*squishy hugs* to Megan for the fast beta job.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading - your comments have been excellent.
Chapter 12: Understanding.
“No…” Buffy whispered quietly, shaking her head with disbelief. “Willow left, they all…” A deep breath was inhaled in an attempt to fight back welling tears.
Spike advanced upon her, his expression an open book, his earnestness shining from his eyes. He had to make Buffy believe, had to show her that she wasn’t alone in this world. Not even if it meant living in a perspex box, inside her head, for the rest of eternity. However, something in her gaze suggested it wouldn’t come to that. She wanted to believe.
“I’m not leavin’ you, pet. For as long as you want me, I’m here,” Spike reiterated slowly and confidently, a cocky grin tickling his lips. “And prob’ly will be even after you don’t.”
She faltered, again, and for a moment Spike was worried he’d pushed too hard. When the corners of her mouth twitched skyward and her eyes softened, he let out a sigh of release. It was a start, progress.
“Why are you doing this, Spike?” Her voice was breathy and quiet, almost as if she were afraid that if she spoke any louder it would break the spell—or whatever—that was keeping Spike from leaving. Like the rest of them.
“You already know the answer to that,” Spike replied softly, his head dipping shyly.
Buffy opened her mouth to object but one look into Spike’s eyes was all she needed to quash any denials. The why… his feelings, were as clear as a bright summer’s day.
“You won’t leave?” She bit her lip as she asked, even though she was almost certain of the response she’d receive.
“Never,” was Spike’s adamant reply.
A crimson blush rose on Buffy’s skin, the vehemence in Spike’s response filling her with feelings of trust and respect she’d never given serious thought to before. When the silence between them bordered on uncomfortable Spike cleared his throat.
“Right then. Per’aps we should think about wakin’, yeah? Willow’s not exactly thrilled ‘bout havin’ Sleeping Beauty in her flat, not to mention the handsome Prince.” With a confident swagger and smug grin, Spike closed the distance between them.
“Why is Willow not—”
“I’ll answer everythin’ once we’re outta here. As much as I’ve enjoyed this trip inside your head, I think it’s best we return to the land of the living.” A wry smile and he continued. “Or the un-living in my case.”
This time the corners of her mouth lifted higher, the beginnings of a true smile appearing.
“How do we do this?”
For a moment Spike was stilled, stuck on the word ‘we’, a ‘we’ that included him, coming from her mouth. “Ah, er,” he fumbled before he regained his composure. “You ah, you just have to want it. To wake up.”
“Right,” Buffy nodded. A brow lifted tentatively. “See you on the outside?”
A cheek splitting genuine smile broke across Spike’s face. “You can count on it.”
Simultaneous gasps for breath, one needed and one not, sounded in the air.
Willow was startled by the sudden break in silence, her jump in fright almost toppling her from the swivel computer chair. An obligatory hand flew to her chest, symbolising the sudden shock, before she lifted herself to her feet.
Spike was breathing heavily, downcast eyes immediately lifting to focus on the woman before him. A part of him had doubted Buffy would come, that she would leave the safety—if bizarre—world in her mind. Accelerated heartbeat and twitching in her hands blew away those reservations. She was awake.
The clarity of understanding hit her instantly, the differences between this world and that of her mind palpable. The ticking of a clock on the mantle behind her, dripping taps in the kitchen, the whistle of wind through a barely open window. It was a sensory overload; sounds, smells and touch were all magnified. One minute she was in her basement, the next she was…
Buffy forced her eyes open.
Confusion clouded her eyes when she didn’t recognise her surroundings, but that faded away the moment she saw Willow. Either she missed the hesitation in the Wiccan’s eyes, or she didn’t care about it, because less than two seconds after Buffy laid eyes on Willow she flew from her chair and wrapped her arms around the startled redhead. Wretched sobs tore her strength to pieces and forced Willow to return the embrace to keep her upright. The strongest Slayer to have ever lived crumbled at the mere sight of her best friend.
It both filled Spike with hope and broke his heart at the same time. He tried to remain optimistic that Willow wouldn’t react badly, wouldn’t tear herself away, and as he held the breath he didn’t need, his prayers would be answered.
But when it came down to it, Buffy was alive and awake. That was all that mattered.
“That’s not possible.”
Xander slumped onto the sofa, repeatedly running his fingers through his hair as he tried to make sense of what he’d just been informed. Buffy was living, breathing, animate, back from the dead.
Shock came first. It stilled him, froze him to the sofa. After shock—when the circumstance was a good one—normally followed excitement. Seconds ticked by and then shock disappeared to be replaced by its more pleasant cousin. The buzz of anticipation took hold, butterflies on crack zigzagging crazily through his stomach.
“She’s alive… she’s alive!” Xander whooped with glee as he jumped to his feet. “What are we waiting for, Giles? We’ve got to get our butt’s back to Sunnydale, pronto.”
Giles’ mouth dropped open and hung there, a response on the tip of his tongue but there was no will the deliver it. A large part of him didn’t want to return. And he felt ashamed by that. His life here in England was by no means ideal. Alcoholism had him in its tight grip and he was well aware of the fact he was only kept around at the Council through pity. But he had a routine. Not really a healthy one, but it was something. Returning to Sunnydale would mean a lot of things. What terrified him most was Buffy’s presence.
The love Giles felt for her was like that of a father. After her death, he grieved. Still grieved. Losing her was the hardest thing he’d ever had to go through and he didn’t know if he could do it again. Giles was not a stupid man; he knew that he had in no way gotten over the loss of his Slayer—of his daughter. Going back would mean really accepting she was back, that Buffy was alive. In turn, that would open the possibility of losing her again. Buffy was a slayer. That calling guaranteed an early death, a short life expectancy. How long would she last this time? He didn’t know if he could face that.
Frozen by cowardice… he was disgusted with himself.
Xander observed the array of emotions that flickered across Giles’ face. At first he was unable to comprehend the hesitation in the older man. Buffy was back, this should be cause for celebration. As time ticked by, Xander began to understand. Sympathy for the watcher was his first instinct, but it was quickly repressed by resolve. Buffy was back and she needed them, needed Giles. And Xander wasn’t going to allow fear of the unknown to deny her that support.
Pacing to the Watcher’s side, Xander lifted the telephone and dialled an operator.
“Heathrow Airport, Departures.”
Willow’s first gut impulse was to push away, to escape the Slayer’s hold. It took less than ten seconds to subvert that desire. Everything she’d seen in Buffy’s mind combined with a good hour of pondering time had weakened the redhead’s resolve. Earlier sentiments of it ‘being too late’, that their friendship was ‘long dead’ were thrown out the window when wave upon wave of grief from the Slayer washed over her. It couldn’t be ignored. In turn, it caused the inner gates that restrained Willow’s own emotions to break, and it filled her with feelings she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
The anguish she’d felt at the loss of their friendship and the sorrow of losing Buffy came first. Tears flooded her eyes and spilled down her cheeks.
“Willow, I’m s-scared.”
The whispered admission buckled Willow’s knees and toppled the pair of sobbing, embracing girls to the floor. Willow cried for Buffy: for her death, her re-embodiment and for the inevitable changes to her life that would soon become apparent. She wept for the loss of Dawn and Joyce. And she bawled for Tara.
Spike watched on with what was basically morbid fascination. He’d barely been allowed the opportunity to visually confirm that Buffy was awake when the devastated Slayer had thrown herself into the witch’s arms. Whatever had possessed Buffy to do such a thing, considering the non-existent relationship between the former best friends, was beyond him. Even more surprising was Willow’s reaction. Spike had expected rejection on her part. Over the last few months, Willow had been nothing but unsupportive whenever Buffy’s name was spoken aloud, no matter the reason. Seeing the girls practically squeezing the life from each other had not been expected. But it was most definitely welcomed.
The creak of a door opening and slamming closed startled slayer, vampire and witch. While tears still ran freely, Willow’s sobbing immediately concluded when her eyes fell on her beloved. The frightened expression Tara wore suggested the blonde Wicca had been woken by their noise. Relieved as Willow was that Buffy was back—and seemingly not the darker scarier version from the weeks which led to her death—her main priority was, and always would be, Tara.
“Sorry, baby,” Willow cooed as she untangled herself from Buffy’s arms, wiping harshly at her tears on her cheeks.
“Noises, bad noises,” Tara mumbled as she clamped her hands over her ears. “The Sandman comes, fall asleep, noises go away. Want sleep.”
“Shhh, let’s get you back to bed,” Willow murmured. A parting glance was thrown over her shoulder at Buffy who was still on the floor; regret reflected in her green eyes for a moment before she fixed a firm gaze on Spike. “I need to take care of Tara now.”
Surprised by the authoritativeness that had returned to both Willow’s stance and tone of voice, Spike merely nodded his understanding. He’d made a promise and he intended to keep it. When Willow disappeared into the bedroom to settle Tara, Spike dropped to a crouch beside Buffy.
“Come, luv. You’re prob’ly knackered, let’s get you back to the Watcher’s place for some kip. I’ll explain everythin’ tomorrow.” Without waiting for a response, Spike took Buffy’s hands and lifted her to her feet. Once standing, he dropped one hand but linked his fingers with the other to lead her from the apartment. He was more than a little surprised when she didn’t pull away.
The front door closed with a quiet click as they left Willow’s apartment and walked side by side in silence to a car Buffy didn’t recognise.
“Thompson’s,” Spike answered. “British, Watcher, young, less tweedy than the others of his kind…”
The description was for Buffy’s benefit and it was all she needed to jog memories from before. Giles’ apartment, no his apartment, new curtains; yes, she remembered whom Spike was alluding to. The new watcher, the one who had replaced Giles when she’d… when she’d died. For a second she was confused as to why a watcher would be needed when the Slayer protecting the town was dead. Then it hit her. The raven-haired girl, the pretty one who’d looked her over with disdain, she wasn’t just some girl. She was a Slayer. It hadn’t been directly mentioned in her presence but it all made sense now. It could only mean…
Spike froze. He’d wondered how long it would take for all the dots to connect; unfortunately it was sooner rather than later, ideally when they were off the street and back at the watcher’s place.
“Buffy, I don’t think we should be havin’ this conversation here.” At her perplexed expression, he continued. “SunnyD’s… different. Has been since…” His words trailed off. “There’s a lot you need to know and I know you’ll have questions. I’d just feel more comfortable once I’ve got you somewhere safe.”
Buffy was touched by his concern. If not for the fact she was still adjusting to her return from the grave, she would probably be more adamant about getting some answers. However, she had yet to come to terms with her revivification let alone have the capacity to comprehend the obvious, and not so, changes to her town and life in the present day. The multitude of questions could wait. Spike wanted her to go with him to somewhere safe, so that’s what she’d do. Because she trusted him.
She remembered everything he did for with startling clarity, both from in her mind and in real life. Spike put his life on the line time and time again to defend her and to protect Dawn against Glory’s minions. That final night he’d almost died for her. At the time she hadn’t the opportunity to acknowledge his efforts, her death really put a stop on that. But she knew what he’d done. That he’d protected her friends, tried to save Dawn. She’d witnessed his forced dive from the tower at the hands of Doc. Buffy knew he did it all for her, because of her, with little thought of consequence to himself.
If that wasn’t enough to convince a person, then being rescued from her nightmares and from herself was.
When Buffy whispered her answer to his request, Spike unlocked and opened the passenger door of the vehicle and closed it behind her before he himself sat behind the driver’s seat. With a twist of the ignition, a cursory look thrown over his shoulder to check the traffic, and Spike pulled the car away from the curb.
Jonathon had never been so panicky. Not when he’d asked his first crush out on a date—even when she turned him down. Not when he’d taken his first edition, mint condition Star Wars action figure of Boba Fett to a comic store for photographic purposes as part of a launch. Not even when he’d been the intended lunch of the Mayor-snake.
Working for Rutherford Sirk had at first seemed too good to be true. The man was a mage with abilities that far outweighed his own. He was someone Jonathon could learn from, someone who could help him develop his own skills. At least, that had been the idea when he’d signed up for this job as gofer/personal assistant for the Brit. It was only when he’d been working at ‘The Reliquary’ for a few weeks that the more dangerous side of his employer, and the darker nature of the establishment he worked at, were revealed.
Not in his wildest dreams had Jonathon suspected his boss was responsible for and capable of the things he’d just overheard. Snooping was bad, very bad; he should have learned his lesson when he’d peeked in Cordelia Chase’s book bag in the library in ninth grade. But he couldn’t help himself. When the call had come from Wolfram and Hart it had sent a trigger of alarm to go off within him. The LA based law firm were silent partners in the club, and they rarely made their presence known. But when they did it could only mean something big.
So he’d listened in.
A little glamour that masked his phone’s active light from showing in his boss’s office was all he’d needed. That, and the careful precaution of pressing the mute button when he’d picked up the receiver, it wouldn’t do to get caught listening in on a conversation by a sneeze, or cough, or gasp of surprise. It was the latter that would have announced his presence if not for his quick thinking before lifting the telephone.
The name of discussion was not one he’d heard in a long time. Make that very long time. If he thought about it carefully, not since Freshman year of college when he’d performed that spell in the hopes of elevating his popularity status.
The first gasp of surprise the short young man had squeaked was when the W&H representative had spoken, imparting the news that she was dead. Buffy was dead. The mere thought sent shivers up Jonathon’s spine. It didn’t sit right with him. So yeah, they’d never been friends. But she’d saved him from ending his own life, and probably saved him dozens of other times when she’d prevented the world from ending. A glimpse of her double life had been shown at Graduation. When he’d been ‘Jonathon’: singer, actor, doctor, strategist and all round Mr Popular, he’d been given even more insight into her capabilities and of her calling. The world needed a person like Buffy. Hearing she was dead was undeniably a shock.
When a return from the dead was brought up, he’d gasped a second time. It seemed even death was something she could defeat.
The third, and most definitely the loudest gasp, had come when the attorney’s assistant had ordered her death. Sirk, his boss, the man Jonathon had for the first few weeks of his employment looked up to, concurred. Not only that, he’d agreed to personally oversee the matter.
Bad didn’t begin to cover this. Holding this information made him an accessory, even though he wasn’t supposed to have overheard it. The prospect of spending even so much as a day in prison terrified the life half out of him, let alone a full sentence. Jonathon just wasn’t cut out for incarceration. A small, minute part of himself felt he should remain loyal to his employer, but a larger more dominate side of his consciousness demanded he take action.
Jonathon didn’t have the courage to personally approach Sirk, and it probably wasn’t the wisest decision he could make either. But he could call someone; inform them anonymously of the plans. It was late, so the call would have to wait for the morning anyway, but the major factor that averted him from making it now was a safety issue. Anyone could walk in and overhear him. The conspiracy theorist in him was also worried about phone taps.
Deciding it was safest to make the call from home, Jonathon completed his shutdown routine for the evening and collected his coat and keys. Tomorrow he would inform the right people of his information, and pray it not only reached them in time, but that they would believe him.
A/N: Hope you all liked it, and that it was worth the wait. Feedback would be loved…
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