Rating: PG-13 (mild swearing)
Summary: A post-Chosen story in two parts.
Note: Starts at the very beginning of Angel 5x4 “Hellbound” and then goes off on its merry way. No copyright infringement intended.
Part One: Unfinished Business
Dawn’s cheek was pressed against something scratchy. She opened one eye and groaned. Her head was pounding, stomach protesting drinks she couldn't remember. She was in Buffy's bedroom, sprawled across the comforter in the center of the bed. "Buffy?" The word was barely audible, her tongue thick and dry. Dawn squeezed her eyes closed, rolled onto her back, hands clasped over her stomach.
The door opened, Spike leaned inside. “You alright?”
Dawn struggled to raise herself up on her elbows. The pounding in her head increased threefold. She dropped her head back to the pillow. Spike walked across the floor silently.
Dawn kept her eyes closed. "Where's Buffy?"
"Still?" Last year when Buffy broke her leg and was laid out for three days, Dawn had sat in this same room beside her sister, while Spike was in Alaska without cell coverage.
“You need anything?”
“Time machine.” Dawn sat up suddenly, “I have to teach.” The sudden rush of blood to her head made her feel even worse.
“Nah. I emailed. Told them you had food poisoning.”
“You used my phone?”
He sat down on the bed. “You gave it to me.”
“I called Buffy.”
Spike nodded in agreement. “You called here next. Pissed and blotto.”
She leaned forward until her head touched her bent legs. “I think I’m dying.”
“Sobering up’s more like it.”
"I didn’t do anything else, did I?”
Spike shook his head. “Don’t think so. Kept going on and on about deleting his number.”
Dawn grimaced. “How’d I get here?”
“Had two choices,” Spike replied, “stay with you or bring you here. No chance of him showing up here.”
“You drove me?”
“Didn’t carry you over my shoulder.”
She rolled her eyes. “My head’s going to explode. Does Buffy have any aspirin?”
When Spike returned, she was curled up in a ball, facing the wall. “He’s got a new girlfriend,” she admitted. “I saw it yesterday. All internet official.”
Spike passed her the aspirin. He’s not good at girl moments.
“I thought it was okay. Thought I was over him.” Dawn looked over at him, “you don’t want to hear this.” She picked up the half-empty bottle of water from the comforter, swallowed the pills from what looked like an incredibly uncomfortable angle. Dawn raised herself to a half-sitting position, legs stretched towards Spike, shoulders against the pillows.
Spike sat down at the foot of the bed, passed her a mug of coffee, ice cubes nearly melted. "Should stay off the web," he chided.
"You're one to talk. Remember when you came back? Your phone was practically glued to your hand." Dawn gulped down two sips of coffee in quick succession.
She laced her fingers around the cup. "Of course. Different rules for ghosts."
Spike swatted at her foot. "Watch it. Wasn't a ghost."
"Fine," she relented, "then tell me while I wait for the room to stop spinning."
“You’re not a ghost.”
Spike crossed his arms. “Really? And what difference does that make?”
Fred brightened. “It means that if I can defy most of the laws of nature, I might be able to make you corporeal.”
“Oh.” Spike leaned back. Fred winced as he crashed through the metal table and fell to the floor.
“Are you alright?”
“Never better,” he groused.
"Can you stay still?" One of her machines beeped loudly.
Spike frowned. "Sure. Let me kick my boots up on the counter while I'm at it."
"Not helping." Fred didn't look up from her scanner. She frowned at the display.
The phone rang and Fred moved around Spike to answer it. Considerate and reflexive. Unnecessary considering his circumstances.
“Lab…Sure I’ll be right up.” She replaced the receiver. “Come on.”
Spike’s forehead wrinkled. “Where?” Fred didn’t answer. He followed her across the lab, through the open doors.
“I’m going upstairs. You’re going to the lobby.”
“There’s someone here to see you.” She stopped at the metal staircase. “Go. I’ll see you later.”
Spike looked around the lobby slowly. His mystery visitor was leaning over Harmony’s desk, elbows jutting out, voice rising over the normal din. He recognized her tone, too often directed at him, wheedling and frustrated. A duffel bag lay at her feet. Flat soled leather boots covered her calves and stopped beneath her knees. She wore dark jeans and a fitted jacket, her hair loose.
“Look, I don’t care if you called already. Call again or I’ll come around this desk and -.”
She stopped mid-sentence and turned slowly towards him. Her face was pale beneath the careful application of makeup. Spike caught a glimpse of dark polished nails before her open palm went through his cheek. Dawn staggered backwards.
Spike crossed his arms over his chest. “Not as dramatic as you’d hoped?”
Her mouth opened and closed quickly.
“Come on.” He gestured at her bag, “I’d offer to carry it but chivalry’s dead.”
Dawn swung the bag over her shoulder and followed Spike into an open conference room. She slammed the door shut.
“Feel better,” he asked.
Dawn dropped her bag on the table, arms crossed defiantly. “You’re back.”
“Apparently. How’d you find out?”
“Willow.” Dawn exhaled loudly as she flopped into a leather chair. “Fred emailed. Willow called Giles.”
"So the gang’s back together?”
Dawn shrugged again. “I guess.”
“Old Rupert can’t be too keen on helping me.”
“He probably wants to stake you.”
Spike nodded, “can’t do that if I’m all ghostly, can he?”
Dawn puffed out her cheeks. "Is there any food around?"
"Haven't had time to scope out the sights."
"Whatever." She swung open the door. There had to be someplace that delivered.
Spike was still in the conference room when she returned, kicking the conference door closed with her heel. Dawn slid a pile of menus across the table; Spike watched several sail over the edge of the polished wood. She swore under her breath.
"What's all this?"
She shrugged, sliding the menus into a messy pile. He waited. She disgarded two menus, picked up a third.
"I'm fine thanks," Spike replied.
Dawn's mouth twisted. "Whatever. Not like you need to eat."
"I hate you."
Spike reached his finger towards a bright orange paper. "Join the queue." He stretched his hand out. It passed through the menu.
Dawn looked away before he caught her staring. She disgarded another menu. It landed face up and Spike leaned over the table. "This one has chocolate chip pancakes."
"I'm not a kid," Dawn retorted, slapping down a white menu. "You can't make things better with chocolate and carbs."
She rolled her eyes; playing second fiddle to Buffy was one thing. Being ignored was another. "Aren't you going to ask about her?"
"You going to stop acting like a brat?"
She leaped to her feet, menus cascading over the table in a flurry of color. "I hate you! How could you do this? You were dead! She-”
He floated through the conference table, stood as close to Dawn as possible without floating through her shoulder. “She what?”
Dawn sniffled loudly, wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. "Forget it. Ask her if you care so much."
Spike moved backward, "she's coming?"
"Obviously." Dawn drew the word out as long as she could.
She shrugged, "dunno. Faith went to Rome."
"Back up. What?"
Dawn leaned against the table. "Buffy's in Rome. Big secret mission. Faith goes there. Buffy comes here."
"Does she know?"
"What? That you're back?" Dawn pressed her lips together. He waited her out. "Yeah, she knows."
"Who told her?" It felt good to lash out at someone other than Angel, someone who knew just how little he deserved sympathy.
"I don't know. Not me." Dawn retrieved a menu and pretended to study it. "So pancakes." Her tone was brisk and efficient, enough like her sister to be scary. It made Spike smile.
Dawn looked up, "what?"
Spike frowned. "Nothing."
She shook her head, hair spilling across her chest.
“Look on the bright side. She might not even come.”
Dawn rolled her eyes, “you don’t deserve her.”
"You don't think I know that? Fought the good fight, didn’t I? Closed the Hellmouth. Saved you lot. And what do I get? An eternity of haunting Angel?” Spike shrugged, “maybe this is better."
Dawn sat down slowly. “I asked her about you.” She raised her eyebrows for emphasis.
Spike looked down at the top of her head, studied the highlighted strands absently. “And?”
“And nothing. Buffy said it was none of my business.”
Almost apologies burned his tongue; more accusations tingled on hers.
Dawn twisted a corner of the menu. "Do you need any.." She stopped mid-thought. He was old enough to take care of himself, corporeal or not; he didn’t need her to fetch and carry.
She placed the order quickly: chocolate chip pancakes, extra syrup. Impulsively she added cheese fries and a diet soda.
"Thought you weren't getting pancakes," Spike said.
"I never said that," Dawn countered.
"Yeah." Dawn looked up quickly. Spike was watching her with an unfamiliar expression on his face. "Thanks."
Spike nodded. Maybe he would be okay.
Buffy held her phone away from her ear, half-listening. Her bag sat lopsided on the desk, passport safely tucked inside. She tipped the phone back. “Giles,” she interrupted, “can you email me this?”
“Email?” He sounded affronted.
“I have to go to the airport,” she said, voice hoarse.
“Yes. Well I believe Willow and Ms. Burkle have been in touch.”
“Then I’ll check with her first. Giles, I have to go. Faith’s here.”
“Ah.” They were both careful to keep their tones light.
“I’ll call you later,” she said and ended the call before he could answer. Faith stood in the doorway. Buffy pushed her chair away from the desk and stood awkwardly. “You got here fast.”
Faith shrugged, “left most of the junk for you.”
“Your flight’s at three.”
Buffy dropped her phone into her purse. “You're kicking me out?”
“Yeah. My mission, my apartment. Leave the computer.”
Buffy picked up her purse and looked at the suitcase by the door. “You're good?”
“Yeah. I’m over England. Too gray.”
Buffy crossed the apartment. She stopped in front of the door.
Faith picked up a half-empty glass of wine, swirled the liquid inside. “Go. Do whatever it is you two do. Leave me out of it.”
Buffy opened the door and wheeled her suitcase into the hall.
“And don’t keep in touch,” Faith called after Buffy’s retreating figure. “I hate happy every afters.”
The door swung closed. Faith took a long sip of wine. Different place, same B.
Buffy’s eyes were burning when she stepped out of the cab. She crossed the sidewalk, pushed open the heavy glass door. Inside the lobby she hesitated, blinking to adjust to the brightness.
She barely had time to turn around before her arms were filled with Dawn. Her sister had a white paperbag in one hand and Buffy wrapped an arm around Dawn, careful not to whack her sister with her bag. "You shouldn't have come," Buffy admonished.
"Who else would?"
Buffy's left eyebrow shot towards her forehead. "Where is he?"
"I get it. He's a ghost. Giles is up to his neck in books written in languages older than dirt. Now where is he?"
"I don't know. He can't control it all the time."
"Then how do we find him," Buffy snapped. Twenty questions in the lobby after three flights in two days had destroyed her patience.
“He’ll turn up.” Dawn extended the paperbag towards Buffy. “Taco?”
“No.” Buffy hitched her bag higher on her shoulder. “Where’s Angel?”
Dawn shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe in his office.”
“What about that woman? The one who emailed Willow.”
“Fred,” Dawn prompted.
“Yeah. Where’s she?”
“Are you sure?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Yes. I just saw her.”
“Come on, I'll take you.”
Buffy followed Dawn across the lobby, bag hitting her hip with each step. “You’re right at home, aren’t you?”
Dawn shrugged, “it’s not so bad. Good food.”
“Yeah. Wesley lent me his corporate card. Apparently evil lawfirms aren’t super obsessive about charges.”
“Evil?” Buffy felt like her head was going to explode.
She hadn’t allowed herself the luxury of imagining such a reunion; if she had it would be different. For one she wouldn't have overly obvious second day hair complete with a small braid to restrain her bangs that had long since grown into shaggy layers. She would have on a good outfit - something fitted and not too sexy - not the only clean jeans left in her closet. And she would have remembered to check if there was mascara under her eyes.
“Walk now. Questions later.” They stopped in front of double doors. “This is you,” Dawn said.
Buffy peered through the glass. “It’s empty.”
“Her office is up those stairs.” Dawn tilted her head to the side. “She won’t bite.”
Buffy pushed open the door. She crossed the floor and climbed the steps quickly.
Fred was on the phone, her back to the door. "I think they connected."
Buffy tapped on the open door. Fred turned away from the windows to face the doorway. “Hold on one second.” Fred covered the mouthpiece with her hand. “Buffy?”
“The one and only.” She stepped inside.
“Sit,” Fred offered, gesturing at the chairs. "Willow, Buffy just walked in. I'm going to put you on speaker."
"Hey Buffy," Willow said, her voice coming from the side of Fred's desk. "How's LA?"
"It's okay. What do we know," Buffy asked, looking at Fred.
Fred frowned. "Not much. Just a theory.”
“Okay. Hit me.” Buffy crossed her left leg over her right knee.
"Something about you changed the amulet." Fred tapped her fingers against the edge of the desk.
"Like it malfunctioned?" Buffy stared longingly at the cup of coffee on Fred's desk.
“Not just that,” Willow chirped from the speaker, “we think it’s because you’re the Slayer.”
"There's something different with Slayer physiology," Fred added, twisting a pen between her fingers.
"We know," Buffy interrupted. "The first Slayer, she was just a girl until the shadowmen did something to her."
"Exactly," Willow replied.
"Why does that matter?" Buffy switched the position of her legs. "Spike’s a ghost, not a Slayer.”
Fred grimaced. “He’s not actually a ghost.”
“I thought he was disappearing and re-appearing. Sounds kinda ghostly.”
Fred pushed her glasses up her nose. “It’s like his essence is in pieces.”
“Huh?” Buffy rested her arms on the desk.
"I think that Spike's body was breaking apart on a molecular level. But when you touched him, some cells transferred to you."
"And that means what?"
Wllow's voice was distorted through the phone speaker. "Buffy, we think when the amulet scrambled him up into a billion little pieces, the cells that latched on to you didn't disappear. Molecularly speaking..."
Fred spoke over Willow. "He couldn't break apart completely because there was some of him in you. That's why he can't be a ghost because he's not actually dead."
"We just don't know the why," Willow finished.
Buffy twisted the hem of her shirt between her fingertips. "do you have to? You can't just fix him?"
Fred shook her head slowly, "it'll take forever. Literally, if we don't know what we're looking for."
The explanation made sense. Buffy looked around Fred's office; a thought was teasing the edge of her memory, a similar conversation under different circumstances.
"It's almost like there's another variable," Fred said.
Willow mumbled something that Buffy didn't catch.
"Wait," Buffy interrupted, "what if it's me?"
"How do you mean," Willow asked.
"After you brought me back," Buffy explained, "Spike's chip didn't recognize me as human. And Tara said it was because there was something different about my cells."
"Do you remember what?" Fred rested her arms on the desk and leaned forward.
Buffy scrunched up her forehead, "something about a tan. Do cells tan?"
Fred frowned. "They can be altered subtly. Willow do you think that-?"
"Maybe. If Buffy's cells are different not just because she's the Slayer, then maybe that would explain why some of Spike latched onto her."
Buffy fidgeted in her seat. "This sounds like some kind of creepy biology lesson."
"More like physics," Fred corrected. "Or quantum -"
"Really not big into the science parts," Buffy interrupted.
Fred returned her attention to the phone. Buffy tapped her fingers against her thigh, waiting for the call to end.
Willow's voice caught her attention. "Let me know if you need anything from this end."
“Okay, I’ll send you an email once I get the results,” Fred said. She pressed a button on the phone and looked across the desk at Buffy. “Are you okay?”
Buffy’s forehead wrinkled, “sure. Why not?”
Fred pushed back her chair. She tore a sheet from her yellow notepad. “I need to get some more materials.”
Buffy stood up as well. “Okay. I better go find Angel.”
Fred’s directions were easy to follow. Buffy walked slowly, making each step take as long as possible. Angel’s office was exactly what Buffy would have pictured if she imagined him having an office in a law firm, complete with an overstuffed leather chair and weaponry wall.
She stepped into the doorframe, tapped her knuckles on the wood to get his attention.
Angel was sitting behind the desk, facing the opposite wall. At the sound of her knocking, he swirled around in the chair, his face brightening when he saw her.
Buffy stepped into the office. She said his name quietly, emotion suddenly choking her voice.
He stood up quickly. “Did you just get in?”
Buffy trailed her fingers across the top of his desk. “A little while ago. I saw Dawn in the lobby. She’s making herself comfortable.”
Angel sat back down. “She said you were in Rome?”
“Yeah.” Buffy circled the chairs in front of the desk.
“Sit,” Angel said, extending his arm over towards the chairs as she made a second pass. “You want coffee?”
Buffy shook her head. “I’m okay.”
Angel tipped his chair backwards. “You look tired.”
Buffy tucked a piece of hair behind her ears. “You know why I’m here.”
He nodded, elbows pressed against the armrests of his chair, fingers steepled together, more corporate businessman than she remembered from earlier visits.
She leaned across the desk, her hands spread wide over its polished surface. “The amulet, where did you get it?”
“It’s not important.”
“Angel.” Her voice was quiet. "Please.”
He stood up. “Intermediary.”
“For the Powers?” Angel didn’t answer. Buffy shook her head, hair swinging against her cheek. “And you were going to wear it?”
Angel nodded. “Yeah. I told you. The amulet was meant to be worn by a Champion.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “What’s the big deal about who wore it?”
“Angelkins here wants to be a real boy. Isn’t that right?”
Spike had appeared in the middle of Angel’s desk while they argued.
“Spike.” Buffy stared at him. She stepped backwards, her mouth dry and eyes wide, unprepared for the sting of tears that made her nose burn. The sight of Spike up to his hips in shiny mahogany was harder than anything she had imagined.
After several seconds Angel cleared his throat. “It’s complicated.”
Spike’s form glimmered. He rematerialized beside Angel. “There’s a prophecy,” Spike added.
“Seriously?” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Forget it. Your friend, Fred, she’s working this with Willow. They think I did something to screw up the amulet.”
“So this is your fault?” Spike’s mouth twitched into a smile.
Buffy tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Shut up.” Her mouth curved, softening the words.
“What happened,” Angel asked.
Buffy licked her lips quickly, "the amulet was glowing, I touched his hand, they caught fire.”
“What?” Angel leaned forward.
Spike held his hand up. “Both of them.”
“Let me call Fred,” Angel snapped. He picked up the phone, punched in her extension, waited. “It’s Angel. Come to my office?”
“Probably knocked some small planet out of orbit,” Spike said thoughtfully.
“Shut up Spike,” Angel snapped.
A minute later Fred knocked on the door. Three voices answered, arguments and accusations following.
“Bad time,” Fred asked. She closed the door behind her, a thin manila folder in her left hand.
“No.” Buffy answered defiantly, daring either vampire to interrupt. “Can you tell them what you figured out?”
Fred nodded. “I think when Buffy touched Spike, she formed a connection point. Think of it like splitting a wire. Instead of moving electricity through one point, you have two.”
“What’s that mean,” Spike asked.
“I think if we close the circuit, it could bring you back to a solid state.”
“Or end the world,” Buffy added tonelessly.
“I don’t think so,” Fred countered. “There has to be a reason why someone sent the amulet to Angel.”
“Again with the world ending. Angel said there’s a prophecy attached.” Buffy knew she sounded petulant.
Fred shook her head, “different one.”
“So what’s your plan,” Spike asked Fred.
“I think you need to recreate the connection.”
Spike grinned. "What do say Slayer? Give it a go?"
Fred leaned over her notes, "why not? If I'm wrong, nothing will happen."
Buffy's mouth was a thin line; she stepped closer to Spike, her fists clenched at her sides.
“You don’t have to do this.” Angel's forehead wrinkled as he watched them face off.
Buffy extended her hand. “Yes I do.”
Spike tried to press his hand against hers but slipped through. Buffy winced.
Fred frowned. "Sorry. I thought that would-”
“Wait.” Buffy looked at Spike. “It’s not right. I took your hand. Remember?”
“Was kind of busy being burned alive,” he retorted. At her angry expression he deflated.
Buffy lifted her left hand. Spike held out his right hand.
“Go slowly,” Fred told Spike, “focus on recreating the connection.”
Spike closed his eyes, his fingers curling slightly inward. Buffy’s fingers interlaced with his, pressing their palms together.
The burning started as suddenly as it had the first time: flames engulfing their joined fingers, licking and burning against their skin.
Fred took a step back. Buffy inhaled sharply as the fire expanded, ribbons of light spiraling around them.
“Don’t let go,” Fred said.
Buffy was breathing rapidly, her eyes wide and unfocused. She could feel Spike’s palm against her own. Spike’s jaw tightened.
“What’s wrong?” Buffy squeezed his fingers.
“Burns,” he choked out.
“Your soul?” She stumbled over the question.
Buffy looked over her shoulder at Fred. “How much longer?” Buffy's palm was unbearably hot, tingling as if she was being jabbed with a thousand tiny knives.
Fred circled them from a considerable distance. “Spike do you feel more solid?”
“Feel like I’m being cooked."
“Then let go,” Angel snarled.
The ribbons of light expanded, spiraling higher to cover both Buffy and Spike, wrapping through their legs like vines.
Overhead the fluorescent lights popped and crackled, sending bursts of energy down like a shower. An acrid smell filled the air. The windowpanes rattled in their frames.
Spike let out a howl, his head snapping backwards. “Oh fuck.”
“Spike! Look at me.” Buffy took Spike’s other hand. He meet her gaze, defiant, his teeth bared. “I didn’t fly all this way to watch die.”
The fire was brighter now, a vibrant white that blinded them to everything except each other. It surrounded them, wrapping their bodies in a fierce glow.
“Is this supposed to happen?" Angel turned towards Fred.
"I don't know," she admitted.
The temperature was too high, it was too much. Buffy tightened her fingers, pressing down hard against his knuckles. Blisters exploded across her palm.
Before he could answer, there was a loud crack. They were standing on the carpet in Angel's office. The fire and ribbons of light were gone. Fred and Angel stared mutely at them. The central air conditioning came back to life with a loud whirring noise.
Buffy looked at their joined hands. “Are you?” She couldn't form the words. His hands felt solid but maybe she was hallucinating. She pulled her left hand free, jabbed at his forearm with her index finger.
Spike grinned, the corners of his eyes crinkling. He touched his chest. “All here.”
Buffy dropped his other hand; all the color had drained out of her face and she was nearly as pale as Spike.
“Buffy? Are you alright?” Angel stepped forward.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Spike answered.
"Are you sure?" This time Fred moved closer.
“Can you guys give us a minute?” Buffy looked past Angel's shoulder.
Fred was out the door first. Angel circled them twice before Buffy pressed him gently between the shoulder blades.
“Thanks,” she chirped, as if it was his idea to leave the room. She turned towards Spike.
His hands were rapidly flexing and unflexing; the look on his face difficult to describe.
“Spike?” She took step forward, deliberately maintaining eye contact.
Outside the door, raised voices interrupted whatever he would have said. Apparently the employees of Wolfram and Hart noticed that something less than normal was going on.
Spike bent forward, hands on his thighs. Buffy touched her spine. His back was shaking with laughter.
Buffy removed her hand quickly as he straightened. "Are you-" She stopped abruptly, words escaping. Here? Real?
"I am." He answered without needing the rest of the question.
Buffy licked her lips quickly. "Okay. We should-." She gestured towards the closed door.
"Let 'em wait." He stepped forward. Her bare arms were covered in goosebumps. "You didn’t have to come.”
Buffy shook her head. "Yes I did."
He frowned. “I don’t need saving Buffy.”
Splotches of pink colored her cheeks. Buffy gripped his shoulder. “Really?”
Spike’s smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
She can’t find the right words. Her lips brush his, tentative at first, poised for the first hint of rejection. His hands press against her face, palms cool, his mouth answering her wordless statements.
She pulled away slightly, his eyes are enormous from such close proximity.
"Slayer.” His voice was a low rumble in her ear as his fingers tracing nonsense across her clavicle.
“What I said, before-”
“Slayer,” Spike interrupted, hands rubbing her biceps, calluses rough against her skin.
“Yeah?” Buffy leaned closer.
“I know.” Spike leaned forward until Buffy’s lower body was pressed against the side of the desk.
“Oh.” Her cheeks flushed. “And?”
“I'm glad you came.”
She ducked sideways, avoiding his kiss, her practiced speech gone from memory. “You know I can’t stay, right?” Her words are clumsy, landing heavily between them, but his arms tighten around her hips, pulling her closer.
“Wasn’t going to ask you to.”
“Oh.” She gripped his shoulders, "Spike?"
"Yeah?" His nose brushed her chin.
“I’m glad you’re back.”