1Buffy blinked up at the figure standing before her. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. This had to be some kind of hallucination. But, looking up into those deep brown eyes it was undeniable. It was Angel. He was real and he was back.
How could this be happening?
Buffy's mind whirled. This wasn't possible. Or at least it wouldn't be anywhere other than the Hellmouth. Here impossibility was the norm. Buffy didn't even know why she questioned such things anymore, and should she even be questioning this miracle?
Angel was back! Her one true love, her soul mate. Shouldn't she just be happy that this was happening?
But, she couldn't. All Buffy could do was wonder why.
Why did Angel come back now after all this time? Now when Buffy was just starting to let go of the pain and guilt she had felt over having to kill him. When she was finally ready to allow herself to go after what she wanted. Who she wanted.
Buffy's lips were still tingling from the kiss they had shared only a moment ago. She could still feel how cool and soft Spike's lips had been. The taste of his tongue and the smooth velvety texture of it as it danced sensuously with hers.
The thought entered Buffy's mind that Angel's returning was somehow payback for the betrayal of that kiss. As though the treachery of that act was so powerful it had brought on this manifestation of Buffy's dead lover to punish her for being with someone else.
This had to be some sort of sick joke fate was playing on her.
Suddenly Buffy noticed a sharp pain in her chest and a tight feeling in her lungs. She couldn't remember the last time she had taken a breath. She knew she needed air, but at the moment she couldn't quite remember how to breathe. The situation was becoming more imperative as Buffy began to get lightheaded. If she didn't breathe soon she was going to faint.
Still, all she could do was stare dumbly up at Angel, her mouth hanging open and a glossy, dazed look in her eyes.
Angel was beginning to get worried about the unresponsive Slayer. She looked like she was slipping into a state of catatonia. "Buffy?" he questioned, concern filling his voice.
The sound of Angel's voice was like the snap of a hypnotist fingers, bringing Buffy out of her trance. She blinked and automatically sucked in a rush of air into her aching lungs. She closed her eyes for a second and concentrated on levelling out her breaths.
Some of the tension ran out of Angel's shoulders as Buffy began to make signs of life. "Are you all right?"
Buffy opened her eyes and looked at Angel again. She swallowed in an attempt to bring relief to her dry throat and licked her lips.
"I'm..." she began, her voice low and stunned. "I-I don't, I don't understand."
The furrow between Angel's brows deepened, a look of regret passing in his eyes. "I know," he said. "And I'm sorry. This isn't how I meant for you to find out. I wanted to wait for the right time. I wanted it to be perfect."
Buffy squeezed her eyes shut again and gave her head a shake. "Huh?" she asked. Angel was talking as though he had been around for a while. Well, at least that would mean she wasn't responsible. "H-how long have you...?" Shock and confusion was making it difficult for Buffy to form full sentences.
"I've been back for a few weeks," Angel confessed.
"Weeks?" Buffy breathed, her voice holding utter disbelief. Angel had been back for weeks and he didn't tell her? "Why?"
"I wanted it to be right," Angel said again. "I didn't want you to see me...like I was. When I first came back, I was in bad shape. I'm getting better now, but I didn't want to put anymore on your plate, not while you're dealing with Kakistos."
Kakistos? How could he know about...?
For the first time since laying eyes on him, Buffy looked away from Angel and sought out the other vampire in the room. Spike was on the ground, propped up against the wall next to the fireplace. There was a bruise forming on his left cheek and a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth.
"Spike?" Buffy asked, a million questions in that single word. Spike didn't answer her. He just closed his eyes and looked away. Ashamed. Buffy didn't need for him to speak, Spike wore his emotions clear on his face. He knew. He'd known the whole time. The realisation left Buffy breathless again. Like she had been punched in the gut. "Oh god," she murmured. Buffy felt sick all of a sudden and doubled over, clutching her stomach.
All of the pain and confusion she had been feeling since seeing Angel was nothing compared to what Buffy felt now knowing that Spike had been keeping something like this from her. For weeks.
How could he? After everything they had been through since he had regained his soul Spike was the last person Buffy would have believed would keep secrets from her. As strange as it might seem, Buffy had trusted Spike almost more than she had ever trusted anyone, and he lied to her.
Stomach acid bubbled up and burned Buffy's throat as tears welled in her eyes. She clamped a hand over her mouth to hold back the bile. A muffled sob escaped through the barrier.
Concern had Spike on his feet and standing before Buffy in an instant. "Pet, are you all right?"
"Buffy?" Angel asked, equally worried.
Buffy couldn't hear them. The only thing she could hear was the sound of her blood rushing in her ears like rapids. Her stomach lurched violently and no matter how hard she tried, Buffy didn't think she was going to be able to keep it down for long. The Slayer sprung to her feet and without sparing either vampire a glance, she sprinted for the bathroom.
Spike and Angel watched in worry as Buffy ran from the room. They both winced a moment later when the sound of her retching drifted down the hall, followed by the putrid scent of stomach acid.
"Well, that must have been some kiss, huh," Angel commented in an attempt to distract himself from the sick sounds Buffy was making as well as get at Spike.
Spike flicked a glance at his sire, his top lip curled in disgust. "Get bent, peaches," he muttered, and turned back to look down the dark hall, worried about Buffy.
"I'm just saying," Angel needled. "You kiss her and she runs for the nearest toilet. She told me once that when I kissed her she wanted to die. So..."
Spike snorted. "Makes perfect sense to me. If I had to suffer having your sloppy tongue shoved down my throat, I'd feel like offing m'self too."
Angel's jaw tensed, a low growl escaping from his chest. Spike rolled his eyes at the other vampire's attempt at intimidation.
"Oh, come off it," Spike said. "And for the record, it wasn't kissing me that made Buffy sickly. In fact, she was rather enjoyin' herself until you showed up. In my opinion, it was seeing your big, stupid face that done her in."
Angel's nostrils flared as his fingers curled into fist. His eyes darkened and narrowed at Spike. Spike could feel the anger rolling off of Angel in waves and it helped to fuel his own.
Sucking in his cheeks, Spike turned to fully face his sire. "What's the matter, gramps?" he asked. "Can't handle the truth? That's right, Buffy loved it when I kissed her. Hold on a tick, actually, it was Buffy that kissed me. Yeah, her engine was purrin' good for ol' Spike. She wanted me. She wanted me bad." Somewhere deep inside himself, Spike felt a twinge of guilt for speaking about Buffy this way. But the temptation to goad that self righteous bastard Angel was just too great. "Had it not been for you breakin' up the party she likely woulda had me on the floor in another couple of seconds."
Angel seethed, grinding his teeth together. "You were taking advantage of her, you low-life son of a bitch! She's drunk. She didn't know what she was doing."
Spike felt a pang, briefly wondering if his sire's words might hold some truth, but he didn't show his doubt. Instead, he smiled lasciviously, cockily and leaned in toward Angel. "Sure felt like she knew what she was doin' to me," he whispered, more than a hint of suggestion in his voice. "The way her hands moved over my body and how she rolled her tongue—"
Angel lunged forward and grabbed Spike by the neck, cutting him off. "Shut your mouth!"
Instead of cowering, Spike just chuckled. "Yeah, all right. Let's do it then. Let's see how tough you are when you ain't got the advantage of sneaking up on me."
Angel sneered. "Trust me, Spike, when it comes to fighting you, an advantage is hardly necessary."
The humour evaporated from Spike's expression and his eyes turned cold. "Well, why don't we just test that theory, shall we?"
The corner of Angel's mouth quirked slightly. "Gladly."
Both vampires had gotten so wrapped up in their fight that neither of them saw Buffy approaching. Still feeling lightheaded from being sick, Buffy put her hand against the wall to steady her as the world spun around her. When it stopped, Buffy was stunned by the scene that came into focus. Spike and Angel were rolling around on the floor wrestling. Despite being more than a bit angry at both of them, Buffy couldn't deny that the image of the two shirtless vampires engaged in the throws of battle was somewhat titillating.
No! Buffy chastised herself for such a thought. Now was not the time for things like this. Their behaviour was unacceptable—and not at all sexy!
Spike and Angel immediately froze at the sound. They turned their heads and looked at Buffy, then, like two children that had been caught doing something bad, they broke away from each other with identical looks of shame on their faces.
Rising to their feet, Spike and Angel both moved toward Buffy. The Slayer held up her hand before they got too close.
"Are you all right?" Angel was the first to ask.
"Is there anything you need, pet?" Spike added. "Some water or something?"
"Anything," Angel put in. "Whatever you need I can get it for you."
Spike fought the urge to scoff at the emphasis Angel put on 'I'. As long as Buffy got what she needed it didn't matter who got it for her—well, all right, Spike would rather it be him.
Buffy cleared her throat and licked her lips. She grimaced at the foul taste in her mouth. "Actually," she began. "I do need something."
"Name it," Spike said. "Whatever it is."
"I need," Buffy paused to take a breath. "I need Giles."
The vampires responded with silence; this hadn't been what they expected her to say.
"Giles?" Spike clarified after a moment.
"Giles?" Angel echoed, regret and dread tinging his voice. Thinking about the Watcher was still difficult for him. The idea of facing Giles was unpleasant to say the least. What do you say to a man you physically and mentally tortured for hours on end?
"Yes," Buffy affirmed. "Giles. We need answers and Giles is the Answer Man. If there is anyone who might have a clue about what is going on, about how this," she gestured vaguely in Angel's direction, "happened. It's Giles. So..."
Spike cleared his throat in the pause that followed Buffy's proclamation and was again the first to respond. "Right, then," he said. "Just let me throw a shirt on and we can go."
Buffy's eyebrows shot up. "We? There's no we. You're not coming. I can talk to Giles by myself."
"I'm sure you can," Spike replied. "But getting to him in one piece is another story. You're drunk, Slayer. Look at you, you can barely stand on your own feet."
Buffy looked at the wall she was still leaning against and immediately jerked her hand away. She crossed her arms over her chest defiantly. "I'll be fine. I don't need you."
The coldness in Buffy's tone when she said those words was more painful than a stake in the chest. Spike gritted his teeth. "I'm not going to argue about this, Buffy."
Buffy perked visibly and said, "Great! Then I'll just be on my way." She made to leave and Spike blocked her path.
"That's not what I meant," Spike said.
Buffy's lips pressed into a hard line, her eyes flashing with rage. "Get. Out. Of. My. Way," she warned.
"Can't do that," Spike told her. "You're in no condition to go out there on your own. I can't let you."
"Let me?" Buffy repeated her voice denoting her incredulity. "If you don't move your ass right now, I'm gonna show you just what kind of condition I'm in." Spike remained unswayed by the threat. Buffy wavered slightly, but steeled herself. "Fine. If that's the way you want it." She balled her fist, ready to punch Spike in the face, but Angel's voice stopped her.
"Spike's right." Buffy and Spike both snapped their heads in Angel's direction, looking at him with matching expressions of disbelief.
They said at the same time.
Angel sighed. As much as he would have loved to see Buffy kick Spike's ass, he wasn't willing to risk her safety. "You have been drinking, Buffy. You reek of alcohol. Any vampire could smell it from yards off. They'll know that you're vulnerable and take advantage. It's what they do." Angel glared at Spike as he said the last part. "You should have back up. Just in case. So, if you're not going to let Spike go with then..." Angel paused, closing his eyes and taking in some air, steeling himself. "Then, I'll go with you."
Buffy eyes widened. She understood fully why Angel was apprehensive to volunteer to go with her to see Giles. The badness of that idea was clear. Buffy could only imagine what it would do to Giles to have Angel sprung on him out of the blue. She needed to prepare him first. Like she wished someone had done for her.
Buffy took a breath and let it out on a sigh. "Fine," she relented. She turned in Spike's direction, but wouldn't meet his eyes. "Hurry and get dressed. I'll call Giles and let him know we're coming." Buffy did an about face and headed toward the kitchen where the phone was kept.
Spike and Angel watched after her, and once Buffy's form disappeared from view, Angel turned to Spike.
"You better not let anything happen to her," Angel warned.
Spike didn't say anything. He just shot Angel a look full of contempt then walked away.
The silence between Spike and Buffy was so heavy it was a wonder they weren't crushed by its force. The tension was thick enough that it became like a physical barrier separating the pair. Perhaps that was the reason for the distance between them as they made their way to meet Giles; Spike was on one side of the street and Buffy the other.
Buffy's eyes never strayed from the road ahead of her. While Spike kept throwing her desperate glances, trying to will her to look back at him. This was unbearable. Sure, the two of them had had plenty of quiet walks in the past, but that was always a companionable silence. But, this...
This was bloody torture. Spike should know, after all, he was an expert on the subject.
Not being able to stand it any longer, Spike stopped dead in his tracks. "We have to talk," he called to Buffy's back as she kept walking.
"No. We don't," she replied, sternly.
"Buffy!" Spike cried, a note of frustration in his voice. "This ain't fair. You have to let me explain."
Abruptly, Buffy stopped and spun around to face Spike. "You wanna explain?" she yelled, seething as she stormed toward him. "Fine. Explain. Tell me how you can justify keeping something this huge from me. After everything we've been through. After how much you knew it was killing me trying to live with what I did to Angel."
"That's exactly it!" Spike said, his voice rising to meet Buffy's. "It's because I knew how much pain you were in that I couldn't tell you. You were just startin' to forgive yourself. Finally letting yourself move on. To have a life. No way was I goin' to muck that up."
"And just how the hell would knowing that Angel was back and okay muck anything up?" Buffy demanded.
"Because he wasn't okay. At least not at first. He was in Hell Buffy. Things happened to him. He was damaged. You seein' him like that would have shattered the pieces of your spirit you were just beginning to put back together," Spike explained. "You've been through enough. I just thought waiting until Angel got himself back together a bit before you found out was what would be best."
Buffy was quiet. Her expression was hard. The only sign of emotion was the slight gleam of tears in her eyes visible from the moonlight. Buffy took in a deep breath through her nose and swallowed down the lump that had formed in her throat. "And just what the hell gave you the right?" she asked, her voice low and fierce.
Spike blinked. "What?"
Buffy cleared her throat and turned her head to look Spike fully in the eyes. "You have no right to decide what is best for me!" she yelled. "I'm the Slayer. Which means that everything supernatural that goes on in Sunnydale is my business. It's my job, my calling, to fight the forces of evil. No one has the authority to decide what I should or shouldn't know. Especially not you." With that Buffy spun around and continued down the street.
The sound of Buffy's heels clacking sharply on the pavement echoed in Spike's ears as she walked away from him. Tears stung in his eyes and his throat closed. He hadn't really expected this to go any better than it had. But no matter how much he tried to ready himself for the inevitable confrontation, nothing could have prepared him for the look of hatred he had seen in Buffy's eyes. She had never looked at him like that, not even when he was trying to kill her. Not even when he tried to kill Angel.
It broke Spike's heart, that look. But his own heart didn't mean half as much to Spike as Buffy's did. He was afraid hers was broken as well, and it was all his fault.