DISCLAIMER: Not mine, which is a shame because usually we're nicer to them than Joss was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Lindsey found out about Spike being missing and got annoyed with Eve for not keeping him in the loop, while Buffy got Spike out of Watts, though they got into a fight near his apartment that ended with Spike questioning who Andrew was…
Buffy stared at Spike in confusion. “What do you mean, who’s Andrew?” At his blank look, she added, “You broke through a wall and bit him last year.” Still nothing. “Followed you around like a teenaged girl with a crush? He even bought a coat that looked like yours. Sorta,” she tried instead. “The Lord of the Geeks?” Her nose wrinkled with a recent memory. “Only don’t call him that to his face. He always takes that one as a huge compliment and then it gets even harder to understand what he’s talking about.”
“Have you hit your head or something, Slayer?” Spike said. “Because I don’t have a bloody clue what you’re nattering on about.”
The only thing she could think of was that the drugs were clouding his memory. He’d seemed fine, but getting arms reattached had to be major surgery, and then to move him from Wolfram & Hart to Watts required sedation as well. It was probably messing with his head.
“I’m talking about last year,” she explained.
He frowned. “You mean closing the Hellmouth?”
“I mean all of it. Defeating the First, training the potentials.” Nothing was provoking a response, so Buffy took a deep breath to start over. “Maybe it’s just fuzzy for you. But you went to Africa, got your soul, then you came back to Sunnydale and moved into the high school basement—”
“No,” Spike interrupted. “I ended up here in LA ‘cause in a McMurphy moment, I decided the poof was the best one to help me sort out my noggin.” He shook his head, clearly as perplexed by this as she was, though apparently for different reasons. “Why would I go back to Sunnyhell after what I did to you? Whole point of goin’ in the first place was to give you what you deserve, and makin’ you face the monster who tried to rape you doesn’t make a whole lotta sense in that regard, does it, Slayer?”
“But you were there. I’m not imagining this, Spike. We closed the Hellmouth together, remember?”
He pointed a finger at her, though moving them made him wince and the gesture was in slow motion. “Now that, I’ll give you. But that was only because Angel knew things were bad and packed me off to help.” He snorted. “Still think it was a bloody scheme just to get rid of me. He can lie about it all he wants, but I know he knew what that amulet was goin’ to do.”
Buffy felt like she’d walked into the middle of the wrong movie. Spike talked like he was absolutely, positively sure of his recount of events, but as logical as he made it sound, she knew it was false. She knew he held her the night before the big fight, and she knew he’d attacked Robin when he’d been provoked. She could tell him in painful detail how she’d felt when he’d taken her to that basement where the bodies were buried, and she could describe with crystal clarity what she’d thought of as she held him while he slept in that house after she’d been kicked out.
But it wasn’t going to do any good. Not in his current state. He thought she was the crazy one here, which meant someone had done a hell of a lot more to Spike than just move him from building to another.
“Can I come see you tomorrow?” she asked, changing the subject. “I’m still on Rome time, and you’re right, I can use some sleep. But I’d still like to talk to you.”
His face was solemn as he contemplated her request. “Don’t owe me nothin’, you know that, right?” he said carefully. “What happened in the Hellmouth – well, that didn’t even up the score between us, don’t know if that’s ever possible – but it bloody well doesn’t put you in my debt, no matter how many beasties came crawling out of it.”
Buffy had to remind herself that he was talking from a place where they’d never worked past the events that had pushed him to the soul. “I’m not here because of that. I’m here because I was worried about you, Spike. Regardless of whatever happened between us in the past, it still matters to me that you’re all right.”
He didn’t believe her; it was written on his face. But he nodded anyway, backing away at the same time. It was probably simpler that way. Accept the unavoidable for the time being and worry about fixing it later. Spike had worked on that principle for a long time the previous year before they’d refound their footing with each other.
Buffy blinked against the sting of tears. Starting over with Spike seemed insurmountable at the moment. It had been hard enough the first time.
She stood there until he vanished inside the shadowed entryway of a building, then turned on her heel and walked back to the Korean market. Common sense was screaming at her to go back to Watts and sleep, but her battered emotions were far beyond listening. Something needed to be done.
She only wished she knew what it was.
The one smart thing Eve had said to him before he left was to warn him against going to Wolfram & Hart. Though Lindsey would’ve loved to get in and see firsthand what might have happened to Spike, there was no way he’d be able to avoid being discovered, even at this time of night. He could even get recognized; not everybody had been killed in the Beast’s rampage the previous spring, he’d learned.
So Lindsey opted for his second choice. If Spike had walked out of the building on his own two feet, he had few places he could go. Thankfully, Lindsey was familiar enough with the vampire’s routine to be able to scope them out for himself, and if it meant he got a beer at each of the bars he visited, all the better. Those proved fruitless in the end. Two hours of traipsing into dive after dive – though he got a kick out of the biker bar in the middle of a poetry reading – sent him to the last possibility on his list.
He knew before he knocked on the door that Spike was home. Colorful curses filtered through the walls, followed by the sound of splintering wood. Someone was clearly not in a good mood, though Lindsey couldn’t blame him. Getting his hand cut off hadn’t exactly been Mardi Gras for him, either.
“What happened to comin’ back tomorrow?” Spike barked in response to his knock.
Testing the knob, Lindsey found it unlocked and pushed it open. Spike stood at the sink, one of the lower cabinet doors next to him smashed in and an unopened bottle of beer sitting on the counter. He snarled at Lindsey’s entry, but as soon as his furious eyes settled on his visitor, Spike’s mood eased.
“Oh,” he said. “Thought you were someone else.”
With an amused grin, Lindsey shut the door and ambled across the room. “I guess I should be grateful I’m not that other person, then,” he commented. He gaze flickered to the lax position of Spike’s hands and then to the beer. “Want some help there?”
Spike deflated a bit before giving him a brisk nod. “Don’t quite got the digits back in working form yet,” he admitted. A memory seemed to hit him, and he scowled as he pointed vaguely in Lindsey’s direction. “This is all your fault, by the way. If you hadn’t sent me after that psycho Slayer, I wouldn’t have spent the last two days flat on my back getting stitched together again.”
Popping the cap off the beer, Lindsey handed it over and watched Spike down it like a man parched. “But you’re out now,” he said. “Docs wouldn’t have let you go if they didn’t think you were okay.”
He regarded Spike’s reaction closely. He’d already decided that he was going to feign ignorance of the whole matter, to see what he could learn direct from the source. What interested him the most was how Spike got out in the first place. The clothes were obviously not his, but if the faded Han Solo decal on the front of the t-shirt didn’t bother Spike, Lindsey wasn’t going to say a word.
Spike tossed the empty bottle in the sink, the glass clinking as it rolled around to a stop. “Funny story, that,” he said, turning his back to head over to the rundown couch. “Turns out, it’s not so hard to get away from Wolfram & Hart these days. Woke up strapped down at some Bedlam.” He flopped down. “Slayer got me out. I thought you were her, comin’ back to try and talk nonsense at me.”
Going to the opposite end of the couch, Lindsey settled in, a thoughtful frown on his face. “Slayer? You can’t mean Dana.”
“No. Buffy Summers.” He sighed, leaning his head against the back of the couch and closing his eyes. “Like I needed to be reminded of all the nightmares again. Spent enough of last year tryin’ to forget what I did to her, and yet there she was. All golden and fussed about me and…” Spike grimaced, whatever memories he was reliving behind those lids paining him more than his hands had. “’Course, it looks as she’s gone barmy since crashing the castle of cards, so could be moot.”
Lindsey kept his features neutral, though inside, his gut had clenched. This was what he had feared. If Buffy Summers had already made contact with Spike, how long would it be before her influence over him shattered everything Lindsey had been working toward? On the other hand, Spike didn’t sound so thrilled with her being in town. And one thing he mentioned didn’t make clear sense.
“What’s wrong with her?” Lindsey asked. He half-smiled. “She give you hell for not letting her know you were back or something?”
“That, and spouting some rubbish about me bein’ in Sunnydale last year.” Spike cracked his eyes open and peered at Lindsey, one brow lifted in knowing mockery. “Told her where she was wrong, of course. You bloody Yanks are always trying to rewrite history for your own liking.”
“Oh?” His mind was working as fast as he could manage without giving away that he had no clue what Spike was talking about. “Which part did she have wrong?”
“All of it. ‘Cept the part where Angel made me go back to Sunnyhell with his little bauble. Least she gave me that credit.” Spike rose abruptly from the couch and sauntered back to the refrigerator, weariness slowing his step. “What I don’t get is why she’d put together such a fantasy in the first place, though I’ve no doubt I’ll get an earful of it tomorrow.” In the kitchen, he stopped, his hand on the fridge door and scowled back at Lindsey. “And why am I tellin’ you all this? You’re the reason she’s in town in the first place.”
“Because of Dana. Yeah. Sorry about that. But these visions…sometimes, they’re not always clear.”
Some of the pieces were starting to gain focus. Spike hadn’t walked out of Wolfram & Hart; he’d been taken out. And woke up someplace else where Buffy Summers had found him. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that it had to be Watts; that’s where Buffy was staying, and Spike himself had mentioned Bedlam.
What wasn’t so clear was who could have done it. Or why.
Or why it was that Spike seemed convinced he’d not been in Sunnydale for the months before the collapse of the Hellmouth.
“You come around tonight for a reason?”
Spike’s question jolted Lindsey from his reverie, and he looked up to see the vampire leaning against the counter, shadows deep beneath his eyes. A mild rush of guilt surged through him. Considering what had happened, any selfless man would walk away now, leave Spike to get some rest. Hell, Lindsey was tempted to give in to the charitable impulse as well. But someone was fucking around here, someone who wasn’t him, and if he wasn’t careful, it wouldn’t just be his plans that got exposed for the world – and the Senior Partners – to see.
“Just wanted to make sure you were all right,” he replied with his friendliest tone. “Wouldn’t want to see our champion go down for the count.”
Spike accepted the answer with a grunt. “Well, your champion needs more beer,” he said. “You want to stick around, you’re goin’ to have to run out and get some.”
“Consider it done.”
It wasn’t the most gracious of invitations, but at least Spike hadn’t kicked him out. And alcohol would loosen the vamp’s tongue. If Lindsey was persistent, maybe he’d glean another detail that would provide some clarity to this growing mess.
Faith hadn’t really expected to be much help to Wes and his research, but her offer hadn’t been about that. It had been about not being alone. For a few hours, at least. Being around Buffy had been a balm of sorts, but part of the reason she and B worked so well together these days was because neither had any expectations of the other. There was new respect for the other’s individuality, which translated into quiet acceptance of their privacy.
Being with Buffy was permission to be both alone and not.
But when she’d seen the demon charging for Wes, Faith’s desire for that had fractured. She wasn’t at Wolfram & Hart any more. She was back in Cleveland, watching helplessly from a distance too far away to do any fucking good as Robin got a huge hole put through his chest. Lines had blurred, and her only instinct was one of fury. Stop the demon. Don’t lose somebody else.
She would’ve stayed until he kicked her out if he hadn’t gone digging for what had actually happened to Robin. Then, she couldn’t face the blue-eyed sympathy he was incapable of masking. Faith didn’t care about whatever poison he thought she was infected with; outside of the killer headaches, she didn’t feel any different. It was his quiet concern that changed her mind. That was the one thing she liked best about the new and stubble-improved Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. In Sunnydale, his leadership had been a garish costume he’d donned that didn’t fit properly. LA had given him confidence. He no longer felt the need to demand to be obeyed. If someone wouldn’t listen to him, he’d just do it himself.
A girl had to respect someone like that.
Though he rarely said a word after they got started, every time Faith shifted in her seat, Wes glanced away from his text to look at her. A few seconds would pass, and then his lashes would lower again, only to repeat the next time she moved. It made concentrating on the book he’d given her impossible. It didn’t even matter that the book was mostly pictures anyway. And she just knew that was why Wes had given it to her in the first place.
At midnight, Faith finally tossed it onto the table, where it landed with a louder bang than she intended. “How you can do this without your ass falling asleep, I’ll never know,” she commented, standing up. Lifting her arms over her head, she began to stretch, only to stop when she felt the bandages on her stomach start to pull.
“Why don’t you go lie down?” Wes offered. “It’s late. Your internal clock still thinks it’s in Rome.”
Faith grinned. “My internal clock would just be dragging her partied out self back to B’s about now. I’m still good. Hungry, though.” She glanced at the kitchen. “You got anything to eat around here?”
“Actually, no.” Reaching into his pocket, Wes extracted his wallet and pushed it across the table toward her. “There are takeaway menus in the drawer next to the phone if you’d like to call and order something. Several local places stay open all night.” He gave her a small smile that wiped years from his face. “Let me know what you decide. I’m a little peckish myself.”
Grabbing the menus in question, Faith plopped down on the end of the couch and flipped through them, trying to find something that sounded appealing. “So what’s the deal with you and the suits these days?” she asked. “Because I gotta say, when I heard you’d got in bed with ‘em, I thought Buffy was pulling my leg.”
She heard him sigh, but didn’t look up to see his reaction. “Angel felt we could do some good,” Wes explained. “After they took such a large hit from the Beast last spring, he saw it as an opportunity to take advantage of their rebuild. Use their resources for our own ends.”
“Well, I hope you know what you’re doing, because it sounds to me like borrowing money from the Godfather. Sooner or later, he’s going to expect a favor in return, and you know that ain’t going to be pretty.”
She assumed his prolonged silence meant he’d returned his attention to his books, but when Faith pulled out a sub shop brochure from the middle of the stack and looked up to tell Wes what she’d chosen, she found him regarding her with steady eyes.
“What?” she blurted, suddenly self-conscious.
The corner of his mouth lifted, and he shook his head, turning back to his work. “It’s nothing. I was merely remembering something you said last spring.”
The last thing she wanted was to be talking about the past. Rising to her feet, Faith walked back to the table and tossed the menu in front of Wes. “Just don’t hold it against me. I was flying high on Angelus at the time.”
His noncommittal shrug confused her, but he didn’t elaborate on his statement, choosing instead to scan over the menu. “Get me the number twelve,” Wes said. “And perhaps—”
A knock at the front door cut him off. Frowning, Faith glanced at the clock. “Little late for company, isn’t it?” she commented.
“It could be Angel.” He rose and came around the table to answer the door. “I left him a message earlier and asked him to call, but he might have chosen to stop by instead.”
But it wasn’t Angel on the other side when Wesley pulled the door open.
It was Buffy.
“I found Spike,” she said without preamble. “And something’s seriously wrong.”
On the outside, it looked like Watts slept. Lights were dimmed, movement was at a minimum. But Angel could tell it was a false sense of calm. He heard the faint whisperings from deep inside the building, the cries the staff chose to ignore, the hum of energy echoing from hundreds of bodies housed within its walls. Though nobody had told him, he knew where the Slayers were staying; the trail they left made his demon scream for release. He avoided that path. He had no interest in being caught out that night, not by Slayers, not by doctors, and most definitely, not by Buffy.
He had brought it with him, but Angel quickly learned he didn’t need the information Wesley had supplied to him about Watts. Within minutes of entering, he caught her scent, rich with blood and fear that made it impossible to resist. He stalked the hallways, tracking it further and higher into the Institute, until he came to a stop outside a closed door. It smelled musty, like storage, but the unmistakable rhythm of a human heart pulsed on the other side.
The door was locked, with a pad next to it for card key access. Looking around, Angel wrapped his fingers around the knob and twisted, snapping the catch that kept it shut, and pushed it open just enough to slip inside. He didn’t turn on the light; there was no need for it. Muted illumination filtered into the room from the window on the opposite wall.
Silently, he approached the glass. He wasn’t surprised to see the room on the other side nearly destroyed, the sparse furnishings in disarray. He’d experienced Dana’s moods firsthand, if not as intimately as Spike had.
What did surprise him was the scene she presented in the middle of the room. Even with the glass separating them, he smelled the fresh blood she’d spilled, but knew right away that it was her own. He frowned. Watts was supposed to take care of Dana, not let her hurt herself further. If this was the kind of specialist treatment Giles had had in mind for her, maybe Angel should have protested a little more vehemently when Andrew had shown up with his band of merry Slayers.
Though there was a speaker embedded in the wall next to the window, he could hear her clearly without its volume being turned up. Dana lay curled in the middle of the sheet, her dark hair falling to cover her face, the rasp of her ragged breathing corresponding with the rapid hitch of her shoulders. She sounded like she was having a bad dream. Considering the events of the past few days – hell, considering the events of her life – it was no wonder they were disturbing her sleep.
Then the tempo changed.
As Angel stood there, Dana froze, her heart slowing to match her leveling breath. He took a step closer to the glass, and when she lifted her head to stare directly at him, he moved closer still.
“Angel?” she whispered.
Her soft voice startled him as much as the fact that she called him by name. He was transfixed as she pushed herself onto her knees, then wobbled upright to her feet, like a colt learning to walk. It was probably the drugs they had her on, he reasoned. Because she’d been just fine when she’d been hacking off Spike’s arms.
She hugged herself as if she was cold and stepped to the edge of the sheet. Her nails, though blunt, dug into her skin, drawing fresh rivulets of blood that stained her fingertips. “Angel?” she repeated.
She could see him. It wasn’t a mirror on her side. What was he supposed to do? Just because he could hear her, didn’t mean she could hear him. Or could she?
“I’m here,” he said softly.
Her head tilted down, dark eyes searching the floor for a long moment before she stepped over the barrier she had made and approached the window. By the time Dana reached the glass, her hands had loosened from where they clawed into her arms. “Don’t worry about it,” she whispered.
She said it with such surety, Angel couldn’t help but ask, “Don’t worry about what?”
No answer came right away. Dana lifted a bloody hand to the window and pressed the palm flat against the glass. Her fingertips caressed the smooth surface, leaving behind red smears.
Angel got as close to the window as he could. “Don’t worry about what?” he repeated, this time loud enough for her to hear in case she’d missed it the first time.
Dana shook her head. “Close your eyes,” she warned.
The words were familiar. Before he had the chance to try and remember from what, though, her hand curled into a fist and smashed through the glass.
To be continued in Chapter 9: Use My Hands for Anything But Steering…