A/N: The previous chapter has been substantially revised in all of the Scooby scenes. This is a short chapter I wanted to get out as a "thanks" to everyone who's reviewed the story so far.
Buffy shoved the key to her new apartment into the lock and twisted spasmodically, almost breaking the key before pushing the door open. She staggered the few steps into the apartment, slammed the door shut, and sagged against the wall, eyes shut and breathing shallowly.
She flipped on the light, otherwise not moving from her position. In the light, her deathly grey pallor was easily visible, as was the gauntness of her cheeks. The haunted look in her eyes were hidden by their lids for the moment, but it was there, oh it was there.
"I did it again," she murmured to herself. A tear seeped from under her eyelid and slowly sank down her cheek. "I swore I wouldn't get involved again, I swore that I was just going to be a normal person, I swore I wouldn't let myself be around people I had to pretend with." She let out a ragged breath, and used one hand to scrub her cheek, hard, removing any sign of the offending tear.
"'Don't go to the Circus, Buffy,'" she mimicked. "They warned you, but you couldn't listen, could you? Oh, no, and now you have half the weres and vampires in the city looking up to you, God knows why, and all you want to do is crawl back into your grave and never come back out."
She opened her eyes, forced herself off the wall, and staggered to the worn sofa. The room had come fully furnished, something that she had required. Almost immediately after Edward and Anita had raised the possibility of Buffy remaining at Anita's apartment, Buffy had known it was impossible. She didn't know Anita, couldn't allow herself to show weakness in front of someone she didn't know; so whenever Anita had been around, just as whenever she had confronted a were or vampire tonight, she had put on a brave face, babbled and bantered the way she used to, and tried to convince them that she wasn't already dead or dying inside. She couldn't do that all the time, or she would break even worse than she already had. No, she needed a place where she could be herself, where she could allow herself to break down.
So, she had gone out and found herself this apartment and had rented it without a second thought.
"And now I'm talking to myself," she groaned.
The day had been much, much more stressful than she had hoped. Confronting the Master of the City twice in one night, restoring order to a mob of panicked creatures, coming face to face with a zombie that reminded her painfully of herself…all those experiences had combined to crush what was left of her spirit.
Buffy hated to admit weakness, even to herself.
"I need time to heal," she said aloud. "I'm not the Slayer anymore, I'm through with that. I forgot that tonight, but I need to remember in the future, or I'm just going to be in hell all over again."
"Jean-Claude?" Jason whispered.
"Oui?" Jean-Claude grinned widely as he examined the cowering werewolf.
"Are you alright?"
"I am fine, Jason," he said gently. "I feared for a time that all was lost, but now I realize that there is much I need to learn about Buffy Summers."
"Buffy?" a British voice with a cockney accent said in surprise. Both vampire and werewolf turned to face the newcomer as he approached the Circus.
It was another vampire, one with bleached hair wearing a long black leather duster, with a face Jean-Claude knew well.
"William the Bloody," he greeted flatly, frowning. "You gave no warning that you would be coming to my city. I find your discourtesy displeasing."
The other vampire shrugged, and for the first time Jean-Claude realized how depressed and exhausted he looked.
"Didn't rightly know myself where I was going, did I? But what's this you were saying about Buffy? You're not even fit to say her name, JC."
Jean-Claude was perplexed. "Do you know her?"
"I did know her, you berk," Spike said angrily. "She's dead, haven't you heard?"
"Ah, but it is you who has not heard, it appears. Buffy Summers is alive, and somewhere in this city."
Spike's eyes widened with a sudden desperate hope. "Alive?" he demanded brokenly. "Buffy Summers? Short, blonde, got one hell of a temper? She's alive?"
"Indeed," Jean-Claude said, clearly amused at the other vampire's expense. He was enjoying not being the only one put off-balance by the Slayer.
"Thank God," Spike whispered, closing his eyes in joy. Then he opened them again, and vamped out, glaring at the Master of the City. "If you hurt one hair on her head…"
"Are you in love with her, William?" Jean-Claude asked, aghast. "I thought you didn't have a soul."
"I don't, but I've got a bloody chip in my head, and that's nearly the same thing," he growled. "And that chip's the reason you don't have to worry about old Spike trying to take over your city; I can't even hurt a human, let alone kill one. I'd be a laughing stock if I even tried to lead a coup."
"Angelus isn't here as well, is he?" Jean-Claude asked.
Spike was puzzled. "What's Angel got to do with anything?"
Jean-Claude shrugged one of those infuriating Gallic shrugs. "You are of his line, are you not? And I know that he loved the Slayer as you do."
"The berk's still in Los Angeles going all weepy and poor-me over his crimes," Spike said, rolling his eyes. "He was never man enough for her, anyways."
"And you are?" Jean-Claude asked, raising an eyebrow.
Spike flushed. "Look, I know she'll never care about me like she cared about him, but that doesn't mean I can't love her from afar. She's too good for any vampire. But how can she be alive? I saw them bury her."
"But you did not see them resurrect her. I am told that her friends brought her back from the grave, that she was not happy with them, and that she fled her town to my city. I feared that she would wreak havoc here."
Spike smirked at him. "You and every other vamp she comes across, JC. You don't have to worry, though; you and your people all have that 'souled-since-turned' crap going on, and Buffy would never hurt or kill anything with a soul. She's a pushover, really. Enough talking, though; if Buffy's here somewhere, I have to find her. I'll talk to you later, old chap." He hurried away.
Jean-Claude let out another laugh.
"Master?" Jason asked tentatively.
The vampire turned to him, still mirthful. "I apologize for frightening you, mon ami," he said with another chuckle. "I just never thought that having The Slayer in my city would be so delightful."
He shook his head, then said, mournfully, "Now, show me the damage," and followed the were into the Circus, closing the doors firmly behind him.
A/N: For anyone who's wondering, there won't be any Spike/Buffy except for friendship and some unrequited love on Spike's part. Not sure whether to make him a major character; let me know what you think!