Rating: R, eventually
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.
Notes: This is a sequel to Sweet Lethe, a short story I wrote just after Chosen aired. At the time, I called it my Silly!Sappy!Amnesiac!Shanshued!Spike tale, and that still strikes me as a pretty good summary. I started writing the follow-up then, but never finished, although I kept adding bits from time to time. I suppose the delay makes sense, because the story picks up years later, when Buffy goes to visit Willow and Spike. She hasn't seen him since the events in Sweet Lethe, and he still has no memory of his past and no idea he was once a vampire.
Word Count: Still editing, but this got away from me. It's going to be a long one, folks, at least 25,000 words.
Thanks: To keswindhover andrevdorothyl for betaing, and enigmaticblues for reopening the comm and running this season in spite of having an incredibly busy life.
The story begins here.
(Apologies for the slowdown in posting. There is an unscheduled sleepover going on here, but the participants are off to the mall, so I should be able to pick up the pace again.)
"Do you know what you want to eat?" Willow asked her, looking over the top of her menu. "I can tell you what's good here."
Buffy thought she already knew what would be good. Smells of cooking wafted out from the kitchen, but although he had washed his hands, she was sure she could still smell the peanut butter on Spike's fingers. Or maybe it was on his breath. Peanut butter had to be one of the most penetrating and persistent smells in existence. She inhaled deeply, and imaged smearing peanut butter all over his body, and then slowly licking it off, simultaneously sating two kinds of hunger— "Sorry, Willow?" she asked at last, forcing herself back to reality.
Willow waved the menu. "They cook with free range meat and organic veggies."
Spike revealed his own priorities as the waitress stepped up to their table. "Bring a bottle of that shiraz, and I'll have the rack of lamb with the garlic mashed potatoes. And for starters, let's have some of that dip with the garlic and cheese, and those mushrooms things with the butter sauce. And do you still do that onion--"
"Make sure you bring him a salad too," Willow told the waitress. "I pay enough for the staff's health insurance already." She shook her head at Spike. "You need to worry about things like cholesterol now."
"Now?" An eyebrow shot up. "Are you implying I'm getting old?"
Buffy's eyes went to the grey hairs that had appeared since she'd seen him last. He is getting old, or older. Her menu rattled against her plate, and she realized her hands were shaking. She set down the menu and wound her fingers together in her lap. He really, really is human. She'd thought she had accepted that fact before, but now she knew she'd been ignoring one obvious implication.
Well, two. He obviously wasn't allergic to garlic now.
And he wasn't immortal any more. He could walk in the sunlight, but he would also get old and die. His time was limited. He might even have less time than she did. It gives a whole new meaning to "seize the day."
She realized the waitress was looking at her, pencil poised, and she pointed at something on the menu that included the word "chicken." The waitress nodded and took the menu.
"So," Willow was saying, "the promised story of the invisible girl. At least, this particular invisible girl."
Buffy forced her attention back to the conversation. "Um, yeah. Where did you find her? I mean, looking must have been a problem."
"It was." Spike's tone was heartfelt. "We got a call about a poltergeist in Omaha, so we drove over to take a look. Big family, lots of fighting, boozed up parents and snotty brats. Seemed possible at first, but even poltergeists don't scare everyone out of the kitchen so they can eat all the Snickers bars and leftover pizza, and they don't leave dirty footprints behind when they knock a lamp into the telly or get grimy fingerprints all over the toy they just smashed against the wall."
Willow took up the tale. "I remembered that case we -- a case I'd seen a while back. A girl who got ignored so much she managed to make herself invisible."
Buffy was momentarily distracted by a wonderful, yeasty smell as a basket of fresh bread appeared on the table. Then she realized the implications of Willow's words. "One of the kids went invisible and they didn't notice?"
Willow grimaced as she snagged a slice. "Remember Xander's parents? They only had one kid, and they didn't notice him most of the time. I tried locator spells, but by the time I found her she'd moved." She reached for the butter. "That kid never has learned to sit still. Spike finally caught her."
Buffy turned towards him. "How?"
He grinned. "Borrowed a puppy. It used its nose to find her, and she started playing with it. Kept her in one spot long enough for the witch to work her mojo."
Willow smiled nostalgically. "I was pretty surprised when I found out she was just six years old. Younger than any other kid we've ever taken here, but even if the orphanage had been open already, they couldn't handle an invisible slayer barely out of toddlerhood."
Buffy nodded. She hated calling the boarding school for the youngest potentials and slayers the "orphanage," but most of the kids there were otherwise alone in the world. Giles and the others did their best to keep most of the little ones at home with their families, and to make sure the older ones at the boarding schools got plenty of visits with their parents and siblings.
The orphanage kids had lots and lots of attention, of course. All the psychiatric help and loving teachers the money in the Watchers' Council's coffers could provide. But it still hurt Buffy to walk in the door and notice a child look up casually, warily, or in fear, but never with the excited expectation of seeing a parent returning. The ones who had been there for a while bonded with the staff, of course, but the new arrivals--
She realized Willow was still talking.
"We were just starting up ourselves, but we were the natural ones to take her. I mean, Spike caught her, and I figured out how to make her visible." Willow waved a bread stick dramatically. "If she could become invisible at that age with no training at all, I knew she'd start developing more magical abilities as she got older. And I was right. She's learned how to control the visibility thing without me, and she's picked up simple spells and glamours as fast as any student I've seen."
Spike snorted. "Bloody magic. It's an asset, but she needs to learn how to fight and what to fight, not to just count on spells and her mastery of how not to be seen."
It took a second for Buffy to put that phrase together with a memory of watching television with Giles and Dawn. "Monty Python." She didn't realize she'd made the comment until Spike glanced at her.
"Yeah. Didn't know you watched proper telly, Miss America." He returned to the subject of Katie. "At any rate, most demons have at least as good sense of smell as a puppy."
"But it would be more than a waste for her not to use all her powers. It would be dangerous not to teach her to control them."
Buffy realized this was an old argument, worn down into a discussion in which well-rehearsed opinions were stated without any hope of changing each others' minds.
Spike tore up bread with his fingers and slouched down in his chair. "That's why I wish Claudia was still here. There was no nonsense about her, and when she let the girls play with fire, she made damn sure they knew why they needed an extinguisher handy. This Brice woman with all her dangly earrings and flowy outfits looks too much like the real thing to be true."
"She's real, all right." Willow took a sip of water. "But she hasn't taught kids this young before. And Katie would be past Intermediate level and in my classes if you hadn't insisted we take that part of her education really slow."
"It's not just Katie. I don't like the idea of any of them becoming dependent on magic. Too easy for that to go wrong, especially with youngsters. There's a tendency to overreach, perform spells without understanding the consequences."
Spike must have seen Buffy's involuntary glance at Willow or Willow's sudden interest in her own lap, because he snorted. "I take it my favorite witch 'cadabraed' when she should have 'abraed' a few times in her younger days? Maybe you and me should share a few stories sometime."
Buffy's mind flashed back to Giles' apartment in Sunnydale. She was sitting on Spike's lap, kissing him as Xander asked plaintively, "Can I be blind too?" She bit her lip, fighting the memory, but all she could think of was the pressure of his lips on hers. Well that, and how his tongue felt and tasted as it--
Willow was the one to rush into words. "Oh, no, you don't! No getting the high school friend to reveal my embarrassing secrets, Spike. What happened in Sunnydale stays in Sunnydale."
"That's what you and old Rupert always say."
Buffy waited for him to continue arguing, but instead his gaze went unfocused for a moment, and he said instead, "Decided how you're going to spend your time during your visit, then? Going to stay with Willow the whole time, or drive about seeing the sights?"
"Are there any?" asked Buffy.
"There's the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library," said Willow. The others turned to stare at her. "And, okay, that may have been old nerdy Willow talking. I don't even make the girls go there for field trips."
"I have a thought." Spike was looking mischievous.
"Sounds terrifying," said Buffy, reacting to that familiar look.
"Well, seeing as you're an experienced slayer, you probably know a bit about demons?" He made it into a question.
"Yes," she said firmly. "And no. Buffy and teaching are not mixy things. I tried it once and the suckage was great."
He shrugged, obviously disappointed. "Too much to hope for a demon expert to fall from the sky, I suppose."
"I wish I could magic up a Chemistry teacher," said Willow. "I've got Spike taking the Language Arts classes--" She ignored the ritual snort and muttered "It's sodding English," from Spike. "And I've moved all the girls who haven't taken either Chem or Bio yet into Laura's classes. Thank goddess she's agreeable, but that course load isn't fair to her or the kids. That still leaves the girls who are graduating and need Chem to meet college entrance requirements, but I think I can get the local high school to accept them for that one course if I reimburse the school district."
"Then there's the overworked bloke who's trying to teach English and Demonology." Spike smiled at the waitress who was setting platters of fattening entrees on the table. "Ta."
Buffy noticed how warmly the waitress smiled back. A lot more warmly than she did when Willow and Buffy thanked her for their salads. She chewed on that thought as Willow and Spike settled into their meals and intermittent complaints about the problems at the school.
After dinner, Spike dropped the girls off at Willow's house before driving himself home. Willow watched as Buffy stood staring out the front window, watching his car disappear down the road. "Where does he live?"
"He's got an apartment in an old house on the other side of the campus. It's kind of a joke, each of us living on opposite ends so that we can pounce on students no matter which direction they take when they decide to go AWOL. But he's building a house a little way out of town, so that should change in a month or a year or whenever he finally finishes it."
The red glow of the tail lights faded, and Buffy moved to the couch in Willow's tiny living room, turning down Willow's offer of a drink. "I didn't know Giles visited so often." Her expression was thoughtful, and her eyes were unfocused. "He never mentioned it to me."
"He stops by whenever he can, and it's not just to check on the school. Or me. There's a guilt factor working, I think. Because of the whole trying to get Spike killed just before Spike saved the world. But he's also kind of intrigued by the change and the amnesia."
Buffy looked up at that. "He doesn't try to remind Spike --"
Willow rushed to reassure Buffy. "Oh, no, he would never do that. In fact, it's really tough on Giles, because he has all these exciting stories about you, you know, and he can't tell any of them because Spike is listening, so when he does his history lectures for the girls he winds up sounding like he's reading from the Slayer's Handbook."
That dragged a smile out of Buffy. "The one he never gave me because he knew I wouldn't read it?"
"Yeah. I have a copy. It's not only boring, it's way big on the notion of obedience to Watchers, which we don't really have any more. The Watchers, I mean." Willow thought about her students and added, "Not much of the obedience either. But Spike and I have been working on a new handbook. I was hoping that while you're here, you'd have the time to help us with it."
Buffy shifted in her chair. "I'm worried about getting too deep into the workings of the school, Will. Not just because I really, really sucked as a teacher."
Willow nodded. "Because of Spike. But, really, Buffy, I think that the spell or whatever it is that keeps him from remembering is too strong for you to damage it just by being around him. I know you were really, uh, close, but no one else has managed to dent that shield, even when Xander or Andrew says something that should make him wonder. He just gets that vague look and changes the subject."
"Xander and Andrew -- " Buffy's eyes darkened.
"They didn't mean to. They're both a lot more careful now. But the first few times they visited, they'd start talking about old times, forgetting Spike had been there. For a while, Andrew was always limping from my stepping on his foot or kicking him in the shins to shut him up. All that happened was Spike decided he was an idiot." She caught Buffy's eye and laughed. "Okay, so he would have decided that anyway."
After that, the conversation degenerated into a series of "remember whens?" but Willow couldn't help but notice how many of Buffy's memories included Spike, and how often she referred to those last few weeks before the destruction of Sunnydale. She talked about how she'd relied on him, how terrified she'd been to put her faith in him when the chip malfunctioned, and how he'd found her and encouraged her when she had despaired of winning the battle with the First.
He never doubted her, even when the rest of us did. Willow pushed down a wave of remorse, because dealing with someone else's guilt wasn't what Buffy needed right now. "It must be so hard for you. To have him die just when you could have had a happy ending, and then his coming back but not remembering you."
"I never believed for a second that Spike and I could have a happy ending. Or even a happy middle. We did have a few hours that were really, really good, and that was more than I ever expected." Buffy had curled up in a corner of the couch, her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs. "Maybe more than I deserved. But at least he got what he deserved."
Willow had always wondered why Buffy had never fought for a relationship with Spike after he had become human. Now she realized that Buffy had seen that as literally too much to hope for.
I knew she loved him. I don't think I realized until now just how much he meant to her. I wasn't being a good enough friend to see it before he died, and now--
Now Willow wasn't just Buffy's friend. After eight years of daily contact, she had also become so close to Spike that they could communicate without words, sometimes having a whole conversation composed of a raised eyebrow and a glare. He was irritating, hyperactive, and stubborn, and she knew that she couldn't run the school without him. What's more, she didn't want to. If he hadn't been the reason she was concerned for Buffy, Spike was the person she'd call to talk over this conversation and to ask for advice on how to help her old friend.
Willow thought about the human Spike who was her friend and her imagination set him next to Buffy. Could it still work? Could those two somehow be right together?
Yeah. I think so. And they earned it.
She smiled warmly at Buffy. "He did deserve it, but he was only able to save the world because you trusted him. And don't worry that you'll bring back his memories. I'm sure that's just not possible. Really, it's safe for you to be around him."