A/N: Dialog and action liberally borrowed from the battle scene in Chosen. Spoilers up through Chosen and the first bit of Angel Season 5. Banner by me! Written for Spring 2009 LJ Seasonal_Spuffy challenge.
Buffy looked around her bedroom, trying to find any last minute items that might tip the balance in the upcoming fight. It was a mess in here, trashed from being used as barracks for so many weeks. With a twinge, she thought of her mother, and how she might have dealt with the situation. Mom had been just this side of a neat freak, so Buffy imagined that all these messy teenage girls would have made her a bit frantic. Though the mother hen in her would have wanted to tuck them all up safe; that was a given. Buffy sighed. Next time she went up against the ultimate evil, she wanted to make sure she had a Logistics Officer with awesome Mom-like skills. Maybe Vi, in a couple of years. She shook her head. There’d be time to plan for the next apocalypse, after they mopped up from this one. So. Items of Advantage. Focus.
She went through a couple of drawers, but unless she was going to need extra wicking power in her socks down in the Hellmouth, nothing really stood out. She opened the closet, scanned the shelves, and knelt to undo the combination lock on her old trunk. Most of the slaying stuff had been moved to the new weapons trunk long ago, but it couldn’t hurt to take a look. The top part had the usual assortment of old letters (don’t look), old photos (don’t touch), and old toys. She pressed Mr. Gordo to her heart briefly before returning him to his spot. She shook the Magic 8-ball, but put it down without looking at the answer. No point.
She lifted out the top tray, exposing the area that used to hold her stash of stakes, garlic, holy water and crucifixes when she was in high school. Had her parents bothered to check it back then, it would have definitely damned her to a longer stay at the funny farm. Now, it held old shoes (oh, cute boots!), a few sweaters she didn’t remember seeing lately, and a couple of boxes of tchotchkes left over from when she moved from her old room. Her old jewelry box was there as well. She didn’t think it contained anything that would help. All the brass-knuckly type things had gone into the weapons chest. Not that she owned brass knuckles. Oh no. That would be wrong, she chuckled to herself. Still, she knew Faith sometimes liked to rock a bit of metal on her fingers when she was expecting hand-to-hand, so she flipped it open and sifted though the contents. Here was something. Maybe the perfect thing.
Her “engagement” ring. Spike’s ugly old skull ring. Only, it didn’t look as ugly as she remembered. It was kinda ugly-cute. She blamed Dawn for her change of aesthetic sensibilities. Mr. Gordo was no Ugly Doll, but she knew why Dawn loved her little Ugly. This ring was the Ugly Doll of jewelry, she decided. At least, that’s what she told herself as she weighed it in her palm. It was cool and hard and smooth and not to be ignored, much like its previous owner.
Why hadn’t she returned it? She’d had plenty of opportunities. Spike had stayed at either Giles’ or Xander’s for almost a month after the “Will Be Done” engagement spell. Back then, It would’ve been no big deal to just toss it to him. But she hadn’t. Then it was just too late to be casual, and she didn’t want to call anyone’s attention to it, or to think about it at all. It had stayed on the bottom of this box since then.
With the benefit of hindsight, she realized that this token had eased a little of the hurt to her damaged heart. She had known the engagement wasn’t real, on any level. But because of the spell, she’d had a taste of what it was like to be loved unconditionally and reciprocally, if only for a few hours. She’d been completely happy, maybe for the last time on this earth. A memento of that experience was almost impossible to part with, even as twisted as the whole thing had been.
It meant something different now. It was going with her into the fight, a symbol that she wasn’t really alone in this struggle. She’d said it to Angel: Spike was in her heart. She knew she was in his. She couldn’t say the words to him, it seemed, but she was pretty sure he’d be able to read between the lines, as he always did. And, hey! Solidarity in the unlikely jewelry department! He’d love that. Plus, she had a sneaking suspicion that she was going to get in at least one good shot with her left during this fight, and it would be very satisfying to let the bad guys have it with this particular emblem of affection.
She slipped it onto her ring finger, but it was clearly too big. She headed for the bathroom to find something to pad it with. She opened the medicine chest to get the first aid tape, and when she closed it there were two of her in the mirror.
“Reliving past glories, are we?” smirked the First.
Buffy didn’t bother to turn around, but tore off a length of tape and started to wrap the back of the ring.
“At least I have some glory to relive,” she muttered. “Unlike some of us in this room.”
“It was never real. It was just another of Willow’s out-of-control screw-ups,” said the First, checking her nails.
Buffy tried on the ring and slipped it off again to give it a couple more layers of tape.
“Yeah, well, sometimes the truth comes out when you least expect it,” she said, matter of factly. She clipped the end of the excess tape, settled the ring on her finger, and held her hand out before her to admire it.
“He didn’t love you! Not even close!” the First whispered with malice.
Buffy looked over her shoulder and lifted her hand to show the ring to the First.
“That was then. This is now.” She made a fist, leaving her middle finger up for a moment, then returned to putting away the tape.
“You’ll fail! Willow will mess it up like she always does! Your lover will blow it, like he always does! He never comes through when it matters.”
“You know,” said Buffy, turning to walk back into the bedroom. “You’re starting to sound a little jealous about my 'lover'. Maybe you’re disappointed that Spike will never 'blow it' with you? For me, he’s come through when it counts, many, many times.”
From downstairs, Dawn called, “Buffy! The bus is here!”
“It’s got to be tough for you,” continued Buffy, scooping the Scythe up off the bed on her way out the door. “You’ve never been kissed, and you never will be. Must sting.”
The First’s face twisted with rage, before disappearing.
“Asshole,” muttered Buffy, heading downstairs to finish mustering the troops.
Everybody was dispatched to their positions and all the non-goodbyes were said. Buffy joined Spike, Faith, and the Potentials at the, as usual, unburied Seal o’ Doom. She sliced her left palm with Andrew’s knife and held out her hand to let the blood drip onto the Seal. Faith took the knife, did the same, and handed it to the next girl. The ring gleamed dully in the half-light. It occurred to her that sending a bunch of bleeding teenaged girls down to meet an army of uber vamps might not be her most brilliant opening gambit. Willow and Giles had insisted that the spell would work best with the mouth of hell wide open. It seemed counterintuitive to her, but they were the magic squad. Still, it was a heckuva risk.
She looked around for Spike, to gauge his reaction. He looked at her with a cocked brow, took an ostentatious sniff of the blood-tinged air and shrugged. His sardonic smile told her everything. He knew what she was thinking and he agreed with her assessment, but the die was cast. He was willing to make the best of a bad situation. For her. She smiled and shrugged back.
The Seal clanked open, revealing the spiral stone steps leading down into hell. She began to descend, followed by Faith, then Spike, then the other girls. When they hit the bottom step, they fanned out toward the ledge overlooking the enormous cavern before them. Buffy blanched when she saw the hordes below. Behind her, Spike gave his gaudy amulet a little shake.
“I'm getting zero juice here. And I look like Elizabeth Taylor,” he complained.
“Cheer up, Liz. Willow's big spell doesn't work, won't matter what you wear,” commented Faith.
Buffy began a low chant. “Now Willow Now Willow Now....”
The hordes looked up.
“Oh shit,” breathed Faith.
As the Turok Han surged forward, Buffy noted that, at the very least, they had a serious climb ahead to get to her squad. Spike shot her a worried glance, but covered immediately.
“Clearly, not the world’s greatest tacticians,” he sniffed with professional cool. “Didn’t guard their perimeter. Troglodytes.”
She nodded, and positioned herself to be the first thing the enemy would see when they finally crested the ledge. All around her, the squad took up defensive positions, just as they’d been trained. She waited another few moments, heart in mouth, before she felt Willow’s spell sweep through them all.
It was nothing like when she was first called. Then, she hadn’t even known that anything was different until Merrick had told her about her powers. This time, an invisible tsunami rushed through the girls arrayed across the ledge, leaving every nerve tingling with power. In unison, they each took a deep breath, and felt the oxygen racing like jet fuel through their blood streams to their suddenly super efficient muscles. Each face shone with wonder, excitement, or ecstatic joy. A couple of girls watched with interest as the gashes on their palms closed before their eyes. Buffy and Faith looked at each other with sisterly triumph, sharing wide grins.
Buffy glanced at Spike, who was looking around with something like worship on his face. She wasn’t sure she liked seeing that look directed at anything other than her. As if reading her mind, his gaze snapped to her, and he managed to convey with a gesture that, in his opinion at least, this was all her doing. She shot him a smile and they turned to the coming battle.
“These guys are dust,” sneered Vi.
“Everybody, hold the line,” shouted Faith.
The enemy was closing fast, and Buffy was determined to get first blood. As the first Turok Han reached them, she stepped forward and backhanded it across the face, noting with satisfaction that the ring did indeed leave a nasty gash. The creature spun with the blow, and she sent it over the edge with a solid kick to the back. She turned to join with the enemy, noting that the new Slayers were holding their own and then some. It occurred to her that she had succeeded in creating a race of super soldiers where Maggie Walsh had failed. Life was funny.
She heard Kennedy call her, and reached out to catch the Scythe when it was tossed her way. Then she became a blur of motion, staking, slicing, kicking and spinning in a well-remembered dance. All around her were the sounds of pitched battle, made musical with the grunts and battle cries of her fellow Slayers. Threading through it all were the taunts of Faith and Spike, for whom trash-talking was high art. She was completely exhilarated.
Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw a Slayer fall, and she faltered in her dance long enough to give an opening to one of the monsters. His sword pierced her abdomen, but before he could finish her, Faith was there, dealing a killing blow to the beast. Buffy fell to her knees, holding the Scythe out to Faith before crumpling to the ground. She lay there, watching, as two, then three more Slayers fell to the enemy. Then she saw her own cute boots stop right in front of her. She looked up into her own face for the second time that day.
“Ooh! Ow! Mommy! This mortal wound is all itchy!” chirped the First. “You pulled a nice trick. Hey, you came pretty close to smacking me down. What more do you want?”
Buffy felt her wound knitting together as white-hot anger coursed through her body. She got slowly to her feet and faced her foe.
“I want you to get out of my face. Didn’t we already have this conversation once today?”
She held up her hand and caught the Scythe, tossed her way by Rona, and followed through with a swing that sent three Turok Han over the edge of the precipice, crumbling to dust as they fell. When she looked around, the First was nowhere to be seen, but Spike was pushing away from the monster he was fighting, stumbling in confusion. She started for him, but under the seal he snapped rigidly upright, and a beam from the amulet punched straight through the ceiling of the building toward the cleansing sun. He was caught in a pillar of sunlight, and light began to pour out of the amulet, immediately obliterating the Turok Han it touched while bathing the Slayers in warmth. The cavern began to shake, and rocks began to fall.
“Everybody out!” shouted Faith. “Now!” The shaking intensified.
Buffy rushed to Spike’s side, checking him for damage. He was standing in full sun, but there was no sign of Spike flambé.
“I can feel it, Buffy,” he said, wonderingly.
“My soul. It's really there.” There was a dreamy quality to his voice that she didn’t remember ever hearing before. “Kinda stings,” he amended.
Faith was coolly assigning able-bodied Slayers to help with the wounded. Finally, she stood a few feet away at the foot of the stairs, directing the younger Slayers up. “Go, go, go!” she chanted. She looked around to make sure all the survivors were out safely. When she was satisfied, she started up the stairs. “C’mon, you guys! School’s out!” she called over her shoulder on the way up.
“Go on, then,” Spike urged.
“Not without you,” Buffy replied.
“No. I gotta finish this.” As the ground continued to shake, he held his arms out for balance and stared straight ahead.
“You’ve done enough!” she cried, tugging at his coat. He seemed rooted to the spot.
“That I have,” he replied with finality.
She stared at him, saw him glowing in the blazing glory of the sun. Her eyes filled with tears, and she brought her left hand up to clasp his right.
“I love you,” she whispered. He looked at her in surprise. She squeezed his hand, and he glanced at where it joined with hers, noticing the ring for the first time.
“Buffy,” he choked. Their clasped hands were enveloped in gentle flames. The ring glowed pure white in the heart of the fire.
“I love you!” she cried.
“Thanks for saying it,” he said, reaching toward her with his other hand. “I…” They were jolted by the largest tremor yet. “Now GO!” he cried, pulling his hand away from hers. The flames blinked out. “If you love me, you’ve got to go!”
The shaking intensified, and still she stood there, tears spilling down her cheeks. “Go,” he whispered, wretchedly.
Her face closed, and she went.
Giles surveyed the enormous, smoking crater that had been Sunnydale ten minutes prior.
“I don't understand. What did this?” he asked.
“Spike,” said Buffy flatly. She turned away from the crater and started walking down the road. Everything was too bright and her head was too tight. She heard the others calling her, but the sounds were distant and muffled.
Stupid vampire. Why did he have to be just like the others?
3 weeks later
Buffy had managed to work through a few of the stages of grief, she thought. The shock had worn off before night had fallen, but the denial took quite a bit longer. It was difficult keeping up the pretense of nothing being wrong, when all around her were wounded girls, girls mourning their fallen friends, and Xander, but she managed, somehow. Until the day that she looked down at the ring, which she put on every morning, and it hit her that he was really gone. It wasn’t just some hazy dream. She hadn’t imagined it. He’d been standing in a pillar of sunlight, unable to move, and then a town had fallen on him. Her funny, brave, tender vampire was gone.
Right now, guilt and anger were neck-and-neck for the win. Why had she given him that damned amulet? Why had he let her? And, why, why, why had he left her? She knew it was uncharitable to blame him for saving the world at the cost of his own unlife, but she was a Slayer, not a Saint.
She threw herself into the care and feeding of the new Slayers, though Vi turned out, as predicted, to be far better suited to the Logistics part of the New Council of Slayers than Buffy. Faith and Robin took a squad to set up a unit in Cleveland. Buffy and the rest headed to England within ten days of the battle, after getting everybody’s papers in order. Buffy strongly suspected that there was magic involved. She knew for a fact that she’d never applied for a passport, and yet, here it was, with an entry stamp and everything.
She’d just finished a workout and was sitting on the floor, sipping from a water bottle, when Willow walked in.
“Oh good, you’re sitting down,” she said.
Terrific. Buffy started to get up, but Willow hurried over to sit in front of her. She settled back down, brows raised.
“I just got a call from one of Angel’s people. Fred. I don’t think you’ve met her. She’s super nice. Really, really smart, too. I think you’d like her. She’s kind of their science gal. I haven’t quite gathered her whole story, but she’s been, like, dimension hopping…”
“Willow,” interrupted Buffy. “If this is a ‘let’s sit down’ discussion, you can skip the babble. You’ve got my attention. Let’s hear it.”
Willow nodded, and took a deep breath.
“Okay. She said this weird thing happened at their new offices a couple of days ago.” She paused, and looked worriedly at Buffy, knowing how hard she’d taken her loss. “Spike’s amulet arrived in the mail, anonymously.”
Buffy started to feel a funny chill. She took another sip of water.
“So, anyway, the amulet arrives, nobody knows where from, and this spirit-thingy pops out of it. They’ve been running tests on it, but they’ve got nothing conclusive. It’s incorporeal, but not ectoplasmacally consistent with a ghost. It doesn’t appear to have any hostile intent, though I gather it’s been hectoring Angel a bit. Also, it’s unable to leave the premises. Or the city limits or something. It seems to be linked with the amulet, no surprise, but the link is almost physical, which is a surprise. Fred’s pretty stumped.” Willow ran out of steam.
“Uh huh. Does this spirit-thingy have a name?”
“Buffy, they think it’s Spike.”
The water bottle slipped from her hand. Just like that, she was back to shock and denial.
On the flight to LA, Willow kept repeating everything she knew. Yes, Angel had wanted her to be informed. Yes, they were trying everything to stabilize and corporealize him. Yes, they knew what they were doing, as much as anybody could in a situation like this. No, they still didn’t know who had sent the amulet. Finally, Willow went to sleep in self-defense. The rest of the flight Buffy sat, twisting the ring on her finger and making bargains with herself. Ultimately, it all came down to, “If it’s really him, I’ll _________ (do anything).”
Now they waited in an elegant modern office, to see if any part of the odd story could be true. Given the many, even odder, stories that had made up her life, Buffy was having trouble not getting her hopes up. She ran her thumb over the ring again. Willow kept voicing her amazement that Harmony was working here. It just seemed like more proof that oddness abounded in Buffyland.
They stood when Wesley walked in, deep in conversation with a pretty woman in a lab coat. Whoa. Wesley had changed a lot in four years. Willow had warned her, but this was something else. She wondered if she was as altered to him, as he to her. Probably. Demon fighting did change people.
“Willow. Buffy. Thanks for coming so quickly.” Wes took immediate charge of the meeting. It was sort of like the old days, except less ridiculous. “Willow, you know Fred. Buffy, this is Fred Burkle, a longtime associate. She’ll be able to fill you in on the situation. Fred, this is Buffy Summers, the Slayer.”
“I’m real pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you,” gushed Fred. “All good, of course. Well, Cordy had a few Cordyisms, but I always took those with a grain of salt, you know.”
Buffy grinned. “Likewise. Well, not the Cordelia part.” She immediately sobered. “What can you tell me about Spike? Where is he?”
“We’re not sure,” said Fred. “He keeps fading out, but then he pops back up. He really wants to see you, but he doesn’t have a lot of control over the whole in-and-out thing.”
Buffy sat back down. “Fading?” she asked quietly.
“We’ve been trying different things to keep him on this plane, but so far nothing’s done the trick.”
“On this plane,” she repeated dully.
“Buffy, I’m sure we’ll find a way,” said Willow, soothingly.
At that moment, Angel strode in, looking harassed. He stopped short when he saw Buffy. A second later, Spike walked right through Angel’s body, mid-harangue. “…you ponce…”
When he saw Buffy, he stopped immediately, coat swinging with its own momentum.
She slowly stood, watching his face intently. He looked at her with awe, reminding her of the time that she had miraculously returned from the dead.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” she murmured.
He grinned, and then faded to nothing.
“NO!” she cried, finding herself looking into Angel’s shocked face. She fell to her knees, white-faced and trembling. The emotional roller coaster of the last few weeks (months? years?) was going off the rails.
Before anyone could react to the Slayer’s unexpected collapse, Spike reappeared. He dropped to his knees before her and reached out to stroke her face, but she couldn’t feel his touch. She began to cry. She felt like all her nerves were laid bare.
“All this for me?” he asked wonderingly. “Don’t deserve your tears, love.”
“It’s not up to you,” she sniffed. “Why won’t you stay, Spike?”
“Would if I could. You know it.”
He reached out with his other hand, and she brought her solid left palm up to meet his ghostly right. Their fingers met gingerly, then entwined. As the ring touched Spike’s insubstantial form, there was a blinding flash of light. A shock traveled through their bodies, and sunlight engulfed them. Angel cried out, and scrambled backward, out of the room. Buffy tightened her grip on his hand, and realized that she could really feel him. Her skin was humming where he touched her cheek and hand. She looked into his blue, blue eyes. He looked back with happy reverence.
“Knew you meant it when I saw you wearing my ring,” he rumbled. She nodded, unable to speak.
“Still have a helluva grip, Slayer,” he noted.
“Oh! Sorry!” She let go of his hand, and the sunlight cocooning them melted away.
“Never have to be sorry for holding my hand, Slayer. Thought you knew that.” He smoothed her hair away from her face, and wiped the tears with his thumbs. “’S good to see you.”
“You scared me Spike. Don’t ever do that again!”
“That’s something, then. Haven’t been able to properly scare a girl in ages.” He smiled gently at her.
“Um, guys? What just happened?” asked Willow, shakily.
“Spike? Are you solid?” asked Fred.
They reluctantly got to their feet, knowing that the questions wouldn’t stop until all the inquiring minds got some answers. Tucking Buffy’s hand into the crook of his arm, he led her to the credenza, where he lifted a glass with a flourish.
“Get you anything, m’lady?” he grinned. Fred whooped. He put the glass back down and gathered Buffy in his arms. “Solid through,” he murmured in her ear. She blushed and hugged him tightly. He was here. He was warm and strong and he was going to be hers. She was going to skip all the denial, anger and bargaining, and get right to the acceptance. For now. She felt giddy. Younger.
Angel peeked in. His hair was slightly singed. He gingerly entered the room and looked around in bafflement.
“Buffy? How did you do it?”
They turned to face him, but Spike kept an arm around her shoulders.
Buffy held up her hand, the skull ring glittering.
“I wore this into the Hellmouth,” she explained. “When the amulet went off, I touched Spike with it and there was mystical fire involved. Plus the Slayer spell had just gone through, also like wildfire. I’m guessing all that magical energy must’ve pumped this puppy up with some big-time mojo. You magic guys will have to figure it out. Seriously though, the Hellmouth, the Scythe, the Amulet? All major magical players, together again for the first time. Anyway, when I touched Spike’s essence with it just now, he popped right back into his skin. Presto!”
“I’d like to have a look at that ring, Buffy. Do you know where it came from?” asked Wesley.
“Got it from the treasure of Amara,” offered Spike.
“But Buffy,” Angel interjected. “Spike’s human!”
“That’s a hell of a leap, you tosser!”
“Spike’s human?” asked Fred.
“Dear Lord,” murmured Wesley.
Spike let go of Buffy long enough to check his pulse. Only to find that he did, indeed, have one.
Continued in Under My Skin.
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