To Dream in the Perfect Tense

I bow to Eurydice here as I've copied her basic tea/sleep mechanism from Legions of True Hearts. It wasn't intentional, and I only realised the similarity after I'd written it. That should be the only similarity, however.

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters in this story. I like to play with them, and I'd love to see them happy.

A year after we left what was left of Sunnydale, I got the news that Spike, Angel, Wes and some others were gone. It's hard to accept. Funny really, because, until I knew he was gone this time, I already thought Spike was gone. Angel was a shock. Somehow, I always imagined he'd be around long after all the rest of us were dead. Last time I saw him, I was sure that I needed to find myself before I got involved with anyone, but he needed to know that there was a chance that it would be him. And there was a chance, although I knew even then that it was a remote one. He might have been largely the same person I fell in love with at fifteen, but I'm not her any more. I wasn't when I last saw him, and after a year of finding myself, I'm even less like her. Wes? Well, I don't think I knew the man he became. My memories of him from Sunnydale were such that the idea of him working alongside Angel seems ridiculous, but it sounds like he was a central member of the team. No, despite already believing him dead, it was Spike's disappearance that hurt the most.

The past year has been a strange mixture of everything I ever thought I wanted, along with the realisation that what I once had was closer to what I wanted than I realised at the time.

Confused? Yeah, me too, so I'd better explain, or at least try to reason it through.

From the time I was called, I wanted a normal life; the sort of thing most kids take for granted - that I had always taken for granted. You know, school, boyfriends, hanging out with my friends, going to college, maybe, in the distant future, a good job and eventually settling down with someone and even children. Then, suddenly, there were vampires and monsters and the world had turned into the nightmare version of a fairy story, and I was the one girl in all the world able to stop the power of evil. Pretty deep stuff when you're fifteen, and I resented it.

Over time, I got used to it - to the sneaking around, hiding things from my mom, worrying about the next apocalypse rather than the chem. test in the morning, but I still dreamed about normality.

Of course, I had boyfriends. Not that anything worked out like I would've imagined. I mean, two members of the undead community, and one human souped up on drugs fed to him by the US Government? Not exactly normal. Parker, I choose to forget.

And then, I had normal. One last apocalypse averted and I was one of hundreds of Slayers. It wasn't up to just me any more. The downside was that we lost people that day. Anya was a friend I miss more than I ever thought I would, and that's without taking into account the effect her death had on Xander. He couldn't stay with the rest of us after Sunnydale. He tried at first, but he just didn't want to be part of that life any more.

And, of course, I lost Spike. Considering I'd spent a fair bit of the time I knew him wishing him somewhere else, towards the end, I feel I finally got to know him. And once I did that, falling in love with him was sort of inevitable really. I just wish he'd believed me when I told him, or that I'd realised earlier so I could have showed him.

First stop after Sunnydale, well, once we'd recovered from the initial shock, was London. Not all of us - most of the new Slayers went home at first, and Faith and Robin decided to check out Cleveland, but Willow, Kennedy, Giles, Xander, Andrew, Dawn and I - we went to London. Giles set about putting the Council of Watchers back together, but Xander quickly decided to go back to the States. He laughingly complained he couldn't live in a country devoid of Krispy Kreme, but we all knew it was because being with all of us reminded him that Anya was gone. He's in Pennsylvania now, and doing well as far as we can tell.

Once the basics of the Council had been set up, the next job was to find all the new Slayers and offer them the chance to train and understand their powers. That's how Dawn and I ended up in Rome. And, apart from the work, and the mourning for Spike, there was Lucio. Also known in some quarters as 'The Immortal', he showed me a good time and kept me too busy to think about how much I missed Spike.

Then, a few days ago, I got news that shook everything up. Apparently, Spike came back. How or why I don't know, but he did. And, he ended up in LA, working with Angel. That fact alone would have persuaded me it was all a hoax except for the source of the information - Giles. He told me that, a couple of weeks ago, there was this huge battle, and they fought, and they all disappeared. Well, no, not all. Wesley's dead. They found his body. He wasn't at the battle, but he died that same night. Spike and Angel were there, and when it all disappeared, they were gone too.

Apparently Giles knew Spike was back. When he heard about Angel taking over Wolfram and Hart he was worried, so when he got his hands on the resources of the Council, he sent a team to watch them. I knew about that bit, of course, he just neglected to tell me about Spike. It seems Spike was originally some sort of ghost, but later, he was back to his undead self. Giles didn't tell me because he didn't want me side-tracked from my normal life. Why Spike didn't contact me? I can only assume he didn't love me any more. I don't suppose I'll ever know for sure.

And, worse than that, Spike and Angel were in Rome. I should have sensed them, should have known they were there, but I didn't. And, you know what Lucio told me when I was trying to work out how an experienced Slayer could not notice two familiar vampires? He told me he hid them from me. Because he didn't want me upset by them. Our relationship after that lasted the length of time it took me to slap his drop-dead gorgeous face and walk away.

And all of that is why I'm here. In London. I flew in yesterday, got some sleep, and I'm in a cab on my way to Giles' office. I turned down his invitation to stay with him. I'm still sore at him for not telling me about Spike, and it's just easier if I've got somewhere to get away and be on my own. Our relationship never completely recovered from the whole 'conniving with Robin to kill Spike' episode, but he's still important to me. I want to know what's being done to find out what happened to Spike and Angel - to know if I need to mourn him again or work to try to get him back. And while I'm here, I want to find out more about the man Spike was. I just get the feeling I need to know more about him before I can finally bury him - if that's what I need to do. His vampire life is fairly well chronicled, although much of the early part was under the heading of 'Angelus', but I know very little about his human life other than snippets he told me towards the end. His 'I was always bad' statement doesn't mesh with what I know now, and I want to know him - the man who became a vampire who would seek out a soul for love.

After a few days, I've made no real progress. To be fair, Giles has given me free access to everything that's being done to find out what happened to Spike and Angel, but the best information they've come up with is that they were both dusted. There's no evidence of that, it seems, but there's also no evidence of anything else. I could complain that there's not enough being done on that research, especially as it's been given to some very junior Watchers, but the truth is that there aren't many experienced Watchers left.

I decided to call Willow to see if she can help. She and Kennedy went to South America to find more Slayers, and they're keeping busy with that. She agreed to try to discover where Spike's essence might be, but pointed out how difficult that would be without anything personal belonging to him. When she told me that, I got in touch with the leader of the Council's LA team and got him to send on some things from Spike's last known address - a seedy apartment in the city. Angel lived in the Wolfram and Hart building, and that was destroyed during the battle, so it's been harder to get anything belonging to him. That was days ago, and I'm still waiting to hear from her, so in the meantime, I'm working on the history. I've managed to get whatever there exists on William Spencer, but it's pitifully little. I know when he was born, who his parents were. I know he had no brothers or sisters, and that his father died when he was quite young.

He was a gentleman. There was an income from family investments that was enough to maintain a household, and he disappeared without trace one day, never to be seen again, or at least, that's the official story. His mother disappeared a short while later, and it was generally believed that she killed herself because she couldn't get over the loss of her only son. I, of course, know the truth. Neither of them has a grave, or at least, not a marked one. Spike told me once that he was buried, but by Drusilla, not his family.

So, I know some facts, but nothing about the man himself. I don't know what I expected, but it seems that as a human he was just too unremarkable to have left much trace.

I'm down to my last week in London, and I'm considering whether to take an earlier flight back to Rome. I think I've done everything I can, but I've little to show for the effort. Willow has finally received Spike's belongings - a black t-shirt which was ripped and bloodstained - but she's had to work on isolating the blood because it probably isn't his. It'll take a while to get any information, and I can hear about that in Rome as easily as London.

I pause and look around the office Giles has given me for my stay. Of course, the old Council building was destroyed by the First, so he's had to find a new headquarters. Apparently, the Council owns a good deal of real estate in central London, and apart from the income that generates, one building in South Kensington was becoming vacant as its previous tenant was moving north. It's a lovely old building with thick stone walls and solid wooden doors. The rooms themselves are large and panelled in wood. To be honest, it's pretty much what I always imagined when I pictured the Council offices even though it's obviously not the same as it was.

I'm surprised by a tap at the door. Surprised because, apart from Giles, who doesn't feel the need to knock, I've had few if any visitors to my office in the time I've been here.

The young woman who enters is Asian in appearance, with long dark hair, a slender figure and huge dark eyes. She smiles shyly at me from the doorway, and with a furtive look behind her, closes the door.

"Miss Summers," she says, her English clear and precise. "I hope you will forgive my boldness, but I have heard of your quest and I thought I might be able to help you."

"Help me?" I reply. "Can you start by telling me who you are?"

"My name is Meena. I'm one of the new Slayers, and Mr. Giles has recommended me as suitable to be trained as a Watcher."

I knew that, with so many Slayers, Giles was looking to train some of the more academically able of them in many of the subjects and languages which had been a standard part of Watcher training in the past. He has commented to me on more than one occasion how disappointed he's been with the girls in that respect, bemoaning the fact that many of them seem to have real problems with their own language and therefore considering them unsuitable to learn others. However, knowing Giles' standards in that respect, I know that this girl could probably give Willow a run for her money in terms of smarts.

"Ok, Meena," I reply, my curiosity piqued. "Which particular problem is it that you feel you can help with?"

"Oh, Miss Summers, don't you know that all the girls know your story? We all know that you were the Slayer for many years, and that you saved the world countless times. Andrew has told us about so many of your exploits."

Andrew. I might have known. While he's spent a lot of his time in Rome, he's been travelling back to London regularly. When I see him, we're going to have a little chat.

"You can't believe everything Andrew tells you," I warn her, trying to stay calm.

"Oh, but he said you would deny it. He said that you fought bravely and never thought of yourself or of any reward."

"And what else did he say?"

"He told us about the vampire who loved you so much that he earned a soul. He told us that it was he and this vampire who were responsible for the closure of the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. And he told us how you mourned him when he was gone. We know you came to London to find out about the man he was before he was changed, and we know you're disappointed with what you've found."

"And can I ask the source of your information?"

"There are many girls like me in this building, and we all live together. How can we not know what is happening to one such as yourself? We watch and listen and we share what we discover."

"I see. And, assuming what you've described is true, how is it that you think you can help?"

"Ah, well, if I tell you, you've got to promise not to tell Mr. Giles. He insists that he must know everything about us, but there are some things you just cannot discuss with a man."

I must look puzzled and I certainly feel that way, so she goes on.

"Where I come from, I am fortunate. My father is important in our town and he was able to pay for my education. Yet, that education was intended to enable me to attract a better husband. That was its only purpose. When I returned home, my parents were searching for a suitable husband for me, and I would have moved from my parents' home to my husband's and I would never have the chance to use my education. Then, Mr. Giles visited. I believe others visited first, but my parents dismissed them and wouldn't allow me to know they had come. But Mr. Giles explained to my parents that I had a calling, that I was important to the future of the world, and after much discussion, they allowed him to bring me here and train me. If Mr. Giles ever decides that I am not worthy of this training, then I will be sent home, and all my dreams will be for nothing. So, it is very important that Mr. Giles continues to think well of me, and he would not do that if he thought I had secrets from him. Please promise that you will not tell him any of this."

She pauses then, and I promise. She seems so earnest and her story is believable.

"There is a … magic, I suppose you'd call it," she continues after smiling gratefully at me. For countless generations the women of my family have been gifted with it, and we can allow you to dream of the past. It's quite harmless - I've done it many times myself. I could allow you to dream of your loved one's last few weeks or days - to see it unfold, without changing anything at all. It would be like watching a film of it."

"I don't think so, Meena. It's kind of you to offer, but I don't think it's a good idea."

I say the words quickly, knowing, logically, that I shouldn't get involved with anything like this unless I understand it, and equally knowing that I won't be able to research it without Giles finding out.

Meena looks disappointed, but then she grins. "If you change your mind, here's my mobile number." She picks up a pen from the desk in front of me and looks for some paper. I give her a sheet, and she writes the number down. "It really is harmless," she promises. "If you like, I could get Anna to tell you about it. She, well, she found out her father died a few years ago. She hadn't seen him since she was very little, and didn't know anything about him. I gave her a dream so she could see just what he was like. She said it helped a lot, and she was able to confirm some of the details she discovered afterwards. I'm sure she'd convince you."

"Thanks, Meena. But I don't think …"

The door opens suddenly, and Giles walks in.

"Buffy," he begins, his eyes reading the paper in his hand. He looks up and spots Meena.

"Meena? What are you doing here? I'm sure I heard Miss McGuinness remarking on the fact that she would be taking you for Greek this afternoon."

"Yes, Mr. Giles, but Miss McGuinness wasn't feeling well, so she just set us some reading to do."

"I see. What I don't see is why you'd think Miss Summers could help you with that reading."

"I, er, I didn't. I just wanted to talk to her. I mean, Andrew told us all about her, and I wanted …"

"Yes, well, you've been told that Andrew has an excessively romantic notion of Slayers in general. I'm sure Miss Summers has more important things to do than listen to Andrew's stories regurgitated by you."

"Giles," I interrupt. "It's fine. If she was based in Rome, I'd be training her, and Andrew's been at the girls there too. I'm used to it."

"Yes, well, …"

"It's ok," Meena says as she retreats form the office warily. "It was nice meeting you, Miss Summers. Thank you for your time." As she leaves, I can't help but think that her body language is screaming 'guilty'.

"What did she really want?" Giles asks as soon as the door is fully closed.

"Oh, nothing. She just wanted to meet me and about find out more about how Andrew and Spike closed the Sunnydale Hellmouth. I think she's got a bit of a crush on Andrew."

"Really?" he answers, reddening slightly. "And to think I had considered her rather bright."

And, as I hoped it would, the mention of a romantic interest causes Giles to put Meena right out of his mind.