DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting’s, “Forget About the Future.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has attempted to contact Angel and left a message about Spike’s being alive, while Xander has managed to convince Spike/William not to leave just yet…
Unwilling to miss Angel in case he called back, Buffy spent the night at the Council offices, curled up on the couch in Giles’ study while he and Willow continued to research the possibilities regarding Spike’s rebirth. That was how she was viewing it now. After all, he was alive when he hadn’t been before. It seemed as appropriate an analogy as any.
Her sleep was fitful, dark dreams that twisted her memories into horrific amalgams of Spike at the mercy of The Immortal’s torture, Angel burning up in the Hellmouth, and beneath it all, a voice she couldn’t make out, calling to her in whispers that split the tapestry of her unconsciousness, compelled her to break free from the fetters of her sleep and join it, driving her mad until her eyes flew open, wide and unfocused, to see Willow jerk back from where she’d been shaking Buffy awake.
“Sorry,” Willow said quickly. “I didn’t mean…are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” Buffy replied without thought. She was far from fine. She was coated in a fine sheen of sweat from the fervor of her sleep, and her head was still reeling from the sudden shock of being pulled from it. “What’s wrong? Is it Angel? Did he call?”
Silently, Willow shook her head. “I thought you might want to join us for breakfast. Everybody’s here.”
She bolted upward. “Everybody? Spike, too?”
“Yeah. And Judd.”
Judd. She’d completely forgotten about him. She’d promised him explanations after her meeting with Xander and instead, she’d fallen asleep waiting for a phone call from another ex-boyfriend she hadn’t ever really talked about. Some girlfriend she was.
“Is there someplace I can clean up first?” Buffy asked, rising to her feet.
“My room,” Willow offered. “You can change your clothes, too. It’ll make you feel a thousand percent better.”
Buffy let herself be led from the room, only half-listening to Willow’s jabbering about what they’d learned through the night. She didn’t need to pay attention. When the first words out of her friend’s mouth were, “You’d think people obsessed with vampires would’ve been more interested in the possibility of them becoming human again, you know?”, Buffy knew they didn’t have any more answers.
Those could only come from Angel. If he ever decided to call her back.
The silence was deafening. Nobody seemed willing to be the first to speak beyond the pleasantries that had first been exchanged when they’d shown up at the Council front doors. Judd was busy glowering at Spike, who was trying to look as inconspicuous as possible in the largest group he’d been a part of since leaving Cairo---the airplane notwithstanding---while Dawn kept eyeing all of them, taking a seat by Xander before Willow could usurp it for herself.
For Xander, he just didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t set one of them off. So he watched, and took measure of how Dawn’s long slim fingers toyed with her silverware, and how Spike had managed to sneak along a notebook without Xander seeing and was now scribbling away at it, and how both Giles and Willow were trying not to stare at the ex-vampire as they finished preparing breakfast.
Buffy’s arrival was a breath of fresh air, her smile as bright as it was phony. She hesitated for a moment when she saw the two empty chairs, one at Judd’s side, the other at Spike’s, but covered it with light banter as she slid into the seat next to her boyfriend. It wasn’t until Xander realized it put her directly opposite Spike, forcing him to look at her if he lifted his eyes, that he understood why she chose it.
“So, who wants pancakes?” Willow said brightly, setting the platter in the middle of the table. “No funny shapes, but I’ve got blueberry and chocolate chip to make up for it.”
“Ooo, chocolate for me,” Xander said, and held out his plate. “You’d be surprised how many African tribes have never heard of a chocolate chip.”
“And I’m sure you make it your sacred duty to rectify that particular deficiency,” Giles said with a smile.
“Darn straight I do. Nothing vanquishes evil like a healthy dose of sugar.”
For whatever reason, that was enough to break the ice, and the group slipped into the same kind of banter that Buffy had started when she’d walked into the room.
The exception was Spike. Though the coincidental arrival of Buffy and food had made him thrust his notebook out of sight, he stayed silent amidst the camaraderie, sneaking glances across the table at Buffy, watching the others out of the corner of his eye. Nobody was bothering to include him in the conversation, not even Buffy, and Xander started to feel guilty about the exclusion. He understood why, of course. What could you say to a guy when he didn’t really know who you were, when he didn’t really want to be there in the first place? But, it didn’t mean Xander liked it.
“So, William,” Xander said, putting down his fork and leaning back in his chair to ease the strain on his now tight waistband, “is this your first pancake breakfast, or did Hanif’s mom already treat you with this special gift?”
“Of course, it isn’t,” Dawn said before Spike could reply. “We had pancakes all the time the summer Buffy was---.”
She stopped. Everyone around the table held their breath. Xander felt like kicking her in the shin under the table for slipping like that.
Wiping almost delicately at his mouth, Spike returned his napkin to his lap before leaning just far enough forward to address Dawn. “Pardon?” he said. “The summer Buffy was…what?”
“Dead.” All eyes shot to Buffy, but she could only look at Spike. “You promised me you’d take care of Dawn if something happened to me while we were fighting Glory.” The corner of her mouth lifted. “You’re not the only one who can come back from the dead, you know. In fact, I got you beat by five years.”
“Well, technically, he’s already been back for three,” Xander said.
“Still means I win by two,” Buffy said.
“Wait,” Judd said, shifting in his seat to face her. “You were dead?”
“Twice now.” She nodded toward Xander. “Numero uno resurrection was courtesy of Xan and some fancy-schmancy CPR.”
“And the second?”
Now, Xander felt like kicking Judd, only it wasn’t his ankle he was interested in aiming for.
Her smile faded. “That was more of a…group effort.”
Some of the tension had eased from Spike’s body, and he leaned forward, his gaze now riveted on Buffy. “You never said,” he murmured.
“I didn’t really get a chance to,” she replied, just as quietly.
“But…I would’ve…if you’d said…it might’ve…”
For those few seconds, nobody else existed in the room for them but each other. The look on Spike’s face was unlike anything Xander had seen since discovering him in Egypt, reminiscent of some of those stolen moments Spike had gathered that last year in the Summers’ house. The moments when he thought nobody was watching him, when he’d turn reverent eyes to the Slayer who led them, unaware that there were others watching him at the same time. William might not have the memories of what exactly had occurred in his previous incarnation, but buried in the rubble of his current existence were shards of the feelings that had been so rampant in Spike’s psyche the first time around, slivers of joy, splinters of hate, snippets of devotion. Tiny pieces that lay scattered around his feet, waiting for him to pick them up and put them back into place in the puzzle that was his life.
Xander wondered if Buffy even realized she was looking at Spike in exactly the same way. A quick glance at Judd was enough to know that Xander wasn’t the only one who saw it.
The shrill ring of the telephone made everybody jump, and Willow leapt from the table to scurry from the room and answer it. Spike cleared his throat, reaching for his cup of tea to gulp at it desperately, while Buffy sank back into her chair, the invisible tether that had been binding her to the man across the table now gone.
Willow came back before anybody could speak. Her face was pinched as her eyes settled on Buffy.
“It’s Angel,” she said.
Buffy’s heart was still pounding in her chest when she sat down at the desk. She knew she had to pull herself together in order to best deal with Angel, but she was still trapped in that moment when William had shifted into the Spike she’d known those last few days on the Hellmouth, the one who’d been willing to be the silent shoulder for her to lean on when she couldn’t afford to show weakness to anybody else, the one who’d understood the power of not talking but instead had just held her close, telling her later that it had been the greatest night of his life. It hadn’t been what he’d said but the look on his face, and it left her with a swelter of feelings that she’d long thought she’d buried.
But now was not the time for trying to fathom those out.
Taking a deep breath, Buffy picked up the phone and pushed the hold button that was flashing on the receiver. “Angel?” She was shocked at how even her voice was.
Her heart wrenched. He sounded exactly the same.
“Thank you for calling me back,” she said. Best to start with the buttering up. Besides, she really was grateful.
“Nina gave me your message. Is it true?”
“That’s kind of why I wanted to talk to you.” Haltingly, she told the tale of Spike’s return, stumbling over the details Xander had shared and then speeding up as she reached the part of running into the sleepwalking version of Spike out on the street. Angel never said a word during any of it. In fact, Buffy couldn’t hear anything through the line. She hated that his lack of breathing made him practically invisible on the phone.
“He Shanshu’d,” she heard Angel murmur when she paused to take a breath.
“What?” she asked, confused. “Is that some kind of special thing he needs for walking around in the desert?”
“No.” Irritation was creeping into his tone. “It’s a prophecy. About a vampire with a soul becoming human after helping with the apocalypse. I always thought…” He grunted. “So. Spike got it. Figures.”
“But Giles said that wasn’t it,” Buffy argued. “He said the original translation was wrong. Who gave you yours?”
“Wesley.” Pause. “What did Giles thought it meant?”
“That the vampire would be absolved from his sins. Get to go to Heaven instead of Hell, I guess. Anyway, he and Willow are pretty sure that’s not what this is about. Which means it has to be about the amulet.” She chewed at her lip. “The one you brought to Sunnydale. Where did you get it, Angel? You never told me.”
“Wolfram and Hart.”
Her brows shot up. “You took something from the same enormously evil guys who sent an army worth of demons after you? Not to mention the fire-breathing dragon that nearly turned you into a pile of ash. What were you thinking?”
She could hear him grinding his teeth, and wondered if her flash of angry surprise was going to cost her the phone call. “I had my reasons,” Angel said. “They don’t matter now. The Immortal saw to that, remember?”
It was a punch to her gut, one she’d known would come at some point in their conversation. Buffy had just wished it would be later rather than sooner. If wishes were horses…
When she’d learned of The Immortal’s intervention with Wolfram and Hart to help Angel, Buffy had been relieved at first that something constructive had been done. Anything was better than nothing, she thought, and she’d found out too late about Angel’s personal High Noon to step in with help herself. And when the reports of the LA crew going missing came filtering back afterward, she hadn’t given it too much thought. She just figured Angel was laying low until some of the heat was off.
It wasn’t until Wesley and that blue girl had showed up in Rome asking for her aid in locating Angel that she began to suspect that maybe the rescue hadn’t gone exactly as she’d been told.
Nobody had told her about Connor, either.
She found out about his death at about the same time she learned where The Immortal had been torturing Angel, ever since Wolfram and Hart had handed the vampire over to him.
The battles that had followed had been some of the most grueling Buffy and the gang had ever faced. They didn’t call the guy “The Immortal” for nothing, and he’d spent more than a few centuries garnering allies on both sides of the fence. Even with an army of Slayers at her disposal, Buffy quickly found herself on the losing side of the fight, clinging to each victory with nails that had long since grown bloody and ragged. It took an offhand comment from Andrew of all people to lead them to the source of The Immortal’s power, and Buffy had had the pleasure of smashing it in the smug bastard’s face, right before she used her trusted scythe to cut off his pretentious head. She thought it was fitting, considering his personal vanity.
None of it had been enough to temper Angel’s anger, however. And Buffy had spent the last two years feeling guilty that she couldn’t do anything more to make up for the scars he still bore from The Immortal’s torture, or the loss of the only son he’d ever have.
“Why are you getting involved in this?” Angel asked, tearing her away from her memories. “Did Spike ask for your help?”
“Well, no, not exactly---.”
“Did you think for a second that maybe this isn’t any of your business?”
“It sounds to me Spike was doing just fine in Egypt. My advice? Send him back. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Forget he even exists. And while you’re at it, forget this number, too.”
She heard the motions of him starting to hang up and panicked. “Angel, wait!”
The noises stopped. “What now, Buffy?”
She was at a loss for what to say, and settled for the first thing that came to mind.
“I can’t lose him again,” she whispered. “And something’s wrong. I know it. When he sleepwalks…he’s walking to me, Angel. He’s trying to find me. He has these nightmares for a reason, and I can’t…if you saw him, you’d see how lost he is. And it doesn’t seem to make a difference that he’s found me. There’s still something out there that he needs, and I don’t know what it is. Please, Angel. I know you hate me for what happened to Connor, and if there was any way I could fix it, you have to know I would. But I’m not asking for me. I wouldn’t do that to you, not now. I’m asking for Spike. He might not have been your choice to do it, but he did die to save all of us. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
She held her breath. She didn’t want anything stopping her from hearing the tiniest of hints that he was going to try hanging up on her again.
“Do you love him?” Angel finally asked abruptly.
What was the point in denying it? “Yes.”
Some unintelligible curses came over the line, followed by a heavy sigh. “I can’t give you what you’re looking for,” he said. “All my bridges got burned over two years ago.”
“But Wesley might be able to,” he continued, ignoring her interruption. “He still has…connections with Wolfram and Hart. He might be able to find something out about the amulet that you don’t already know.”
Buffy breathed a sigh of relief, some of the tension starting to unwind from around her heart. “Well, considering we know nothing, anything he can give us will be of the good.”
“I’ll talk to him. Explain the situation. He’ll be the one to let you know if he can help Spike.”
The soft drum of his fingers on a hard surface echoed through the phone. “Buffy…do me a favor, OK?”
“Don’t call me again. It’s hard enough…”
“No, I get it. It’s all right. But...Angel?”
“You know I’m sorry about how everything worked out, don’t you? You know I hate that I---.”
“I know,” he interrupted.
Then, the line went dead.
The tears were falling before she returned the phone to its cradle. Setting her head down on her arms, Buffy cried.
For a yesterday that rendered her helpless.
It was the first time she’d cried since the Hellmouth collapsed.
She had a lot of catching up to do.
To be continued in Chapter 11: Blind Faith Is the Mast…