A/N: Just so you're not confused by the jump to scenes from The Gift, yes the first part of this chapter is a dream. It's pretty obvious after the first few paragraphs, so I don't feel bad about telling you that. ;)
Sorry about the long delay in posting this chapter. I had to work out some plot points in my head before I could continue. Also? I'm really lazy.
Thank you to my beautiful betas desotohia873 and slackerace!
In the End
Dawn was screaming.
Not the sort of gut-wrenching scream expected from someone who was dying. Her cries were weak and frantic as the steady loss of blood sapped her strength little by little. They echoed down to the horrified vampire lying helpless at the base of Glory's tower.
Face down on the pavement, Spike placed his bloodied hands on the ground and pushed with every bit of his strength. After a few moments of futile struggling, he collapsed with a cry of defeat, eyes swimming with tears as broken ribs shifted painfully in his chest. The Nibblet was dying, and he couldn't move. Where were the others? Where was Buffy?
"Spike, help me! Why won't you come? Please, I'm right here. I need you!" Dawn cried, on the brink of hysterics. The night air was thick with the smell of her blood, sweet and fresh, and entirely repulsive to him. Spike knew all too well what happened when the Bit started to bleed. This was one nightmare he'd lived through before.
Gritting his teeth in determination, Spike managed to roll over onto his back, but still found himself helplessly pinned to the ground. He could see her now, chained at the top of the tower, shaking in horror as she tried to press down on the shallow cuts to slow the bleeding. All her efforts didn't seem to matter; there were simply too many cuts. Her dress was slick with her blood.
Gathering up every ounce of strength and willpower, Spike shoved himself off the ground with a roar. He started trudging towards the tower stairs before his broken body could protest. "I'm coming, Nibblet. Hang on."
The tower stairs went on for miles. Never-ending, they seemed. They curved and multiplied impossibly, taking him further and further away from her. His bones crunched and ground together with every agonizing step, but he didn't stop. Spike's eyes narrowed when he caught sight of something moving on the tower beside her. It wasn't Doc. It wasn't Glory. Who, then? The uncertainty made him double his efforts. After what seemed like an eternity, Spike finally reached the top of the tower. To his consternation, the shaky platform was empty. Dawn was nowhere to be seen.
"Too little, too late," said a familiar voice behind him.
Spike spun around and found Buffy standing behind him, looking calm and collected. "Where's Dawn?" he asked. "She was crying—"
"Dawn?" Buffy echoed in confusion. "Oh, her. She's dead."
"What? No! This isn't right. It's not supposed to happen this way at all."
Buffy shrugged indifferently. "Shallow cuts don't heal like they used to." She held up her left hand, revealing deep welts on her palm and between her fingers, as if she had been badly burned. "See what I mean?"
Spike went numb with confusion at the sight, taking a step backwards as she began approaching. "Buffy, what's happening? I don't understand. Where is Dawn?"
"Too little, too late," she repeated, following him as he retreated to the edge of the platform. "Hey, don't look so glum. It looks like you're going to have to jump with me this time."
"What are you talking about? There's no portal to jump through. No sacrifice to be made this time. There's just … ground." Spike squinted over the tower's edge, lips parting in surprise at what he saw. Bodies littered the ground below. He could barely make out the forms of Dawn and Angel, lying on the top of a pile of wreckage. Angel blinked and smiled up at him. "This isn't right," Spike repeated in a shaky voice. "It isn't supposed to happen this way."
Beside him, Buffy firmly enclosed his hand within hers. "Relax, Spike. I've done this before." With a comforting smile, she stepped toward the edge of the platform, pulling him with her.
"What are you doing?" he cried, trying to pull her back. "Buffy, stop!"
They teetered there for what seemed like an eternity. But in the end, Buffy proved the stronger of the two. They plummeted over the edge, hand in hand.
Spike awoke from the nightmare on the floor, hopelessly tangled in his sheets beside the bed. Shaking involuntarily, he stumbled to his feet and hurried to the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face. What the hell was that all about? he wondered.
Though he had slept for several hours, exhaustion still tugged at him like the worst kind of gravity. All he wanted to do was to crawl back into bed and try to forget about the terrible dream. That wasn't going to happen, he knew. Feeling the need for comfort of some sort, Spike found a pack of cigarettes in his duster pocket and lit one, willing the nicotine to soothe his tattered nerves.
Of all the dreams he'd had through the years of that awful night on Glory's tower, this dream had been the most vivid … the most disturbing. It was different than the others. Different from any dream he'd ever had, in fact. He couldn't put his finger on it, but he knew somehow that something other than his subconscious had placed those visions inside of his head. What if someone was trying to tell him something? To warn him? Were Buffy and Dawn in danger?
That would mean that Eve had been telling him the truth. Perhaps he shouldn't have dismissed what she had to say so quickly – but knowing the subtle manipulation she was capable of, he knew he would have to be careful stepping in any direction she pointed him in. One thing he did know – he needed to warn Buffy. Surely that wouldn't cause any harm, even if Eve was having a field day with him. Buffy was more than capable of protecting Dawn and herself, but not if she wasn't aware that they were in danger to begin with.
Stumbling groggily into the living room, Spike collapsed onto the couch. He rubbed the sleepiness out of his eyes and glanced at the clock. It was midday in Rome. He had no idea whether or not Buffy would be home, but it was worth a shot. He hesitated when he reached for the phone. What if she didn't want to talk to him? Their last conversation was half a week ago and not one of their best. His eyes drifted shut sadly as he remembered her harsh words.
You and me? We're not okay.
He couldn't figure out why hearing that had hurt him so much. She had every right to be angry with him, and considering the circumstances, things between them were better than he expected. Why then was he so afraid to speak with her again? It was almost as if he had been apart from her for so long that Buffy had become sort of an obscure concept to him rather than a real person. Not having her in his life meant he could paint his own picture of how she thought of him or how she might react to finding out that he was alive. His personal depiction of her didn't seem to match up to reality. Buffy was Buffy and made no apologies for it. That was one reason why he loved her so much, wasn't it?
"Get over yourself, Spike," he told himself as he snatched the phone off of the cradle. "More important that they're safe than your ego getting a proper stroking, right?"
Before he could talk himself out of it, Spike dialed her number and braced himself for another possible onslaught of Buffy-wrath. She picked up on the second ring, sounding as though she'd been laughing only a few moments before. A smile spread slowly across his face. Hearing her in such in high spirits was something he didn't get to witness often, particularly during those last few years in Sunnydale. He could swear he felt something pleasantly warm spread through his chest at the sound. "Hey."
"Hey yourself," Buffy replied, obviously surprised to hear his voice. "What's up? You don't sound too happy."
"Glad you noticed. Look, pet, I know I'm probably not your favorite person right now, but I need to ask you something."
"Hang on just a sec," she said. He heard the sound of footsteps and a door closing. "Sorry, I had to change phones. The one in the living room was making weird noises. Actually, I think this one is, too. Do you hear that?"
Pricking his ears up, Spike paused to listen, wondering why he hadn't noticed the sound before. He must be more distracted than he thought. "Funny clicking sound, right?"
"Yeah. It's probably just a bad connection. It's raining here. Anyway, what did you need to ask me?"
Spike took a deep breath, trying to focus his thoughts. "Random question, I know, but who's new in your life?"
"Huh?" she squeaked.
He repeated the question. "Look, I know it sounds a little crazy, but a source informed me the other night that you and little sis might be in danger. I was told that it would be from a recent acquaintance."
"Huh?" she squeaked again.
Spike rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "You. Dawn. Danger. Would you like me to draw you a picture, Slayer? I'm sure I could find a fax machine someplace."
"No, no, no, no, no," she insisted. "There will be no danger. Danger bad. And I don't do danger anymore. Why would anyone want to hurt me, when I'm all not-danger-having? Your source is wrong."
"Do you really want to risk that? And what the hell are you talking about, you don't do danger anymore? You're the Slayer, aren't you?"
"Newsflash. There's no such thing anymore as the Slayer," she replied defensively. "There're hundreds of them now, and they're doing a wonderful job."
"Not answering my question, sweet."
He heard her sigh. "I'm … on sabbatical. I just needed a break, okay?"
"All right, fine. But that's really beside the point, don't you think? The fact of the matter is that you and Dawn might be in trouble, and I don't think the bad guys give a damn if you're on holiday or not."
"You're really not kidding about this, are you?" she asked weakly.
"Wish I was," he replied, running a weary hand through his disheveled hair. "So who's gotten close to you recently?"
"I don't know. I guess since I became of interest to the Senior Partners. That would probably be about the time I got hold of that amulet."
"Wait a minute. What do you mean, since you became of interest to the Senior Partners? Oh, so you're saying that it's your fault that Dawn and I are getting unhappy danger-having attention? Thanks, Spike. I owe you one."
Spike's eyes drifted shut resignedly. "Just answer the damn question, Buffy."
"I'm in a new country," she retorted. "Everyone here is a recent acquaintance. What exactly are you looking for here?"
"What about that pansy boyfriend of yours?" Spike asked before he could stop himself. "The Immoral. Oh, I'm sorry. I meant the Immortal."
He could almost picture Buffy's mouth opening and closing as she struggled for the right words. "He … I'm … we're just dating. He's not my boyfriend. And he wouldn't do something like threaten me."
"That so?" Spike said, jealousy tingling at the base of his spine. "Do you really know that little about the guy? You really must be on holiday if you're that out to lunch."
"Shut up, Spike. How did you even know about him anyway?"
"Andrew. And from what he's told me, it doesn't sound like mere dating."
"This is so none of your business."
"Whatever, Slayer. Just do us a favor and watch your back, all right? If not for me or you, at least do it for Dawn."
"What's got you so spooked? I don't get it. You're usually the type that would shake an idle threat off."
"Call it a gut feeling," he replied, fumbling around his pockets for another cigarette. "That and I just woke up from a really good dream."
"Is that sarcasm, or are you just really complicated?"
"What do you think?" he asked as he flicked his lighter to life. Taking a long drag on his fresh cigarette, he watched the smoke curl up towards the ceiling, dreading what he knew her next question would be.
"What was the dream about?"
"You don't want to know. Let's just say that I was a bit anxious to call and make sure you both were safe."
Buffy exhaled slowly. "All right, fine. I'll check into some things. Maybe take a closer look at the people around us. Is there any other information you can give me? You haven't exactly told me much about what's going on."
"Sorry, my mind's a little jumbled at the moment," he admitted. "Remember what I said the other day about the Senior Partners letting me go because they had big plans for me? Grrr, nasty?"
"Yeah. Go on."
"Well, this bird Eve was the one who gave me that information. She used to work for the Senior Partners before she double-crossed them. When I saw her last, she was all big with the cryptic hoo-hah, and basically told me that her ex-bosses had their eye on me. They seem to think I'm the prime candidate for some vampire-with-a-soul prophecy, now that Angel's gone."
"You mean the Shanshu Prophecy?"
"He mentioned it to you, I take it?"
"Yeah," she said quietly. "I guess it wasn't meant for him after all, or he would have already come back."
Spike felt a wave of resentment tug at him when he heard the grief in her voice. Even from the great dusty beyond, Angel still stood between them. Spike was beginning to think he always would. "Sorry, I shouldn't have brought him up. Didn't think."
"It's okay. Go on. So what does this Eve want with you? What's in this for her, if she isn't affiliated with Wolfram and Hart anymore?"
"Good question. That Eve is one manipulative little bitch. There was this thing, right? With Angel and me and a cup, but it turned out it was just Mountain Dew. Did I mention I kicked Angel's ass that night? Could have staked him, but I didn't. Just for you, I might add, even though he was being a right bastard."
"Spike? You're babbling."
"Oh, sorry. What I'm trying to say is that Eve was behind a lot of mischief over at Wolfram and Hart. Sent us all on a few wild goose chases. Not trustworthy in the least, that one. So you can see why I'm a little hesitant to give credence to what she told me. If anyone other than you and Dawn were involved, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't listen to a damn word she had to say. Convenient, that. But considering the circumstances, I'd rather be safe than sorry."
"Okay, so we know that Dawn and I have been indirectly threatened, but what about you? Has anything really happened that makes you think that the Partners really are after you?"
Spike frowned deeply. "Not really. It's been relatively quiet around here, epic demon army battle aside. L.A.'s no Hellmouth, but it has a fair amount of demonic activity. I do what I can."
"So no one has personally threatened you, correct? Eve is the only one that's made any mention of this?"
"It does sound a little fishy, doesn't it?" he admitted.
"Well, like you said – better safe than sorry. Anyway, I'm … glad you called. Not just to tell me all of this, I mean. It's just that I missed you this week."
"Did you?" he asked, genuinely surprised. "Didn't know when the right time to call you back would be, after the way we hung up last time."
"Sorry about that," she said sheepishly. "I guess I was still in shock."
"Still mad at me?"
Hearing the teasing lilt in her voice, Spike couldn't help but smile. "Guess that's to be expected."
"Listen, are you okay?" she asked after a momentary pause. "You really don't sound good."
"Dream kinda shook me up, is all," he explained. "I feel sort of powerless over here when you and the Bit are so far away."
"Um, hello? Slayer here. We'll be fine. And since when are you all macho protect-y?"
"Sorry. I don't know why this is worrying me like it is."
"So let's change the subject," she suggested.
"All right. Worth a try," he said with a shrug. "How has your week been? Think about me naked much?"
Buffy snorted. "You wish. Actually, I tried to stay busy so that I wouldn't have to think about anything too much. I've barely been at home. You were lucky to catch me when you did."
"Hot dates at every turn, I imagine?" he muttered disdainfully.
Groaning loudly, she said, "Please don't start with that. I really don't want to talk about my love life with you right now."
"Love life? Oh, so there's love involved? Bloody hell."
"It's a saying. Can we please just drop it?" she begged.
"Little late for that."
"You were dead, Spike. I wasn't. It's not wrong that I moved on and started dating."
Taking a thoughtful drag on his cigarette, Spike exhaled slowly and said, "I can accept that you moved on, Buffy, but really – did you have to move on with him? I mean c'mon – the Immortal? I'd rather see you snogging Angel again than him. Harris, even! Well, maybe not Harris. Look, if you knew a smidgen of what I knew about the Immortal, you'd understand why I'm so upset."
"Oh really?" Buffy asked in a challenging tone. "Like what?"
"Well, um. Let's see here. Oh, I know – he's a player. A big nasty player with the ladies. Uses 'em up and tosses 'em out. Just like that." He snapped his fingers for emphasis.
"A player? And you're not?"
"Erm … no. Well, maybe a small one. But not lately."
"I'll believe that when I see it. Now please cool it with the jealousy bit. Like I said before, he and I are just dating."
Flicking cigarette ashes angrily onto the floor, Spike said, "Look, just tell me you at least waited a few months after you thought I was dust before getting swept off of your feet." When she failed to answer after several long moments, Spike chuckled bitterly. "You didn't wait long at all, did you? God, Buffy, did you mourn for me one little bit?"
"You don't understand," she said quietly. "You don't know what I went through after you died."
"You sure about that?" he scoffed. "I seem to recall a time when you were dead yourself. I thought about you every single day. That's the way grief works, you see."
"Spike … just listen, all right? This isn't easy for me to talk about," she snapped. "I can't just say things outright the way you do. I don't work like that."
Though Spike was ready to keep arguing, he closed his mouth when he heard her voice crack in emotion. Knitting his brow, he sat back and listened.
"The first night, after you were gone?" she continued in a small voice. "I lost it. I had to take sleeping pills to calm down, I was so upset. There were just too many things to take care of. Girls to get to the hospital. Housing and food to secure. Angel to deal with, who wasn't remotely pleasant after he and Giles started getting into it about Wolfram and Hart. And then there were the dead. I was so tired, Spike. I didn't want to be there, surrounded by people who had abandoned me and turned their back on me when I needed them the most – and you were the one person I thought would never leave – the one person who supported me through that entire ordeal with The First. We both know how that turned out."
"Couldn't exactly help the dying part, love," he interjected as gently as he could. "Didn't plan to leave you."
"I know that, but I was so exhausted, I couldn't really accept it. It's stupid, I know, but I freaked. I just shut my emotions off and left. Left them all."
"Before they could leave you?"
Buffy paused at his words. "I never thought about it that way, but I guess you're right. Things weren't good after the battle, Spike. A lot of people were hurting, and I didn't have enough strength left to care. Like Dawn? She lost her friend Amanda, and I couldn't comfort her. And we lost you and Anya, and there were other girls, too. Not to mention losing my mom's grave to the Hellmouth…" She trailed off, and Spike heard the soft sound of a stifled sob over the line.
"I couldn't deal with it all," she continued, words spilling out of her mouth in a muddled wave of emotion. "You're right – I didn't mourn for you. I didn't mourn for anyone or anything, Spike. I couldn't. Now, finding out that you've been hiding from me for over a year, it feels like you really did abandon me – and now everything else is coming out, too. The new grief over Angel is piled right on top of it. I'm confused, Spike. Everything has been turned on its head, and I'm so lost. I don't know what to do anymore."
"Shhh, stop crying," he said in a low, soothing voice.
"No, I won't," she snapped between sniffles. "I haven't cried like this in months, and I'm going to cry now, damn it. You're not going to stop me."
"At least go get a tissue. Sounds messy," he teased lightly. He waited until she had calmed down before he spoke again. "I really want to see you, Buffy. I miss you, and I think it would do us both some good to talk face to face. Want to be there with you or vise versa. Whatever it takes."
"What happened to all of that stuff you said last time we talked?" she asked, hiccupping softly. "I thought you needed to 'find out who you are' or whatever new age dogma you obviously picked up on your last visit to Marin County."
Spike sighed and looked about the room helplessly. "I do. I mean, I did. It's just … you're part of me. You're part of who I am, and who I've strived to be. You and the Bit. None of it makes sense without you."
"Maybe we really should think about seeing each other then."
"I'd like that. We could…"
Spike cut off his sentence abruptly as his eyes widened in alarm. His front door was slightly ajar – and he knew for a fact that he had closed and locked it before retiring for the night. Someone had been in his house while he slept. He'd been so distracted by the dream and his plans to call Buffy, he hadn't even noticed. He rose from the couch, phone in hand, and firmly shut the door.
"Spike? You still there?" Her voice was punctuated by the same clicking sound that had accompanied most of their conversation.
"Uh, yeah," he replied as he locked the door. "It's the line. I think I'm losing the connection. Call you back in a few, okay?"
He hung up before she could respond. Dropping the phone onto the couch, he looked cautiously around his apartment to see if anything was out of place. Aside from the door, everything seemed in order. But when he sniffed the air, he caught the lingering traces of expensive cologne. He shook his head angrily. How could he have missed that before? Had he really been that out of it? But the real question was why the person had been in his apartment. And what had they done as he slept?
"Wait a second," he murmured. "I know something. Clicking – the phone line was clicking." His eyes fell upon the cheap telephone suspiciously. Carefully unplugging the cord from the wall, Spike unscrewed the earpiece of the receiver. Bingo.
"Just like in the movies," he mused, holding a small device up to the light. "I'll be damned."
It was a phone tap. He recognized it from the ones that were found every so often in Angel's office at Wolfram and Hart. That meant someone was listening in on his conversations. "Fuck," he hissed, throwing the phone against the wall with such force that it broke apart.
Grabbing his duster, he slipped some money and a few documents into his pockets and fled the apartment as quickly as he could.
Spike knew how to disappear if and when he wanted to. He'd had enough practice through the years – particularly when he was killing his own kind back in Sunnydale. But this was different. He wasn't trying to dodge some half-wit fledgling out to make a name for himself. Spike didn't know who or what was after him this time. The uncertainty of the matter grated away at his nerves.
One thing was certain: he wasn't going back to that apartment anytime soon. Not until he figured out the truth behind the subtle threats. First, he would call Buffy back and let her know what happened and why he hung up on her. Then he would find a place to crash for the night. A hotel perhaps – one with a well-stocked mini-bar. Thanks to Angel's foresight before the last battle, Spike had access to some emergency funds. He hadn't touched so much as a penny in all the months since Angel's death. Normally he wouldn't mind a little free dosh, but the thought of taking that particular money bothered him for reasons he couldn't put his finger on. But emergency money it was, and this situation definitely qualified.
Preferring concealment to convenience, he used the sewers to make his exit even thought it was still dark outside. After putting a considerable amount of distance between him and his apartment, Spike emerged from a manhole and took a wary glimpse around the darkened street. He had no idea where in the city he was – didn't really care, either. Just so long as they didn't know where he was, whoever the hell "they" were. Pressing his hands down into his duster pockets, Spike hurried down the street, looking for a payphone. He paused here and there to peek in darkened store windows if something shiny caught his eye, but mostly he kept his attention honed in on his surroundings. There was a light sprinkling of people about, most of them mopping up inside shops that had closed for the night. There were also a few passing cars, the headlights of which Spike instinctively shied away from.
"Turning into bloody Agent Mulder, I am," he muttered to himself. "No, I'm not paranoid. It's just that everyone's out to get me, see."
At last, he spotted a payphone – a very nice payphone with lovely pictures of naked women inside. Snatching the receiver off the hook, Spike's fingers hovered over the keypad in confusion as he realized that he had no idea how to make an international call on a payphone. Did quarters handle that kind of thing? Collect calling? Rolling his eyes heavenward, Spike cursed long and fluently under his breath. "Just brilliant."
He finally gave up and dialed 0. After arguing with the operator, who was seemingly resistant to his charm, he reluctantly pulled out a credit card he'd lifted from Angel months ago and used it to pay for the call. With a twinge of worry, he wondered if the credit card number could possibly be traced by whoever had tapped his phone. Was a trace of that nature even possible? Did anyone even know he had the credit card? He had no idea. The ringing of the phone drew his thoughts away.
"What took you so long to call back?" Buffy said by way of greeting, her tears apparently a thing of the past.
"Couldn't find a payphone near my apartment," he explained, turning his back to the wind so he could light a cigarette. "Didn't want to be around there anyway. Listen, pet, that clicking noise we kept hearing on the line? Someone tapped my fucking phone."
"Are you serious? Why?"
"Well, call me crazy, but I guess they wanted to listen in on my phone calls. Isn't that usually why people do those things?"
"Sarcasm not appreciated."
"Damn. Now what am I going to talk about?"
"Can you at least try to be serious, Spike?" Buffy snapped. "What are you going to do? You're not going back to your apartment, are you?"
"Not until I know what I'm dealing with. Meanwhile, I guess I'll find someplace to hide out. There're plenty of holes in this town. Shouldn't be too hard."
He heard Buffy take in a shaky breath. "I really think I should come to L.A."
"I dunno about that, pet. Don't think it's a good idea," he replied, shaking his head. "You shouldn't leave Dawn."
"Who said anything about leaving her?"
"Oh," he said, surprised. "Really? You'd come here to help me out?"
"You really have a problem grasping that concept, don't you? Of course I would. But it might take me a few days to make arrangements. I should probably wait until the weekend when Dawn doesn't have school."
"You sure you want her down here with all this going on?"
"Dawn will be fine," she said reassuringly. "Anyway, I don't want her too far away from me if someone is really threatening her."
The sound of an engine caught Spike's attention. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a van rolling slowly up the street towards him without its headlights turned on. "Shit. Buffy, listen. An unmarked van is headed this way. Don't like the looks of it. I should go. I don't know how yet, but I'll try my best to keep in touch."
"What? Spike, I don't like this. You're scaring me."
"Good. Now go check on your sis and keep your eyes and ears open. And do me a favor, and don't trust that Immortal wanker. Don't tell him anything about coming to L.A. He and I've got history, and none of it good. Promise me, Slayer. If not for you, then for Dawn?"
"I said I'd look into it, didn't I?"
"You do that, and I'll – ah, fuck!" Spike cried, catching movement in his peripheral vision.
He swung around to defend himself from his assailant, but it was too late. Something hard and unyielding connected with the back of his head, and he fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding. Two feet away, the phone swung back and forth from the cord.
"Spike?" came Buffy's frantic voice over the receiver. "Are you there? Spike?"
To be continued.
This was the hardest chapter to write ever! Why? Who the hell knows? ::hisses at story::
Also? Bwahaha cliffhanger!!