In response, Buffy locked the door behind her as she scoured the shop for her watcher. "Giles?" she called, and Anya stopped counting bills long enough to say, "He's in the office. Probably making more tea."
Buffy made her way slowly to the small room in the back, trying to give herself time to think. Just as Giles emerged from the office, a wave of dizziness hit her and her super-hearing was gone. Giles came toward her, catching her by one arm so that he could get a good look at her face. "Buffy? Are you feeling well?"
"No," she admitted, her teeth close to chattering. "I think whatever I had this afternoon just came back."
"Then I'm taking you home," he said in a voice that would brook no dissension.
Dawn answered the door in pajamas, wrapped in a blanket so worn it had holes in it. As soon as she saw Buffy's glassy eyes and strange pallor, she moved out of the way so that Giles could carry his slayer to her room, and followed him upstairs. "I'll put her in bed. Could you do me a huge favor?" Giles nodded at once. "Could you carry my mom upstairs? She should be in bed too."
As soon as he'd left, Dawn began stripping her sister, trying to dodge her weakly flailing limbs. She pressed an anxious hand to Buffy's burning forehead. She heard Giles's step on the stair and hastily began threading Buffy's arms and legs into her pajamas. Giles waited until Dawn had tucked her mother in and gotten a fresh washcloth for Buffy's head before asking her how sick Buffy had been that afternoon. Dawn relayed the whole story, including colorful commentary on Angel. "Do your best to keep her in bed, Dawn," was all he said when she had finished. "With two master vampires on our side, there's no need for her to patrol until she's completely well."
He would never have heard the chirp of the phone if he'd remembered to take his duster off before falling asleep. He fumbled briefly for it and pushed the talk button. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Are you doing the patrol this morning?"
"Sure am, pet. Why?"
"Can you put it off for a little while? Or maybe get Angel to do it?"
"What's the matter, love?"
"My mom's still sick, and Buffy relapsed last night and I can't wake her up. I think they both need to go to the hospital."
"I'll be there before you know it. Just sit tight."
As they were entering the hospital, Spike turned to Dawn. "I'll take your mum up to the sixth floor. Can you handle checking Buffy in? Good girl. I'll meet you on the sixth floor waiting room couch."
Dawn had a fairly quick time of it. All she'd needed to say was "It might be the flu," before the nurses started clucking maternally at her and at Buffy, who was still not fully conscious. "We'll take care of her, don't you worry. We'll page you if we need any more information."
She stood up when she saw Spike finally heading her way. "Spike?"
"What is it, Munchkin?" he asked, his voice fond but preoccupied. He sank into the couch with a sigh and she sat back down as well.
"I . . . I just wanted to say thanks. You've been so great with my mom, and I thought you should get a thank you from someone, even if it's only me."
Spike sat up a little straighter and turned to face her. "You're welcome." She shrugged slightly. "And there's nothin' only about you, pet." She looked up at him, a shy smile on her face. He touched the tip of her nose with a cool fingertip. "Trust me." She laid her hand down exactly halfway between them. He picked up on her cue and held it in his own. "And your mum and sis will be fine."
Buffy padded softly across the linoleum floor. She'd promised the nurses she would come back and be a model patient if they'd give her ten minutes to see how her mom was doing. After a lot of whispered arguing, they'd finally given in, and she'd made her temporary escape gladly. She stopped moving when she saw Dawn curled up against Spike on the couch. Dawn was sleeping soundly after a night spent tending to both her mother and sister. Her chest rose and fell with each deep breath. Spike, however, was perfectly still. His eyes were closed, but he hadn't relaxed fully into sleep. It struck Buffy for the first time what an extraordinarily ascetic face he had, all clean lines and sharp bone. And yet he could give off such sexual energy. //It's all in the eyes// she decided when they suddenly opened and fixed on her.
"How are you feeling, pet?" he asked her, trying to make room for her on the couch without jostling Dawn or removing the protective arm he'd laid over her.
"I'm a little tired, a little weak, but otherwise okay," she answered, perching on the arm of the sofa. That brought her very close to Spike, and he blinked a little at her sudden proximity.
"Your mum's in the same room as last time. But the doctor from last time isn't here today," he informed her. "And they don't have the test results back yet." She nodded and stood up. She had only taken a few steps when she heard him call her name. "No tricks. When you're done seeing Joyce, go back to your room and let the doctors fix you. Give the Niblet here one less person to worry about."
"Rise and shine, Sugarplum," she heard a deep voice coax. She moaned and burrowed her head deeper into the soft, musky material under her cheek. "Come on, Platelet. Here comes your mum."
Dawn lifted her head from Spike's shoulder to see her mother being wheeled her way by a friendly-looking orderly. "You must be Dawn," he said. "Your mom told me that you had the biggest blue eyes anyone's ever seen. I told her I've heard that before. But she was right. You take the cake." Dawn blushed a little and Spike grinned at her. He stood up to shake the man's callused brown hand.
"Thanks. We'll get her home," he said, and the orderly winked as he strolled away.
Spike paced awkwardly in front of the vending machines as Dawn threw herself into her mother's arms. He saw a tear leave a glistening track over one round cheek. He took his place behind Joyce as they broke the embrace and wheeled the chair down the long hallway, leaving Dawn to walk beside her mother and hold her hand. Every glance, every gesture betrayed their love for each other, and Spike watched it all with a fiercely protective gaze. //There's just something about these Summers women.//
//Where the bloody hell is he?// Giles was silently fuming. Spike had called to apprize him of the hospital run, and they needed Angel to carry out the morning patrol. But the large vampire hadn't told anyone where he was staying or how to get in touch with him. Giles sighed heavily and began to prepare himself to walk Buffy's beat. He explained the situation to Anya and left the shop, an overstuffed duffel bag slapping against his side with each step. He touched the cross in his pocket, uttered a quick prayer, and headed for the nearest of Sunnydale's numerous graveyards.
He was lucky at first. There were no vamps up and about for the first forty-five minutes of his sweep. As soon as he stepped into Shady Rest, however, he could sense the presence of one of the creatures he was seeking. She was pale to the point of being grey-tinged, and her awkward, uncoordinated movements as she drank messily from a homeless man's throat indicated to Giles's practiced eye that she was fairly newly turned. He stepped forward, the cross clutched firmly in his outstretched hand.
Magda could feel the hot blood work its magical way down her cold throat. She was thoroughly enjoying her first fresh meal. She'd snuck out while both Darla and Drusilla had succumbed to heavy slumber, knowing instinctively that unless she fed she wouldn't have the strength to maintain her spell.
Suddenly the blood lost its potent coppery tang, and Magda frowned, her fangs still buried in the wrinkled flesh. She looked up to see a middle-aged man advancing towards her with a cross. She snarled, confused, and clutched her prey closely to her chest as if he'd tried to run away. Defiantly, she turned her back on the living man and began to drink again from the dead one. At last presented with a clear target, Giles thrust his stake home, lingering only to brush the dust from the dead man and gently close his eyes.
His lips were rough, urgent with need and desire, but as she slowly opened her mouth to let him in, his tongue was gentle, confirming the love he'd declared and expressed for over one hundred years. Dru moaned in her sleep, remembering the way she'd felt as Spike loved her. A few tears escaped from beneath her long eyelashes when she remembered distantly that she hadn't felt his touch for years. //What happened to my happy home? What drove my sweet William away?// Try as she might, she couldn't remember, even in her dreams, and Miss Edith preserved a discreet silence.
She kept seeing someone out of the corner of her eye. She'd take a few steps and sense movement beside her, but every time she turned to look, there didn't seem to be anybody there. She tried running, but couldn't seem to lose her fellow traveler. She tried the trick of stopping and starting suddenly to flush out the other person, but his steps continued, sometimes slow, sometimes quick, no matter what she did. Frustrated, she decided to ignore him and simply make her way out of the lush, dark forest she was in. Looking down, she became newly aware that she was stepping on scattered, oversized white and black piano keys. Buffy willed herself to concentrate, going deep inside herself as Giles had taught her, and gradually she began to hear the melody she was making. She stopped to catch her breath and heard another melody next to her. She tried to move toward the sound, but something kept her on her own path, and her own music began again. A strong, slim-fingered hand reached through some dense foliage, and she took it without hesitation. They walked side by side, making separate melodies as they went. She saw a clearing ahead, and when at last she stepped into the sunlight, she looked up and saw that her companion was Spike.
Not even the loud scrape of the heavy door against the stone floor of the crypt could awaken Spike. After running so long on a heady mix of love, rage, and guilt, he had finally ground to a complete stop and abandoned himself to sleep. Angel stood next to the tomb on which his bastard childe lay and looked down at his still form. His fingers twitched, and he rummaged through Spike's stash of junk for a pencil and paper. He'd always wanted to draw Spike, but the younger vampire never stayed still long enough, unless he was comforting Dru, and then he'd always made sure there was a closed door to keep Angel out. Angel's long-standing rage at Drusilla's betrayal surfaced again as he remembered how often she had turned to Spike. //She was mine, my diamond in the rough. I found her, I made her. And she turned instead to that pathetic poet.//
Just as he was seriously considering dusting Spike, he found a pencil and paper and turned once more toward the tomb. His fingers flew as he sketched quickly, and he was done in a matter of minutes. He looked at the drawing in his hand, marveling at how beautiful Spike appeared in it. His sharp features were softer in sleep, his skin unlined, his eyelashes dramatic against his pale cheeks. //He's the new Dorian Gray. And I'll make sure that people see this picture, this truth.// He hastily added bumps and ridges on the smooth forehead and long fangs, crude but effective, between the slightly parted lips. Angel grinned in satisfaction at the portrait of a monster. He put it on Spike's pillow and then went in search of Buffy.
//If one more ice-cold stethoscope gets shoved down this stupid paper "gown," these doctors will witness Slayer power firsthand// Buffy promised herself. The doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with her to cause her dizziness. They'd run every test they had on her. They'd even checked for pregnancy. Twice. But to no avail. She shook her head experimentally, trying to dislodge whatever was blocking it; remarkably, it felt like it had worked. She smiled in relief as excess energy surged into her, and she hopped briskly off the bed to find someone who had the authority to check her out of the hospital.
She caught the downtown bus from outside the hospital and was in front of Spike's crypt twenty minutes later. She opened the door slowly, trying to be quiet in case he'd managed to fall asleep. She saw a Spike-sized lump lying utterly still on top of the tomb, and she inched closer, her face softening as she took in how dear and vulnerable he looked, asleep in the pearly light of the crypt. He shifted restlessly so that he was on his side, and in the stillness she heard a crackling sound. Curious, she stepped closer and saw that he'd nearly rolled right onto the business end of a pencil. With trembling fingers, she eased it away from his body and looked around for a place to put it. Then she saw Angel's sketch lying next to Spike's head.
Her gasp must have been much louder than it was meant to be, because Spike went from lying down to sitting up so fast that he looked like a marionette whose strings had been yanked. Even though she was still shaking from her discovery, Buffy couldn't help noticing the firm planes of his chest and the tight definition of his abs, his adorable bed-head, and the fact that he was blinking sleepily at her, a confused but happy smile stealing across his face. "Buffy? What is it, love? How are you feeling?" he asked, the one thought clear to him in the jumble of his mind being that he had left her in the hospital.
She tried to get herself under control and answer him. "I'm fine, Spike. What is that?" she pointed to the space next to him.
He turned slightly and his eyebrows shot up in surprise when he saw the wrinkled paper on his pillow. He tried to play it off casually. "Looks like that pillock Angel got out his sketchbook again."
Buffy was having none of it. "I know what this means, Spike," she said angrily. All she could see in her mind's eye was that picture of Jenny Calendar. "Why is he drawing you? Why did he leave this pencil next to your heart?" Her voice was shaking, and he laid one hand on her arm to calm her. Her eyes slipped shut. "Just tell me why, Spike," she managed to say quietly. "Were you fighting over Dru?"
He snatched his hand away from her as if he'd been burned, and said roughly, "I don't know what you mean."
He'd been dreaming about Dru when the slayer had awoken him. Her bright face, her tiptilted eyes, her hand as it slipped confidingly into his own. She'd had a smile she kept just for him. Sometimes she craved danger, sometimes she needed comfort, but it was always him she wanted. He was getting lost in these thoughts again when Buffy spoke.
"I don't blame you for being mad. You told me what he did to her . . ."
"It's no worse than what I did to her," he muttered, not even aware that he was interrupting.
"What? What did you do that was so wrong?" she queried in surprise.
"I wasn't there for her, Slayer," he explained angrily, his voice close to breaking. "There she was, being raped by that pillock Angelus, and I wasn't doing a thing to stop it. I thought she was betraying me." He couldn't believe now he'd been so stupid, when one hundred years of evidence pointed against her infidelity. His face was wracked with guilt, his body held punishingly tight.
Buffy sat next to him and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder blade. "No, Spike, I know you did what you could. You even came to me with a truce, remember?"
He remained stiff despite her warm touch. "But she was hurting, and all I could think about was how much it bothered me. I didn't get it, not even when she took off with that Chaos Demon. Dru hated Chaos Demons! And still I didn't understand. I'd never had a proper sire, I never sired a childe; I knew next to nothing about the thrall. But still, I should have known. I should have saved her." His monotone recitation ended as tears streamed silently down his face, and he hunched over, his face in his hands.
When at last he lifted his head, she could see trails of tears glinting silverly on his face. He looked surprised to see her still there, even though she'd had her hand on his bare back the entire time. She gave him a tiny smile when he finally met her eyes and dropped a feather-light kiss on his shoulder. "I know it hurts when you can't save the one person you love with all your heart." Her tone was low and intimate, acknowledging that the two of them were more alike than dissimilar. "I know what it's like to fail. But you tried. You know that. And if she doesn't already, she will someday. I promise, Spike." She was close to tears herself when he wrapped himself around her in a fierce embrace. When he sank back down onto his pillow, she went with him, cradling his head against her body. She felt the sketch crackle underneath her, pulled it out from under her, and ripped it savagely in two, flinging the halves away from them. "I won't let him touch you," she swore as she lay back down, their heads on the same pillow, their eyes level for once. He nodded trustingly and closed his eyes in exhaustion. She kissed her fingertip, laid it gently on his wet cheek, and then slipped out of the crypt.
The familiar smell of stale sweat hit her as she entered the locker room. Dawn's nose wrinkled automatically as she made her way to her locker. She'd wanted to ask Spike to wait an hour before dropping her off so she would miss gym, but he'd looked like he was ready to drop from lack of sleep, so she reconsidered. She waved to Wendy, sitting on one of the benches. Dawn was just tying the laces on her sneakers when she heard Kirstie's dramatic voice. "Well, well. Look who decided to join us."
Dawn looked up, her lips pursed tightly together, trying to keep from responding to the other girl's baiting. "Oh, Dawn, honey, did you have a late night last night? Because you've got serious bags under your eyes." Kirstie shook her head in simulated sympathy. "I guess that job of yours is keeping you busy, huh? Tell me," she said, leaning in confidentially, fully aware that the gaggle of girls that surrounded her was leaning in too, "does the teen porn industry pay well?" There were giggles all around.
"What?" Dawn was beyond surprised. "What are you talking about?"
"Your name is a dead giveaway. I mean, 'Dawn Summers'? Why didn't you just pick 'Misty Rainbow' or 'Kandi Kane'? And that guy you were with - Mr. Black Leather and Cigarettes? Who is he, the director of your little movies?"
"Oh, Spike?" Dawn had recovered from the shock; she was even beginning to enjoy this. "No, he's my bodyguard." She strolled casually out of the locker room, happy to have finally had the last word.
He became aware that he was having trouble breathing; she was coming towards him. He could feel the strength and passion of her like a wall of heat. And then suddenly she was right in front of him, demure as a schoolgirl, her straight lips looking like they'd never been kissed. He raised a hand to touch her, but there seemed to be a halo, a repelling energy field all around her, contoured to fit her shape. She didn't lift a hand to try to touch him, and the sad smile of her eyes remained constant.
The basketball hit him squarely in the side of his head. Riley looked up to see Forrest striding towards him, pausing only to scoop up the ball he'd passed. Graham looked at Riley in concern, asking quietly, "Is it the drugs, Ri?"
Riley could feel only tremendous relief at the excuse he'd been offered. "Yes, it's the drugs. I guess weaning myself off them would have been smarter than going cold turkey. But Professor Walsh wasn't obliging enough to leave any samples lying around."
He could see Forrest out of the corner of his eye watching him with contempt, muttering bitterly, "Buffy." He slammed the ball down with all his might.
Riley felt like he'd been spat on. Forrest was right; the only drug he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms from was Buffy. She challenged, confounded, eluded him. And all he'd done was love her. Loved her knowing she didn't love him back. She'd tried, but her heart had been absent even as she allowed him access to her body. He pictured her slender figure and vivid face. //How could I have let her go?// A towel was flicked at his backside. He looked up to see Graham looking worriedly at him, and a little further off, Forrest looking at him with disdain. //No. You know she never let you be strong. You know she never let you in// he counseled himself sternly. //You know she never treated you like a man, let alone like the man she loved. You were right to leave her.// He raised his head proudly and met Forrest's eyes directly; he'd made his choice. One last thought occurred to him as they walked off the blacktop court. //You don't owe her a thing. It's time to be a man again. Take back what's yours.//
Continue: Part 7/15