Title: The Mired Path
Author: Pricelessspike (Priceless)
Setting: Post Season 12 (Comic compliant)
Word Count: 1900
Summary: In Season 12 Buffy and Spike break up. Spike eventually leaves and this is their first meeting in three years. Plus, Angel needs rescuing.
A/N: Massive thanks to my wonderful betas Stoney and TriBel, if you like anything in this fic, it's because of them. All mistakes are mine, because I can't stop re-writing.
“I’m so happy for you Xan.” Buffy reached across the table and squeezed Xander’s hand. “It’s about time you made an honest woman of my little sister.”
“Not so little right now,” Xander chuckled. “I can’t believe my luck, finding two amazing women in my life who both wanted to marry me. It’s a miracle.” Buffy pictured Anya behind the counter of the Magic Box and agreed life could be strange. Xander put his hand over hers and a sheepish grin spread across his face, “Or is it another Rosenberg spell gone horribly wrong?”
“Or wonderfully right,” corrected Buffy.
“Are you taking my name in vain?” asked Willow, making her way back to the table. A heavily pregnant Dawn followed, turning sideways to avoid bumping into seated diners, murmuring apologies along the way.
“Xander wondered if you’d put a spell ...” Buffy got no further, as out the corner of her eye she glimpsed someone passing the restaurant window. The figure had white blonde hair and was dressed all in black. He walked too quickly for her to see his face, but she immediately recognised the swagger in his step. Her breath caught in her throat and her body tensed, she half rose from her chair ready to follow him but he’d already vanished.
“. . . so really no need for a spell,” Dawn said as she patted her expanding belly. Buffy tentatively joined in the laughter that followed, though she had no idea what had been said. She was relieved the others hadn’t noticed how distracted she’d become, unable to think of anything but Spike, sure it was him she’d seen through the window. He was back in the city and must be looking for her, had he followed her, did he know she was in this restaurant, had he expected her to follow him?
After some light-hearted discussion Xander paid the bill. Buffy had offered to pay, as a gift to the happy couple, but Xander wouldn’t hear of it. “Let me treat the ladies in my life. I’m newly engaged and feeling expansive.” Buffy suspected it was more the wine than the engagement that made Xander so extravagant.
They went out into the warm April night. Dawn and Xander holding hands and walking a little ahead while Buffy linked her arm through Willows and the two women strolled behind, giving the couple their space. Buffy scanned the streets as they walked.
“How long are you staying?” Willow asked, skipping a little, so they were walking in step.
Buffy had planned on returning to Cleveland the following day, but that was impossible now. Logically she knew there must be hundreds of men with dyed white hair in San Francisco, it probably wasn’t him and she shouldn’t get her hopes up, but still she knew she wouldn’t leave. She had a coffee shop job to get back to, and her nightly patrols, but there were other slayers who would patrol the city in her absence, and she could easily pick up another waitressing job.
“I might stay a day or two,” Buffy replied cautiously, wanting to keep her sighting of Spike to herself for the time being. When he had left three years ago, she’d been desperate to find him and had begged Will to do a location spell, but she’d refused, saying Spike had made the choice to leave and they had to respect that. Buffy thought she’d never forgive Willow for being so cruel. One of the reasons she’d decided to move to Cleveland was to put some distance between herself and the witch.
Of course, in time she had forgiven her friend. Willow was easy to forgive. She’d sent funny little care-packages to Cleveland when Buffy had first moved; homemade cards, bars of her favourite chocolate, warm socks she’d knitted herself, long letters full of funny stories about life back in San Fran, all things meant to charm, and they did.
Yet Buffy still felt a lingering resentment and she admonished herself for being a bad friend who held grudges. Changing the subject, she asked with excessive cheer “What’s the news with you anyway Will? Any engagements in your future I should know about?”
“Well . . .,’ Willow began, a broad smile on her face. The two women giggled and gossiped and felt like kids again, wandering home from the Bronze on a Friday night.
That evening, after she’d walked Willow home and rain-checked a late-night girly chat, Buffy returned to the restaurant. It was dark now, as were most of the storefronts on the street. She walked slowly around the block, increasingly disappointed that she couldn’t find her vampire.
She wasn’t completely disheartened though, because she definitely felt something. A change in the air current, a lingering scent of cigarettes, boots scraping on metal. “Dammit Spike,” she cursed, “show yourself.” She studied the darkened rooftops, but by then the air had calmed and she knew he’d gone.
She took her cell from her bag and tapped a message; ‘Hi Chrissie. Staying longer than expected. Nothing to worry about. Can you pick up my patrols and tell Becky I won’t be in work this week…’ She hesitated, deleted the last few words and typed ‘… tell Becky I won’t be back. Speak soon Buffy x’
Dawn was happy to have her sister back. They hadn’t seen much of each other in the last few years, just a few flying visits for Christmas and birthdays, so they spent the next few days getting reacquainted. They talked about old times in Sunnydale and newer times in Cleveland, shopped online for new clothes, lunched at nearby cafes, Buffy practised her broadsword technique in Xander’s workshop while Dawn dealt with Council business in her office and then together, they’d pick Joycie up from school. Buffy was pleased that she and her niece had developed a keen friendship over the last three days.
“Red is my favourite colour,” Joy said, and to make her point, she held up a red crayon and waved it in Buffy’s face.
“C’mon Jellybean,” Xander swept his daughter into his arms. “Time for bath and bed.” He aeroplaned her around the room and swooped her down to her mother lying on the couch. Dawn reached up, took the child’s face in her hands and covered her in noisy little kisses, making her giggle with delight.
Buffy lifted Dawn’s legs, dropped down on the couch and placed her sister’s legs across her own. Without even thinking, she began to massage Dawn’s feet.
“Your child wears me out,” she complained.
“You and me both,” Dawn replied. “I think that’s what four-year olds are meant to do. Was I so energetic at that age?”
“Oh, so much worse. You were like a baby D’Ieven demon. I begged mom to take you back, but for some reason she liked you.” Buffy laughed and received a kick for her impertinence.
“Blame those monks,” Dawn said. “Where they got their information about four-year olds is beyond me.”
The sisters sat in companionable silence. Dawn closed her eyes, enjoying her massage, her hand stroking her swollen belly.
Over the last three nights Buffy had patrolled, always returning to the restaurant where she’d first seen Spike, but she’d found nothing more to suggest he was in the city. Deflated she’d considered giving up and returning to Cleveland, thinking that perhaps she had wanted to see him so badly, she’d conjured him out of thin air. Deep down she knew that wasn’t true but this continual searching but finding nothing had started to wear her down.
Dawn had seen how subdued Buffy had become and asked gently, “Penny for them.”
Buffy wasn’t surprised by Dawn’s ability to read her so well. She’d grown from a petulant teen into a sympathetic and intelligent woman. She worked as a Translator of Demon Texts for the Watchers’ Council, for which she was highly respected and very well compensated. She had become a major part of Council operations, occasionally asked to open or close portals, tutor new watchers or slayers who had a gift for languages, she also counselled those who sometimes found the work overwhelming and she did everything with an intelligence and grace Buffy could only dream of, often thinking that her sister had inherited all their mom’s best qualities.
Dawn deserved some explanation as to why she was so distracted and Buffy needed to unburden herself to someone, so bracing herself, not sure of Dawn’s reaction, she said “I saw Spike.”
“What? Oh my God, I knew you two would get back together!” Buffy bit her lip, not wanting to spoil her sister’s happiness. “You know I’ve asked Watchers and Slayers to keep a lookout for him over the years. I even asked Andrew to put a special ‘Spike Search Team’ on it, but he said ‘the Council didn’t have enough resources to waste on such things’.” She mimicked his voice so well Buffy couldn’t help but laugh. “The pompous oaf,” was Dawn’s contemptuous judgement on Andrew.
Buffy could never tell if Dawn was Andrew’s superior, or he hers. Dawn would often tell her about inter-office battles between their two departments and Buffy thought they must drive poor Giles mad with their squabbling.
Dawn’s face became red and pinched and she said quietly “I was sure he wasn’t dead.”
“Oh sweetie,” Buffy murmured as she stroked Dawn’s arm, trying to comfort her. In her eighth month of pregnancy, she had become tired and weepy, moved to emotional outbursts by the smallest of things. Buffy marvelled at how her sister, the bringer of life into the world, could care so deeply for one of the undead. But then she always did have the capacity to see Spike as more a man than a vampire.
“I knew he couldn’t be really dead, dusted dead,” Dawn explained through her tears. “Not because I’d feel it, or anything like that, but because it’s Spike and someone would let us know. He killed two slayers when the world wasn’t full of them and he fell in love with you and fought to get a soul. He’s special, anyone who met him would see that. He’s special and if he was dust, we’d soon find out.” She wiped her eyes with her sleeve and with growing excitement said “Buffy, he’s not dust, he’s here.”
Buffy wrapped her arms around her sister’s shoulders. Even though Dawn had never blamed her for what had happened, Buffy felt overwhelmed with guilt. Spike had vanished from their lives because of her, because she’d wanted space or freedom or something so indefinable, she couldn’t even name it now. When he’d left, she’d been so absorbed in her own anger and grief, she’d failed to notice how his leaving had affected everyone else.
“I’m sorry Dawnie, so sorry.” She gulped back her own tears, took Dawn’s hands in hers and held them tightly.
That evening, more determined than ever, she patrolled the city long into the night, going from street to street, alley to alley. She dusted two vamps who though they’d try their luck but they were quick kills, small disturbances in her hunt for bigger prey. Tired and frustrated, she was stood in a now familiar alley when she heard the scrape of boots, felt the air cool and gooseflesh rise on her arms.