Part II

Is it enough to have some love
small enough to slip inside a book
small enough to cover with your hand
because everyone around you wants to look?

Is it enough to have some love
small enough to slip inside the cracks?
The pieces don't fit together so good
with all the breaking and all the gluing back.

--"Astronaut (A Short History of Nearly Nothing)", Amanda Palmer

Buffy Summers was restless.

She couldn't help it. She had died, again, and she didn't even get to go to her own funeral.

Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

She'd hardly known the Slayer who'd taken her name to die under; for obvious reasons, they couldn't be seen together. But Sarah and Dawn had become friends during Dawn's summer in Rome; Sarah had looked out for "her" little sister. Buffy would have liked to pay her respects, even if just for that—let alone the rest of it. Dying for the mission, for instance. And that was the easy part....

But her wishes didn't matter. They usually didn't, lately, even though she was the one making all the decisions.

So here she was instead, padding through the dim halls of Slayer HQ in the witching hour like a displaced ghost. The chill of the stone floor crept up through her bare soles and nestled in her bones; she still hadn't gotten used to the climate here, the cold, the damp, the grey. Probably never would.

The castle was classic and all, but she certainly wouldn't have chosen it as her haunt. A year and a half, and Scotland wasn't home yet. Just another convenient location to stay and slay. Another stop on the way to...where?

It's almost ten in the morning in California. What is this, some kind of extended jet lag of the soul?

Of course, what had been home was a big hole in the ground these days, compliments of Yours Truly and a certain blond vampire who had laughed at death as it burned him to cinders and ash.

To dust. Damn. She'd promised herself a while back not to think about that, not to think about what she'd said, what he'd said, how he'd looked—don't go there—but all that not-thinking just renewed the shock when, inevitably, she let her guard down, her traitor brain seized on a moment of fatigue or weakness, and she remembered.

He was gone. Dust and an empty place. Nothing much left to look at, and yet.

If she really were a ghost, she knew where she'd go to get her haunt on.

Yellow light cracked from under some of the doors she passed, accompanied by the muffled sound of girlish gossip and laughter. The occupants would regret their late night in early training tomorrow, she'd make sure of that. She'd probably regret hers, too. But at least she'd gotten used to not sleeping lately.

She raised a fist to knock on one of the offending doors, and then shook her head.

Displaced ghost? Of a hall monitor, maybe. Chill out, Summers. Let them have their fun while they can.

Yeah, fun. Remember what that was like?

Now it was all in the hunt, the fight, the kill for her. All business, all the time Buffy. And wasn't the whole million-Slayer plan supposed to have changed all that?

Oh, good, the other reason she couldn't sleep. One of the many, anyway: the words of her latest adversary echoing in her mind. Twilight. What kind of name was that, anyway?

Poncey, her brain supplied. Not her word, and she wouldn't think about that. But it fit.

Have your slayers helped change anything in this world?

Have they helped you?

"Shut up," she said aloud.

"Sorry, ma'am?"

Buffy jumped, and looked up to discover that her feet had carried her to the castle's central control room. "Satsu! Not you. Um...that is, I didn't mean you. I didn't know you were on duty tonight." And there she had it, a full set. Things Keeping Buffy Awake. Collect them all.

The tiny, dark-haired Slayer had swiveled her chair around from the jewel-like array of surveillance feeds to peer quizzically at Buffy. Now she flashed a wry smile. "I wasn't. I couldn't sleep, so I traded shifts with Elena. Aren't you running an early training session tomorrow?"

"Today, you mean?" Buffy sighed, crossing the wide room to sit backwards on one of the ergonomic office chairs. At least they had spiffier furniture now, and it didn't get broken once a week. Fortifications were good for something. "Yeah, I am. Couldn't sleep." She returned Satsu's wryness with interest.

"What a coincidence, huh?"

Satsu spoke softly, and Buffy looked away, out at the video screens with their fuzzy night-vision images. Nothing going bump out there tonight. No wolves at the gate. Too bad. "I stopped believing in coincidences a long time ago."

She liked Satsu—was drawn to her, even. Found it disturbingly hot when Satsu called her "ma'am." And therein lay the complicated.

She glanced sideways at the other Slayer. There had been a fight. There always was. But then the Masked Man from Hell had shown up, a big, smug jerk who flew through tall buildings in a single crack-swish and wasn't in the least fazed by the Scythe.

Satsu had been at her side, then.

Satsu had gotten hurt. The ones who loved her always did.

You could barely see the scars, wouldn't see them at all in another week or so. The Slayer heritage—Buffy's heritage—had healed her quickly and efficiently. But it wasn't the damage Twilight had done in that cemetery that Buffy was worried about.

It was the damage she'd done. And those wounds were a little fresher and, she guessed, a whole lot deeper.

"Satsu, about the other night—"

Now it was Satsu who looked away. "We don't have to talk about it."

"No, I do. I didn't mean to—"

"Sleep with me? Because I seem to remember you being right there with me at the time."

"I didn't mean to make it worse," Buffy said quietly.

"Oh." Satsu's expression shifted. "You didn't make it worse. It's the same, only now I know...what it could be."

"So, worse."

"Maybe. But I don't regret it." Satsu lifted her chin, met Buffy's eyes. "It sounds like you do."

"It was wrong of me. I should know better. Not wrong because of what we did," she added quickly, at Satsu's frown. "Wrong because of why I did it. Satsu, this is—it's an old pattern of mine, and it's not pretty. It's pretty ugly. People get hurt. People who don't deserve it."

"We've had this conversation, ma'am," Satsu said evenly. "I took it under advisement. Maybe I should remind you that I was right there with you, too."

"I know." Buffy spun her chair a quarter-turn so that she could face the other Slayer. "Satsu, don't you see? It can't happen again because I shouldn't use your love like that, even if you say it's okay. It's not fair to you." Satsu made an impatient gesture, and Buffy reached out impulsively, caught her hand. "You deserve to be with someone who can love you back. Someone who's not—"

"Broken?" Satsu shook her head. "Buffy, everyone's broken. Somehow. It's love that holds us together."

Buffy dropped her hand. "Not me," she said. "Not anymore. Not like that." Not love. Duty. Will. Strength. Rage. Fight. That was what she was made of. No sugar and spice in here, just Slayer blood and guts and darkness and the knowledge that she really, really hated losing.

Death is my gift.

For she so loved the world...

"Ah," Satsu said. "I think I do see."

Buffy squirmed a little under the other girl's thoughtful gaze. "See what?"

Before Satsu could answer, a sudden harsh, electronic tone tore through the room, yanking her attention back to the monitors. Buffy almost felt the tension between them snap, saw Satsu's little start.

"Saved by the bell," Buffy muttered. "Is that the emergency line?" The huge flat-screen monitor that dominated the near wall, dark just a moment ago, had begun to flash, indicating an incoming call. "Couldn't we reprogram it to something more soothing?"

"You'd have to ask Willow about that—" Satsu broke off, snatching up her headset and stabbing at the switchboard in front of her. "Slayer Headquarters, Scotland....Yes. Yes, she's right here." She turned to look at Buffy, her almond eyes dark and wide. "The call's from Rome. It's your sister. She wants to talk to you."

Buffy had already grabbed another headset. "Dawn! Dawnie, are you all right?"

"Buffy! Oh, thank goodness, I tried to call your cell but you weren't picking up—"

"Sorry—I left it upstairs in my room. What's going on? It must be past two over there! Why are you whispering like that?"

"I'm sorry, I know it's late—I wanted to call earlier, but Giles wouldn't—and then I was going to wait until morning, but Buffy, I don't think this can wait, and I couldn't sleep anyway!"

"There's a lot of that going around," Buffy said dryly. "Dawnie, slow down. What is this about Giles? Did something happen at the funeral?" Out of the corner of her eye she saw Satsu remove her headset and start to get up—unnecessary, as she'd already transferred the call, but she obviously wanted Buffy to know she had privacy if she needed it. Buffy waved her back into her seat. Without a clue as to what was going on with Dawn, she wanted the backup more.

She heard Dawn take a deep breath. "Okay," her sister said, somewhat more calmly but still in that urgent half-whisper. "Are you sitting down? I really think you should be sitting down for this."

"I'm sitting down," Buffy said, rolling her eyes at Satsu, who relaxed visibly. If Dawn had time for a dramatic set-up, no way this was a true emergency. "This better not be about getting some Jonas Brother's autograph, Dawn, or I will fly over there myself on the redeye just to kick your ass six ways from Tuesday for nearly giving me and Satsu simultaneous heart attacks."

"It's not," Dawn hissed. "How shallow do you think I am? This is way more important than some dumb celebrity. Especially the Jonas Brothers. Ugh." A pause, as if she were gathering herself. "Buffy, something did happen at the funeral."

"Dawnie, what—"

Dawn said, simply, "Spike."

And for a moment, Buffy couldn't breathe. Couldn't see. Then rational thought returned; she dashed the tears from her eyes. Stupid.

"Are you there?" Dawn demanded. "Did you hear me?"

"I'm here," Buffy said tonelessly. "But I'm not sure I heard you right. I thought you said—"

"Spike," Dawn said. "You heard me. Buffy, Spike came to your funeral."

If she had been standing, she might have fallen down, but instead she was on her feet and didn't know how she got there. "Dawn Summers," she ground out. "If you think this is funny—what in God's name is wrong with you? Are you evil? I'll kill you if you're evil."

"I'm not evil. I'm telling you the truth! Nobody else will. Buffy, Spike's alive again! Well, undead, anyway, and exactly like he always was. I thought you'd be happy!"

"That's impossible," Buffy whispered. "He's dead. He's dust. I saw him burn—I felt him—" Her Slayer sense, her demon sense, had switched off like a light as the world fell to pieces around her, as she ran. All those ubervamps, gone in an instant, so that for one moment more she could only feel him. And then—nothing. Like my heart going blind.

"And I saw him with my own eyes—touched him! I promise you, Buffy. He was dead, but not anymore. Not for awhile. He's been living in Los Angeles..." Dawn's flood of words and assurances dried up abruptly. "Buffy? Are you okay?"

Satsu was beside her, her arm around Buffy's waist, holding her upright. "Ma'am—ma'am! I think you should sit down. Here, let me help you—"

Buffy gripped Satsu's shoulder hard as the other Slayer guided her back into her chair. "I don't understand." She felt utterly exhausted, bone-tired, as if she'd been running for days—no, weeks, months, years, outrunning the end of Sunnydale, the end of the world—and it had suddenly caught up with her, dropping her in mid-stride. "It must be a mistake."

"It's no mistake," Dawn insisted. "Why don't you believe me?"

"Because it's unbelievable! He would have called. Or something." He would have come to me.

"I don't know why he didn't," Dawn said. "I do know that he tried to find you. In Rome, because he thought Sarah was you, of course. But Andrew sent him away."

"Andrew," Buffy said blankly. Andrew had seen Spike. She dragged a limp hand across her eyes. She could feel Satsu hovering, but she didn't have the energy to reassure her. Her entire existence was focused on comprehending this single impossible thing. She'd mourned him for a year and a half—worked so hard not to mourn him, to move on—and all the while he'd been going about his merry unlife a scarce hundred miles from the old Hellmouth. But Andrew had known.

"Andrew's terrified you're going to filet him and wear his ribcage as a hat. He says Spike made him swear not to tell."

"Swear not to...why?" This whole story just got more fantastic by the second. Maybe she was dreaming. Maybe this was a spell, like the one Amy had trapped her in a few months back. She hoped someone would wake her up soon, even if it did take a corny Disney-style kiss of true love. At least she hadn't driven Satsu away just yet. But did getting released from a spell count as using the releaser? Even if you were asleep at the time? Darn it. Not being a jerk is kind of hard.

Spike alive...now that would be a dream. Possibly even a good one. But this—this was a nightmare.

"I don't know why," Dawn said. "Maybe you should ask him."

"Who, Andrew?"

"Good luck with that," and Buffy could almost hear the eyeroll. "No, Spike. That's the great thing about not-dead people. You can ask them to explain themselves."

"Dawn," Buffy said in a tiny voice. "Dawn, is he there? Now? In Rome?"

"No—no, he said he had to go. Back to L.A."

"Oh."

"But Buffy..." Dawn hesitated. "I did tell him where to find you."

* * *

"You're shivering," Satsu said. "Here. Drink this."

Buffy stared down at the steaming, fragrant cup Satsu placed in her hands, then up at the other Slayer. "You don't have to take care of me, you know."

"I know." Satsu set the electric kettle on her mantle; Buffy caught the little quirk of her lips, but couldn't translate it. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I will be," Buffy said. "I think. It's just—I've had a shock."

"Obviously. Buffy, you went white to the gills in there. I've never seen you so shaken up, not even when...." In her pause, Buffy knew they were both thinking of that night in the graveyard after Twilight had made his exit, both of them covered in blood and dirt, holding onto each other. "I thought you were going to pass out on me."

"Sorry to scare you." Buffy held her teacup between two hands, letting it warm her. Breathed in. Thought about how the younger Slayers must see her: fearless. Invincible, even. Satsu would know better, now. If she didn't already after Twilight. "I'm glad you were there," she said, to the tea. "To, you know. Catch me."

"Just doing my job, ma'am," Satsu said, with a half-grin; but she hesitated almost imperceptibly before she pulled up an overstuffed chair for herself close beside the bed where Buffy sat. "So," she said softly. "Spike's back, huh?"

Buffy's head jerked up. Satsu leaned back into the depths of her chair, slender legs curled up under her, dark eyes gleaming with amusement and something deeper—jealousy, perhaps? "How did you know? I never said—"

"Educated guess. You really think the other Slayers don't talk about you? Tell stories? Not to mention Andrew. He's a great source. The hard part is getting him to stop talking," she mused.

"Yeah, to everybody but me." Anger. Aha. An identifiable emotion emerging from the general roar. This was good.

"Please don't break that cup; it was a gift."

Buffy eased up on the fragile china. "Sorry. It's just—I wish—I can't believe I'm jealous of Andrew! And—oh, God. Angel. Angel must have known. Dawn said he—that Spike was in L.A.—" She froze, horrified.

Spike had come back for unknown reasons, resurrected by unknown powers, and hadn't seen fit to tell her about it. Andrew, Angel, and Giles had hidden it from her as long as possible, apparently never intended her to find out. She had thought it incomprehensible, inexcusable, but suddenly an all too reasonable explanation presented itself to her.

Spike's soul had died with him.

What if that part of him didn't come back?

What if Spike was evil again? Chipless and evil, roaming the streets of L.A.?

It would certainly explain why he hadn't called.

No. It isn't possible. And yet, when did the powers that be ever give anything for free, without a catch? Certainly never to her. Nothing good, anyway.

Satsu's quiet voice penetrated Buffy's rising sense of dread. "You're not drinking your tea. It might help."

She sipped mechanically, barely noticing its warmth radiating through her; but after a minute she felt calmer. Satsu was watching her with open concern. "It's so strange," she murmured. "I should be happy—ecstatic that he's not dead. Dawn thought I would be, wanted me to be so much. I want me to be. But somehow, I'm not. I couldn't even tell you what I'm feeling. It's like—like I'm one of those cheesy snow globes that someone just picked up and turned upside down, and I'm waiting for all the little bits of me to come floating back to earth."

"And you're not sure what it's going to look like when they do?"

"Right now, I'm not sure they ever will." She took another sip of her tea and raised her eyebrows at Satsu. "Young lady, there is something in this tea that I'm positive did not come from a tea-tree."

"Brandy," said Satsu promptly. "I told you it would help."

"You're not supposed to keep alcohol in your room!"

Satsu dimpled. "Don't tell Xander?"

"Oh, I see, you think you get special privileges now. And don't think I didn't notice where you brought me." Satsu's room, her bed, newly imbued with sense-memories that even now curled, lazy-warm, in Buffy's core. Or maybe that was the brandy. She decided not to tell Xander. He'd be more interested in how she'd found out, anyway.

"Your room is up a lot of stairs, and I had the electric kettle. I promise I'm not trying to seduce you right now." Satsu's mouth quirked in that rueful near-smile again. "For one thing, it would be terrible timing. And for another—Buffy, I understand something now that I didn't before."

"At least one of us does..."

Satsu didn't answer, just stared down at her hands, which she held clasped tightly in her lap as if each restrained the other from some motion, from reaching out. Buffy said, finally, "Well? Come on, woman. You can't just toss that out there and not elaborate. Besides, you said the same thing earlier, in the control room."

"Did I?" Satsu frowned. "Oh! No, I was wrong then. Didn't have all the relevant information." She shook her head slightly, as if at herself. Then: "It's just—I understand now why you can't love me." Buffy's lips parted in surprise, but Satsu lifted her head to look her straight in the eye, and Buffy fell silent. She didn't know what to do with that look and what it meant. "It's because you already loved—already love—someone else."

"A dead man."

"Now only technically."

"Still getting used to that idea," Buffy muttered. It still felt like just that: an idea. Not real. Not a thing that she could touch, the way she could stretch out her hand and touch Satsu right now—loyal, fierce, beautiful Satsu, who loved her and whose heart she, Buffy, was very possibly shattering right now despite the girl's serene demeanor. No. Bad Buffy. Bad idea. "It's not quite that simple. It's not simple at all....I don't even know if I love him anymore. It was such a new thing when he—and now it's all mixed up in my head. I thought I was doing so well at moving on. I thought I had moved on." She couldn't quite keep her voice from breaking. "And it certainly seems like he has."

"You don't know that."

Buffy sighed. "I don't know anything right now. There are too many other questions that need answering. Like who—or what—brought him back, and why. And why he wanted it to be such a big secret—and why a lot of people I mostly trust kept it that way for such a long time. And...whether it would even be a good idea for me to see him again."

Satsu said quietly, "You're scared."

"Petrified," Buffy admitted. "I mean, it was complicated before he died. Now—" She made a small helpless gesture. "Little floaty bits. I'm scared, and angry, and—and hurt—" Then, smacking herself on the forehead, "—and I'm being a jerk again. Satsu, I'm sorry. To make you, of all people listen to me agonize over someone this way—"

"Stop," Satsu said, and the word carried what was, for her, a rare edge. "You keep doing that. No, not the agonizing. You keep assuming that you're the only one who's making choices here. Give me some credit. I'm no doormat. I'm here because I want to be. More to the point, you're here because I want you to be. And you know why."

"That doesn't make it right," Buffy said obstinately.

"You're not listening to me. Hearing all this about you and Spike—all this unfinished business, all the raw feeling I hear in your voice when you talk about him—it makes it better. It's easier for me, to know that it's not about something dumb like you not being gay. Or—" Buffy looked up sharply at the note in Satsu's voice— "not about me."

"You thought it was about you? Satsu—"

"Well, mostly I thought it was about the me being a girl thing," Satsu said with a smile, though her eyes were veiled. "My point is—it's better to know."

"But knowing can hurt. A lot."

"Yeah. But at least it hurts for a reason."

"You think I should see him."

Satsu rose abruptly, moving with her easy grace across the room to the fireplace, where she bent to coax its embers back into flame. After a moment, she said, "Buffy, I love you. That means I want you to be happy." She turned, and there was that opaque smile again. "Even if it's not with me."

A little silence stretched between them, but not an empty one. "You," Buffy said finally, "are amazing. And kind of wise. I hope you know that."

Satsu's eyes lit then, and Buffy was glad. "Thank you, ma'am. And I do. But it's nice to hear it."

The cadence of her words echoed in Buffy's mind, evoking a sharp sliver of memory. His last words. No, you don't. But thanks for saying it...

God. Spike. And she thought suddenly, he still doesn't know.

All those years he loved me, expecting nothing back....and I'm running scared because he might have gotten over me?

She stood; her legs seemed disposed to carry her and the world less inclined to shift beneath her feet than it had. "I should go," she said. "Let you get some sleep so you can lead drills for me in the morning."

Satsu's smile seemed easier this time. "No rest for the wicked? I see how it is."

"Just my way of saying thanks." Buffy handed her the teacup, half-full with luke-warm tea and illicit brandy. When Satsu took it, she touched the other Slayer on the shoulder, all she would allow herself. "I really mean it, Satsu. Thank you."

"Pleasure's all mine," and Satsu shot her a glance up through her eyelashes that made Buffy laugh, and blush, and let go of her shoulder.

At the doorway, though, she hesitated.

"Satsu, can I ask you something?" The other girl raised an eyebrow, and Buffy took it as assent, plunging on. "You're a Slayer. How come you haven't said a single thing about me sleeping with vamps instead of killing them?"

Satsu laughed.

"I grew up queer on a U.S. Air Force base in Okinawa," she said. "Do you know that in Japan, most people still don't acknowledge that gay people exist? And the American military isn't much better, so draw your own conclusions about my family. I'd be the worst kind of hypocrite if I went around judging people for who they had sex with or who they love."

"Oh. I guess...that makes a lot of sense."

"You're cute when you're naïve, you know. Are you really leaving, or should I start seducing you now?"

"Good night, Satsu."

Satsu's laughter followed her out, and Buffy smiled as the door closed behind her. But heading upstairs to her own bed, it was Satsu's words that dogged her.

Love means I want you to be happy. Even if it's not with me.

Did she want Spike to be happy without her?

Or was that the very thing that scared her? Scared her so much that she wasn't sure if she wanted to see him again. Scared her more than the thought that he might have lost his soul, come back "wrong" from wherever he had gone; more than the thought of him torn from heaven or hell.

Scared her so much that it might, just might be worse than thinking he was dead.

As it turned out, Buffy didn't sleep much at all that night.

* * *

"Buffy, wait! Let me explain."

"Dawn explained enough," Buffy snarled, ducking deeper into the forest. Willow couldn't match her on foot, but her current midair pursuit was harder to evade. Low-hanging branches would slow her down, keep her back. And right now, Buffy couldn't look her best friend in the eye.

She was afraid of what she might do.

Willow had found her after Buffy finished her morning drills with the girls. She didn't look like she'd slept much more than Buffy had, her features screwed up in that familiar Willow-face of worry and apology that made her look about ten years old. Certainly not much like the scary-powered witch that they both knew could well match the Slayer in a fight. But Buffy had glanced once at Willow's hesitant approach across the green, dropped her weapons to the ground, and took off into the wood at a pace somewhere between a stride and a run.

Besides, she didn't want the junior Slayers witnessing this little conflict, if conflict it became, or coming to her aid. This was between her and Willow.

This was personal.

From somewhere above her and to her right in the forest canopy, she heard an exasperated noise. "That little—! She told me she called you. I wanted her to wait—to let me—"

Buffy halted, arms akimbo. "Let you what, Will? Keep on lying to me?"

"Buffy, no! I was going to tell you everything. Only, face to face, and in the right order. I bet Dawn didn't even tell you the whole story. She couldn't—she doesn't know all of it—"

"Because you didn't tell it to her—"

"Because I didn't know all of it either!"

Buffy said flatly, "I don't believe you. Why should I?"

A rustle and a spill of leaves, and Willow floated gently to the ground a little ways away. Buffy turned her back so she couldn't see her friend's hurt expression. She stalked away, but slower now, so that Willow could follow at a safe distance. She had to hear this.

"Listen, Buffy. I made a mistake. I see that now. But Giles said—"

"Giles said!" Buffy whirled. "What does he have to do with it? He doesn't run things around here anymore! That's me! I'm the boss of us, and that means I need to know things." Willow appeared ready to protest some more, but Buffy stared her down. "Important things. Like Aurellian vampires who may or may not be evil rising miraculously from the dead, for instance. Especially when they happen to be people I—"

"People you love? You know, that's exactly why I didn't tell you."

"That's right. You and Giles again." Buffy couldn't check the bitterness in her voice. She thought of her conversation with Satsu the night before, found a weapon in it. "I'd have thought that you'd be the last one to pass judgment on me for—for what Spike was to me. Is to me. You of all people."

They were facing each other now across a small clearing. Willow said, with irritating calm, "This is not about me judging you. And if you'd actually listen to what I'm trying to say, instead of making with the jumpy conclusions—"

Buffy threw up her hands. "All right! I'm listening! What is it about, then?"

"I watched you mourn him," Willow said, after a moment.

"What does that have to do with—"

"Will you listen. When I found out about Spike, it was because he and Angel were messing with some bad, bad juju. Wolfram & Hart, Buffy. The original evil law firm. The lawyers that make all other lawyers look like fluffy bunnies."

"So? We knew that Angel was at Wolfram & Hart!"

"Sure we did. But that was before he made a deal with the Senior Partners."

"What?"

"Yeah, I know. So Giles was justifiably—I think perturbed was the word he used. When Angel called him, he decided not to get the Slayers involved until he could be sure what side the vamps were on."

The sick fear Buffy had so far managed to push aside stirred again, coiling cold and heavy in the pit of her belly. "Right, because an Angelus and Spike dream team would somehow not be Slayer jurisdiction."

"Well, before we could find out anything else, Los Angeles went AWOL and so did they." Willow took a step towards her, expression pleading. "Buffy, I couldn't say anything then. Don't you see? I couldn't give him back to you and then take him away like that. Couldn't put you through that a second time. There was nothing you could do—nothing any of us could do—"

"But it came back! They came back. Didn't they?" Buffy felt ashamed, suddenly, for not paying closer attention. She'd heard about LA's dimensional shift. Why had she not thought about the implications? She'd been distracted, that was it. So much to worry about in her own little corner of the world.

She'd thought, Angel can handle it.

And now Willow was saying, "Buffy. There's something I need to tell you. Something else."

"No," Buffy whispered.

"It's about Angel."

"No."

Buffy didn't know how Willow crossed the space between them so quickly, but she felt her friend's arms go around her, heard her saying in that same terribly gentle voice, "I didn't know—I promise you I didn't know. Not until Spike..."

"He's gone." If Willow couldn't say it, Buffy could. Two small words, flat and hard, like stones dropped into the wide, still lake of her heart. She stood, as if on the shore, and watched the ripples move slowly towards her.

"I'm sorry," Willow said, holding onto her. But the wave had reached her, and Buffy couldn't feel a thing.