She'd felt so many of them, seen so many, been so many and it made Charlotte sing exultantly. Oh God, he'd done it. She was a slayer—the Slayer. The most powerful girl in the world. Her patrolling of evil-laden streets wouldn't be like it was, picking them off one by one, night by night. Now she could kick some royal vampire arse and take hours to heal instead of weeks.
Strength surged through her body, making her arch her back and gasp. Eyes closed, images of the last two lingered in her head as Charlotte watched their triumphs and mistakes. Buffy Summers came into focus, her childish love for a souled demon proving to be the final ingredient to altering the world. Faith—bold, brassy, deadly. The rush the brunette felt the second the blade sank deep into the human stayed with Charlotte, tricking her until the gush of revulsion at his blood as it spilled into her hands had its rightful impact.
When she came to, she found Ethan groaning in a pool of blood by her side. His lips were stained and for one confused moment she thought he was a vampire, her hand itching for a stake so she could bury it in his heart. But then he coughed and pushed himself up and his smile of relief that she was okay brought her back to the plan and she shuddered at the mistake she could so easily have made.
"Charlotte, my girl. You look…radiant," he whispered approvingly. He was paler than she'd ever seen him, weaker than a kitten, and yet he shoved himself to his feet like a king, swayed in place and then stumbled across the sacred circle and toward the double bed in the centre of the hotel room.
"Thank you, Ethan. You've given me more than anyone in my whole life ever has. I'll never forget how generous you've been." They both knew he'd not been entirely generous. Charlotte knew he had an agenda—she just didn't know what it was and with slayer strength now coursing through her veins and her troubled life firmly in her past, she was willing to be blind to his true intent.
"Think nothing of it," he muttered sleepily. In seconds he was snoring loudly and Charlotte was left feeling hemmed in and alone. There was no time that would better present itself for her to test her new powers, and while the night would soon be chased away for daytime, Charlotte knew of at least one vampire she could adequately test herself on. Again and again and again.
The fever had broken by nightfall, though Buffy didn't open her eyes until some hours closer to morning. Giles had commandeered Xander to help him relocate Buffy to his flat and now the lot of them had taken turns watching her for any signs of recovery. Just before her fever dissipated, they'd all started to ask each other if Buffy wouldn't have been better served in the emergency room at Sunnydale Memorial and Giles had commenced kicking himself for being so utterly stupid. With Buffy's continued weakness apparent, Giles entertained no doubts that Buffy had indeed become the normal girl she'd long craved. He'd already placed a lightning fast call to Quentin to inform him of Buffy's condition, grateful to leave a cryptic message with the Head's secretary that 'she is the same.' He didn't have the stamina to undertake a list of diagnostic tests to tell him what he already knew.
Buffy was no longer the slayer and he had no idea why.
Xander and Willow had fallen asleep long ago. Willow was sitting expectantly in the armchair, her face propped on her hand, and Xander leaned against the chair at her feet, his eyes closed but mouth wide open and rather disturbing to look at. Giles felt the burden of their current uncertainty nearly crush his shoulders as he stooped over, clasping hold of the amulet Spike had given Buffy and blinked back tears.
As much as Buffy claimed to want a normal life, he knew she wasn't going to take this reality well. Not after she'd been exposed to demons and the need for her skills in order to save human lives. The guilt of being too weak to do anything would crush her as surely as Angel's leaving had. As Spike's disappearance was. Giles wished he could take just one of the heavy loads Buffy had had to deal with and add it to his own. No girl as young as she should have to cope with so very much alone—and she was alone. She didn't share as much as she might and even though Willow thought she was privy to all Buffy's deepest concerns, Giles was willing to bet that at least one issue had remained absent from any of their girly chats. Buffy would never risk telling Willow about the situation with Spike—that their engagement had always been false but that Buffy's emerging feelings were not.
Giles cringed. His slayer falling for another vampire. He'd consider himself cursed if more important matters weren't immediately clubbing him over the head. And dare he admit it to anyone but himself, but he felt Spike's presence right now would be a comfort none of them could have ever foreseen. At least he'd have someone he could swear and drink with.
"Giles?" Buffy's weak, raspy voice broke the quiet of the room and Giles prepared himself for one of the most awful experiences in his life. "What's wrong with me?" She was struggling to sit up, looking around the dim room with fear before her eyes settled on her friends sleeping sitting up and registered their comical expressions.
Slowly he stood, feeling every inch an old man as he entered his slayer's line of sight. His eyes were haunted, his shoulders stooped and his right hand clung to the shape of his glasses.
"Faith has been in a coma in the prison infirmary, Buffy. The Council and I believe that…somehow…you've both been stripped of your powers. You are no longer the Slayer." Even though he thought he'd adequately prepared for all her potential reactions, Giles was almost brought to his knees at the stricken look blended with Buffy's immediate grief.
"I…I don't understand. I'm…just ordinary now? Ordinary Girl?" Her voice cracked as tears welled in her eyes and Giles took the remaining steps to his couch and took a trembling Buffy into his embrace.
"I'm so sorry, Buffy. We have no idea how this happened, but we believe it was magic." He felt her grasp at her throat and her resulting gasp of horror.
"Oh God," she sobbed. "I didn't think anyone would do anything to me while I was asleep." And she dissolved in his arms, leaving Giles with a wet shirt and a cracking heart.
"It'll be okay, Buffy. We'll work this out, I promise." As quietly as they'd spoken, he cringed when he heard the telltale sounds of the other guests in his house rousing from sleep. Giles pulled away from Buffy, gave her a reassuring smile and clasped both her hands in his. "We'll beat this—we always do." He just hoped he wasn't talking out of his arse.
"Oh Buffy, you're awake," Willow exclaimed, relief evident in the way she launched herself from her chair and into a hug with her friend.
Xander blinked stupidly before hurriedly joining them in a group hug like they'd not experienced in a long while—if ever. "No Anya," he qualified at Willow's raised eyebrow, then sighed a predicable manly-Xander sigh of pleasure.
"You had us really worried," Willow said, her voice still weakened from her battle with fear.
Buffy just shook. What could she say? She was loads worried about herself too—if pure hysterical terror counted as something as lowly as worry. She might look reasonably calm on the outside but inside she was screaming herself hoarse.
God, when did the fun stop coming? First Giles tells her he thinks Spike might be dead of the never coming back variety, and now she'd lost the one thing that was elemental to who she was. And it was completely her fault. Her fault Spike had left and her fault she'd been sucked up by the anti-slayer wonder spell that had stripped her of her powers. If Spike had been here right now Buffy had no doubts he would have thumped her, headache be damned.
And she'd totally deserve it.
Was she sick for wishing he was here? Somehow Buffy thought this shock might be a little easier to take if Spike was there snarking at everyone and calling her Slayer, totally ignoring the fact that she wasn't. Unless, of course, her not being a slayer anymore would completely remove his fascination with her and he was out of her life faster than she could say 'stake.'
She felt encompassed by darkness and so lost that Buffy worried if Giles could be even a little bit right, because finding her way home right now seemed impossible. Refusing to allow the negativity to swallow her whole, Buffy shrugged away the fear that Spike wouldn't want Buffy, Normal Girl, and resolved to find him.
"Giles?" She hated the scared, little girl voice that came out of her mouth, but the truth had to be stated out loud. "The Hellmouth is unguarded. We need someone strong enough to fight the demons."
Giles nodded in understanding. "I'm afraid we can't rely on Angel to help us with this. He's chosen to let his own people down when they need him the most." The watcher paused, waiting for the apprehension and fear to reach a higher pitch before he dropped the bombshell. "We need to locate Spike and convince him to come back to Sunnydale."
"We what? Did you swallow a cup full of crazy?" Xander exploded, his horrified reaction having him reel away from the group hug rather more forcefully than he'd expected. Willow stumbled before she fell backwards into the chair she'd just been sleeping in and in Buffy's weakened state, she collapsed on the floor in an undignified and unslayer-like heap.
"What other choice do we have?" Willow asked reasonably, her hands squeezed tightly together despite the forgiveness for Xander's abrupt action apparent in her smile. "We need someone who can actually fight vampires, Xan. If Angel's out of action for the good side, what other options are there?"
Xander collapsed defeated in the corner of the couch, took in Buffy's still collapsed form and then rushed to drag her up off the floor. "Sorry 'bout that," he offered sheepishly.
"No biggie. I was due for a swoon anyway," Buffy kidded, despite inwardly sagging even further with relief. Spike would agree to come and help her—provided they could find him.
"I'll go get Tara so we can try a locator spell. Does anyone have anything that was Spike's?" Willow looked at Buffy expectantly and the blonde flushed with embarrassment. The only thing she had was the amulet, and strictly speaking it was hers, just bought by Spike.
"I, er, have something," admitted Giles, and then he presented a pen—just a regular looking fountain pen in gold tone, but one that had obviously weathered a number of years with its owner. "He, uh, forgot to take it when he left." Giles whipped off his glasses so no one would feel the urge to quiz him about why Spike needed a pen. He still hardly believed it himself that the vampire had a beautifully old-fashioned script and a penchant for writing extremely sappy poetry.
"This'll work," Willow declared with a bright, confident smile. She took to the floor running and in less than a minute she was gone, leaving Buffy holding her breath in hope.
If only making her a slayer again could be so easy.