence before Dawn asked softly, “So where have you been these past couple days? We were really scared, we thought maybe something…. something got you.”
Buffy smiled an odd, sort of sad smile. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, and there was a mournful, haunted look in her green eyes.
“Buffy – what happened…while you were gone?” Dawn asked hesitantly, frowning. “You seem – different.” She laughed at her own awkward words and added quickly, “I mean, of course you’re different, you’re supposed to be, but…I don’t know…something …did something happen while you were gone?”
That very odd smile was back on Buffy’s face as she answered softly, “I can’t hide anything from you, can I, Dawnie?”
“Then something did happen?” Dawn frowned in concern. “What? Are you okay, Buffy?”
“No…and yes,” Buffy answered cryptically, her arms around her little sister tightening slightly. “It’s…really hard to explain.”
“Try,” Dawn urged her gently. “I want to know what you’re dealing with, Buffy. I know this is really hard, but I want to be there for you through this.”
“Do you really?” Buffy’s intent eyes focused on Dawn’s suddenly, and all at once Dawn felt a chill of apprehension. There was something…wrong…in her sister’s eyes. Something dark and cold and…different. Not different like she had been during the months of her possession, but still…frightening.
“Of course I do, Buffy,” she responded almost automatically, transfixed by her sister’s almost hypnotic gaze.
“Well,” Buffy began, never taking her eyes off Dawn’s. “Like I said…it’s hard to put into words…I think I’m going to have to show you.”
Tara got up from the couch at the sound of the doorbell, unentangling herself with difficulty from Spike’s arms. As expected, Giles and Xander were at the door. Tara was surprised to see that there were tears in the older man’s eyes as he looked at her, and even more surprised when he pulled her into a gentle hug. They had never been that close before, but she supposed that his helping her through the recent ordeal had probably made him feel a bond toward her.
“Tara, my dear,” he said softly in her ear as he embraced her. “You’ve saved the world.”
Her eyes welled with tears at the gentle admiration she heard in his voice. But when she pulled back to smile at him, she knew immediately that something was wrong by the extreme sorrow she saw in his eyes. Glancing at Xander, she saw that he too looked almost as if he were in shock.
“What – what’s wrong?” she asked, frowning, swallowing hard. After all that had happened, she felt sick with dread at the thought of what news these two might have more bad news for them.
“Let’s – let’s sit down, Tara,” Giles softly instructed, and she obeyed, taking her place again by Spike, gripping his hand tightly, her anchor.
“What is it?” he asked, his voice low. He had instantly picked up on the odd atmosphere that had entered the room with the two guests.
“I’m afraid I have very bad news,” Giles said, sitting across from them in an armchair, and taking off his glasses to clean them.
Xander had been about to sit down; as Giles spoke he suddenly turned and rushed toward the bathroom, obviously sick. Giles cast a pitying glance after the boy before turning back to them and taking a deep breath.
“I know you’ve been wondering about Buffy’s whereabouts since she disappeared…” he began.
Tara smiled hopefully. “But that’s just it…” she started.
Giles held up a hand. “I’m sorry, dear, but if you could please just let me get this out.” He paused before adding more quietly. “If I don’t now I’m afraid I might not be able to.”
Tara respectfully remained silent, waiting for him to speak.
“I’m afraid we must abandon hope of finding her well. I’ve just spoken with the Council on the plane, and…and it seems…another Slayer has been called.”
Tara’s heart skipped a beat. “How is that possible?” she asked slowly, her eyes widening as she frowned.
Spike sat forward in his seat a little, also frowning, his eyes intent on the Watcher. “What about that other bird? Faith, innit? Something might have happened to her.”
“No,” Giles insisted, shaking his head. “We’ve checked on that, and she is still alive and well. And as we have no idea where Buffy is at this moment, we can only assume that she is…no longer among the living.”
Tara and Spike exchanged a panicked glance as the truth dawned on both of them.
“Dawn,” Tara whispered, and Spike jumped to his feet. He rushed to the stairs, Tara at his heels, reaching them just as a loud crashing sound was heard from the bedroom upstairs.
Followed by a child’s terrified scream.
Spike tore up the stairs with Tara right behind him, and threw open the closed door to Dawn’s bedroom. The sight that met his eyes was like a scene directly taken from his recent nightmares.
Dawn and Buffy struggled with each other, grappling for control in what appeared to be a life-or-death battle. At first, Buffy’s back was to them as she shoved Dawn down on the bed, lunging for her throat in a gesture that was chillingly familiar to Spike, though he had never imagined that he would one day see it from Buffy. That was the moment in which he knew beyond all doubt that what he had feared had become reality.
The Slayer had been turned.
Suddenly, with a surprising burst of strength, Dawn rolled over on top of her sister, gripping her wrists in an attempt to hold her down, revealing her hideous demonic visage to the eyes of her friends as Buffy snarled and snapped at her little sister. Spike saw something drop onto Buffy’s face, and realized with an intensity of sorrow that Dawn was crying as she fought her own sister for her very life.
He shook himself out of his frozen state, and was just about to leap into the fray, to Dawn’s rescue, when the girl delivered a surprisingly powerful uppercut blow to her sister’s jaw, slamming her head back. Then she backed up a step, pulling her up by the wrist, and slung her forcefully into the wall.
Before Spike could even consider the just-plain-weirdness of that, Buffy was rushing Dawn again, knocking her to the floor with a vicious punch to her face. Amazingly, the girl was not stunned; did not even seem phased by the blow. She just kept fighting against her older, stronger sister.
Shaking off his shock, Spike sprung into action, reaching down to yank Buffy up off of Dawn and throwing her against the wall again. She may have been stronger than he was, especially with him injured as he was now, but she was still very light, and the force of her body hitting the wall was dizzying to her.
She shook her head a little, then looked back at her opponents. Dawn and Spike stood together, like two great warriors facing down their enemy. Buffy was very strong and could possibly have taken them on, but did not seem to want to. With a menacing hiss of seething rage, she turned suddenly and leapt out the open bedroom window. Rushing to it, Tara watched as she landed, catlike, on her feet, and took off at a run into the night.
Spike stood staring at the place where Buffy had been, breathing hard, a hard expression in his eyes. “Then they weren’t just dreams,” he said to Tara. “Prophetic, it seems.” She did not respond, just kept staring out the window. Suddenly his eyes grew wide as he remembered the surprising developments that the shock of seeing Buffy as a vampire had taken his attention from.
He slowly turned his head to look at Dawn in utter amazement. She was looking back at him, too, her own wide eyes welling up with tears, her lip trembling, and suddenly she threw herself into his arms, sobbing desperately. As he held her, placing light kisses in her hair, whispering comfortingly to her, Tara turned from the window and walked slowly across the room to face Giles.
Her face solemn, she spoke with her back turned to Spike and Dawn, and too low for the girl to hear. “Where is the new Slayer you mentioned, Giles?”
“We – we don’t know,” Giles replied, shaking his head slightly in astonishment at the events he had just witnessed. “We hadn’t been able to locate her as of yet.”
Casting a look back at the distraught teenager in Spike’s arms, Tara said quietly, “I think you just did.”
As the silent, shell-shocked little group made their way down the stairs, Xander appeared at the bottom. “There you are! Where’d everybody go?” he asked, sounding annoyed to have been abandoned. But his expression changed when he saw the looks on their faces.
“What happened?” he asked. “Dawnie? Is she okay?” he directed the last question at Tara, a worried frown on his face.
“You’d better sit down again, Xander,” Giles sighed.
Tara and Spike sat on the couch with Dawn between them, as Xander took a seat in the chair. Giles remained standing as he turned to address the small huddled pseudo-family on the sofa.
“When did she arrive?” he asked quietly.
“Just a few minutes before you got here,” Tara replied expressionlessly, staring off into space, still trying to comprehend all that had happened in the last few minutes.
Xander was confused. “Who?”
Spike took a deep breath before answering softly, since no one else seemed able to, “Buffy.”
Silence reigned for a long moment, before Xander said, with cruel hope rising in his voice, “I thought she was dead.”
“She is,” Giles broke in, in a tired, defeated voice.
“What – but – you said…” Xander’s eyes widened in understanding, then narrowed again in fervent denial as he looked around the room at the others. “No – no way! Not Buffy!” Now his voice sounded nearly panicked in his desperation not to believe it.
“It’s the truth, Xander. We all saw it. She – she attacked Dawn,” Tara insisted softly. She felt sorry for Xander; Buffy had always been his idol of sorts, and in his black and white universe, she could not imagine anything else that could turn his world upside down like this had.
“What?” His voice was trembling with shocked disbelief, presented at last with evidence that he could not deny. “But – but she’s the Slayer! How could this – I mean…”
“Have you ever heard of a Slayer being turned before?” Spike asked the Watcher, his eyes serious and worried.
Giles shook his head slowly. “It’s never happened. No one knows what would happen if a super-human being such as a slayer were to be turned. Therefore it seems no vampire has ever dared to complete the act of turning with a slayer. It amazes me that one apparently has, now.”
“But,” Tara began, frowning as she started to work it out in her mind. “you would think the vamps would want to do that…right? I mean, vampires have super-strength and stuff right? So wouldn’t a Slayer who was turned be pretty much…unbeatable?”
“Possibly,” Giles said with a cautious nod. “As I said, as it’s never happened, there’s no way to know for sure what the results would be. Such a – a creature would possess remarkable strength and power – but there’s no telling which side of the balance she might be on, as far as good and evil. It’s – it’s mind-boggling!”
“You mean – there’s a chance she might not be – evil?” Xander clutched at the slim hope eagerly.
“There has been – speculation – in the past,” Giles said. “as to whether or not the essence of good in the Slayer that makes her the Slayer might war with the demon nature of the vampire, and as to which side might be victorious.”
“But I thought when a person is turned, they lose their soul,” Tara pointed out.
“Correct. But there’s this theory that whatever it is that makes a girl the Slayer is other than her soul. Something unique and separate entirely, and that if a Slayer were to be turned, she might not lose that upon her turning. In which case there might be a chance that she could resist the evil inside her,” Giles explained. Then his expression grew sad, as he added gently with a glance toward Xander, “But it would appear that we have our answer in this case. Buffy attacked her sister. She would never have done that if there was any part of her left inside.”
Dawn looked up suddenly, her face red and tear-streaked, but a wild hope in her eyes. “Earlier – when she first got here – she was acting like – like Buffy! Like herself! She was crying and telling us how – how sorry she was for everything that’s happened! Maybe there is still good in her!”
“It could have been an act, Bit,” Spike said softly, trying not to hurt her too badly with the truth, his own pain obvious in his tone. The realization that the longed-for apology he had received may have been false was terribly painful to him.
Tara gently reached around Dawn to put a protective arm around him, in a subconscious effort to shield him from the hurt. “It’s possible, though…right?” she suggested, looking to Giles as the expert. “I mean – if she’s got good and evil both in her now…and they’re ‘warring’ as you said…then couldn’t she have attacked Dawn if the evil was getting the best of her…but still have good in her?”
Giles frowned. “I suppose that’s possible. That’s precisely the problem. At this point, anything is possible. There is no precedent for this, ever. We have no way of knowing what she wants, what she’s thinking…how to handle this situation!” There was a helpless frustration in his voice.
His expression slowly changed as his eyes came to rest on Dawn. “And then there’s Dawn,” he said gently, his eyes softening as they fell on one of two girls not his own that he had come to unconsciously claim as his daughters.
“If she’s so strong,” Dawn said in a tremulous voice, clinging to Spike’s hand, attached to his arm around her shoulders, “how could I fight her off like that?” It was obvious in her eyes and her tone that she already suspected she knew the answer.
“She was clearly a bit stronger than you, and a bit more skilled as a fighter. But then, many vamps possessed more skill than she did when she started out,” the older man mused, looking away. He looked back at her suddenly, an odd light in his eyes. “Just to be able to hold your own, without any weapons, against an incredibly powerful vampire – only one person has the capability to do that sort of thing.”
“One girl in all the world,” Spike added softly, looking at Dawn with a new respect in his eyes…and a measure of pride. “Looks like that’s you, eh, Bit?”
Dawn did not respond; she was staring straight ahead, trying to make sense of it all. The last few weeks had been hell on earth for her, terribly confusing and frightening, culminating with her having to perform a ritual that was potentially deadly for her sister, in order to save the world from the evil that was consuming her. And now, to be told that she was in that position again…her sister a vampire, and she…the Slayer? Was it possible?
With a soft little overwhelmed moan, Dawn leaned her head against Spike’s chest, squeezing her eyes shut as if she wanted to hide. “I don’t want to be the chosen one,” she said in a small, anxious voice.
“Now where have I heard that before?” Giles said, a teasing note coming into his voice in spite of the seriousness of the matter at hand. The laughter faded from his tone, however, as he went on, “The fact of this matter is, Dawn…the thing about being chosen is…you don’t get to choose. If you are indeed the Slayer…it’s not something you can choose to do or not do. It’s simply who you are.”
“Buffy’s the Slayer,” Dawn whispered, her tears returning, pushing out from behind her closed eyelids. “Not me.”
“Buffy’s not the Slayer anymore, Dawn,” Giles said, his voice still gentle but firmer. “We’re not even certain if she’s -- Buffy -- anymore!”
Just then the doorbell rang. The group looked around at each other anxiously. Spike held up a hand to indicate he would go, as the most battle-capable among them at the moment. He rose from the couch and went to the door, opening it cautiously.
From the living room, they could see him clearly, but not the person standing on the porch.
Spike’s angry glare told them more than words could have. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” he demanded. Then he leaned closer to the uninvited guest and said slowly and deliberately, putting as much menace as possible into his voice, “You’re not welcome here.”
There was a soft, cynical chuckle from outside the door, and a familiar voice which still struck a chord of hatred and bitterness in the heart of the Watcher said quietly, “Well, obviously I am.”
And Angel stepped through the doorway.
The Watcher took a menacing step toward the larger, stronger vampire, his eyes narrowed in a cold, dangerous expression that sent a chill up Tara’s spine. As she watched him approach Angel, she was reminded of what Willow had once told her about Giles’ youth. She thought perhaps this was how he had appeared then – exuding a cool, deadly calm, deceptive in its appearance.
She had only met Angel once before, at Buffy’s funeral. She understood well the bitterness her lover held toward the one he viewed as his sire. Though he had never said as much, she got the feeling that there was a long, painful history shared by the two master vampires. And at Buffy’s funeral, Angel had attempted to make Spike leave the proceedings, declaring that Buffy would not have wanted him there. Spike had of course refused, and they would have come to physical blows, if Dawn had not stepped in. She had declared tearfully that what her sister would not have wanted was this, a fight at her graveside over her memory, and that Spike was welcome to stay, because she needed him there, for her.
Tara was not at all surprised that Spike was not the least bit pleased to see Angel.
“Spike is right,” Giles said, then paused suddenly as if surprised by his own words. Then he shook it off and went on, advancing on the tall, dark vampire until he stood only a few feet from him in the foyer. “You are not welcome here, Angel. Buffy’s invitation may have been open to you, but as I’m sure you know, or you would not be here now of all times, Buffy is no longer a living inhabitant of this home.”
“No?” Angel’s tone was still mild, but challenging. “Then why is the invitation she gave me still good?”
There was silence for a moment as they considered his words. Tara recalled having heard Giles say before that if a person had invited a vampire into their home, and that person died, the vampire would require an invitation from another inhabitant of that home in order to enter it again. Her eyes widened slowly as she processed the implications of this new development.
Beside her, Dawn stood up suddenly, her eyes lighting up as she stepped toward the stand-off in the foyer. “Then it’s true! Somewhere in there, she’s still Buffy!” she exclaimed, her almost fierce gaze defying anyone to deny what she so desperately wanted to be true.
Spike slowly closed the door, too caught up in trying to process what they had just learned to put any energy into objecting to Angel’s presence – at least for the moment.
Giles was not. “You still have not explained why you are here, Angel,” he said softly, his eyes never leaving those of the vampire.
So far Angel’s demeanor had been calm, but now a hint of annoyance showed in his voice as he said, “You know, like it or not, I love Buffy, okay? I have a right to be concerned. I’m here to try to help her in any way I can.”
“How did you even know what happened?” Spike asked, suspicion in his eyes.
“As hard as it is to believe, after the falling-out they had, Wesley still has some connections in the Council. He told me as soon as he heard that the new Slayer had been called.” He paused before going on. “If she is still Buffy, she’s going to need a lot of help dealing with what’s happened to her, and I can’t think of anyone better than a souled vampire to do that. There’s no way a human could possibly understand the evil that she’s dealing with – the nature that’s a part of her now – and how to learn to control it.” He gave Spike a pointed look. “And I’m going to help her.” There was a challenge in his eyes.
Spike muttered, “Be my bloody guest, mate,” as he sat down beside Tara, very deliberately putting his arm around her. He smiled coldly, triumphantly at his sire. Then the smile faded as he added softly, “Don’t think I’m the right vamp for this particular job, anyway.”
Angel looked confused for a moment, as he had obviously expected Spike to protest, to throw a jealous fit, demanding that he be the one to help Buffy. The last time he had seen Spike, the pretty blonde Slayer had consumed his every thought and desire.
“A lot has happened, Angel,” Tara said softly, taking the initiative, as no one else seemed to know what to say or do. “I know you love Buffy. If you think you can help her, I think, by all means, do whatever you can.”
Surprisingly, Giles gave a slow, reluctant nod, as an idea occurred to him. “Perhaps you’re right, Tara. We have to try to get her back to herself again, so that we can find out how much of what’s happening to her she understands. Right now the demon is in control, we’ve obviously seen that much. But if we can somehow get Buffy to the surface, maybe we can help her stay there somehow.” He paused before adding grudgingly, “And only a master vampire would have the physical strength to even attempt to control her long enough to accomplish that.”
Angel nodded slowly, obviously relieved. “Where is she?”
“We don’t know. She left right after she attacked Dawnie.”
Angel looked curiously at the three sitting on the couch. “How did you stop her? If I figure right she’d be too strong for any of you – no offense.”
Tara opened her mouth to reply, but Spike’s gentle squeeze on her arm silenced her as he answered with a shrug, “Not sure why really, but she didn’t seem to want to fight. Ran off.”
To their credit, no one but Xander even gave him an odd look at his lie. The others all either trusted him or distrusted Angel enough to not reveal the truth in their reactions. And although Xander was staring at Spike incredulously, Angel was not paying any attention to him anyway; his focus was split between the hostile watcher and his own childe.
“Well, I’m going to go see if I can’t find her,” Angel replied. “I just wanted to check and see if you’d seen any sign of her first.”
“Well if you find her, let us know, ok?” Tara said, speaking for the group. “We want to do everything we can to help her.”
Angel nodded silently and turned to go.
The door was not even shut behind him completely when Spike said quietly, “You need to do a disinvite spell right away. On both of them.” Dawn, Xander, and Giles had already begun talking about what had just happened, and Spike kept his voice low, so none of the others heard the quiet exchange on the couch.
“What’s wrong?” Tara whispered, a worried from creasing her brow.
“How’d he know she’d been turned? The Council didn’t even know that. When the Watcher showed up, he thought she was dead,” he pointed out.
Tara frowned. “Good question,” she said softly.
“So we know the ponce is hiding something from us, love,” Spike concluded, deep blue eye boring into hers. “I’d very much like to know what.”
“I can do the disinvite on Angel,” Tara said. “But I’m not sure if it will even work on Buffy. Her invitation was still good for Angel, which means in some sense she’s still alive. So – so she probably doesn’t need an invitation.”
Spike felt suddenly very sick. He could feel the panic rising in him as he realized the truth of her words. Buffy was free to come and go as she pleased from this house – from any house, really, if she was still cosmically considered alive and human – without an invitation.
He tried to remind himself that even as a vampire, this Buffy was not the same one who had brutalized him for months. Although she was obviously dangerous, there was no reason to believe that she would be the same sadistic, utterly psychotic abuser she had been for the past few months – was there? No! Just a vampire. A super-strong, incredibly powerful vampire, but nothing he couldn’t handle…right?
Tara easily sensed his fear, because suddenly he felt her soft, warm hand at the back of his neck, gently massaging the taut muscles there, trying to relieve some of his physical tension, as she earnestly sought his eyes.
When his wide, panicked blue eyes finally met hers, he heard her gentle voice in his head, It’s okay, Baby. It’s gonna be all right.
He felt a surge of love for her at the realization that she was deliberately speaking where there was no chance of anyone overhearing, protectively keeping his vulnerability private from the ears of the others. Feeling completely safe in that knowledge, he admitted, Oh, God, love, I’m so bloody scared! His mental voice sounded almost panicked, though his outward expression remained calm.
I’m here, Sweetheart. I’m here. And somehow the simple reassurance was calming to him. After a moment she added, There’s one thing we know Angel didn’t lie about, and he proved it when he walked through the door. There’s at least some small part of Buffy’s humanity left. And we’re gonna find it, and bring it out.
The vampire walked quickly along the sidewalk, impervious to the chill winter wind that whipped his long black coat around his knees. The visit to Buffy’s house had been troubling. So he had been able to enter; it was as he expected, she was still at least partially human and alive. Yet she had attacked her sister, so the vampiric nature had to have a great measure of control over her at the moment. He had to find her – had to help her before it was too late.
When his once-beloved childe, his Dark Princess, had shown up suddenly at the Hyperion in L.A., he had been hard-pressed to keep his friends from staking her outright on sight. It had been obvious to him, however, knowing her as he did, that she had something important to say to him. The problem with Dru, though, as always, was figuring out just what it was she was saying.
He had taken her into his office, where he had attempted to soothe her from her highly agitated state. After a few minutes alone with her “daddy”, she had calmed down enough for him to gather that her ramblings about “sunlight swallowed up in the darkness of the mouth of hell, yet still shining” were referring to Buffy. As he had coaxed his childe along, bit by bit he came to understand the details of the vision she had received, and when Wesley had told him about the new Slayer, it had all clicked.
He had known in that moment what it was that he had to do.
After a few necessary preparations were made to put his plan into motion, he had set off for Sunnydale to find his troubled ex-lover and help her to rediscover herself, her place in the balance of good and evil.
He headed toward the old mansion first, to ensure that everything was ready. A host of memories assailed him as he surveyed the wreckage of the place he had lived so long ago, some pleasant – some not so pleasant.
He thought again with annoyance of his difficult, rebellious childe. The way he spoke to him sometimes still rankled with him, regardless of that fact that Spike was a hundred years from being the pathetic fledgling he had once been. Still pathetic, he sneered to himself. Just not a fledgling. Somehow, the reckless boy had managed to become a vampire master.
At least his obsession with Buffy seemed to have faded, he noted with satisfaction. The boy had moved on to the witch. That would make things somewhat simpler. He put his resentful feelings toward his childe out of his mind; once his plan was set in motion, neither he nor Buffy would have to worry about his insolent spawn, or anyone else, ever again.
He made his way across town to the place he had figured that she would be, based on Drusilla’s ramblings. He hated to admit it, but Dru’s visions were never wrong, and this one had indicated that while Spike’s devotion had obviously shifted in its focus, Buffy’s had not.
As he approached the door to the crypt where Spike had once lived, he grimaced in distaste, thinking of his ex-lover and his childe, and how they had been together in this place. But the odd tingling feeling that coursed through him alerted him to her unique presence in the crypt; he had to go in.
He paused outside the door, his determination rising in him. His visit to Buffy’s house had proved beyond all doubt that the Slayer still had at least a part of her humanity left. And no matter what it took, he was going to find it – and drive it out of her.
As he opened the door he saw her, standing across the room from him, looking lost, confused and forlorn. She looked up, startled, with a little gasp when she saw him in the doorway.
“Hello, lover,” Angelus said with a cruel smile.
“Angel,” she whispered, her eyes welling with fresh tears at the sight of her first love. Though her pain and confusion, she missed the signs that should have told her that this was not her lover. She almost ran to him, throwing herself into his arms, sobbing against his chest.
Two ways of playing this game, he thought, then smiled out of her sight as he slowly put his arms around her. This could be fun.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” she sobbed. “I don’t know what to do!”
“Oh, Buffy,” he sighed, putting as much sorrow and pain into his voice as possible, though he wanted to laugh. This was just too great! “I came as soon as I heard.”
“H-how did you know?” she whispered tearfully, looking up into his suddenly very-concerned eyes with panic in her own.
“Everyone knows, Buffy,” he said softly. “Your friends…the Council…and they’re all after you.” A false concern filled his deep brown eyes as he gazed at her pretty face, all the more beautiful to him for the pain that filled it.
“They are?” Buffy asked in hurt surprise, before breaking down again. He had never seen her so emotionally on edge, so utterly bewildered and lost.
He loved it.
He looked at her with false sympathy in his eyes as he said softly, “Of course, Buffy. You’re a vampire now. And a very dangerous vampire. Do you have any idea of your own power, Buffy?”
“I don’t care about power!” she replied, shaking her head. “I just want to go home!”
“Buffy,” he began tentatively. “Do you – remember what just happened? At your house?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve been having blackouts. Losing time. Ever since – it happened.” She paused. “I just – woke up – in my room, and Dawn – and Spike – the way they were looking at me – I just couldn’t stand it, I ran.”
“I went by your house, Buffy,” he reluctantly informed her. “You attacked your sister.”
“No,” Buffy moaned, her voice almost a sob. This was all just too much for her to take. “No.”
“They – they’re out for blood, Buffy,” he warned her. “They nearly staked me just for showing up when I got there, and that was before I told them I was trying to help you!”
“My friends?” Buffy was stunned. The only ones she had thought to turn to to somehow get through this – and they wanted to kill her?
“Not your friends,” he corrected gently, shaking his head. “Not anymore. Everything has changed, Buffy.”
“I know I’m a vampire now,” Buffy began, haltingly, confused. “But – I don’t want to be evil. Aren’t I supposed to want to be evil? Doesn’t that mean something? I mean – I’m supposed to be all about the killing, right? I’m not supposed to have a conscience if I’m a vampire – right?”
“You don’t,” he softly, gently told her. “It’s like this for every new vamp, Buffy. It’s hard to accept the truth of what’s happened to you. But in the end – the demon always wins out.”
“Is that why – why I’ve been having the blackouts?” she asked, dread in her green eyes, bright with tears. “The demon taking over?”
He nodded slowly. “One to those times when you black out – you won’t come back.”
She broke down again at that, and he pulled her closer, comforting her.
“But I’ll be here for you, Buffy. Right until then, and – and after. I want to help you through this.”
“How can you help me?” she demanded, angry frustrated tears streaking her face. “If this is what I am now – if there’s no way of winning this – the only way you can help me is to stake me, Angel!”
“No!” he said, a little too forcefully. Then, softer, “No, Buffy. I – I can’t stand the thought of losing you.”
“But you’re going to,” she cried in despair, shaking her head. “There’s nothing you or anyone can do about it. You said it yourself. Sooner or later, I’m gonna black out and not come back!” She suddenly looked up at him, her wide eyes almost fierce. “When that happens, Angel – you have to promise me – you have to do it. Stake me. I – I can understand your not wanting to as long as I’m still – here, but the moment you know that I’m gone and that – that thing has taken over completely – promise me you’ll stake me.”
“As long as there’s any part of you here, Buffy, I can’t do that,” Angel said, making his voice as tender and loving as he could. “I don’t want to lose you. But you’re right, it’s going to happen eventually. We can’t stop it. I promise, Buffy. I won’t let you end up like that.”
Buffy’s eyes widened further, surprised by his agreement to her request, despite knowing that it was necessary.
“It’s no use,” she realized in a whisper, looking down again. “I’m going to lose this one. There’s no way around it. That thing is going to take over, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”
“You’re right, Buffy,” he whispered. “It’s really – it’s really useless to fight it.”
She looked up at him with startled eyes, shocked to hear such awful, hopeless advice from her first love, the only one she had ever trusted so fully. If Angel was telling her to give up – then – there must really be no hope at all. A desolate feeling of cold despair came over her as she clung to him, sobbing again.
“It’s all right, Buffy,” he said soothingly. “I’m right here. I’ll be here for you until the end.” And he held her in his arms, as she poured out her pain and terror. They sat down on the floor, and stayed there for hours, as she told him all about the past few months and the things she had done, while not in control of her own body.
Angelus feigned understanding of her guilt and shame over what she’d done, while inwardly laughing at the devastation she had caused her friends – especially his wayward childe. Oh that is just too rich! I’m gonna have to make good use of this little piece of information! he decided with a smirk above her head.
“Maybe – maybe that’s why they’re so – I don’t know – reluctant to help you,” he said, as if he was hesitant to say the words, reluctant to hurt her. But he relished the little gasp of pain as she looked up at him in shocked realization.
“Oh my God! They hate me, Angel! They hate me for what I’ve done!”
“I’m so sorry, Buffy, my love,” he whispered, kissing her gently on the cheek from behind her as he held her in his arms. She cried and cried until he became tired and impatient, which was saying a lot as her tears usually brought him great pleasure. Finally, she fell asleep in his arms.
As he stood carefully, lifting her in his arms, he smiled down at the troubled, yet beautiful tear-streaked face. This was going well. She had bought his lies about her moral conflict being a natural part of her turning, despite the fact that her slaying experience with new fledglings should have told her otherwise. She was simply too distraught to think it through, and so alone and desperate that she took his every word as truth, clinging desperately to any kindness she could grasp. He had shown up just in time to play the hero’s role to her damsel in distress, and he had her eating out of his hand.
Now that he had dashed the hope she had found in the fact that she was not yet fully given over to evil, he could set about seeing that the evil did take her completely. His smooth lies cloaked in a deception of love were already halfway to convincing her to give up completely. And when she did, when her vampiric nature took over, together they would reign.
He could hardly imagine the level of power that Buffy would have now, as a vampire. She had been a legend as the Slayer, having lived beyond the time allotted her as a Slayer, even dying, yet always coming back, always winning. Now with her Slayer powers, in combination with vampire strength and senses, she would be an unstoppable weapon for him to wield. It would be like Europe all over again, he thought gleefully. Different powerful blonde vampire consort, and no annoying offspring tagging along, but the terror of the mortals would be just as sweet.
By the time she awakened a few hours later, he had long since transported her from the wreckage of Spike’s crypt to the old mansion. When her eyes opened, he knew immediately that this was the other Buffy – the new Buffy.
She smiled a sleepy, seductive smile when her eyes fell on him. She knew him as well, then.
“Angelus,” the word came out in a throaty purr. She started toward him, then stopped suddenly, frowning – at the chains that held her to the wall.
He had had no idea what her reactions might be when her true nature surfaced, how she would feel about him and such. He had thought it wise to take no chances.
She gave the chains an experimental tug before turning narrowed eyes on him. “Explain?” she said too brightly, eyebrows raised.
He let out a low laugh as he slowly approached her. “Just a precaution, lover. Couldn’t chance falling asleep and waking up dust.”
“And chaining me up – that’s an excellent way to make me not want to dust you,” she smirked, but the expression in her eyes was playful.
“Glad to see you haven’t changed – much,” Angelus smirked back.
“Yeah, you know,” she shrugged casually, smiling at him. “Besides the whole evil thing.” She pulled against the chains again, but they still held. “So what’s this all about?” she asked him. “Why are we here?” She looked around to take in her surroundings before turning her gaze back to Angelus.
“I just thought, here you are, a new fledgling, no decent sire in sight,” he explained, a suggestive smile on his lips as he looked her slowly up and down, obviously enjoying the sight of her in chains. “I thought you were in need of some – guidance. And since I would have been the one to have turned you if I could have, I’m more than willing to fill that role.”
“How sweet,” she responded with mild sarcasm, but she was still smiling. “And the chains are just – what – a bonus?”
“Exactly,” he laughed softly, walking slowly to stand in front of her and gently run his fingers down her cheek. “I was just wondering my dear, if you are even aware of the tremendous power that is at your command.”
“Do tell,” she murmured, leaning slightly into his hand, her eyes holding his.
“Buffy – there’s never been anyone like you,” he continued. “A Slayer has never been turned. You possess the power of a Slayer and a vampire combined. Do you realize what we could do with that kind of power?”
“Wow!” Buffy replied, pulling slowly away from his touch, her tone full of a mockery of awe, her eyes widened too innocently. “We could rule the world! I had no idea! And you want to – what – help me – figure out how to use my power?”
“Something like that,” he smirked.
“So let me see if I’ve got this straight,” she said in a light tone, giving the chains another casual pull as she spoke, testing them again, though they still held fast. “I’m the only Slayer ever turned. I have unprecedented strength and stamina. I have enough power to rule the world if I wanted to. Right?”
Angelus was pleased. “Right,” he nodded. “Any questions?”
“Just one,” she smiled disarmingly. The next instant, she effortlessly snapped the chains that bound her and in one smooth motion gripped his throat in one hand, turning to slam him back against the wall. She held him there as he struggled uselessly in her grip, as she continued in a hard voice, all trace of the playfulness gone now.
“Why would I want to share that with you?”
Hard, menacing green eyes locked on his as she went on without pausing or loosening her grip to allow him to answer. “I want to make something very clear to you, Angelus.” She spoke his name with contempt, giving him a slow sneer as she looked him up and down, much as he had done to her moments before. Her words were slow and deliberate as she went on, “I am not the simpering schoolgirl who worshipped you, and I am not a helpless fledgling without a clue. I am sireless because I killed my sire, and the only reason that you are still alive is the respect I still hold for any Aurelian master. I am fully aware of the power I possess, and if you should dare to treat me with such disrespect again, I will not be so understanding. Am I making myself perfectly clear?”
Because he was obviously helpless against her, and her grip had tightened with each word until he was certain that in another moment she would either snap his neck or take his head clean off, he hurriedly nodded, and she dropped him unceremoniously to the floor, choking and coughing. She turned her back on him dismissively and headed toward the door.
Just before she walked out he managed to speak. “I am an Aurelian master,” he rasped, his windpipe battered by her grip. “And I will not be a – a minion to you, Buffy!”
A smirk crossed her perfect lips, but she did not turn to face him as she said mockingly, “No one’s forcing you to stay, Angelus. You can leave me be at any time.” She started walking again, then stopped a step later. “And I hate that name -- Buffy,” she rolled the word across her tongue with a grimace, like some terribly distasteful thing. “Ridiculous. Not suited to a master vampire. I think I’ll go by my given name from now on – Elizabeth.”
Angelus did not think it wise to point out that her incredible physical strength did not make her a master vampire. If he did he was sure that that incredible physical strength would crush him like an annoying insect.
Still, he was loathe to allow her to simply walk away from him like that. “Where are you going?” he demanded.
She turned to give him a suddenly flirtatious smile. “I’m going to go have some fun. Wanna come with?”
The playfulness was back, and a cruel gleam in her sparkling green eyes. Now this was the dark goddess he had envisioned in his plans! His pain all but forgotten, he rose to his feet with a smile to take her outstretched hand, and they walked out the door together.
He stood alone in the bedroom, gazing out the window with a sense of dread in his heart. He knew she would come. There was nothing to stop her – no barrier, visible or invisible, capable of keeping her out. He thought for some reason that he should go find Tara. Although he knew intellectually that he was the physically stronger of the two, he somehow always felt safer with her there.
He was just about to turn and head downstairs, when an arm of iron wrapped around his waist, pulling him in tight against a very familiar body. Before he could cry out, make a sound, a small hand clamped tightly over his mouth.
“Shh,” a softly menacing voice whispered in his ear. “We don’t want to be interrupted, do we?”
He struggled vainly against the deceptively soft arm encircling his waist, like velvet over steel. “Now, come on, Baby, don’t be like that,” she murmured in his ear. “I don’t wanna have to hurt you.” He stilled immediately, nearly consumed with terror. She smirked, so close that he could feel the movement of her lips by his ear. “Who am I kidding?” she laughed cruelly. “Yes, I do!”
She suddenly spun him around and threw him back onto the bed. The moment he was released, he tried to call out, tried to get up and run, but he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak – as always, utterly powerless against her.
Still smiling at him, she approached slowly. “I’m back, Baby,” she whispered in a low, suggestive tone. “Back to take what’s mine.”
He shook his head, unable to make any other protest. “No! Not yours!” he wanted to say, to scream, but his mouth still wouldn’t seem to work.
Just then, he heard slow footsteps coming up the stairs, and felt a tremendous unreasonable relief, followed by fear when reality set in. Because someone was coming, he would no longer be alone with this vision from his nightmares, but what could anyone do against her now?
The person who appeared in the doorway, however, did nothing to allay his fears in any way.
He instantly knew, this was not the annoying, soulful version of his sire, but infinitely more dangerous, the demon in its true form, unrestrained by the dictates of conscience.
“Hey, Baby,” Buffy smiled up at him, and it took Spike a moment to realize that she was addressing Angelus and not him with the endearment.
Suddenly he found his voice to object in a whisper, “But – but he can’t…this isn’t his…”
“I invited him in,” she explained with a smug smile, climbing onto the bed, advancing in a predatory stalk until she was directly over him, her hands on either side of his head as she held her body over his, not touching him…yet. “This is all still mine, Baby. All of it. The house…and everything and everyone in it.” By the end her lips were inches from his, and her voice was a whisper as her cruel, feral eyes met his.
Her sparkling, unearthly green eyes darted to Angelus, who was still smiling, despite the sight of Buffy atop his childe. Somewhere in the back of his mind Spike recognized that as very odd; shouldn’t his sire be furious, storming across the room to separate them and tear one or both of them apart? But he just stood there smiling, and as Spike watched, leaned comfortably against the doorframe, his arms crossed in front of him, as if watching a very amusing show.
“Everything under control downstairs?” Buffy asked Angelus, a cruel smirk turning up the corners of her mouth.
“It’s done, Lover,” Angelus nodded, a hard, satisfied smile on his lips.
A thrill of fear shot through Spike. “Oh, God, Tara! Dawn! What have you done?” he demanded shakily.
“Dawn!” Buffy sneered, laughing softly to herself. Then she put a mock-serious, pouty look on her face as she looked back at Spike. “Oh, come on, now, Baby, we had to do it. She pulled me out of the dark once before…I can’t take a chance of letting her do it again!”
“No!” he moaned, his voice almost a sob. “No, Buffy, how could you…” His voice trailed off. He closed his eyes, fighting back the tears, breathing hard, trying to control his emotions. Not Dawn! No, please not Dawn!
Suddenly his eyes shot open and he looked at her again. “Tara,” he whispered. “What did you do to Tara?”
Buffy laughed out loud. “Silly,” she said. “I didn’t do anything to her. She’s right here!”
She gestured with her hand, and he looked to the side.
Suddenly, Tara was lying there, right beside him, apparently sleeping. As he looked on, she slowly, sleepily raised her head to take in the scene before her. Then she smiled slowly.
“Hi, Buffy,” she murmured lazily. Then she leaned around to see who was in the doorway and added, “Hey, Angel. Finally! I thought you guys would never get here!”
“T-tara…” he whispered, desperately trying to catch her eye. He could not understand why the sight of Buffy and Angelus did not disturb her at all – why she in fact seemed pleased to see them.
“I’m sorry, Sweetie,” she said, an apologetic smile on her face. “It was fun for a little while, but come on!” She rolled her eyes in irritation before shaking her head and giving him a knowing grimace.
His own eyes widened in stunned betrayal. “Tara – I – I thought you loved me!”
Her eyes met his sympathetically, almost patronizing, and she reached a hand to touch his cheek tenderly as she spoke in a pouty voice, “Oh, come on, Sweetie. You had to know it couldn’t last. I mean, there’s only so much whining and cringing a girl can take, you know? I need a real man – if I didn’t, I’d still be with Willow.” She patted his cheek lightly before removing her hand and looking up at Buffy. “He’s all yours,” she told her, rolling over to go back to sleep.
“Tara – no!” he gasped, shaking his head in disbelief at her back, suddenly turned to him.
“I told you,” Buffy whispered, drawing his eyes back to her face with her cold, triumphant voice. “She never really loved you. And even if she did – she couldn’t help you. You’ll always be mine, Baby. Always.”
He sat up in the bed, gasping for breath, eyes wide, trembling all over, as the dark relief of reality washed over him. Moments after he sat up, two firm, warm arms encircled him, and he felt the comforting weight of Tara’s head on his shoulder.
“What is it?” she whispered, as his hands gripped her arms at his waist, struggling to physically hold onto the truth, the reality, of her love. “The same dream again?”
He shook his head, still unable to speak, and leaned his head backward against her shoulder. Finally he whispered, “Oh, God, Tara, this has got to stop! I – I can’t…” His voice trailed off, overwhelmed by the intensity of his emotions.
“Shh,” she murmured, kissing him gently. “It’s ok, Baby. What – what was the dream about?”
He raised his head and pulled away slightly to face her, his wide blue eyes on hers. “Buffy – and – and Angel – only – no…Angelus.” A sick suspicion growing in his eyes, he looked away as he whispered, “Bloody hell!” His eyes found hers again, as he said, “The last dream I had was prophetic…so then…Angel’s lost his soul! He’s Angelus again!”
There was a heavy concern in her soft, serious grey eyes as she began, slowly, cautiously, “Sweetheart…seeing Angel again…everything that’s happened, and then…then Buffy coming back like she did…it’s all been a lot for you to handle…” As she spoke, her arms around him tightened slightly, and her hand gently ran up and down his arm.
His piercing blue eyes searched hers as he shook his head, insistently. “No! This is not all in my head, Tara! The last dream came true! It happened! Buffy came back and she is a vampire! Just like in my dream! And then Angel shows up out of the blue…and I dream about Buffy and Angelus…why do you think he’s here, love?”
Tara looked away, frowning. “I – I don’t know. I think it’s natural that he would come, for Buffy. I mean, he does love her. And honey…we talked about that first dream… what it meant…you know, in connection to how you feel about what she did…it wasn’t necessarily a prophecy, Spike. It could be just – just…”
“A coincidence?” he finished, his doubt evident in his voice. “I have a very hard time believing that, love. And – and there was something else…” He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly, trying to remember. Suddenly his eyes flew open, fearful.
“What about her?” Tara asked, her voice gentle and patient.
“In the dream…Angelus killed her! Because Buffy told him to!” he replied, the expression in his eyes nearing panic. “She said – she said something about – Dawn pulled her out of darkness, and she wasn’t gonna let her do it again…Dawn’s in danger!”
Tara was frowning again. “Honey, it all just fits so perfectly with everything that’s happened…you’ve been through hell, and now that she’s been turned, you’re scared that she’s going to come back and hurt you, or me or Dawn. That’s normal, and it’s normal for it to show up in your dreams. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to come true, honey.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. Something she had said had brought back another memory from the dream. In it, Buffy had not, in fact, threatened Tara at all. Rather, Tara had seemed more than willing to let Buffy take him. She had seemed – tired of him. The thought brought a lump to his throat, and tears to his eyes.
He pressed them back. He would not tell Tara about that part of the dream. She had had enough of his “whining and cringing” already, he was sure, regardless of the significance of the dream. She did not need to be reassuring him from his insecurities, not right now when there were so many more things to be worried about.
He was not at all sure that she was right about the dream, however. The first dream had come to pass. What reason was there to think that this one would not? He looked back up into her eyes, about to argue. But what he saw there stopped him. She looked sad, and tired, and deeply concerned – for him? He had the very uncomfortable feeling that she was worried about how he was handling the situation, worried that when all was said and done, he was not going to get over this.
With an effort, bringing a weak smile to his lips, he looked away again. “You’re probably right, love,” he said softly. “It’s – it’s probably nothing. Just me – being a soddin’ idiot. It – it’ll be fine.”
She could hear the forced sound in his voice, knew that he was not okay, only trying to appease her. “Baby,” she said gently. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”
“I know,” he broke in, unable to keep a hint of irritation from his voice, because as badly as he needed the concern and love he saw in Tara’s eyes, he was just so bloody tired of everyone’s looking at him with pity and speaking to him as if he were injured, fragile. “Let’s just forget it, okay? Let’s go back to sleep. I’m really very, very tired, love.” And he sounded tired.
And before she could say anything else, he had pulled himself out of her embrace and laid down on the bed.
Turning his back to her.
Across town at the Magic Box, Anya was just finishing counting the money in the register, preparing to lock up for the night. The last customer had left an hour ago, and she was ready to leave and go home to the apartment she shared with Xander.
She heard the tinkling sound of the bells above the door and said automatically without glancing up, “I’m sorry we’re closed. Bring your money back tomor…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes rose, and she realized who had entered.
“Buffy!” she exclaimed, about to go around the counter. But then an uncomfortable, fearful feeling went through her at the smile on Buffy’s face, and she stopped where she was. Maybe having the counter between them was a good thing. “Um, where did you go?” she asked her, her voice a little too bright. “We’ve all been worried sick about you! You know, after the whole disappearing from your bed when we all thought you were unconscious thing.” She stopped talking again when she saw Angel come in behind Buffy. This was getting stranger by the moment, and she was suddenly wishing very badly that she was not alone in the shop, or that she was a vengeance demon again, or that Buffy would just stop looking at her like that!
Buffy’s eyes glistened darkly as she smiled secretively at the nervous shopkeeper
“Anya,” she said quietly, with a mockery of affection in her voice, and the slow, measured pace at which she approached the counter reminded Anya of a tigress. Glancing around the shop appreciatively and then smiling back into Anya’s eyes with a dangerous gleam in her own green eyes, Buffy went on.
“It’s good to be back.”
Anya felt fear steadily growing inside her as she gazed into Buffy’s oddly glittering green eyes, harder and colder than she remembered. “It’s – it’s good to have you back, Buffy,” she replied in a shaky voice. “I’m sure – Dawn will be glad to know you’re home…have you seen her yet?”
Buffy smirked. “I’ve seen her,” she replied in an odd tone. “But now I’ve come to see you.”
Anya took an unconscious step back, and Buffy suddenly placed one hand on the counter and swung herself over it in a move that should have been impossible, so that she was standing directly in front of Anya, who was now backed into a corner.
“Oh!” Anya replied with forced cheerfulness, desperately ignoring the not at all subtle threat in Buffy’s actions. “Okay! What can I – can I help you with, Buffy?”
“You have something I need.”
Something in her tone chilled Anya’s blood, and she took another step back, so that her back hit the wall.
Suddenly, the door to the Magic Box burst open and Xander rushed in. “Anya…” he began, stopping short at the sight of Buffy menacing his fiancé, while Angelus looked on in smug amusement. He had come with the intention of warning Anya of Buffy’s turning. In spite of the slim hope that she might be not-completely-evil, redeemable in some way, he was not so foolish as to think that she was not dangerous.
Now, faced with the sight of his former best friend, now a dangerous vampire, obviously threatening the woman he loved, he lost it.
“Get away from her!” he raged, starting across the room toward Buffy, heedless of the fact that she was immeasurably more powerful than he was, and physically he could do nothing to stop her. She could overpower him without even trying.
Smoothly Angelus stepped in behind him, gripping his arms with controlled, but incredible power. He struggled against him helplessly, still trying to get to Anya. Buffy looked up at him with a smile.
“Hey, Xander,” she said brightly. “I didn’t get to say hi to you earlier. How’ve you been?”
Still trying to pull away from Angelus, he cried out, “Buffy! Please! Don’t hurt her!”
“Xander!” Anya’s voice was high and frightened.
“Careful, Ahn, she’s a vampire!” he warned his fiancé, though there wasn’t much Anya could do to defend herself, trapped as she was behind the counter.
“Come on, guys,” Buffy laughed softly, taking a step back away from Anya, her hands raised in a disarming gesture of truce. “Don’t freak out on me here. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Okay? Nobody has to get hurt here. You know. Unless I get bored,” she shrugged. Her eyes suddenly narrowed in anger as she watched Xander’s useless fighting against Angelus iron hands. He was still desperate to get between her and Anya.
She walked slowly around the counter, her hard green eyes never leaving him as she went on in a soft, deadly tone, “And this little hero act you’ve got going here? Very boring. Annoying, even.” Xander’s heart did a funny, sick little flip at the way she was looking at him.
“What is it that you need, Buffy?” Anya broke in suddenly, her voice surprisingly strong as she came around the counter in an attempt to distract her. “You said I have something you need.”
She was so eager to get Buffy’s attention off her boyfriend that she didn’t even consider the potential dangers of Buffy’s answer – of the type of “needs” she now had – until the former Slayer turned back toward her with a predatory smile.
“There are several things you have that I need, Anya,” she said in that same soft, chilling tone as she approached her. She paused to let her menacing words sink in before her smile softened a little, and she said in a lighter tone, “But only one I’m actually here for at the moment.” She glanced up toward the upper level of the store before smiling back at Anya. “I need to check out a book.”
Momentarily perturbed in spite of the danger, Anya replied, “This isn’t a library, Buffy. These books cost money…”
Buffy laughed in her face. “I don’t think I’ll be paying for much of anything anymore, Anya,” she smirked, her eyes growing cold again as she went on. “Ever. You see, when you’ve got the kind of power I do…” She paused long enough to grab the girl by the arms and throw her back, slamming her with impossible force against the counter. Her back hit it hard, and she crumpled to the ground.
Buffy nodded in a satisfied way at the fallen shopkeeper, struggling to get up as she moaned in pain. “You pretty much take what you want,” she concluded.
“Anya!” Xander cried out, pulling against his captor, who was now frowning in annoyance.
Buffy turned away from Anya, who had managed to pull herself to her knees, and directed her attention toward Xander. His heart skipped a beat at the cruel smile on her pretty lips. His struggles ceased instantly, and he froze, watching her slow approach with rising terror. If there had been any remaining doubt, he now knew: this was no longer his friend.
“I think you’re starting to annoy my friend,” she said softly when she reached him, indicating Angelus with a flicker of her eyes toward the vampire behind him. “I already told you – the big brave hero thing is annoying. You don’t even do it well.”
Suddenly she gripped his thick, dark hair in her small but powerful hand and jerked his head back hard, exposing his throat as she morphed into her natural vampiric features.
Xander let out a gasp of fear, his eyes wide and panicked, too terrified to speak. Her lips mere inches from his throat, her eyes holding his with an intense, almost hypnotic stare, she said softly, “Now you’re just going to go have a seat over there with Anya and stay out of our way like a good little boy – aren’tcha, Xander?” Her smile was patronizing, mocking his terror.
He nodded desperately, trembling. She was right about one thing, he realized with shame. He was no hero. He didn’t have any special powers or skills or anything that would prepare him for a situation like this – at the mercy of a terribly powerful, obviously evil vampire.
But this is Buffy! His mind rebelled. Surely she wouldn’t actually-- But he could not deny the truth that was right before his eyes – the vicious fangs now inches from his throat.
Buffy was dead. And in her place was this cruel, vicious creature wearing her body as a disguise.
His paralyzing fear must have been obvious in his eyes, because Buffy looked up at Angelus with a satisfied nod, changing her grip on Xander’s hair to a brief caress before moving her hand away.
“He’s gonna behave,” she assured him. “You can let him go.”
With a rough shove that sent him staggering, Angelus complied, propelling him in the general direction of the counter where Anya still knelt, her back against it.
Xander tried to think of some way out of this situation for him and Anya. He was very much afraid that Buffy did not intend for them to leave the Magic Box alive.
Buffy must have caught his sidelong glance toward the door, because she said in a soft voice, “One step toward that door – and I’ll tear her throat out.”
Xander force, an icy sensation running down his spine at her menacing words. “I – I wasn’t! Please!” he whispered, shaking his head. He was ashamed to be pleading like this in front of Anya, but he knew that they were both helpless against the two very powerful vampires now holding them captive.
“Didn’t say you were,” Buffy shrugged. “Just don’t.” She walked toward them with a predator’s slow grace, and Xander felt his heart pounding against his chest.
Buffy reached down to grip Anya’s arm and hauled her to her feet with ease. Anya let out a startled, frightened yelp, and Xander nearly shouted, “No!”
Buffy laughed. “Easy, guys. All I want – at the moment – is some decent customer service. This place still offers that, right, Anya?”
Subdued, her eyes wide, Anya nodded quickly.
“Now are you gonna help me find that book or what?” Buffy smiled in a way that was almost friendly.
Anya nodded again, looking terribly uncomfortable as Buffy led her by the arm to the ladder leading to the upper level, and ascended it casually, completely at home as always in the Magic Box. The two of them disappeared among the many shelves of books upstairs, and Xander fought off panic. What if Buffy had just taken her up there to…? He couldn’t even stand to finish the thought. He almost followed them up there, but Angelus seemed to sense what he was thinking, and took a slow step toward him. He stopped where he was; there was nothing he could do.
But only moments later, the two girls reappeared, Anya trembling in mingled fear and relief as Buffy slung her carelessly back toward the counter, where Xander caught her in his arms, and pulled her down to sit on the floor with him by the counter. Somehow it felt like a good idea to try to become as small and inconspicuous as possible to this new and very dangerous Buffy. Anya broke down crying, on the edge of hysterics, against his chest as he ran his fingers through her hair in an absently comforting gesture. His attention was still focused on Buffy.
The fledgling vampiress was frowning in frustration at the three intimidatingly thick volumes in her hands. “We need to find some brainy minions,” she said to Angelus in a pouty voice. “I am so not going through all these myself!”
“Well, she’s not any smarter as a vampire,” Anya muttered resentfully under her breath, pulling away from Xander slightly, tears streaking her face.
“Ahn!” Xander hissed, alarmed.
“No,” Buffy responded to the word Anya had not thought she would hear, smiling as she came to stand directly in front of the very frightened girl. “But I hear a lot better.” And without warning she kicked her viciously in the stomach.
Anya doubled over in pain, gasping, and Xander put his arms around her again, giving Buffy a stricken look of betrayal.
“Buffy,” he whispered, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Oh, please,” she sneered. “That was nothing. Just a warning. I held back,” she insisted, a mock-defensive note in her voice. “A lot, actually.” Her expression became a smug, self-satisfied smile, that quickly faded to a hard, triumphant look. “You have no idea what I’m capable of. And unless you want to, you’d do well to show a little respect for once.” She paused before saying, “And by the way…it’s not Buffy anymore. My given name is Elizabeth, and that is what I prefer to be called now. Buffy is dead.”
The words chilled Xander’s heart. He had already known them to be true, but somehow to hear them from her lips was a devastating blow.
With a nod of her head toward the door, Buffy indicated to Angelus that she was ready to leave.
She gave Anya a falsely bright smile as she headed for the door, saying as she did, “The service here is great. You know we’ll be back!” At the door, she stopped suddenly, glancing back over her shoulder with a sly smile.
“Oh and one more thing,” she said in softly cruel voice. “Xander, I want you to pass on a message for me. Tell that hot little ex of mine I miss him – and I’ll be by to see him soon.”
“I think you need to slay her,”Anya declared in a resentful tone. She was sitting on the couch beside Xander, one arm cradling her sore, bruised stomach. His arms were around her, holding her, both of them deeply troubled and shaken by their encounter with the former Slayer.
Dawn sat on the coffee table facing them, her young face uncertain and afraid. She may have been thrust into being the Slayer, but she had no idea yet how to go about it.
As if she had read her thoughts, Anya went on, “You’re the Slayer, now, right? And she’s – she’s obviously not Buffy anymore!”
“She said – she said Buffy is dead,” Xander inserted, his voice trembling over the words, painful to speak.
Dawn drew in a sharp, involuntary breath, the words hitting her like a physical blow. Spike had been standing in the doorway, listening to the conversation, but not joining it. Now, he went to stand behind Dawn, placing his hands gently on her shoulders. She leaned back against him, grateful for his steady strength.
“So now she’s a – a vampire vampire-slayer,” Anya observed suddenly. “And if you slayer her, you’ll be the vampire vampire-slayer slayer. Unless you lose and she turns you, and then you’ll be…”
“Ahn!” Xander said sharply, his eyes focused on Dawn’s pale, stricken face.
“What?” She was surprised and hurt by the edge in his voice. He looked into her eyes and relented slightly. When Anya was nervous, she talked. That was just her way. And at the moment, it was clear in her eyes that she was terrified.
Xander put his hands on her arms and drew her in closer to him, saying in a softer voice, “Dawn doesn’t need this right now.”
“Maybe I do,” Dawn broke in, her voice determined despite its trembling, though her eyes were filled with tears. “This is what Buffy had to do – isn’t it?” she realized aloud, sudden clarity in her eyes as she looked at her sister’s friends, now her friends. “Make decisions that hurt, like this. Like when she had to kill Angel.”
“You’re not going to have to kill her, pet,” Spike assured her, though he was not sure himself. “She’s still got some of herself left. Or she wouldn’t have been able to come in here the other night. We’ll help her, Bit.”
“It may be too late for that,” Xander said softly, and Spike silently cursed the whelp’s oafish insensitivity to Dawn’s needs of the moment, shooting him a venomous glare over Dawn’s head.
“Well, he’s right!” Anya spoke up in Xander’s defense when she saw the look on Spike’s face. “You didn’t see her at the Magic Box! She hurt me, and threatened Xander – and she was so strong! She’s dangerous, Spike. Very dangerous.”
Spike was irritated; neither of them was catching on at all. He was very much aware that it could be too late to help Buffy. If she had let the evil take her over, as it was beginning to seem that she had, there could be nothing left but to slay her. Still, he wanted to try to protect Dawn’s fragile, vulnerable emotions as long as he could. He looked to Tara in frustration.
She sat in the armchair, her arms folded loosely over her chest, her head down slightly, also just taking in the conversation without getting too involved in it. But Spike could see the worry in her eyes when they rose to meet his.
Their timing’s terrible but they could be right, she spoke to him alone, in the privacy of his mind. Dawn may have to kill her sister.
Spike shook his head, so slightly that it was almost imperceptible to all but Tara, whose grey eyes were focused on his. That will never happen. I won’t let it, he told her with grim determination.
She frowned up at him for a moment, not understanding. Then her eyes widened as she realized what he was saying, just before he confirmed it.
I’ll do it myself before I’ll let her have to do it.
Tara looked away, upset, not so much by his words as by the situation itself. Never mind the fact that physically even Spike was probably no match for this new super-vampire that Buffy had become. No matter how things played out, someone she loved was going to end up hurt.
She shared Spike’s sentiment that forcing Dawn to stake her own sister was an unspeakably cruel turn of fate. But she knew that it would be very difficult for him to do as well – physically and emotionally. Although she was secure in his love for her now, she knew that Buffy had once been his whole world; he had lived for her, and almost died for her, would have, surely, if Tara had not intervened. That deep love he had held for her, in combination with the trauma of the past few months, could make staking Buffy a devastating thing for him to have to do.
But no more devastating for him than it would be for Dawn.
Unless there was still some part of Buffy left in the deadly vampiress who now called herself “Elizabeth”, Tara thought hopefully. If they could find a way to reach her…
Giles was just returning from the kitchen, where he had gone to get a cup of tea. “Anya,” he broke into her animated re-telling of her ordeal. “You said she took several books. Which volumes were they?”
“They were…um…” Anya tried to remember.
Giles sighed in frustration.
“Hey, mister! I’ve been traumatized!” Anya snapped defensively. “Excuse me if I didn’t write down the titles, authors and Dewey decimal numbers of the books she took while she was threatening my life!”
“Just…try, Anya,” Giles said in a tired voice full of forced patience.
“One of them was the Text of Dordanelle,” she recalled, frowning in concentration. “And one was an astronomy book of some kind, about alignments of the stars and all that,” she went on eagerly as the memory came back to her. “I can’t remember what the last one was,” she frowned, shaking her head after a moment.
“Did you happen to notice, Xander?” the older man asked, frowning as he considered her words.
“Sorry. I was just trying to keep us from getting killed,” Xander shook his head apologetically.
Giles looked thoughtful as he said, “The text of Dordanelle is a book of very dark magic. It’s not rare, really – not among vampires. It contains many very potent spells and such, most of which could potentially be very dangerous – if a vampire actually had the power to carry them out. Fortunately, as they also require a great deal of mystical energy, they’re generally considered mostly harmless. They require more power than most vampires could ever hope to possess.”
“Like, oh, say,” Xander began with a sarcastic smile. “The power of a Slayer turned vampire?”
“Quite possibly,” Giles nodded, his expression somber, and a little sick.
“Don’t forget Angel…or I should say Angelus,” Spike broke in quietly, with a brief pointed glance at Tara. “As I would say it’s clear the great poof has somehow managed to lose his bloody soul again.”
Giles nodded. “Otherwise he would not have been helping Buffy to terrorize her friends.”
“He’s a master vampire of the order of Aurelius,” Spike went on, “and quite powerful in his own right.”
“A few very powerful master vampires have managed to successfully complete a few of the simpler spells in the Dordanelle Text,” Giles admitted. “Between Buffy and Angelus – we could have quite a problem on our hands. They just might have enough power, together, to perform some of the more dangerous rituals in the text.” He paused.
“The astronomy book seems to indicate that whatever ritual she is planning to perform, must most likely be done at a specific time. It must require a specific alignment of the stars, or some such thing.”
“Which means we’re on a deadline here,” Xander said darkly. “Except we don’t know when it is.”
“If we could just somehow get her contained, so we could talk to her,” Tara said thoughtfully, rising to cross the room to Spike and Dawn – her little surrogate family. “I really feel like she must still be in there. I want to try and help her before we just start staking.”
Dawn nodded slowly, hope showing in her huge sorrowful eyes again, in spite of her best efforts to hide it. Spike knew how she was feeling; it seemed easier to assume the worst than to be crushed by false hope again.
“Oh, that might not be so hard,” Anya broke in. “She said she was planning on coming here.” She looked at Spike. “To see you.”
He felt his heart drop to the floor; his mouth went suddenly dry with fear, and he couldn’t say a word. Immediately he felt Tara’s soft, warm hand enclosing his, and her gentle voice in his head.
Steady, Baby. It’s all right.
Just the sound of her voice had a calming effect on him; he squeezed her hand tight, desperately clinging to her, his lifeline in the midst of madness and terror.
If she comes and she’s completely gone, Tara reasoned, slowly, calmly reassuring him, she won’t be able to get in. And if she can get in – that means there’s still a part of her that we can reach. And we will.
Dawn’s hard voice startled them both as she said. “That – that thing tried to kill me. She hurt Anya. She isn’t my sister anymore. If she tries to touch Spike – I will stake her.”
Spike’s hand on her shoulder tightened for a moment with affection. Her fierce loyalty to him was comforting and reassuring, but it troubled him to think of the terribly young, inexperienced Slayer attempting to take on such a dangerous enemy as this “Elizabeth” – especially if she was doing it to save him.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Giles said softly, his eyes narrowed speculatively as he observed the dynamic between Dawn and the two people who stood protectively behind her.
One of them, Giles would not have technically even considered a “person” until recently. The things Tara had told him about the recent events had challenged his view of Spike as little more than an animal, capable of acting only on instinct and impulse, nothing more. It was not mere instinct that had driven him to risk his life to save Dawn on more than one occasion. And while a few of those times could have been attributed to his desire to impress Buffy, the recent ones could not.
What could account for his staying with Buffy for so long, in spite of the way she had abused him? His protecting and caring for Dawn, even after he had separated himself from Buffy? Giles had to admit that this particular vampire, at least, was subject to a vast complexity of very human thoughts and feelings.
“If she comes here,” he began cautiously.
“When,” Spike corrected quietly, his fear soothed for the moment by Tara’s strong yet gentle presence. Now, there was only a grim resolve in his deep blue eyes.
“When she comes,” Giles amended with a nod. “we should try if at all possible to restrain her without staking her. To see if it will be possible to reach her or not. If we can’t…then we will have no other option but to – to eliminate the threat.”
Sobered by the thought, the little group did not seem to have much to say after that. The meeting broke up shortly, with Xander and Anya going home to their apartment, and Giles returning to the hotel he was staying at.
Once they were alone, Spike, Tara, and Dawn talked a little more about what they would do when Buffy showed up. Spike and Dawn together had managed to make her back off before, though something told him that she would not be so easily discouraged this time around. Still, if they managed to catch her off guard, they just might be able to get her restrained. They decided that it would be safest for them all to sleep in the same room that night, so that Dawn and Spike would be together when Buffy showed up.
Dawn went upstairs to take a shower and get ready for bed before returning to the master bedroom, and Tara went down to the basement to find the set of manacles Buffy had kept there, the same set that had bound Spike twice – once only days before, when he had been Buffy’s captive; and once years earlier, in Giles’ bathtub.
He thought with a sad, ironic smile of how the tables had turned since then for him and Buffy. They were still mortal enemies, but their positions had been reversed, casting him in the ill-fitting role of hero, while she was the evil villain. He hoped against hope that that was not completely true.
He walked into the darkened master bedroom, not bothering to turn on the light. He could see as well as he needed to without it, due to his enhanced vampire senses. He crossed the room to the window, checking to be sure it was firmly locked. Buffy could easily break it and get in if she wanted to, but not without waking them, he thought with some satisfaction.
Before he could turn from the window, a strong arm slipped around him, pinning his arms to his sides, and another small, powerful hand covered his mouth tightly, silencing the cry that rose in his throat. A sick sense of déjà vu hit him, but he knew beyond all doubt that this was no dream, as he struggled against her, to no effect.
This was terrifyingly real.
As in his dream, he froze, paralyzed by the soft, familiar voice that had the power to strike such fear into his heart
“We need to talk,” she whispered.
Fighting back the panic that rose in him, he struggled against the arms that held him, trying vainly to break her hold.
“Please,” her voice said with surprising gentleness…and…was she crying? “Please, I’m not going to hurt you…I just need to talk to you, alone. Please.”
He froze. This did not sound like the new-and-not-so-improved version of Buffy that Anya had described. This sounded a lot more like the old Buffy, pre-vamping, pre-possession, pre-death. Just…Buffy.
“If I move my hand, will you promise not to scream?” she asked in a tremulous whisper. “I don’t need Tara coming up here to kick my butt again.”
He nodded almost without thinking about it, just to get her to do it. He knew that the borrowed power Tara had used to defeat Buffy before was long since gone, but it was probably of the good that Buffy did not know that. He felt her arm around his waist loosen some as well as the hand over his mouth dropped to her side. He immediately took advantage of the opportunity and shoved his arms out, breaking her grip, then spun around to face her, landing a solid blow to her jaw.
She stumbled back a few steps, before he leapt upon her and knocked her to the ground. It was only after he was pinning her to the floor that he realized two things.
What he had just done should have been impossible.
And for some reason, he had not made a sound…just as he had promised her.
Looking into her eyes, the pain and heartbreaking sadness he saw there almost took his breath away – not that he needed it anyway. He felt an irrational anger at the sight; he was not supposed to be made to feel sorry for her! She had taken his heart, his very life, and torn them to shreds and thrown them cruelly in his face. He had every right to hate her, damn it!
So why did the look in her eyes make him want to just hold her and comfort her? He was in love with Tara now, and that love combined with the torment Buffy had put him through had pretty thoroughly eliminated any of that sort of love for the girl he now held pinned to the floor beneath him. But that did not mean that to see her hurt did not still hurt him, because it did…and there was still a part of him that ached to take away her pain.
“What are you doing here, Buffy?” he demanded, his voice a low, throaty growl.
Her eyes welled with tears at the hard note in his voice, and she whispered, “I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Talk to me,” he echoed with disbelief. “Yeah, I know how your bloody talks with me go, Buffy. And they usually start with you running on about how bloody disgusting and pathetic I am, and end with me beaten unconscious. Don’t feel like ‘talking’ with you at the moment, pet.”
“Spike – please,” she whispered, the tears spilling over to roll down her cheeks to the floor. “I don’t know where else to go.”
“Why should I trust you for two bleedin’ seconds, love?” he demanded, his own eyes welling with tears, in spite of himself.
“I could have not let you knock me down like this,” she pointed out softly, her voice little more than a whisper. “I could have knocked you across the room, or drained you dry by now,” she went on, and oddly, there was not the hint of a threat to the bluntly violent words. “But I haven’t,” she finished in a whisper, her wide green eyes locked onto his, pleading that he see the truth of her words.
He did not know what to say to that. It was true, she could have killed him by now if that was what she had come here to do. And she hadn’t.
Unless of course, she had a worse idea in mind.
He debated calling out for Tara or Dawn, but decided that the damage Buffy could do to him in the precious seconds it would take them to reach this room far outweighed the potential benefits. Slowly, cautiously, he rose off of her, never taking his eyes from hers, as he backed slowly away and sat down on the edge of the bed.
Suddenly, a sick uncomfortable feeling came over him; he did not want to be alone with her in this room and anywhere near the bed. He stood up again, standing a few feet away from her as she carefully rose to her feet.
“I – I woke up about an hour ago,” she began without any further preamble, her serious eyes focused on his. “In the old mansion, with Angel – Angelus,” she corrected haltingly.
His eyes widened; he had not expected her to be so forthcoming about that. “So it’s true then. Angel’s lost his soul.”
She nodded slowly.
“I don’t know,” she replied, shaking her head. Her eyes suddenly widened and she said in an emphatic, defensive tone that sounded very much like her old Slayer-self, “I didn’t do it! I swear!”
He almost smiled to hear it. Almost.
“I just woke up with him, and…and I don’t know why I didn’t see it before…when he found me in…when he found me,” she continued. “I guess I was just so confused and scared and glad to see him that I didn’t notice. But – I can sense things like that – now,” she said, her voice low, ashamed of the new powers she had, and their source. “And when I woke up, he was still asleep, and I looked at him – and I just knew.”
She paused, seemingly overwhelmed by emotion, and turned away from him for a moment before going on, “I freaked out, and I came here.” Her eyes met his again, and she said, with a pleading note in her voice, “You’re the only one around here who knows anything about Angelus, really. I had to talk to you. I don’t know why he’s here – why I was with him…” Her voice trailed off, and there was a desolation in her eyes that broke his heart.
“He said he came here to help you,” Spike said softly. “To help you – overcome the – the evil inside you.” He paused, looking at the floor. He wondered about the wisdom of telling her anything more, considering the possibility that this was really her new alter-ego, in some elaborate deception. But the confusion, the hurt lost look in her eyes was very real, and he knew that this was really Buffy.
As he looked at her, her confusion deepened. “He said…he said there was no hope…no chance that I could beat it…”
Spike’s eyes widened as he processed the implications of that – then slowly filled with anger. “So Angelus somehow got wind of what happened, thought he’d take advantage of the opportunity,” he realized. He looked back up at Buffy and said softly, “Your Watcher is here.”
Her face lit up at those words, and he was even more firmly convinced that this was the really real Buffy.
“And he says there is a chance…he says that because you’re a Slayer, you didn’t completely lose everything that was you when you were turned…and we’re working on a way to help you, love,” he explained gently, sitting down on the edge of the bed again. He was feeling more comfortable and less threatened with every moment he spent with her.
“Can I talk to Giles?” she asked. “Where is he?”
He frowned, shaking his head slowly. “Not sure I should tell you love,” he said cautiously. “How much do you remember from tonight?”
She frowned, too, in concentration. “Not much,” she replied. “I’ve been blacking out. I don’t remember what happens, but Angel said it was when the demon was in control.”
“That much it seems was true,” he nodded. “What I’m afraid of, love, is you and the – the other you – trading memories, facts and such, and her trying to use it against us. You understand?”
She nodded slowly, looking away, ashamed.
“She’s planning something…you wouldn’t…happen to know what, would you, pet?” he asked her, piercing blue eyes seeking hers out and searching them.
She shook her head without looking up, and he saw a tear roll off her face and hit the floor.
“She threatened Anya and Xander at the Magic Box tonight,” he told her, wincing slightly when she did. He had known the knowledge would hurt her, but it could not be helped. “She said she was coming here…so naturally when you showed up like you did…”
She nodded her understanding. There was a short silence before she said softly, “You have every reason not to trust me. To – to hate me.”
He did not deny it, just stood there in silence.
“I – I’m sorry…”
“No,” he replied in a quiet but firm voice. “Not now, Buffy. I can’t – can’t do this right now.” And now he was the one looking away from her desperate, searching eyes. He looked up very deliberately, changing the subject back to the matter at hand. “We were going to try and overpower her when she got here, you know, see if we couldn’t find out anything about what she’s planning.”
Her eyes were full of pain at his rejection of her attempt to make things right between them, but she bravely nodded and respected his decision of the moment, returning to the discussion. “Overpowering her…not easy,” she reminded him in a dark voice.
“The chains I keep in the basement are pretty strong…they might hold her…me…” Buffy suggested.
His eyes widened in amazement at her suggestion, and then he let out a low, soft laugh.
She looked confused for a moment, before a little of the pain lifted from her eyes and she laughed, too.
It was just too surreal -- the two of them standing here in this room discussing the best way to restrain her when she turned evil again.
“Buffy,” he began cautiously, not meeting her eyes. “I want to help you. I want to help you get through this, and if there’s a way to completely beat this, I want to find it. You – you’ve meant a lot to me, love, and…and don’t think that doesn’t mean anything now, because it does…” His voice trailed off. He wanted to say something, there was so much he wanted to tell her….the problem was he had no idea how to say it, how to put it into words. “Maybe when this is all over…” he went on, haltingly. “I’ll be able to talk about it with you…”
A wild hope shone in her eyes as she took a couple of steps toward him, gently taking his arms in her hands. “Thank you!” she whispered. “It’s more than I…”
Her words cut off as he jerked out of her touch, alarm in his eyes. “Don’t…” he whispered, shaking his head and looking at her with smoldering blue eyes. “don’t touch me, Buffy.”
The hurt was almost physical, and she turned her head so he wouldn’t see. “I’m sorry,” she whispered back. “I – I’m so sorry. I should have thought.”
He was staring at her now, realization in his eyes as he recognized something in hers. “Buffy,” he said quietly. “like I said, maybe when this is all over, we’ll be able to talk about what happened, somehow make it right again…but I’ll never be… with you again, Buffy.” He paused before saying, “I’m with Tara now. We love each other. And that’s not going to change.”
The disappointment in her eyes was impossible to mask, but she nodded. “I know,” she whispered.
At that moment, the door opened and Tara entered, the manacles in her hand. She stopped short at the sight of Buffy, defensive anger rising in her eyes.
“It’s all right love,” Spike quickly told her, going to her and taking her arm. “She’s Buffy. She’s herself.”
Tara looked at him searchingly, uncertainty in her eyes.
“It is,” he assured her. “I know.”
After a moment they broke their gaze and both looked at Buffy. Spike was stunned by the image before his eyes.
Her eyes filled with tears of hurt, and a firm resolve, she stood before them…holding out her wrists for the manacles in Tara’s hands.