Excerpts from the diary of Buffy Summers, 2003
Lorne handed me this notebook and pen today. When I asked him why, he said I have to talk to someone, even if that someone is a piece of paper. I'm not sure I understand what he's so worried about. I mean, I'm acting normal and everything. At least I think so. But he made me promise, so here I am, keeping a journal again.
I haven't done this in ages. After I was called, writing became less and less a part of my life. I've been busy fighting and dying for the last few years. A lot of the little things in life have been forced to fall away. Writing was one of the first victims.
There's time now, finally. But I'm not really sure that's a good thing. I don't know. Everything else is starting over new, so I guess this can just be added to the list. I'm on my way to a new life, in a new city, with a new job and some old friends. But I feel like I'm doing it alone. This is the sort of stuff I don't say out loud. I can't.
Ok, so maybe I see his point. Maybe I do need to talk to someone. But I think I'll stick with paper.
We've been in LA almost two weeks. We'll be leaving in the morning. There's something tugging at me, urging me to stay, but I'm really not sure what. I told Willow I've been feeling this way, and she suggested maybe I wanted to start things up with Angel again. “No way,” I told her. “If Angel has anything to do with this feeling, it's that I think he needs a babysitter to keep him from doing something stupid at Evil, Inc.”
Angel isn't the vampire on my mind, and he'd be a poor substitute. But I didn't say that to Willow.
And it's not like I was lying to her. I am a little worried about this 'belly of the beast' approach Angel is taking. Make that a lot worried. I really doubt it will end well. Maybe I'm afraid that if I don't stay, I'll have another dusty ensouled vamp on my conscience. One is plenty.
I think Angel knows where I am mentally. When we were getting ready to leave for the airport, he gave me that trite departing guest line of “You're welcome to come back anytime.”
But I saw sincerity in his eyes. He really meant it. So I blurted out, “I'll be back on the anniversary, to make a trip to Sunnydale.”
He pulled me into a hug and said he understood, and that there would be a room and a car waiting for me, in a year, or anytime in between. All I'd need to do is call. That was sweet, and unexpected. Something's changed between us, but I'd be hard pressed to put a name to it.
He was such a bastard. His last words to me... burn. I hate to use that word, considering, but that's what it feels like. Damn him.
London's a pretty city. I haven't seen much of it yet, but Dawn and I are planning on giving ourselves the grand tour. She seems to be getting interested in history more and more, and this place is full of it. I can think of one great historical tour guide we could have. Honestly, I think of little else.
There's a burn scar on the palm of my hand. It's all that's left. How can someone be on this planet for the better part of two centuries and leave nothing behind but scars?
I'm on a plane, crossing the Atlantic again, for the second time in two weeks. But I wasn't the one who made the phone call. Angel was. And he didn't call me. He called Willow. She came to my room and woke me up at something like 4am. Not a big deal, since I tend to sleep in little two hour naps these days. I haven't slept straight through the night since Sunnydale. So I wasn't all that groggy. Well, not any groggier than I have been for most of the last month.
She sat on the edge of my bed, with a serious look on her face. “Buffy, I just got a call from LA. Angel said to tell you your room and car are ready.”
I wrinkled up my nose. “Huh? Am I still asleep? That makes no sense. I told him I'd call him when I needed to visit, and it could be a year from now... Wait. Am I being summoned? Is something wrong?”
She took a deep, slow breath, the kind that always comes with bad news. I held my own breath, waiting on her to speak. A thousand scenarios ran through my head, most of which could be summarized simply as 'Pending Apocalypse.'
“Someone sent an amulet to him, and it looks like...”
I blinked at her. “No.”
“It's probably not the same one, since that would be hard to get to. Most likely, the one that... Well, it might have been half of a pair, and now Angel has the other half.” She paused, her eyes locked on mine as she fished for words. “Something came out of it, Buff. Something ghosty, but not First-y.”
“Sort of. Like I said, ghosty.”
“How fast can you get me a plane ticket?”
Pretty fast, as it turns out. By the time I showered, repacked my suitcase, and woke up Dawn to tell her I was going to LA, the magic of Giles' credit card had already secured our passage. Everyone thinks we're being called in to help Angel with a problem. Even Dawn. I just don't want to open that can of worms until I understand what's going on.
This plane is really, really slow, and my mind is racing. Ghosty? Really?
It was like a scene out of a movie. I even felt like I was standing off to the side, watching it happen to me. To us. Angel left me in his office while he went off to look for the resident ghost. Said resident ghost walked through the door -literally- two minutes later. We stood there and stared at each other for what felt like a month. When I finally found my voice, it came with a mouthful of stupid.
“You bastard. You dead, ghosty, semi-translucent bastard.”
“You come halfway 'round the world to say that?”
“No... Yes. Yes, I did. How fucking dare you? How can you say something like that to me, and then have the nerve to come back in a way I can't even hit you for it?”
He shrugged and put his hands in his coat pockets, studying me. I kept glaring at him. Angel opened the door and stepped inside. “Ah, there you are. Am I interrupting?”
I didn't know what to say.
“She's got her guard up. Not convinced I'm not the First Evil,” the ghost murmured.
Not for the first time, I felt relieved he's so good at thinking on his feet. Angel didn't need to be invited to the conversation we were having. I followed his lead and shrugged. “It's a fair concern.”
Angel sat down in his desk chair behind me. “Nah, he's not evil. Just annoying. If he were evil, I'd be dust by now. Things have been... interesting since he came back.” His voice trailed off, and I heard him abruptly stand up again. “Ok, I don't think I'm supposed to be here right now. I'll leave you two to your... staring contest, or whatever this is.”
When we were alone again, the ghost gestured to the sofa. “Have a seat, love. You look tired.”
“I am.” I didn't move. “I don't sleep much these days.”
“Know the feeling.”
“Take it back.”
“Take it back. Tell me you know better. Tell me you were just trying to get me to leave before I got crushed under a falling town. Tell me you don't actually think...”
He sighed. “Slayer... You don't mean it. Got your cold comfort from the cellar dweller, and now you're a free woman. Let it be.”
“No. I can't.”
The stare down resumed, until he flickered out of sight. But I kept staring at the spot he'd occupied for a long time after that.
Willow spends a lot of time in Fred's lab, working on the ghost problem. I spend a lot of time avoiding the entire building. I wander around town, window shopping, taking strolls down memory lane, and staring off into space. Sometimes, I can sense him lurking around. It's not the tingle on the back of my neck I know so well. He'd have to be real for that. It's an awareness (for lack of a better term) of him. I don't know. Maybe it's all in my head.
I don't understand why he's pushing me away. Is this ghost version of him less interested in me? Is he still doing what I really, really hope he was doing as his last act in Sunnydale: push me away because he thought he was a goner?
Or did we run our course without me even realizing it?
Did our crazy little freak show for two collapse with the town in which we'd performed it? Am I just the slow one who hasn't caught on to it?
He was always a step ahead of me. Is the ghost still there?
Pavayne. Another charming, buried secret of sunny, beautiful LA. I still don't get why Giles is so sure there's no Hellmouth here. This town is full to the brim of evil things. I could have spent my entire slayer career here and never gotten bored. Boredom has been on my mind a lot lately. I've been going out at night, killing time while killing demons. There are still too many hours in the day. I wonder how long the days feel for a ghost who doesn't sleep at all.
It's been two weeks since I visited the office. I'm not sure when or if I'll go back. But I can't bring myself to get on a plane and return to England. It would feel so... final.
I think it was almost final without me even being there, though. Or at least, he thought it was. Willow said it got pretty dicey there for a while. He even said his goodbyes. He thanked her and Fred for trying, and told Wils to tell me he was sorry. For what, he didn't say. I guess he was leaving that for me to define. But, like all good heroes, they managed to save the day.
Listen to me, I'm starting to sound like a cynic... like that cynic. Next thing you know, I'll be swearing in weird British slang while still living in California. He's been a terrible influence on me over the years. Maybe I should hop a plane back to England, hit a few pubs, and listen to some pros throw those terms around, so I'll at least get the usage right. But then, there is an expert closer at hand. I'm just not sure what to say to him, or even what we are to each other now. I'm still not sure what we ever were to each other.
Damn, the days are long.
Lorne took me out to dinner tonight. We went to a demon-run Italian restaurant that had some of the best lasagna I've ever tasted. He looked pleased at my empty plate. Apparently, I'm getting too skinny again, and people are starting to worry. By people, I'm sure he means mostly Willow, since she sees me more often than anyone else.
Angel comes out to patrol with me for a little while some nights, sneaking out of his own office to do it. That whole situation is weird. When I dropped him off at his new girlfriend's place last night, he double checked that I was still planning on dinner tonight with Lorne. So clearly everyone is talking to each other, even though they're seeing me separately.
So anyway, about halfway through my third glass of wine, Lorne drops a little bombshell: The ghost wants to see me. I told him there was nothing stopping him, since he can go anywhere in LA, and I haven't left town. But apparently, he's waiting on me to come to him. Lorne thinks he's afraid to piss me off by following me around town, afraid he'll drive me away, so he hasn't been leaving the office.
So I guess it was all in my head, after all. The only thing following me around is my guilty conscience.
Willow bounced into my bedroom in our hotel suite tonight. No, seriously. She bounced, like Tigger on steroids. She grabbed me in a quick hug and then fell onto her back on the bed with a stupid grin on her face. “He's not a ghost, Buff. I can't believe it. He's not actually a ghost.”
I felt my stomach sink into my toes. “The First.”
“No. He's a vampire.”
Her grin got impossibly wide. “He came out of the amulet as a vampire, same as he went in, but there's magic bound around him, keeping him incorporeal and anchored to the amulet. It will take a little more work and research, but I'm pretty sure Fred, Wes, and I can unwind it.”
“It sounds like you guys are making quite a team.”
“Mostly me and Fred. Wes has been a little distracted this week. I felt strong magics around Fred's lab assistant, so he's going through another hard vetting process with Wes and Lorne. I have a feeling that position is going to be open soon.”
“Are you thinking of applying for the job?”
“Nah, when Project De-Ghosting is done, I need to get back to London. I already have a Council job waiting on me... And you're so changing the subject.” She sat up. “Will it be red-eye plane tickets for three?”
“That's not my call to make, Wils.”
“So get off your butt and go see what the call is.” I didn't answer. I just stared at the faint burn scar on my hand. “Buffy, he misses you.”
I looked up at her. “Really?”
I walked into the lab this afternoon to see Willow and Fred hunched over a monitor, debating the meaning of what they were reading. Across the room, standing in the middle of a circle of blue sand, was the ghost, his arms crossed over his chest and a cranky expression on his face. I stepped up beside him, careful to stay outside the circle. We watched the debate together for a moment before I spoke, still keeping my eyes away from him.
“So the point at which science and magic meet is in the offices of an evil law firm? I didn't see that one coming. I figured it would be in the basement of some ancient university, where seething cauldrons would be surrounded by chalkboards full of math problems or something.”
He followed my lead, avoiding eye contact. “Nice of you to stop by.”
“A rumor is going around that there's an incorporeal vampire here who wants to see me. What's up?”
“Need to answer a question you asked me.”
“Yeah, the falling town was a concern. So was the disappearing ghost.”
“Is that still a concern?”
“Won't be if Red and Twiggy have their way. Seem to think they've about got it figured out.”
“Didn't want you to feel tied to me like that. A clean break would be better.”
“Yes, because you and I always do the simple, smart thing. Clean breaks.”
“Sure we do. You know, if death and destruction count.”
We looked at each other, making eye contact for the first time in weeks. I'm pretty sure my smirk matched his. Then we broke up laughing. Willow and Fred looked up, noticing me for the first time.
“Buffy! Hey! You're just in time! We're about to do an experiment.” Fred seemed really excited.
The ghost beside me lost his smile quickly. “Won't this be fun,” he grumbled.
“Oh, please!” Willow waved her hand. “You're already dead. What's the worst that can happen?”
“Was she this cavalier when it was me she was bringing back from the dead?” I asked the ghost.
“She was sneakier, but considering where they left the body...”
I threw Willow a glare. “You've thought this all the way through, right?”
“Yes, yes. Don't worry. He's not going to solidify under the rubble of Sunnydale... I think.”
He growled in reply. Fred laughed at him. “Oh, she's just kidding! You might feel a little zap, though.”
A narrowly aimed flash of white light was directed into the circle, like a fat bolt of lightening. The circle itself smoked in the aftermath, leaving behind a smell like sage and chemicals. I coughed as I waved it away. Then I looked inside the circle. He was staring at his hands, which had suddenly lost their translucent appearance, as had the rest of him. He raised his eyes to mine.
I reached inside the circle and grabbed his hand, my thumb skimming across a scar on his palm that felt so much like my own. “Uh, guys?” I said, my eyes still locked on his. “He's warm.”
“There was a lot of heat in that blast. He'll cool off soon,” Fred assured me.
Doubtful, I shifted two fingers to his wrist. There was no pulse. I exhaled a breath I hadn't realized I was holding. “Ok, good.”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “That's good, eh?”
I nodded. “You're still you. And solid.”
He called over to Willow. “Hey, Red? Can the lab rat step out of the maze now?”
“Go for it. But that was only a test. You probably only have a few minutes before it wears off. You'll need a lot more before you stay solid.”
His eyes were still on mine. “Got it.” He stepped over the blue sand.
I completely forgot we weren't alone in the room as familiar, leather-clad arms were wrapped around me. Spike just didn't care.
Willow wasn't exaggerating when she said it would take a lot more of those fat lighting bolts to remove all the magic binding Spike. To fully remove it, they'll need a lot more power. She and Fred are still arguing the risks and merits of drawing that power from practical sources or magical ones. I have a feeling the answer will be somewhere in the middle, and probably dangerous.
Danger is the nature of the business. Unsafe lab conditions and possibly blacking out downtown LA are risks Fred is going to have to accept. Channeling a little Scary Vein-y Willow and starting a thunderstorm are risks Willow is going to have to accept. But try telling either of them that. Wes is going to have to step in soon to mediate, or Lorne's next party is going to feature Nerd Girl Mud Wrestling. At least, that's what Spike thinks. Personally, I think they'll settle it peacefully, and get it all worked out with an acceptable amount of badness. He wants to take bets. Figures.
We've been talking a lot this week, while the science and magic people do their thing. He's been joining me on patrols. We walk around the seediest parts of town, looking for baddies I can beat on. And we talk. It's... relaxing?
I know that's a word people don't usually associate with fidgety, moody, master vampires, but it's the best one I can come up with. I knew I had been missing him in a lot of ways, but I hadn't realized how much of what I was missing was...
Well, this is something else I shouldn't say. But who's going to read this? If all else fails, I'll pull a Dawnie and burn this journal. So that makes it safe to say it here, right?
I've been missing my best friend.
I have no idea when that happened, and I don't dare say it aloud, where Willow might hear of it. But the term feels right, like it fits. At some point in the last couple of years, Spike became my go-to guy, and not just for sex. Our conversations have kept me going, even kept me alive, more than once. He's the stabilizing force in the mess that is the Buffy Brain, and he's an interesting guy to talk to, besides.
Somewhere along the line, I started finding his dry wit and sarcasm funny. I started enjoying his stories. I started respecting his advice. And I started letting him into the aforesaid messy brain more than anyone else. Somewhere along the line, we started trusting each other as more than allies. As friends.
But I'm still yearning to touch him again. No number of 'good talks' will make that wish go away. Even death couldn't make that wish go away. And both of us have tried it, so I'm sure on that point.
Tonight was a total disaster. Ok, not totally. I had another dinner date with Lorne, and that was good. This time it was a lot less about making sure I wasn't wasting away mentally and physically, and a lot more fun. We're going shopping on Saturday. He thinks my wardrobe is too bland.
“Oh, honey. Promise me you'll get some color and life in your closet before all that utilitarian beige kills us both.”
Isn't he a hoot? But he's right. The wardrobe I've built since Sunnydale is nothing but neutrals, mostly black cargo pants and loose beige tops. All I own in the world is a small suitcase of patrol clothes.
It's not like this is totally new. My wardrobe has been drifting in a neutral direction for years. I just had a few of my old, more colorful clothes still in rotation. But all those old clothes are gone. And I really didn't think I'd need anything but patrol clothes when I bought new stuff. It's not like I planned on doing any partying or dating in London.
But if Lorne's going to insist on adding some color, I'm going to make him help. Saturday should be fun.
Then there was the disaster part of the evening. I did something unbelievably stupid to myself after Lorne and I left the restaurant. I took both of the vampires on patrol with me at the same time. Oh. My. God. I think I'm now officially qualified to mediate bitter divorces.
I spent half of the walk trying to keep the bickering about stupid stuff that happened a hundred years ago at a civilized volume. The other half was spent trying to figure out who gives a shit if cavemen could beat astronauts in a fight.
I learned two things tonight: First, that I'll land at the loony bin again if Willow and Fred don't solidify Spike soon, so those two can fight out their problems like normal vamps. Fights I can deal with. The bickering makes me want to scream and rip my hair out.
Second, I don't want children. Ever. At all. You see, I know and understand the Buffy Luck Matrix at this point. I'd either get daughters like me and Dawnie, or sons like that pair of very, very old kindergarteners I took on patrol tonight. No, thank you. I'm not going to risk either.
The lab rat went back into the maze this afternoon. Like the previous shot, he started to fade after about ten minutes. But now, if he concentrates, he can touch things. It's not much. Knock something off of Angel's desk. Adjust the ringer volume on Harmony's desk phone. Caress my cheek. Little, quick things. Progress. He's enjoying it, but we're both frustrated we haven't gotten more yet. This really is taking too long.
I asked Willow about it, and she explained it as 'loosening the knot' on the magic that's wound around him. The hybrid power zaps of magic and electrical charge (I so called it) she and Fred have created are weakening the spell that's keeping him incorporeal. They've decided the safest way to continue is to do daily small blasts of their little lightning machine, until the spell is noticeably weaker. Then they'll do the big blast that will turn off the lights for six blocks and make Willow's hair turn funny colors.
I plan to be there for every treatment, if for no other reason than to touch him for a few minutes before the interrupting spell (that's the part of the power blast that makes him temporarily solid and lets the 'knot loosening' stuff in) wears off. When it comes time for the big, final blast of magic and electricity, I'll be there for that, too. Armed. With the Devon coven on speed dial. You know, just in case.
It's a sassy little red dress. Not super little, of course. The skirt hits me just above the knee, and flares out when I spin. It's a dancing dress. It's hidden in a garment bag in my hotel room closet for now, waiting for my dance partner.
Spike came back to the hotel with me after patrol tonight and sat on the edge of the bed while I hung up my jacket. I was too stunned to join him. I stood there, staring at him, still holding the goofy, headless hotel hanger. When he realized what he'd done, and why I was staring, he slowly stood up and tried to sit down again. He started to fall through the bed, but regained his feet before he landed on the floor. Baby steps, right? I should be happy we're making progress. At least, that's what he says.
I ran to Willow's room to wake her up and give her a full report the second he left the hotel. I didn't care that it was after three a.m. She did. Oops.
Lorne and I went out shopping again tonight. I needed shoes to wear with my dress, and he went with me to pick out a pair, and try to prevent me coming home with another pair of boots. (He really did give it a valiant effort, I swear.) We were looking at a great pair of strappy, open-toed cuties when I felt something at the edge of my senses.
“Vampire,” I whispered.
“The sun set less than an hour ago. Someone must be hungry!”
The vampire came closer. I recognized the signature. I grinned. “No, not hungry. Looking for us.”
“Your words say 'ominous' but your face says 'party.' Share to care?”
“You sure about that, Shortcake?”
“Lornie, I know that signature better than I know my own name.”
Spike walked into the busy boutique a minute later, while Lorne and I were pretending to be very interested in a pair of hot pink loafers. I was mostly trying not to laugh. Lorne, in an effort to preserve every part of my surprise outfit, had literally shoved the strappy heels into a sales clerk's hands, asking him to hold them behind the counter for us, and then ran back to me, grabbing those hideous loafers on the way, and shoving them into my hands. He looked ridiculous.
And Spike saw right through it. He came up behind Lorne and whispered in his ear. “What've you done to my slayer, Greenie? Made her colorblind?”
Lorne jumped and stuttered.
I held up the shoes. “I don't know. I think all sensible shoes should come in neon.”
Spike looked back and forth between us. “You two are up to something.”
“Nope. I just knew you were coming.” I tapped the back of my neck.
It was Spike's turn to be startled. “Really?” I nodded. “Love, I think you'd better tell Red. It's time.”
At one a.m., I called Giles. It was nine a.m. in London, and he had just gotten to his desk. “Giles, I need you to contact the coven. Have them on standby. Willow's going to be using some heavy magic, and we may need to rein her back in after.”
I could almost hear him regretting getting contact lenses. “Buffy, what have you got yourselves into out there? Your updates have been very vague. Telling me you've had good patrols and aren't in any serious jeopardy is hardly adequate explanation for your long absence. And now this?”
“If I tell you, you have to promise it won't leak to Dawnie. I don't want to get her hopes up.”
“Alright. I promise.”
“Spike is back. That's why we flew out here. The problem is--”
“Spike is back?” he repeated. “Good lord. Bounced out of hell like Angel was?”
I wrinkled my nose in disgust. “No! He was trapped in the amulet, and got out, but he's still bound by the magic from it. He's incorporeal, but not a ghost, and not the First. Willow and Fred have been trying to break him out, and they're almost there. But to get the job done--”
“She's going to have to cross a line she probably shouldn't be crossing.”
“We don't know if the thing with the scythe was a one-off, Giles. We need to cover bases.”
“Buffy, you know I don't support--”
“Helping out the guy who closed the Sunnydale Hellmouth?” I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, that wouldn't be very Watcherly of you, would it?”
He sighed, that long, slow sigh of 'I know you're right, but I'll be damned if I'll say it.' “I'll have Althenea call you.”
“You'll call me when the job is done, then?”
“And what happens after that?”
Althenea sent me a teeny tiny wooden box (via a teleportation spell) with strict instructions not to open it unless I have to, and to call her immediately if I do. Just having it makes me nervous.
I went to Angel's office as soon as I received it. “I need you to be there when we do this.”
He seemed surprised. “I thought you would ask the opposite. You know, so I don't have to watch anyone... enjoying cookies.”
“Yeah. That.” I shifted my weight. “I'll promise there will be no... snacking in the lab.” I pulled the box out of my pocket and sat it on the desk. “Containment spell, tweaked to pull its power from demon essences. The little bit I have may not be enough, and if Spike isn't... doesn't...”
“You need a back up demon power source.” He fidgeted with the pen in his hand. “You and Lorne are pretty tight. Why ask me?”
“This is a warrior's job, Angel. Given how bad things got the last time Willow lost herself to the magic, I think it's safe to say this falls into champion territory, and it might take all three of us.”
The only sounds were the clicking of the machinery and occasional murmurs from Fred and Willow as they made the final preparations. I looked up at Fred's glass-enclosed office. Angel, Wes, Gunn, and Lorne were watching the lab floor. I tried to give them a reassuring smile, but I'm not sure I managed it.
I tightened my grip on the tiny wooden box Althenea had sent me.
“Think Red can keep herself in check?” Spike whispered from beside me.
“Actually, I do. And she'll have help if she starts to slip. It's a ton of power, but she'll be ok.”
“If they lose control of it, love, promise you'll close your eyes.”
I frowned. “How am I supposed to stop it with my eyes closed?”
“It's magic and electricity, Buffy. ...You don't need to see me burn again.”
“I might. And it'll be the last time. Promise me.”
We were still glaring at each other, locked in a silent argument, when Willow called out, “Is everyone ready?”
I broke eye contact with Spike to nod to her. I began whispering to myself, the verbal equivalent of crossing my fingers. “Today doesn't count. Today doesn't count.”
“Counting, are you?” Spike murmured.
“You did.” I resumed my quiet chant. “Today doesn't count.”
“It still might, love. Promise me you'll close your eyes.”
I gave him a glare he knows better than to argue with. “Today doesn't count,” I said clearly.
That's when it started. The lightning bolts were blindingly white, the heat ridiculously intense. I could barely see Spike through the flashes, even though he was only two feet from me.
He roared in pain. It took everything I had not to reach out to him.
Across the room, Willow had her hands up, catching the electrical charge from the device Fred was firing behind her, and redirecting it -with the addition of her own raw power- into the circle beside me. I squinted through the flashes, trying to see if her hair was changing color.
And then it happened.
“Auto-shut off failed!” Fred yelled. I couldn't see her, but I could hear the screech of a metal panel being torn away. “Willow! Make it stop!”
Spike roared again.
I could make out the expression on Willow's face changing, from intense concentration to something fearful and frustrated. “I-- I can't!”
I knew that smell. Burning flesh. Right beside me. I lunged into the sand circle, tackling the source of the smell, and knocking us both out of the line of fire.
I opened the box.
I rolled off of Spike and jumped to my feet. I shouted up to the office “Angel!”
He was already running down the stairs. By the time I'd grabbed Spike's hand with the one in which I held the tiny box, Angel had reached us. He held out his hand, palm up, and I dropped mine and Spike's joined hands into it. The box between our palms glowed, and a swirl of golden energy, about the shade of a vampire's eyes, flew toward Willow.
While we watched it wrap around her, I could hear Gunn cursing at the breaker box on the other side of the room. He shouted to Fred to back away from her equipment, and with a thump and a sizzle, the whole room went dark, save the glowing ring around Willow, holding her about two feet off the floor.
She was gasping for breath, and had a terrified look in her black eyes. Her hair was streaked with white. Her hands were still held out in front of her, but balled into shaking fists. Her body jerked with the surging energy, like a shudder that wouldn't stop.
I became aware of an accented voice coming closer to me in the darkness. “It seems to be holding, but Miss Rosenberg does not look well. Here is Miss Summers.” Wesley handed his phone to me.
“Althenea,” I whispered. “She looks like she's in pain.”
“Do you think she's a danger to you?”
“No, but I think she might have sucked up too much energy, and now it has nowhere to go.” I described for her exactly what I was seeing.
“How is the spell box being charged?”
“One slayer, two vamps. I don't know about them, but I'm suddenly really tired.”
“It's not just you,” Angel said from beside me.
I glanced at Spike. I could see the physical strain on his face. “Ok, make that all three of us. Angel's wearing down, and Spike looks like he's about to fall over.”
“We need to draw the energy out of her, Buffy. Stop powering the containment spell. Detach one of the vampires.”
I didn't give it a second's thought. “Spike, let go of my hand.” He hesitated, his gaze drifting to the hand in which ours rested. “Fine, but if you pass out, I'm not taking your stubborn ass home... Ok, Althenea one battery pulled.”
“Is there any change?”
“The ring around her is getting a little faint... Wait. Willow is opening her hands to it, like she's trying to do something to the ring. It's getting brighter, but kind of green.”
“She's charging the containment spell herself, Buffy. This is good. She's draining her excess energy in the safest way she can think of.”
“Should we be worried about the color?”
“The gold was from demon energy. The green is from a witch's power. Break free from the other vampire.”
“Angel, let go.” I watched the ring turn even greener, tendrils of gold light -from me, I guess- swirled around in a now mostly green ring. Willow's expression began to change to one of relief. I told Althenea what I was seeing.
“Containment spells take a lot of energy to maintain. That's why I wanted you to have help on hand. That same energy need makes the spell a convenient dumping ground for Willow's excess. It's good to know I taught her something useful. Buffy, place the box on the floor and step away from it.”
I did as I was told. The gold disappeared from the ring of light. “She's not hovering so high anymore.”
“She's going to run out of power to feed the spell soon. You can close the box as soon as you feel safe in doing so. She'll be very tired for a few days. I expect you and the vampires to feel the same way. If there are any other after-effects, please call me.”
“I will. Thanks, Althenea. I'm sure Willow will be in touch sometime soon.”
“See that she is. Goodbye, Buffy.”
“Bye.” I handed the phone back to Wesley, and knelt down beside the box. “Wils?”
Willow's drooping head lifted, and her eyes met mine. She looked exhausted. “I'm ok, Buffy.”
I closed the box.
And the rest of yesterday is a total blank.
I woke up this afternoon on a pull out sofa in Lorne's office, feeling like I'd been hit by a truck full of Jack Daniels. My head was pounding. The light coming in through the window seemed violently bright. I buried my head between my pillow and the wall of soft leather beside me. It took my foggy brain a minute to figure out what that wall was.
I jumped up into a sitting position so fast, I think my achy head might never forgive me. My hands were all over him. Not in a sexy way, but in a 'checking to see if he was real' way.
He woke up to the feeling of my hand on his cheek, and my voice in his ear. “I told you so, stupid. Today doesn't count.”
“Pretty sure it almost did,” he whispered back. “Nice tackle, by the way.” He began to shift around on the slightly lumpy mattress.
I moved my hand to his shoulder, holding him in place, still with his back to me. “Don't roll over yet. I need to ask you something, and I need to do it while I can still crawl out of this bed and leave, without having to look you in the eye if you say no. I can't take that again.”
“Wasn't planning on letting you out of the bed at all.”
I smiled at that. Who wouldn't? But my hand didn't move from his shoulder. “Don't roll over unless...” I had to force the next words out, and they came in a whisper. “Unless you're sure you believe me.”
My hand slipped from his shoulder as he rolled onto his back.
I think I'd forgotten what it was like, how easily the rest of the world could become this fuzzy, indistinct background, leaving the intensity of his eyes the only clear thing. The world got a little fuzzier as he pulled me down toward him. By the time our lips met, I was sure we were in Sunnydale again, cuddled together on a narrow camp cot in a dark basement, the nervous chatter of whispering teen girls in the rooms above us, and below us -on the floor under the cot- two very different pairs of black boots and an amulet.
I don't know what day it is. I've lost count.
We're leaving tomorrow. I called Dawnie this morning. She said she and Giles have found an apartment for us, and she seemed pretty excited about snatching it up. I told her whatever she liked would be fine, so long as my bedroom didn't have any east-facing windows.
“Huh? Wait... Buffy, what exactly have you been doing at Angel's office?”
“Um...” I had no idea what to say.
Spike took the phone from me. “Hello, Nibblet.”
I think he's going to be a little deaf in his right ear for a few days.
Nina was trying to be nice, and it really was a sweet gesture, but it got awkward in a big, fat hurry.
She came to LAX with Angel to see us off. I've only met her a few times, so it seemed weird to me. Maybe she wanted to make sure I was gone, that I wouldn't be around to distract him anymore. No, that's mean. She really has been super nice, and didn't deserve to step on that little land mine...
As we were saying our goodbyes, she fished around in her purse for something. “I made you a little snack, for your trip.”
“That's sweet of you, Nina. Thanks.”
“They're freshly baked.” She handed me a plastic baggie full of chocolate chip cookies.
I stared at the bag for a minute. Then I slowly looked up at Angel.
He took the bag from my hand and gave it to Spike, but kept his eyes on mine.
“Thank you,” I whispered. I pulled him into a hug. “That means a lot.”
“Enjoy the cookies, William,” Angel mumbled over my shoulder. “Carefully, or I'll stake you myself.”
I'm willing to bet Nina demanded an explanation for that weirdness as soon as they were alone. Spike did, pretty much the second we were out of their earshot. But I doubt Nina thought it was quite so funny. Willow keeps looking across the aisle at us, probably wondering why Spike is occasionally still snickering to himself while I'm busy writing.
I mean, I think it's August 4th. Time zones and overnight air travel really screw me up.
We're crossing the Atlantic now. I'm on my way to a new home, a new job, and some old friends, just like I was two months ago. But everything is different this time. Mostly, I think I'm what's different. That's stupid, right? The obvious difference is sitting beside me, and starting to fidget again.
I think what's different is that a few weeks ago, I started quietly pushing away the ghost who is always beside me. No, not that one. The other one. The big one. That haunting old daydream I've been kicking around since I was called. The one I've been ignoring, and hiding, and arguing with Spike about for years.
I began to settle into having lasagna dinners with a Pylean empath, dropping my vampire ex off at his werewolf girlfriend's house, buying a red dancing dress for no reason but raw hope, being excited at the sight of a vampire sitting on a bed, having a pre-packaged containment spell teleported to me, and all the other not-normal things that make up my life.
I've finally let go of that core-deep belief that if I live long enough, I'll end up human, living a normal human life. My life isn't normal. It's chaos and danger and enough weirdness to sink a city. I'm finally getting comfortable with that. Somewhere along the line, when I wasn't even looking, I realized that the childish daydream of a normal life was just a ghost, something I kept beside me, even when I knew it was pointless to cling to it.
When I let the ghost drift away, I saw the other thing that is always beside me. Which is where he's sitting right now, shuffling a deck of cards on his tray, nagging me.
“Put the bloody notebook away, already. A little young for your magnum opus, aren't you?”
He's solid and real, and just as annoying as ever. I look up at him, and it dawns on me that he's always been solid, that he's been my twitchy, snarky rock since long before I accepted that he was. With him, I can be not-normal, in my not-normal life, and it's perfectly normal for me. He's known that for ages.
“Hold your horses. I'm almost done. Here. Have a cookie.”
So the cookies taste a little funny, like there are extra ingredients you wouldn't expect. Maybe the oven was a sunlit cavern, and the long overdue karma of his stinging rejection. That's ok. Maybe that's what I needed to get solid. A day-old, slightly crunchy cookie being nibbled on an airplane.
I push him away from my ear. “Deal the cards and can the Mile High Club daydreams,” I whisper.
He's chuckling. Willow is looking over at us again, at the weird replay of me bent over my notebook and Spike laughing alone beside me. I throw her a shrug. Of course it looks a little strange from the outside, but doesn't everything in my life look that way? Hasn't it always? It feels so good to finally be comfortable with that, I'm not even sure how to explain it.
All I know is, I don't feel it anymore, hovering beside me. After all these years, the ghost is completely gone, and all that's left beside me is a slightly crazy old vamp with a burn scar on his palm. He cheats at Rummy, flirts with flight attendants, and drives me nuts with his fidgeting.
I don't miss the ghost at all.