“Well, well,” Wright drawled as the doors to the Hyperion swung open. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
Lindsey McDonald glared at him, rubbing his brow as if to banish a headache. “Could you possibly think of something a little more cliché, because that just wasn’t cliché enough.”
“I’m sure I could if I tried.”
He didn’t respond, rather looked to Cordelia. “What happened, do you know?”
Wright snickered. “What? And we’re supposed to believe that you don’t?”
“They didn’t tell me anything, all right? I couldn’t even get clearance to leave the building until an hour ago. By the time I got to my office, my things had been removed and, for all I know, disposed of.”
Lindsey chuckled, rubbing his brow harder. And Wright had to admit, the guy looked like he’d been hit and rolled over by a semi-truck.
“I guess I owe Lilah a thank you,” Lindsey said. “In some perverse way, she saved my life.”
Cordelia frowned and motioned for him to take the vacant plush cushion in the middle of the lobby. “What do you mean?”
“No, no,” Wright snapped. “He’s not staying.”
“Zack, he looks like hell.”
Lindsey’s brows winged upward. “Thanks.”
Cordelia shrugged. “Well, you do.”
“I don’t care if he looks like the Pope. He’s not staying.”
“Just out of curiosity,” Lindsey said, “do I know you?”
“We have a mutual acquaintance.”
“Great. That shortens the list to people in this and approximately fifty surplus demon dimensions. Way to help.”
“I do my best.”
“GUYS!” Cordelia held up a hand. “It’s not like fighting’s going to change anything. Quite frankly, I already feel a headache coming on, and if there can ever be a day when I don’t have one, I’d really prefer it to be now. ‘Cause you know. Seer. Headaches. Kinda acts like an accessory to the action figure package.”
“What’s Evil doing here?” Gunn asked as he and Wes came into the lobby.
Cordelia tossed an acidic smile to the ceiling. “Thanks, PTB. I appreciate it. Oh, by the way, when I die from severe hemorrhaging, it’s so going to be your fault.”
“Now, now, Gunn,” Wesley said, “we don’t want to jump to any conclusions.”
Gunn snorted. “Right. We end up with a sired slayer on our hands and now a spokesman from Hell Incorporated shows up? I don’t really consider that jumping to conclusions. More a very unhappy coincidence.” He crossed his arms and jutted his chin at Lindsey, eyes dark and serious. “You gonna talk, bro?”
“Sired slayer?” Lindsey demanded, jumping to his feet and looking to Cordelia for confirmation.
Wright couldn’t smother his snicker. “Yeah. Like you didn’t know.”
That remark earned him a glare from Cordelia. “Back off, Zack. He’s telling the truth.”
“And what? Your magic powers tell you so?”
Gunn’s hands went up. “Hey man. Chill. If Cordy says it’s cool, it’s cool.”
“Oh. Right. Because Cordy’s all wise, all knowing, all powerful.”
Cordelia recoiled as though he’d slapped her. Wright nearly felt it before she did, and was immediately flooded remorse. “I didn’t mean that,” he said softly. “That was out of line. That was…I’m sorry.”
She glanced looked. “Sounded like you meant it.”
Lindsey raised his hand. “I’d like to second Cordelia on this one.”
Zack smiled at him. “Well, I’d like to see you castrated. I’ll give you yours if you give me mine.”
Lindsey blinked at him. “Do I know you?”
“I don’t care if you know me. I know you. And I know you’re affiliated with the corporation that murdered my friend’s girlfriend. That’s all I need to know. So take your fucking business elsewhere. We’re out of rooms.”
Gunn frowned at Wes. “We are?”
Wesley shook his head. “It’s a metaphor. Albeit, not a very good one, but a metaphor nonetheless.”
“That’s too bad,” McDonald replied, not looking away from Wright. “I was so hoping for a vacancy.”
“Tally another notch for the Bad Metaphors Party,” Cordelia muttered, rolling her eyes.
“Sorry. We don’t let ruthless killers stay with a smile and a nod.”
Wesley’s brows arched at that. “Well, actually…”
“It’s all right,” Lindsey said, waving dismissively. “I’m a lawyer. I’m accustomed to hypocrisy.”
That was it. The proverbial breaking point. Wright stormed forward, heated with rage. “Fuck the rest of it,” he growled, shoving the lawyer with the reserves—the energy he used only on demons. The sort of strength that required years of training to hone. Lindsey fell back, visibly surprised, but made no attempt to retaliate. The accusation came again. Heated. Raw. Black. “You murdered my friend’s girlfriend.”
Another brutal shove and Lindsey was on the floor, panting harshly. “Actually,” he said, fighting to his feet. “I was incapacitated. I knew too late, all right? I was in my office waiting for Gregori and the next thing I knew, I was in the medical wing. They had me unnecessarily stabilized for eighteen hours as Lilah pulled every string she could to get me out of there in a taxi rather than a body bag. There was nothing I could do, all right? Not a damn thing.”
“Nice.” Gunn whistled. “What I wouldn’t give to have friends in high places.”
“Friends?” Lindsey sputtered indignantly. “Hardly. I don’t know why she did it. I really don’t. Call it professional courtesy or don’t. Call it whatever the fuck you want.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. What I do know is that I woke up without a job, a car, or an apartment. Everything’s been seized by Wolfram and Hart.” His spread his hands. “I’m homeless.”
Wesley frowned. “They fired you?”
“I’m saying so. And hey, I’m not complaining. Firing me was the tamest thing they could’ve done. I’m surprised, quite frankly, to be standing.”
Lindsey perked a brow. “Why? Do I really need to spell it out for you?”
“No. Why did they fire you? There must have been a reason.”
The answer to that seemed obvious. “Because I’m a liability.” Lindsey emitted a long, burdened breath. “Because since Buffy was escorted into my office, I have done nothing but watch them torture her and try to figure out how to get her out. And yes, while my actions were not fast enough, while…while everything I did or didn’t do bit me in the ass…I did try.”
“Yeah,” Wright agreed sharply. “You failed.”
Lindsey’s eyes narrowed. “With all due respect, so did you. And…do I know you?”
“He’s a friend,” Cordelia offered.
“Yeah. That I gathered.”
“He’s also somehow gotten the idea that this is his hotel,” Gunn said dryly, glaring at Wright. “Yo, man. I like you. I really do. But you can’t just waltz in here and start playing boss. We all voted Wes in. Deal.”
“Well, Charlie,” Wright retorted, “I don’t work for Angel Investigations, and even if I did, at this point, I wouldn’t give a flying fuck.”
“We’re all worried,” Wesley offered. “These past few hours have been easy for no one.”
“You can say that again,” Lindsey muttered.
“But bickering amongst ourselves isn’t going to solve anything. There’s blame enough to go around.” Wesley turned his gaze heavenward and heaved a troubled sigh. “Until Buffy rises, we do not know what to expect.”
“Except that Spike’ll stay with her,” Gunn said. “It is not easy tryin’ to get that boy to move.”
Wright cleared his throat and cast his eyes to the floor. “What…what do you think she’ll… What do you think she’ll do?”
“Besides whup his ass several times from Friday for turning her into a member of the pulseless society? Beats me. I don’t even know this chick.” Gunn turned to Cordelia and Wesley. “You guys know her. What do you think she’ll do?”
“Don’t ask me,” Cordelia replied, shrugging. “With as much as I’ve changed since high school, I’m willing to bet it’s double for her.”
“I’m willing to bet it’s not,” Wesley countered. “Slayers cannot afford to change, Cordelia. No matter how long they live. Waking in a world such as this where she has been transformed into the very creature she was chosen to kill… I do not envy Spike in his task to calm her. There is a reason slayers are not turned. It’s a dangerous business.”
“So glad you’re going over the dangerous part now,” Wright remarked dryly. “Lord knows it wouldn’t have been good to do anything rash.”
“You did what you thought was right.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how much comfort that does not bring me.”
“Guys,” Cordelia said, holding up her hands. “This is getting us nowhere. Standing around and speculating’s not high on the helpful list. The best thing any of us can do right now is give Spike some peace. I’m sure when Buffy wakes up, the last thing he’s gonna want is a bunch of people around to watch—”
It was times like these that the acoustics in the Hyperion were noted for being superbly underestimated. Spike’s voice nearly shook the place to the ground, seemingly emanating from all corners, all walls. It touched the air, soared to a life of its own, and reverberated with haunting stillness even after the tag died without ceremony.
A long, uncertain moment passed. All eyes fell on her.
“You were saying?” Lindsey asked, arching a brow.
Cordelia shrugged. “I could be wrong, you know.”
He awoke slowly, his mind taking him down pathways perfumed with cherries, sunshine, and Buffy Summers. As though light itself was sentient.
Spike rarely dreamed. When he did, the visions produced were so realistic that he seldom knew they were conjured out of falsity until he awoke. He had dreamt of holding Buffy once, of kissing the breath out of her while she whimpered about how much she wanted him. Of telling her he loved her and watching her eyes widen in…well, not shock or disgust. That dream had fueled him for countless miles.
He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep and it didn’t matter. Buffy was beside him. He felt her hand in his. Felt the cool satin of her skin. If he inhaled, he would be flooded with her scent. It was more than one person could ever ask for and he was asking.
And something was squeezing his hand.
Spike’s eyes fluttered open. And he froze.
Buffy was looking at him.
Every nerve, every impulse wrought into his system froze. It was unsettling—watching her remember. Watching realization cloud her eyes. Watching as she learned…
He didn’t know how long she had been awake, and the notion bothered him.
There were so many things he wanted to do. Simply seeing her look at him was enough to knock the proverbial wind from his lungs. It was astounding—the clarity behind those eyes that had been all too recently dead. God oh god, this had been a bad idea. Being in the same bed with her while she took her first minutes as a vampire was unspeakably intimate. He felt like an intruder who had robbed a house blind only to return to steal the log from the fire as well.
It came slowly. Recognition. Spike remembered those first few minutes of waking all too well. One of the few things that time and age had failed to touch. The fear. The bewilderment. The body’s craving for blood—a hunger unidentifiable until the first sip. The lack of warmth. The lack of a heartbeat. All the things that mortals took for granted every day. Everything that separated vampires from everyone else.
Buffy’s eyes cleared as she looked at him. She shifted, and his body flowed with her as though under a whim uncontrollable by earthly forces. Her hand tightened around his until her eyes went wide. Then her grip relaxed, but she didn’t release him.
Spike didn’t realize his own eyes had drifted shut until they shot open when she whispered his name against his lips. When he looked at her, she was close. So close. There was no revulsion in her gaze. Just simple acceptance. Dazed acceptance.
He realized all too late that she wasn’t with him. Not entirely.
She blinked twice before smiling and snuggling deeper into the pillows. “Spike…” Her hand found his face and he wanted to cry. How long had he wanted this? Right now, he couldn’t imagine a time not wanting it.
But it wasn’t his. He had to give it back.
Buffy, however, didn’t seem to know that. She explored his skin in soft, feather-light strokes, each making his insides twist. It awed him when her eyes became watery. As though the contact could stimulate her as it did him.
But there were tears. There were tears in her eyes. Her gorgeous, vibrant, alive eyes.
“I’m dead,” she said simply. “Is this Heaven?”
Numbness swept his body. “Heaven, sweetheart?”
“It’s warm.” That was likely the comforters covering her body—vampires were not allowed warmth. It was always artificial. Always borrowed. Always not theirs. “It’s warm. I don’t hurt. He’s gone, isn’t he? Angelus is gone.”
Spike nodded slowly, carefully. “He’s still around, love,” he clarified. “But far away from you. He won’t touch you again.”
“You’re here.” She smiled sleepily and the image nearly broke him. God, he must be such a disappointment. “And I can finally touch you.”
She ran her hand ran through his unkempt platinum locks. Every move she made, every word she spoke, made his heart constrict. He trembled beneath her exploration, battling the incursion of emotion that threatened to spill forward in all his bumbling glory.
“I’ve wanted to touch you,” she murmured. “When you came to see me, I wanted to touch you, but I couldn’t.”
Spike’s vision blurred. “Buffy—”
“You found me, though.”
“I’m sorry. I tried, Spike. I tried so hard.” Her grip on him tightened. “I knew you were coming for me. I knew it. God, I felt it. I felt it and then he was there. And he—”
Spike fought the urge to bolt from the bed, the pain in his chest exploding. He couldn’t stand the account of her death. Having lived as he had for the past twenty-four hours, living it again through her eyes would likely kill whatever was left of him. Feeling her pain. Her fear. Her shattered expectations. That blinding faith that had gotten her killed. It was the epitome of selfishness and he hated himself for it.
But he didn’t tear himself away. As much as he knew he needed to, he couldn’t. These would be the last seconds with her.
She was going to hate him, and he couldn’t stand the thought.
“Buffy…” he said hoarsely. “Oh god, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” He buried his face in her hair and inhaled. “Please…”
He pulled away with more of the same and couldn’t help himself. If this was all he was going to get, he would take it now. His mouth found hers and drew her in—needy and desperate. Kisses intermingled with tears. She denied him nothing, rather gave him whatever he wanted and more. Pressed herself—her breasts, her hips, her body—against him so intimately it nearly undid him.
But he shouldn’t kiss her. Shouldn’t touch her. This was taking advantage. If he hadn’t done that before, he certainly was doing it now. And god help him, he’d come too far to be the monster again.
So he pulled away, reluctant though he was. “I’m so sorry, love. I…I didn’t want it to happen.”
“It’s okay,” Buffy said, though he knew it was not because. Then she snuggled herself into the crook of his throat and lapped delicately at the skin she found here.
Then he felt her fangs sink into his throat and his body wanted to cry out its pleasure. Logic, however, forced no boundary.
She was a newly risen vampire that needed to feed.
This was enough to drive him away. Out of the bed, away from the allure of her body, her scent, her borrowed warmth.
When he looked at her again, he found her near tears. A ribbon of blood dribbled from her mouth, but she didn’t seem to notice it. Her eyes were on him, full of hurt and rejection.
That was the final piece. She wasn’t herself. She hadn’t been since waking. She hadn’t even realized that she had bitten him.
It was not a difficult decision to make. He couldn’t be in the room alone with her like this. He might not be the monster he had been, but he wasn’t a man where it counted, and the devil on his shoulder might convince him to take a step back if he wasn’t careful.
So he called for the first person that came to mind.
Buffy’s eyes were filling with tears again. Not the good kind.
“Spike,” she said, “tell me what’s going on. Am I dead? Is…what is this?”
Words and confessions choked his throat. It was fortune then that the door opened.
“Hey,” Cordelia said in a manner that was both breathless and entirely too casual. “What’s up?” It was a futile question; she looked immediately to the bed. “Oh. Hey, Buffy.”
“Cordy, pet,” Spike said, his eyes on the Seer. He needed her to hear him now like she never had before. “I need to feed her.”
He didn’t want to say blood. He didn’t want to have to acknowledge to both her and himself what it was that Buffy’s body needed.
Fortunately, that was all the explanation required. With a short nod, Cordelia disappeared down the hallway. The silence that followed was the darkest and loudest he had ever known. He refused to look at Buffy. He didn’t want to risk seeing the understanding there. Her confusion, her failure to yet grasp at reality… He didn’t want to be looking at her when she understood that she wasn’t dead. Not really. That he hadn’t saved her. That he had, rather, condemned her for all eternity.
“Here.” Cordelia was in the room again before he knew it, mug in hand. For the first time since his human death, the scent of fresh blood turned his stomach rather than excited it.
But he found himself holding the mug the next instant and knew the rest was up to him.
“Do you need me?” Cordelia asked. “I could get Zack if—”
“Really, it’s no—”
His eyes flared and his tone became clipped. “No.”
Cordelia nodded, pursing her lips. “Right. We’ll be downstairs if you need anything.” Her gaze fell upon the Slayer once more and she offered a small smile. “It’s really, really good to see you.”
Bewilderment flooded Buffy’s face. “Cordelia?”
Spike stepped forward. “Cordy—”
“Right.” Cordelia held up her hands. “I’m gone.”
Buffy glanced back to Spike. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” he said, stepping forward with the cup of thick liquid red temptation. “First, I need you to be a good girl and drink this up for me. Can you do that?”
“No, tell me what’s—”
The second he stepped closer, though, her expression turned ravenous and whatever she’d been about to say died. He’d known it was going to happen, had known her hunger had intensified the instant the blood had been brought into the room.
When she met his eyes again, that familiar hunger shouted back at him. “Yes,” she said.
“Right.” Spike neared and gave her the mug.
This damn well felt sacrilegious, as though he was finalizing her pollution with something he could undo if he wanted it enough. As though the blood on her lips would signify every mean to every end. Drink of the cup. It is my blood and is poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me, and all that rot.
The cup was not filled with his blood. It did not need to be. His blood was already in her. It had brought her this far.
He watched her, breaking, as she downed every last, sacred drop.
Buffy was a vampire. He’d made her into his own image.
He had damned her.
Spike collapsed wearily into the chair he’d been in before and buried his face in his hands. It couldn’t last, though—he couldn’t hide from her forever. Wanting would never make it so.
“Umm, Spike? What happened?”
When he looked up, he saw her examining the empty mug, her mouth lined with red, her eyes narrowed with confusion and comprehension and a thousand awful things in between.
There it was.
“I…” He forced himself to his feet. “I didn’t mean it, Buffy. I tried. You were there and you were dead. You…” A sigh of defeat rolled off his shoulders. No more stalling. No more lies. “You’re a vampire.”
The silence that embraced them was as fatal as any he had ever endured.
Then she blinked. Once, twice. “Oh.”
Spike reeled, not understanding, then understanding too bloody much. Her mind was piecing itself back together.
Buffy wasn’t with him. Not where it mattered. The room, door, blanket, and bed might as well not exist. She was living in a dream world.
The knowledge broke his heart all over again.
“Come on,” he said, “I’m gonna give you a bath.”
She didn’t need it. He did. He needed something to distract himself. Give his mind time to process this Buffy that wasn’t Buffy. Not the Buffy of before, not even the Buffy who had been tortured by Angelus. This was a different Buffy altogether and he didn’t know how to help her. Well, he knew what he’d do to help Dru—minus the lethal options—and maybe that was good enough here. Buffy didn’t seem to notice that she was already clean, as it was. Instead, she nodded and kicked her legs over the side of the bed to join him.
Spike decided then that the best way to avoid a breakdown was to continue talking. This also helped prevent his mind from taking him down a rabbit hole. He began chattering about the Hyperion. How her former Watcher and Cordelia were running a nifty little setup. He mentioned Wright and his weapons collection. He shared his adventures as though reciting a history book. He did anything and everything to keep her occupied as the bath began to fill.
“Sung me a piece down at Caritas,” he was saying as he lifted her shirt over her head. The marks that had bruised her skin were close to fading, but he did not tell her that. He wanted to draw her attention as far from herself as possible. “Charlie wanted me to do Billy Idol—ha bloody ha, right?—but I figured I’d stun the crowd. You know me, expect the unexpected. Didn’t work, of course. Apparently no one there had heard a vamp sing Elton John. So I had to do another.”
She nodded dazedly and turned in his arms, allowing him to draw her hair over her shoulders.
“Lorne sent me to meet Zangy after that. He was…”
Spike trailed off when he realized that he had lost his audience—that whatever delayed attention she had given him was no longer his for the taking. When he looked up to see what had caught her eye, he felt dead blood freeze within his veins.
There it was. There it fucking was.
At that moment, he didn’t know what was worse. The horror on Buffy’s face or the understanding underneath it. That wretched understanding. The knowledge that had finally surfaced. The same that would seal whatever was left of either of them.
She was cemented on the floor, staring at the mirror.
But nothing stared back.