"Buffy, I don't understand. You've cancelled our flights to Italy and now I'm going to England to stay with Giles and Willow instead!" The whine that had vanished recently from Dawn's voice was making a rare appearance.
Buffy bit her lip. "It's only for a few days, Dawnie. I - I'm just not ready for Italy yet, and I certainly don't want you out there on your own! I've heard far too much about Italian boys. I've booked you on a flight to Heathrow. Giles will meet you and I'll join you as soon as I can, then we'll go on to Italy together. Hey, perhaps we can hire a car and drive down through France and over the Alps. That'll be fun!"
A look of pure horror crossed Dawn's face at the thought of her sister driving them through Europe in a strange car, then realised it had been a deliberate ploy to change the subject. "This is all about Spike's parcel, isn't it?" she said softly. "Since Clem delivered it, you've been acting weird."
"It was weird receiving it," Buffy murmured. "I so still can't get my head round the fact that in all that chaos, Spike thought of doing that for me. He found the photo and Mr Gordo, parcelled them up and arranged for demons to deliver them to me if I survived. Geez, Dawn, would you have known where to find sticky tape and wrapping paper with all those girls in the house?"
"Yes, OK, major weirdness and niceness and, yes, it was lovely to see that photo of you and me and Mom and even though I'm way to old for stuffed toys, perhaps you're not! But what can you do about it, Buffy, except be pleased and sad and fly off to Italy?"
"I don't know, Dawn. I just feel that there's something I have to do. Something...I don't know exactly, that needs doing and I'm the only one who can do it. What's more, I have the strangest feeling that I need to do it in a hurry."
"Something about Spike? But he's dead, Buffy!"
No matter how many times Buffy heard or thought those words, she had the same reaction. Cold shivers ran across her body, but the skin on her hand that had twined, blazing with Spike's as he died, felt as if it was on fire again. "Yes, I know that. We wouldn't be here if he wasn't!"
But I was dead once, no twice, she thought sadly. And here am I with a nice new life, with good friends and perhaps even Angel still there, waiting. All because Willow magicked me back. So...what if... A frisson of anticipation made her shudder. What if Spike was - somewhere - waiting for help, for a call that never came. She'd been happy and contented in her heavenly dimension. But Spike... She knew he wasn't the sort of man who'd be content to just exist, to be warm and happy and nothing else. He was a warrior, a fighter. She'd gone gracefully, almost gladly to her death when she jumped off the tower. But Spike had gone to his fighting until the flames consumed him.
Surely he wouldn't have gone somewhere dreadful. Was there another Hell, a spiritual Hell under the Hellmouth? But he'd done a lot of good in the end, she reasoned. He'd sacrificed himself for the world, just as she had done. So why wouldn't he have gone to the same heavenly dimension as she had? Because you were finished and he wasn't. The answer came as swift as a knife stroke. And she knew as plainly as if it had been written in blood on the kitchen floor, that Spike was somewhere, in some far-off dimension, waiting and he would know that the only person who could help him, who would even want to help him, was her.
And even as she thought that, she could hear a voice, somewhere, echoing in her head, "I'm running out of time, pet. You'd better hurry."
"Dawn, I've changed my mind! I'm coming with you to England tomorrow. I need to speak to Willow urgently!"
England was being very English when they arrived. A pearly grey sky and a fine drizzly rain that covered their hair and clothes in a sparkling mist. The flight had been uneventful. Buffy had tried to eat the meal, watch the movie, but all she could hear was that low, unmistakable voice, saying over and over again, "Hurry, hurry, hurry!"
"Buffy," Dawn whispered as they made their way outside, "everyone talks like Giles and Spike!"
The drive down to the west country, to the ancient city of Bath was smooth, motorway all the way. Giles had sent a car; the chauffeur was polite but non chatty. Dawn fell asleep in five minutes and Buffy sat stiffly upright with her sister leaning against her shoulder, wondering how she could possibly have imagined driving in this country when you were on the wrong side of the road to start with. But then, hey, she usually ended up on this side of the road, anyway, so perhaps no biggie there!
She tried to remember if Spike had ever spoken about the last time he was in England. His history with Angel and Dru had been so complicated and there were huge gaps in her knowledge. "I just wish you were here to show me all this," she whispered. "Then I wouldn't feel like such a stranger."
And she imagined she could hear his voice saying, "God, pack of bloody Colonials arriving to take over the place. Better mind your manners, pet. Oh, and did I mention recently, bit of speed on your part would be appreciated!''
Giles' apartment was the top two floors of a beautiful, graceful Regency house in the Royal Crescent. Buffy remembered him telling her once that his apartment had been built a hundred years before Spike was born.
She wondered if Spike had ever been to Bath. William, had perhaps. She could picture him, wandering around, reading Jane Austen, peering at the beautiful Abbey through the spectacles he'd told her he'd worn. Or had Spike and Dru cut a swathe through the polite society people one night. Perhaps the Roman Baths had run red with blood and no one had known who was responsible for the carnage.
When the Summers sisters arrived, everyone was there, including three British potentials who were going to Italy to start training. Giles looked delighted to see Buffy and Dawn, but rubbed his glasses endlessly on his tie, obviously harassed, saying that with all these changes of plan, his home was getting as crowded as the house in Sunnydale and there was only one bathroom so everyone would have to be very, very patient!
"Buffy," Willow said quietly as Dawn went off with the young girls to explore. "What are you doing over here? What's happened. Why aren't you in Italy?"
Buffy explained about the parcel, "And Will, I know it's stupid, but I feel there's something I have to do, and I don't know what it is. What I do know is that I have to hurry. Will, when you brought me back..."
"Buffy, stop. That was really dark magic. I needed things, did things - "
"But could you do the same spell and bring Spike back?"
"No! Buffy, you don't know what you're saying. I couldn't bring Tara back. Don't you think I would have, didn't want to..."
"But you told me Tara died a 'human' death. That was why they wouldn't let you. But Spike's was mystical, like mine was. So surely..."
Willow turned away. "It isn't possible. Glory's magic was straightforward. Even The Council knew what it entailed. Getting you back from that was dangerous and difficult, but I knew where to start, what to do. The pendant that Angel brought you, the one that Spike was wearing when... I don't know where it came from, but I could feel that that wasn't magic exactly."
"What was it then?"
"It was a sort of power. More powerful even than The First. And so old, older than anything I'd ever encountered before. Buffy, I just don't know how to help."
And if you did know, would you? The words trembled on Buffy's lips, but she bit them back. Nothing would be gained by falling out with Willow. She could feel that mentally her friend had moved on. She had put Tara and Oz, Spike and Sunnydale, away in neat compartments in her brain. There was no way she was going to open up those boxes and explore the contents again. It would be far too painful.
The night dragged by painfully. Buffy tossed and turned on Giles' sofa. She knew her Watcher was irritated by her behaviour. He'd said very little over dinner, laughing with Dawn about the amount she could consume from the vast bucket of fried chicken he'd sent out for. He'd told Buffy that Andrew was already in Italy, sorting out their accommodation, organising a place where they could begin to train the European potentials. He hadn't actually said, 'Why are you wasting your time over here?' but she could tell it was on his mind.
At around three a.m., Buffy kicked off her blanket and stole out into the kitchen. Perhaps some hot chocolate would help her sleep. She had big decisions to
make in the morning and was no closer to knowing what to do than when she'd left home. Moonlight was streaming through the kitchen window and she didn't need to put the light on. She was worried about waking the others.
She spun round, almost dropping the carton of milk she was holding. "Giles! What are you doing, lurking about at this time of night?"
Giles peered around theatrically. "Oh yes, my apartment, my kitchen, thought I might have sleep walked next door! I do live here, you know, Buffy."
"Sorry! Just jumpy. Can't sleep. But will soon. Look, choclately goodness in a mug. Would you like some?"
"Ah, no. I have a very nice single malt here which is relaxing me after a rather stressful day." There was a long pause, then, "Willow told me about Spike and the parcel and what you asked her to do."
"I rather take it that you weren't going to mention it to me?"
"I didn't want to make a big thing of it."
"Buffy, credit me with some common sense," Giles snapped. "You change all our plans, fly across the Atlantic, want Willow to delve into the dark arts again, are obviously in a state of high anxiety and all because, yet again, of William the Bloody. It is a 'big thing' as you so succinctly put it."
Buffy took a sip of her drink. It coated her lips and as she tasted it, for a wonderful, mad second, she was back in Spike's crypt one silly evening when they'd shared a big bar of candy after they'd made love and the chocolate had got everywhere, in all sorts of places and they'd lain there giggling as Spike insisted they had to lick it off each other ... The sound of his laughter was so clear, she could have sworn he was standing in the room with her. But he was gone. And she was kidding herself. There had been a sweet, loving gift from her dead lover. But that was all there was. The rest was just her imagination.
"I'm sorry, Giles. I know you don't understand. I can't...I can't explain. I realise I'm messing everything up for everyone. I'll try and get myself sorted. I'll start arranging for Dawn and me to travel on to Italy tomorrow."
She sat staring out at the moonlight after Giles had gone off to his bed, patting her fondly on the shoulder and telling her that he was sure she was making the right decision. Buffy turned with a sigh to finish her hot chocolate and stopped with it half way to her lips. Floating on the surface were little round marshmallows. Little white shapes that she hadn't put there.
to be continued