AN: There's a lot of plot exposition in this first chapter, forgive me. Mainly flashback though the present begins and ends this segment. Anya is still alive in this world. Post BtVS: Chosen, slightly AU from AtS Season 5 happenings. You'll see what I mean.
Disclaimer: I don't own BtVS or AtS. Please don't sue.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
"Is there a reason for the reflection thing?" Dawn asked suddenly, dropping her pen into the fold of her magazine and looking up thoughtfully.
"What?" Came the absent chorus from Xander and Spike as they continued to watch T.V.
The two men rarely spent time together like this, or any time together really, but since the events of this past year, the survivors had found themselves unconsciously wanting to be around each other. Of course, the presence of Dawn and Anya made the situation a little more normal.
"I mean, we all know vampires don't have reflections but, is there like, a reason why they don't?" Dawn clarified.
"Don't know, love," said Spike, still half listening as he shifted in his chair.
"We've taken pictures…" Dawn mumbled, retrieving her pen and mindlessly tapping against the table.
"Sorry?" Spike obliged, though still focused on the television screen.
"We've taken pictures, together. Why do you show up in the photo but not in the mirror?"
"That's actually a good point," Anya chimed in, now actually having caught Dawn's question.
"I don't know…" Spike shrugged.
"The camera is supposed to be the window to the soul…" Xander mused absently.
"That's the eyes," Dawn corrected.
"What?" Xander asked, unsure of the conversation he'd inadvertently joined.
"The eyes are the window to the soul…" Dawn furthered.
"Vampires don't have souls," Spike reminded her.
"You have a soul," Anya reminded him.
"Yeah, I've got eyes too, what's your point?" Spike countered.
"Yeah but…" Anya started.
"Wait, what?" Xander asked.
"I'm confused," Dawn chirped.
"Preaching to the choir, pet," Spike sighed and stood up, wandering toward the hall.
"Where are you going?" Dawn wondered.
"Studio. See if Buffy's done kicking the old man's ass yet."
Dawn nodded as she returned to her magazine quiz, feeling slightly flummoxed by the fruitless discussion she'd begun moments ago as Anya and Xander remained still, focused on the television.
"What's. The. Point!" Buffy said between punches and kicks, grunting as she blasted her foot into the pads strapped to Giles' hands.
"If you feel this way then why are you still here?" Giles asked cautiously as she threw him off balance slightly.
"Good…."She started to say, rearing up to kick, "Point!" She cried, landing her heel firmly into the pad before settling back to the ground and heading for the door.
"Just because you're not the only living slayer anymore doesn't mean you don't still have to train."
"If you ask me, I'd say she's proven she doesn't have to," Spike said suddenly, taking the final steps down to the basement floor.
Buffy and Giles spun around to regard the blond vampire, each carrying a very different expression to his sudden presence.
"Well I didn't ask you, did I?" Giles spat quickly if not flustered.
Spike snickered as Buffy smirked but said nothing before crossing over to the mini-fridge and grabbing a soda.
"Anyone? Soda, water?" Buffy asked as she reached for a can for herself.
"Uh…no, no thank you," Giles sighed loudly as Spike collapsed into a chair in the corner.
"Take some blood, if you got it?" He said cheekily as Buffy glared at him.
"Some things never change," she said with a roll of her eyes, tossing him a blood packet before set off to pour it into a mug and heat it up in the microwave.
"Well, I suppose we're done then?" Giles interrupted, circling back to the conversation he and Buffy were having before Spike appeared.
"For today," she said with a warm smile as Giles exhaled in relief. "You're right, Giles. An army of slayers worldwide is no excuse to get sloppy."
Giles gave her a stern look but she smiled through it. She couldn't resist poking fun at the man's relentless protocol and protectiveness. Reminding him that Willow's magic had sufficiently rewritten history was becoming a daily ritual. Though she knew deep down he was right to make her continue training. She made need to lead this "army", as she called it, one day. Better to be prepared.
"Very well then," Giles said softly. "I'll just…" he started, narrowing his gaze at Spike, "I'll just leave you two…" he finished unceremoniously; tugging the sparring pads off of his hands and tossing them to the floor before ascending the stairs back to the house.
Buffy watched him until he shut the door behind him before spinning back around to face the other man still present.
Spike had been the champion; the one "greater than a human but possessed with a soul" that saved the world. The amulet Angel had given her should have disappeared with Spike forever after the Hellmouth collapsed. And it did, for a time. The world as they knew it had been altered forever. With Willow's spell and subsequent ascension into Goddesshood, every girl who could be, every potential slayer; would be.
Spike, wearing the amulet, personifying sunshine as he obliterated The First's entire legion of uber-vamps, disintegrated along with the rest. At the time, the remaining Scooby gang plus Dawn, Anya, Andrew, Robin, Faith and a handful of new slayers; wondered where they'd go next. What they'd do now that the largest center for demonic activity had been vanquished. It didn't take long for Giles' to unearth the potential of another Hellmouth in Cleveland, Ohio. After a week of seemingly driving to nowhere, Buffy finally conceded. She buried her grief at having lost Spike for the sake of the world and moved on to set up shop in Cleveland.
Then the mail came.
It hadn't taken long, nor had been as complicated as they all had thought it would be, to reestablish a headquarters of sorts. With collective funds from everyone; though Giles mostly, the core four plus twelve had settled on an abandoned apartment building that had once housed a dance studio. It was perfect. The studio was street level, with two floors of apartments above it. Xander led the charge of refurbishing and constructing, with the man power of the new slayers and Robin. Anya reluctantly found assistance in Faith, with all things financial. As it turned out, Faith was rather adept at handling money. The two women were able to secure city permits and licenses and contracts without a hitch. At least, Buffy refused to inquire how those two had managed it all so swimmingly. So she continued to believe it had all been taken care of without a hitch.
Dawn and Willow took up the practical knowledge portion of their new headquarters; locating and purchasing old and new materials for a refurbished library. Willow now had an infinite power as a Goddess to attain any information, be it mystical or otherwise, that she wished. Of course, being Willow, she had wanted to attain the resources as normally as possible.
The most surprising conspirators were Giles and Andrew. The Watcher's Council had been destroyed by the Bringers, though Watchers still existed worldwide, as did bits of information and resources imperative to their cause. When the older man divulged to the group the necessity for him to return to his home in England for a time to begin the resurrection of a new council here in Ohio, Andrew practically fainted with enthusiasm to join him. And though Giles was apprehensive at first, the gang was already split into the most effective groupings. And Buffy needed to stay in Giles' stead. So Giles and Andrew left for England for a month, gathering everything they needed to bring back to the states.
Buffy, as usual, was the odd man out. Checking in with every prospective venture on occasion, but mostly stayed solo. She decided to dedicate herself to the most normal aspect of their new lives; domesticity. She was the one who squared away their living assignments and furnished and decorated the apartments. She made keys for everyone at the hardware store, went grocery shopping, separated the mail delivery (as their training center was now by day under the guise of a self-defense studio) into business and personal mail. Of course, not much personal mail ever arrived, seeing as only a select few knew of the group's relocation, namely Angel and his closest associates.
A personal package did arrive though, marking its arrival almost eight months after the Sunnydale Hellmouth had been destroyed.
One year Ago
Willow set the lumpy envelope before Buffy on the counter one afternoon, resuming her self-imposed obligation to watch longingly at her girlfriend, Kennedy, "training" women in self-defense for the day. Their disguised business was successful. And as strange energy and occurrences became more noticeable in the area, women and men alike came flocking to their studio ready to enroll.
Of course, none of their patrons knew that their various instructors (all female with the occasional exception of Robin) were Vampire Slayers. But they didn't need to know. Their customers were simply being taught by the best "self-defense" instructors in the world. And that was a good enough credential.
Buffy eyed the envelope skeptically before deciding to open it. She knew who it was from. Angel's penmanship was far too calligraphyish to be forgotten. Sighing, she slid her thumb carelessly along the edge and tore the package open, dumping the contents onto the counter. But what she saw rattle onto the linoleum practically made her head spin.
Gasping rather loudly, Buffy hardly noticed the concerned looks from some of the students, Kennedy and Willow as she collected the object and torn packaging and scrambled up the steps toward her own apartment.
Willow followed her instinctively, knowing something was amiss. Buffy paced around her room as the would-be goddess affectionately traced the amulet's decorative visage with her finger.
"It was so beautiful," Willow whispered.
"Operative word being 'was'," Buffy cried, still pacing.
"Where did this come from?"
"Angel sent it," Buffy explained, finally coming to a stop to lean against her closet door.
"But how did-"
"I don't know, Wil," Buffy cut in, "I don't know."
"Well, what does this mean? I mean, why? I don't understand."
"I don't either. I thought the amulet burned up with the rest of the Hellmouth, with Sp-"
She couldn't say his name. She had come too far, reasoning and accepting her grief to think about it again. She didn't love him, it wasn't about that. But in a strange way, as everything else in her universe was, Spike had become a friend and part of their group. To lose him, albeit to save the world, was still a devastating blow. Buffy had finally come to terms with it and here now was this painful reminder of someone she'd lost; sent to her by yet another someone she'd lost. The irony was wicked.
"I could look into it, if you want?" Willow suggested after a moment.
Buffy lifted her head and gave Willow a shrug, "I don't want you to have to go all Clash of the Titans."
"Well, that would be quicker but maybe I can figure this out the old fashioned way, ya know? Like, do some research and stuff? Maybe, the original Scooby Gang can reconvene in the book room and investigate?"
Buffy gave the young woman a small smile, "Maybe I should just call Angel and ask him."
Willow nodded, somewhat dejectedly and set the amulet down on Buffy's bed. "If you want…"
"Thanks, Wil," Buffy stopped her with a smile before Willow dutifully nodded and let herself out of the room.
Buffy remained standing, staring at the glistening charm seated on her mattress before sighing and picking up the phone.
"Hey, it's me," she said as the man on the other line answered. "Yeah, I did. I got it."
Four Months Ago
"Did it…did it work?" Xander asked slowly, opening his good eye carefully to assess the room.
"Doesn't look like it," Anya scoffed.
"Damn it!" Xander shouted as he stood up and ran to the light switch, flipping it on aggressively.
"Xander, calm down," Anya scolded.
"Dawnie said she wanted a lunar birthday party!" Xander fumed, rushing up the ladder toward the ceiling. "How am I supposed to make a lunar birthday party if this stupid glow in the dark paint doesn't glow in the dark?"
Anya shrugged as Buffy, Giles and Andrew entered the studio.
"Hey!" Buffy called out as she began relieving the numerous shopping bags from Giles and Andrew and setting them on the counter.
"How's the uh….preparations coming?" Giles wondered, pulling off his glasses to give them a quick wipe.
"What's that smell?" Andrew asked as he approached the bottom of the ladder to regard a flustered Xander above him.
"Paint," Anya provided.
"You're painting?" Giles sputtered, "But, but….why on earth are…"
"Dawn wanted a lunar birthday party," Anya stated plainly once again.
"So you decided to desecrate our training facility with glow in the dark paint?" Giles said as he crossed to the floor where the supplies were.
"Not so glowy," Xander quipped as he descended the ladder. "It didn't work."
"Oh, well that's a relief," Giles said, examining the paint cans before turning back to the group.
"It's okay Xand," Buffy said as she folded up another empty paper bag into her pile, "I can go back out and get some of those plastic star things."
"I bet it would have looked cool. Like a star field," Andrew said suddenly, still staring up at the ceiling where Xander had been working.
"That was kind of the idea, yeah," Xander spat, collapsing onto the floor to clean up his mess.
"Dawn wanted her astrological constellation surrounded by stars," Anya explained as she bent down to help Xander clean up.
"Well, perhaps a sketch or something could still be rendered?" Giles suggested; crossing over to Buffy who silently directed him to sort out the party favors into designated piles.
"That could be really nice," Buffy agreed.
"What, like a giant poster on the ceiling? Come on," Xander huffed.
"Frankie and Talia are really good at drawing," Andrew chimed in, mentioning two of the newest slayers.
"Yeah, well so is Angel," Xander mocked, turning to Buffy as he stood, "Hey Buffster, why don't we get Angel to draw a giant bull for Dawnie's b-day bash?"
Buffy and Giles both turned and sent Xander a scowl.
"Or not," Xander cowered, shuffling off alongside Anya to return the paint supplies back to the storage room.
Giles turned back to Buffy and tilted his head in concern, "You still haven't spoken to Angel since the—"
Buffy shook her head, "No. I called him the night I got it but then we got into a fight about….well, about everything really."
"I am sorry we couldn't figure it out," Giles said softly.
Buffy shrugged, "S'okay. I mean, it's not like we could do anything anyway, right?"
"No, I suppose not."
"Taurus," Andrew said suddenly, reading from the open book that Xander had pulled for a picture reference. "Taurus is—."
"Taurus is the Bull," Anya chirped as she reentered with Xander.
"Yes An, we established that with my 'bull drawing' comment," Xander reminded.
"I'm afraid I never got far into astrology," Giles chimed in as he wandered over to Andrew to regard the image as well. "Did you uh, did you find this in the library?"
"Nope. One of Willow's books," Xander informed.
"Must be a Goddess thing," Buffy suggested.
"An omnipotent prerequisite," Xander furthered.
"I don't know many Tauruses," Andrew sighed.
"Except for Dawn," Xander reminded him.
"And Spike," Anya added as everyone else's eyes widened at the mention of his name.
Xander, ever quick to notice tension laughed nervously and looked to Buffy, "Yeah, he was…he was a Taurus right?"
"Yeah," Buffy said softly, "Yeah he was." She lowered her head at the last word. Speaking about him in past tense was difficult. Speaking about him at all was difficult.
"Yes, well, I'm sorry that your experiment didn't work, Xander," Giles spoke up quickly, ending the silence that threatened. "But we still have a few more days."
"And Buffy did suggest those plastic stick-on stars," Anya added.
"And we could still get one of the girls to draw Dawn's symbol," Andrew supplied.
Xander nodded absently as the group slowly started to wander out of the studio and toward the apartments. Giles glanced over his shoulder to give Buffy a knowing look.
She silently thanked him for diffusing the awkward moment and smiled as she watched the foursome exit.
Once alone, she crossed over to the table where the open book still remained and sat in the chair before it, staring at the ridiculous illustration. Reaching into her pocket, she slowly pulled out the useless charm, tracing the edges with her fingers absently.
"The champion," she muttered, "Greater than a human, possessed with a soul…" she continued to whisper slowly, bitterly recalling the instructions required of the amulet's wearer. Buffy held the amulet in her palm as she mindlessly regarded the open page once more.
Buffy's eyes became misty as she read the traits associated with the sign. Yes, they were true of Dawn but, certain ones called out to her as indelibly Spike-like.
Stubborn, however prefer thinking of themselves as patient, sensible and firm
Slow to anger, but can become furiously mad
Sensual, greatly enjoys food
Overindulgent, good sense of humor, very strong
Loving, romantic and affectionate
"Spike," Buffy whispered as her tears began to fall, coating her hand, the amulet and the pages beneath her. "I wish you were here."
"Very well, Xander. But you must return it to normal once the festivi—Buffy?"
"Buff, you okay?"
Buffy coughed at the sound of Giles and Xander emerging and quickly dropped the amulet and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I'm okay," she said brightly, standing up and moving back toward the counter where the party supplies had been temporarily forgotten. "Need to finish sorting."
The two men remained still, unconvinced as Buffy spoke again.
"So, did you figure out a solution to the ceiling thing?"
Giles nodded as he crossed to help her gather up the favors while Xander grabbed a set of car keys from behind the counter and shook them victoriously.
"A whole world of 'No' to the sketchy sketch," Xander quipped. "Giles said I could paint it in regular paint if I promised to paint it back."
"You want to say the word 'paint' one more time?" Buffy snickered.
"Paint," Xander spat.
Giles sighed, "But perhaps your uh…plastic neon star idea would still create the ambience Dawn was after?"
"Yeah, whaddya say Buff? You wanna make the trip with me to pick some up while I'm buying…" he struggled to find a synonym, "An opaque liquid used to color walls?"
Buffy looked at Giles, both holding onto piles of party favors before the older man smiled.
"I can situate these on my own," Giles offered.
Buffy returned the smile and carefully supplied Giles with her armful before grabbing her coat and heading after Xander.
Giles snickered as he cautiously made his way across the room, arms loaded with party favors before turning off the light switch and heading back up the stairs, unaware of the faint glow coming from the ceiling, aiming its ray directly at the amulet below.
Four Months Ago
A Day Later
"Watch out for falling drips," Xander said.
"This is gonna look so cool!" Dawn squealed as she craned her neck upward to watch Xander trace over his previous paint job.
"Yeah, sorry it's not exactly what you wanted," Xander offered as he ran the brush along the ceiling.
"That's okay," Dawn assured him.
"Yeah, Buffy bought enough of these glow in the dark stars to light up all of Ohio," Willow chimed in, unwrapping another set of the plastic decorations and handing them off to Kennedy.
"Dawn, where do you--?" Kennedy started as Dawn jumped to her feet to help.
"I guess maybe coming down the side here?" Dawn supplied, grabbing the stars from the other girl as they moved toward the wall.
"Just be careful if you stick them on the mirrors," Willow explained, "Giles will have a fit if there's gooey plastic star stuff left over."
"Dawn, you don't have to help me," Kennedy told the girl as she pressed another star onto the concrete. "I mean, this is for you."
"I like being useful," Dawn assured her.
"You're gonna have to scram eventually," Faith said suddenly, emerging from the apartment stairs with Robin and some of the other girls by her side.
Dawn rolled her eyes as she handed the stars off to Kennedy. "I get it, I get it."
"Where are you guys off to?" Willow asked Faith as her group headed for the door.
"Training. What with the place closed down for little D's birthday we have to find another place to work out."
"Oh yeah," Willow nodded.
"You wanna come?" Faith offered Dawn. The young girl shook her head and crossed back to the stairs.
"I'll be in my room," Dawn sighed as Faith shrugged and exited the building.
"Buffy's back," Kennedy acknowledged as Willow turned to see Faith and Buffy exchange greetings before the petite blonde entered.
"Hey guys," Buffy mumbled, shrugging off her jacket.
"Any luck?" Willow ventured.
"Nothing," Buffy spat as she crossed the room toward the table below Xander's work space. "I looked everywhere."
"You'll find it, I'm sure you will," Willow offered.
"What's the haps?" Kennedy asked, still working on arranging the stars.
"Buffy thinks she lost the amulet," Willow explained uneasily.
"Oh," Kennedy said with a grimace.
"I don't think I lost it, Wil," Buffy groaned. "I know I did."
"Where'd you see it last?" Xander asked from his perch. The black overcoat was almost complete.
"Right here, actually," Buffy said, knitting her brow in concentration as she stared at the table.
"So, it's obviously in the building, right?" Xander furthered, resuming his painting.
"I was sitting here, last night," Buffy said, recalling. "It was in my hand…"
"When Giles and I walked in on you," Xander supplied.
"Then I left with you," Buffy pointed to him distractedly, still staring ahead to remember her steps.
"And Giles was left? Maybe Giles picked it up?" Kennedy suggested.
"Giles would have just given it back to Buffy," Willow reasoned with her girlfriend before turning back to Buffy. "Was it still here when you came back?"
Buffy sighed, "I didn't think to look, actually."
"How weird," Willow mumbled. "It disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared. Or well, reappeared."
"You don't think it's…"Buffy raised her head to look at her friend. "You know, something….hellmouthy, do you?"
Willow shrugged, "I don't know. I could do a scan if you want? It's real easy. Ya know, just to detect stuff?"
"Okay," Buffy agreed.
Willow beamed as she came from behind the counter and headed for the storage room. "I just need to get a couple of supplies. It'll only take a—"
Buffy scowled as Willow's voice cut off. Kennedy looked up for a second as Xander briefly stopped cleaning up.
Buffy appeared at Willow's side only to freeze in her spot, her eyes wide in disbelief.
There, amidst the randomly assorted supplies, lay the unconscious body of Spike.
"Oh my God," Buffy said, wanting to rush toward the leather clad figure. But something was rendering her motionless.
"Oh my Goddess," Willow echoed her own sentiment.
"What is it?" Kennedy and Xander's voices breaking the silence as they rushed toward them.
"Holy shit," Kennedy balked.
"Ditto," Xander muttered.
"What do….is he….what….how did….Willow?" Buffy choked out, still unable to move.
"How did you not scream at that?" Xander wondered absently as Willow found the nerve to kneel down and approach the body slowly.
"Is he dead?" Kennedy breathed.
"I think you mean, 'Isn't he?'," Xander cringed, stepping away frantically and beginning to pace.
"Vampires don't breath," Willow said more to herself, "There's no way of knowing."
"What the hell is he doing here?" Xander called out from across the room.
"He's not real," Buffy swore, shaking her head. Her eyes still wide and fixed on his still body. "He's not real. It can't be real. It can't really be him."
Willow narrowed her gaze at Spike's form but dared not to touch him to confirm Buffy's ramblings. Then, something else caught her eye. Just above him, two small aluminum cans sat on a shelf; a yellowy substance smeared around the rim.
Willow reached for one of the cans and spun back to face the group. "Who used this?" she demanded.
Kennedy and Xander looked up at her curiously. Buffy remained in the doorway, still staring amazedly at the lifeless figure.
"Used what, baby?" Kennedy asked.
"This?" Willow jutted the can forward as Xander started to approach.
"That's the stupid glow in the dark paint that I tried," Xander said with a sigh.
"No it isn't!" Willow seethed.
Xander gave her an incredulous stare, "Yes. It is."
"No, Xander! This isn't paint! It's a summoning solution!"
"What?" Kennedy and Xander said in unison.
"A what?" Xander repeated as Willow stared him down.
"It's meant for resurrection rituals," Willow further whined as she carefully opened the lid to peer inside.
"No wonder it didn't glow in the dark," Xander muttered.
"You mean Xander resurrected Spike?" Kennedy grimaced.
"I most certainly did not!" Xander shuddered.
"Xander, I need to know everything you did with this," Willow demanded, shutting the lid once again and crossing to the table.
Xander followed, eyeing the can mercilessly, "I copied the drawing in that book with the unglowy summoning paint stuff."
Willow reached for the book as she referenced the completed drawing above her head.
"Did you complete the drawing with the summoning solution?"
Xander scratched his head, "Uh, yeah. I drew the entire thing with that stuff before I tried it out in the dark."
Willow nodded then shook her head as she cross-referenced the summoning solution properties she could remember in her head. "That still doesn't explain how this happened," she said to herself.
"Is this why the amulet's missing?" Kennedy ventured as Willow stopped suddenly.
"Yes! Oh my Goddess, yes! The amulet! Buffy said the amulet was on the table, right? Right below the completed drawing!"
"So?" Xander started as Willow excitedly flipped through the pages of the book.
"But oh," Willow sighed, her joy suddenly faltering as she read further.
"What? What is 'but oh'?" Xander asked.
"Well, the alignment of the constellation and the amulet only work if it's been conjured. And then triggered."
"Say what?" Xander glared.
"So, how then? How did he get here?" Kennedy asked.
"I think I did it," Buffy said suddenly.
The trio turned to see Buffy's teary face staring back at them.
"See?" Xander said smugly to Kennedy, "Told you I didn't resurrect Spike."
Four Months Ago
A Few Hours Later
"Well, it's certainly not unheard of," Giles commented quietly as he and Willow stood back, assessing the lifeless Spike they'd moved onto the matted floor of the studio.
"Resurrecting a living undead guy back from the dead?" Xander quipped.
Giles turned sharply to the young man, "It's certainly not unheard of that you were the one to drudge up this mess."
Xander started to respond but quickly snapped his mouth shut and skulked away from the older man.
"Well at least we know he's real. I mean, really here," Andrew said timidly, casting a hopeful glance at the group.
"How's Buffy?" Dawn asked.
"She's…" Giles began as Willow cut in.
"She's still processing," the redhead explained. "It's her first resurrection. Err…well, I mean…it's the first time she's ever resurrected anyone."
"Yes, I don't believe anyone can fully prepare themselves for something like this," Giles concluded.
"Where is she now?" Faith chimed in, still standing near a far corner of the room. Though not new to happenings of this nature, this was still an uneasy situation for the reformed slayer.
"Walking, I believe…err, outside, somewhere," Giles stuttered, giving Faith a polite nod as he concentrated once again on the lifeless vamp before him.
Faith lifted her chin proudly and slipped out the door.
"If he's back why isn't he, ya know, moving?" Kennedy asked.
Willow shrugged as she scanned the book in her hand, "That's what I'm trying to figure out."
"Yo, B! Where are you, girly?" Faith called out as she scanned the street, growing annoyed by the second. She hated this; this concerned feeling. But she couldn't help it. Faith was still wilder than her blonde counterpart but her rehabilitation had set her straight. She was a good guy now, to the end. And though Buffy was arguably the strongest living slayer out there, Faith still worried about the girl wandering the streets of a burgeoning Hellmouth alone at night.
"Spike is looking for you! He asked where you were!" Faith yelled into the air as deliberate footsteps finally made noise.
"Thanks for checking in," Buffy said snidely; her arms crossed at her chest.
Faith smirked and spun around to face her, "Five by five, chica?"
"Five by five," Buffy muttered as she finally fell into step with Faith. "Is he…"
"Nothing," Faith finished her thought. "Wil's still working on that part."
Buffy nodded but said nothing as they continued walking back toward their building.
"You worried?" Faith asked, staring straight ahead.
"What if I did what happened to me? I mean, what if Spike was in heaven and I accidentally ripped him out?"
Faith snickered, "I doubt Spike was in heaven, B."
Buffy released a low, abrupt chuckle, "Good point. I didn't mean to—"
"No one's mad about this," Faith cut in again. "Except maybe Xander."
Again Buffy emitted a small laugh, "Of course he used a magic potion and not real paint."
Giles and Willow were the only ones left in the studio when Faith and Buffy returned, having sent everyone else back to their rooms. Willow had assessed the ritual as fixed but incomplete.
"As in, permanent but unfinished," she explained.
"I still don't understand," Giles hummed as he turned to see the two Slayers enter the room.
"Look who I found," Faith called out.
Buffy meant to greet Giles and Willow but stopped short when she saw Spike's body splayed out on the studio floor.
"Buffy," Giles started.
"Do we…" she began, fighting the urge to cry all over again, "Do we know what's wrong?"
"Willow thinks she does," Giles spat as he reached for his glasses.
The young woman rolled her eyes and turned to smile at her friend, "I'm sorry I can't do anything but practical magic here, having….well, you know….but resurrection isn't really my forte anymore."
Buffy returned Willow's apology with a sad smile, "It's okay, Wil. Just, tell me what's wrong."
"Well, from what I've gathered, your tears acted as the trigger to enact the spell. And now that Xander painted over the summoning solution, it's sealed the magic."
"I don't unders—"
"But since the ritual called for pure rock salt, your tears kind of, messed it up."
"Oh," said Buffy quietly as she bowed her head.
"But, but, not to worry!" Willow quickly added, "You just have to say whatever you said before and this time use pure rock salt."
"Pure rock salt?" Faith chimed in. "Where the hell are we supposed to—"
"Here," Giles cut in, handing Willow a common salt shaker.
Faith glared at the exchange, "Salt? As in, salt? That's the magical, mystery ingredient?"
"It would…um, appear that way, yes," Giles confirmed soberly.
"Buffy, do you think you can remember everything you said at the table?" Willow asked her gently.
Buffy nodded, though she was skeptical. She was scared at what might happen. What if she'd already mucked it up and it didn't work? What if it did?
"Just take a seat right here," Willow instructed, "And here's the salt. And now, just repeat what you said last night."
"Umm," Buffy started, staring at the body nervously, "When do I….where…with the salt?"
"Anywhere on him is fine," Willow explained, "After you say the words."
Buffy nodded, still frozen as she regarded his face. She looked up at the three before swallowing deliberately. "Could….could I be alone?"
Faith shrugged and started for the stairs as Willow nodded. Giles, however, remained still. "Buffy, I'm not certain—"
"Please?" She pleaded.
Giles sighed and nodded, "Very well, then."
Faith and Willow waited by the steps and ushered the older man ahead of her.
"You know salt is used to clean wounds and preserve---" Willow's voice was cut off as the door shut behind them.
Buffy waited a moment longer before she looked back down at Spike. "You better wake up or so help me…"she muttered.
Inhaling slowly and then exhaling, Buffy closed her eyes and poured a handful of salt into her palm. She begged her mind to remember what she'd said.
She jutted her hand forward to release the salt, "Spike, I wish you were alive."
She snapped her eyes shut once more as she let the grainy substance slip through her hand. Silence. Had she had her eyes open, she would have seen the salt fall. Had she been watching, she would have seen the grains illuminate as they touch his skin. She would have seen them penetrate his flesh and dissolve as his entire body became effervescent before extinguishing back to the pale color of before. Had she been looking, she would have seen his split second reflection in the mirror.
"So, how did sparring with Rupes go?" Spike asked with a chuckle as he leaned back in the chair, setting the now emptied mug of blood onto the table.
"That's not why you came down here," Buffy said flatly.
"Alright, you got me," he feigned resignation, "I wanted to talk to you."
"Okay," Buffy shrugged as she pulled up another chair, "Talk."
"It's about us—me," Spike corrected quickly.
Buffy raised an eyebrow and took a swig of her soda. "Okay," she started slowly, "What about….you?"
"I'm…." He began awkwardly, tilting his head slightly, "Are we…"
"I thought you said this was about you?" Buffy looked at him sternly.
"I lied," he said with a shrug.
Buffy set her soda can roughly on the table and rose once more toward the mats and began stretching.
His eyes followed her as he watched her tug on her limbs and twist her body around.
"Are we ever gonna talk about it?"
"About what, Spike?"
Spike rolled his eyes and crossed over to her, standing on the edge of the matted floor, "Why I'm even here again?"
"I thought we already did, months ago."
"We talked about how I'm even here again, love. Not why."
Buffy sighed and sat up to face him, "You're one of our strongest fighters."
Spike lowered himself into a squat and kept his gaze on the slayer, "Not with every Jane Doe as a Chosen one."
Buffy rolled her eyes and spun around to face the mirror, glad that she couldn't read his expression through the glass. "You're still strong."
Spike chuckled as he watched her trying to avoid him. His gaze lingered on her before traveling toward the mirror, seeing nothing but her and the room's reflection. "So then, you needed me?"
"Sure," she shrugged innocently, "We felt like we still needed you."
"We?" Spike baited, "Or you?"
"Spike," Buffy warned, "We've come way too far to start in on this again."
Spike smirked and stood back up to full height, "I see why you're frettin' now."
Buffy groaned and looked up, "Enlighten me?"
"You're all weird about the confession you made before I went all Little Miss Sunshine, aren't you? Couldn't deal with the guilt and brought me back to tease me again. Thanks for that pet but—"
"It was an accident," Buffy cut in.
Spike nodded, unfazed by the woman's interruption, "I already thanked you for saying it even if you—"
"No," Buffy interjected again, this time standing up to face him, "I mean, the spell. It was an accident. We….I….didn't mean to bring you back."
Spike's cheeky expression hardened; his eyes narrowing in contemplation. He said nothing for the longest time, steering his resolve to appear unaffected by Buffy's confession.
"Spike, I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"Left that bit out before, didn't you?" He asked bitingly.
"We're still glad—"
"Oh sod your 'glad', Slayer. Point is, I'm back now, ain't I? Doesn't matter a lick how or why."
He sniffled sharply and sucked his teeth before spinning on his heels and headed for the door.
Buffy blinked back her surprise as she watched the tails of his leather duster flutter after him.
To Be Continued…