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Though I Walk Through the Valley... by randi
Chapter 2
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Though I Walk Through the Valley…
Chapter Two

Willow stared at her best friend, simply unable to believe what she’d just heard.  “Buffy… are you out of your mind?”
Even as she spoke, she winced at her own words, regretting them almost immediately. Buffy’s face seemed to turn to stone.  “Be very careful, Willow,” she said softly.  “You’re dealing with a Slayer on the edge.”
She looked away, hardly able to believe that this hard woman with the lines of sorrow carved into her face was her best friend.  “Buffy, I can’t,” she whispered.  “I mean… I know I haven’t been exactly forgive-worthy in the not-so-distant past, with the attempted world ending and all.  And I want you to forgive me for… for last year… and maybe you think that this… but I can’t.”  She stared down at her hands, twisting together tightly in her lap.  “Bringing you back was really dark magic – like, not so much charcoal as very, very black.  And you know how very mixy me and the dark magic are.  Bringing back a vampire… Buffy, if there’s a color darker than black, that would be it.  And that’s not even taking into consideration that it’s impossible.”
“How do you know?” Buffy demanded, aggression pouring from her words.  “How could you know that without even…”
Willow looked up, catching and holding Buffy’s gaze, despite what it cost her.  “All those books in the forbidden section? I took out every bit of magic in them, every spell, every word.”  She shivered; the days when she’d been so hurt, so lost and vengeful still pained her, and that pain was composed as much of how she’d felt as what she’d done.  “If there was a spell to bring a vampire back from dust, it would have been there, and I’d know it.”
Buffy flinched.  “Even now?”  A hint of doubt started to cloud her eyes.
“The knowledge… it doesn’t matter how I got it, or the fact that I’m not using it now.  I still know all that magic.  And sweetie, I’m so sorry, but there’s nothing.  Nothing that gives even a hint of any kind of spell to bring back a vampire.  There’s nothing I can do to bring Spike back.”
She watched Buffy turn away and take a deep, shuddering breath, and her heart ached for the pain her friend was going through.  “I’m really sorry, Buffy,” she said softly.
“I don’t care.”
The sound of Buffy’s voice surprised her; yes, she still sounded all teary and sad… but there was steel in her tone that hadn’t been there before, even when she demanded her help.  It was the sound of sheer willpower, pure Slayer resolve, something she’d heard from Buffy many times before.  She’s determined to bring him back, Willow suddenly understood.  She’s going to try… everything.  Oh, Buffy, that way leads to badness…
“I don’t care,” Buffy repeated, more forcefully this time, and Willow realized she must have spoken at least part of her thoughts aloud.  “I’ll do the research myself.  There are lots of books out there, books that Giles didn’t have in the shop – we just have to find them.  Right?”
Willow could see the uncertainty in her eyes even as she spoke, however, giving the lie to the bravado of her words.  Bufy had a core of steel, she realized, but it was brittle from being through the fire too many times.
“Okay,” she responded, loathing herself just a little for what she was about to say, “yeah, other books… but how are you going to get them?  I mean, the books that Giles didn’t have in the shop or in Bath have to be pretty rare, and it’s not like anyone who has them is just going to give them to you.  How are you going to pay for them? We don’t really have a lot of money.”
Willow hadn’t intended it – except she kind of had.  It drove right to the heart of Buffy’s worries the previous year, where there hadn’t always been enough money to cover the bills and food. 
Buffy’s eyes widened, and then she blinked rapidly before looking away.  “I’ll find a way, Will,” she murmured, then gave another huff of not-quite laughter.  “I always do, don’t I?”  She stared down at the floor, and Willow could see the fabric of the bedclothes wadded up in her hands.
Suddenly, she was aware of guilt weighing heavily on her chest. I’m not really discouraging her from doing this, she recognized in a flash.  It’s like I’m only giving her more problems to work through… “I’m sorry, Buffy,” she said quietly.  “I just thought…” Thought it would be better if you realized it was impossible, then you could… I’ve got to get out of here before I screw up any more. “I really am sorry, sweetie, but I’ve got to go.”
“Go?”  Buffy was staring at her now as if she were something strange and foreign.
“Yeah… LA, remember?  I told you last night, before…” She tried not to say the words, but it didn’t matter; her friend’s eyes, already red, started swimming with tears.  “But the car wouldn’t start, and Xander had to fix it, and after that it was kind of late, so we just thought I should maybe wait until today…” With an effort, she stemmed the tide of words from her mouth.  “So, yeah.  It’s a long trip to LA.”
Buffy didn’t say anything, just looked at her with eyes that were deeply shadowed and seemed to take up all of her face.  Willow hated that look, the one that she’d seen so often without recognizing last year, the one that accused her with its very despair.  “I’m sorry, Buffy,” she murmured.  “I’ve really got to go.  They… Angel’s group… they need me to…” Finally, thinking it’s not doing any good dancing around the words, she took a deep breath and said, “It’s… him.  He’s out.  Angelus.”
Buffy just blinked, saying nothing, face still and sorrowing.
“And… and you know what that’s like,” she finished lamely, fighting off her amazement at Buffy’s non-reaction.  “They’ve got him caged now… I mean, totally under lock and key.  But I still need to go… need to put the soul back in him again, so that he’s… y’know… Angel again.”
Buffy’s expression didn’t change, but she nodded.  “Okay, I understand that.  But…”
“And I’ll be back before you know it,” Willow pressed on, trying for a cheerful tone and failing.  “And like I said, maybe with some good news.  Or, hey, maybe even some help.  So…”
“When you come back, Will.”  Buffy’s voice was still choked with tears.  “Please… help me.  Please.”
Her resolve – never strong when someone was asking her for something – weakened further, and she put her arm around Buffy’s shoulders again.  “Buffy…”
Please, Will.”
“All right.”  Oh, man, she thought, stunned, I can’t believe I’m actually agreeing to this!  But it was already done, and she couldn’t take it back.  “I’ll help you research,” she amended quickly.  “But I will not do anything dark, Buffy, I mean it.”  The words rang hollow, though, when she saw the hope dawn in Buffy’s face once more.
“Thank you.”  Tears were glittering in Buffy’s eyes again, even as she whispered those heartfelt words.
Willow tightened her embrace, and let Buffy rest against her shoulder for a moment.  All she could think was that, so suddenly, Buffy had become so… frail, so fragile, and she wondered where all her friend’s strength had gone.
It was later than it usually was when Buffy took her shower, but the water was still hot, and that was all that mattered.  She stood in the spray for a long time, waiting for the warmth to leech the soreness from muscles that had gone stiff while she slept, waiting for it to warm her inside.
It didn’t, but then it occurred to her that maybe it was better this way.  At least I won’t be bursting into tears at any second…
Deciding that it would be best to pick up her few personal belongings from her desk at the school before anyone else got there, she got dressed.
The aroma of the coffee Willow had surely brewed before she left floated up the stairs, enticing her down.  A quick glance in the living room told her that the girls were still asleep.
“What are you doing here?” Dawn’s voice drifted out from the kitchen, arctic cold.  Buffy picked her way around and through the obstacle course of the dining room as quickly as she could.
“Dawn…” Giles sighed. 
His voice drew her up short, had her clenching and relaxing her fists in indecision.  I so can’t deal with him now, she thought, but Dawn shouldn’t have to deal with him alone, either… She wavered between confrontation and a strategic retreat out the front door.  No way do I need coffee that badly…
“You know very well why I’m here.”
“I don’t care,” Dawn shot back.  “Get out of this house.”
Giles made no reply, and Buffy sidled closer to the kitchen, hovering just beyond the doorway.  The kettle started to whistle as she moved.
“Don’t you dare ignore me,” Dawn hissed, and now her voice had that teeth gritted, so-angry-she-was-about-to-cry sound.  “I want you to get out of this house this instant.”
The tea kettle sobbed into silence, and Buffy imagined the steam clouding Giles’s glasses as he poured.  “I’m not going to argue with you, Dawn,” he said, and now she could see him through the doorway, standing by the stove, involved with his tea ritual.
“Great,” Dawn said, still in that same tone.  She was standing near the stove, arms crossed tightly over her chest.  “No argument here.  Go. Away.”
Having let the tea steep to his satisfaction, Giles disposed of the teabag.  “I expect all of this hostility is in regard to Spike,” he said mildly, taking a sip from his cup.
“You’ve always hated him –”
“And until this very moment, I’d have said you felt the same,” he replied smoothly.  “Your recent interaction – aside from him overturning his cot on top of you – has been practically non-existent.”
“You are not gonna turn this back around on me,” she retorted, and advanced on Giles, one finger raised, pointing accusingly.  “I had my reasons for being angry with him.  I trusted him, and he… But I never forgot that I cared about him.  That’s why it hurt so much.  But I guess you’ve never done anything you’ve regretted.”  She backed off a step, smiling smugly, and crossed her arms again.
Admiration for her little sister uncurled in Buffy’s heart, and rather than interrupt, she just continued to watch from the doorway.
Giles turned red, his brows lowering.  “You know very well that I – that there is no one in this house who has not done things they later wished they hadn’t.  But I am not going to regret that Spike is no longer a danger to us.”
“He is not!” After speaking, Dawn looked stricken.  “He was not…”
“Yes, he most certainly was,” Giles said, overriding her feeble protest.  “He was still under the control of the First, and having that… that snake in our bosom was quite likely our greatest weakness.  The First could have activated the trigger at any time and had him kill the Potentials, or Buffy, or any of the rest of us, including you.  Using him as, essentially, a training dummy, while inspired, was at the same time perhaps the most dangerous thing that Buffy could have done, as it started to instill a trust that Spike might have easily taken advantage of.  And even afterwards, he could always beg off, saying that the First had forced him to do it, as It had forced him to kill those other people.”
Hearing Giles speak so coolly, so unemotionally about Spike and the evils he might have done threatened to break through the wall of numbness that she’d encouraged to grow after Willow had left.  You are so wrong, Giles, she thought, and opened her mouth.
“You never knew him at all.”
Slowly, she closed it again, the words she wanted to say now hanging in the air, though she hadn’t spoken.  A distant amazement flooded her.
In the gradually strengthening light, she could see Dawn was trembling, and slowly realized her sister was more than upset, more than angry.  She was furious in a way that Buffy had never seen before.
Dawn advanced on Giles again, this time not stopping until she was in his personal space.  “You only ever believed what was in the books about Spike.  You saw the bloodthirsty vampire who killed two Slayers.  You were happy when he got chipped – ” Giles looked about to protest, but she just powered on.  “Oh, don’t you even, Giles, I remember it! – because ‘the arrogant creature deserved a comeuppance’!” Her imitation of Giles’s accent made him flinch.  “You laughed at him and threw him out when he told Buffy he loved her.  But then you used him against Glory, you used him all that summer when Buffy was gone, playing on the feelings you said he could never have!
“You never knew that he took flowers to her grave every night before meeting with you guys.  You never knew that he helped me cope when Willow and Tara wouldn’t or couldn’t, or that I did my best to help him, because nobody else would.  He hurt Buffy – he never meant to, I know he didn’t – so he got his soul because he thought that was the only way to make amends.  He killed people after that, and he asked Buffy to kill him, because he believed he was a danger to her and to us.  That’s not someone who is evil.”
Dawn was crying freely now, as was Buffy, standing in the doorway, hand over her mouth and trying to keep silent.  “If he ever did any of the things you’re so concerned he might have, there’s no way he would beg off – he’d face it head on, just like he did everything else, and he’d pay the price.  I can’t believe you’d think…” Instead of continuing, she kicked him hard in the shin.
Giles yelped, jumped, and his tea sloshed over his hand to soak his cuff.  He dropped the cup, and it shattered as it hit the floor in a puddle of tea.
“Maybe you would beg off,” Dawn tossed over her shoulder, heading for the back door. Her voice vibrated with anger, with contempt.  “Spike never would.”
The door slammed on Giles’s quiet curses and the sound of water running in the sink.
As silently and swiftly as she could, Buffy stepped back into the dining room, avoiding the Potentials sleepily crowding into it, and headed for the front door.  A kind of cool satisfaction filled her, and for a moment it almost overshadowed the violence she still felt the needto inflict.
In quiet contrast to Dawn’s exit, she let the door click shut behind her, because slamming the door wasn’t nearly the kind of outlet she had to have.
Giles had been persona non grata in Buffy’s eyes before, but she had always eventually forgiven him, or had at least forgotten about what had made her upset in the first place.
This time, he was rather afraid she would do neither.
While waiting for his Slayer to appear this morning, he’d tended to his scalded hand, tried to placate a dozen worried Potentials who’d woken at the noise and made another cup of tea after sending them off to training.  It was more than an hour later that one of the girls mentioned that she’d seen Buffy slipping out the front door.
The next time he looked in on the training class behind the house, it had been late afternoon.  Buffy had been present then, observing as Kennedy and Molly had led the younger and less experienced girls through a kata.  But he’d no more stepped out into the yard than she’d called for two-on-one battles, where she moved and struck with such unconscious grace that he had to check the sun was still in the sky.
He recalled watching Spike fight during that summer where they had all struggled to go on without Buffy.  Watching her with a clinical eye, he noted there were definite similarities between Spike then and Buffy now, then berated himself for thinking it.
She avoided him all through supper as well, and when he caught up with her again, she was preparing for patrol.
“Not now, Giles,” she said, her tone clipped as she secreted half a dozen stakes on her person.
“Yes, now, Buffy,” he replied, using his sternest voice.  “This is something that must be addressed.  This morning, Dawn…”
“… read you the riot act and probably left you with one heck of a big bruise on your shin,” she finished, selecting a sword from her weapons cache.
He felt his mouth fall open.  “You… saw?”
When his Slayer looked at him again, her eyes were cool and hard, emeralds in her pale face.  “Yes, I saw, Giles.  I saw, and heard, and I’m telling you right now, she said all the things I couldn’t.”  Abruptly, she turned away from him and strode toward the door.
“Buffy…” Mindful of the eyes of the Potentials on them both, he followed her onto the front porch before trying to catch her arm.  “Buffy, we must discuss this.”
She pulled away from him.  “There is nothing to discuss, Giles,” she said, and where he expected heat and anger, there was only chill distance.  “You discussed things enough last night – the plan between you and Robin, your delaying tactics in the graveyard, all that back to basics crap – no, I really don’t think there is anything left to discuss at all.”  She opened the door again and shouted, “First team!  Grab your stakes, it’s time for patrol!”
Her voice cracked a little on the final word, and she rubbed her face with her free hand before turning her back on him.
Before Giles could marshal any arguments in response, four girls clomped out onto the porch, chattering excitedly among themselves.  They followed Buffy down the walk and out into the night.
He was left staring after them, wondering how it had come to this, how, after so long and so many battles, he had lost his Slayer’s trust.
Patrol.  Or rather, training disguised as patrol.  Either way, it was a few endless hours she spent mostly raking up memories of past patrols with Spike… whether or not she’d wanted him with her.  But thendoesn’t matter, Buffy thought, watching the Potentials double team the vamps they’d scared up.  I want him here now.
As she had the past few days, she had to work hard to keep from crying.  Her eyes ached and her cheeks were raw, and she was pretty sure she’d forgotten what it felt like to smile.
But Will said she’d be back tonight, she thought, attention drifting from the fight.  Probably tonight, anyway.  Maybe she can get more books out of Giles… Quickly she veered away from that thought.  Thinking about Giles tended to tie her up in knots inside, and she’d avoided him pretty successfully for the most part.  She shook her head, trying to clear it.Willow said she’d help, and that’s what matters.
“Hey, Buffy? We’re done…”
She blinked away from her thoughts and saw that Amanda stood before her.  She, Rona and Vi had dusted one vamp, and even as they fought, Kennedy and Molly were arguing over who got to dust the other one. 
Huffing softly, Buffy ended their discussion with an unerring flick of her stake.  “Don’t get overconfident,” she warned them.  “Overconfidence gets you dead.”
“Might also get you twenty-five to life if you’re not careful.”
At the sound of the familiar voice, Buffy spun around, shocked.  She hadn’t expected to hear it ever again, not after those horrible hours in LA.  Even after everything she’d done, it had still been hard to see her get locked up.  “Faith?”
The other Slayer was lounging against a tall headstone, ankles and arms crossed, her casual pose belied by the tension coiled in her muscles.  “Hey, B,” she drawled. “Takin’ the mini-mites out on patrol, huh? Sounds like old times.”
Before automatically making the sharp retort that was on the tip of her tongue, Buffy paused.  Faith must be the help that Will said she was going to bring back from LA, she thought. After a moment, relief flooded her.  Faith was a Slayer.  Yeah, she’d spent the last few years in the penitentiary, but she was still a Slayer. Taking a few steps closer, Buffy thought, She’s got the strength, the moves, the attitude…
The scent.  Buffy stopped dead as Faith’s scent tickled her nose.  Cigarettes and leather, andoh, no, I am notgoing to break down here, not in front of them.  She opened her eyes wide to stave off the tears.
“Who’s she?” Kennedy demanded.  Buffy was trying so hard to maintain control that she didn’t even notice the snippy tone.
Faith pasted on an insulted look.  “B, you didn’t tell the newbies about me? I think I’m hurt.” She laid her hand over her heart.
She wasn’t sure how, but Buffy pushed back the grief – which had somehow grown even closer through Faith’s mockery – and managed to speak.  “Wasn’t really expecting to see you,” she replied, her voice rough, and it drew Faith’s gaze to her face.  “Will didn’t let on the kind of help she was bringing back from LA.”  She met the other Slayer’s eyes and saw – not for the first time, if she were honest with herself – defensiveness and pain and a longing to be someone, someone that mattered.  It was everything she’d seen in Spike’s eyes, and told herself she hadn’t. 
With an effort she went on, “I’m glad you’re here.  Welcome back.”  She turned slightly to call over her shoulder to the others.  “This is Faith.  She’s…”
Before she could finish, she saw Faith’s eyes flare wide, and she was looking past her, toward the other girls.  She hadn’t even started to turn around to see what it was when Faith exploded into motion, snatching the stake from Buffy’s waistband as she passed.  In a second, she was raining blow after blow on the vampire that had crept up behind them unaware.  After the first punch, the vamp slid into her demon face, all ridges and fangs.
A few moments later, Faith had reduced the vamp to dust and sauntered back to the group, brushing off her hands as she did.
“The Vampire Slayer,” Buffy finished, her tone filled with approval.
The Potentials looked back and forth between them – Slayer Light and Slayer Dark – unable to believe what their eyes told them.
“She’s going to be taking over your training,” Buffy added.
And finally, even through the babble of questions, she remembered what it was like to smile.
Despite how he longed for his morning tea, Giles had taken over the past few days to staying away from the kitchen until after Dawn had departed for school.  It was quieter, and much more likely to leave him bruise-free.
One other thing he’d taken to doing was staying up to make sure Buffy got home safely from patrol.  She had barely spoken to him since that first night after Spike was dusted, and what little she had said was only in regards to the First or, oddly enough, spell books.
What on earth could she possibly want with spell books? he asked himself yet again, trying to make his tea and ignore the cacophony of a dozen or so girls fighting to be in the kitchen all at once.
Somewhat doubtfully, he had produced a couple of volumes that he’d brought with him from Bath, for which she’d given him short thanks.  He hadn’t seen the books again.
Because he’d stayed up in order to satisfy himself of Buffy’s well-being, he knew Willow had returned home late last night.  Nothing, however, had prepared him for the once-familiar sight of dark hair and brassy attitude that breezed through the kitchen.
“Hey, G-man, didn’t realize you were stayin’ here at Slayer Central.”
Before he could properly engage his brain, his mouth replied automatically.  “Please don’t call me that abominable name…” About to say Xander and suddenly realizing that he was actually speaking to someone else, he looked again. “Faith?”
She grinned widely at him.  “Can’t get nothin’ by a Watcher.”
He set his tea down in order to take off his glasses.  “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Wes busted me out,” she replied, her air distracted.  He had the distinct impression that she was looking past him at something on the counter, and dearly hoped it wasn’t the knife block.  “They needed a Slayer to help out in the City of Angelus.”
The unexpected ‘sproing’ from behind him made him jump.  At that moment, Faith struck, lightning-quick.  He was a bit surprised to feel no pain, and when she pulled her hand back, he saw her bouncing a hot toaster pastry from hand to hand.  Shame at his own nervousness made his cheeks heat slightly.
“Hey, that’s mine!” a voice cried.
“Not any more,” Faith crowed, and took a bite, puffing out her cheeks and blowing as the hot pastry and filling burned her tongue.  “Ya snooze, ya lose.”  She devoured the pastry and licked her fingers.
“Wes?  You don’t mean Wesley Wyndam-Pryce?”
Something crossed her face, a flicker of emotion there and gone before he could identify it.  “Yeah.  Then Red came up, stuffed the soul back into the Soulless Man and told me that y’all could use another Slayer here in Sunnyhell.  Seemed like a plan to me, and B agreed.”
Then she whistled piercingly, and the noise level in the kitchen dropped to blessed silence, as every girl there stared at her. “Listen up, kiddies,” Faith called.  “I’m Faith, and I’m your new dictator.  Strength training on the back lawn in five minutes.  If I have to wait for you, I’ll get bored, and if I get bored, you get extra push-ups.  Read me?”
The kitchen cleared with amazing alacrity.
When Faith looked at him again, her face was schooled into neutral lines.  “Red told me a lot about what was going on when we were driving from LA, and B filled me in on the rest when I got here.  I know I got no room to judge, but sneaking around behind her back to dust her pet vampire?” She shook her head.  “Trust me on this – you have got some serious kissin’ to do.”  With that, she sauntered out the back door, leaving him staggered by her words.  Within moments, he could hear her outside, barking orders.
The anger that seethed quietly just beneath the surface at Buffy’s sudden disdain flared to life.  Disapproval from Faith, of all people! he fumed.  He gulped at his tea, refusing to listen to the niggling doubt that advised him to consider Faith’s words.
After a few moments of silence, he heard first one set of footsteps, then a second, coming down from upstairs.
“Hey, Will.  Coast is clear?”
“Hi, Buffy. Oof.”  There was a deep ‘thud’, as of something heavy landing on the dining room table.
“Oh, wow.” Buffy sounded surprised.  “Where’d you get all those books?”
The aroma of old leather and parchment wafted gently into the kitchen, and Giles closed his eyes, remembering far more pleasant times in the Magic Box, or even in the school library.
“I, uh, I got them from Wes.”
“Um, yeah.  After we took care of Angelus and it was safe again, I got a look at his collection, and asked if I could borrow a few.  He was really great about it.  And, oh, Buffy, you’ve got no idea what was hiding under that priggy exterior.  He’s all leather and untucked and… and stubbly… though on second thought, that might be kinda uncomfortable…”
In spite of himself, Giles smiled.  The excitement in Willow’s voice had drifted into uncertainty, as it had so often when they were all younger.
“Faith said kinda the same thing.  That’s just all kinds of weird.  You sure it was Wes?  I mean, really?”
“Well, even if it wasn’t, he sure knew his books.”  The soft crackling and crinkling sounds were well known to him; one of them had opened an ancient tome.  “So, do you know what we’re looking for?”
Buffy sighed.  “Anything that could possibly help bring him back, Will,” she replied, so quietly that Giles nearly didn’t hear her.  “Just… anything.”
Giles paused, cup halfway to his lip.  Before leaving for Los Angeles, Willow had mentioned that there would be a lot of researching to do when she got back, and he thought he’d heard her mutter something about dust, but he hadn’t put the whole together until this moment.  Bring him back?  She couldn’t possibly think there’s any way to resurrect Spike, could she?
“Well, that narrows it down,” Willow replied, her tone sarcastic, but as he emerged into the dining room, Giles saw she was smiling.
“Good morning, Buffy, Willow.”
The reaction to his presence was immediate; Buffy refused to look at him, staring down at the book in front of her instead.  Willow’s smile disappeared, and she fidgeted uneasily in her chair.  “Oh… er, hi, Giles…”
Gesturing with his cup at the books spread over the table, he asked, rather innocently, “What are you working on?”
Before Willow could take a breath to launch into her babble, Buffy looked up.  Her eyes were rimmed faintly with red and ringed with dark circles, as if it had been a long while since she’d managed to sleep.  The sight shook him a little.
“We are working on a way to bring Spike back,” she informed him, her voice cool and matter-of-fact, as if she hadn’t just suggested something that went against the fundamental rules of the universe as he’d learned them.
He stared at her, incredulous, though she had returned her attention to the book in front of her.  She has no idea what she’s suggesting… To bring Spike back?  It’s impossible!
It was a moment before he recalled that he’d once used the word miracle in connection with the girl in front of him, and that perhaps what he considered impossible wasn’t quite so far out of reach after all.
Shocked as he was by the blatant disregard for the way of the Slayer – bringing a vampire back from dust, indeed! – as well as for the nature of evil, he didn’t quite take in the fact that Buffy was speaking.  He shook his head in order to clear out the startling number of dissonant thoughts.  “I’m sorry, Buffy?”
She was looking at him, head tilted slightly to one side in a way that seemed too familiar.  “I said, as long as you’re here, you can help too, Giles.”
“No, Buffy,” he replied with what he considered admirable mildness, once he had gained control of his mouth once more.  “I am not.”
His Slayer turned her fiercest glare on him.  “Why?”
“Because I am not going to assist you in this madness.  A vampire cannot... come back.”  Moreover, he thought, this one shouldnot.
“Angel did,” she shot back.
“Angel wasn’t dust,” he reminded her.  “By your own report, he was sucked through Acathala, very much whole in body.  You know as well as any of us what happens when a vampire is killed.  It turns to dust.  And once it is dust, it is dust.  It is gone.  Reconstituting that dust back into the vampire it had been is utterly out of the question.  I refuse to waste my time because you want something that is clearly not possible.  Vampires are evil; that is something you know quite well.  Spike was no exception.  I’m sorry you’re upset, of course, but the world is better without him in it.”
Tension filled the silence as they stared at each other, neither willing to back down.
She swallowed heavily, then lifted her chin.  Her face was as hard as granite, and he saw no hint in her of the trusting girl she used to be.  “Then I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Giles found he couldn’t believe his ears.  “I beg your pardon?”
“If you aren’t going to help bring Spike back, you’ll have to leave.”  Her eyes were cold. “Maybe Faith will want your help,” she added, though her tone made it clear she didn’t expect it.  With that, she turned back to the book on the table, effectively dismissing him.
He looked at Willow, who had been silent throughout their exchange.  She was biting her lip, darting her gaze first at him, then at Buffy… but she said nothing.
Suddenly enraged beyond measure at his Slayer’s stubbornness, her wrong-headedness, the grudge she seemed determined to bear, he bit out, “Very well, then.”  He stormed out the front door, though somehow he resisted the urge to slam it behind him.
It felt like hope was further away than it had been before, and Buffy forced herself to remember that this was only the first day of research.  Like we everfind anything right away, she thought.  Not to say I wasn’t kind of hoping we would… Pulling off her muddy patrol gear, she sank onto her bed, exhaustion leaving every muscle feeling tight and achy.
After she’d spent all day doing research, she and Faith had taken the whole group of Potentials out on patrol.  They had run into double the usual number of vampires and other assorted nasties.
Having Faith with her was really a double-edged sword.  On the plus side, it meant she had someone as strong as she was to back her up.  On the minus side, it wasn’t the person she was expecting to have back her up, and the aroma of tobacco floating around her didn’t help.
Buffy lay back on the bed, one arm draped over her eyes.  So, just howmany times were you expecting to see Spike just melt out of the darkness, all bright hair and red-tipped cigarette and swagger?
She bit her lip; she had seen him do just that too many times to count, just because it was the only way she would let him get close to her.  And every time tonight, she’d gotten Wild Girl Faith instead.
It made patrol even more difficult than it had been since… Buffy shook her head.  Gotta be strong.  Get a good night’s sleep.  Things will look better in the morning.
And if I keep telling myself that, it’ll be true, right?
For a short while, however, she lay there, forcing herself to stay awake, avoiding sleep.  The night before, her rest had been invaded by nightmares regarding Spike.  The torture he underwent each time she closed her eyes was vivid, too real to bear.  He had begged for her, for release, for death, until she was afraid to close her eyes.
No, I was afraid that it was real, she thought, shuddering.  Can’t deal with that again…
However, the next time she blinked, when she opened her eyes, she was in some kind of dark cavern.  To one side it was backlit with red, as if from the dull embers of a hundred dying fires, while on the other it was bright and flickering gold, the kind of light she could only associate with a fresh blaze.  When she turned around, the darkness filled the cavern, deep and endless.
Great, she groaned silently.  Symbolism.  So I’ve got two choices here.  Another nightmare – which, fun! Not – or a Slayer dream… which may as well be another nightmare.
“Why do you want him back?” a familiar voice asked, and when Buffy spun around to the light again, she saw…
All righty then.  Slayer dream it is.
She didn’t think she’d spoken the words aloud, but the other… her just kind of shook her head. “This isn’t a dream,” she said, then grimaced, as if she knew that her words just reinforced the dreamlike atmosphere.  “It’s not,” she went on somewhat weakly, reading Buffy’s skeptical look.
“If it’s not a dream, who are you?”  Buffy eyed her double warily.  “Why do you look like me?”  Yes, the other’s face was exactly the same as the one she saw in the mirror every morning… right down to the red eyes and tear tracks, the air of sorrow that never seemed to lift.
“Why do you want him back?” the other Buffy asked again, shaking her head.  “Do you want him back because he’s a strong fighter, or because you feel guilty… or because you love him?”
“Love him?” Buffy stumbled back a pace, staring at the other her in shock.  “You mean… love… Spike?
Mirror-Buffy stared at her, her visage sad and drawn.  “When you went into the portal… did the Shadow Man show you something you didn’t know?”
Buffy stiffened, remembering that moment clearly, when the last of the Shadow Men had shown her what lurked beneath the Hellmouth… the thousands of starving Turok Han, ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world.  “Yeah.  He did.  Why?”
The other Buffy smiled, a tiny twisting of her lips.  “And you worried about it as much as you did the First, and thought about telling the others, and pushed the Potentials to be better fighters, stronger and faster… hoping that would be enough to save them.”
She shouldn’t be so surprised, really, that this thing that looked like her thought like her, too.  “Yeah…”
Her smile dropped away.  “So did I.  And we won.”
Buffy snorted.  “Yeah, right.  If you won, why aren’t you happy?”
“Let me show you how we won,” the other Buffy whispered.  She motioned for Buffy to turn around.
When she did, she was greeted with a blinding light, so bright that she actually cried out and raised both hands to shield her eyes.  Then the light moved on, and the first thing she could think of was a lighthouse.  Slowly, her vision cleared, flashing spots changing colors and fading to nothing, and she saw the cavern beneath the Hellmouth that the Shadow Men had shown her, saw Turok Han disintegrating all around as that ray of light swept over them…
Saw Spike standing in a column of light, unmoving, with the laser beam dusting the ubervamps sprouting somehow from his chest.
She had to do a double take.  Wait… Spike?  He’s alive? He’s back! Oh, God, oh, thank you, Will… you brought him back…
“Keep watching.”  The other Buffy was still beside her.
She pushed her amazement and relief aside and looked again, and the fear chilled her insides as she realized.
Oh, my God, he’s standing in sunlight!  He’s going to fry!  Panic rose up, and she started to move, wanting more than anything to race forward and push him out of the sun, to scream at him for being so stupid… Just got you back, you jerk, what are you doing…
The other Buffy caught her arm.  “You can’t.  This… it’s not happening now.  This has already happened.  You can’t change it.”  They watched as she – another Buffy – stepped up to Spike, arguing with him.  “I couldn’t change it then, either.  See, Spike – my Spike – had to save himself in Robin’s garage, because I got there too late.  He fought back against the trigger, or Robin stopped to gloat, and he survived.  But then…”  She choked off a tiny sob.
When Buffy looked back at the scene, she could see herself – that other Buffy – holding Spike’s hand, even as it burst into flames.  Then the floor started to give way, the earth trembling beneath them, and the Buffy holding Spike’s hand staggered, her hand falling away from his.  Spike’s mouth moved, though she couldn’t hear what he said, and the other Buffy ran, dashing out of the cave falling in all around her.
Laughing in the sunlight, Spike crumbled to ashes.
And she couldn’t stop it.
“No!” All she could do was scream in protest, hoping that someone, something somewhere would listen.  But no one did.
This can’t be happening, she thought desperately, her throat aching from the force of her cry.  It can’t be…
As he dusted, the light that sprung from his chest flickered and dimmed, fading as his ashes fell, before winking out entirely and leaving her in darkness again.
Hearing her own voice again made Buffy look up, feeling the familiar sting of tears on her salt-raw cheeks as she did, and saw that the other Buffy was weeping as well.  She hadn’t even noticed that she’d fallen to her knees.
“Why do you want him back?  If it’s just because he’s a great warrior, or because you feel guilty, or even because you need to know there’s someone out there who loves you unconditionally… you’ll still end up without him.  And even if it is because you love him…” She stopped, and the tears ran down her cheeks like a river.
Buffy wiped her eyes and managed a weak glower at the other.  I hate you, she thought dully.  She wished she could summon the strength to beat this look-alike for what she had shown her, but none of her muscles seemed to want to obey.  You have no idea how much I hate you for this. “What then?”
“I told him I loved him,” the other Buffy replied, her voice barely audible, staring out into the darkness, where Spike – her Spike – had died.  “Right then, right there, before the earthquake jerked us apart, I told him I loved him… and he didn’t believe me.”
Buffy gasped, and oh, God, that was the feeling that the whole world had been pulled out from under her.  He didn’t...  “What?”
“Don’t put it off,” the other her said, her voice fierce.  “If you love him, if that’s why you want him back… tell him.  Don’t leave it until later, because you may not get a later…”
Buffy woke herself up crying and then couldn’t stop.  She wept until her head was pounding and her eyes felt coated with sandpaper, until she couldn’t cry anymore.  It didn’t ease her grief at all, wasn’t cleansing or closing.  It was just utter despair.  She cried because it was the only thing she could do.
Even after she stopped, she still shook, trembling with emotional exhaustion and wishing she could move, but it was like there was something broken inside.
He didn’t believe her.
Once she’d collected enough of herself to think again, she wondered what that other Buffy had done to her Spike that he wouldn’t believe her.  Then, quite suddenly, she realized, She’s me.  Whatever she did to herSpike… I did to mine.  That thought made her wish she could cry some more.  So I guess it doesn’t matter where, or what universe, or… Spike falls in love with me, and I treat him so badly… and he gets a soul, and he dies… It happened there, and it happened here… Does it happen in other universes, too?
There were thousands of dimensions out there, thousands of universes… did each one have their own Buffy and Spike?  Did the same things happen in each one, playing out the same hateful script time and again, with no variation that might bring happiness?
Did Spike die in each one?
And somehow, that hit her the hardest… that the vampire who had fought so long and so hard for her love, for her, would always go to his death, not knowing – or worse, not believing
And for the first time, the truth of why she really wanted him back struck her.
I do love him.  I can’t live without him anymore.  I love Spike.
She started to giggle into her pillow at that, though she didn’t really find it funny at all.  I love him.  And of course, I only discover this after he’s… gone.  How like my life.  She could hear the tinge of hysteria in her laughter, and after only a few moments, it turned back into sobs again.  “I love you, Spike,” she whispered.  “I’m so sorry…”
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