NEVER ALONE

by Lilachigh

Chp One - Memories

They were flying to Italy in the morning: she'd emptied the fridge, put out the garbage, cleaned their rented apartment and now Buffy stood gazing at her over-flowing suitcase, wondering how she'd managed to collect so many new clothes in such a short time. For someone who'd lost everything, there was still too much to cram into one case but after Italy they were travelling on to London. She would need different clothes over there. Didn't it always rain in England?

'Dawn! Have we got a spare suitcase? Dawn!'

There was silence in the apartment and Buffy wearily sank down onto her bed, remembering that Dawn had gone to the airport to say goodbye to Willow and Kennedy as they flew off to England.

Buffy had said her goodbyes earlier. She felt she'd spent too many hours lately waving at people as they went through barriers to catch planes - Xander, Giles and Andrew, Faith and Wood - off to start their shiny new lives. They had all seemed so - so well, she wouldn't say happy exactly, especially Xander. but hopeful that the worst was now behind them and that the future could only be brighter.

And of course, it was going to be brighter. She gazed at her reflection in the bedroom mirror and forced it to smile cheerfully. She was good at that. She'd learnt that no one wanted her to be sad. She'd won a mavellous victory, changed what it meant to be a Slayer, altered her own life forever.

Sometimes she was reminded of when Willow had brought her back from the dead. Her nearest and dearest wanted her to smile and be happy and cheerful. Then they could relax and be happy themselves. Every time she tried to talk about what had happened, about Sunnydale, about Spike, one of them would change the subject. Not as if it was too painful to think about, more that it was too difficult.

She wondered if she was the only person who thought about him? Dawn had mourned briefly for the Spike who'd been her friend: the vampire without a soul. She'd never seemed too keen on the new variety. But Buffy knew why. In Dawn's world everything was black and white. She had no time for shades of grey. She'd even wondered a couple of times if Willow had put some sort of spell on them, to help with the grieving. How could Dawn accept without comment that their mother's grave no longer existed, that everything that made their life special had vanished.

"They're just possessions, Buffy," Willow had said once when she'd challenged her.

But every possession also carried a memory with it. Good or bad, weak or strong, woven into the fabric of life. Buffy's life had thousands of tiny holes scattered across it. Obviously people were far more important. But then Willow hadn't lost Kennedy, Faith hadn't lost Robin, Dawn hadn't lost her. And Xander... she didn't understand him. He never mentioned Anya any more. That was since the one night when she'd tried to talk to him about Spike. "I don't want to hear his name again, Buff. I'm so glad he died!" he'd snapped. "Andrew told me Anya - went - quite close to the end of the fight. Trust your lover to leave it too late. If he'd died sooner, she would still be alive!"

Buffy was guiltily glad that Xander wasn't coming to Italy with them!

And, of course, as everyone kept telling her, it was going to be great over there. Giles, Willow and Kennedy would be so much closer in England, Dawnie would be at a good school, and there were all the European potentials to train, yes, she was going to be busy, busy, busy...

And completely alone.

The thought tore through her mind, ripping at the scars in her memory that would never, ever heal. She lifted her hand and gazed at it. No damage, no marks, not even a blister to show where the flames had twisted and blazed as Spike's hand had grasped hers. There was nothing to show that William the Bloody had ever existed, had ever fought and killed, and laughed and loved. Nothing, except the world he'd saved, of course.

Angel had said very little on the phone when she'd spoken to him. He was glad the pendant had worked. Sorry about Spike. Sorry about Sunnydale. Did she want to meet up... ? She'd said no. Perhaps later when she'd sorted out her plans. She'd realised she couldn't face him just now. Was he truly sorry that Spike had died? She couldn't tell from his voice and didn't want to look into his eyes and see relief, guilt, even satisfaction.

The buzz of the doorbell jerked her back to the present. She slung her legs off the bed and headed for the hallway. "Dawn Summers, don't tell me you've lost your key again! I'm going to get you a chain for it when we get to Italy and then...Clem!"

A timid wave of droopy skinned fingers, a beaming smile from amidst the folds of skin and a "H..Hi Buffy. Good to see ya."

"Clem!" She found herself hugging him, losing herself in his voluminous grasp. "What on earth are you doing here? I'm so pleased to see you! Come in, come in! Can I get you something? A beer, chips?"

"No, Slayer, that's OK. I'm good.'" He shifted from one foot to the other, still smiling, but she could tell he was feeling uncomfortable. "Nice place!"

She shrugged. "It's OK. We're off to Italy tomorrow. Dawn and me, that is. The others have all left. How did you find me? You know..." The words stuck in her throat, but she had to say them, "You know about Spike"

She watched fascinated as a tear spilled out of the demon's eye and rolled down and along various folds of skin to vanish and never be seen again. "Yes, that's why...he said if he...if it happened...well, this came for you!" He thrust his hand into a voluminous bag he wore slung over his shoulder and produced a battered parcel. Badly wrapped, the sticky tape just holding it together.

The hairs on the back of Buffy's neck stood up. Every muscle in her body shouted 'Vampire' and every nerve shouted 'Spike' "For me?" she whispered.

"Yup. It's...it's from Spike."

"He posted me a parcel!" The only coherent thought in her head at that moment was 'Spike wouldn't know where the Post Office was in Sunnydale!'

"No. It came by hand. You know, one demon to another. Cross country. Sort of pigeon post but by, well, by us demons, demon post, I suppose."

"And no one opened it!"

Clem looked hurt. "It was from Spike," he said as if that explained everything.

Buffy sat down abruptly on the sofa and Clem placed the parcel on her lap and anxiously edged away towards the door. "Well, got to go, Slayer. Parked in a no parking zone. Don't want to get fined. Have a good trip. See you when you get back."

Buffy didn't hear him go. The blood was roaring through her head making her dizzy. She touched the parcel with gentle fingers. The words Buffy Summers were written in a fine black script. Spike's handwriting. How did she know that? Had she ever seen anything he'd written?

The paper gave way at her first touch and she heard herself gasp - a hard, hurting sound. One of Spike's red shirts lay underneath, the sleeves tied tightly together to hold something else inside. She could smell him - leather, cigarette smoke, the very texture of his skin. Her fingers trembled as she touched the soft material, remembering the times she'd ripped at it in passion, in lust, with the love she'd never admitted until it was too late.

Tucked inside the knot of the shirt was a piece of paper. For long seconds she couldn't force herself to pull it out. It was a page from the calendar that had hung in the kitchen now buried deep in the Hellmouth. On the front a picture of cute kittens, on the back -

'Have a feeling I'll be long gone when you get these, luv. Know you haven't got time for memories now. But you will. Always yours.'

The knotted sleeves were no problem to Slayer fingers. The shirt fell open and she stared at the two gifts he'd wrapped inside. Gifts that in all that chaos, Spike had thought to find and send off into the blue, into the future, in case she came through unscathed. The framed picture of herself and Dawn and her mother that she had thought was lost forever. And a battered, rather dirty, much loved, stuffed toy pig.

tbc