Part One: I Can't Do Anything
The bland and slightly down-at-heel function room was designed to hold maybe fifty people. At most, there were twenty there. The non-denominational stuffed shirt in his forest green K-Mart jacket stepped up onto the raised platform at the front and tapped the microphone a few times. The hubbub died down, but slowly, like in a class where everyone hates the teacher.
“We meet here today to honour and pay tribute to the life of,” quick look at the notes, “West-leigh Wined-ham-Pryce, and to express our love and admiration for him.”
Buffy still wasn’t entirely sure why she’d agreed to come. Willow swore blind that Wesley had changed – that he’d become better-than-competent, even – but Buffy didn’t believe her. Not really. Wesley was just so … so not the sort of person she could imagine ever doing anything useful.
“We have come together from different places, and we are all at different stages on our journey through life. But there is one thing we all have in common: at one point or another, and to some degree or other, our lives have touched the life of West-leigh.”
Buffy had arrived almost-but-not-quite late, and had slipped into a seat in the back row. Most of the other guests seemed to be men, all over-starched and under-emotioned. But there was a serious absence of tweed, so not watchers. Lawyers maybe? She wondered if lawyers were like cockroaches and could survive everything up to and including being sucked into hell dimensions by their bosses. Or maybe Wesley just naturally attracted watcher-types wherever he went.
“We will also try to bring some comfort to those of his famil—” The officiant came to an uncomfortable stop, then cleared his throat. “To bring comfort to those of his friends and colleagues who are here and have been deeply hurt by what I understand was a very sudden and unexpected death.”
Buffy vaguely remembered that Wesley’s dad was supposed to be some bigwig in the Council. He was probably murdered by Bringers – probably everyone Wesley knew back in England had been. No wonder there was no family here.
“I know that today is a sad day, but I hope very much that at the end of this farewell ceremony for West-leigh, you will feel glad that you took the opportunity to do some of your grieving in the presence of others who have known and loved, er, respected him.”
As soon as Harmony heard there was going to be a memorial service for Wesley, she’d wanted to go. Not for him – he was beyond boring and totally un-hot – but because she would have gone to Fred’s and Cordelia’s if either of them had actually had one. And not to grieve, obviously. If Harmony had learned else nothing from growing up in Sunnydale, she at least knew how to run fast and that her face got all splotchy when she cried. Plus she’d definitely read somewhere that sadness gave you wrinkles. The whole point of going to any funeral was to show off, and she’d expected Wesley’s to have guests that would be suitably impressed by the fabulousness of her new unlife. Also, she’d been looking forward to hearing more English accents. Even Wesley sounded interesting and Jude-Law-like if you closed your eyes tight enough. But all she could hear was regular American. And she couldn’t see anyone she recognised.
“Despite the difficulty of the situation,” the officiant intoned, “I know that Ms Winifred Burkle would like to come up and say a few words.”
Harmony’s jaw dropped. Now that the rumpled old guy mentioned it, there was Illyria, sitting right in the front, with Fred’s parents, and wearing Fred’s face. So tacky. Harmony vibrated with the desire to gossip. It was an honest-to-god tragedy Cordelia wasn’t around to see this.
‘Fred’ walked up to the microphone. Her nose and eyes were red, presumably from crying – or maybe fake-crying? Illyria didn’t really strike Harmony as the crying type.
“I have a poem here I think Wesley would have appreciated.”
Harmony sniggered at the old guy, looking nervous and fish-like now that he knew he’d been saying Wesley’s name wrong all this time. What a loser.
Fred cleared her throat, and began to read: “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
Harmony immediately tuned out – ugh, poetry – and started looking for someone cute she might pick up for a bite later on. At least coming here might not be a total waste if she got a good meal out of it.
Drusilla wandered through a darkened alleyway, certain she was exactly where she needed to be, even if she had no idea which city she was in. One was very much like another: full of teeming, pulsing bodies locked away in cages of metal and concrete just waiting for her to free them like sardines. She licked her lips in anticipation of the saltiness.
She heard singing, shrill but sweet, as she punched through the fire door. She looked around for her travelling companions, but found herself alone. She couldn’t quite remember why. Perhaps she’d been naughty again? Drusilla always tried so hard to be good. A fit of giggles silenced the singing. As it should – they hadn’t reached the funeral yet and it was too early for dirges.
Her hands were clean and her nails unbroken, but her skin was singed and blistered in a few places where the nasty sunshine had bitten her. But nothing that a refreshing snack and a lie-down wouldn’t cure. Drusilla started singing again, a three-part harmony, luring all the pretty fishies into her net.
“Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,” the young woman at the front continued, voice high and clear but on the edge of breaking. “And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way.”
Buffy thought she seemed far too wholesome to have ever been in the world-saving business. Willow said there was another girl, besides Cordelia, working with them, but this couldn’t possibly be her, could it? No one knew exactly what Angel and his crew had been doing for the last year, but since the sun was still rising and the dragons were all dead, the Fang Gang were generally assumed to have been trying to save the world, rather than destroy it. Xander had argued that a win for the world said nothing about anyone’s motivations going in, given their individual track records for both incompetence and evil, but Buffy hadn’t been around for that part of the conversation.
Buffy hadn’t been around for practically any conversations lately. She’d been adamant: she was retired from slaying, and unless the problem was Dawn- or fashion-related, she didn’t even want to hear about it. So all she knew was that almost as soon as she’d admitted to being available this week, she’d been bundled onto a plane to LA for funeral duty. When she’d complained, Willow had just said – with that superior raised eyebrow she’d developed since leaving Sunnydale – you know we can’t spare anyone who’s still working right now.
“Rage, rage.” The woman’s face crumpled, and then smoothed out again with effort. “Against the dying of the light.”
Buffy shivered, promising herself she’d tell everyone that she was now retired from funerals, too. She didn’t want to be hearing stuff like this; she was sick and tired of death. Sick to death of it, in fact.
Illyria fled from the stage and into the arms of Fred’s mother. Harmony twitched in her seat again, desperate for someone who would appreciate a blow-by-blow. The nerve of that girl – god – whatever. This was just unbelievable!
“Let’s now spend a few moments in silence, and you can each remember, er, Wesley in your own special way. If you do have a religious belief, you might like to use this time for your own private prayer.”
Harmony stiffened, looking around her to see if anyone was getting out crosses or bibles. Luckily, everyone close to her just looked bored and uncomfortable, although there were a couple people she thought might actually be praying further down the row. Relaxing back into her seat, Harmony started checking her nails – they were looking a little worn, but the new manicure could probably wait until the weekend.
“Let’s remind ourselves; that the dead reside not in the gra— oh, so sorry.”
Harmony tittered again. There was no urn or coffin or anything; Wesley’s body was probably wherever he’d left it when he died.
“Anyway,” another weak smile, “the dead reside in the hearts and the minds of the living.”
“And the undead,” Harmony snarked. She was fairly sure there were at least a few demons and vampires in the room.
“We can share our grief, and I hope that you will not feel ashamed or embarrassed to weep openly if this is a help.” The officiant paused, considering his audience. “Although, of course, there is no requirement to do so.” He clasped his hands together in a vague approximation of prayer. “Now, to help send us on our way to the Acorn Room and the buffet lunch, we have Bette Midler’s ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’, which I understand was a particular favourite. Thank you all for being here today for Wesley.”
Harmony clapped happily as the opening notes started. She loved this song. Maybe Wesley hadn’t been totally boring after all.
Buffy had already fled to the bar by the time Bette started singing. Holding onto her glass of chablis like a security blanket, she scanned the room for someone, anyone, to talk to. She’d carefully avoided thinking about anything more complicated than fashion and keeping Dawn fed and housed for months, and she had zero desire to break her perfect record. She’d been vaguely hoping to finally meet that green guy Willow had talked about so much, but she could only see normal human colours. Maybe he was dead, too. She clutched her wine glass a little tighter and took an even larger sip.
Buffy got more than enough exposure to the lawyer-cum-watcher type at home, which let out about eighty percent of the guests. But there was one woman with curly red hair hovering by the buffet table, surrounded by heavies of dubious humanity in dark glasses and suits who looked like a possibility. Maybe she was the one who’d worked with Angel? As Buffy got closer, she realised the red-head was semi-frantically stuffing food into her mouth just like Aunt Arlene had done at Mom’s funeral … you could practically smell the grief pouring off of her. Buffy veered as away as fast as she could: she was not up to dealing with anyone else’s angst right now.
It was an outfit that finally drew Buffy in: a very cute black skirt, just tight enough to hinder movement and about an inch shorter than she’d dared wear since her seventeenth birthday. It looked familiar, which probably meant Italian. And, ooh, were those shoes Schiaparelli? No way anyone could run in them, sadly – although that was less of a problem these days. Then the girl turned around and Buffy saw her face….
For a moment, Harmony thought about giving up on the rest of the funeral. Buffy was … not exactly intimidating. Harmony had survived years of being her arch-nemesis, after all. But, being a vampire, she knew she should be at least a teensy-weensy bit careful around slayers. Her whole outfit was designer, after all. It would be a real, live fashion crime to damage any of it. On the other hand, Buffy was probably the only person in the room who would appreciate any of her gossip….
“I’m totally bagging it now,” Harmony blurted. Since that was the only thing Angel had ever seemed to care about, she figured Buffy would be all hung up on it too. And it wasn’t an out-and-out lie. She kept a bag of otter blood in her freezer for emergencies, after all.
Buffy had technically done her duty by showing up and confirming that none of Angel’s crew were there. But talking to Harmony might actually be distracting, and Buffy didn’t want to risk another second alone with her thoughts right now. “I’m retired,” she said with a solid attempt at a reassuring smile, despite inwardly cringing. It was the first time she’d said the words out loud to someone she would otherwise be slaying. It didn’t feel very good.
Harmony glanced over Buffy’s outfit again and felt another pang at the loss of Cordelia: she’d have said something funny and biting about how old and smelly retiree-Buffy was and they could’ve laughed over it for days. Maybe even weeks. “Did you know Cordy died?” she asked, love of gossip overpowering her desire to take pot shots at her arch-nemesis.
“Did you kill her?” Buffy asked suspiciously.
“No!” Harmony cried, drawing back in outrage and sloshing a little wine out of her glass. Attention fully occupied by checking that her beautiful suede belt – in the exact shade of light fawn profiled in Vogue last month – had escaped undamaged, she muttered, “I didn’t even try that time.”
“Just all those other times she fought you off?”
“Well,” Harmony said, shrugging, “her neck was pretty inviting.”
They sipped at their wine, looked away at the same crowd of boring faces, then turned back to look at each other. Still the least-worst option, sadly.
“I’m gonna go grab something to eat,” Buffy said brightly, in a desperate bid to end the silence. Before she could stop the reflex, she found herself asking, “Did you want me to get you something?”
“Oh, yeah!” Harmony replied, beaming. Gesturing imperiously, she said, “I just can’t get enough of those little cake thingies.” She patted her hip with a simper and added, “I can eat anything I want, now.”
“I guess,” Buffy said, hoping there was no double meaning behind ‘eat anything I want’. Then she reminded herself that vampires, even if they ate anything they wanted, were not her problem anymore. She smiled, stretching it out until her cheeks hurt. “That’s … that must be really, um, great.”
It was so weird, Buffy thought, seeing her. The only things that had changed since high school seemed to be dentistry and diet. Harmony wouldn’t have eaten a ‘cake thingy’ if you’d paid her back when she was human.
Miss Susan was insistent that it was time to get out of bed. Drusilla begged to stay longer – it was so nice and snuggly and warm where she was, and she was sure she had turned the doll’s head so she could not see. But Miss Susan would have none of it.
Drusilla rifled through her drowsy young lady’s handbag for a make-up case, and found a fetching shade of lipstick. Sadly, the young lady was too tired to put it on her, no matter how hard Drusilla shook her, so she had to do her best without a mirror.
Drusilla did so hope there would be cakes at the party.
As she shuffled along the buffet table manoeuvring two miniature plates and cursing her own politeness, Buffy noticed a few more people trickling into the room. At least some of them were probably crashers: they were just outside what used to be downtown LA, which meant free food was still a pretty exciting prospect for a lot of people. But every time she heard the door open, she couldn’t quite stop herself from checking to see if it was Angel coming in. Even though she knew it was stupid, the hoping hurt.
He was still missing. No one dared add the ‘presumed dead’ part to her face, but Buffy knew they were all saying it behind her back. She reminded herself for the umpteenth time that it was one o’clock in the afternoon, and the chances were slim that he would show up in this window-palooza of a hotel for someone she couldn’t imagine him tolerating, let alone liking.
Wait a minute – how was Harmony not on fire?
Thirty seconds later, Buffy had dumped the plates on the table Harmony claimed for them – one that looked out over the hotel’s sun-drenched inner courtyard – and was slumped in a really uncomfortable chair slowly and carefully sounding out the words ‘necro-tempered glass’.
Harmony nodded gleefully. “Isn’t it just the greatest?”
“Glad they never had that in Sunnydale.”
She shrugged. “It was easier to heal injuries there – Hellmouth and all.”
“Huh,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “Who knew?”
“The entire demon community, duh!”
They stared at each other incredulously, both amazed by the sheer stupidity of the other.
Buffy drained her wine glass. “Oh look, empty. Guess I better get a refill.”
When the barman asked her “Large or small?” she bit her tongue to near-bleeding to keep from asking for the whole bottle. And yet, she still found herself wandering back to the table where Harmony was waiting. Where else was she going to go?
Deciding to make the most of this, and actually find something out about what had been going on here the last year, Buffy asked brightly, “So tell me, how did Cordelia die?”
“She was in a coma.” Harmony opened her mouth to continue, then almost immediately closed it again. She barely understood what had happened herself, and Buffy was way dumber than her.
“Never woke up, huh?” Buffy mused.
Harmony didn’t quite know how to answer that. “She was, like, up and around for a while, helping us out and stuff, and we were totally gonna catch up over coffee, but then she disappeared and the doctors said later that she never woke up.” She shrugged. “It was way weird.”
Buffy blinked. “Okay.”
“Angel said she, um, she asc-end-ed?” The last word was sounded out carefully. “I think she’s supposed to be, like, some kind of higher power now.”
“No,” Buffy said, shaking her head. “Not possible.”
“Ya-huh.” Harmony crossed her arms. “Totally possible.”
“I shudder to think what that would do to her ego.”
Harmony burst into giggles. “I know, right?”
Sotto voce, Buffy grumbled, “People who get put into comas should just stay there.”
Harmony looked cautiously interested. “You put somebody in a coma?”
“Anyone I know?”
Buffy thought about it. “Faith Lehane? She was at Sunnydale for, like, a week in senior year.”
Harmony frowned, trying to place the name. “Too much make-up, kinda skanky?”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Have you repressed the way you looked in high school?”
Harmony’s lips twisted into a sneer. “Like your opinion on fashion’s worth anything.”
Buffy was all set to start gloating about her brand new wardrobe, built entirely around well-chosen staples from Italian fashion houses. Then she realised that trying to out-fashionista a Cordette was exactly the sort of thing her mom would have called ‘stooping to their level’. Was this really what her life was about now?
“Besides,” Harmony added faux-innocently, “didn’t you, like, lay more vampires than you slayed?”
Buffy was so very over this particular topic for conversation. Pretty much every baby slayer had come to her with it at least once. She even had a stock response: at a rough average of three slays a night, every night, for nearly eight years, she had slayage numbers Mick Jagger could only dream of for lifetime layage. On the other hand, it wasn’t like Harmony’s description of Faith was totally inaccurate. “Yeah, okay,” Buffy sighed finally. “Too much makeup and kinda skanky.” She looked around, suddenly a little nervous. “God, I hope she doesn't show up.”
“Didn’t she, like, torture Wesley one time?” Harmony frowned, thinking hard. It looked like it hurt. “I bet they never really got on after that.”
“Sounds like Faith,” Buffy said, before she could stop herself. Because really? It kinda did.
Harmony’s face lit up. If it’d been anyone but Buffy, her hands would have fluttered with excitement. She adored a good trash-talk. She couldn’t remember much about this Faith girl, but then she’d never had Cordelia’s gift for artistic put-downs so that didn’t really matter. She could ‘Oh, yeah, what a total bitch,’ with the best of them.
Just as Buffy was getting to the end of how Faith had staged a coup and turned all of her friends and family against her, she went to take a sip of wine and found her glass empty.
Harmony lifted her glass, similarly empty, and chirped, “Let’s get a bottle!”
“Yeah, great,” Buffy said, more than a little stunned by how much she was enjoying herself. She’d always assumed Harmony’d had sympathy and empathy surgically removed at birth, but she really seemed to get her Faith-issues. Buffy gave herself a hard pinch, but it didn’t make any of the warm fuzzies go away.
While the vampire was off getting them more wine, the slayer intended to liberate a platter each of cheese puffs and cake thingies from the buffet table. She needed stomach lining, and Harmony really wasn’t kidding about loving the desserts. But as Buffy stepped into the line for food, grudgingly making her peace with Harmony being the bearable part of the entire funeral experience, Drusilla came dancing into the function room. Literally.
Buffy abruptly realised her reflex-grab for a stake wasn’t going to do her any good. She didn’t even have a pencil on her. In fact, there’d been no slay gear in her home or on her person ever since Sunnydale fell into that crater. She looked around frantically, but all the furniture and fittings were either metal or plastic. Toothpicks? She scanned the empty plates at nearby tables: plastic fake-swords the lot of them. “You’re all gonna die,” she said, quietly and firmly to the crowd at large.
Oh Bondage, Up Yours!
It was a total anti-climax. Drusilla didn’t seem to be even remotely interested in mayhem, for once. Pouting, she submitted easily to being manhandled into a chair. “I only wanted a tea party.”
“Well, it’s wine or … Mr Sunshine,” Buffy said sharply, tapping on the windowpane in a threatening manner.
“Hey!” Harmony cried indignantly.
Buffy shrugged, very nearly guiltily.
Drusilla’s eyes turned to bile and her face shifted. “Little stroppets shouldn’t speak in front of their elders and betters.”
Harmony hissed, following Drusilla into game-face.
Buffy decided that, whoever they were, the funeral guests’ total lack of reaction to two angry vampires meant they were probably evil, or at the very least, scarier than they looked. “Let’s all just stay calm, shall we?” she said in her best slay-quipping voice, tapping meaningfully on the glass again.
Drusilla’s face slipped back to human. “Will it be red wine?” she asked hopefully.
Harmony held up a bottle, something white that Buffy didn’t recognise.
Drusilla’s face fell.
Buffy grabbed the wine from Harmony and refilled her own glass. She drank half of it in one gulp, whispering, “Oh, god, I needed that.”
Drusilla gestured imperiously at Harmony. “Fetch me a goblet, infant.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” Harmony sneered. “I make minions, you know.”
Buffy’s eyebrow arched.
“Used to!” Harmony whined.
Reminding herself that she was retired, Buffy said, “Just get her a glass.”
Harmony went back towards the bar; she was a follower at heart. But she mutinously detoured by the buffet table and got more cake. And then cheese puffs. It was none of her business if Buffy didn’t care about her fat, fat thighs.
“Why are you here, Drusilla?” Buffy asked.
“I came for him.”
Buffy frowned, surprised. “You knew Wesley?”
“Who?” Drusilla cocked her head to one side exactly like Spike used to.
“Uh,” Buffy faltered. “You know, the guy we’re pretending we buried today?”
Drusilla stared back at her blankly.
Rolling her eyes, Buffy asked: “Who’s the ‘him’ you came for?”
“Angelus, of course.”
Buffy’s heart stopped.
Drusilla grinned. “They couldn’t burn him, even though they tried and tried.”
“He’s really alive?” Buffy asked hoarsely.
Drusilla nodded, still grinning.
“Sorry, Droodzilla,” Harmony called, handing her a plastic cup and dumping the food on the table. “All out of wine glasses.” She winked at Buffy; Buffy didn’t seem to notice. “Who’s alive?”
“Angel,” Buffy breathed.
Harmony raised one perfectly manicured eyebrow. “That guy has more lives than a dog.”
Unable to let it go, Buffy said, “Don’t you mean a cat?”
Harmony shrugged, totally unconcerned. “You ask me, he was just plain crazy. All that money and status and he was miserable all the time! Talk about a waste.”
“There are more important things,” Buffy said.
Harmony’s jaw dropped in perfectly genuine shock.
“I am not equipped to mention the feelings of the birds,” Drusilla murmured dreamily. Then she picked up a piece of cake and took a small bite out of it, somehow managing not to leave a single smear of icing or muss her lipstick.
Harmony snapped her mouth shut. She and Buffy started at Drusilla, blissfully chewing, then back at each other, and silently agreed to just continue on as if she’d never spoken.
“How did you survive, anyway?” Buffy asked. “You’re not exactly….”
“Oh, I’m definitely a lover, not a fighter,” Harmony simpered.
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Angel got you out before it was dangerous, didn’t he?”
Harmony shrugged, tittering nervously.
Drusilla was now swaying slightly, eyes closed, while she drank wine out of a plastic cup. Buffy pinched herself. Hard. Then harder. But she still wasn’t waking up, despite the neat row of bruises now lining her left arm. She stuffed a cheese puff into her mouth whole and started chewing. Cheese and pastry made everything better, right?
Drusilla’s eyes popped open. “The birds have stopped singing.”
Harmony looked outside. “No, they haven’t.”
Drusilla shrugged. “Not here.”
Buffy swallowed her cheese puff. Everything was so surreal anyway, she might as well just give into it and see if lunch with Drusilla and Harmony at Wesley Windham-Pryce’s memorial service could be one of the better things she did this year. It was a pretty low bar, after all.
“So, um, have you seen Angel?” Buffy asked, hope finally winning out over her own better judgement.
Drusilla’s eyes refocused on something fascinating just past Buffy’s left ear. “He called me.”
Buffy shuddered. “All that vampy crap so creeps me out.”
“On the phone,” Drusilla clarified, suddenly looking completely sane and alert and … smug?
Harmony wasn’t convinced. “Angel really liked Wesley. If he was still undead and kicking, he’d be here.” She paused, turning suspiciously to Drusilla. “And since when do you even have a phone? Aren’t you, like, stuck in the eighteenth century?” Harmony looked Drusilla’s goth, faux-Victorian dress up and down, lips twisting in distaste. “Such a fashion disaster.”
“Don’t speak,” Drusilla said coldly. “It doesn’t become you.”
Buffy tried and failed to repress a snigger.
Harmony felt betrayed. “What is it with you two and Angel? It’s not like he had much personality or anything. It was all brood, brood, brood, whine, whine, whine. I’m-better-than-you-‘cause-I-have-a-soul.”
“Well, he is,” Buffy said, looking back and forth between the two vampires, more apologetically than was appropriate given who she was talking to.
“Whatever,” Harmony huffed. “Losing my soul didn’t change me.”
Buffy was all ready to deliver a scathing comeback when she realised she didn’t have one. Not for Harmony, anyway. And wasn’t that all kinds of disturbing?
“My Daddy wasn’t so different from the Angel you knew,” Drusilla purred. “He ripped your heart out too, didn’t he?” She beamed at Buffy, as if welcoming her into a special sisterhood.
Drusilla giggled. “That was my favourite present.”
Buffy felt more than slightly sick at that.
“It didn’t change Spike, either,” Harmony continued confidently. “Not like the chip did. I just don’t get what the big deal is.”
Buffy knew there was definitely a scathing comeback to that. Any one of her friends would have had it, all ready to roll out when such a comeback was needed. But Buffy, being better at resolving the non-verbal kind of disagreement, just couldn’t quite articulate one right at that moment. She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. “Angel would never have tried to end the world just to watch it burn.”
Harmony shrugged. “Lots of people died, though, didn’t they?”
Drusilla ignored them both, lifting a strand of her hair up above her head and staring at it while yanking speculatively. “I don’t think my hair is falling out,” she murmured. “Is it?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m not having this argument with you, Harmony.”
“Fine!” Harmony said haughtily. “I’m past indulging icky fetishes, anyway,” she added, with a moue of distaste.
Drusilla snapped back into the conversation, looking like she’d just swallowed a particularly noxious bug. Buffy sprayed a mouthful of wine over the table.
“I’m sorry, you were indulging what fetishes with Angel?” Buffy squawked, just as Drusilla snapped “Dollymop!”
Harmony just laughed. “Ohmigod! I don’t even want to know about Angel’s sex fetishes. I meant his obsession with souls. And shouldn’t you both, like, care more about Spike?” She stared incredulously at the other two. “You know, that guy you were both actually in a relationship with for more than five minutes? The one whose unlife you totally managed to ruin between you?”
“We were never in a – wait, how do you even know about that?” Buffy asked.
“Spike told me, duh!”
Drusilla, catching the frozen look on Buffy’s face, started giggling. “Silly bitch didn’t know he came back from where she sent him!”
Buffy’s heart came to a shuddering stop for the second time that afternoon.
Harmony squealed in delighted schadenfreude. “Seriously? He never worked up the guts to call you before he went off on Angel’s stupid suicide mission?” She started laughing along with Drusilla. “Wow. Just … wow.”
“You…,” Buffy started. “He….”
“Oh, we were a regular Brad and Jennifer as soon as he stopped being a ghost!” Harmony said smugly.
Drusilla abruptly stopped giggling and pointed at Harmony. “Red, this time.”
Buffy was stuck on ‘being a ghost’.
Harmony ignored them both. “Why anyone would prefer Angel is beyond me. He’s so … self-absorbed. I bet he never gave head.” Harmony’s eyes went unfocused and soft. “Spike would go down on me for hours … well, a lot of minutes, anyway.”
Buffy only barely restrained the urge to punch her for gifting her with that mental image.
Drusilla had no such restraint, and slapped Harmony hard across the face. With nails.
Harmony vamped out and started growling. “He wouldn’t touch you now if you paid him. I was the only one he wanted when he got his body back. For hours and hours and – well, a really long time!”
Drusilla suddenly burst into wet, messy sobs. Over Spike. Of course, with her colouring, she made it look ethereal and graceful, the bitch. Buffy found herself patting her in a weak attempt at comfort, wondering how Spike would react to seeing this level of grief after so many years of indifference. Would he have said thanks for the crying, but he didn’t believe it?
Despite the utter surreality and underlying awkwardness, Drusilla latched onto the crumb of comfort she was offered, burying her face in Buffy’s shoulder and crying even harder.
Harmony’s face reverted to human, and she blithely picked up the bottle to refill her glass. When she found it empty, she glared at Drusilla. “So not getting red,” she snapped before stalking off in search of more.
If anyone had told Buffy she’d be sitting in the Acorn Room stroking Drusilla’s (remarkably soft) hair while the skank cried like her heart was breaking, she would have punched them in the nose. Particularly given the proximity of Drusilla’s fangs to her jugular. And also, blood breath much? Retired, I’m retired, Buffy chanted inside her head.
“Is he here?” Drusilla whimpered, finally raising her head and managing to look cute rather than bedraggled after all that crying.
Drusilla made a tiny hiccoughing noise. “My Spike.”
“He’s not,” Buffy said, surprising herself by the gentleness of her tone. Although maybe it was more for her than Drusilla.
Drusilla suddenly flinched hard at the sight of Buffy, like she’d forgotten she was even there. “He isn’t mine anymore.”
“No,” Buffy said, still gentle. There was something about Drusilla that made her want to take care of her. Buffy wondered, suddenly, if it might be thrall.
“But he was my knight,” Drusilla said wistfully. “And I was his princess.”
“You were.” Buffy tried to keep the smug out, honestly she did. She just wasn’t very good at the trying. Probably not thrall, then.
Drusilla sat up abruptly, and shunted her chair away from Buffy’s. “I miss him.”
“Me too,” Buffy said, her voice catching on the words. She’d very carefully avoided saying anything like those words for a very long time now. But what did it matter if Drusilla heard?
Drusilla stared at her for a few seconds, seeming to look straight through her and into her heart. “I see you. Love is your power.”
Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Okay, maybe it mattered if Drusilla heard the words.
Drusilla reached out one hand and touched Buffy’s cheek lightly. “And you are surrounded by love in return.”
Buffy jerked away. “Yeah, well, I hear my gift is death.”
Drusilla grinned. “That too. Isn’t it delicious?”
Buffy shivered. “Not so much, no.”
“You can’t keep running from who you are. It’s not time for you to rest yet.”
Buffy was just gearing up to react to that when Harmony saved her by plonking a new bottle of white wine on the table. “Here you go, girls.”
Drusilla turned to look at Harmony. “You have no gifts.” She gestured at the wine. “Fill my goblet.”
“Fill it yourself,” Harmony snarked, before refilling Buffy’s and then her own, and placing the bottle somewhere Drusilla had to crawl halfway across the table to reach it.
Buffy pinched herself again. Then she sighed, and started prying the story of Spike-as-a-ghost out of Harmony. It was slow and painful, and most of what she said about their relationship sounded sketchy in the extreme, but Buffy had risen above reacting to it. Drusilla seemed to have forgotten Spike had ever been hers.
“So let me get this straight: they went on some crazy suicide mission and only the God-King of the bodysnatchers survived?” Buffy asked incredulously. She craned her neck to see if she could see said bodysnatcher and glare at her … him … whatever. So tacky showing up to the funeral pretending to be what’s-her-face. And her poor parents!
Harmony nodded vigorously, glowing inside at finally finding an appreciative audience for her Illyria-gossip.
“Angelus is alive,” Drusilla said gravely.
“He’s not,” Harmony snapped. “He’d be here if he was.”
“Maybe he’s hurt somewhere,” Buffy said. “Or, you know, stuck, what with the daylight and all.”
Harmony shrugged. “I got a room here last night. No reason he couldn’t do the same.”
“He called me,” Drusilla insisted.
“You said,” Buffy said wearily. “When was that, exactly?”
Drusilla gave her a look worthy of Spike at his most annoyed. “Yesterday? Or maybe tomorrow.”
“Do you even have a phone?” Harmony asked.
Drusilla dug a cell phone out from inside her cleavage, and placed it on the table triumphantly.
Buffy picked it up and flipped it open; the battery was flat. “When did you last charge this?”
Drusilla looked confused. “Grandmummy gave it to me.”
Buffy stared at her for a second. Darla had been dead, what, two years? “I’ll just take that as a ‘never’.” The phone was the same make as hers, so she got her own charger out of her purse. Then she took it and Drusilla’s phone, and went off in search of a socket. While doing so, Buffy hummed the opening few bars to The Twilight Zone. Just because.
Phone now plugged in a few feet away, Buffy came back to the table. “So what about Spike?”
Drusilla shrugged. “He cut the apron strings and fell. I can’t hear him anymore.”
Buffy shook her head. “I just can’t believe he spent a whole year as … as comic relief for Angel.” That certainly wasn’t the way Harmony put it, but Buffy could read between the lines.
Harmony shrugged. “Spike didn’t live in the building after he was touchable again. I’m not really sure what he did most of the time.”
“I thought you were ‘a regular Brad and Jennifer’.”
Harmony tittered. “Oh, Spikey and I never really talked much.”
Buffy blinked. Drusilla cackled.
“What?” Harmony seemed genuinely confused.
“I could never get him to shut up!” Buffy groaned.
Harmony didn’t look any less confused. “What did he say? I mean, the sex was amazing ‘cause his mouth was always full. Amiright?”
“My Spike could set the sky on fire with his lips and teeth and tongue,” Drusilla said dreamily. “I never missed the sunlight.”
Buffy’s stomach fluttered. “What she said.”
Harmony, finally clueing in, said, “You mean, he talked while you were having sex? He never said anything to me besides ‘shut up’.” Genuinely curious, she asked, “What did he say?”
The inside of Buffy’s head went something like: loveyouwantyousoperfectyesrightthereyesyespleaseloveyouloveyousogoodneverstopneedyou
“You smell,” Drusilla interjected, staring at Buffy’s lap. She looked up again, a smile lighting up her face. “Naughty.”
Buffy turned crimson. But she could still hear Spike in her head.
Sighing, Harmony said, “Fine! Don’t tell me then.” She had hoped this might actually turn into girl talk. She hadn’t had much opportunity for that recently, what with having sort of accidentally eaten her last BFF. She’d been really, really hungry at the time though, so it had kinda worked out.
“I asked him how he loved me, and he counted all the ways,” Drusilla cooed.
Harmony looked so hurt, Buffy found herself offering up a different memory: “He tied me up, sometimes.”
Harmony’s face only fell further. Buffy considered apologising, but before she got the chance, Drusilla was speaking again.
“He was my present to wrap and unwrap.” She looked slyly at Buffy. “He only ever trussed me up for you.”
The scent of juicy gossip cheered Harmony right up. “You two were with him together? I mean, I knew he was kinky, but….”
Buffy valiantly resisted the urge to hit her. “You were there, Harmony! You know we weren’t!”
Harmony frowned. Then remembered. “Oh! You mean when I dumped him the second time, and you two were just randomly there, hanging out?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, then.”
Drusilla cackled. “Where shall we three meet again? In dungeon, ballroom, or in pain?”
To her surprise, Buffy found herself turning to her and asking, “He never once tied you up, in all those years?” She’d always assumed Drusilla had taught him that; in fact, she was pretty sure he’d even said as much once.
Drusilla shook her head, eyes going slightly wild. “No.” She kept on shaking her head, seemingly lost in a memory. “It’s not nice. Not nice at all.”
Despite herself, Buffy felt a certain kinship. She still felt physically sick if anyone ever called her ‘lover’.
“So what are your rules about threesomes?” Harmony chirped.
Buffy opened her mouth and then closed it again. “You have rules?”
Harmony nodded. “You know, what you’re willing to do and what – or who – you’re not. Like, I’ll do boy-boy-girl, but definitely not girl-girl-boy.” She paused. “I used to have an exception for Charlize Theron, but then she did Monster and….” Harmony shuddered. “Just no.”
Buffy nodded sagely. “I used to have this fantasy about Spike and Angel wrestling in oil.” ‘Used to’ was a bit of a reach, but she wasn’t willing to admit to more in this company.
“Sorry.” Harmony made a face. “I just don’t get the Angel thing.”
Drusilla clapped her hands gleefully while staring very pointedly at Buffy. “All slippery and thrusting. Yum.”
Buffy felt a spike of jealousy. Ha. For which she immediately wanted to bang her head against the table. She took a very large sip of wine and inhaled a cheese puff.
Harmony, oblivious to the subtext, just sighed. “Spikey never seemed very interested in that kind of thing, though.”
Drusilla, licking her lips like she’d just polished off the world’s best canary, shut her eyes and started humming. Bitch.
“Did you and Darla ever…?” Buffy asked, wanting desperately to imagine something other than Drusilla intruding on one of her favourite sexual fantasies.
Drusilla’s eyes popped open. “Mustn’t speak of it,” she said coldly.
“That means ‘ye-es’,” Harmony sing-songed. “Who with?”
“The Immortal,” Drusilla whispered, voice dreamy but eyes hard as granite.
Buffy choked while trying to inhale another cheese puff. Clearly all the men in her life had slept with Drusilla first. Well, except for Riley. Although the way the afternoon was going, Buffy wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out she’d sucked his blood.
Harmony patted her on the back. There were going to be bruises later, but at least it stopped the choking. “Th-thanks,” Buffy grunted.
“So … what about role play? You know, pretending to be other people?” Harmony asked brightly. There was nothing but blank looks from both Buffy and Drusilla. “Right,” Harmony faltered. “Just me then.”
“Public places?” Buffy asked tentatively.
Harmony seemed relieved. “Like in front of the minions?”
“Um.” Buffy took a gulp of wine. “More like the balcony at the Bronze?” Just saying the words made parts of her clench and tremble and her face flush bright red.
Now Harmony was scandalised. Buffy stopped herself before she mentioned the lawn outside her house.
Drusilla just smiled speculatively. “I like closets,” she hummed. “Shhhhh.”
Clearly exhibitionism was another thing Buffy could no longer blame on Spike’s previous relationships. It had never once occurred to her that anything they did might have been theirs and theirs alone; she wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
“And biting,” Drusilla added, voice low and gravelly, before opening her mouth wide and snapping it shut again.
Harmony groaned in remembered pleasure.
“No,” Buffy said. “Absolutely not.”
Both vampires looked shocked.
“Never? ” Harmony said. “But biting is….”
Drusilla made the most obscene moan Buffy had ever heard in her entire life, head lolling around her shoulders. Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally had nothing on her. Nothing.
“What she said!” Harmony added excitedly.
“I’m the slayer!” Buffy exclaimed. “Biting is not okay.”
“You’re hardly the slayer anymore,” Harmony said witheringly. “There’s, like, hundreds now.”
“Thousands. And he never even suggested it,” Buffy said, hoping that would shut down this line of conversation.
“Spike suggested stuff to you?” Harmony asked tentatively.
Frowning, Buffy said, “Uh, yeah, all the time.”
“My deadly boy,” Drusilla cooed. “So creative.”
“Huh,” Harmony said, obviously surprised.
“Why did you keep going back to him?” Buffy asked. This conversation just felt more and more like car crash TV the longer it went on: painful, but somehow addictive.
“He’s super-hot, duh!” Harmony retorted. “And he always made sure I came. Why else?”
“There’s more to a relationship than looks and orgasms,” Buffy said primly.
Harmony just looked confused. “Like what?”
“Whippings!” Drusilla said brightly.
“Ew,” Harmony said. “Totally not into that BSDM stuff.”
“BDSM,” Buffy corrected absently.
Drusilla picked up a cheese puff and Buffy watched in horrified fascination as she somehow ate it in two dainty bites without getting a single crumb of pastry on her dress.
Forcing her attention back to Harmony, Buffy said, “I meant intimacy. You know … seeing the best and the worst of each other. Wanting their happiness more than you want it for yourself.” She looked across at Drusilla. “Faithfulness.”
Drusilla was now staring at the ceiling, fascinated by something no one else could see. Buffy wondered idly if she was faking the crazy so she wouldn’t have to defend herself on the faithfulness thing.
Harmony, meanwhile, was concentrating hard. “So, like … fulfilling their fantasies instead of yours?”
“Kinda,” Buffy said. That might be as good as she got.
Harmony had that painful ‘thinking’ expression on her face again. “I did dump him for reasons…. All three times.”
Buffy nodded sagely, lips pressed tightly together.
Harmony looked across the room and gave a little wave. She then downed the last of her glass of wine and stood up. “I’m outta here.”
Buffy frowned. “How?” She pointed towards the window. “Isn’t Mr Sunshine kind of a barrier to free movement right now?”
Harmony grinned, then readjusted her cleavage like another woman might have her hair. “Luke Miller bought us this wine.” She gestured across the room. “He used to work at Wolfram and Hart and he has a red Maserati with necro-tempered glass. I just know he’d love to give me a ride home.” She licked her lower lip slowly before biting down on it gently. “Maybe dinner, too.”
Buffy nodded sagely. Wolfram and Hart (ex-)employees could look after themselves as far as she was concerned, retired or not. “Don’t you want to find out what’s going on with Angel and Spike?”
“I don’t care about Angel.” Harmony shrugged. “And I think it’s time I let Spikey go. I’m way too good for him.” Her grin slipped as she started backing away from the table. “You’re probably not, though. Too good for him, I mean. You know? Bye-eee!” Then she turned around and ran off towards Luke Miller, swinging her hips and working her drool-worthy Schiaparellis for all she was worth, leaving Buffy gaping.
“It’s almost time,” Drusilla said, little-girl-style anticipation making her squirm in her seat. The phone started ringing.
Buffy jumped out of her chair and ran for it. Well, crawled, really. It was plugged into a socket at skirting board level. “Hello?” she said breathlessly.
“Angel.” Buffy sat down rather abruptly against the wall. He really was alive.
“Buffy?! ” She’d never thought Angel was capable of squawking before. “Where the hell did you get that phone? ”
“Drusilla and I both came to Wesley’s funeral,” she said brightly. “So did Harmony. We’ve been drinking wine, catching up. Fun times.” It wasn’t nearly as sarcastic a statement as she wanted it to be.
There was a long silence from the other end of the line, then, “Someone held a funeral for Wes?”
Buffy couldn’t help it. She laughed.
Obsessed with You
Angel was sending a car with necro-tempered glass to bring Drusilla to a private hospital in Pasadena. He refused to tell Buffy anything else, suggesting instead that he call her in a day or two, once his immediate crisis was over. Buffy had just been about to start fighting him on that when Drusilla snatched the phone away and started babbling about Miss Susan and biting and other equally bizarro things.
Buffy slumped back into her chair and tuned it out. On the plus side, she was pretty sure Angel was still soulful, even with the renewed interest in Drusilla. He wasn’t laughing, for one thing, and he hadn’t called her ‘lover’ or said anything ambiguous that might be a veiled threat. But Angel was most definitely in full avoidance mode, refusing to say anything about why he wanted (needed?) Drusilla at that hospital, and that went firmly into the minus column. Buffy wished she was just a little bit less retired right now. Having Mr Pointy or one of his siblings in her hand would make her feel a whole lot better.
Drusilla handed Buffy the phone, pouting like a scolded child. “He’s calling for you now.”
“Hi. Uh, look, I’m really sorry you got dragged into this. I wasn’t expecting you to be with her….”
“Surprise!” Buffy said brightly. “So when’s this car getting here?”
“Should be any minute,” Angel said. “But look, this isn’t your problem. The driver’s got tranq darts if Dru doesn’t want to play nice.”
Drusilla’s head whipped towards the phone and her upper lip started trembling in the beginning of a snarl.
“You realise she can hear you, right?” Buffy sighed.
“Oh,” Angel said, then in a whisper, “Sorry?”
“I’ll get her in the car,” Buffy said. “But I’m coming, too. I mean, who would turn down help from a slayer?”
“I thought you were retired.” Angel didn’t sound very happy about the offer.
“Consider me back in the game.” As she said the words, Buffy realised they were true. She was sick of being retired. It was boring. Also pointless, possibly pun intended.
Angel put down the bespelled burner phone in a daze. This was really not how he’d expected that to go. At all.
“I can’t believe that actually worked,” Dr Hunter said, awed. “What kind of crazy vampire carries around a battery-dead cell phone?”
The shaman shrugged, unwilling to reveal that the call had gone through without his magical intervention. He had a rep to maintain, after all, and it had still been his idea to try the old number. “Drusilla’s a powerful seer. I figured if we really needed to get a hold of her, she’d have kept it.”
“You were right,” Dr Hunter said, shaking her head. She dug into her pocket and pulled a folded twenty out of a change purse, handing it over. “You sure you’re not a seer yourself?”
The shaman grinned and snatched up the bill before turning to where Angel was sitting. “She’s coming now, right? Today?” He’d been more than willing to help. It was always good to be owed favours from Aurelians, long-lived and even longer-memoried bastards the lot of them. But it was long past time now for him to get back to Honduras.
“Unfortunately,” Angel said, still staring at the phone like it might bite him. “I don’t know what I’m gonna tell her….”
Dr Hunter frowned in confusion. “You’ve been trying to track Drusilla down for weeks. What’s unfortunate?”
Angel suddenly snapped back to his surroundings. “Oh! No. Sorry. Dru’s fine – Buffy’s bringing her.”
“Buffy, slayer of Sunnydale, Buffy?” The shaman asked nervously. “I’m not sure that’s a very good idea.”
Angel gave him a baleful look. “You want to try and convince her of that?”
The shaman thought about it for a half-second. “Not really.”
Dr Hunter was getting excited; she’d never worked with so many celebrities before. “Slayer blood, Angel. It might help.”
“No!” Angel said firmly. “Buffy’s not opening a vein for this. Drusilla can take the risk if she wants to, but not her.” He stared up at the shaman and the doctor. “I didn’t want her to know about any of this.”
Dr Hunter laughed. “Good luck with that. Everything I’ve ever heard about Buffy Summers says she only ever does exactly what she wants to do.”
For some very weird and disturbing reason, Drusilla had decided that today was be-nice-to-Buffy day. When the car arrived in the underground lot, she followed Buffy out like a lamb, got in without any issues, even did up her seatbelt. Of course, she didn’t do it silently, and Buffy was beginning to wonder how Spike hadn’t been as crazy as Drusilla after a century plus of listening to her go on and on. And on.
“Cats make the best poets,” Drusilla said seriously, trying to catch the dust motes glittering in the sunlight.
“Really?” Buffy replied, barely concentrating anymore. “That’s nice.”
“For they are clean and not nosy at all.”
Then again, Drusilla could have spent the ride trying to eat her, so at least Buffy wasn’t missing her stake as much as she might be.
Traffic was still light post-apocalypse, and it didn’t even take half an hour to get to the ‘hospital’, which just looked like a very large, but otherwise unremarkable, house. The car pulled into an attached, fully enclosed, garage, and Buffy and Drusilla got out.
Drusilla spun around a few times, and when this garnered no reaction, stopped, dizzy and confused. “Where’s the red carpet out to greet us? Angel promised me lots of lovely blood.”
The door through to the house opened, and a middle-aged women wearing a white lab coat and sensible shoes stepped through. “I’m Dr Hunter. Welcome to my facility. Please come in, both of you.”
Drusilla dropped a curtsy, perfectly executed and straight out of a PBS drama.
Buffy walked slowly towards the door, her slayer senses going haywire. “What’s in there?”
“It’s a paranormal-friendly hospital,” the doctor said, her welcoming smile becoming steadily less genuine and more ‘customer service’ as Buffy got closer.
Buffy stopped walking.
“It’s been around since the early fifties. A vampire was supposed to have had a hand in creating it, but Angel refuses to confirm or deny his involvement.” Dr Hunter brightened. “Hey, I don’t suppose either of you know one way or the other, do you? There’s a running bet with some of the staff.”
Drusilla shook her head sadly. “We were in Algeria. Or maybe Indochina?” She licked her lips. “It was hot and violent.”
They realised Buffy was still on the other side of the garage, staring at the doctor like she’d sprouted a second head. “You heal sick demons?”
Dr Hunter nodded. “Amongst others. Including slayers these days.” She looked to one side, thoughtful. “I’ve got a Rosita Dawes and a Gail Thomas in at the moment.”
Buffy’s breath caught in her throat. She knew them. Not well. But they were slayers all right.
“Both girls had broken bones that healed badly and needed resetting,” Dr Hunter continued. “I understand it’s a hazard of slayer healing.”
Buffy shivered. “How can they stand it in there?”
Dr Hunter’s friendliness evaporated completely. “You don’t need to be here, Miss Summers.” She gestured towards the car. “He’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”
Drusilla stuck her tongue out in Buffy’s direction, then straightened up and glided past Dr Hunter and into the hospital.
Buffy shook off the feeling of impending doom and stalked towards the door. “Let’s go.”
Angel still had no idea how he’d got to the hospital. All he knew was that there’d been fighting, and fire, and then suddenly he was awake and in nearly unendurable pain. Dr Hunter told him later there’d been weeks when they weren’t sure he’d make it: he’d been barely more than charred bone and sinew when he arrived. His fragile new skin had finally stopped tearing unexpectedly a few days ago, for which he was grateful. That pain had been unlike anything he’d ever experienced before, and he knew pain. Months later, he was still getting used to the idea he’d survived at all. And now he had to gear himself up to see Buffy, or perhaps more for Buffy to see him.
Inside, the house/hospital was a rabbit-warren, renovated to within in inch of its life while leaving the outer shell intact. Drusilla was still skipping along slightly ahead of the other two, once again proving her seer chops by going unerringly in the direction Dr Hunter would have been leading them if she’d been in front. Buffy was hugging her arms around her; hospital stench was one of the few things that still made her feel small and powerless.
“There’s a sanctuary spell in place here,” Dr Hunter said, misunderstanding her discomfort. “No physical violence can take place within these walls.”
“Must make re-breaking bones tough,” Buffy replied grimly, fingers itching for a stake again.
Dr Hunter smiled. “The spell can distinguish intent.”
Drusilla paused where the hallway sprouted a sudden offshoot. She looked longingly down the corridor, and Buffy heard a hissed inhale from Dr Hunter, before Drusilla moved more confidently towards another door.
“What’s down that way?” Buffy asked.
“Neonatal unit,” Dr Hunter said shortly. She gave Drusilla a considering look, then said, “I’ll be back in a minute,” before walking purposefully through the door to Neonatal.
And then Drusilla was opening another door and there was Angel, looking like a completely different vampire. He was in a wheelchair, missing half his muscle mass, and wearing a grey t-shirt, matching sweats and what looked suspiciously like fluffy slippers. His vamp face was to the front, and his skin was slick and shiny and mottled all over, the burn scars making his vamp-blunted features even flatter. He was also staring up at Drusilla with something that looked a lot like relief. He hadn’t noticed yet that Buffy was there.
Buffy stumbled back from the doorway and leaned against the wall just outside, one hand over her mouth. She’d been prepared for him to be injured, but not this. Angel had always been so solid and strong, ready to take on anything. She couldn’t reconcile the mental image of Angel she carried around with her to the diminished wraith in the room. He was also just a little bit ridiculous, like an extra on one of the Star Treks with a too-cheap prosthetics job who’d forgotten to put on the right shoes. She needed a moment to collect herself.
“My Angel,” Buffy heard Drusilla coo.
“Drusilla,” Angel replied, far more warmly than Buffy expected.
She could hear them go on talking after that, but their voices had dropped too low for her to make out the words. By the time Buffy was ready to go in, Drusilla was sitting on Angel’s lap, twined around him like a vine, and whispering in his ear. It was the sort of thing that once would have made Buffy writhe in anxious jealousy, even though there was no sexual vibe to their embrace.
As she stepped all the way into the room, she finally saw their faces. Drusilla’s had shifted, too, now. But the big shocker was Angel. He looked peaceful, and that shook Buffy to her core. She could practically count on one hand the number of times she’d seen Angel vamped out, but she’d never once seen him so at peace. She’d certainly never been able to give that to him. And although it hurt her pride more than a little, mostly Buffy just felt glad someone could bring him peace, even if it was Drusilla.
“Hey,” Buffy said softly.
Drusilla waved at her, her cheery grin turned lightly menacing in game-face.
Angel’s face slipped immediately to human at the sound of her voice, and that sense of peacefulness vanished right along with his bumpies. It looked like it was agony to shift, and Buffy was confronted with the fact that Angel was more relaxed around crazy, soulless Drusilla than he was around her. Suddenly, Buffy felt their age difference in a way she never had before. She’d known Angel for a third of her not-quite twenty-four years. Drusilla’d lived with him for something like forty years, and known him for a hundred more.
“What he won’t tell you,” Dr Hunter said, coming in behind Buffy and making her jump. “Is that he’s not healing anywhere near as quickly as he should be.” She looked back and forth between Buffy and Drusilla. “In the absence of sire’s or grand-sire’s blood, we hoped other family might help.”
“I am Grandmummy’s mummy, after all,” Drusilla lisped coquettishly around her fangs.
“Bet slayer blood would help, too,” Buffy said, both voice and face completely neutral.
“I think so,” Dr Hunter said calmly. “You can even call it doctor’s orders, if you like.”
“No,” Angel said, quickly and firmly.
Drusilla’s expression went dark and sullen.
Buffy shrugged. “Your call.” She was relieved he didn’t want her to do it, but also guilt-ridden for feeling that way. She shivered, wishing she’d never come. Angel hadn’t wanted her to see him weak, and maybe he’d been right. She didn’t know how to comfort him, and she felt not only useless but voyeuristic in the face of Drusilla, who brought him peace when Buffy was quietly freaking out in the hallway.
“Thank you,” Angel said.
His cheek lay against Drusilla’s neck, and she was stroking along his jaw line and whispering in his ear again. Buffy realised suddenly that they were waiting for her to leave. Even now, here, in the state he was in, Angel didn’t want her to see him make himself feel better, just because it was too vampire-like.
Drusilla turned suddenly, staring straight into Buffy’s eyes. Buffy forgot to look away, to stay safe. Drusilla had behaved so well all afternoon, and now, seeing how she was with Angel … Buffy let her guard down. But just as she’d decided that slayer blood via Drusilla was what Angel was going to get, whether he liked it or not, Drusilla gave her a shy little girl smile, the twin of Spike’s, and said, “Send him our love, will you ducks?”
Buffy only just caught the frozen look on Angel’s face. “What are you hiding from me?”
Drusilla turned back to Angel, seemingly forgetting all about Buffy again.
Dr Hunter smiled, not very kindly. “I warned you, Angel.”
Angel closed his eyes, sinking even further into Drusilla’s embrace. “Spike’s here, too,” he said gruffly.
Buffy could suddenly hear her blood pounding through her ears, so loud she almost didn’t hear Dr Hunter promise to take her to him. The doctor took Buffy’s arm gently in hers and led her away, shutting the door firmly behind them. Buffy just let her, struggling just to walk under her own steam.
It had never once occurred to her even to hope Spike was alive. Her ideal scenario had been to find out how he’d died and maybe why the bastard hadn’t called her.
“Whoever brought them here, they’re very lucky,” Dr Hunter said, more relaxed now that Buffy knew about the other vampire. “Neither one would have survived without medical intervention.”
“Is he – how is he?” Buffy’s throat was so dry, she was amazed the words came out at all.
Dr Hunter gave her a look full of sympathy. Joyce’s oncologist had greeted Buffy with that face once. Buffy’s heart jumped to her throat.
“With Drusilla here? Better, probably,” the doctor said. “Sire’s blood is powerful, and there’s a few more rituals we can try now.”
Buffy nodded like the curative properties of sire’s blood was something she thought about every day.
“It’s a bonus if she can help Angel, too.”
Buffy stopped walking. “Angel brought her here for Spike?”
Dr Hunter was looking at her like she was crazy. “Of course he did.” She shook her head. “Angel would do almost anything to keep Spike alive. It’s all I can do to keep him from cutting open a vein every time he comes in here.”
As they started walking again, Dr Hunter considered asking Buffy to help out with the other running bet half the doctors were in on: the exact nature of Angel and Spike’s relationship. But then they arrived and she just opened the door.
Having seen Angel, Buffy thought she was prepared. She wasn’t.
Spike had not burned like Angel had, which was about the only thing he had going for him. Instead, he was broken. He was lying lifeless on a bed wearing a hospital gown, tubes through his nose feeding him a steady stream of blood, but he wasn’t even vamped out. One hand was hooked up to something Buffy hoped were truly superior painkillers, because Spike was barely more than skin and bone, and not even so much with the bone. Under the blankets, she could see his right leg was only about an inch thick between his still-mostly-there hip and foot with a half-size hill where his knee ought to be. His rib-cage hung drunk and uneven, and one of his cheeks was just gone. So many bones had been ground to powder and only the thinnest of skin sacks was holding him together in human-shape.
Buffy’s feet took her to his bedside without her even realising it, before she’d even fully looked him over. She sank down in the visitor’s chair, her knees rubbing up against the metal bars of his bed and stared at the body in front of her, more damaged than she’d ever seen it. It was still Spike. He’d never hidden any part of himself from her: weak or strong, cowardly or brave, cruel or kind. There was nothing to shock or frighten her here.
“His hands are okay now,” Dr Hunter said softly. “You won’t hurt him.”
That was when Buffy noticed her hands were hovering over his. She let her fingertips trace gently along the length of his right hand – the one without the tube in it. She’d never thought hands could get so thin; his fingers seemed impossibly long now. And cold, even for a vampire. She interlaced their fingers and squeezed tight. For a moment, she could almost see the flames again.
“All his energy’s gone to re-growing the pulverised bones.” Dr Hunter fiddled with one of the machines for a moment. “There’s not much left to keep the rest of him going.” She paused. “He’s still a lot better than he was, though.”
Buffy fingered the thin blanket lying over Spike and said, “Can you make him warmer? More blankets or something?”
Dr Hunter nodded. “Of course.”
“He hates being cold,” Buffy added quietly.
Dr Hunter smiled at her. “Good to know.” She turned to leave, presumably to bring back warmth.
Dr Hunter stopped in the doorway.
“Can you bring back the stuff to….” Buffy gestured at the bag of blood hanging next to Spike’s bed and then at herself.
Dr Hunter was surprised. “You didn’t seem too keen on a transfusion before.”
“This is different,” Buffy said firmly. Spike could accept a gift freely given.
Dr Hunter nodded, then left the room.
Still clasping his hand in hers, Buffy wondered how she would have reacted if Spike had been awake. Would they have kissed? Probably. She almost definitely would have hit him, although Buffy didn’t like thinking that about herself. It might not have been any worse than a slap, but she’d never expected him to leave her, and part of her hated him for finally conforming. She would have yelled at him, no question. But she also knew, with absolute certainty, that she would have held him afterwards.
She’d only admitted today, for the first time, how much she missed him. Today was also the first time she’d talked about him since he died. It had been surprisingly cathartic, doing that with Drusilla and Harmony. Weird. But cathartic. She’d been ready to try with him, at the end, to see what ‘us’ might look like. But that was a year and a half ago. She had no idea what either of them might want now.
Buffy leaned over Spike, as close as she dared, to tell him what she did know. “I love you,” she said softly. “And I’m not leaving until you believe me this time.”
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