Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own it all, but they said I could play. Not mine, no money, etc.
Notes: Inspired by challenge 302 at the Bloodshedverse.
Though I Walk Through the Valley…
Buffy wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but stumbling into a dimly lit grey… space really wasn’t it. The room… place was empty, except for her, and featureless; it seemed to stretch on forever in any direction. There was absolutely no indication of where the light was coming from. “Hello?” she called, taking another, more deliberate step forward. “Anyone available for the accepting of a sacrifice and the granting of favors?”
The pop from behind her sounded very loud, and the sudden and utter silence that followed made her spin around, heart thumping. She knew she shouldn’t have been surprised to see that the portal she’d fallen out of had disappeared, but she was. Well, she thought, the only way home now is to get whoever these powers are to send me home. Hopefully, they’ll send me home with Spike.
“Hello?” she shouted again. “Humble supplicant here!” As the seconds passed and still there was no response, the hope that had sustained her from the moment Xander had shown her the ritual started to ebb. I’d give up anything, she thought, staring down at her feet. My life, my powers… whatever they say. Isn’t that what the spell said? Why bring me here if it’s not what they want?
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice as the light grew brighter around her. She certainly wasn’t expecting the softly modulated voice that spoke to her, and jumped at the sound. “The willingness to sacrifice whatever was necessary was the first trial.”
She couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female, nor where it came from. It seemed to emanate from everywhere at once. Looking around for some hint of who might be there, she said, “So there’s trials now?”
Laughter echoed, and to Buffy, it sounded for an instant like there might be more than one person. “Of course there are trials,” the voice replied eventually. “You have to prove you are worthy in order to receive your… favor, as you called it.”
About to retort, Buffy paused. Probably not a good idea to make them angry if you plan on asking them for something, she thought, and tried to put a leash on her usual defiance of authority. “Okay,” she said aloud. “So… trials. Tell me about them… y’know, if you can.”
“These are not physical trials, Slayer – oh, yes,” the voice continued when she started, “we are very well aware that you are one of the Chosen. So a physical test would be meaningless to you, wouldn’t it? To show that you are deserving of having your request granted – and yes, we know that, too – you must prove to us that you are willing to tell the truth.”
She blinked. Okay, that’s not what I was expecting. “Huh?”
“In the past, Chosen One, you have been… shall we say, less than willing to face the truth, or inclined to turn a blind eye to what your words or actions or beliefs may have cost others. We want to see how you have grown.”
She became aware of a sudden sinking feeling. I mean, I’ve always been good at denial, but… “Wait… how I have grown? What are you…”
“The trials are all based on the truth – complete and unadulterated. You have only one chance to answer each one. You can take as long as you need to answer, but each answer has to be the truth. If not…”
“If it’s not, you take me up on my sacrificial offer,” Buffy cut in, her tone sarcastic. So much for not pushing authority…
“No,” the voice said, mildly amused. “You return to the place from which you came. But no further trials will be entertained for the matter, even if you could persuade your sister or one of your friends to make the sacrifice. You will have failed, and the vampire will remain dust.”
And you’ll have to live with that remained unsaid.
Buffy swallowed, suddenly a lot less flip about just what a sacrifice meant. If I screw this up, there’s no way of getting Spike back. “Right. I’ll behave now.”
“Good.” This time, when the lights changed, it was in a flash, twilight to high noon. “Then we will begin.”
“Hey!” Too late, Buffy raised a hand to shield her eyes, and was left blinking and trying to clear her vision. “Give a girl some warning, will ya?”
“Formally state your request. If you pass the tests, it will be granted exactly as you ask.” The voice sounded flat again, almost completely devoid of emotion.
In spite of the way her heart was screaming at her to get it over with and get him back, she forced herself to pause, trying to think of just how to phrase what she wanted. “I… I want Spike back… the way he was before Robin killed him. All soul-having vampire, just… undusty.”
“Very well. Why do you want him back?”
“I miss him… I love him. I need to have him with me.” If all their questions are like this, she thought, this’ll be a breeze.
“And did you tell him this?”
Taken aback, she opened her mouth, then closed it again. The truth, Buffy, remember? “No. I didn’t.” So much for easy…
The floor was as blank as the rest of the place, so she studied the toes of her boots instead. “I didn’t know,” she answered softly.
“So you only realized how much you cared after he was… slain.” The voice sounded both considering and condescending all at once.
Gut twisting at what this could possibly mean, she nodded. “Yes,” she replied thickly.
“Why only then?”
She closed her eyes. The night that Robin had killed Spike had been one of the most painful she’d ever had, and yet she hadn’t even known why, hadn’t figured it out until days later that she loved him. “Because I’m stupid,” she blurted, then, horrified that they would think that was her whole answer, she hurried on. “Because I was so used to telling myself that I couldn’t love him because he was a vampire, because…” With a short huff of self-deprecating laughter, she finished, “Because sometimes, those people who make clichés are right, and you really don’t know what a good thing you have until it’s gone. When I knew that he… that he was gone, I just felt empty, like I had turned all to dust inside, too.”
“Very poetic,” the voice said, and Buffy wondered if it was being just a bit snippy. “You loved another vampire with a soul, did you not?”
Wary at the sudden shift, and wondering what Angel could possibly have to do with this, Buffy nodded. “Yes.”
“He was also slain, and by your own hand, no less. Yet you did not make an attempt to retrieve him from Hell, did you?”
“No,” she answered shortly. No, this wasn’t going to go anywhere she wanted to go.
“What makes one souled vampire so different from the other, Slayer? Why is one worth the effort and the other not?” The words came out on a curious note.
Deep inside, Buffy knew that she could give lots of different answers to this, and that each one would have at its heart at least a kernel of truth. Everything from I didn’t know to I was too hurt ran through her head. “I died,” she said finally. “I died a couple of times, actually. The first time, Angel was ready to let the prophecy take its course, because he thought prophecies couldn’t be gotten around. The second time, there wasn’t a prophecy, but Spike still fought for me, doing everything he could to save me, even though it wasn’t enough. Then I got brought back from being dead… and I realized that it was possible. So… I guess my answer is that if I had known, I might have tried to bring Angel back… but I didn’t know. And…” She took a deep breath. This was hard. In her head, Angel had been on a pedestal, a paragon of her perfect, forever love, and it was hard to consciously push him off that pedestal, even if she’d already done it without really realizing it. “And deep down,” she finished quietly, “I think I really believed that Angel deserved it, for all the things he did to hurt me when he didn’t have his soul.”
“And the other vampire? Did he do nothing to hurt you?”
She snorted. “Of course he did. Spike tried to kill me lots of times, and somehow he always seemed to find something to say that really stung. But a lot of the things he said that he really meant to hurt me with, he said after I’d already said or done something to hurt him. You know, lashing back. Mostly, he tried to help. Granted, he didn’t do a great job of it all the time, but he tried. He’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but I’m not either.”
When she was done, there was only silence. It lasted long enough for her to begin to fidget, shifting from foot to foot. She really wanted to pace, wanted some action. I wish these were physical trials, she thought, more than a little wistfully. Why couldn’t it just be “Go kill this monster, please?” I’m good at that.
When the minutes still dragged on, she started to wonder if they’d decided to leave her in limbo. “Hey, you still there?” she called. Then an idea struck, and she added, “But don’t mind me if you’re busy bringing Spike back. Spike being undusty is much more important.”
“We can retrieve your vampire from Hell, Chosen One…”
Even though she thought she’d steeled herself for that possibility, knowing that Spike really was in Hell was nearly too much, and she had to stifle the sob that snuck up on her. Angel had been all crazy-vampire when he’d come back from Hell… but he’d still recognized her in some way, had sought her out and tried to protect her. Spike… as much as Spike cared about her, he’d recognize her immediately, wouldn’t he? I hope…
“… but he may not love you anymore.”
The words made her reel. And the hits just keep on coming… “What?” she managed, her voice a whisper.
“After spending so long in Hell, under such torment… well. It would kill anyone’s ability to love, especially a vampire’s. Knowing that, do you still want him back?”
“Yes,” she replied, as soon as the question had registered. “Yes, I do.”
“Even though he will not love you?” the voice persisted.
“Yes. When you love someone, you just love them, anyway you can. Doesn’t really matter how they feel about you. You just do. Living proof right here.” She gave a humorless laugh and swiped at her cheeks. “Not that I believe you.”
“And why is that, Slayer?”
“Because Spike doesn’t give up,” she replied fiercely, and clenched her fists, though there was nothing for her to hit. “He never gave up hoping that I’d love him, even when I made it oh, so painfully clear that I wouldn’t. And he was right. I’m not going to pretend that I think I’m some great prize, not after everything I’ve done. But he still loves me, no matter how badly I’ve acted. So, no… I don’t think that any amount of time in Hell would kill his love for me. I don’t believe you. I won’t believe it until he tells me to my face he doesn’t love me anymore.”
“And when he does?”
“He won’t,” she gritted out.
“Slayer,” and the voice had chilled considerably. “We ask that you acknowledge that we know more about what goes on in Hell than you do, and that you entertain the possibility that when we say that the vampire will not love you, we are telling the truth. Now. What would you do?”
The tears that never seemed to be far from her eyes anymore gave at least part of her answer away. “I’m only saying this because I’m entertaining the possibility that you’re not a bunch of… that you’re not trying to trick me. If… if Spike said he didn’t love me anymore,” and she had to stop, to swallow down the sobs that tried to escape. “I… I’d tell him I love him anyway, because that’s the truth, and he deserves to know. And no matter how much it hurt, I’d try to be his friend, if he still wanted that. And I would cry.” She lifted her chin, deliberately ignoring the tears rolling freely down her cheeks. “I would cry every day because I wasted the chances I had, because I couldn’t say… because I couldn’t let myself even admit how much I cared about him until it was too late.” She laughed, the sound of it slightly hysterical, and wrapped her arms around herself, hugging her shoulders and trying to keep from falling apart. “I’d hope that one day, he’d love me again. And the irony? Believe me, I know it’s there. After everything I’ve done, I deserve all that, and maybe more.
“But even though I’m so much less than what Spike deserves… he still loves me. After everything he’s gone through, he deserves my faith. And if he didn’t stop loving me after I put him through every kind of hell… he’s not going to stop now. Not even after the literal Hell.”
Again the voice said nothing. Sniffling, Buffy wiped her face with one hand, thankful that, for once, she hadn’t put on a lot of makeup, because waterproof mascara wasn’t. This time, as the silence dragged on, instead of bringing attention back to her, she was silent, too. Spike loves me, she told herself over and over. Hell isn’t going to make him stop.
After only a few moments, she started pacing, arms crossed over her stomach now instead of clutching her shoulders. Tension coiled tighter and tighter inside her with every passing minute she waited. More than once, she stopped, and drew breath to demand an answer, before reminding herself that it probably wasn’t a good idea to make the guys with all the power mad and resuming her rapid pace.
Suddenly, it occurred to her that the longer the voice took before speaking to her again, the more likely it was that they weren’t going to give Spike back. They’re just looking for a loophole, she thought, coming to a halt. I told them what they wanted to know! Everything I said was true! Just like that, everything she felt transmuted into anger. If they don’t give Spike back, I’ll…
“Enough. We will grant your request.”
Surprised, as much at the voice’s sudden return as at the response, Buffy swallowed, but the hope rose up again to choke her. “You… you will?”
“Yes,” the voice replied, as dispassionately as it had questioned her. “We will return your vampire. Go back to where you came from. We will send him to you directly after you arrive.”
A portal whirled into life beside her, the same wash of swirling colors that had appeared in her living room what felt like forever ago. The crackling strings of light reached out to her again, and there was a strange pressure against her back, pushing her toward it.
“Thank you,” she got out, forcing the words past the lump that filled her throat. “I…” Without warning, she thought of something that she really should have thought of earlier, and that fear that she’d missed something came back. “What… what kind of… payment…” Because… what if the payment is the sacrifice?
“There is no payment. You have passed the trials. The matter is closed. You will not come here again.”
Relief made her limbs weak, and she didn’t resist the not-so-gentle push toward the portal any longer. “Thank you,” she said again, and stepped through.
This time, on exiting the portal, Buffy didn’t just stagger; she lost her balance and fell to her hands and knees with a heavy ‘thump.’ “Ow.”
“Buffy!” Dawn was inside the circle in an instant, kneeling beside her and hugging her with all her strength. “Are you all right?”
“I’m okay, really,” she replied, and then it hit her. I did it! she thought, and squeezed her sister so tightly she squeaked. “He’s coming back, Dawn!” she whispered, and let herself feel just a little bit of triumph at accomplishing what she had, just for a second. “They’re giving him back!”
“I knew you’d do it,” Dawn said fervently. “I knew it!”
Leaning on each other, they climbed to their feet. Buffy saw her other friends were still present, standing outside the circle of crushed herbs. Willow’s brow had that look like it had just smoothed out, and both she and Xander were smiling. Giles was behind them, and his expression was one she was used to seeing – one of affection and perhaps slight disapproval.
“Way to go, Buffster!”
“Yeah, Buffy, that’s really great!”
“Where is Spike now, Buffy?” Giles asked, as the portal disappeared behind her with a sharp report. “Was he not coming back with you?”
“They said they would send him back after I got here,” she replied. “We just gotta give them a minute…”
Stepping around Xander, Giles took off his glasses. “Will he still be controlled by the trigger?” he asked, turning the glasses over in his hands and using a tone of reason that got her back up. “Will he be an asset or a liability?”
Accomplishment couldn’t stand in the face of anger. Buffy clenched her fists and took a step toward him. “Giles!”
“Will he even be sane, Buffy? Will he be the Spike you’re hoping for?”
She flinched as the words struck home. Will he be the Spike you love? Will he still love you?
Before she could give in to her urge to hit him, however, a breeze lifted the ends of her hair. Turning a little, she could see Dawn’s fluttering as well. “Outside the circle, Dawn,” she ordered in a low voice. “Just in case Giles is as right as he always thinks he is,” she added, glaring at her Watcher.
Gulping, Dawn did as she was told, though she stood next to Willow, as far away from Giles as she could get.
As soon as she had stepped across the herbs, the wind picked up, catching her hair up and tangling it unmercifully. Within seconds, it had strengthened and formed a funnel, a miniature tornado dancing across the living room carpet, up to the edges of the circle and back again.
“It’s like it’s looking for something,” Willow cried above the sound of the wind.
“Yeah, but what?” Xander replied.
Spike’s dust! Buffy thought wildly. That must be what it’s looking for! She dove toward the coffee table, just at the edge of the circle, and grabbed the box that still held Spike’s ashes. The funnel followed her, dogging her heels. When she tore the container open, it spun faster, and the wind flung Spike’s dust into the air, where it could be drawn into the vortex.
Slowly, Buffy backed away, hand pressed to her mouth, eyes wide. She was holding herself together by sheer strength of will, teetering on the edge of falling apart every second.
Because… what if she was wrong?
Despite everything she’d said, all the truth and belief she’d spoken to get Spike back, now that they’d agreed… what if they were right after all? What if Spike didn’t love her anymore?
I’m not sure I could take it, she thought, tears burning her eyes. It was true, Spike, all of it was true… but now…
Then the whirlwind stopped, the last of the dust and wind swirling away to nothing, and oh, God, he was back, lying on the floor in fetal tuck, naked and panting and shivering. His back, arms and legs were covered with welts and bruises old and new, livid against his pale skin, evidence of the physical torture he’d gone through.
At the sight, Willow eeped and covered Dawn’s eyes with her hands. Xander and Giles averted their eyes.
Buffy stepped forward, moving quickly, rashly, as if she didn’t have a potentially feral vampire within arms’ reach.
“Buffy!” Giles’s bark of protest caused her to glare at him over her shoulder.
“Be quiet, Giles,” she ordered, her tone knife-sharp, and returned all of her attention to her vampire. “Spike?” she called softly, kneeling beside him. “Spike?” She brought one hand to his face, just to touch him, just to make sure he was really there.
He was, and she sucked in a quick breath.
He wasn’t wearing his bumpies and fangs, as she had half-expected he would, but even if he had, she wouldn’t have cared. His flesh was cool and familiar beneath her hand, and the tears overflowed at last. Oh, God, she thought, and her chest was so tight she felt she could burst from joy. Oh, Spike, you’re here, you’re back…
He stilled under her gentle touch, every muscle in his body going taut at once; he even stopped breathing. He didn’t open his eyes, though, and it was clear from his demeanor that he was expecting some kind of punishment. Her heart wrenched at the sight. “Come on, Spike,” she whispered, trying to force a smile, knowing it would come through in her voice. Her thumb drifted lightly over his cheek. “Open those pretty blue eyes for me, let me know you’re still in there…”
His brows drew together in a frown as the pain he was obviously waiting for didn’t come, as her soft words reached his ears. She continued to stroke his face, murmuring his name and words meant to comfort, letting the tears flow down her cheeks unheeded. They splashed against his skin, and his frown intensified. He inhaled deeply and suddenly his eyes flew open. He stared up at her in shock, lips parted.
“There you are.” This time, her smile was real, despite her tears. “It’s about time. I was wondering if you were going to fake it all day. Dawn,” she said, raising her voice a little so it would carry, though she didn’t turn away from him, “could you get a blanket or something, please?”
“S-sure,” Dawn replied, and without looking, Buffy knew her sister was crying, too.
“B-Buffy?” Her name came out as a hoarse whisper; it was nothing like his usual deep voice, but at least he could speak.
He knows me, Buffy thought, her hand never ceasing its movement over his cheek. He’s not as bad as Angel was when he came back from Hell. And I am so not thinking about what he must have gone through to make him sound like that… “Right here,” she answered quietly.
Just then, Dawn thrust the blanket she’d requested at her. “Thanks, Dawnie.” She unfolded it and draped part of it over Spike’s nudity. “Can you sit up?”
He nodded, and started to struggle upright. She had to help him, but it was difficult to find an uninjured spot to put her hands; it seemed that, no matter where she touched him, it made him flinch or hiss in pain. Sitting up, he sagged heavily against her, panting harshly again and clutching at his side.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, knowing that every movement cost him. “Let me help you upstairs, then you can rest, all right?”
He swallowed and nodded again, closing his eyes. Not wanting to think about what she was doing, how she was hurting him, Buffy stood and pulled him to his feet by main force.
He cried out, and she could practically hear the way his bones grated against each other inside him. He hunched over, as if to contain the agony, and nearly fell again; she barely caught him in time.
“I’m sorry, Spike,” she said once more, arms around him to keep him steady. Somehow, she’d managed to keep hold of the blanket, and snugged it more closely around him. “Just up the stairs, I promise.”
“Yeah,” he gasped, leaning on her shoulder.
Taking that as agreement, she said, “Okay, let’s go, left first…”
It was more of a controlled fall than his usual graceful stride, and getting up the stairs was more painful than she could have imagined, even though Xander helped as much as he could, bracing Spike’s other side.
“Okay, you’ve got broken ribs,” Buffy said, as she and Xander lowered Spike to the bed. “What else?”
Spike shook his head. “Dunno,” he replied, teeth gritted. “Hurts everywhere. Leg, maybe?”
“All right, I’ll take a look.” She turned to Xander. “Could you see if Will can find something for the pain?”
He nodded, still wincing in sympathy. “Sure, no trouble.”
But Willow was already at the door, holding some blood and the strongest painkillers in the house. “Already got it covered. Sorry that it’s not stronger, Spike,” she added.
“’S fine.” He chased a handful of pills down with the blood, and carefully lay back on the pillows.
After they’d taped his ribs and put a crude splint around his ankle, Spike fell asleep, worn out from the pain and lulled by the painkillers. With Willow’s help, Buffy hurriedly bandaged up the worst of his other wounds.
For a second, they just stared at their handiwork. He looks more like a mummy than a vampire, Buffy thought, and had to cover her mouth to contain a tiny hysterical giggle.
Catching her movement, Willow patted Buffy’s shoulder. “He’ll be fine, sweetie,” she said in a hushed tone.
She pulled herself together at that. “Yeah, I know.” She smiled at her friend – her first one in what felt like forever. “Thanks, Will,” she offered, squeezing Willow’s hand where it still rested on her shoulder. “For everything you did… thank you.”
Willow smiled back, then gave in and hugged her. “Of course, Buffy. What are friends for?”
Whatever she would have said in reply was lost in the depths of her yawn, and she blushed. “Sorry…”
“Why don’t you just take it easy for a little while?” Willow offered. “Dawnie and Xander and I can run interference and make sure you’re not bothered.” She grinned. “And when Spike’s feeling better, maybe I can get back at you for the tea thing…”
But Willow had already slipped out the door. Quickly, before she could feel guilty about locking out the Potentials who had been sleeping on her floor, she shut and locked the bathroom door as well.
As soon as there was nothing left to do – no more books, no more ritual, no more making sure Spike would recover – the exhaustion overwhelmed her, and she sank down onto the bed. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t late; she was totally wiped out.
Carefully, she swung her legs up onto the bed, trying to jostle him as little as possible, and lay down, watching him just for a moment. Spike was there, in her bed. Spike was there with her, no longer dust, no longer a memory. For the first time in weeks, she felt like she would be able to sleep, and closed her eyes.
As soon as she stepped out of the bedroom in the morning, Dawn was there, waiting to pounce. She grabbed her arm, and was able to use her surprise to drag her across the hall and into her room.
“Dawn, what are you doing?” she demanded, stumbling over a pillow that one of the Potentials had used but not picked up.
“Did you tell him?” Dawn countered, eagerness in every line of her face.
Buffy stared at her sister in confusion. “Tell him what?”
Dawn rolled her eyes and closed the door. “Duh, that you love him.”
Her eyes widened, and she could actually feel the blood drain from her face. “What?” Then, quickly, and more loudly, she added, “No!”
Unsurprisingly, Dawn’s expression turned mulish. “Why not?” Then she blinked, as if an unpleasant thought struck her, and she glowered. “You’re not going to, are you? Why do I even bother?” she muttered, and folded her arms tightly across her chest. “Fine, Cleopatra. Go on back into denial, but if you hurt him again…”
Even now – even though Spike was tucked safely away in her bedroom – the tears were never far away. She’d been without him for too long for it to be easy to forget. Her lip quivered for a moment before she regained control. “No! I’m… I don’t… I don’t want to hurt him anymore,” she finished in a whisper.
Her sister’s glare softened only fractionally. “Then why didn’t you tell him?”
First Willow, now Dawn. And just how did I miss this? Buffy wondered. When did Dawn become an advocate for Spike-n-Buffy-4-ever? I mean, not that I’m against it, but still… talk about walking into Weirdville. “God, Dawn, he only just got back from Hell! Don’t you think he needs a little time to… to recover from that?”
For a second, Dawn just gaped at her vehemence, then, blushing, she relaxed her stance, arms falling to her sides. “I didn’t think about that,” she admitted. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. But…”
Habit took over then, and Buffy went on the offensive, just like in any other argument they’d ever had. “And just why do you think that I’m in love with Spike?”
Again, Dawn expressed her exasperation by rolling her eyes. “Buffy, the only one who doesn’t know that you’re in love with Spike is Spike… and apparently you. But the way you’ve been acting… you totally are. Absolutely, completely, head over heels in love with Spike.”
Buffy stared down at her boots, studying them. Then she glanced up and gave Dawn a tiny grin. “Guess I didn’t do such a good job of hiding it, did I?”
“That’d be a big no. Goofball.” But Dawn was grinning back at her as she said it.
“Love you, too.”
“You know,” Buffy said thoughtfully, “I think I’d forgotten how much like a dog with a bone you are. And don’t think I couldn’t end this by physical violence, either.”
Dawn scoffed. “You don’t scare me. When?”
What her sister was asking wasn’t anything that she didn’t want to do, really. She relented. “When he’s feeling better. I swear it,” she added off Dawn’s skeptical look, and held up her hand, pinkie extended.
Immediately, Dawn twined her own pinkie around Buffy’s. “Okay.” Then, before she knew it, Buffy found herself wrapped in Dawn’s arms instead. “I’m so glad you got him back, Buffy,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” she replied in the same tone. “Me, too.”
Giles tried to corner her after her third trip upstairs to check on Spike. “Buffy, I’d like to talk to you.”
She pushed past him and continued into the kitchen. “Not now, Giles,” she replied coolly. “Busy washing up.”
“What an incredible sense of déjà vu this brings,” he muttered, following her. “I just wanted to ask you… how is Spike?”
In the midst of rinsing out the mug in which she’d taken up another feeding of blood, Buffy twisted to stare at him over her shoulder. “After what you said yesterday…”
Quickly, Giles took off his glasses and fidgeted with them. “What I said yesterday is nothing that you should not have already considered,” he said, sounding aggravated. “However, that is neither here nor there. I’m quite interested in what effects, if any, coming back from being dust has had on him.”
“Gee, Giles, it’s nice to know that you actually care about what he went through in Hell,” Buffy shot back, turning off the water with more force than strictly necessary and turning to lean against the counter.
“I am simply interested in what it is like for a vampire to be reconstituted from dust,” he said stiffly. “As I believe I said when you embarked on this course, it is unprecedented…”
“No,” she retorted, arms crossed, “I believe you said it was impossible, actually.”
It was hard to stifle her grin as his face flushed, but then she reminded herself of all his doubt and refusal to help, and that put a definite stop to any amusement.
“Yes, well… clearly it wasn’t.” He returned his glasses to their proper position. “Since he’s been back, what has his personality been? Have you noticed any changes?”
“You mean compared to before or after the soul?” She sighed. “Giles, he’s only been back for about 12 hours, and most of that he’s been sleeping. Most of that, I’ve been asleep, too, so there really hasn’t been a lot of time for comparison.”
“Sleeping… has he had any nightmares?”
She frowned. “No. I don’t think so.”
“Are his injuries consistent with his torture at Glory’s hands? Or at those of the First?”
“Again, Giles, I haven’t had a lot of time for cataloguing and comparing.” She swallowed; thinking about the days that Spike had been the First Evil’s prisoner made her think about the days he was gone. “I… yes,” she said quietly. “They’re worse than with either of them, but…”
Giles looked thoughtful. “Then perhaps I was wrong after all,” he murmured.
“Wrong about what?” she demanded, straightening away from the counter.
He cleared his throat. “Buffy…” he began, in a tone that she’d heard many times, usually right before he told her something that she needed to know, but definitely didn’t want to hear.
“Tell me, Giles,” she ordered, her frown deepening.
“I was simply thinking that it might have been worth it to have done a little more research into the matter… After all, Spike is unique in several important respects…”
When Giles trailed off, she intensified her glare until he squirmed. “Spit it out, Giles!”
It was her Watcher’s turn to sigh. “It occurred to me late last night,” he said. “Spike fought for his soul to be returned to him, the only vampire we know of to have done so, and I wondered how that weighed against his other… less moral acts.”
Her patience was stretched so thin it was nearly non-existent. “Meaning?”
“Perhaps… perhaps Spike wasn’t in Hell at all.”
Buffy froze at Giles’s softly spoken words, hoping, hoping, hoping that she had heard him wrong. “What are you saying?”
“Willow thought she was rescuing you from Hell as well, but as it turned out, that’s certainly not where you were.”
Her stomach roiled, and she covered her mouth with one hand, willing herself not to be sick right there. What her Watcher was implying was too horrible to even contemplate. If the beings she had entreated to bring Spike back had lied…
If he hadn’t been in Hell…
She pushed past Giles and dashed up the stairs, flinging open the bathroom door so hard that it bounced off the wall, and tiny pieces of tile shattered to the floor where the doorknob struck. She didn’t care; she was too busy throwing up every bit of food she’d ever eaten. Even when her stomach was empty, dry heaves wracked her.
If what Giles thought was true… she was responsible for tearing Spike from Heaven.
It was some while before Buffy became aware of the hand holding her hair, while another gently rubbed her back. When she managed to focus her gaze on the person beside her, she saw it was Willow, wearing her most concerned face.
“Buffy? What’s wrong?”
Swallowing with some difficulty, Buffy asked, “Is this… is this how you felt, Will?”
Willow’s hand stopped moving. “What do you mean?”
Whispering, she replied, “When I said I was in Heaven. When you realized…” Bile coated her mouth, and she leaned over the toilet bowl again. Nothing came up.
When the heaves stopped this time, she just wanted to curl up and die. She just knelt there, her forehead resting against the cool porcelain of the bowl, taking shallow, shuddering breaths. Gradually, though, she became aware that Willow was still there. It was a great effort, but she managed to turn her head to look at her friend out of the corner of one eye.
Willow took a deep breath and let it out before she said anything. She spoke slowly, as if testing each word before letting it go. “I… when you said… No. No, Buffy. I mean… yes, I was all torn up inside and with the massive guilt, but… I didn’t know what it was like, either.”
Buffy stared up at her, eyes wide.
“I didn’t know what Heaven was like,” Willow went on, staring down at her hands. “I didn’t know anything about what I’d taken from you.” Then she looked up, eyes swimming with tears. “You do. You know.”
“Oh, God.” This was something so wrong that she couldn’t even cry, as much as she wanted to. “Oh, God. I did. I took him out of Heaven…”
Reaching out, Willow shook her gently. “Buffy… no. Wherever he was, I don’t think it was Heaven. No,” she continued quickly when Buffy opened her mouth. “I’m not sure, and I’m not going to get into a philosophical… theological… debate with you. But when we did the spell to bring you back, all the bruises and injuries you had, you got after. Except… except for the ones inside.” She swallowed. “Spike was all kinds of hurt already when he showed up, and it was all on the outside. Well, mostly, I guess. You know what I mean. Very different, don’t you think?”
She wanted to believe, but all of her experiences screamed at her that the easiest way wasn’t really the easiest way. “I… I guess.”
Willow met her eyes then, her expression firm. “But… Buffy, if you want to know for sure, you’re going to have to ask him. Right now, the only one who knows where Spike was… is Spike.”
“I can’t, Will.” She shook her head, biting her lip. “How can I possibly ask him that?”
“Buffy, it’s the only way.”
She sighed. As much as she wished otherwise, Willow was right.