At last! After the Deluge, Chapter 30

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series After the Deluge
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And, after only a dozen years, it’s the end.

Thanks to all the people who commented and encouraged me over the years.

A New Day

Twelve hours after the Deeper Well had thrown them out, the survivors gathered around a large table back in the Giles mansion. “Around” might be a slightly excessive term – they clustered towards one corner, aware of the empty chairs and open space at the other end of the oval. Rupert Giles, still haggard, rubbed his face, removing his spectacles first.

“So, Rupes”. The voice lacked the sensitivity Rupert might have hoped for, but it was more gentle than he’d feared. “Care to share with us the plans for the next step?”.

The last thing, the very last thing he wanted to hear right now was a cheery vampire trying to discuss the future. Giles scowled at Spike.

“Sorry, mate. Not going to work. Lost all my family decades ago. Hurts like hell, I know. But the world keeps turning. Seems to me plans are needed for that. So?”

Buffy glared at him, but reached her hand to grasp his at the same moment, which undercut the message her face was communicating. “Spike, give him a moment, yeah?” she asked. And then ruined her own efforts by turning questioningly to her former mentor. “I’m afraid he’s right though, Giles. Is there stuff we need to be doing? Make the world safe for puppies and all that?”

He rubbed his face again, then replaced the spectacles with firm intention. “You are correct. The loss of my brother hurts me. What happened back there affects everyone. Perhaps the ladies of the coven would care to explain their findings?”

Miss Hartness looked up. “Mr Giles, first, on behalf of the coven, may I say how sorry I am for your loss? Your brother seems to have been working against the restored Council for some time, but he was still your brother.”

Sympathy was sometimes harder to take than insensitivity. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Of all of us, Oscar was surely fully aware of the risks of playing with the metaphysical world. It seems he will now have aeons in which to consider his mistakes.” Rupert Giles seemed suddenly old to Buffy and to Dawn who, sitting next to him, gave his arm a squeeze.

The witch paused to allow more comments then, in their absence, continued. “It seems, from the prophecies we untangled, that his presence was as necessary as that of our Anglo-Saxon friend. Between them, and our combined actions, it would appear that access to the Deeper Well has been sealed off for at least a generation, if not more. Drogyn has been replaced, and that alone has calmed the violent ripples in the metasphere that risked catastrophe. Beyond that, the tombs of the living are once again all filled. That does mean Illyria is still in our world, but without the apocalyptic powers. He – or she, as I believe the entity chooses to be perceived as currently – is determined, from what I gather, to fight on the side of the Light now.”

Andrew, drinking all of this in, pulled out a notebook from his pocket and started scribbling swiftly. Was he making notes? Planning to write a story “based on the truth”? Buffy sighed. You could leave Sunnydale behind, but some of it would always stalk and follow you. She and Dawn rolled their eyes in synch with each other. Andrew did not notice.

“As for the gestalt entity calling itself the First Evil, all the signs are that it will be unable to manifest itself to humans until the tumulus* covering it is worn away.”

Dawn and Buffy turned to each other synchronously, mouthing the word “tumulus”? Spike decided he would need to dig out some old OS maps. Useful things, those, back in the day. And he supposed that it probably wasn’t a particularly common word in a place with no history like California. A sudden mental picture of a bear and several painful arrows caused him to reword that in his head: not much written history by comparison with real countries. Perhaps best not say that to the girls, though; Colonials were apt to get crotchety for some reason when reminded of some things.

The explanations continued, getting more complex, requiring a growing heap of solid, mostly leather-covered reference books. After the first hour Dawn shifted more than a little in her seat. After the second, Buffy’s fingers, interwoven with Spike’s throughout, began to twitch. He felt the anxiety, having plenty of his own to be getting on with.

Rupert Giles had not spent much of his recent career with young people without learning to notice such cues. Not, at least, if they were hammered in sufficiently regularly. Specifically, he recognised his Slayer had been impressively calm and attentive for some while, but they were far from the point of any decision-making. This had in the past been enough to trigger Buffy into action, taking the decision on her own. Not always wisely.

As Miss Hartness began to turn another page, he spoke. “Thank you. We are all indebted to your thoroughness. I feel the rest, however, belongs in the archives. I look forward to exploring the detail there in due course, but for now, may I suggest a break?”

Dawn and Buffy worked hard to suppress their expressions of relief, but they were first to leave the room and first to start pouring glasses of fruit juice at the refreshment counter in the expansive kitchen. Spike strolled in behind them, collecting a neat little bag of blood in order to keep them company.

“So, Slayer. What now?”

“Well, Mister. We need to have a long conversation. About when you came back and where the hell you were and what the fuck you thought you were doing not telling me.”

Spike grimaced and clapped his hands gently over Dawn’s ears. “Now then, Buffy. Impressionable young girl here, you know.”
Dawn twisted away from him angrily. “You let us believe you were dead!”

“So I am, pet.”

“Deader, I mean. You went up in flames and were crushed under the ruins of an entire town! And you came back – but it wasn’t important enough to tell us?” Dawn might have started echoing the flippant tone of the vampire, but real tears were now brimming her eyes. Even Spike could take a hint.

“I’m sorry, Bit. I wanted to tell you. Nearly did when Peaches and I came to Rome. Kinda assumed the idiot boy would have told you.”

Buffy’s voice was deep, on the edge of cracking. “He did. In the end, when I forced it out of him. He had known a long while by then. Why. Did. You. Not. Tell. Us?”

Spike swallowed, hard. Buffy watched the movement of his Adam’s apple and waited.

“Seems stupid, now. Seemed like you deserved a chance to start a proper new life for yourself. One without ooglie-wooglies like yours truly. Seemed like it was a poor sacrifice to die saving everyone, then pop up all jolly-like and say Whoops, I’m back!
I see now I might have been wrong there.”

The joy of his girls making it absolutely clear how very wrong he had been and how much they wanted him, back, unliving and with them, threatened to overwhelm Spike. He had hoped they might not quite reject him. This went way beyond his dreams.

Dawn had been his companion for a little while now, so he took her sharp kick to his shin in the friendly way he hoped it had been intended. Buffy was a different matter. As Dawn drifted away, Spike found it impossible to look Buffy in the face.

The rest of the group had entered the room by now, chatting and helping themselves to drinks and snacks. Giles saw Slayer and vampire standing together. The tension between them was palpable, so he jerked his head towards the door and deftly secured Andrew’s attention. Spike owed him for that.

The pair slipped through the panelled door into the main house. Then Buffy grasped him firmly by the collar. “It seems our friends want us to talk. This way.”

Dazed by the woman’s determination to get him alone, tingling from the very touch of her hand on his coat, Spike allowed her to lead him up the stairs, down a short landing and into a room at the end. As Buffy bustled to draw the curtains, he stepped back, alarmed.

“This is a bedroom, pet. Are you truly sure that’s a good idea?” It was indeed a bedroom, with chintz curtains, flowery wallpaper, pink paintwork and some anodyne landscapes in watercolours dotted around. Not quite frilly, but distinctly girly.

She turned, glared and stamped a foot. “Spike, will you stop being ridiculous. We are no longer in Sunnydale. Sunnydale is no longer in Sunnydale. We’ve been places and done things since, and we get to play at being grown-ups now. OK?”

He shivered a little and half-turned away from her. Why was a bunch of demons and mystical dooh-dahs so much easier to face than one brassed-off Slayer? “Been a grown-up a while now, Buffy.”

That triggered something. She wrenched on the shoulder he had turned from her, pulling him back, then gave him a firm shove. Unexpectedly he found himself flat on his back. On Buffy’s bed. Surreptitiously he pinched the skin between thumb and forefinger. Ow. Not dreaming, then.

“Now you listen to me. Enough wriggling. Enough trying to save the world just to avoid talking things over. Enough avoidance, Mr Avoidy-Vamp!”

He opened his mouth to protest, then thought better.

“Spike, I mourned you. So did Dawn. Stupid Andrew, for once in his stupid life did what he was told till it was almost stupidly too late. And why? Some sort of stupid noble heroics? What are you – Angel?”

That took away the breath he had gathered to make his protests with. And more. He was nothing like Angel. Never had been. Never would be.

Except perhaps in trying to make decisions for the girl he loved without so much as consulting her.

“I’m sorry, love. Can’t say much beyond that. Thought I was making the right call. See now I wasn’t. Can you forgive me for all that?”

She started by glaring into his eyes. The salt water just starting to brim in them put paid to the glaring. The intense blue, almost as if his soul spoke through them was too big a distraction. She sighed.

“OK, Mister. This is your one-off chance. Right? I’m going to go out of this door and come back in again. If you’re here, we start over. If you are not, I am not going to look for you any more.”

She went. He looked round a room which seemed suddenly smaller. There was a door. He checked. It led to a bathroom. No other door. Window, yes. It led straight to a lovely sunny day. Some choice his girl had given him. He sat, and waited.
And then she came back in.

She smiled. So did he. He gestured to himself. “Not going anywhere, love. Not if this is where you want me.”

She seemed suddenly shy, looking at the carpet, a cream number in keeping with the style of the place. Her voice was low.
“Spike. I missed you. A lot. I meant what I said in that cavern. I mean it now. If you still care about me, that is.” She peeked up under her lashes, her eyes almost as full of unshed tears as his.

He croaked out. “I care, Buffy. Can’t tell you how bloody much I care and want you. Felt I had to give you the chance to make a life. But, you know what? You’ve blown it. ‘Fraid you’re stuck with me now. Still all about you, see.”

The time for speaking was over. He stood and pulled her to him. Their lips, faces, bodies, met in a flurry of movement. And the sort of communication which had always served them best started again.

This time there was no shadow of an ending point. Nor would there ever be.

*A tumulus is a word used on older British (Ordinance Survey) maps to identify old umps and bumps in the landscape assumed to be covering ancient ruins or earthworks.

And that’s it, done. Comments would be warmly appreciated.

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