The white van from Cleveland skidded into the Summers' driveway and came to a screeching halt. Willow clutched the dashboard, her eyes wide with fright, as Faith turned the ignition off.
"We're here! B's place!" the dark Slayer declared cheerfully, hopping out of the van and helping the girls with their numerous bags and suitcases.
Xander leaned over Willow's shoulder, his voice half-teasing. "Next time I'll drive. I do want to reach Sunnydale in one piece."
Stifling her laughter, Willow got out of the van and stared up at the simple white cottage that was now Buffy's home. She had to admit, it was perfect for the blonde Slayer. It conveyed a feeling of peace and normalcy. A normalcy that Buffy had always wanted for herself but was never able to achieve. A normalcy that may no longer be possible.
"Let's get this over with," Willow sighed, ringing the bell nervously. Really, how happy was Buffy going to be with their arrivals? Did she even want them there? Willow wasn't all that sure. Even though they’d kept in touch over the past year, they really hadn’t found the time to visit one another. Willow was too busy with the academy and Buffy was settling into her new life here in Kentucky. Obviously it was a life that didn't include witches and vampire slayers.
Willow’s breath caught in her throat when the door opened to reveal Buffy, more beautiful and vibrant than the last time they’d seen each other.
"Willow!" Buffy squealed in delight. She threw her arms around her friend, not really surprised at how much she missed seeing her friends every day. "Xander!" She grabbed his hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze.
"That's Buffy?" a Slayer, Trish Anne, asked.
"She's gorgeous," Reese gasped.
"So these are the new Slayers?" Buffy stepped out onto the porch. She eyed the five teenagers curiously. They were so young. They had their whole lives ahead of them. It seemed so unfair that they were chosen to dedicate those lives to fight evil. But of course, they didn’t have to accept their callings. With so many Slayers around, they could have still lived ordinary lives.
"Not all of them, but a few," Faith nodded, her dark eyes gleamed with pride. The girls she’d brought were the cream of the crop, the top of the class. "This is Jessica, Jada, Trish Anne, Reese, and Teresa. Five of our best Slayers. They can even take me on. Girls, this is the original One of the original Chosen Two. It's her you have to thank for where you are today."
"Hey," Jada, a black girl with shoulder length micro-braids and soulful brown eyes, greeted.
"Hi, I'm Buffy and the girl standing in the doorway is my sister Dawn," Buffy smiled. "It’s getting a bit nippy out here. Why don't you guys come in? I’ll make us some hot chocolate," she offered, leading the way into the house.
"This won't be like last time, will it?" Dawn asked as she followed her sister into the house, voice laced with trepidation. She couldn't help but remember how their house back in Sunnydale had ceased to feel like home and became more of a YMCA.
"Of course not," Buffy shook her head reassuringly.
"Nice place you have here, Buff," Xander looked the rooms over as he entered. "Nice and--"
"Normal?" Buffy finished with a small smile. "That’s why I picked it."
"Buffy, are you sure that you want to get involved with this? I mean, we can handle this by ourselves. You're living the life you always wanted here, I don’t want to interrupt that," Willow bit her lip, feeling a bit guilty. Here was her best friend, creating the ideal life she had wanted so badly for all those years in Sunnydale, and there Willow was, asking her to go back.
"Listen, if I’m needed, I’ll be there. If you don’t need me..."
"But we do need you," Trish Anne spoke up, a strange gleam in her eyes. "I dreamed it. You need to come to Sunnydale with us. He needs you."
"Slayer dreams," Willow gasped excitedly. "Trish Anne, why didn’t you tell us about this before?"
"I didn’t know they were slayer dreams until I met Buffy. She was there with some man. He was wearing a leather coat and had this cool white hair. They were both crying and I had this urgent feeling that he needed her."
Buffy frowned. She knew of only one man who owned a leather coat and had the white hair that Trish Anne described, but he was dead. A pile of dust underneath the rubble that used to be Sunnydale…except the rubble wasn’t really rubble anymore. Was it possible? Could Spike have returned with the town?
Willow must have been thinking the same thing, because she turned around, a hopeful glimmer in her green eyes. "Do you think it could’ve been Spike?"
Buffy frowned. She didn’t know what to think. It could have been Spike, but then again, she just wasn’t sure. Maybe she should just drop the subject. That particular subject was just too complicated, and there were other important decisions that needed to be made. "Let's forget the dream for right now, OK? We need to discuss what we're going to do about Sunnydale."
The room filled with silence as the Cleveland gang followed Buffy into the living room and took their seats. It was Faith who spoke up first.
"Are we ready to start?" Faith crossed her arms, just as there was another knock at the door.
Dawn rolled her eyes before getting up to go to the door. She opened it to reveal a man with brown hair and what looked to be a goatee. Again, she rolled her eyes, instantly annoyed by the man's presence. Everything was going so well with the old gang and the new Slayers being here, but like always, Pike had to show up and ruin everything.
"Buffy! It’s Pike! Should I tell him to come back later?" Dawn called hopefully.
"Come on in Pike!" Buffy invited, figuring they could use all the help they could get.
"Always a pleasure, Dawn," Pike laughed. Dawn reminded him so much of Buffy when they first met: full of biting sarcasm.
The teenager just made a face as Pike headed for her sister. Dawn frowned as she watched Buffy hug him in greeting. To say that she didn’t like Pike was a gross understatement. She couldn’t stand him, never could. Not when he and Buffy had been dating back when they lived in LA and especially not now. She dreaded the day when he would ask her sister to be his girlfriend again. Of all of Buffy’s boyfriends, Pike didn’t even rank an honorable mention. Besides, Dawn believed that Buffy was still grieving Spike. It'd be weird of she jumped into another relationship now.
"Hey Buff, aren't you going to introduce us to your friend here?" Xander asked, suspicious of the young man. He'd seen Buffy get hurt so many times, he couldn’t help but feel protective of his friend. She had too much to deal with now. A broken heart on top of it all was the last thing she needed.
"Oh yeah. Pike, these are my best friends from Sunnydale, Xander and Willow, and six of the best Slayers out there: Faith, Trish Ann, Jada, Teresa, and Reese," Buffy waved around the room. "Everyone, this is Pike. An old friend from LA."
"He knows about the Slayer gig?" Jada arched a brow. To her knowledge, being a Slayer was supposed to be some big secret, unless it couldn’t be helped.
"I was there when she was first called. Fought by Buffy’s side a few times, even," Pike grinned, remembering the dance that had become a feast for vampires after Buffy, and the arson that had been committed afterwards. It all seemed like yesterday. "So what's going on here with the Slayer brigade?"
Buffy sighed, still reeling from the news of Sunnydale's return. "Remember how I told you about Sunnydale and how it was on the Hellmouth and how I destroyed it?"
Pike nodded, confused. He, for one, was glad the town was gone. The destruction of the California Hellmouth had given him another chance with Buffy.
"Well, it appears that the town is no longer a crater of rubble. Sunnydale’s back and we’re trying to figure out why and what to do about it."
"I say we go and find out what’s what. I mean, the return of the Hell mouth can't be good. Right?" Pike rubbed his hands together, anticipating the adventure this promised to be.
"Ah, excuse me, but don’t you mean we go investigate while you stay here?" Xander got to his feet. There was something about this guy that rubbed him the wrong way. It seemed like he was trying to take up space in Buffy’s life. He didn’t like that at all. Not to mention the name that was too close to the vampire’s that had been a thorn in his side for six years and turned out to be the world's savior when it mattered most.
"No way! Buffy needs me! I’m not staying behind when she could be walking into danger," Pike glared at Xander, his dislike of the younger man evident.
"You've been staying behind for the past seven years. What’s one more time gonna hurt ya?" Xander accused, crossing his arms.
"You don’t know what you're talking about, one eye!" Pike spat, getting up in Xander's face. He knew the name was a low blow, but the kid made him mad, and he was beyond caring.
"Enough!" Buffy got between the two men, catching Xander’s fist in her when he took a swing at Pike. "You two, calm down. We need to stick together. I have no time for petty fighting. Xander, if Pike wants to come with us, if we even go, he can. He saved my ass plenty of times back in my LA days, just like you did in Sunnydale. Pike, that one eye thing was not funny," she stated, eyes dimming with guilt as she remembered why Xander now wore an eye patch. If only she hadn’t led them into that confrontation with Caleb...
"Hey," Xander gently touched her shoulder, his expression softening. He knew Buffy carried the weight of what happened to him on her shoulders. He wished that he could take that away from her, make it alright again. Well, he could at least try. "It’s alright. It was war. Things like that always happen in the heat of battle. Besides, if it wasn’t for you, it would have been both of my eyes."
Buffy smiled half-heartedly, reminded again of how much she’d missed Xander’s presence in her life. When things were as low as they could go, it was Xander who always renewed her faith. No matter the situation, he could be counted on to make her feel like herself again. "Love ya Xand," she smiled, letting him hear her affection for him. "But no more fighting from either of you. Am I clear?"
Xander nodded, backing away from Pike.
"Listen, I’m sorry man. Buffy’s right, that was a low blow," Pike apologized.
"Don’t mention it," Xander returned to the couch.
"I called Giles. Do you guys want to wait until he gets here?" Buffy asked, feeling the need to have her Watcher by her side before making any final decisions. After all, Giles was the Hell mouth expert. Maybe there was something going on that they didn’t know and going back to Sunnydale would be a mistake. No, it was best that they wait.
"Sure. We'll wait for the G-man," Xander sat back down and leaned against the cushions. He was for the time being relaxed and enjoying the familiar camaraderie that had disappeared back in Cleveland. "Why don’t we have a tour of the place while we wait?"
Reese squealed with excitement, eager to see the house’s design. Before she’d been called, she had dreamed of becoming an interior decorator. Not that it couldn’t happen now, but it seemed so insignificant next to the slaying. She was always eager to check out different layouts and designs, anyway. "Yes, a tour!"
Buffy smiled at the younger Slayer, remembering when she’d been that young. She had been so full of dreams and expectations. Now they seemed so mundane after all those years of slaying. "Follow me."
The town stood quiet and apparently empty. Only the two vampires in the front seat of the van caught the scent of other vampires roaming the night, looking for a proper meal. Who knew what else had returned to the Hell mouth.
"It’s started already," Spike announced. As he looked out the window he spotted a chaos demon crossing the street. "Bloody hell! That’s the bloke Dru was with!"
Angel ignored Spike's declaration and continued to watch the street, wondering what else was going to come their way. "The Hell mouth's already calling them back."
Wesley cleared his throat, knowing that both Spike and Angel would probably reject what he was about to suggest. The two had never actually buried the proverbial hatchet, yet they’d called an uneasy truce for the team's sake. But there was one thing they had in common: their love for one Buffy Summers. Her safety was something they agreed on, no questions asked. "Perhaps we should contact Buffy and Mr. Giles. Their help could be invaluable. After all, they were the guardians of the Hell mouth."
"NO!" both Angel and Spike protested in unison.
"This doesn't concern Buffy. She has her own life now, away from all of this," Angel explained. "She’s living a normal life. Let her enjoy it."
"For once I agree with the Poof here. Buffy’s fought for this town enough. It’s time to let her rest and make a life for herself and the Bit. We can handle this by ourselves."
Wesley eyed the vampires. Both were in love with one woman, and both were willing to face Hell to protect her. He couldn’t help but admire that. "Very well then. What do we do now?"
"We can stay at the mansion," Angel suggested, just as Spike stepped out of the car. Angel frowned, grabbing hold of the back of Spike’s duster. "Where do you think you’re going?"
"For a walk," Spike replied, shrugging off his grandsire’s hand. He chose to ignore Angel's protests that they shouldn't roam the town alone, the First Evil could still be in control, just waiting to strike. In the blonde's mind, he could handle the First and anything else that wanted a piece of him.
"That boy is going to get himself killed," Angel growled angrily. There was no time for Spike’s little games. This was serious.
"I don’t know. Spike can take care of himself," Gunn argued, watching the younger vampire disappear into the dark night.
Fred quietly slipped out of the car, making sure no one saw her. She’d noticed how silent Spike had grown on their way to this so-called "Hell mouth". Something was bothering him. Angel was right, though not in the sense he thought. Spike shouldn’t be alone. Glancing back at the car, she set off in the direction Spike had gone, determined to help him if he needed it.
The old Summers’ house stood dark and silent, exhibiting no signs of life within. Spike stood in the basement, memories taking him back to the night before the last battle. Buffy had come to him, hazel eyes wide with something akin to love and fear of the battle to come.
One Year Ago…
"Spike," she started, voice heavy with emotion. "We need to talk."
"Thought we'd talked over everything that needed to be said, pet," he answered, walking back to the bed. He went back to examining the amulet, curious about how it would help destroy the First's army. So far, he thought Peaches was pulling a fast one on them.
"Not everything. We haven't really talked about us yet."
Spike sighed, not daring to look at her. If he looked at her, he'd be a goner. He wouldn't be able to look away, and who knew where that might lead. "What about us?"
"Spike, please don’t do that. Look at me. This is serious. We may die tomorrow, but we might live, too. I want to know what we are, just in case we pull through this."
Spike sighed, afraid to open his heart to her once again. He’d done it so many times, just to be rejected each and every time; he didn’t know if he could do it. " What do you want us to be?"
Buffy shrugged, not knowing how to answer. Yes, she wanted something from Spike. She knew that much. She just didn’t know exactly what that was. More than what they were. "More than friends. How can I say this without sounding cheesy? Spike, you've been my strength, my confidant. My best friend, even. You’ve always believed in me, even when no one else did. We’re more than friends now. I-I think I’m in --"
"Stop!" Spike turned away from her, cool tears in his eyes. "Don’t say it. Not now. Not when we don’t know if we'll be alive to see the next sunset.
"Spike, I need you to know how I feel."
He turned back to face her, a rueful smile softening his chiseled features. "It doesn’t matter right now, pet. Let’s just leave it for a later day, if there is one."
Her emotions getting the best of her, Buffy slipped into his embrace and held on to him as if he was going to disappear if she let go. There was so much she wanted to tell him, and so little time to say it.
Spike held her close, keeping at bay the spark of hope that said she was going to declare her love for him. Somehow, he doubted that was what she wanted to tell him. That kind of love wasn’t meant for them. He knew that now and had learned to live with it. What he couldn’t live with was a fake declaration of love, made out of desperation and fear. If she truly loved him, she'd tell him after the battle was over with. Only then would he know that her affections were real.
Spike picked up a pillow that had been carelessly tossed on the cot and pressed the soft fabric to his face, inhaling the scent of vanilla and almonds. Tears rose suddenly, threatening to choke him. The pillow still held her scent, after all this time.
"Buffy," Spike gasped, whirling around only to come face to face with Fred, who observed him with concern.
"I was worried. I mean, it’s not wise to wonder around town alone," the young scientist stammered.
Spike smiled, unable to be cross with her. Really, Fred was one of the few members of the Angel Investigations team that he really liked. She was the only one that really wanted to help him and they had become close friends in the past year. "I’m alright, pet. Just needed some alone time."
"Oh," Fred nodded, taking a curious look around the dimly lit room as Spike sank down onto the creaky mattress. "Why are you here? Who owned this house?"
His voice was quiet and thoughtful, eyes gazing past Fred, as if he was looking at something from the past that she couldn’t quite see. "Summers’ house. Buffy’s house. Scooby headquarters when it all ended."
"Oh," Fred suddenly understood. Spike was here to think of Buffy, maybe to feel closer to her just by being in her house. How sad, to be separated from the one you loved. Fred's eyes lit up as she went over to a shelf and picked up a picture that was lying on its back. She instantly recognized Angel’s friend Willow. Below Willow was a dark haired boy who seemed to be staring up in adoration at a beautiful blond girl. Surely that girl couldn’t be Buffy. She was so small, she'd break an arm taking on any of the creatures Angel fought nightly.
"Who's this?" She brought the picture to Spike, pointing at the unknown duo.
"Her…Buffy, and the whelp's name is Xander."
"This is Buffy? But she seems so small. From what Angel’s told me, she's supposed to be twice as strong as Faith. The girl in this picture doesn’t look like she could beat up a fly."
Spike laughed, remembering his first impressions of the Slayer. He’d thought she would be the easiest kill yet, but instead, she’d turned out to be the strongest Slayer he’d ever fought.
"Looks can be deceiving, luv. That girl sent Angelus to hell after Angel had lost his soul. She’s taken on a hellgod and the First Evil and won against both. She sent this godforsaken town back to the Hell it belonged in."
Fred frowned, confused about the story of Sunnydale’s first destruction. "I thought you did that with the amulet."
"Yeah, but she and the others did most of the fighting," Spike shrugged, taking the picture from Fred, his eyes never leaving Buffy’s smiling form. She seemed so young and happy in that picture. One would never have thought she carried the weight of the world on her delicate shoulders. That she had a calling to beat back the darkness that nightly threatened the world. In this picture, she was a normal girl, enjoying a day out with her friends. "She’s the strongest woman I know, in more ways then one."
"It sounds like you really love her," Fred smiled sadly as she thought of her own feelings for Spike; feelings that, as far as she knew, were unrequited and would probably remain so.
"I do. Too bad she doesn’t feel the same about me."
Fred bit her lip, a bit confused. What did Spike mean by that? Buffy had to have felt the same for him. How could she not? Spike was handsome, charming, as sweet as can be, and if this Buffy could love Angel as much as Cordy had once told her, surely she could love Spike just as much. "What do you mean? She never told you?"
"Oh she told me alright. Right before Sunnydale came down around us. But she didn’t mean it," Spike shrugged, setting the picture on the table next to the bed. "She’s still in love with Angel. Always has been, probably always will be," Spiked snorted, read to leave the house and this strange conversation. He wasn’t at all comfortable talking about Buffy and his feelings with Fred. It was all so personal, so painful, and much too recent.
"You mean she told you that she loved you and you didn’t believe her?" Fred stared at Spike in disbelief, while he could only look back at her guiltily. "You know what? You’re a dope!"
Spike blinked in surprise at the familiar words. "What?"
"You’re a dope! What gives you the right to say she didn’t mean it?"
"Fred, you don’t know Buffy. She’s not like other women. She’s the Slayer."
"Yes Spike, but she's still a woman. Women don’t take those three words lightly. We only say them when we mean them. If Buffy said she loved you, then she really did. I shudder to think of how hurt she must have been that you didn’t believe her."
Spike sighed, unwillingly seeing Fred's point. She was right. Buffy could have been telling the truth. But what if he had said something different, told her how he really felt? Would his Slayer have stayed with him to the end? Would she have been able to leave him and live another day? He wasn’t so sure.
"You’re right. Maybe she was telling the truth. But maybe it was a good thing that I said what I did. If I’d said any different, she might be dead now. She never would have left me. She had lost so many loved ones already. Plus, she’d had this look in her eyes, a look that all Slayers get sooner or later: exhaustion. It’s like they were tired of it all. Not that they wouldn’t put up a fight, but if death was unavoidable, they wouldn’t mind one bit. My Buffy had been so tired of the slaying gig. I saw it in how she moved, how she talked, how easily she let her friends push her out of the loop. She deserves the reprieve she has now, the normal life. I will not see this town take that away from her, even if it means giving her up. I’ll do so, as long as it keeps her from giving up on life."
"I understand, and I think you’re very noble. But Spike, you deserve to be happy. After all you’ve been through, you deserve to be with the woman you love," Fred pleaded, taking his hand in hers beseeching him to listen and take her advice.
"After all I've done in my life, I don’t even deserve her. Never have and probably never will. It’s for the best that I leave her alone. It’s best that she forgets about me and moves on with her life. Now come on. The poof will be looking for us," Spike left Fred standing in middle of the room, a staring after him unhappily. Spike did deserve to be with Buffy and she was going to make him see that, one way or another.
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