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Bed.  At some point, they’d made it from the floor to the bed.

Reaching out, he ran his hand over the bare sheet where the covers had been thrown back. Not even lukewarm. She'd been gone for a while.

She worked up to it quiet.

Then the scrap of a memory from near dawn hummed at the back of his brain: kisses, warm kisses, licks and one precious drop of sweet red nectar on his tongue. 

Followed by a whisper:  “Honey?  It’s way early but I gotta go out.  I’ll call ya later, okay?”

Spike, completely drunk on her taste, had merely grunted in deep sleep.

Now wide awake, he cursed himself for not giving her a proper goodbye.  He flipped open the phone and dialed, but heard a sound from somewhere in the apartment.  Jumping out of bed, he went to investigate and found her phone ringing on the kitchen counter next to a small plate that held only crumbs.  

“Balls,” he muttered.  

She could be anywhere.

His eyes wandered to the plastic box near the wall phone and he smiled fondly at the quaintness of his girl.

"Can MacGyver me back from the dead without so much as bloody duct tape but she still wants an answering machine to take calls."

A steady red "1" shone in the message window. Curiously, he pressed the play button.

“Hey, this is Daniel. Yeah, I found your physics notebook over in Jordan Quad today and it had this phone number with your name in it. I guess you're off-campus? I’ll try your cell.”

Off-campus?  Physics notebook?

"Fucking hell," he breathed. "She's gone back to university?" The force of his shock sent him stumbling back into one of the bistro kitchen chairs.

Mind reeling, he considered it.  What had he ever done to let her know that he supported her in whatever she wanted to do?  (Besides follow her back like a puppy to Wolfram & Hart, which had he paid any attention to it at all, had to be the last place on earth she would've wanted to be.) He'd wanted her to get better – of course he wanted it. 

Maybe too much.

Maybe she'd merely shown him what he wanted to see. She'd acquiesced; she'd capitulated and returned to what passed for her normal life with him in tow while secretly, she planned something else altogether. The thought of what her life could be like with her degree finished stretched out before him in his mind like a vast speeding thoroughfare.

"The hell with that!"

He stomped to the bedroom and began to dress wildly, shoving legs into jeans. He knew her car, knew her scent and he could meet her on her own turf and let her know that she didn't have to play games anymore. Scientist, physicist, student…whatever she wanted to be, she'd always be his and he'd be by her side, cheering her on every step of the way. He grabbed keys off the bureau, then turned around and grabbed sunglasses as well. The glare on the highway would blind him for sure.

He stopped. The glare.

"You stupid git."

Not to mention, how would he find out which school she attended?  Steal this Daniel person’s number off her forgotten cell phone and force the wanker into telling him where they were?    

“Right, that’s the recipe for a healthy relationship. Invade her privacy and threaten her classmate.  Brilliant.”

Spike sat down on the edge of the bed.

His eyes lit on the pictures that they'd taken together at the Santa Monica Pier, framed and displayed on their walls with pride, but had Fred put them up because they showcased the two of them together? Or because they suspended that memory of his humanity that she couldn’t live without?

Oh, but last night…those fresh, delicious memories he could not stop replaying told a different story:  a woman who loved him for exactly who and what he was - reveled in it, even.  How she wanted him - not for all he could do for her and to her but for him; even if she had tried to hide it, he could feel it, taste it, smell it.  Hear the love in her voice, bask in the warmth of her skin on his, drink the honey from her veins that she so willingly and purely granted him.  

No, Fred surely loved him, he knew it.  He couldn't quite bring himself to believe that she'd gotten worked up to give him the heave-ho just yet.

On the surface, everything looked tight.

Until one day, I saw her right next to me but I knew she was gone.

His phone rang.

"There she is!" he mumbled in triumph, sprinting to answer it and snatching it up like a runner's baton. “Win, you gorgeous thing, get on home and tell me where you've been. I sussed out your secret, you naughty girl, and you deserve a spanking at the very least."

Silence.

"Uh, hi, it's me," Buffy said, with obvious discomfort. "Sorry to disappoint."

His guts plummeted.

"Hey," he said, recovering. "That's my line."

"So Fred's out?"

"Out and about. Why?"

"Well, I find that a little strange. That in light of looming apocalypses she decides to what, run out to stock up on bread and milk?"

Spike scowled. "She doesn't know. On account of me not telling her. Yet."

"Spike!" Buffy yelped, on the exact key that mimicked the pain in his head of the old chip firing off. "How could you not tell her? This is important, this is everything – everything that we've tried our damndest to rid the world of is crawling back out of the Hellmouth, hell-bent for another go.”

Ever so sorry, Slayer, we were a bit preoccupied with shagging each other into oblivion last night.

"I'm not so sure about that, Slayer,” he said instead. “Didn't try to ward you off on it last night, on account of you having a fresh mission to occupy yourself with, but I don't think it's a repeat performance from the First." 

He fished in his back pocket for cigarettes, lit up automatically before remembering how Fred encouraged him to smoke outside the apartment.  Guiltily, he turned on the stove fan.

"You're the one who hinted at it," Buffy said testily.

"You cut through the meat of it," he corrected. "That being, what do we know that scares demons off?  It's something like the First, right? Something that wants demons to give a place a wide berth, seein' how the vamps are gettin' pushed out block by block."

He could practically hear her gears shifting. "Like a sentry. Securing a perimeter."

"Spoken like the former military mistress herself."

"If we're wrong, then we're really wrong. In the huge, not-good, town-swallowing kind of way."

"So what's your bright shining beacon of thought? You already get Angel on the line, start the charge of the Poof brigade?"

"No, Angel's doing his demony breakfasty thing for his so-called job.  Harmony wouldn’t dream of interrupting him for me.  I didn’t even know demons had business breakfasts.”

Spike snorted.  “I guarantee you wouldn’t fancy what’s on the menu. Charlie's always up for the grassroots sorts of fights. We can meet here if you've a notion, wait on Fred and make a charge come sunset."

"No."

"Then what, Slayer?” he rapped out.  “Enough with the stalling."

When her voice came through finally, she spoke in a whisper: "I need to see it."

Instantly, that old instinct about her flared up like a phantom pain. He knew exactly where she meant.

He drew on the cigarette thoughtfully. "Why?"

"Because I do. Because it's been over a year and it's too easy for me to forget. How hard we fought and how we almost lost. How we did lose, so many good people."

"It's a dead place, Slayer, a cemetery without stones."

"Then I'll feel right at home."

"There's nothing there," he insisted, digging the cigarette butt into the bread plate littered with crumbs. The remnants of Fred's breakfast.

“So you’ve been back there then?"

"No reason to go back."

"Then maybe you should see it, too."

“Where I burned to death?  Why would I want to see that? If you're trying to drag me along for your trip down memory lane,” he snorted. "You can forget it.”

“Spike, I get it won’t be exactly pleasant for you.  But what if something’s there? Something more than a big hole in the ground, like a big fresh evil?”

"There isn't."

"But you haven't even been there, so how would you know?"

"Dammit Buffy!" Spike slammed his fist on the counter causing the plate to clatter. "What the hell do you want from me?"

“Please come with me," she answered quickly. "Drive me there. Then you can rub my nose in it, how right you've been. Or we face what's there head-on, like we've done before. Either way, it's a win-win."

"More like a buggered-buggered," he mumbled. "You know I won't be able to leave the car at this hour."

"It's okay," she said gently. "I need you more inside the car than out."

"Right. Should I don the chauffeur's hat for you as well?"

"Spike," she whispered his name with a balm of regret. "That's not why I need you."

The tone of her voice made him wonder at her again. Here was Buffy - the girl who held up the "One" after Chosen like a placard - humbled and prostrate for his help in a way he once begged for. 

Then again, perhaps this was Buffy's way of luring him in to confessing everything he knew about the dead Slayer and finally ending what had already become a very long visit. For that, he could be persuaded to drive nearly anywhere.

"Be there in ten," he said curtly and hung up the phone.

 

 

Fred pitched forward into the dust, the nausea twisting her guts like the ringing out of a towel. The motion forced out the bit of breakfast that she'd managed to choke down earlier: toast with peanut butter; no jam. Just the thought of it – the cloying thick richness of the Peter Pan with the nuggets of petrified peanut scraping her throat on the way back up – made her groan and heave anew, although nothing came out.

She knelt in the dirt and rested her head on the car's fender, wishing it were cool. How nice cool metal, cool anything would feel against her throbbing head. Especially cool skin. Especially Spike's.

Thinking of Spike made her shudder, the tender muscles of her thighs clenched for him reflexively. The guilt for leaving him behind again blended with the sickness to her stomach and a fresh burst of sweat broke out on her brow. Her whole body had become hot, feverish, and consumed in these last couple of weeks, as though some foreign and diligent laboratory busily multiplied with life under her skin and without her consent.

The flu. This had to be the flu. Please, God, just normal flu, not the Steven King kind of sweeping pandemic that an evil establishment like Wolfram & Hart might keep incubating in its tombs of laboratory refrigeration compartments. Not a demonic incubus of infection that would wear its hosts down into exhaustion so that they couldn't fight a worse plague that might be unleashed.

No. Just the flu.

If Spike had known, he never would've let her drive – certainly not the marathon trek to Stanford. She'd heard the young boy's call on her cell phone totally by accident on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He'd called late, found her notebook (after barhopping perhaps) and never thought to look at a clock. His complete unawareness of adult time made her smile. She'd never not had that. Even in Pylea she forced herself to commit to a schedule: forage at night, sleep in the mornings, hide during the afternoons. It gave life a sense of normalcy and reality that even a hell dimension couldn't shake. 

She would give anything for that routine now; being this sick, this unhinged from what usual people had that passed for daily living, had made her feel like she'd unknowingly crossed into another dimension. Or that everyone around her had, and inched away from her further every day. Besides being intermittently ill, Fred simply felt, well, peculiar. But that alone did not warrant a visit to a real medical professional.

She hadn't felt really ill until Buffy had shown up.

Buffy, she of the bouncing blonde mane and sunny California smile, who still believed that time held Spike suspended in wait for her and had simply heard some internal alarm go off in her bouncy noggin that stirred her back to him. 

How she'd kissed him in the lab when she’d arrived, it had been so sure, so certain – as though they were already still together.  Really, why wouldn’t they be? Warrior with warrior, hero with hero.  Hero with scientist didn’t have quite the same ring.

Fred slumped to a sitting position by the side of the car, out of the harsh rays of the sun.

If Spike and Buffy did get back together (ohh, God, I think I'm gonna puke again), the practical scientist in Fred told her that there would really be nothing she could do. Who kept hydrogen bonding with oxygen, for heaven's sake? Shoot, it just happened and the energy used to break them apart would probably fuel cities someday…

“Dammit.  No,” she said aloud.  “Work the problem, Fred.”

One of her teachers had told her that the scientific world held no proof, only evidence.  Well, Fred had lots about one thing: Spike loved her.  Truly, completely loved her.  She could sense it all the way here, an invisible tie that stretched from her heart to his no matter how far she roamed.  See it in his eyes and his smile, hear it in his voice and his purr, feel it in his touch and in his doting on her, taste it in his kiss.  Every sense, covered with evidence of his love.

While she couldn’t control, well, a lot, she could control how she presented him with the same sort of evidence of love in her every word, action, and deed. 

To hell what Angel wanted, too - she’d either end this Connor experiment or bring Spike in on it – and not because she needed Spike out of weakness. Fred and Spike were simply stronger, together.  She knew it - she’d make damn sure Spike knew it, too.

“We are one helluva polar covalent bond," Fred grumbled, “so take that!” 

Standing up to a head rush, she got her footing and carefully eased her way back to the driver's side of the car to continue on her journey.