I hope I'm not stepping on anyone's toes, but it's just ticked over to my posting day in my time zone, and I was getting antsy, so does anyone mind if I begin? (Hi, mods! Thanks so much for running this again!!) I've got a three-part fic and a vid to post today, so will be popping in at fairly regular intervals!
The More Things Stay the Same.
Buffy goes to Wesley instead of Tara about the resurrection spell.
Rating: R for for reasonably explicit sex and a whole bunch of swearing.
Length: ~25,000 words (in three chapters of approx. 8300 each.)
Other Pairings: None as such, though Angel is around, so there's certainly Buffy-Angel interaction and a friendly acceptance of the Bangel of yore.
Notes: Big thanks to bogwitch for the beta job! It rather got away with me after she saw it, though, so don't blame her for anything you don't like. ;) Also, this fic is set after DMP (where the chapter titles come from) and immediately after Loyalty on AtS.
Warnings: Nothing AO3 would make you warn for; otherwise, a certain amount of S6-y misery, but it's not what I'd call the angstiest thing in angst town.
Chapter One: Hit the Button, Then It Beeps.
There were sixty hours until her next shift. Sixty. Six-oh. Two and a half days, exactly.
The problem was, standing in her own clothes and coat, looking out into the Doubemeat parking lot, Buffy didn’t know what to do.
Lorraine seemed to have really taken it to heart that Buffy wanted to work, that was the thing, and she still felt guilty about getting fired, so she’d been trying really hard to be good. But being good, being reliable, turning up on time and lugging around boxes of meat without complaint, that was rare in the Doublemeat workforce. It came with things like Lorraine wanting her there for casual supervising and on her name being given out when people needed someone to cover their hours, which led to double shifts and her own days off getting shunted around – and shunted again.
It had been twelve days since she’d had twenty-four hours break, five days since she’d done more than patrol and sleep. And that meant five days since she’d done Spike, essentially, because she’d barred him from coming by. “Boyfriends aren’t good for productivity,” Lorraine had said, the first time she’d seen Buffy’s lipstick smudged, and that had been the end of that.
Four hours ago Buffy had sat alone in the break room and wept, watching the clock count down to the time she had to smile again. Nickelback had been playing that awful song of theirs for the seventh time that day, unnecessarily reminding her of what she really was, and her stomach had been cramping with hunger. She hadn’t been able to bear bringing the Medley smell on her hands near her face, though, let alone a whole burger to her mouth, so she’d drunk Fanta mixed with Coke and pretended the concoction covered enough food groups.
Now she was free, but with sixty hours ticking away.
It was night, the sky was dark, which meant she should be patrolling. Spike would be awake, which meant she could see him, burn away the clock ticking in her mind and burn away everything, and it was tempting – because, really, could she even be herself for sixty whole hours? Maybe it would be best to be his for a while.
But, see, that was wrong, that was a wrong thing to feel.
A little desperate, Buffy asked herself, what else could you do in two days? And a half. There had to be things, didn’t there? She could make a list.
And so, sitting down on the parking lot’s wall, Buffy pulled her diary out of her bag. It was hers from 2000, because she’d needed one for work and had kept on putting off getting another from the store, but that didn’t really matter, because the numbers were all there (plus a February 29 for luck). She was never sure what day of the week it was anyway. Scratching out ‘DATE! – 8.30’ to replace it with ‘DMP 5 – 4’ had become routine, so she turned past her list of ‘Riley Pros and Cons’ with ease to stare at the blank lines of the new Notes page.
That was when she realised she didn’t have a pen.
No list for Buffy, it seemed.
Grabbing the pages in her hand, Buffy flicked through the diary in full, trying see if she’d made any such list before – Anywhere But Here, hadn’t they used to play that? But there was nothing, just a year of minutiae, bookended by Riley dates and hospital appointments (January’s date nights all blacked out) – apart from… There, near the end of March: a phone number. She’d taken it down out of politeness, but had never really seen the need for it.
She thought. Ever since she’d found out that the spell had brought her back wrong, she’d been thinking, on and off, that she should really check out how – but she’d been scared to ask anyone and definitely sure she didn’t want to ask Willow. Giles was too far away, and bound to ask far too many questions. But now there was a number, the initials WWP and sixty hours of time; she had two quarters in her pocket and a bus station who knew her name. There was a phone in the parking lot.
Wondering if this was what it felt like to take control of her destiny (and you’d really think she’d know), Buffy walked over to the phone and dialled.
She didn’t think about the time, she remembered that later, but it picked up anyway. “… Hello?”
“Uh.” She hesitated. The voice sounded distracted – and gravelly. “Is that Wesley?”
“Who is this?” Add suspicious. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.
“It’s, um, Buffy?”
Suspicion resolved into a sigh of familiarity – to be followed by a somewhat resentful, “Buffy.”
She was losing her nerve with every second and there was fear or something like it churning in her stomach – but that was the wrongness, wasn’t it? The thing she had to fix. “Sorry to call like this, but… Can I come see you?” she forced herself to ask, feigning a chirpy friendship they’d never had. “It’s about a research thing. A spell. Is this a bad time? You said I could call whenever…” And he had, she could remember that. When he’d been beaten up by Faith, but still looking pious, he’d told her he was there if she ever needed him, because she’d been meant as his duty for life.
God, had she ever been so young she’d pooh-poohed that?
Wesley laughed, but it sounded as bad as when she did, as though this was the perfect end to a perfectly terrible day. “Oh, certainly, come…” he said. “Yours will be a welcome distraction, I dare say, from my current project.” That piqued her interest mildly, because it was keeping him up pretty long after office hours, if nothing else. Not that it was any of her business.
“Where can I find you?” she asked. He told her. She went.
Fifty-seven hours left.
Whatever Buffy expected, walking into the Hyperion, it wasn’t Angel with a sleeping baby in his arms.
“Angel?” she asked, feeling slightly gratified her sense of huh? was stronger than the embarrassing amount of wistfulness that always came out when she said his name. Not that they could get back together, not now while she was wrong, but his name came with a tone. She couldn’t help it.
“Hey, Buffy,” Angel replied, sounding almost chipper. “Wes said you were coming, so I stayed up. And I think this little guy wanted to see you –” He gestured, raising the baby slightly in his arms. It was still strange. “– because he wouldn’t settle at all.”
“You have a baby,” she said.
Angel held it closer to his chest, as if she were trying to take it away. At least someone else was defensive. “He – his mother died,” he said shortly. “What’s new with you, anyway? You, uh, are you working in fast food?”
Crap. So much for keeping that particularly shameful detail a secret; she’d thought the odour had dissipated on the bus, but apparently she’d got used to it. Again. “You smelled the smell, huh?” she said, coming further into the lobby, down the steps so she could lean against the back of a comfy chair. There was no use trying to hide it now.
“Only a little,” he told her as she walked, wincing like he hadn’t meant to say anything. “I mean, that and… Never mind.”
What else? What else could he smell on her? When had she last washed these jeans?
No, Buffy thought, never mind. Screw that. She’d left Sunnydale behind, smell notwithstanding, and didn’t have to worry about it. She didn’t want to know.
“Is Wesley here?” she asked, causing Angel to jump slightly at the abruptness.
“Uh, yeah,” he replied, nodding towards a door by the reception desk. “He’s in his office.”
She started walking again, across the marble floor and out of the lobby. “Thanks.”
Unfortunately, when she knocked and let herself into the office, Wesley did not look like a man who wanted distraction from a resurrected ex-charge. Books were stacked like battlements around his desk, protecting him, or attempting to, from whatever was causing the twitchy (terrified?) look on his face. She’d never thought the guy had stubble to grow, and yet here was living proof.
“Oh, yes, Buffy,” he said when he finally recognised her, wide eyes relaxing. “Hello. You got here quickly…” He shut something papery in front of him. “What can I help you with?”
Then he started moving the books around, restacking them in a way that he presumably meant to be welcoming. The more of his desk Buffy could see, however, the less inclined to speak she became – so in the end she blurted it out as quickly as she could, forgoing all greeting: “You know that Willow and the gang brought me back to life, right?” Wesley blinked rapidly, but seemed to keep up, nodding once as though he appreciated her getting to the point. “Well, I think the spell went wrong – so was really hoping someone could check. Like you, maybe. Please?”
It was enough, thankfully, to make Wesley pause. He cradled a particularly large and battered volume in his hands, focusing on the stained brown leather before looking up at her, expression pensive. “I’m not sure what I can do – you might be better off talking to one of mine and Angel’s colleagues…”
“Please,” she repeated, not wanting to be referred to a stranger and not wanting to explain any more than she had to. “Could you do what you can? I know it’s a lot to ask, but…” Oh, hell, she was desperate. And this was really impolite, seriously so, but she had to ask. If she left it any longer…
“I can try,” he replied, placing the book to one side with the others; she held in her relief. “I have some notes at my apartment which may be of help,” he said, like he was organising his thoughts. “If you give me a moment to finish here, we can go and look them over.”
“Sure,” she replied, meeting his smile with teeth, backing away from where she was pretty certain she wasn’t welcome.
As she turned out of the doorway, however, she bumped straight into Angel, now sans baby. “Hey!” she said, before she could help it. “You’re supposed to be the one who doesn’t –”
She stopped herself. He looked at her strangely, but she brushed past him, hiding her blush and definitely not providing an explanation about who she was referring to. Ooh, look at this interior, very nice and distracting. What would you call it, art deco?
“Buffy,” Angel called after her, exasperated. “What did you just say to Wes?”
“Nothing,” she replied, crossing her arms defensively. “And has no one ever told you it’s impolite to eavesdrop?”
To that he didn’t say anything, and, after being stared at earnestly for a few seconds, she found herself taking the nearest seat, a round couch in the centre of the room, pointedly looking at the ceiling. Which was high.
Angel continued not to speak and, for a while, she was happy to let the silence pass. Silence, however, was not something she got much practice with these days, so eventually the quiet grew too heavy on her shoulders. “It’s all fixable,” she said into the emptiness of the lobby, abrasive in the hope that would be enough to make Angel leave her alone. “When I’ve figured out what’s causing it, it’ll be fixable.” The silence still hung. “I’ll fix it,” she asserted, finally glancing at him again. “Someone will fix it.”
Taking her glance as an invitation, however, Angel sat down next to her. He kept a comfortable distance away on the couch, but seemed to decide they were talking now. “What even makes you think there’s something wrong?” he asked.
She replied instinctively, looking away to see Spike’s snarl in her mind and feeling his fist against her face, “Nothing.” The moment she said it, of course, she realised it wasn’t enough to get her off the hook. “I mean,” she continued. “Lots of little things. Nothing to worry about.” Spike’s teeth broke skin the last time and she didn’t even notice when it happened. “I guess…” She breaks his skin more often than not. “It’s just that I keep making bad choices, with no obvious reason why.”
Thinking that might be enough, she turned back, grim-little-toaster smile on her face.
Angel wasn’t buying it. “We all make bad choices, Buffy,” he said, sympathetic but still prodding her.
“Not like this,” she tried to make him understand. This was worse. This was always worse, because this was tying a naked vampire spread-eagled to the bedposts and licking him inside out, until he cried. “This is a whole new category of worse.” And she didn’t even care if that discounted what she’d said a second ago.
“It always is,” Angel said, sanguine. Then he frowned. “But you’ve gotta remember,” he continued, “that bad choices don’t mean you’re a bad person. And things don’t always go the way you think they will.”
The Spike in her head was still laughing until she banished him away. “Huh?” It was true that her memory of Angel-speak was hazy these days, but she didn’t quite remember him being one for bland optimistic platitudes… He sounded like chicken soup.
“I’m just saying,” Angel replied, slightly defensively, glancing at the bassinet where they’d been standing before. “Things can turn out better than you think, even if you don’t see a way out there and then. Getting stuck in bad decisions doesn’t mean you’ve…”
“Come back wrong?” she finished for him, a little annoyed. If only she could tell him about the chip without telling him about Spike. “Believe me, there are other reasons.”
“Right,” Angel agreed, mirroring her tone. As though she wasn’t listening to him. “Sure. All I’m trying to say is…” She wasn’t sure why he was defending the potential of bad choices so strongly, but he frowned harder, saying, “The future’s not set in stone. Bad ideas can go good, just like good ideas can go bad. Have you ever…” He stopped, breathed. “Camus had this line, right?” Buffy rolled her eyes, because she’d forgotten the fetish for book-guys with funny names, but Angel kept on, “Hear me out. I can’t remember where he wrote it, but he said that evil comes from ignorance, not good or bad intentions. I think it goes back to Socrates, even – that we make decisions based on what we know and how we think the consequences are gonna weigh out one way or the other. We don’t set out to be bad.”
“Well, yeah,” Buffy replied, not sure what she was supposed to be getting. “Exactly. Things seem like a good idea at the time.” Like when you’re backed against a wall with a flint-sharp body making sparks against yours. “But they’re bad, and you should realise.”
“No, that’s the problem,” Angel insisted, his gaze drifting again to the bassinet. “Because it’s impossible to know everything that’s gonna happen. You can’t make a perfect decision without perfect knowledge, which no one has. So judging something as a good choice or a bad one isn’t that easy.”
“But some are plain bad. Choices, I mean.” Buffy kept her voice firm, drawing Angel’s attention back to her. “Killing people? That’s a bad. Killers? Vampires? They’re evil, not misguided.”
This vampire, however, sighed, slumping where he sat but nevertheless still trying, “But what’s the cause of evil? What does a soul actually change?”
Watching him sceptically, Buffy got the feeling Angel had been asking that question for the last hundred years. He was deep, at least sometimes, and always had been, but she’d never been any good at reading him. Now, though, she thought she could almost see something in the way his shoulders were set and the way he frowned: a sense of displacement, maybe, which was as repellent as it was attractive. It was what made her let him continue.
“When I got my soul,” Angel said at last, careful over his words, “it took a long time to become who I am. And I’m in a good place, but that doesn’t mean everything I did to get here was good. I made a lot of bad choices.” Then, however, he shook himself, apparently remembering what he was trying to argue as he met her eyes again. “But that’s the thing,” he said. “Some of my bad choices? They came good anyway.”
And yours could too. That was the implication. It annoyed her. It annoyed her more the more she thought about it and the more he tried to read her in return, because he didn’t know, he had no idea… “How can you say that?” she demanded. “Like, what, it doesn’t matter what we choose? Fate’s gonna get fatey? It matters, because we can make a judgement. That’s what having a soul means. Without that –” She saw Spike’s face again, smug and smiling even in the filtered light of day. Naked like it didn’t matter at all what he’d done the night before. Like it didn’t matter that they hadn’t stopped to think. “Without that we’re nothing. We’re empty and hollow and – evil. When Angelus –”
“When I,” Angel cut her off, shifting on the couch to sit taller again.
Buffy shut up. How had they ended up talking about this? She didn’t want to be talking about this – and yet Angel seemed really fixed on saying his piece. He must have been pretty pleased with his bad stuff turning good.
Setting his jaw, Angel admonished her, “It’s pretty intense becoming a vampire, Buffy. The demon sets up inside you, but you still feel… I always felt like myself, always wanted the same things; all that seemed to change was what I was willing to do to get them.” At her glare, he sighed. “And that’s evil,” he accepted, “but the root of it, where it all comes from? Sometimes I think… I stopped thinking about the future, the moment I died. It all fell away, leaving nothing but me, and – Darla, and… OK, so it’s not ‘cool’ to say this anymore, but there was, you know, art. I was born fifty years too late, but I didn’t care; there was so much passion in the world, in the old sense, I mean, and I could feel it, got swept up in it, didn’t stop for a moment to see where it was taking me. Sometimes I hink that’s what it was.” Solemnly he looked at her, finishing, “Do you understand? I wasn’t empty; that world around me, I was – I was in love with it.”
Stiff on the couch’s old stuffing, Buffy couldn’t help responding then, “…Love?”
“Yeah;” Angel replied, before conceding, “not in a way that meant anything, but that’s what it felt like. That ‘love’ consumed me without anything to stop it, without anything to make me think twice – until my soul came back I never even noticed how I’d changed.” He shook his head, as if convincing himself. “Bu it wasn’t real. It defined me, swallowed me whole; by that point you couldn’t say I was really feeling it at all.”
Looking down to her pale and soap-bitten hands, Buffy murmured, “I used to dream of loving like that.” And the joke was on her, because at one time she’d thought she did.
There was a pause before Angel responded, but Buffy didn’t look up. When he spoke it was sincere: “I hope you never do.”
She still wasn’t sure she understood, but that was the moment Wesley’s door opened and she remembered all the things she was trying to keep Angel from knowing. It made speaking about anything else rather difficult.
“Buffy?” Wesley asked hesitantly, pulling on his jacket as he shut off the light in his office. “Are you ready to go?”
“Sure,” she replied, trying to smile easily, but not quite managing. Picking up her bag, she left Angel with a quick smile and an aborted wave, never quite sure how to say goodbye to him.
As she followed Wesley out of the door, however, Angel hailed her heels, “Hey, uh, um…” He was on his feet and sounded like this was what he’d meant to say this at the start. “I don’t know what you’re doing with him, but I can be here if you ever want to talk about Spike with actual words…”
How did he…? She was going to ignore that. Turn around and keep on walking, one foot in front of the other. Out of the door past Wesley’s questioning gaze.
She should have known something was up when she found out Wesley rode a motorcycle, but it was only when she entered his apartment that Buffy realised things were seriously not OK. The place was a mess: books and papers piled everywhere; dirty plates and cups in odd places, like they’d been pushed out of the way to be cleaned another time. There were only fifty-six hours to go, but she couldn’t not ask, “What is it that you’re working on, anyway?”
“Um…” Wesley avoided, clearing a space for her to sit on the couch beside a conspicuously empty armchair. “Nothing important.” He looked at the coffee table, as though trying to work out whether it would be polite to clear that too, but then he thought better of it. “Tell me about your problem,” came the rather eager directive; he sat down and looked at her – too hard. “And Spike. Have I gathered correctly that they’re connected? I assume you don’t want Angel to know, but, well; I promise I can keep a secret.”
Sighing, Buffy sat in the clear couch space and wondered how much she’d given away as she’d left the hotel. She could feel her defensiveness starting to swallow the truth as far down as it would go, but she knew she would have to tell Wesley at least the bare bones of the problem. Anyway, she told herself, so maybe he was smart, but he almost certainly wasn’t any less emotionally stunted than he’d been in Sunnydale; he probably wouldn’t guess the rest. And so she began, “You know Spike has the chip, right?”
“The one that shocks him should he harm a human?” Wesley replied blandly, blinking guilelessly behind his glasses. She knew he’d kept up-to-date; maybe through Giles? Watchers couldn’t help it. “Yes, Willow mentioned it when she, er, brought the news of your…”
“Oh.” Buffy looked away for a second. Of course, stuff happened when she was gone. There were three whole months she didn’t know about. “Yeah, right, so –” This was it, she supposed, the moment to tell someone. No more hiding. Nothing else for it but to see that academic stare go dark. “The thing is,” she said, “since I’ve got back? The chip’s stopped working on me.”
Strangely, Wesley seemed to understand, looking pensive and a little calculating, but otherwise not at all taken aback. She almost relaxed –
– but that, of course, was the moment when a shiver shot up her spine and three thudding bangs sounded out as knocks on the door. Wesley shot up like a caffeinated rabbit; she cringed deeper into the couch. Just when she thought she was getting away…
“Oi, Slayer!” came the muffled shout through the door. “Open up; I know you’re in there.”
“What is he…?” Wesley began, looking panicked. “The neighbours –”
It was the look in Wesley’s eyes that did it: the all-consuming fear of the unknown, of an entirely new problem to face that he didn’t know how to solve. Buffy had felt it too many times to let somebody else suffer, and so she forced herself out of the chair and over to the door, turning the latch and pulling the handle back hard. The movement shot some fire into her, so she hissed through the gap above the chain, “What are you doing here?”
Spike looked at her with narrowed eyes, left hand raised to knock now drifting to the door frame. Resting against his forearm, he leaned in. “What do you think?”
Raising her chin, she accused, “I think that there’s no way in hell you could have known where I was without stalking me.”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” He exhaled, nostrils flaring as he dropped his head closer – so close she thought she could feel his breath thrumming along the threshold’s barrier. “Have me watching you from every shadow, waiting on your every whim.” The blue of his eyes was so clear, so free from any hesitation or uncertainty, that she couldn’t help but think back to what Angel said – about what he called love and about what Spike called the same. Because that was the wrong word, that would always be the wrong word. This obsession, it was inhuman. There was no room in it for anything else but her. “Let you slip into the shadows any time you pleased and have my –”
“You disgust me,” she snarled, unable to keep the feeling inside. That he would do that, that he could do that, with no thought for anything else… “Why won’t you leave me alone?”
It was then, however, that his eyes turned hard. “Funny thing, that,” he bit out like a demon. “I did.”
She stilled, thoughts stopping.
Not letting up, Spike continued, “I stopped coming round your sodding work, since you said I’d get you fired; thought you’d visit when you had time.” He laughed softly, tonguing his teeth. “Turns out, though, that what I thought was a week in double-shift hell really involved you skipping off to the city, leaving your sister worried sick and sobbing in my crypt that some nasty had had its day.”
The blood drained from Buffy’s face and she did nothing but stare at him. How could she have forgotten about Dawn? They’d been at home and awake together sometime… Not yesterday, but earlier – and Buffy had said she’d be getting a break, that they’d do things. That they and the gang would do things. That was what she’d been meaning to do. That was what you did with sixty hours.
“I didn’t…” she began. “I had to get away,” she tried to insist – but her voice was too soft, scared now of what she’d done. Dawn was her reason for living, the reason why she walked out of the crypt every morning she was lost there, why she fried and stacked and mopped and served. Without Dawn… What was there? What did she have? She’d told Willow just recently that she didn’t want to die, but, honestly, she wasn’t sure she could live if it was just for herself. She couldn’t risk forgetting, shouldn’t have forgotten, couldn’t care less for her sister than Spike did. “I had to go.”
“Fine,” he said harshly, accepting her excuse too readily, like he always did. “But, seriously, who is this git, Buffy?” Apparently Spike was done with one insult and moving on to another, aiming a forceful nod over her head. “Wasn’t overly surprised you’d go crying to Angel, but, gotta say, it’s a new low to find out you’re stringing some other bloke along…”
“What?” she murmured, not quite keeping up with the conversation. The implication finally settled, however, and that really did disgust her. Not that Spike didn’t. Oh, whatever – the important point was, “Eww. You think Wesley and I – Spike, that’s…”
“Well,” he began, slouching with an impish sort of grumpiness – which was thoroughly distracting. “What was I supposed to think, seeing you snuggled up on his bike, going back to his… Call that seduction in my book.”
He wasn’t even joking. But there was a world of difference between catching a ride from Wesley and sitting up close behind Spike, reaching her arms around his waist and feeling the muscles twitch as he fought for concentration. There was nothing like taking her hand lower when the road was empty, daring him to wipe out as her fingers curled, to burn them both up to nothing in a ditch. There was nothing like punishing him when they got back safe.
And you think you aren’t wrong, that your thoughts can go from your sister to this?
“For heaven’s sake, Buffy,” came the call from a recovering Wesley, suddenly cutting through the images in her mind. Adrenaline flushed through her as she worried how much he’d worked out. “If he’s here for you, let him in. In fact, come in, Spike; I haven’t got all night and I doubt you think a Watcher’s apartment is the easiest place for a kill. Even a disgraced one as I.”
She took as much satisfaction as she could in shutting the door on Spike’s smirking face – before reluctantly taking off the chain and letting him inside. He brushed past her with a wink, fingers tracing across her thigh in a way that probably looked like an accident, but felt like anything but.
Why did he always have to be so…?
“Disgraced, eh?” Spike greeted Wesley behind her, strutting like a cock and sneering like an evil thing. “Better watch that, mate, else you’ll end up with the likes of me.”
With his arms crossed, all Wesley said, weary and dry, was, “And what would that be, exactly? Incapacitated? Neutered?”
Spike paused for a second, as if recalculating after his bluff had failed. But then he continued, because apparently the posturing was necessary. “Oh, just you wait,” he said, darkly. “I’ll show you what –”
“Yes, yes,” Wesley dismissed, passing by him and shutting the door still open in Buffy’s hand. She’d meant to do that… He was quickly away, however, moving back to the coffee table and tacitly inviting them to sit. “Really I meant it when I said I wanted to get on.” They sat; her far away from Spike, though, even when he’d cleared his own space, his legs spread wide to encroach upon hers. Wesley declined to look down. “Buffy tells me you’ve been able to harm her since she was resurrected.”
“She said…?” Spike was surprised again, words curling close to that awful tentative tone that made her squirm. He looked at her, eyes light and mouth almost smiling.
“Sure.” She shrugged it off. “I’m gonna find out what’s wrong with me and then I will fix it.” And it was all going to go away, she tried to tell him with her eyes. There would be no more self-contradiction, no more weakness, just a life without him, perfect and right. And Dawn, and her friends. She would remember them again.
It should have made his smile shift, but for some reason it didn’t.
“We’ll see about that,” Wesley said, a little stiff as he looked between them – but she was certain that didn’t mean anything. The guy barely knew her; no way was he less oblivious than Xander. “I’ll do what I can, but I need to know the particulars. What spell was it that was used?”
Buffy didn’t know. She stared, hardly believing it; she hadn’t got a clue. Obviously she hadn’t thought this through – that was clearer every second that ticked by – but how could she not even know what spell had brought her back from the grave? Was there no information in her mind anymore? She knew the prices for every Doublemeat combo, the medication her mom had needed giving (that was never going anywhere), but otherwise…
“Fawn’s blood,” Spike supplied, cutting in. She wasn’t grateful. She wasn’t. “The witch who did it –”
“Willow,” Wesley accepted.
Spike nodded and Buffy wordlessly let him speak. “The night of the spell, Willow came back to the house and she stank of fawn’s blood, had it on her face. And –” His jaw clenched. “– bollocks.” When she caught his eye, he was miserably apologetic, just for a second – before he explained, “Few weeks before, one of the others – Anya, she asked me about suppliers for ritual ceramics.” Glaring at Wesley as if that had better make sense, he asked, “That do anything for you?”
“Was it by any chance the Urn of Osiris she was looking for?” came the strangely hopeful reply as Wesley got out of his seat – to putter around some notebooks on a shelf, opening them and flicking through their contents. “As I said, we had – I happened to do some rather extensive research on resurrection spells about a year ago.” He explained, “Although it wasn’t relevant to our – situation, I… Yes!” A particular page caught his attention. “The Plea to Osiris, with an urn and vino de madre – which could easily present as fawn, I suppose – for human warriors dead from mystical means.” Wesley’s eyes met hers once more and Buffy swallowed, a little shudder going through her bones to hear herself described so very simply. How far was it from a warrior to weapon?
“You sure that’s the one?” Spike asked.
“I believe the specifics are rather, well, specific,” Wesley replied, turning over what looked like very scant notes on the spell before returning the book to the shelf. “I can easily access the Brekenkrieg Grimoire and make certain.”
“Right,” Spike insisted, taking control like he had no right to do. “Then you do that and Buffy can ring her sis.”
For some reason there was a cordless stand on his left hand side and he was already passing the receiver to her, even as Wesley spluttered, “It will have to wait until morning. I’m not going in again now – and since it seems you will be taking advantage of my hospitality rather than Angel’s, as would be far more sensible – or even staying in a commercial hotel, don’t people do that? Since I’m doing this, the least I might ask, I think, is to have a decent night’s …”
“That’s fine,” Buffy said distractedly, dialling home even as Spike stood up in anger. Her fingers were trembling; she wasn’t sure she could deal with the argument. More than that, she had a home she hadn’t phoned, responsibility she’d checked out on. What she wanted had to be put to one side, just for now.
She went into the kitchen to make the call. Left in the living room (she could hear, with absent surprise), Wesley began moving things around and muttering as he arranged bed linen, presumably out of irrepressible politeness, if not a simple fear of sleep. Spike stayed with her, watching while her sister made her cry.
When she slept Buffy dreamt of boxes, like she always did, and woke up unable to breathe. Upholstery was there in front of her, one rip already showing stuffing, tearing wider beneath her fingernails. She panicked, because it shouldn’t have been real, then backed away, realising as she rolled that it was only a couch, but falling all the same, knees planting into softness that brought a shout from the body beneath her.
Still she was shaking, because there was too much fabric beneath her hands; she could feel it on her nails. She tried to bat it away, jerking awkwardly onto various limbs, one at a time, pushing it and finding skin that she could balance on, knees on hips and hands clutching at shoulders. Shivering, she kneeled there.
It was then, however, that firm hands took her waist and lifted her up to ease her down. She found a mouth and kissed it desperately, tasting nothing of gravedirt or mouldering cotton, nothing of Doublemeat grease or industrial cleaner; her fingernails dug into flesh, forcing away the touch of thread. There was a bit of shifting, but then she was lying on his coat, cool leather like more skin under her back, soft as the thighs that brushed hers. She relaxed, eyes closed, relishing the sweetness of this darkness, the cool movement of the air across her skin and through her lungs, so unlike that under the ground. As her nails withdrew from his skin, Spike took his cue, moving down her body so more of the cool air could reach it, kissing every bone and curve he met on his way.
When he nipped at her thighs, underwear gone south, she let him in, pushing the sofa aside so she could lift her hips and lotus her legs round his shoulders. Books dislodged in their piles and tumbled, but she didn’t care, free for once in this unconstrictive darkness. He kissed her; her muscles clenched, kissing back and declaring war in earnest as his tongue entered the fray. The coolness of the night was soon gone, but the air still eddied over her skin; she could hear the AC whirring, distant on the wall, but she was whirring too – alive now. So alive. Her breath hitched, clit sucked and released, and sweat flushed her body, blooming the jasmine scent of her deodorant onto the next breath that came, crisp and pure through the last of the burger grease.
It was that that made her let go, let him take control of her completely, everything inside her blank and dark and soft and black.
She was safe like this, safe enough to pull his head up afterwards and kiss him soundlessly, feed the feeling back to him. Safe enough to whisper, “Spike…” and admit it was he who was there. Safe enough to fuck him for the hundredth time, sharing murmurs with her cheek pressed to his. And again.
It was so easy, climbing back into the sofa, frenching Spike goodnight with loose-limbed camaraderie before dozing off to the sensation of him sucking on her fingers. So easy that it shouldn’t have felt quite this shameful to wake up, arm dead where it hung and thighs unavoidably sticky. It was the feeling of flesh that Buffy wanted free from her fingers this time, skin and blood not thread, and she felt sick that she’d caused pain and liked it. Just like the Slayer Spike had always wanted, she was the killer who gorged on flesh, whose mouth shaped words of hate and lust and filth, riding death hard beneath her.
Wesley was by the kitchen when she woke, arms crossed as he said, “Good afternoon.”
Staring at him, she could only try to keep the tears back under her eyes, because he clearly knew. He had to know. “What time is it?” she whispered.
He told her and she knew: only forty-seven hours left. Then he added, “My earplugs made me sleep through the alarm.” Spike was awake now too, she could tell from the way he shifted like a serpent (she shouldn’t have been able to tell), but he was only going to listen, not open his eyes. “I really don’t have the energy to care what you and Spike do, but I would appreciate more social behaviour, should you stay here again. Now – I’m going to get us some lunch. Be dressed when I’m back.”
Even as Wesley left she couldn’t say anything, but he didn’t seem to notice.
Spike stood up when Wesley had gone, naked and strange in the plain daylight of the room; he looked at her with eyes soft enough for her to hate him more, but seemed to get the message when she turned her head away, heading off to the shower on his own, clothes in hand.
Time passed with the white of the ceiling. She thought back to the morning.
There were certain realities, after all, that came with doing Spike on someone else’s floor. You actually really couldn’t leave the mess how it fell, not if you wanted to be in any way discreet, so when the blue light of dawn started edging from the kitchen they got up and tried to put things back the way they were meant to be.
“What the bloody hell does he need all these for, anyway?” Spike whispered, sinfully cross-legged as he stacked books behind the sofa. He seemed to think clothes were unnecessary, since he’d just have to take them off again, and while Buffy agreed to a point (her shirt, jeans and socks were still folded by her bag and jacket at the couch’s side), it made the whole affair seem too much like a sex game for her liking.
Especially since she was the one lying flat on the floor, stretching for the paperback lost under the side cabinet, helpless as Spike checked out the cotton on her ass. Still, all she said was, “Not a clue,” before smiling with success as her fingers brushed the slick cover. Retrieving the book, she read, “An Introduction to Vampire Prophecies – Gad’Hoffryn Denfrek. Arashmaharr Castle Press. Huh.”
“Vampire prophecies?” Spike asked, eyebrow cocked. “They’ll all be about the great souled one, I suppose.”
“For a disgrace, his digs aren’t half bad.”
Suddenly, Spike was back, looking exactly the same, but dressed and radiating warmth like a mockery of a human being. He had warm eyes and he was coming closer, but she had nowhere to run, no way of leaving, no way of avoiding how easy the morning had been. She escaped into words, said, “I hate you.”
But he just sat on the floor by her side, leaning against cushions. “You hate everything,” he reminded her. “Don’t see how saying it to me makes it special.”
Silently Buffy watched the side of his head, as it turned to look at his coat, then back as his lips closed around a retrieved cigarette, sucking in more warmth. “It’s different,” she promised, as he breathed a plume of smoke into the room, letting it mingle with the smell of sex. That he would dare… “I really hate you.”
“Nah,” he replied, before taking another drag, raising a knee to his chest. “That’s not it. Thing that’s different with me, Slayer –” He threw a smile over his shoulder then, wry and a little bit sad. “– thing you haven’t yet figured out, is that you can hate me as much as you want, but sometimes? You can’t help but like me all the same.”
Her stomach clenched – because she hated him, she really did. She wanted to knock the smirk off his face and beat him to the floor, could see herself doing it in her mind. The fact that her fantasy had him laugh at her, take every blow without a mark then grab her fist and kiss it through the pain – that could only be her mind playing tricks, like it always did. “I will solve this,” she promised, more to herself than him. “Wesley knows the spell and he’ll fix this; then I’ll be right again.” Whatever else Wesley was working, whatever Angel was keeping from her, it didn’t matter. She would figure all this out and then she would go home, get back to how she’d been before. She’d sleep through her nights and wake up the way she fell asleep.
“One step at a time, love,” Spike said, still smoking and not sounding convinced. “Best take a shower first, though, yeah? You always feel better when you’re not crusted up.”
Not knowing how to respond, Buffy kicked him in the head, making him duck and curse as she climbed off the couch. Then she picked up her bag and clothes, walking to the bathroom with the blanket wrapped high around her chest.
In the shower, which ran hot, she couldn’t look at her body, only squirt Wesley’s manly shower gel onto the washcloth and scrub until she was certain nothing remained but skin. Her hair needed washing, so she did that too, shampooing until all the grease had gone and the strands felt rough even beneath the water. Coming out, she hated herself for being the woman with a pouch of supplies, but she was: she had an extra pair of boy briefs, the sample stick of Degree they’d been giving out at the mall (Dawn had brought home nine of them), make-up for the final touch. She could get ready almost like a normal morning – and yet she still found herself sitting on the toilet lid, dressed in jeans and a bra but staring at the t-shirt in her hands, unable to pull it over her head.
The thing was, she hated putting on yesterday’s clothes. Maybe she’d taken off the tee where Spike couldn’t watch and maybe she’d swapped it for her Doublemeat shirt pretty early in the morning, but she’d still put it on for a day she wished she hadn’t lived. Today was supposed to be better, supposed to be about moving forward, but she didn’t know how she could do that if she started off in the same place.
Why was she always left holding things in her hands?
Buffy shrugged at Spike’s comment, sitting upright and pulling her bra back into place. There was a firm crease on the book’s spine, so when she thumbed it open two halves fell flat, presenting her with the end of a chapter and a short bibliography. The book list had been marked up with a pencil, some titles crossed out and others starred, one with the scribbled comment, ‘see Gaskell’, in what Buffy could only assume was Wesley’s handwriting. “What d’you make of this?” she asked Spike, handing the book over.
He frowned at it, before flicking back a few pages, scanning the text. “It’s a chapter on vampires and children,” he said. “Bit of stuff on the Annoying One…” That brought a snort. “What a joke, rumoured the Slayer killed him. That was bloody me! Otherwise… Teenagers – slayers again – pre-pubescents, babies. Aha. Watcher seems to like that paragraph.”
“Babies?” she asked, stomach sinking. On Spike’s nod she added, “Angel has a baby. Or, I mean, he’s looking after a baby…” Huh; she really didn’t ask about that situation as much as she should have. “His mother died, or something.”
“Hmm,” he replied, frown not shifting as he read, “It is generally accepted that vampires cannot parent offspring through human sexual processes… Who wrote this thing? Humans don’t have a clue!” He laughed, but then that died. “This conclusion, however, inductively reasoned, is not a proven impossibility. Several prophetic traditions discuss infants in relation to vampires – and a significant proportion of these suggest biological rather than metahaemic relationships…” Spike’s eyes met hers. “Not sure I like the sound of that.”
“Me neither,” Buffy agreed, the whole world sinking. Someone else had secrets here. Wesley, maybe Angel, they were both as bad as her, not giving away the whole picture. How were they supposed to help her if they were the same? What was she even doing here?
“Buffy?” There was Spike again, calling for her like always, just outside the door. He knocked. “You all right in there? Watcher’s back and you’re setting a record…”
Time. It was hard to control. She didn’t have a watch, but she needed to know when to get back to work – she had to get ready, get the day done. Maybe today wouldn’t change, but she could try again tomorrow.
Spike entered just as she pulled the shirt over her head. “I’m fine,” she said, not sure how her hair looked, short but unstraightened. Raising her chin and standing awkwardly, she told him in the doorway, “You need to leave me alone.”
“I’ll do that when you dust me,” he said, striding across the tile and spinning the shirt front-to-front before she had a chance to put her arms through the sleeves. “Not before.” He didn’t interfere as she finished covering herself, self-conscious as a weird sense of intimacy began to fill the air.
“Seriously?” Buffy replied, flustered as she stepped around him, pulling the shirt over lower her stomach. “You thought now was the time for true confessions?” His eyes followed her as she grabbed a brush from the sink, dragging it through her tangled hair. “I don’t need you, Spike,” Buffy told the mirror, cloudy with only the shadow of her. “I don’t need anyone. I just need to get on with my life, without anyone else…”
“Getting in the way?” Spike suggested, amused. “Some life you’re heading for, there.”
“Shut up.” He didn’t understand. If things would only – stop, for just a moment, then she’d get everything back together. Things would slot into place and she would have exactly the right amount of time for herself, for her friends, for her sister, for Spike, even, maybe – though that would be five minutes of insults and punching halfway through patrol. That was all she’d ever needed before; there was no reason why it had expanded to hours and hours at a time. She was slightly out of phase with this dimension, she was sure that was what the spell had done, and it had distorted innuendo and knuckles on his nose to full-blown sex and her mind hitting always on his face.
“One day you’ll stop fighting and realise that we’re good at this, you and me.”
She ignored him and they seemed to reach a stalemate after that. It was only broken by Wesley, as was becoming a habit, when his voice came corralling from his bedroom. It was possibly gentler than before he’d gone out. “I hesitate to suggest that the salad’s getting cold,” he said. “But if you two are finished, well, time’s moving on.”
Great, Buffy thought. He’d probably heard it all. She used to be better at this ‘secret’ thing.
[Chapter Two: Flip the Beef, Hit the Other Button.]