DISCLAIMER: Not mine, which is a shame because usually we're nicer to them than Joss was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Angel discovered that Dana is still in LA at the same asylum Buffy went to years ago, and Buffy received a computer in the mail that had her looking at the operation on Spike’s arms…

* * *

Chapter Two: Body Free, and a Body Less

Buffy couldn’t stop staring at the screen. It didn’t make a difference how calm Giles sounded on the phone, or how many different ways Andrew argued that he was going to tell them as soon as he returned to England. The facts were still the same.

Spike was alive.

And he didn’t want Buffy to know.

The surgery was over. It had ended while she’d been on hold as Giles set up the conference call, and she’d watched as the nurse wheeled an unconscious Spike out of the room and out of her sight. Angel and Wes had left at the same time, and no amount of flipping between the different cameras had shown Buffy anything more than the empty operating room. She was left watching the time tick by on the clock on the wall. It had only taken one mention of it to Giles and Andrew to discover that she’d witnessed the whole thing as it actually happened. It wasn’t a recording. At that very moment, Spike was lying in some hospital bed, recovering from Dana’s attack.

“Buffy?” Andrew’s voice carried a note of tightly wound anxiety. “Could you tell if it worked? Is Spike going to be okay?”

She steeled her stomach against the wave of helplessness crashing through her and closed her eyes to try and block out the image of Spike swaddled in bandages. “His arms are back on, and the doctors seemed pretty positive about how it went. I guess…I guess they do this a lot.”

“You haven’t had any more incidents with Dana, have you, Andrew?”

Silently, Buffy thanked Giles for changing the subject. It would come back to Spike soon enough.

The sound of slurping through a straw filled the line. “She’s been pretty out of it all day. That new doctor got here this morning and got bossy right away. You’d like her, Buffy. She likes speeches, too.”

She rolled her eyes at his obvious reference to the previous year. “Was Angel right, Giles?” Buffy asked. “Did you really set Dana up at Watts?”

Giles sighed. “In light of the circumstances, it was our best option. We couldn’t risk Dana causing any more harm until she’s in better control of her faculties.”

“Was that why the Council pulled its strings to get me in there?”

“Buffy…” He sounded weary, and she felt a brief stab of guilt for barraging him with such hard questions in the middle of the night. “You were never under Council control when your parents admitted you. It was simply about keeping an eye on you. Ensuring you weren’t unduly treated. If the conditions had ever worsened, I assure you, measures would have been taken.”

“To have me committed for real, you mean. Like what you’re planning with Dana.”

Another sigh. “Your situation and Dana’s situation are two entirely different matters. For one thing, she’s been severely traumatized…”

His words faded into a drone she only half-heard. She was over it, but part of Buffy was a little peeved with Giles for forgetting so quickly that she’d had her own share of trauma, too. She might not have been abducted or drugged like Dana had been, but dying and getting yanked from heaven had to count for something. And she hadn’t pushed for Dana’s search and rescue to see her get locked away again. She wanted to help her. For whatever reason, nothing else had inspired Buffy to action recently quite as much as hearing the young Slayer’s story.

“Spare me the specifics,” she said, interrupting Giles just as he was about to launch into Dana’s treatment plan. She snapped the laptop closed. There would be nothing new to see there. “I’ll get them while I’m in LA.”

“While you’re…what?”

“Oh!” Andrew’s excitement was muffled by a sudden splashing, and she had to listen to him squeak in fear as he rushed to wipe up whatever it was he’d spilled. “You’re not going to tell Spike that I’m the one who spilled the beans, are you? He made me promise not to tell you.”

“I think we’re going to have enough to talk about without worrying who told who what.”

“Do you really think that’s wise, Buffy?” Giles sounded alert again. At least she’d woken him up.

No, she didn’t. She was pretty sure she was going to spend the entire flight over arguing with herself about why she had to see Spike with her own eyes, why she cared what happened to a girl who would likely never be sane enough to live outside an institution’s walls. But she kept those contentions to herself, repeating her assertion about flying to California and hanging up before Giles could tell her not to charge it on the Council credit card.

Faith’s eyes were dark and solemn as she regarded her from her post against the kitchen door jamb. “So which vamp are you pissed more at? Angel, for not telling you about Blondie being back? Or Spike, for not wanting you to know?”

“I’m not pissed.” Rising from the couch, Buffy ignored Faith’s obvious surprise to head for her bedroom. “For all I know, Spike came back without his soul, which is why he’s decided to hook up with Angel. You know the drill. Evil attracts more evil.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like you two weren’t banging each other before he got the soul anyway.”

Buffy gritted her teeth as Faith followed her to the bedroom. “Those were special circumstances,” she ground out, grabbing her small bag from the corner. She began pulling clothes out blindly and stuffing them into the satchel. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m only going out there to make sure I don’t have another apocalypse on my hands. Getting rid of Angel the first time he went evil was hard enough.”

“Really?” Faith sat on the edge of the narrow bed, leaning back on her elbows as she watched Buffy pack. “Huh. Me and Wes took care of him last spring, no problem.”

Of course not. Faith had been the wonder Slayer last spring. Buffy still had the boot prints on her ass from when she’d been kicked out of her own house to prove it. “I don’t need this right now,” she snapped. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve got to deal with a Slayer who could give you a few lessons on going off the deep end, and a vampire who’s supposed to be dust trying to turn me into Richard Kimble.” She stared at her wardrobe with disgust before slamming the door shut. “And I can’t find my favorite black sweater! Damn it, Dawn! Can’t you keep your grubby hands to yourself for a change?”

She grabbed a different sweater in frustration and crammed it into the case, avoiding eye contact with Faith. Buffy knew she was being short-tempered, but considering the circumstances, she figured she was allowed. It wasn’t like she and Faith danced around each other any more. Faith was the one person she could rely on for absolute honesty.

Kind of like Spike had been. Before they’d hurt each other so badly and grew afraid of that honesty.

“I think I should go with you.”

Faith’s announcement made Buffy hesitate on her path back out to the living room. “What happened to needing space to forget about what happened in Cleveland?” She shook her head. “Stay here. You don’t want to get dragged down the well of this Passions episode.”

“Okay, that came out wrong.” Trailing after Buffy again, Faith went straight for her spilling bag and scooped it up onto her shoulder. “I’m going with you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Did I say you got a choice in the matter? Besides, you need me. No more lone Slayers, remember?”

“And in case you can’t remember, there’s a whole school of Slayers already waiting for me in LA,” Buffy argued. “Most of whom probably never served jail time.” She picked up the phone and punched the number for directory assistance, before remembering that without Andrew and Dawn, talking to any of the locals would be a nightmare. Quickly, she disconnected and shoved the phone into her purse. “Stay here and look after Dawn for me. I’ll feel better if there’s somebody around who scares her more than I do.”

With her bags over her shoulder, Buffy headed for the door, only to come up short when Faith blocked the exit. “You’re pissed,” Faith said. “I get that. But you don’t know jack about what’s going on in LA, B. You go in there like this, and somebody’s going to get hurt.” There was an unexpected sobriety in her eyes, asserting her refusal to yield on this. “I can’t sit back and let you try and take down Angel, just because you think you’ve figured out what’s going on with him. He turns out to be evil, fine, I’ll be the gal to watch your back. But this judge and jury act is over.”

For a brief moment, she wondered if Faith was referring to Angel or to herself. As far as Buffy knew, nobody had said a word to Faith about Robin’s death, but maybe that had been a mistake. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to force her to talk about it instead of letting her impromptu arrival and subsequent partying do the mourning for her.

But this wasn’t the time to debate choices. There would be plenty of time to do that on the airplane, because apparently, Buffy didn’t have any option about Faith’s presence or not any more.

“Those black robes make everybody look fat anyway,” she said in acquiescence. “Let’s go.”

They were almost out the door when Buffy remembered the laptop. Darting back inside, she slipped it into her carry-on, then grabbed the wrapping paper to take along, too. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to send her the means to spy on the internal workings of Wolfram & Hart. She had a sinking feeling she was going to need every scrap of help she could find in order to figure out who.

* * *

His body felt thick and his mind thicker, but Spike pushed through the veil of drugs to open his eyes and peer at the man hovering at his bedside. He was half-turned away, scribbling something down on a clipboard, but Spike didn’t need to see more than the steel-gray hair or the black eyes to know he didn’t recognize the man. He didn’t recognize much of anything, beyond the general sterility of the room.

Then he saw the bleary shape of an IV hanging beside his head. And the memories came crashing back with the speed of Dawn on a sugar high.

Spike closed his eyes to try and block out the haunted stare of the girl – Slayer, he had to remind himself, though why that was necessary after hearing her talk like he did, Spike had no idea – but all it did was conjure up other, bloodier images.

The stumps of his arms.

The tips of her tangled hair matted and crusted with blood.

And the ghosts her murmurings kept bringing to life. Specters he’d hoped would be put to rest in the Hellmouth. But no. Apparently, all they needed to return was the fresh pain of a new victim. Even if he wasn’t truly her torturer.

His body twitched in remembrance of the worst of the horrors, drawing the attention of the man at his side. He didn’t need his eyes open to hear the man turn or feel his body heat near. He wondered vaguely, in a drug-addled way, whether this was a response to not being able to feel his hands.

“Mr. Pratt. Good. You’re awake,” came the deep voice.

He scowled, opening his eyes to slits to glare up at the doc. “It’s Spike. Leave the Pratt business.”

The doctor nodded in agreement. It was the condescending move of someone who felt he had to indulge an inferior, and Spike had the overwhelming urge to vamp out and give the bloke a good scare to show just who the lower being was here.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

“Like I’ve been put on the chopping block. How do you think I feel?”

His sarcasm was going ignored. That was one thing Spike hated about the Wolfram & Hart people. Most of them had seen or heard too much to let themselves be bothered by much of anything.

Flipping to a different page in his chart, the doctor reeled off a series of questions, though each came back to the same matter. Could he feel his fingers? Could he lift his arm? Could he wriggle his thumb? Spike wanted to snap that he couldn’t do much of anything, swaddled in bandages an inch thick, but he answered in terse, monosyllabic responses anyway, knowing that if it weren’t for Angel’s staff – if it weren’t for Angel, and wasn’t that a bitch to confess – he could have ended up in far more pieces than he had, or at the very best, wandered around like a worthless git for the rest of his life, relying on the generosity of others.

He waited until it looked like the doc was done before asking the one question that was nagging him the most. “So how long have I been out of it?”

The doctor replied without looking up. “It’s been forty-eight hours since you were brought in. The operation took the good part of a day, and we’ve had you heavily sedated since then to keep your pain manageable. Speaking of…” Picking up a needle from the nearby stainless steel cart, the doctor turned to the IV and injected the needle’s contents into it. “Sleep well, Mr. – er, Spike. I’ll speak with you again tomorrow to discuss your physical therapy.”

The room was already starting to swim in Woodstock shades by the time the doctor closed the door behind him. Spike closed his eyes to stave off the worst of the nausea, but Dana’s hollow gaze followed him. Two days since it had happened. Hard to believe. He still heard her voice as clear as if she stood in the room. Had Angel taken her down? He wouldn’t have killed her, that much Spike was sure of. Did that mean she was in Wolfram & Hart facilities, too?

Part of Spike hoped that was the case. He’d like to talk to her once she wasn’t convinced he was the root of all evil. Reasonable conversations tended to be like kaleidoscopes when one of the parties was wracked with barmy notions; that was something he knew from experience.

He was nearly asleep again when he heard the door open, and he fought against the drugs to peer at whoever was disturbing him. It took a few moments for the dark shape at the end of his bed to come into focus, but as soon as he saw Angel’s familiar glower, he snorted and closed his eyes again.

“What the buggering hell do you want?”

* * *

It was truly astonishing how little Wesley had known of the machinations of the Watchers’ Council. Before his assignment in Sunnydale, he had always prided himself upon being thorough, on his research if not his fighting skills, and since his abysmal failure as a Watcher, he’d striven to strengthen what assets he had. It had served him well working with Angel, but now, with the Council in chaos and Wolfram & Hart’s facilities at his disposal, he was venturing into a world he had deliberately turned a blind eye to.

Some of it was obvious, of course. One couldn’t grow up in a house with a Watcher as a father and not know there were secret meetings and foreign bank accounts and men with death in their eyes who only arrived in the middle of the night. But it was the little things, such as the Council’s acquisition of the Watts Institute, that fascinated him. There had been little purpose for the Council to keep the asylum after the Slayer in question – one Christy Pawlosky – had been released upon her treatment’s completion. In fact, Christy’s death at a ritual exorcism a few months later had triggered a new Slayer’s activation on the other side of the world. It made little sense that Watts would remain a Council holding.

And yet it did. And served another function when Buffy’s family doctor suggested a temporary admission to investigate her so-called psychosis.

He had known about her stay at Watts before going to Sunnydale, of course. It had been part of her file, and Wesley had memorized it front to back before ever getting on a plane for the States. He’d memorized Faith’s, as well, though that had done him precious little good in the end. He had still failed to be a strong enough authority figure to keep her from straying off her Chosen path.

His thoughts drifted from the file on the desk before him to those of Faith and the previous spring. There were moments, deep in the middle of the night, when Wes was alone and his specters particularly querulous, that he wondered if he had done the right thing in allowing her to continue walk free after Angel’s soul was returned. She was in jail for a reason, a very good one, and though the subsequent confusion in Los Angeles meant her escape had gone unnoticed, that did not necessarily mean she shouldn’t return. Was he condemning others by letting her back out into the world?

He tried to think not. The young woman who had fought with him, who had fought for Angel, was not the same who had nearly stolen his life a few years previous. She had changed. Grown. Just as he had.

Wesley needed to believe in Faith’s future. Because he needed to believe in his.

A knock at his door startled him from his reverie, and Wes glanced up in time to see Harmony poke her head in. “Angel’s not here,” he said automatically.

“I’m not looking for him,” she replied. “Well, I am, but I’m looking for you, too. There’s a problem in the infirmary.”

He frowned. The only thing of note happening with the medical staff was Spike. “What sort of problem?”

“That geeky guy from the Council’s back. He went straight to the infirmary and started demanding they let him see Spike. Plus, this time? He brought Slayers with him.”

Wesley rose from his chair as soon as she mentioned Andrew. “Thank you for letting me know, Harmony,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

She trailed after him as he headed for the elevator. “Do you want me to keep looking for Angel?”

“That’s probably for the best. He’s been a bit…invested in this entire situation.”

“Tell me about it. I never thought I’d see the day somebody made Spike look like the sane Slayer stalker.”

She scurried off as he entered the lift, wondering what Andrew wanted this time. Clearly, he didn’t feel secure showing his face without Slayers to protect him, though after witnessing Angel’s mood when they took Dana away, Wes didn’t blame the boy. Going straight to the infirmary made sense as well. If Angel hadn’t left explicit instructions regarding Spike’s care, Andrew might very well have been able to get in to see him without anyone the wiser. The only question that remained was why.

That answer became evident as soon as Wesley stepped off the elevator.

He hadn’t seen Buffy Summers since that spring she’d followed Faith to Los Angeles. Her hair was longer, blonder, her body more angular than he remembered, but the way she put herself together was still the same, the same casual style that probably took hours to create but looked completely natural and unaffected. Unsurprisingly, she exuded a controlled power that hadn’t been there before, and carried herself with a surety that made Wesley finally understand why Angel had walked away to leave her to battle the First Evil on her own.

If Buffy’s pacing presence in the infirmary waiting room was unexpected, Faith’s insouciant straddling of one of the chairs was more so. It wasn’t that she looked as she had when she’d left with Willow; it was that she was still with Buffy, months afterward. Wesley was aware that she had helped in the final battle on the Hellmouth, but he had assumed she would take off before the dust had settled. She had no allegiance to Buffy, and Buffy even less for her. To see them now, the Slayers attending Andrew’s reappearance, carried implications that he found fascinating.

“Well, this is quite the surprise,” he said with a cocked brow.

Buffy ground to a halt, but Faith did nothing but rake her sultry eyes over him, a ghost of a smile curving her full mouth. Wes tore his attention away from her as Buffy found her momentum again, barreling forward with restrained anger to stand in front of him.

“Not quite as surprising as finding out that Spike’s alive and kicking,” she replied, her words clipped.

“’Cause he sure as hell ain’t punching right now,” Faith commented. She didn’t flinch when Buffy shot her a glare. “Take a fucking joke, B. I’ll bet even Wes here thought it was funny.”

He had, actually, in a macabre fashion that reminded him of working cases with Cordy and Gunn. It was a trifle annoying that Faith would place his sense of humor so low, but then again, their encounters – even the ones recently – had never been laughfests.

“They’re not letting us see Spike,” Buffy said, shifting her attention back to Wes. “And I’m not going anywhere until I have a chance to talk to him.”

Considering what he knew of her history with Spike, Wes thought that was a fair expectation and nodded in agreement. “The precautions in place are primarily for Spike’s safety,” he said. He tilted his head toward the nurses’ station where their request had likely been denied. “I haven’t had the opportunity to check on his status yet today, so shall we do that now?”

Buffy’s arms unfolded from where she’d crossed them over her chest, and she followed him to the counter, a silent Faith and Andrew a few steps behind. Just as Wes reached for Spike’s chart, the elevator doors opened and Angel emerged.

Buffy flew at him with a flurry of furious questions, while Angel held up his hands in mock surrender, trying to fend her off. Wesley watched the exchange in silence until a warm elbow poked him in the side.

“My money’s on B,” Faith murmured. Her dark eyes glinted with amusement. “She’s been raring to tear him a new one ever since she found out about Spike.”

Her conspiratorial tone made him smile. “I think Angel’s been prepared for this possibility ever since Spike showed up in his office,” he replied, his voice just as low. “Don’t count him out just yet.”

She only smiled. This close, he could see the dark shadows beneath her eyes, and there was the distinct discoloration of a fading bruise along her jaw that her make-up failed to hide. She was still slaying, obviously, though the question of what might cause her sleepless nights made Wes hesitate. Before he could pose a more personal question about how she was doing, though, Angel pushed past Buffy and approached the nurse behind the counter.

“How’s Spike doing?” he asked, his tone brusque.

The young girl frowned. “He’s stable,” she said. “But you—”

“Then he can take visitors.”

Without a glance back, Angel marched down the hall, Buffy rushing to match his pace. Andrew was the next to go, though he had yet to say a word, while Wesley and Faith brought up the rear.

“I still think you should have said something.” Buffy’s voice drifted back to them. “After everything that happened in Sunnydale—”

“I’m not Spike’s keeper,” Angel argued. “And he’s been perfectly capable of calling you himself for weeks now. It’s not my fault he decided not to.”

“No, it’s your fault he has to deal with crazy Slayers who decide to play pick-up sticks with his body parts.”

“How is that…?” Angel cut himself off as he stopped in front of a closed door. “Never mind. We’ll talk about this later. I can see you’re not going to be rational until you’ve talked to Spike yourself.”

Abruptly, he twisted the knob and pushed the door open, standing out of Buffy’s way so that she could enter. She only made it a step inside before whirling around to face Angel again.

“What kind of sick joke is this?” she demanded.

“What are you talking about?”

He brushed by to enter Spike’s room. By the time Wesley stood on the threshold, both Buffy and Angel were inside, though both had finally stopped fighting. They were too busy staring at the unmade bed.

Faith whistled under her breath at Wesley’s side. “Out of the frying pan…”

“…and into the fire,” he concurred.

Spike was nowhere to be seen.

Beyond the rumpled sheets, the only thing on the bed was a thin layer of ashen dust.

 

To be continued in Chapter 3: Social Grace Is a Waste of Time