Elephant & Castle
Buffy lurched up, head still throbbing, and stumbled her way into the kitchen. She took a moment to lean against one of the countertops as her vision swam and purple dots flitted back and forth in front of her eyes. Casting a glance towards Faith and Mya she saw the younger girl stirring and decided that was good enough for now. The moment passed and she hurried towards the porch doors.
The breeze from outside wasn’t exactly cold but she felt a chill as she crunched over nuggets of broken glass to peer outside into the night air.
Spike lay on his front covered in bits of glass that glittered like diamonds in the moonlight. Buffy stepped carefully through the shattered door and knelt beside him, hand instinctively reaching for his pulse. She stopped and rolled her eyes at her own stupidity.
“Spike?” her voice sounded shaky, even to her.
She knew he wasn’t dead, lack of ashes and all, but he was hurt. He didn’t move or make a sound. She reached out and took his hand, squeezing it softly. Still, he didn’t stir. There was a line of blood smeared from his hairline down to his chin and there was a painful looking slice gaping from the nape of his neck in a curve towards his shoulder. Blood didn’t pump from the wound, due to the lack of a beating heart, but had he been human it would certainly have been lethal.
Mya’s scream was low and shaky and Buffy had never heard the usually composed teenager sound so devastated. She never wanted to hear it again. A second later the girl appeared on the other side of the smashed porch door, eyes wild with worry. Xander was a moment behind, trying to hold her back, trying to get a bearing on the situation before Mya did. The girl pushed back against him and leapt out of the opening onto the glass-strewn grass. Her feet were bare but Buffy could tell her concern for her father was far greater than for herself.
Mya dropped to her knees on the other side of Spike. “Dad.”
Something in her voice roused Spike where Buffy had failed, his brow knitted and his face contorted in a mask of pain before he slowly opened his eyes. Mya placed a steady hand on his back and he groaned, attempting to turn his head to look at her. The wound on his neck prevented him from doing so and instead he let out a growl of pain.
“Don’t,” Buffy advised him, then carefully took his arm. “Let’s get you up.”
She lifted him as gently as possible to his knees and Mya placed his other arm around her own shoulder. Buffy could have told the girl that she could lift Spike if she needed to but right now Mya wanted to be helpful, she wanted to help her dad.
Buffy pulled him to his feet. “You okay?”
“Feeling brilliant, actually.” Spike glanced at her, then turned to Mya. “I’m alright, My. Been through much worse.”
She glared at him. “That supposed to make me feel better?”
Spike’s eyes ran over the girl’s face. “Let me do the worrying. You alright?”
“I’m okay,” she shrugged, voice quiet. “My GPA might be a little lower this semester, though.”
He smiled briefly, concern still evident, and managed to reach over enough to kiss her lightly on the temple. The Slayer watched this display with a tinge of jealousy. She missed her mother and her sister. Missed Giles. Missed her family.
Sure that Spike was a little worse for wear, but essentially okay, Buffy decided to turn her mind to business.
“I need to secure the portal,” she said mostly to herself, starting for the door.
“No!” Spike caught her wrist quickly. “I mean…don’t.”
She looked back at him and frowned. “Spike, we don’t know if anything will come through. I can’t just leave a portal unguarded. This is my job. Let me do it.”
“No, someone else can. I will.”
Buffy shook her head, still not understanding. “You can barely stand.”
She tried to pull her hand back but Spike held on steadfast. Her mood started to turn to one of annoyance, she didn’t appreciate being restrained. However, that drained out of her as soon as she saw the way Mya was looking at him. It was a look of such sadness, one that should never trouble a face so young.
“He doesn’t want you near the portal,” Mya explained, her attention shifting to Buffy. “He’s scared –”
“Mya,” Spike interrupted her, the tone of his voice a warning.
It was enough, though. Buffy got the point. Spike did not want her to go near the portal because he didn’t want anything to happen to her. She appreciated the sentiment, she really did, but she was also a Slayer and she had to do her job.
She placed a hand atop his and pulled it gently away from her wrist. “I’ll be careful.”
She didn’t let him respond before she turned on her heel and climbed back through the smashed door. Xander was waiting just on the other side and Buffy gave him a quick check over. He was a little dazed but lucid and gave her a nod that said she was free to leave him be.
Buffy darted into the living room and took in the scene. Willow was still kneeling before the portal, hair blowing, eyes black. It would have been eerie but Buffy had seen far stranger things in her time. She edged carefully closer. Faith appeared in her line of vision, sprawled out on the floor just behind one of the couches. She didn’t appear to be conscious. Buffy kept one eye on the portal as she sidestepped closer to the vampire and dropped slowly down beside her.
She reached out and shook Faith. The vampire did not respond. Outwardly she didn’t appear hurt, but that didn’t mean there was nothing going on internally. The force of having Xander and Mya careen into her must have been immense and Buffy guessed she had probably collided with the wall. The Slayer stood. There was nothing much she could do for Faith at the moment. She took a step closer to Willow and the portal.
The redhead did not look at her, eyes fixed on the portal. “I’m okay. The book from the Slayer’s kit and the shadow puppets…they were the key. I didn’t have to use them, just…just harness their power.”
“Okay,” Buffy wouldn’t pretend to understand. “Why the mini-earthquake?”
“More of a shock wave, actually,” Mya corrected, as she and Spike hobbled into the room.
She glanced at them, Spike’s eyes flicked between her and the portal with barely concealed anxiousness, then turned back to Willow. “Smart point to you. But still?”
“It’s an ancient spell, Buffy. I had to take power from the most powerful things in the room. There were a lot to choose from and it kind of…got overloaded?”
Spike snorted. “Then why did it affect Harris?”
“I would defend my honour but I was kind of wondering.” Xander said.
“I don’t think it did. You just…were caught in the crossfire.”
“Ah, got in the way again,” the man nodded. “Should’ve guessed.”
Buffy gave him a soft smile. “Never the case, Xan.”
He returned her smile and settled down onto the arm of the chair.
Mya held up her hand. “Hate to interrupt the moment but…exposition aside, we did it. Willow did it. The portal is open. This is good, right?”
Everyone in the room fell silent, their gazes turning to the shimmering doorway in the middle of Spike’s living room. The implications of what she was looking at only now seemed to dawn on Buffy. Willow had opened the portal. She had done it.
Xander’s smile stretched wide. “Damn right she did! Score one for the geriatric team!”
Willow let the incredibly inaccurate description slide and settled on smiling too. The smile combined with the blacked-out eyes was an odd and slightly unsettling combination.
“I…I should call Norman,” Buffy managed, trying not to get swept up in the moment, trying not to think too hard. “He needs to know.”
Spike shrugged his arm from Mya and stood up straight. “I’ll do it, Buffy. I’ll do it later.”
“He really needs to know now.” She started for the phone.
“Later.” He insisted, taking a step towards her. “For now we need to secure the portal, remember?”
“Right,” Buffy halted. “Secure the portal.”
She walked over to stand by Willow and caught a stalled movement from Spike out of the corner of her eye. She turned to him, confused, and found him perfectly composed. Maybe she had been wrong. Maybe she hadn’t seen him start towards her.
“I don’t think anything is going to come through,” Willow closed her eyes. “I can’t feel anything.”
Up close Buffy could feel the soft wind blowing through the portal against her face. The light from the opening was almost blinding this close up too and she closed her eyes against the assault for a few brief moments. It felt peaceful. She could hear the lack of sound, she could feel the pull. Through the portal laid her origins. The origins of the Slayer.
But it was not a good memory.
Her eyes snapped open and she took a step backwards, still eyeing the anomaly. All this trouble it had caused, all this anguish. She had been reckless when she’d dived into that portal. She hadn’t stopped to consider that the world would change. She’d simply wanted to save it. Needed to. Whatever the cost.
It turned out that the cost had been pretty damn high. And she’d ended up missing the apocalypse in any case.
Faith stirred on the floor. “Ow! What the fu–”
+ + +
Buffy sat at the table on Spike’s porch, eyes searching the darkness of his back yard. She’d already cleared the glass as best as she could and the light from the house bathed it in soft illumination. Just enough not to hurt her eyes.
She’d been outside for about fifteen minutes, just looking, hearing the sounds of conversation and planning going on inside. Willow had closed the portal; she couldn’t keep it open long, it drained too much strength. They all had to rely on the assumption that she would be able to pull it off again tomorrow in court. It was no where near definite but everyone seemed to be fairly optimistic.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy; she was. It was more that she didn’t want to show that she was happy, that she was relieved, that she was hopeful. Because what if it didn’t work tomorrow? What if she got her hopes up and it didn’t happen? And what if it did work and they still sent her to prison? Willow performing the spell wouldn’t necessarily guarantee her freedom. There was still too much up in the air for her to truly be hopeful.
But she wanted to be.
She wanted to be like her friends. She wanted to be in there with them, smiling and laughing and talking and planning. Instead she sat by herself in the garden and continued to over-think things.
Spike was on the phone with Norman, Mya was continuously fetching him and Faith the synthetic blood to help them get their strength back, Willow and Xander were talking about the past – about the last time Willow had performed the spell and zapped Kennedy and Anya of their strength.
Buffy had slinked out of the house as soon as she could be certain she would get away with it. She figured that if she had been a smoker this would be a good time for a cigarette.
She breathed out a deep sigh and closed her eyes, tilting her head back.
Everything was so much.
If she could just get her breath back. If she could just get some sleep.
The latter was a bit ridiculous, though, considering she’d overslept just last night. Even so, she didn’t feel in the least bit relaxed. She felt restless, she felt trapped, she felt on edge. All the time.
“Buff?” Xander’s voice floated to her ears.
She opened her eyes slowly, rotated her head a few times to ease out the cricks in her neck. He sat opposite her at the table. The light from inside the house lit up his face. She assumed that she was almost silhouetted in darkness. That had to be symbolic.
She expected him to ask her if she was okay or if she wanted to talk but he didn’t.
Instead he said quite simply, “I miss Sarah.”
Buffy blinked. “Your…wife?”
“Yeah,” he smiled wistfully, eye focused upwards at the stars. “I miss her face. Her eyes. And various other bodily parts.”
She smiled, rolling her eyes.
“And I miss England. I can’t actually believe I’m about to say this but – I miss the rain. The way everything smells after if rains. Smells so new. And it’s too hot here. I’m too old for this heat,” Xander ran a hand through his hair. “I have sunburn, Buffy! I’m Californian born and raised and I have sunburn.”
“What’s she like? Sarah, I mean.”
“Beautiful. And she’s a Slayer. Those two things seem to go hand in hand.” He smiled wryly in her direction. “But she’s also, like, this amazing architect. And she likes dogs. And her favourite film is Face Off, which she is totally unashamed about. Her elbows are stupidly pointy and she knows the names of all the Underground stations. She once made up an elaborate explanation of the story behind Elephant and Castle that I believed entirely for at least two years.”
Buffy watched the way his entire face lit up as he spoke about his wife. She had never met the woman but she liked her because Xander liked her. She liked her because she was responsible for putting that expression on Xander’s face.
“She sounds perfect,” she said finally.
“Almost – did you not hear the ‘pointy elbow’ part? But I put up with it, in the name of love,” he smiled dopily.
Buffy smiled back. “I’m glad.”
“So, I shared. Now tell me – what’s he like?”
Her brow furrowed. “Who?”
“Spike,” Xander said, voice level and calm, eye focused intently on her. “The guy you’re in love with.”
Buffy’s face became almost unnaturally still, she felt her heart begin to thud in her chest, and her head began to hurt where she had been hit earlier.
“I mean, obviously, I know Spike,” Xander continued, apparently oblivious to her discomfort and confusion. “But I figure, there has to be more to the guy if you really feel that way about him. So tell me, Buffy.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Her face was heating up.
“Oh, hello, if anyone should be in denial about this it should be me. I can’t pretend that I like the idea of you two but I see the way you look at him, Buffy, and I’m too old for all this. Coming back to Sunnydale, seeing you, it made me revert to teen Xander,” he shrugged his shoulders. “I feel protective of you, I feel like I should intervene. But I’m not that Xander anymore. I’m fifty years old and you’re a big girl. You want who you want.”
Buffy squirmed in her seat. “Xander, I don’t even know what I –”
“Yes you do.”
“I don’t think it’s –”
“You want him, Buffy.” Xander placed his palms on the table and leaned forward, voice low.
She hesitated, voice catching. “But…I mean, how do I know?”
“If even I know,” he smiled softly. “Then you must know ’cos I’m pretty dumb.”
Buffy regarded him for a long moment. “I don’t think you’re dumb at all.”
“Well, that makes one of us,” Spike stepped out onto the porch, sighing deeply. “Just got off the phone with Norman. He was practically climaxing on the other end of the line. So, I think it’s safe to say he’s chipper about the portal.”
Buffy had not turned to acknowledge the vampire, her eyes fixed upon the man in front of her. Xander in turn had kept his attention on her and after an initial tense moment it became clear that Spike hadn’t really heard anything of relevance. The way he continued to rattle on about Norman’s apparent rapture made that abundantly clear.
Buffy searched Xander’s face for any sign of judgement. She didn’t see any.
“Oh, sure, just ignore me why don’t we all?” Spike huffed to himself, turning on his heel and marching back into the house.
Xander spoke softly. “You know how I feel about vampires. You know how I feel about Spike. None of that matters. We lost you for thirty years and it hit us all hard. But Spike? I just…I know he loves you. For all his many, many faults – the vamp has good taste.”
Buffy shook her head slowly, almost disbelieving. “Xander…thank you.”
“You deserve happiness, Buffy. Take it.”
In her head Buffy attached the silent insinuation – while you still can.
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