There were a lot of perks to working at Evil Incorporated, apparently. Necrotempered glass, a fleet of cars, a whole building full of minions all waiting to jump when the boss said frog. And a state-of-the-art medical ward with a cafeteria that served things like mini quiches, lobster bisque, made-to-order steaks, and fancy chocolate mousse. Of course, Angel probably didn’t appreciate the menu choices, what with the no eating human food and all. Spike, though, would love it. If he ever woke up.
When he wakes up, Buffy told herself fiercely as she piled fancy-schmancy hospital food onto her tray and put in an order for a rare steak. She didn’t want to be here – not at Wolfram & Hart and not in this cafeteria – but Cordelia and Willow were both right. Spike needed more care than what he could get at the hotel, and Buffy needed to keep up her strength, especially since she planned to keep donating blood to her vampire. She paid for her food with the card Angel had given her, then found a quiet table in the corner.
Spike would wake up. He’d wake up, and Buffy would find him something tastier than pig blood, and then they’d go out together somewhere nice for dinner and dancing. He’d love that, doing the whole actual dating thing with flowers and candy and romance. They could even live together while they dated. Maybe with some of that necro glass for wherever they decided to live. She remembered how gleeful he’d been about being in the sun during the whole Gem of Amara thing. And if she was going to be building imaginary castles in the sky….
Once we get him out of the amulet, we’ll find a nice place to live near a mall and a club, and we’ll have necro windows. Maybe a whole glass patio thing. And, and kids. We could adopt or do in vitro stuff with a sperm donor or something. Spike had always wanted kids. He’d told her that once, when she was down in the basement with him, taking a few precious moments away from the potentials and all the others who needed her so much. Spike had needed her, too, but it had been a quiet need. Undemanding.
He’d be good at the whole being a father thing. But would she be any good at being a mother? She thought of Dawn and her successes and failures there after their mother had died. She ended up as a thieving delinquent who thought no one cared about her or wanted to be around her. And then she kicked me out of my own house. Yeah, she really hadn’t done a stellar job there with Dawn, had she? Let’s table the kid idea for now. We could get puppies first. Or kittens. Kittens are nice.
Buffy didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there, lost in her thoughts, before someone suddenly put a plate of steak down in front of her. She blinked at it before looking up at Fred’s sympathetic face.
“Thanks,” Buffy said quietly as the other woman took a seat across from her. She almost told her to go away. That she wanted to be alone. She didn’t say it, though because, honestly, she really didn’t want to be alone right now.
Fred smiled nervously and started picking at a napkin. “Willow showed us the recordings she made. Of what’s been going on in Spike’s hellscape.”
Buffy just nodded. She’d known Willow was doing that. She hated Spike’s privacy being invaded, but they needed to know what had been going on and what they had been dealing with. And they needed to see what kind of person Spike was. That he was worthy of their time and effort, even if Angel didn’t always seem to think so.
“I just wanted you to know,” Fred continued, “I would have called. If all that had really happened, I would have called and told you Spike was back. Even before he gave up a chance to be corporeal to save me.”
Buffy managed a smile. “Thanks,” she said again. “I appreciate that. And all that you’ve done for him. I mean, I know it wasn’t really you, just a projection, but it’s based on you. And the you in there has been really nice to Spike…. You know, other than the whole not calling thing…. Which totally was not your fault, like, at all. So I, I shouldn’t even be talking about it.”
God, she was babbling. She cut off a piece of steak and stuffed it into her mouth to shut herself up. Oh wow, that was good. It all was. Had the cook sold his soul for his skills, or had Wolfram & Hart seduced away someone meant to open up a gourmet soup kitchen to feed the homeless? Maybe he was just a talented guy who had applied and there was no actual evil involved? Yeah, right. It was Wolfram & Hart, after all. The evil bastards who had trapped Spike in a hell meant for Angel.
“A blood transfusion might help,” Fred said suddenly. Buffy glanced up at her. Blood transfusion? What? How would that help get Spike out of the amulet? “You could give Spike more of your blood that way.”
Oh. Right. “Do… do you really think it’s helping?” Buffy asked. “My blood?”
“Absolutely.” The other woman’s voice was filled with conviction. “It’s helping to keep his body strong, and probably his mind, too. See, there has to still be some kind of connection, or he’d just be dust. The monitoring devices have been picking up all kinds of interesting readings, and….” She trailed off with a slightly awkward smile. “You probably don’t care about the actual science, do you?”
Before Buffy could say that she really didn’t but appreciated Fred’s enthusiasm and willingness to help, Fred’s cell phone rang. She answered it with an apologetic smile.
“Hello? Hi, Ange…. Oh, she is? That’s good. Did she get enough…? Right, okay. Bye.” The scientist closed her phone and looked at Buffy. “Cordelia’s awake again, and about ready to explain more of what she knows. Angel wants everyone to meet in Spike’s room.”
Finally. You’d think after being unconscious for so long, she wouldn’t have to sleep so much, Buffy thought in irritation. She immediately felt bad about it. Cordelia had been in a coma, of course she needed a lot of naps. Faith may have bounced back from a long-term coma pretty easily, but Cordy wasn’t a Slayer. Despite the magic and therapeutic massages to keep her muscles from atrophying, it was normal for her to be tired all the time and to have about as much stamina as a brick of cheese.
“Wait,” Fred called out as Buffy started to stand up. “It’ll take a bit for everyone to get over to this part of the building. You have time to finish.”
Buffy hesitated, then sighed and sat back down. She needed to keep her strength up if she was going to help Spike.
“… a wee li’l puppet man.”
Buffy froze in the doorway to the hospital room, staring at the projection Willow had up. Spike looking at a puppet version of Angel with an almost childlike glee. She blinked, torn between laughing at the puppet and crying over Spike’s expression. She hadn’t seen him that happy in a long time. Maybe even from before the chip.
No, she realized, feeling a little sick. The last time she’d seen him like that – gleeful and full of unmitigated joy – had been the morning after they’d sexstroyed an entire building. He’d thought it had meant something. That it had been the start to an actual relationship. And then she’d crushed that dream, leaving him bitter and calling himself dirt. She’d been too depressed and lost in her own darkness for a real relationship. She wondered, sometimes, how things would have gone if –
“I can’t believe you turned me into a puppet.”
Angel’s complaint pulled Buffy out of her thoughts. She looked around the room, noticing for the first time that Angel and Cordelia – the latter in a wheelchair so she didn’t wear out as fast – were there, along with Willow and Dawn. And, of course, Spike. The hospital bed and all of the various sensors stuck all over him made him look small and delicate.
Buffy slipped fully into the room, Fred coming in behind her to check some of the machines all those sensors were attached to. The good old comfy chair, she thought as she sat down in the easy chair next to Spike. He so owed her snuggles in a bed once he was back, damn it.
“Quit whining, Angel,” Cordelia said. Buffy could practically hear the eye roll. “You’re a hero. A champion, remember? Being a puppet in someone else’s version of hell isn’t exactly the end of the world.”
“It’s even kind of a cute puppet,” Dawn chimed in, moving from her position against the wall to sit on the arm of Buffy’s chair.
“Sorry, Angel,” Willow said, not sounding the least bit sincere. “The best way to keep Spike from giving in to depression is to diminish the you in there whenever I ca- Damn it!” Willow frowned in concentration as the puppet and Spike fought their way into an elevator. “Oh no you don’t,” she muttered. “Not on my watch.”
“You want that car, Spike?” puppet Angel asked. “Then let me win this fight.”
Spike slammed him to the floor of the elevator and gave him an incredulous look. “You honestly think anyone is gonna buy that I lost to a bloody puppet? Especially after I whipped your arse over that Cup of Destiny Dew?
“Any car you want. Your choice out of the entire fleet. And a pre-approved replacement if you manage to destroy this one, too.”
“Fine.” Spike rolled his eyes in obvious disgust and helped Angel up. “Don’t care one whit what your lot thinks of me.”
“What just happened?” Buffy asked. It had seemed like the amulet was trying to twist things around again, but it had all just gotten… weird.
“Stalemate,” Willow stated, nose wrinkled slightly in annoyance. “The amulet tried to make it so puppet Angel could beat Spike. I wouldn’t let it, so instead we have puppet Angel seeming to have won, but both he and Spike know the truth, which is good enough. Look.”
She pointed towards the amulet, which was on the bed beside Spike. The energy thread leading from it to the fish tank on the bedside table was a little thicker.
“Wallowing in depression slows things down, but happy or purpose-having Spike speeds it up,” Willow explained. “So, I’m doing what I can to diminish Angel, while also working on giving him a girlfriend.” She turned her attention directly to Buffy and shut down the projection. “I’m hoping seeing Angel with someone will give Spike a kick in the pants towards trying to get to you.”
“So at least one version of Angel is getting some, huh?” said a voice from the doorway. Gunn – the one who had spoken – was there with Wesley, Lorne, and the lizard woman. There’d been a lot of sex with the skanky Eve chick in the amulet, but Willow might have skipped that part when showing what had been going on. “Good job, man.”
“Looks like everyone is here,” Buffy cut in before any bantering could really begin. They didn’t have time for that. She focused on Cordelia. “What exactly is going on?”
“One of the Powers broke me out of the coma after a side trip into amulet land with enough mojo to shake things up.” Cordy had her problems, but Buffy had always liked her tendency to get right to the point. “The power of the amulet is being forced to manifest in the hellscape as the Senior Partners and members of something called the Circle of the Black Thorn. I planted it into amulet Angel’s mind that he has to fight these guys.”
She glanced from Willow, to Wesley, to Fred before continuing. “While that’s going on, our big brains here are going to figure out how to combine magic and technology so we can get in there with an entire big group during the climactic battle.”
“This still doesn’t make any sense,” Angel muttered. “Why would a Power be interested in helping get Spike out of the amulet? What does it have to do with my destiny?”
Buffy stared at Angel incredulously, too stunned by what he’d said to properly respond to it. His destiny? He honestly thought everything the Powers that Be did revolved around him and his destiny? How the hell had she never noticed just how self-centered he was? She wanted to yell at him, but the words wouldn’t come. Fortunately, Cordelia didn’t seem to have that problem.
“Angel, you’re a great guy when you want to be, but seriously? What are you, two? The world doesn’t revolve around you, bucko. There’s a Power – one of the really big ones I might add – who is way more interested in Spike than it is in you. And it’s going to do what it can to help us.”
“One of the bigger Powers, you say?” Wesley asked with a troubled frown. “That doesn’t really bode well, does it? If something such as War or Death wishes to bring Spike back, perhaps,” he hesitated and looked towards Buffy apologetically, as if that would do anything about her sudden urge to punch him, “perhaps it might not be the wisest course.”
“Who said anything about War or Death?” Cordelia asked. “It’s –”
“Love,” Buffy broke in quietly. It had to be. She looked at Spike’s still form and took one of his pale hands in hers, careful not to jostle any of the wires. “It’s Love, isn’t it?”
She knew she was right even before Cordelia’s nod. Alive, dead, souled, or unsouled, Spike had always been about love. It drove everything he’d done in his existence. Heck, even some of his impulsive bits of idiocy had been fueled by a love of not being bored out of his mind. It was kind of poetic, really.
Buffy blinked at that thought and suddenly laughed. “We’re going to do it. We’re really going to get him back.”
“Buffy, we can’t be sure –”
“No,” she said, cutting Angel off. “I’m sure. We’re going to do it. Don’t you see?” She smiled and paraphrased something Spike had said inside his hellscape. “It’s in the poetry.”
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