SUMMARY: Spike couldn't stay dead, and he couldn't stay away. But where Spike goes, trouble always seems to follow….(S/B, post-Chosen)
DISCLAIMER: No, I don't own BtVS, just AtS. Wait, not that either.
NOTE: Many thanks to my wonderful betas, Chris, Mezz, and sunbrae.
So this was hell. Spike was surprised; he'd expected more in the way of sulfurous fumes and Ricky Martin music. The whole thing was really quite unexceptional, and as far as Spike was concerned, if you'd seen one boring cave, you'd seen them all. In fact, he—hang on, cave?
Spike fought off the death-induced grogginess he was enjoying and took a good look around; with clear eyes, it wasn't hard to recognize where he was. "Ah, motherfucking—"
"You are surprised, vampire?"
"Hell yes, I'm surprised. Why wouldn't I be? Thought I was rid of you a year ago," grumbled Spike, forcing his sore body to its feet as the massive demon regarded him calmly, eyes glowing green.
The demon's gash of a mouth stretched hideously, and Spike realized the thing was smiling. A chill ran through him, and he knew with a shudder than anything that amused the cave-dweller couldn't be good news for him.
"Is this a punishment?" Spike asked warily. The creature only looked at him. "You know, like Sisyphus, or Tantalus, or some other ancient twit? I'm going to be tortured by you for all eternity?"
"For what would you be punished, vampire?"
Bastard. "For a hundred and twenty years of blood and gore," Spike responded, suddenly weary. He'd worn the pendant and averted the apocalypse … well, that apocalypse, Spike amended … and it wasn't enough. All those people alive because of him, and it still wasn't enough.
Why should it be? Wasn't like you knew what would happen when you put on that shiny bauble … you just thought you'd fill in Angel's shoes, same as you always do—fill them with Buffy, with Dru, with the whole heroic martyrdom....
"Shut up," Spike mumbled to himself.
A rumble sounded opposite him. The demon was now inspired to laugh, it seemed.
It stepped closer to him. "I give you no punishment. You met all of your challenges, and now I have given you what you asked of me."
Spike stared at him. It never paid to deal with demons; they always stung you in the end. But he'd been desperate when he decided to seek out the demon, crazed, and hadn't thought past the moment. He'd just wanted, needed, to leash himself, to protect Buffy. "Our deal was over a year ago, mate," he pointed out carefully. "I did your trials, you gave me a soul."
"You did not ask for a soul. You asked to be made what you were."
"Yeah, what I had when I was human—"
"What you were. The soul was just another trial. And now I have given you your reward. You are now as you once were. A human. Weak. Pitiful. Without defenses. The prey of any who would do you harm."
"Then why are you calling me vampire?" Spike shot back, unconvinced.
"I thought you would enjoy one last reminder of what you were," the demon said maliciously.
Spike forced himself to remain calm. "You know, I don't feel any different," he observed neutrally. "You sure you have the right of it?"
The creature grasped him with a leathery hand. "See for yourself," it said indifferently, and cast him out of the cave into the bright noon of the savannah as Spike screamed and struggled against the sunlight's burn.
"It was a mistake."
Buffy didn't respond to Giles's statement. It was hard to just ignore the things her Watcher—former Watcher— told her, but she didn't have much of a choice anymore. It seemed like everything she did was wrong, a mistake, a sure step on the road to calamity, and possibly a felony as well.
Giles hadn't gone back to England after the First Evil was defeated, which should have made her happy; he was there every day to help her, guide her, advise her … Every. Single. Day. And it quickly became clear that that although she'd been miserable when he left after Willow brought her back, she'd grown up since then. She didn't know when it happened—god knew, she didn't feel like an adult most of the time—but his frequent criticism and attempts to influence her in every little way grated. What Buffy studied, her choice of town, what she let Dawn wear? It was all wrong.
As if she could even try to lecture Dawn on clothes, Buffy thought crankily. Dawn knew what she used to wear to school; she'd just laugh at her if Buffy said Dawn's skirts were too short.
At the moment, the topic of criticism was her insistence that the Potentials—not Potentials anymore, she reminded herself, but Slayers—be allowed to return to home to their families.
Now they were all gone, across the country and across the sea, some of them. They'd been offered a choice, and while some of them had decided to stay together, none had chosen to remain with the little band from Sunnydale; they wanted to make their own way. Except Kennedy, attached as she was to Willow. The Scoobies weren't going anywhere without Willow, and that meant Kennedy came along as an accessory. A pushy, entitled accessory.
When she wasn't keeping her thoughts under control, Buffy sometimes wished Willow had fallen for Vi instead.
"It was not a mistake," Buffy said wearily. "They're just kids. They should be with their families."
"They need instruction, training," asserted Giles.
"They need their parents," corrected Buffy. "They need lives."
Giles sighed. It seemed that no matter how much he argued, she automatically defied him. It didn't matter what the topic was, really—she did it to spite him. There could be no other reason. It was hard for him to believe, but she was even more rebellious than she had been as a teenager. "If we had enough Watchers it would be one thing, but there are so few left. If the new Slayers aren't trained they have no chance; they have a duty, a responsibility, they are—"
"One in all the world?" asked Buffy with deceptive sweetness.
Giles subsided a little. "No, of course not."
"I was the last one."
"I was the last one who was one in all the world. These girls will never know what that is, to be the only one—to have the weight of the world on them. And that makes me happy. The only people they're 'one in all the world' for is their families. They're not going to—nobody's going to—" Buffy broke off for a minute. "They got the basics while we were in Sunnydale; they know what it is to fight monsters and save the world. They can continue training on their own, or they can join us, but I'm not going to make them do anything," she finished tightly, and pulled away from the table.
She left the room without another word, moving to stand in the living room as she caught her breath. Nobody was going to resurrect those girls to make them do their job; no one was going to use the blunt force of you're the only one, it's your duty to keep them in line the way the Council had attempted to control her.
No, not just the Council. Giles, too.
The new Slayers didn't have to stand alone, the way she had so often.
And now, neither did she.
They'd settled down, all the Scoobies, into a calm life in Santa Rita. Still in Southern California—Buffy didn't think she'd be able to live anywhere else; she'd always be a California girl, even if her work was done by night. What was the other choice? Patrol the beach? Good for the tan, but otherwise not very effective.
For the first time in what felt like forever, money wasn't an issue. Andrew had sold the prototype of a video game he'd created and had signed a contract for more, and he'd made a long speech, with many references to god knows what, about it being a privilege to be the "benefactor" of a superhero. Giles seemed to find the situation distasteful—talk about a Giles word, Buffy thought to herself—but it made sense to her. Andrew reveled in the reflected glory, and he wanted to stay with them. He enjoyed a family life, he liked to say.
Sometimes she wasn't sure if that's what they were anymore. She didn't remember the last time she trusted Giles completely; she'd loved him like a father for so long, and then he'd left, and … basically acted exactly like a father. Well, she already had one of those type of fathers, and one was more than enough.
She'd thought she was over it, the sense of betrayal she'd felt, thought it had all been water under the bridge. She'd been kidding herself; nothing was ever solved that easily, no matter how hard you hope.
She wanted to love him the way she had. Before she died, before she came back and he left. Before he tried to kill Spike.
Now Spike was gone anyway, but it had been of his own choosing, not because somebody looked at him and decided he wasn't worthy, the way Giles had.
The way she had, so many times.
For a moment she was angry, bitterly angry, at her father, at Angel, at Riley. At Giles. They left, all of them, until she didn't know what it meant anymore when a man told her he loved her. No, that wasn't right; she knew exactly what it meant, and that was why she couldn't believe Spike when he told her how he felt. When he showed her, with his blood and his body and finally his life.
No, not his life. He'd let Glory torture him to help Buffy, but when he'd died … that hadn't been for her. That had been for the world. For all the people he'd killed. For him. She didn't know what it was for, but it wasn't her. Finally, he thought of something other than her.
This time she couldn't rage against being abandoned. She almost wished he had left her the way the others had.
It was easier when she had someone to blame. Now, she just had regrets.
Those killed in the great battle against ultimate evil remained dead, and Andrew wasn't entirely sure that was a good thing.
He hadn't seen Warren or Jonathan or any of the Potentials who'd been lost in the brave fight to save the world—Amanda, for instance, or dear—dear—
Ugh. It really was hard to keep their names straight.
He paused a moment under a tree on the broad sidewalk to peer into his bag of newly purchased comic books to assure himself that the clerk at the store hadn't cheated him and stuck in a Little Lotta instead of one of his specially ordered four-color beauties. No, everything was there, and Andrew patted the bag in contentment and continued walking.
Where was he? Oh yeah, he hadn't seen any of them. Sometimes he wished they did visit. They could talk, right? Catch up, find out what the other was doing. It was comforting, like they weren't really gone. He knew the First hadn't meant for his visits to comfort Andrew, when he'd appeared as Warren or Jonathan, but talking to them always made him feel better, unless they were telling him to kill a pig or something like that. But when they were telling him things weren't his fault, that was pretty good.
He supposed the important thing was that the world had been saved and they were all together now. Andrew and Xander and Dawn and Buffy and Giles, all living in the big house on Laurel Drive. It was nice, especially the game room with its wall of video games and its combination region one/region two DVD player, so he didn't have to wait for great shows like The Prisoner to be released in the U.S. Although, actually, The Prisoner had already been available in region one, but it was a little out of his price range before. But it wasn't now, and that was important too, right?
And also, they didn't have Potentials sleeping underfoot anymore, and everyone had their own room. And Xander hadn't had to fix the windows once.
But sometimes Andrew, who was definitely not holding his ear against the wall so he could hear what Xander what doing—he'd promised Buffy he'd stop, and he had—sometimes he heard Xander call out to Anya in his sleep. During the day Xander bravely pretended just to be himself, all cheerful and cracking jokes, but Andrew could tell his mighty heart was breaking.
All summer Andrew had tried to cheer him up with little gifts—a box set of The Man From Atlantis, a mint-condition copy of issue three of Rima, the Jungle Girl—the best comic ever, no matter what Tucker said—and a really amazing pudding cake that took Andrew all afternoon to make. None of it seemed to work, though. Dawn seemed more excited by the cake than Xander had; at least someone besides Andrew appreciated the magic of coffee and water forming itself into pudding while baking inside a cake. But even as he gave Xander the presents, he knew that nothing could alleviate his suffering. Nothing on this earth.
The others weren't always as sensitive to Xander as Andrew was. Buffy had suggested to Xander that he start dating again, and Xander said maybe her boyfriend could fix him up with his sister. Then there were some kind of unpleasant words, since Buffy didn't have a boyfriend, and Andrew had run out of the room, and when he came back they were talking about sandwiches. That night was the first time that Andrew heard Xander talking in his sleep. Talking to Anya.
He bet Xander would have done anything for a visit from the ex-vengeance demon. In the old days, Andrew might have summoned a demon who could grant wishes to help Xander out, give him a visitation or something nice like that, but he didn't do those kind of things anymore. If only he did, for Xander's sake.
But now, thinking on it, it occurred to Andrew that maybe it would be better for everyone if the dead just stayed that way. Because in front of Andrew, blocking his path, was a ghost.
It was calling his name.