Disclaimer: I don't own Spike, Buffy or any of the other characters you might recognise. They belong to Joss Wheddon, and all cred for them must go to him. I just like to play - especially now he's gone on to other things.

Chapter 1

Rome, 18 May 2004

It isn't the first dream I've had where Spike had a starring role. And no, it's not that sort of dream. I've dreamt of him pretty regularly these past months - since he burned up in Sunnydale - but lately, they've been different. If I didn't know better, I'd say they're Slayer dreams, but, since I know Spike's gone, I do know better. The most recent dreams show him battling … something. Mainly it's something faceless, formless, but you just know it's evil. Compared to those dreams, tonight's is almost whimsical. Tonight, he's fighting a dragon. A dragon with a bell. And, no, it's not the sort of bell that could be placed around its neck - always assuming that anyone would want to do such a thing. It's an electronic bell sound - the sort of irritating noise that comes from some phones. A dragon with a phone? That makes even less sense than a dragon with a bell around its neck. Spike, of course, has both hands busy fighting the dragon, so he can't answer it, and, between strokes of his sword and diving to avoid the flame that's spouting from its mouth, he's telling me to "Bloody answer it!".

Somewhere, in the midst of this, I remember it is a dream - something I'd been aware of as it started, but which somehow I'd forgotten. And, if it's a dream, then maybe I need to wake up to …

That's it. I'm desperately trying to open eyes that feel gritted together, and, at the same time, I'm reaching out to the table at my bedside. I manage to grab it, and, peering through half-closed eyelids, I press the button to accept the call. The voice I hear is familiar.

"Buffy? Is that you?"

I grunt in response. Well, I'm sorry, but I'm out of training as far as apocalypses go, and I'm used to having some time to wake up before I have to be coherent.

"Buffy, I want you to get on the first available flight to Los Angeles. There's something big happening there."

Los Angeles means Angel, and that's enough to speed up the waking process. "Los Angeles?" I parrot. I said 'speed up' not 'complete'.

"Yes, Buffy. Did I waken you?"

I glance at the clock by my bedside to check that my feeling of indignation will be justified. It's ten thirty, so maybe not.

"Sorry, Giles. I need to go to LA. I've got that."

"Look, I've sent you an email - it's got the latest information from the people I've got watching Angel. You know I've been gravely concerned as to how his experiment with Wolfram and Hart has been working – we've discussed it a number of times. Well, the latest information seems to imply that he may have gone over to them, and I've had a report from the Coven in Devon that there's some serious power amassing in Los Angeles. Whatever it is, I've got to assume the worst. Willow's on her way there - the Coven has agreed to teleport her direct, and I've alerted all the Slayers who can get there quickly, but we've got to accept that there's a possibility that Angelus has returned. If there's any chance at all that that is what has happened, then I want you there."

Ok, he's really got my attention now. Angelus? The prospect makes me feel physically ill.

"Right, Giles. I'll pack a bag. Can you organise the ticket from there? It'd probably save me some time."

"I will, Buffy, and I'll get someone to meet you at the airport with an update. I'll call back with your flight details as soon as I've got them."

With that, he signs off, and I go for a quick shower. This is the downside of a good social life - the morning after. I knew last night would be late, so I booked a day off today.

An hour later I'm in a cab on the way to the airport. I've got my laptop, and I downloaded Giles' files before I left. Dawn's easily covered. Maria, the housekeeper supplied for us by the Council along with the apartment, doubles as a minder for her. And Dawn knows she can wrap Maria round her little finger.

I couldn't reach Carlo before the cab came, so as we drive towards the airport, I leave him a message explaining that urgent business has come up. It's a pity, as we had planned a quiet night in together. Still, sounds as if whatever's happening in LA is more important than my social life, and in some ways it feels oddly familiar to offer it up on the altar of Slayerness.

I'm barely on time to get through security when I get to the airport, and the flight's on time, so at least I don't have to hang around too long. When I'm able to, I get the laptop out and take a look at the files Giles sent me. The surprising thing is that he's sent me the whole set - going back to when he first set up surveillance on Angel in the first place. I was planning on ignoring the earlier reports for now, but then I notice that he's added a note at the start of the most recent file.

Buffy,

You'll no doubt see that I've included the reports you've already seen. That's because there were parts of those reports which were omitted from the versions I sent you previously. I'll explain my reasons for the censorship later, if you wish, just believe that it was done at first because I wasn't sure of the facts, and later because I felt it was in your best interests to withhold the information.

Giles

If that doesn't ring a few alarm bells, then I don't know what would. Let's face it, Giles' record as far as keeping information from me doesn't inspire confidence – going back to the time when he found a prophecy that I was going to die at sixteen. I open the first report and start to read. It's all pretty familiar, so I scan rather than reading the detail, assuming that whatever it is will stand out. And it does. Late last summer, there's an entry where there's a new face described - someone who was seen talking, or rather arguing, with Angel and his team. As I read the description, I feel this strange sensation in my stomach. It's like butterflies, but they don't have gossamer wings - more like wings of lead. White-blond hair, dressed in black, English accent. I know there could be any number of people who answer to that description, but it's obvious who's the first person I think of - and it's equally obvious that Giles had the same idea.

I carry on reading, ignoring most of it, but homing in on whenever the Spike look-alike is mentioned. The others - including Angel – apparently do refer to him as Spike, but the report stresses that there's been no formal confirmation that it is him, or information as to how he could be back. The assumption in the report is that Angel brought him back as part of some plan he was working on, but that's pretty much standard for the paranoia level of the report. The authors were pretty much determined to look at all of Angel's actions in the darkest possible light, and this is no exception.

I'm interrupted in my reading by the offer of food, and since I didn't have time for breakfast before I left, I reluctantly put the laptop down while I eat the fruit, bread and coffee provided. As soon as I can, though, I'm back to reading, skimming over the familiar stuff, and carefully going over every mention of Spike.

The next key part though, comes in the report submitted by Andrew after he'd brought Dana back. I remember being annoyed with Giles when he sent Andrew to LA. I wanted to take the team of Slayers, but Giles insisted it was an ideal test of Andrew's competence. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing that report at all. Reading through it, Spike was the secondary hero of the piece - second to Andrew himself, of course.

Going on, it becomes obvious that, from being barely tolerated by Angel, Spike has become more and more a part of Angel's team - along with Wesley, Charles Gunn, a physicist called Fred, and a green demon called Lorne. I remember Angel mentioned some of them when he called last year to let me know that Cordelia was dead.

By the time I've finished the reports, I'm clear that Spike, somehow, came back. All this time I've been missing him, wishing I could talk to him, and if I'd only known it, I could have picked up the phone and done just that. Infuriatingly, not just Giles, but Angel and Andrew all knew he was back, and they conspired not to tell me. The bit that really hurts, though, is that Spike didn't get in touch. Giles and Angel doing things 'for my own good', infuriating as it is, is normal behaviour for them. But Spike? It's not his way. Not unless he finally decided that he didn't love me after all. After Sunnydale, after those last few days when I finally realised just how much I cared about him, when I finally got the courage to tell him … he didn't tell me he was back.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I haven't been languishing without him. Yes, I missed him. Yes, I'd have given a lot to have him back, but there was something about what he did - giving his life willingly - that was just so … Spike … that I felt that to mourn would be wrong. His sacrifice gave me the chance to have a life outside Sunnydale and chasing the next apocalypse. Now, I'm one of, well, a lot of Slayers. (Giles is still counting them, although he's been disappointed that there're fewer than he'd expected.) It's not my responsibility any more - it's a shared responsibility. And with Giles in charge of the Council, all those Slayers who are active are paid at least something. In the meantime, I've had a good job, responsibility for training some of the new Slayers and the chance to travel around Europe to investigate things for the Council. Dawn's had stability, and a sister who's able to be there for her in ways I never could have managed while I was the Chosen One.

I don't think any of my friends realised just how much I missed Spike. Well, maybe Dawn, but she doesn't talk about him. I assume it's guilt or something because she never did get back on good terms with him before … well, I was going to say before he was gone, but it looks like I should have said 'before he moved to LA'. I take a deep breath at that. Whatever happened to Spike, the one certainty is that he didn't plan it any more than I planned to be brought back by Willow. I just hope he wasn't ripped out of heaven.

We've all done pretty well out of the changes that Spike's sacrifice brought. Willow's been playing a role for the Council too, and, since she and Kennedy split up, she's been roaming the world collecting as much information on magics as she can. Andrew, well, he's training to be a Watcher. Faith and Robin disappeared as soon as they could. I haven't heard from either of them, but something tells me they'll be ok whether or not they're still together.

The only one I worry about is Xander. Anya's death hit him hard, and it seemed like being around the rest of us meant he'd never be able to forget, so he left. Last I heard, he was in Florida, working on the boom there building holiday homes for foreign investors, but he's been moving around a fair bit. He calls from time to time, makes me laugh with his stories of life wherever he is, tells me he's fine, and then he's gone again, sometimes for months.

I go back to thinking about the reports. The idea that Angel brought Spike back is just plain silly. Spike thought little enough of Angel, but if anything, Angel always hated Spike even more. Whatever's happened, I can't think of anything that fits.

The only good thing about spending all this time trying to work out who brought Spike back, and why he didn't contact me, is that I don't have time to consider the prospect that I'm flying to meet Angelus.