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Chapter Four

The car rolled to a stop as they pulled into the parking space in front of the Summer’s residence. It was a long drive and now everyone was tired and ready for a shower and perhaps food. Buffy was the first to step out of the car. She stood against the warm metal and stared out at what had once been her home for seven years. She had thought she’d never see it again, yet there it was. All ready for her and her friends to reside within it’s walls once more.

“It’s like we never left,” Xander stepped out of the car and stood beside her, staring at the house incredulity. “It’s like the First never happened.”

“Oh it happened alright. Spike’s not here. That’s proof enough,” Buffy pushed away from the car, her mood subdued. Memories began to engulf her. Her first arrival in Sunnydale, her mother behind the wheel. She had looked forward to a fresh start without all the slayer business, just to find herself deeper then she was before. LA was a walk in the park next to Sunnydale. Looking around at the tidy neighborhood, one would never suspect the evil that hid beneath the sweet façade.

“Good Lord,” Giles was the next to emerge, repeating the same phrase he had kept repeating as they entered the city’s limits. Everything was as they had left it. The town was clearly abandoned. Yet…it wasn’t. He couldn’t help but feel as if the city was still inhibited by someone.…or something

“Too bad Andrew’s not here to see this,” Willow led the others out of the van, pushing back memories of her own. “I’m sure he’d have some pop culture reference ready.”

“What is this place?” Trish Anne asked.

Faith snorted, also busy with her own recollections of her time over the hell mouth. Some were good …but most of them bad. “Slayer central. B.’s old digs.”

“Enough,” Buffy turned to face the group. Her face betrayed no emotion as she crossed her arms over her chest, her chin lifted in that no nonsense manner that had once mad Giles so proud. “We’ll stay here until we find out what‘s up. Tonight, there will be no patrolling by anyone but me.”

“You can not be serious,” Giles stared at her in disbelief. “I’m afraid it’s far too dangerous to patrol alone, take one of the others…”

“No one but me,” Buffy’s voice strengthened with determination. She was on a mission and she didn’t need anyone else there with her when she reached her destination. Besides, she had an idea of what to expect if anything was to show up. The others didn’t…not yet anyway. They would only be a distraction. “I mean it Giles. This is for the best. I‘ll case the town and tomorrow morning, we’ll discuss my findings.”

Giles opened his mouth to protest once more, but fell silent. Arguing would be useless. Buffy would think that he was once again trying to under mind her authority and rebel. That was something that none of them needed right now. It was in the utmost importance that they stand together. Especially now, when they didn’t know what they were facing. All he could do was nod and lead the way into the house, trying not to think of the peril Buffy walking into.

“Buffy,” Willow stopped, placing a worried hand on her friend’s shoulder, her eyes shining with concern. She had an idea of where Buffy was going and was worried that all Buffy would find was a broken heart. “Please don’t go looking for ghosts. You may find yourself disappointed and…”

“I’ll be fine Will. I promise. I just have to know that he’s not coming back. The only way I know of doing that is by looking for him. I mean…I really don’t expect to find him…but if I do…that’d be of the good. Don’t you think?”

Willow smiled sadly, squeezing her friend’s hand in a show of support. “Of course it’d be of the good. But you’ve just gotten back to being yourself again…this could be a really big set back for you.”

“It won’t be. I promise. Now let’s go in and get everyone settled. We have a lot of research to do. The sooner we start, the sooner we can all get back to our lives.”

As the two women disappeared into the house, Caleb stepped out from the shadow of the oak towering over the house and smiled darkly. He knew she’d come and now, he was going to make her pay.

“Amen.” Was all the being said before fading into the air, satisfied that it’s plans were coming together so smoothly.

~*~

Buffy stared up at the star-filled sky as she stepped out the door. Everyone was asleep, and now was the time for her to explore. She made sure that her stake and crossbow was secure and headed off into the night. A few minutes later, Pike also emerged. This was the perfect time to talk to Buffy about their relationship. It would be just like old times. She’d see that and would agree that their place was with no one but each other. He gripped a stake of his own before following his ex into the night, determined to make her see things his way.

Buffy and Pike weren’t the only ones out on patrol that night. Restless from spending the day indoors, listening to Angel and the others brainstorm about what to do about the First Evil, Spike decided that a nighttime walk alone would do him good. Maybe a stroll by his old crypt would be nice. Revisit some old times. After bidding his companions good-bye, Spike walked out the door, whistling and reminiscing about the past. He had just entered cemetery when he heard the sound of voices coming from what used to be his crypt. Not wanting to be discovered, he dodged behind a nearby oak tree, he watched as Buffy and Pike came into sight, both deep in conversation. Spike’s mouth fell open in shock. It couldn’t be her…but it was. The cool night breeze brought her fragrance straight to him. The real fragrance, not the sulfur and hellfire that the First sported. Only the Slayer smelt of vanilla and wildflowers. But what was she doing back in Sunnydale? Did Angel call her after all? Wesley. It had to have been Wes. He had gone over Angel’s head and called ole Ripper and now Buffy was here, investigating the reappearance of her former home. Who the whelp was, Spike had no clue, nor did he care. The only person he cared about was the deceptively petite girl. Spike remained silent as he listened in on the heated conversation. It was obvious that his slayer was annoyed by the boy’s presence and would rather be by herself, but the whelp obviously had other plans.

“I told you, Pike. I wanted to patrol alone. What part of alone didn’t you understand?” Buffy turned and glared at her companion, her arms crossed. She was beyond pissed. She didn’t like her orders being disobeyed like this. Pike could have found himself in serious trouble, and endangered them both. This was the reason why they broke up in the first place. He kept forgetting that she was the slayer, not him. All final decisions was hers alone to make.

Pike just stared at the ground as they stood in front of the crypt, not noticing how Buffy kept stealing glances at the closed door, the sternness softening a bit. “I just thought you’d need me. I mean, we still know nothing about what’s going on here. It could be like old times Buffy. Just you and me against the undead…”

Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed. She looked at Pike as if he had two heads. “I don’t need any help. If I did, I would have asked Xander and Will to tag along. They know this town inside out and know what we’re facing.”

“Buff…”

“Pike, you don’t understand. There’s more then vampires here in Sunnydale. There are things here that you could never dream of. Are you really prepared to face that?”

Pike sighed and shifted from one foot to the other. No, of course he wasn’t. But his purpose of following her was not patrolling. The reason was something else all together and perhaps it was time to come clean with Buffy. Tell her what he was really feeling. He licked his lips nervously, taking her hand in his, noting on how cool and soft her touch was. His gaze never wavered from hers. “Buffy…I have a confession to make. I didn’t come out here to patrol. Not really. I thought it’d be a perfect time to ask you this question since you would be alone and there would be no interruptions from those friends of yours.”

Buffy stared at Pike, irritation darkening her eyes. Of course. This was another one of Pike’s schemes, why was she not surprised. This was the reason they broke up. He could never take the patrols seriously, and that was what was going to get him killed. She just didn’t want to be around to see it happen. Now he was back to his old games and this time, she was definitely not in the mood. Not when the town’s reappearance could have something to do with the First Evil. “Make this fast Pike. I really have no time for this.”

Pike took a deep breath and dove in, hoping for the best. “Buffy…we’ve known each other for a long time. We even dated for a while. When you moved away, it broke my heart. I was hoping that you would give me another chance, but by time I got the courage up to ask…it was too late. You were gone. But gladly, fate has intervened on our behalf. We hooked back up after you came to LA and then, we moved to Covington…”

“Actually I moved to Covington and you followed,” Buffy smirked, for a moment, forgetting the seriousness of the situation.

“Yeah. I know. But I couldn’t let you get away from me again. Even if we were just friends…you were too important to me. Look, I’ll just come out and say this. No beating behind the bush, no big speeches…,” Pike took a big breath. This was it. The moment of truth. “Buffy…I want you back in my life. Not just as my friend…but as my girl. Can we start over?”
“Oh boy,” Buffy snatched her hand out of his, at a lost of what to say. She cared for Pike…really she did. But she was no longer that fifteen year old girl who was tripping out about the changes in her life and needed an anchor. That was what Pike had been for her, back then. An anchor to pull her back down to earth and accept her calling. The time they had together had been fun and sweet. But now…that time had came to an end a long time ago and there was no going back. Especially not after Angel and Spike. “Pike…I don’t know what to say.”
“Say yes.”

Buffy sighed. This was really going to be hard. She just hoped that her answer wouldn’t cost her a friend. “Pike…I care about you. I really do. But…just not in the way you want me to. When we were together…I was going through a very hard time in my life. You helped me accept my calling and supported me when I most needed it. I was an airhead that needed someone to make me see what was really important. I appreciate that…I really do. But I’m not that girl anymore. I’ve grown up in more ways then you can imagine. A relationship beyond friendship for us…it’s impossible. I’m sorry…but no. We’ll always be friends, but I’m afraid that’s all we can ever be.”

Spike stood in the shadows, his muscles tensed, ready to go to her aid if need be. Aid she probably wouldn’t need. Buffy always knew how to take care of herself. He just liked being ready, just in case. In Spike’s eyes, just in case came when the Pike-whelp forcefully grabbed Buffy as she turned to go into the crypt. From that point on, everything was a blur. With an angry roar, Spike dashed from his hiding place and threw Pike away from Buffy, positioning himself between the slayer and her unwanted admirer.

“Oh my god,” Buffy gasped, her eyes widened in shock and disbelief as she recognized the vampire that had given his life to save her life and the world from ending. “Spike?”

“Oh bullocks,” Spike cursed, turning away from Pike to face Buffy, He failed to notice the boy withdrawing a stake as he got to his feet. “Buffy…”

“Arrrgh!” Was Pike’s war cry as he rushed at Spike, stake ready to plunge into the vampire’s heart. It was Buffy who pushed Spike out of the way and grabbed the stake away from her angry friend. “Buffy! Why did you do that for?! He’s…”

“Shut up Pike,” was Buffy’s tight command. She didn’t have the energy to deal with him right now. Just seeing Spike, alive and well…it was taking all her energy to keep from collapsing from the shock of it all. Of course the thought had ran through her mind that Spike could have come back along with the town…but that thought was dismissed when she had said her goodbye a few days ago. She had finally accepted his death, finally felt it was safe to put her relationship with Spike in the past and banish all thoughts of what if. But now…with him standing before her…all those thoughts of what if and why came flooding back. “Spike…how…”

“Buffy what’s going on!” Pike glared at the newcomer, who stood there, staring at Buffy as if she was someone to him. Someone, that she couldn’t have been. Never in a million years would Buffy ever be with a vampire. She was the slayer. Such a idea was ludicrous! “Shouldn’t you be staking him right now? Just say the word and he’s dust!”

“Are you completely daft?” Spike turned an angry glare at Pike, tired of the boy’s incessant babbling. Obviously the boy had a crush on Buffy and was too clueless to see when his advances were being rejected…not that Spike hadn’t had the same problem, but at least he had learned a valuable lesson.

“Spike…I don’t understand…you’re alive. The last time I saw you…you were dying,” a tear escaped her eyes.

Tentatively, Spike wiped the tear away, his eyes glistened with tears of his own as they touched cool solid flesh, confirming that this was real. This was Buffy and she was crying…over him. “It’s a long story, Pet. Do you have time to hear it?”
Buffy sighed and glanced over at the crypt that had once been Spike’s home, that was once the one place she could go to after her return from heaven, that she didn’t have to pretend to be happy Buffy. The one place she could truly be herself without being judged. “I have nowhere else to be.”

“Buffy?” Pike’s voice seemed small and insecure now. To say he was confused, was the understatement of the year. Here was the slayer, wanting to be alone with a vampire that should have been dust by now. What was wrong with this situation.

Buffy turned to her ex, her eyes were so full of emotion that it was impossible to tell them apart. All Pike could do was go to her, nudging his way in between Buffy and the Billy Idol wannabe. “Say the word Buffy. I’ll take care of it. He’s dust. Or do you want to do it yourself? Is this some big plan of yours? A slaying technique?”

Buffy rolled her eyes irritably. Pike was really beginning to piss her off . Why was he having such a hard time taking a hint? “Go home Pike. Tell the other’s I’ll be back later. I have something I have to take care of first. Please. No arguments. I need you to do this for me so no one will worry.”

Pike looked at Buffy, and then back at the vampire Buffy had called Spike. He didn’t like this. Not one bit. But what else could he do? If he insisted on staying, Buffy would kick his ass all the way back to Covington. So the best thing he could do was do what she asked. “Ok. Fine. But if you’re not back in a half hour…I’m coming back with holy water and stakes.”

“Sod off, will you,” Spike glared at the young man that made Xander Harris look like his best friend.

Pike just glared at Spike before turning and heading for the exit. He didn’t like leaving Buffy, and he definitely didn’t like Spike. He just hoped that Buffy will do her job and get rid of the creature once and for all.

“I don’t like him,” Spike glared, watching Pike disappear through the gate.

Buffy rolled her eyes, beyond caring about what Spike felt for her friends. She wanted an explanation. “Don’t change the subject. What happened? How did you come back?”

Spike opened the door of the crypt and motioned for Buffy to enter before him. He felt exposed standing outside, it was best to be in the one place that both he and Buffy had always felt secure and safe. The one place where they had hid no secrets from one another.

“I would offer you something, but the fridge is empty,” Spike shrugged as Buffy sat on the dusty sofa and gazed at him curiously. Suddenly feeling shy, he looked away from her. This was Buffy. They’ve seen the best and the worst each other. There was nothing he could tell her that would make her angry or hate him in any way. Just like there was nothing she could tell him that would make him stop loving her. Bloody hell, he was turning into such a ponce. It was times like this that he missed the suave confidence he once had before the soul. Now, he felt so unsure about everything he did.

“That’s fine. I’m not hungry. I just want you to tell me what happened. Was it awful for you? Being torn out of heaven? I remember how disconcerting it was for me. One minute being at total and complete peace and the next thrust back into this loud, harsh world…” She kind of knew that she was jumping the gun here. But why shouldn’t she? Of course he had gone to heaven. He saved the world. There was no other alternative.

“I wasn’t in heaven, Pet. I was…bullocks, this is hard to explain. You won’t believe me. I don’t even believe myself and I was there.”

“Try me,” was Buffy’s simple challenge. She needed to know what happened to him. If he hadn’t gone to heaven…everything she thought about the powers to be was a farce. How could they send him to hell after all he’s done for her…for the world?

Spike took a deep breath, pacing the dusty floor. The story was so ludicrous. It was like something out of one of those sodden’ Disney cartoons. “I-I was sucked into that amulet once the school came down. Someone sent the Amulet to Angel and I’ve been with him ever since. Did I mention that I was incorporeal at the time?”

“What?”

“Well I’m not incorporeal now, thanks to Harm opening my mail and big flashes of light. As you can see now, I’m as solid as a rock.”

“Spike, you’ve lost me around incorporeal. You mean like The First incorporeal?”
“More like Casper.”

“Oh boy,” Buffy buried her head in her hand, fighting back tears. What had she done by giving him that amulet? Did Angel know what the amulet was for? Was this one a set up to get rid of Spike? If it was…she didn’t think she’d be able to forgive him. He knew what Spike meant to her. But then again….Angel hadn’t made her give the amulet to Spike. In fact, he had volunteered to wear it. So Spike’s condition was really her fault. She had done this…thing to Spike. She looked up at him, her eyes aching with regret and guilt. What could she say to him now? “Spike…I’m sorry. I didn’t know…if I had…God. When will I ever stop hurting you?”

Spike frowned, not liking how she sounded. This wasn’t her fault. She had no idea of what that Amulet had been capable of. Besides, everything was fine now. He was no longer a ghost. He was as good as new actually. Had new friends, he felt as if he was worth something for the first time since his return. He no longer felt like a useless ponce. He had saved the world and he still was thanks to his involvement in LA. As much as he hated to admit it, his grandsire had shown him to a path that actually agreed with him. Even though he still didn’t think that he deserved to be with Buffy, he at least felt like he had and deserved respect. Something he never had before, except from Buffy and the Bit.

He knelt in front of the sobbing slayer and pulled her hands away from her tear-stained face. There was nothing to cry over. Everything was fine now. Spike was permanently free from that damn amulet and Buffy was now free of her calling if she chose to be. “Ah, Luv. None of that now. I’m fine. See,” He wiped a tear away from her eyes, trying to ignore the warm sensation that the touch of her skin sent through his arm. “I can touch you now. I’m no longer a ghost.”

“What?” Buffy looked at him, confused not for the first time since their arrival in Sunnydale. “You’re…”

“Back to normal, pet. Have been for months now. Someone mailed an envelope to the office addressed to me. Harmony opened it and there was this bright flash. Next thing I know, instead of walking through walls, I was crashing into them.”

“Months? You’ve been back for months and this is the first I’m hearing about it? I mean I was hurt that Angel never called and told me that you were back, but now to learn that you’ve been corporeal for months now and no word from either one of you!” Buffy got to her feet and before Spike knew what was happening, her side kick sent him flying into the back wall of the crypt. “Bastard!”

“Ow,” Spike wiped the blood from his nose, wincing at the pain that ran through his body. He couldn’t believe that he had forgotten just how strong she was, especially when she was angry. He looked up at her from the floor, almost accusingly. He knew he deserved it, but still…he didn’t like to be reminded of those awful times when she had constantly beaten him up, just to come back to shag him senseless. “Luv, I knew you’d be angry but…”

“I mourned! For all this time I grieved your death, wishing that you would were still alive and annoying as ever! I even had Willow try to bring you back like she did me! How many nights I’ve sat and cried over you…thinking that I’d never see you again, just to find out that you weren’t dead. I can understand the ghost thing, but not to at least call me when you returned to normal…to make me think that you were gone forever…to put me through that pain…,” The hurt in her eyes were tangible. Her voice dripped with betrayal, breaking his heart again and again. “How? How could you have done that to me? Why? How can you say that you love me and then turn around and shut me out like that? You must have known what your death was doing to me. Angel must have told you…”

Spike bowed his head, not even in the mood to drag his grandsire into this. She was right. After all the times he proclaimed his love for her…after all the times he held her…she had a right to know that he still lived. There was no excuse for his silence.

“But of course, Angel knew too. Bet he was too busy pouting like a twelve year old to even let me know that you were a ghost at least,” Buffy turned away from him. She had to. If she didn’t…if she looked into those soulful embers of sapphire…all anger would be gone and she would be nothing but a quivering mess. “I don’t know how I’ll ever forgive either of you for this.”

Spike got up and moved towards her, his hand outstretched, wanting to touch her once more, but she was gone, brushing past Fred as she ran out of the crypt and out of the cemetery, needing to be as far away from Spike as possible.

“Spike?” Fred asked, concern in her voice as she watched Spike sink back down to the floor, tears spilling from his eyes. Sobs racked his body as she bent down and took him into her arms, hugging him gently, trying to comfort him the best way she knew how. “What’s going on? Was that Buffy?”

Spike nodded, unable to stop his sobs. “She…she’s hurt about me not telling her I was back. Hurt and angry. I’m probably lucky she didn’t kill me. She’s right you know.”

Fred frowned, not understanding what Spike was talking about. The only thing she understood was that her friend was in pain and was in great need of comfort. He had been there for her so many times…at last she could return the favor. “About what?”

“I said that I love her, but I didn’t tell her I was back. That it’s not understandable. If I loved her so much, I should have called her. But I do, you know. I do love her. More then I have ever loved anyone. I just wanted her to be safe and happy. I had no idea that she was in so much pain…now she hates me. Can‘t say I blame her.”

“Oh Spike, no. She doesn’t hate you. She wouldn’t be so angry if she did. She’s just hurt right now. She’ll come around once the anger fades, and it will. Believe me. Just give her some time and space and she‘ll be ready to talk to you again.”

“If she doesn’t stake me first,” Spike chuckled, remembering the first dream he had about the slayer. The dream that had made him realize that he was hopelessly in love with her. She had stormed into the crypt, angry and ready for dust. But then he had turned the tables by telling her to do it and they both had dissolved into apologies and kisses. It would be nice if it all ended up like that…but somehow he doubted it. He was in the dog house where Buffy was concerned, and he had no idea of how to dig his way out. “Better go find Peaches, before she does. She’d probably dust him before he even realized what happened,” Spike got back up on his feet, pulling Fred along with him, dusting off his clothes, Spike stared into the dark night, swearing to himself that he’ll never hurt her like this again. No more fake deaths and mysterious returns without a phone call. Taking Fred’s hand, they left the crypt, hoping that they could get to Angel before a certain vampire slayer did.

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