Hm, well, enough with the chit-chat! Here's the second chapter.
TITLE: It Never Happened (part 2 of 8)
LENGTH: 37,000 words
SUMMARY: It's the summer of 2001. Buffy is buried under a stone that says "She saved the world. A lot." Those she left behind are struggling to figure out how to live in a world without her, and how to continue to protect it.
WARNING: I wanted this story to fit perfectly into the gap between S5 and S6. So if you think about it, you already know how it ends.
FEEDBACK: Honestly? I crave it.
DISCLAIMER: The characters and the world belong to Joss, but he did say that we could play with them. This story was written for fun, not profit.
If you didn't catch chapter one, you can read it here.
Spike reappeared at the Magic Box the fourth night after his change.
He came by way of the sewer entrance, though certainly there was no need; even as a vampire he could have come in by the front door, seeing as sunset was half an hour gone. He was disheveled and flushed, and he walked a bit unsteadily until he flopped into one of the wooden chairs. “Where’s everybody?” he demanded.
Giles marked his place in the inventory book before he answered Spike’s question, “I gave them the night off.” In fact the whole group had been showing wear, as they were having difficulty adjusting to the new demands of patrolling without Spike’s help. Giles had feared that their risk of serious injury was increasing, and had decided that a good night’s rest was the best available remedy. “Spike, are you drunk?”
“No,” Spike said, rather irritably. “Fucking ran out of liquor this afternoon.” He stood up again and went to the bookshelves, started pulling down volumes apparently at random. “There must be something in here, Watcher. Research with me, come on.” His claim to non-intoxication was looking a bit thin, in Giles’ opinion. He certainly wasn’t behaving like a sober man.
“Research what?” Giles asked, as patiently as he could manage.
Spike looked at him as though it were not just a stupid question, but an offensive one. “What’s wrong with me.” He dropped two books onto the table, flipped one open, slammed it shut again without possibly taking the time to read more than a word or two, and then went back to the shelf. He was doing it all awkwardly, one-handed, which Giles supposed meant his injured hand was still bothering him.
“I imagine this all is rather difficult for you,” Giles said to Spike’s back, “But honestly, Spike, there’s nothing wrong with you. You need to pass through a period of ... of adjustment, I suppose, is all.”
“Adjustment,” Spike repeated, investing the word with a rather large portion of incredulity and bitterness. “What do you know about it, Watcher?”
As far as that went, there was an answer and Spike knew it, and Giles was not going to say it.
At any rate, Spike shared that loss too, to some degree. And he would not make light of it; in his odd vampire way, he’d probably understood the bond between Slayer and Watcher better than anyone else in their group had.
Perhaps Spike thought of this as well, after he spoke. In any case, he looked away from Giles. He turned back to the bookshelf but then fumbled, somehow, dropping the book he was holding. He knelt to pick it up and was overtaken by a violent sneeze, which actually knocked him off balance to the point that he sprawled onto the floor with a groan.
Giles revised his earlier opinion of the reason for Spike’s odd behavior. “Spike ... are you ill?” It made a lot of sense that he would be, once Giles gave it a few moments of thought. The blood of the demon had presumably restored him to perfect human health, but that would still leave him with the immune system of a 19th-century Londoner—not particularly useful after a century’s worth of viral DNA mutations.
“Dunno,” Spike said. “What’s that feel like?”
Giles rolled his eyes. “You were human before, once upon a time. Surely you remember.”
Spike shrugged and pulled himself to his feet, leaning rather heavily now on the edge of the table. “It’s been a while.”
Giles still found it difficult to believe that Spike couldn’t tell, himself, whether he was ill—but three years as a high school librarian had helped him build up a tolerance to stupid questions. “All right. Have you been sneezing a lot?”
Spike shook his head, sniffling a little. “That was the first time. Fucking weird experience, too.”
“Does your throat hurt?”
Spike frowned. “Dunno. Maybe. When I swallow, like.”
“You probably have a cold, then.” Giles did feel a bit sorry for Spike, thinking about it—certainly getting ill for the first time in over a century must be an unnerving experience. “Do you feel a fever or chills?”
“Dunno,” Spike said again, though he seemed to shiver a little at the suggestion. “I’m not exactly used to having a body temperature, am I? Dunno what the hell it’s supposed to feel like.”
Giles sighed. “Let me feel your forehead.”
Spike raised an eyebrow, but didn’t object. Up close, his pale, flushed skin and fever-bright eyes were a bit alarming. A hand laid across his forehead left no doubt; in fact, Spike was considerably warmer than Giles had anticipated.
“Good lord,” Giles murmured, feeling a rather unexpected surge of concern, “You’re burning up.”
Spike shivered again. “Thought humans were supposed to be less flammable than vampires.”
Giles was perplexed for a moment, until he realized Spike had been making a joke. He granted him a tight smile. “Indeed. But you shouldn’t have such a high fever, not if all you have is a head cold. Spike, try to cooperate here. Are you feeling any other symptoms?”
Spike shrugged unsteadily. “Feel like shite, is all, but I figured that was from the drink. And my hand hurts.”
“Your hand,” Giles repeated. “Show me.”
Spike held out his bandaged hand. It was the same bandage that Giles had applied himself four nights ago, now rather worse for the wear.
“Perhaps you’d better sit down,” Giles said, pulling out a chair. The last thing he needed was Spike fainting on him. Once Spike was settled, Giles carefully undid the bandage.
It was as Giles had feared; the area around the cut was inflamed, and there was puss leaking out. “You’ve let it get infected,” he informed Spike brusquely, letting his irritation show more than his worry. “That was bloody stupid.”
Spike looked down at his hand as though it were a foreign thing. “Are you going to cut it off?”
“That probably won’t be necessary, but you certainly do need to get to the hospital,” Giles said. “This could kill you, you know.”
“I can’t feel my feet,” Spike said, which sounded like a non-sequitur, but was more or less explained when he slumped sideways a moment later, unconscious.
Giles was flipping through a six-month old issue of Time Magazine in the Sunnydale Hospital’s second-floor waiting room when he heard a clamor of familiar voices. He looked up to see Xander, Anya, Willow, Tara and Dawn all coming down the corridor.
“Giles!” Dawn exclaimed, catching sight of him and breaking ahead of the group. “What’s going on? How’s Spike?”
Giles stood up to greet them, feeling a bit perplexed. “What are you all doing here?”
“You called us,” Willow pointed out.
“Well, yes, but only to let you know where I was in case of emergency.”
Dawn gave him withering look. “This is an emergency.”
“At least, that’s what it said over the door we came in by,” Xander added, earning his own share of Dawn’s glare.
“This isn’t a joke,” she said angrily. “He’s in the ICU, right? That means he’s really sick.”
Xander caught her in a hug. “Sorry,” he said. “Just trying to keep things light.”
“I only meant that there’s nothing any of you can do, here,” Giles said gently, feeling rather chastened. He should have realized that Dawn would be upset, considering her friendship with Spike and the bereavements she had already suffered in the past few months.
“Of course we’re here,” Xander said matter-of-factly. “This is what we do.”
Giles nodded, understanding finally. “Quite. Of course.” He cleared his throat. “Spike has blood poisoning. It can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s quite serious. The next few hours are crucial; if he responds to the treatment, he should be completely out of the woods by morning.”
“If he doesn’t...” Dawn swallowed hard, and Xander squeezed her hand. “If he doesn’t, um, respond. Is he going to die?”
Giles had never believed in the wisdom of lying to children. “It’s possible, yes.”
“How did it happen?” Dawn lowered her voice. “I mean, is this something to do with the demon blood getting into his and turning him human?”
“Only in that being human left him vulnerable to infection,” Giles said. “It was the cut on his hand—he didn’t take care of it properly.”
Dawn looked quite upset at the explanation. “Why didn’t he come to us for help when he started getting sick?”
“The symptoms hit him quite suddenly, I think—but in fact I believe he did come to the Magic Box tonight because he was feeling unwell.” It was rather troubling to realize that had Spike not come to the shop when he did, he almost certainly would have died—drifting in and out of consciousness alone in his crypt, too weak to seek help.
“We should have checked on him,” Tara said quietly. She was holding a medium-sized duffel bag, Giles noticed. “We knew he wasn’t all right.”
“Sometimes you just gotta give a guy his space,” Xander pointed out. “We didn’t know this was going to happen.”
When it became clear to everyone that Giles didn’t have any more information about Spike’s condition, they settled down to wait.
They had come well-prepared for a long vigil. Xander had a pile of comic books, and Anya had a romance novel. Tara had a book from the Magic Box to read, and Willow produced a middle-school French textbook.
Dawn gave her an incredulous look. “You want me to study now?”
“You have that test tomorrow,” Willow reminded her. “Besides,” she added gently, “This’ll help keep your mind off things.”
Giles shook his head in mild amazement. “You all brought books.”
Tara gave him an apologetic look. “We didn’t think to bring you anything, sorry. Here,” she reached into the duffel bag, “Would you like a sandwich? Juice box?”
At one in the morning, Anya and Giles were the only ones still awake. Dawn was wrapped up in a blanket that Tara had brought, her head pillowed on Willow’s lap. Tara and Willow leaned against each other, breathing gently, while Xander slept with his head tilted back against the wall.
Anya closed her book, having reached the end. “That was unsatisfying,” she said.
Giles raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“There wasn’t enough sex, and it was full of ridiculous euphemisms. Listen to this.” She flipped back to a page that she had, Giles noticed with mild alarm, dog-eared. “He gazed upon the entrance to her secret citadel. Are they talking about a vagina, or about that place where we interrupted the M’mgilsh demons in the middle of their baby-eating ritual?”
Giles was not quite sure how to respond, and therefore he was quite grateful just then to see a doctor come out of the ICU and head in their direction. “Excuse me,” the doctor said, glancing down at her chart. “Rupert Giles?”
“Yes.” Giles stood up quickly. “I am Rupert Giles.”
“I just wanted to let you know that William’s condition has been upgraded to stable. His fever has gone down, his blood pressure is staying up, and he’s responding well to the antibiotics. We’ll be stepping him down from intensive care in the morning.”
“All right. Thank you.” Giles was a bit surprised to realize how relieved he felt. “Do you have any idea how long he will need to be hospitalized?”
“I’d estimate that he could be discharged in another three or four days, if he has a place to go where he can be cared for.” She looked at the chart again, frowning. “Does he live alone? He was suffering from dehydration when he was admitted, and he told the admitting doctor that he hadn’t eaten in several days.”
“He was alone, yes. But he’ll be staying with me when he leaves the hospital.” It wasn’t an ideal solution, but it was the only one at hand.
After the doctor left, Anya gave Giles a worried look. “Medical care is expensive here,” she pointed out.
“It is.” Giles was trying not to do the sums in his head. “Don’t worry; I have the means to cover it.”
“You won’t expect me to take a pay cut, will you?”
“No.” Giles hesitated, but decided not to chide her self-interest. Her worry was a legitimate one, after all. “In fact, I might be asking you to work more hours than usual, as I imagine I’ll be detained at home for a few days.”
“Extra hours with pay?”
Anya smiled. “You can count on me!”
His second day in hospital, Spike was allowed visitors, but only two at a time. Giles and Willow went in first, because Tara and Dawn needed time, apparently, to “rehearse.”
Spike was in a double-occupancy room, but the other bed was empty for the moment. Propped up in bed at about a 30 degree angle, he was watching the television with a glazed expression.
“Hi Spike!” Willow greeted him.
Spike blinked as though he hadn’t noticed he had company until Willow spoke. “Hello, Red. Rupert.” His voice was hoarse, and rather weak. Muting the television, he cast a perplexed look upwards at the shiny silver balloon Willow held by its ribbon. “What’s that?”
“It’s a Get Well balloon.” Willow pulled the balloon down so she could grab it by its body and turn it to show Spike the bright, eponymous writing on the side that had been turned away from him. “They’re traditional. Hey, look, you can see yourself in it!”
Spike squinted up at the fun-house version of himself in the side of the balloon. “That’s bloody creepy, innit?”
“You’ll get used to casting a reflection,” Giles assured him. “And you’ll find that most mirrors give better likenesses than the, er, balloon does.”
All things considered, it was probably for the best that Spike couldn’t see himself in a proper mirror at the moment. His hair, which Giles knew he had always been quite vain about, was tousled and clumpy, with darks roots already starting to show. His face was sallow, with dark circles under his eyes and pale, cracked lips. And of course the flimsy blue hospital gown wasn’t exactly in line with Spike’s usual fashion choices.
“Just so you know,” Willow said, “Dawn and Tara are coming in next, and they have, um, a song for you. I thought you might appreciate a warning.”
“A song.” Spike looked about as dumbfounded as Giles imagined he would be himself under the circumstances. “Is everyone here, then?”
“Anya and Xander stayed behind to mind the shop,” Giles said.
“But they signed the card!” Willow added, pulling the homemade card from her shoulder bag and handing it to Spike. He took it with his good hand and opened it up, dropping a glittering cascade of purple sparkles onto his blankets in the process. Willow winced. “Sorry about the glitter. I guess we should’ve used more glue.”
“That’s all right,” Spike said, still giving the impression that he didn’t quite know what had hit him. “It’s ... very nice.”
“Xander gave me a comic to give you, too,” Willow said, reaching into her bag again.
Spike raised an eyebrow. “I’m not much into men in spandex.”
Willow handed over the book, which was thicker than an ordinary comic. “He said to tell you it’s not a superhero comic, and it’s really violent and gross, and he thinks you’d like it.”
“I also brought you a set of pajamas,” Giles said. “I thought you might appreciate a change from the hospital gowns.”
Spike looked a little worried, accepting the plastic bag from Giles. “I’ve seen what you lot wear for sleeping,” he said. “They don’t have fuzzy yellow ducklings or such-like on them, do they?”
“I kept your tastes in mind,” Giles promised. He’d bought the set new from Target; it was plain black cotton.
Spike put down the pajamas on his lap with the card and the comic book, just in time to stifle a sneeze against the back of his hand.
“Bless you,” Willow said. “Do you have a cold?”
Spike grabbed a tissue from the box by his bed. “On top of everything else, yeah. I’ve really bollocksed-up this being-human business.”
“Well,” Willow said, obviously searching for something encouraging to say, “I’m sure you’ll get better with practice!”
Spike gave her a weary look. “So I’ve been told.”
Giles cleared his throat. “I’ve also come with a more serious purpose—I have some papers that I hope you’ll be willing to sign, to give me medical power of attorney.”
Spike looked skeptical. “Wouldn’t that give you the power of life and death over me? Not sure I trust you that much, Rupert.”
“It would simplify matters with the hospital, that’s all—particularly since I’m paying your medical bills.” Giles gave him a tight smile. “I do promise not to pull the plug.”
Spike gave in with a listless shrug. Willow went immediately to fetch the notary who kept an office on the ground floor of the hospital. Giles took the opportunity to tidy up the room; he moved the gifts to Spike’s bedside table, and tried to brush the worst of the sparkles away. Spike quietly watched him work.
By the time the paperwork was done and the notary was out of the way, Giles sensed that Spike’s energy was flagging badly; he was still quite ill, after all. “We had best give Dawn and Tara their turn with you now,” he said. “Spike, before we leave—is there anything you need?”
Spike looked at him, blank again. Like he couldn’t quite process the question.
“Right, then. Rest, and, er, get well soon.”
Tara and Dawn were waiting outside the room. Dawn was holding a set of pompoms, and Tara was wearing a headband with two sparkly stars standing out on wobbling springs. “Is he ready for us?” Dawn asked Giles.
Giles adjusted his glasses. “I can’t imagine that he ever would be.”
“Ignore him, Dawnie,” Willow said, shooting Giles a quick glare. “Spike’s going to love it.”
When the door to Spike’s room shut behind Dawn and Tara, Giles turned away to avoid watching the spectacle through the window. “Spike’s going to love it?” he repeated mildly.
Willow was gazing back through the window like Lot’s wife on the road out of Sodom. Finally she shook herself and turned away. “Well, when he looks back on this, he’ll probably think it was a hallucination. Want some coffee?”
Giles eyed the vending machine Willow was indicating. “No thank you. I prefer my coffee to originate from coffee beans.”
Willow shrugged and served herself. Once she had the little Styrofoam cup in hand, she said to Giles, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something.”
She seemed a little nervous suddenly, and a little excited. “I think I have a solution for the problem we’ve been having since, well, since we lost Spike.”
“Yes?” Giles said, cautiously.
Willow lowered her voice. “I’m pretty sure I can repair the Buff—um, the Bot.”
Giles felt a sudden need to clean his glasses. “Oh. That is ... an interesting idea.”
“She had slaying built into her original programming,” Willow went on, clearly eager to sell the idea. “It wouldn’t take much work to get her to patrol with us. She’s stronger than a vampire, you know, and, well, we could really use that.” She gave Giles an anxious glance, looking for his reaction. “I’d change the way she looks, of course. The hair will be easy, and I think I can alter the facial structure...”
“No,” Giles interrupted her.
Willow looked a bit desperate at that. “I know it’s creepy, but we really, really need the help.”
“No, I meant—it’s a brilliant idea. But I don’t think we should alter her appearance.”
“Oh.” Willow frowned at him over her coffee, like she was wondering if he’d lost his mind. “Back to what I was saying about the creepy?”
Giles drew her over into the corner by the vending machine, so that he could be absolutely certain no one was listening in. “The story we’ve put around about Buffy being away on holiday won’t hold up forever,” he pointed out softly. “Once the demon population realizes that Sunnydale is no longer protected by a Slayer, I fear that we will become a most appealing target.”
“You think we can make them all believe the Bot is her?”
Giles cleared his throat. “It did, as I recall, manage to fool you.”
Spots of color rose in Willow’s cheeks. “Right. Okay then. We have a plan.”