*squishes* to Megan for the beta!
Thanks to: kim, Verda, Elizabeth Anne Summers, Athenewolfe, vladt, Joan and DreamsofSpike for the reviews!
A/N: Sorry for the delay guys, hope the wait was worth it.
Chapter 16: Aloof
The last remnants of sleep abated as consciousness returned. A white painted ceiling greeted his blinking eyes, reminding him of the fact he’d not returned to his crypt last night. Memories of the night before flooded his brain and Spike rolled over, his hands immediately seeking tactile assurances that it hadn’t all be imagined.
All he found was cool sheets.
A pang of sadness clawed at the back of his throat as he took a moment to collect his thoughts. Buffy had obviously left the bed some time ago—judging by the absence of heat amongst the sheets. She’d left without saying a word and he had no idea if she were even still in the apartment. Anxiety tugged at his heart when worst-case scenarios floated through his mind, but he forced them back down, drowned them out with a clenched jaw of determination. He’d only just found her again and he wasn’t about to let her slip away.
Throwing the sheets back, Spike slipped out of bed and located his boots.
He’d promised Buffy he’d take care of her, and that was one promise he was not going to break—even if she wanted him to.
A steaming cup of English tea was placed on the coffee table and Buffy blinked, tearing herself away from the thoughts she’d been lost in. She’d been awake for several hours now but everything was still fuzzy. Nothing made sense.
She wasn’t supposed to be alive.
She’d died, sacrificed her life to save the world. Her duty to the world as Guardian of the Hellmouth and defender of those stupid enough to walk the streets at night was over. She was over. Here was the last place she’d thought she’d find herself again, the last place she wanted to be. Thinking about the end, about being not alive, it wasn’t supposed to be calming. She shouldn’t want to die. But she did.
A chill ran up her spine.
Buffy’s outlook on life had always been realistic—Slayer’s lived and fought and died young, hopefully making a difference in the war against evil in between. On the odd occasion she was known to be somewhat pessimistic, but she’d never been morbid. Never longed for it all to end. Not like she did now.
Last night… last night had been a revelation. It had been a reminder. A reminder of what she’d once had and what she no longer desired. This life wasn’t hers. The calling was no longer her duty, her sole purpose for existence. Nothing was as it should be. She was alive and those who’d lived because of her death were no longer living. It didn’t make sense.
It didn’t make sense and she didn’t care. She just wanted it over.
Which was not exactly the sort of thing one told a Watcher, mind you.
Nicolas had been watching her with undisguised intrigue from the moment she’d appeared in the living room this morning. He’d been polite and hospitable and friendly. It was all a bit much. Buffy’s past experiences with Watchers—save for Giles—had not been pleasant. Meeting one who didn’t fit the mould was surprising. Unexpected. And if she were honest, a little unsettling. But then, the whole being brought back to life when you’d been dead for months kind of had ‘unsettling’ beat.
“Would you like me to fix you something to eat?”
Buffy blinked, startled from her thoughts for the second time in a matter of minutes. She shook her head in response, her gaze dropping to the heated beverage before her. The cup and its saucer looked delicate, like it would break if she dared touch it. It was nothing like the mugs Giles would prepare for her.
“No thank you.”
Nicolas let out a silent sigh of relief. The whispered three-word reply was the first words the Slayer had spoken all morning. The silence had been deafening and he was thankful for the reprieve. He wasn’t naïve enough to believe it was the girl’s way of coming to terms with her situation, he doubted that would be an easy or swift task, but it was something. Progress, however minute, was still progress.
He couldn’t imagine how she was feeling, how strange and frightening it must have been to return to life after being passed for so long. The fact she could even speak coherently was a testament to her character. As a watcher-in-training at the Academy he’d heard countless tales of ‘the Slayer who broke the mould’, and he’d never thought he’d meet her, much less be conversing with her and putting her up in his own house.
Quentin Travers’ response to the news of her awakening was disconcerting. The apathetic manner in which the Head of the Council had referred to Ms Summers was jarring. One would think they—the Council—would be pleased to have one of their greatest warriors returned to life. Excitement was not to be expected, being that strong displays of emotion were not the norm from Mr Travers—such exhibitions were beneath him. But indifference? It didn’t fit.
A voice in the back of his mind suggested his questioning ought to be directed elsewhere, namely at the Slayer in question. He knew it was unlikely she would respond, and considering everything, he didn’t blame her. But if she wanted or needed anything, he would do his best to ensure it eventuated. Retrieving the book of Prophecies he’d been studying last night, he settled into an armchair opposite Buffy.
“Are you certain there is nothing I can do for you?” Nicolas questioned. “I must admit, I feel somewhat redundant. If there is anything I can do to help smooth this transition for you, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Buffy winced at the choice of words. Transition. Like coming back to life was just a small speed bump in the Council’s agenda for her, not a life—or death—altering change.
She bit her tongue. Nicolas was trying his best; she could see in his eyes—the few times she dared to meet his gaze—that his intentions were genuine. He sincerely wanted to help.
Just like Spike…
Buffy shivered, building another layer of blocks in her mind to shut out the thoughts of the former bleached menace and former mortal enemy recently cum saviour. A burble of laughter rose but then died in her throat before it had the chance to escape her lips. Spike her saviour? The idea of that… it was foreign. It sounded idiotic when tossed around in her mind. It was just… wrong. Sure, things between them had been less I wanna rip your throat out, Stake you and dance in your ashes the months leading up to the fight with Glory, but that didn’t mean they were friends or anything. Did it? They put up with each other for mutual gain. Buffy got a super-powered ally and Spike got to have his spot of violence against demons; that was it. Right?
When had things become complicated?
When you became undead, in the no-longer-being-dead sense...
Buffy ran her fingers through her hair, once again surprised by the lack of length she found.
That was another thing that didn’t make sense, the changes to her physical appearance. When had she the time to cut her hair, pierce her tongue and get a wardrobe make-over reminiscent of Faith? The whole leaping off the tower and dying didn’t offer a lot of time to make these drastic changes. She was almost afraid to look in the mirror.
She was confused and had more questions than Cordelia had shoes, and that was a scary concept. Since when had she been lacking answers girl?
“The diaries,” she said aloud.
Nicolas looked up from his book. “Diaries?”
Buffy cleared her throat—she hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Apparently dying hadn’t cured her of the speaking before thinking problem she had prior to tower leapage.
“The Watcher’s…” She trailed off, swallowing hard to try and loosen the knot in her throat, her vocal cords still sore from being unused. “Giles kept… do you have any?”
Recognition and understanding filled Nicolas’ gaze and Buffy relaxed slightly, thankful that she wouldn’t have to explain further.
He stood and made his way to his study in the corner of the room, shifting and closing a couple of texts before he found the aforementioned items. Nicolas returned to his armchair, placing the hand written notebooks on the coffee table before her.
“The entries conclude after the event of—”
“Yeah,” Buffy interrupted, leaning forward to retrieve the books. She hoped inside she would find answers to some of her many questions. “Thanks.”
Silence filled the space in between them, the air clogging with discomfort for a moment before Nicolas spoke again.
“If there’s anything else—”
Buffy fidgeted under his gaze. “I might… would you mind if…”
Nicolas gave permission with a wave of his hand. He could see the uncertainty and uneasiness in Buffy’s expression. If she wanted to leave he wouldn’t stop her. It was day and he reconciled with himself she would be safe on her own, for a few hours at least. “By all means, take them with you.”
Buffy stood and began making her way to the front door.
The bedroom door creaked as it opened and Buffy started with surprise, halting her forward movement when worry-filled blue eyes locked with hers.
A frown rose on Spike’s face, his gaze never leaving the Slayer’s even as he addressed Nicolas.
“Thompson, what’s goin’—”
“Miss Summers has decided to take a short walk,” Nicolas answered, looking toward Buffy to convey his message to her as well as the vampire. “One would certainly need some time to decompress after an event such as what she has just experienced. I’m sure you can understand—”
“Understand?” Spike barked, turning furious eyes toward the Watcher. “She can’t just toddle off by ‘erself. She’s been gone for months and she needs someone to watch out for her. And you were just goin’ to let her walk out of here?”
Buffy pursed her lips. “I don’t need anyone to ‘let’ me do anything.”
“Buffy—” Spike began.
Buffy ignored the plea in his voice, refused to meet his gaze, turning her full attention to Nicolas. “I’ll be back later.”
Without waiting for a response, she stepped out of the front door and into the sunlight, her form quickly retreating from the apartment complex.
“You’re just going to let—”
“As Miss Summers clearly stated, it wasn’t a matter of letting her as opposed to her deciding that—”
Spike slammed his fist into the wall beside the kitchen, his fist breaking through the plaster and imbedding in the structure. He pulled his hand out roughly, bits of plaster and blood dropping all over the once immaculate floor surface.
“If you could refrain from damaging my house any further it would be much appreciated.” Nicolas pursed his lips.
“She’s out there, alone, and—”
“I’m sure she can take care of herself, Spike,” Nicolas responded, sighing at the furious glance the vampire shot his way. “If it will make you feel any better, if she does not return after a few hours I will go out there and look for her myself.”
Spike begrudgingly huffed his response, slumping into the sofa Buffy had vacated.
“Can you please stop that infernal racket!”
Xander winced, smiling apologetically at the woman seated in front of them when she turned around to glare at Giles.
“Giles,” Xander hissed. “He’s just humming, quietly.”
“What’s say we keep the shouting at other people’s children to a minimum, yeah?” Xander fixed a firm glare on the still drunk former Watcher.
Giles muttered under his breath, twisting in his seat to try and find a comfortable position. Flying with a hangover was not fun, especially when small noisy children were involved. His chair hitched forward abruptly when the person behind him kicked it accidentally.
“We shoulda gone first class,” he grumbled ineloquently.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t see you coughing up the dough for the tickets, so I wouldn’t complain if I were you.” Xander glared. “Quit your complaining and stop picking fights with the other passengers. A few hours and we’ll be in LA. If we get stopped at customs because someone complains about your temper and our trip to Sunnydale is delayed because of it…”
The threat behind his words went unnoticed, Giles’ mind wandering after ‘Sunnydale’.
Sunnydale… Sunnydale and Buffy. Buffy’s not dead. Buffy’s alive. Buffy came back and I wasn’t there. Buffy’s all alone.
Giles was silenced by guilt. Xander would never forgive him if they were late; Giles would never forgive himself for the fact they had to make this trip in the first place.
If he’d been a better Watcher, if he’d been more focussed on his research, if he’d trained her harder, if he’d listened to her when she’d come to him about Angel’s disappearance… maybe, just maybe Buffy would never have died.
Buffy died, alone, and Giles could have stopped it from happening in the first place.
And he would never forgive himself for that.
A thump sounded at the door, followed by a moan of pain, a sound that immediately brought both Nicolas and Spike to their feet.
“If somethin’s happened to her, I’ll—”
“Spike, save the threats for later,” Nicolas threw over his shoulder as he reached for the doorknob. With a twist it opened and in fell Malena.
Nicolas gasped, lifting his Slayer to her feet and kicking the front door closed. “Spike, help.”
Spike came to the Watcher’s aid when the door closed—effectively cutting off the sunlight—and lifted Malena into his arms, carrying her toward and gently depositing her on the sofa. Her hands and knuckles were red and swollen, covered in a mixture of her own blood and that of whomever or whatever attacked her. A purple bruise coloured her left cheek and her shirt was slashed across her midsection, the thin neat cut indicating she’d been cut with a knife or some other sharp weapon.
“What happened,” Nicolas questioned, his concern for Malena palpable.
“I was attacked,” Malena replied sarcastically with a roll of her eyes, wincing at the pain that throbbed outward from her wound.
“You look awful.” Nicolas’ worry-filled gaze swept her from head to toe, searching for any other visible wounds that would need treating.
“Gee, thanks,” she muttered. A smirk tugged at her lips as she turned her attention to Spike. “But you should see the other guy. Guys.”
A ghost of a smile tickled Spike’s lips. “I’ll go get the first aid kit.”
Malena frowned slightly when Spike disappeared from the room.
“Shall I call for a doctor?”
“What?” Malena blinked, belatedly hearing her Watcher’s question. “No, I’ll be fine. Just a few bumps and bruises.”
“Are you sure? That cut looks quite nasty, it might need stiches and—”
“I’ll be fine.” Malena pursed her lips. “Slayer healing and all that.”
Spike reappeared with the first aid kit and opened it up, removing the antiseptic and some bandages. “Slayer’s right, she’ll be fine.”
Nicolas started to argue but Malena cut him off.
“Exactly. Who needs a doctor when I’ve got my own personal vampire medic to patch me up?” She lifted a brow in question at Nicolas as she slowly lifted the hem of her shirt, exposing the wound across her abdomen more clearly.
Malena watched Spike closely as his eyes trailed across her injury for a moment before his hands went to work, cleaning it with antiseptic and cotton wool. She gasped in pain at the sting, relaxing a moment later when it subsided. Spike had very gentle hands. He was attentive, careful at the task of dressing her wounds. But as conscientious as he was about not hurting her Spike’s mind still appeared to be elsewhere. And that bothered Malena immensely.
“Tell me everything,” Nicolas insisted.
Malena shrugged. “Not much to tell. I was out patrolling but it was pretty dead in the cemeteries I checked, so I headed over to Docktown and the shipping yards. Stumbled across a group of vampires unloading something they didn’t want me to see and they grabbed me.”
“Something you weren’t supposed to see?” Nicolas had perched himself at the end of the sofa, notepad and pen in hand to jot down notes so they could follow it up later.
“I guess, they didn’t seem too happy when they realised they’d been busted by the Slayer.”
Hurt appeared in Malena’s eyes before she could hide it, Spike’s abrupt correction more of a sting than the antiseptic. Spike must’ve caught the look in her eyes, a mumbled “sorry” leaving his lips as he tore open the packet containing a sterile bandage.
“Sure,” she muttered, rolling her shoulder back before continuing her run down for Nicolas. “They jumped me, I fought back and now there’s seven less vampires the people of Sunnydale have to worry about.”
“Seven?!” Nicolas gasped.
“It’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?”
“Nothing Spike and I don’t normally handle on a routine patrol.”
Spike flashed a guilty look at Nicolas before applying the last bandage. “’M sorry. Was a bit thrown last night by—”
“Dead Slayer coming back to life?” Malena cut in. “Of course, it’s to be expected. And don’t worry ‘bout me, I did all right.” She smiled at Spike.
“Yes, but you were still hurt.” Nicolas pursed his lips. “I think it’s best if Spike resumes his normal patrolling duties with you this evening, especially considering your injury.”
Spike’s gaze flew to Nicolas’, the objection in his eyes needing no explanation. Nicolas ignored the silent plea.
“I can look after Miss Summers while the two of you ensure the town is protected.”
“It’s no big deal, I can handle patrol on my own,” Malena insisted half-heartedly.
“I insist,” Nicolas replied adamantly. “Just because another Slayer has arrived, returned under such unusual circumstances, doesn’t mean we should treat this threat any lighter than normal.”
“Will resume patrol duties as well, just as soon as the Council sees fit to—”
“The Council!” Spike snarled. “Since when has the Council cared about the well being of its Slayers? They’re just weapons to be used against the ‘forces of evil’, right?”
“Thanks,” Malena muttered.
“Malena,” Spike began to apologise.
“Don’t, it’s fine, really. I’m dispensable.” She pouted. “Knew the head honchos thought of me that way, just didn’t think you did.”
“I don’t. It’s just that Buffy—”
“Spike, you’ve said enough.” Malena sighed and lifted herself from the sofa, wincing when the action stretched her abdomen. “If you don’t mind, Nicolas, I’m going to crash for a while in the spare room.”
“By all means, take it.”
Spike opened his mouth to object, but closed it when he saw the determined stare Nicolas shot his way. He waited until the bedroom door clicked shut.
“Spike, I have no intention of expelling Miss Summers from my apartment on a whim. Malena can and will use the room during the day as she requires. Especially when she is injured. At night your Slayer can consider the room hers. Now if you don’t mind, I think I may retire for a few hours rest myself.”
Before the vampire could object, Nicolas had ascended the stairs to his loft bedroom.
With a sigh, Spike settled himself back against the sofa to wait out Buffy’s return or nightfall, whichever came first.
A/N: Hope this chapter was worth the wait – would love to hear your thoughts.
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