Fic: 'In Remission' by Quinara. [4/4; ~19.5K words total; PG-13]
In the five years Spike's been missing, the world around Buffy has irrevocably changed. The general population has woken up to vampires' existence and the kill count has dropped way down. She's sharing a house with a soulless vampire, still going by the name of Faith. But what does Spike have to do with it? And what does it mean for their future?
[Chapter Three: Spike]
Chapter Four: Buffy
November 2014, Oakland CA
By the time Spike came to the end of his story, Buffy didn’t know what to say. “And you knew there were Slayers out here somewhere?” she asked, unable to believe the luck she’d had in finding him.
Still caught up in his explanation, Spike eagerly shook his head. “No,” he explained. “By the time I ran into you I was just looking for blood. Got a tip about the local butcher, caught sight of the car along the way.” The full gallon was in his system now and for the moment he was rosy cheeked and almost healthy-looking, if still seriously thin. It was sad to think this amount of healing was just a harbinger of things to come. “Never figured you for a Chevy,” he added, tilting his head like he was adding it to the notes he had on her.
It made Buffy laugh, like she was twenty-five years old. “It’s Faith’s,” she said. “I’ve got this buggy yellow hatchback thing in the garage, but I don’t really drive it much.”
“Ah,” Spike nodded, and the silence was almost comfortable. They were still up in her bedroom, but they were sat on her bed now like it was a high school sleepover, duvet kicked away. Buffy had one leg hanging over the side and she swung it aimlessly, caught up in what it felt like to have him around again.
“Why did you leave?” she asked, because it was the only question she had left. “The first time?” She knew it was dangerous, but she couldn’t resist, beguiled by the ease of the moment and unable to believe it could be anything worse than what he’d already shared.
But the question immediately made the light in Spike’s face fade down into nothing. His smile was gone and he looked away, like five whole years hadn’t been enough to get over the five years they’d had before. “Is it worth raking all that up again?” he said. “I mean – tonight?”
Butterflies broke cocoons in Buffy’s stomach. “Why not tonight?” she asked. Sure, there would technically be other nights. If she had her way they would stretch on indefinitely. But it wasn’t like they could start from anywhere else than where they’d left off. All of that stuff came back to bite you eventually, she knew too well.
“Let me ask you another question,” Spike didn’t respond, watching her face seriously. Buffy stopped her leg from swinging, curled it underneath her. “Would you have me stay this time around?”
“Yes,” Buffy replied, without hesitation. Not sure what he was getting at, she spread her arms wide. “Welcome home.” Pushing Spike away had been one of her biggest regrets from pretty much the moment he’d gone out of her life, so what else could she say?
“All right then,” Spike replied, sounding wrong-footed. Not that Buffy could blame him for thinking things couldn’t be that easy. “What’s changed?” he challenged next, like that was really what he’d meant to ask.
It was a tougher question to answer. Because, honestly, Buffy couldn’t exactly pinpoint all that much. She’d loved him back then and she was pretty sure she loved him now. Her life wasn’t all that different, though she only worked four days a week. There was some weirdness, initially, when she and Faith had shared the down payment for this place, just like Buffy would have predicted there would have been. But in the last year or so things had been getting smoother as far as the authorities cared to have it smoothed in terms of identity documents and financial privileges. You couldn’t be sure that the clerk wouldn’t make some smart remark, but there was clerking that happened.
And that was what Buffy tried to explain to Spike. “Circumstances,” she said as the most concise version of her answer. “Things…” she shrugged, feeling incapable of putting it all straight into words. “Things are different now from how they were back then.”
“Right,” Spike replied – and his eyes were worryingly narrow all of a sudden. “So you’re telling me the reason everything went down the way it did was because of circumstances.”
“They’re important,” Buffy tried to defend herself, well aware now of the chill that had fallen on the room. “It’s society, you know? Some stuff it makes harder, some stuff it makes easier.”
“And you still care what it thinks.”
“No,” Buffy insisted, not sure how to respond to the clench of his jaw. It didn’t look healthy, the way his face was. “I don’t mean that. I don’t mean expectations. I mean the fundamentals. I mean…” She was a little desperate, which probably explained why she didn’t express herself perfectly in the words that followed. “Vampires can be people now. They don’t have to…”
It didn’t come out right. Immediately she froze up.
“Shit; I didn’t mean…” she tried to continue. I always thought you were a person.
But Spike cut her off, “I know exactly what you meant.”
He didn’t, though. Buffy was certain of that, even as he rose from the bed and stalked out through the door. She followed him, pretty sure he didn’t know where he was going and hoping, mostly that he wouldn’t leave the house. “Spike, wait,” she was saying as he stomped downstairs…
But whatever painful riposte he was almost certainly about to offer got cut off as Faith came back through the front door. She looked surprised to find them in the hallway. “Well, that makes things easier,” she said, looking between the two of them. Raising one eyebrow, she seemed to decide it wasn’t her problem. “Seems like one of your old inmates is making noise across the bay,” she told Spike, before looking back Buffy’s way. “Like she’s gunning for vengeance or something. I’ve got a lead on some schmuck in a bar; wanna come?”
Buffy raked her hands through her hair, trying to think. The late night was starting to get to her and she wanted to get things straight with Spike before she lost that magic moment of time reunions brought and things became weird again. Because she could remember how that worked.
But what else could she say? “I guess if we should probably shut her down as quick as possible,” she said, forcing her brain to think strategically. There were going to be a load of them, wasn’t there? A whole new element of vamps they were going to have to watch out for and figure through a way to manage. “We’ve gotta keep the story from spreading.”
“That’s what I figured,” Faith agreed, sounding vindicated. Against whom, Buffy didn’t have the mental energy to guess.
“Count me in as well,” Spike said, apparently not about to let Buffy off the hook from their conversation.
Faith did a double take at his appearance. “Are you sure?” she asked, eyes sliding to Buffy’s.
But, really, Buffy didn’t expect anything less. She had a feeling she’d be remembering this night for a long time.
November 2014, San Francisco CA
It wasn’t going to take long to get the information, Faith said, so she left them in car outside the club. And the silence was awkward. Definitely Buffy felt tired now, so for a little while she was happy for them both to keep quiet like children sitting tight for Mom. But ultimately she knew she owed Spike some conversation at the very least, whether it amounted to an explanation or not.
“You’ve always been a person to me, Spike,” she said, letting words float into the quiet. “I promise. I’m not saying that I need society to tell me who’s people and who isn’t.” She turned around on the passenger seat to look at him, smiling instinctively to see he’d wrapped his old blanket around his shoulders, like a rain-soaked marathon runner. “And – and…” She tried to recover her thread, watching him play with the blanket’s curled edges. “And I don’t want to have an argument that’s five years out of date, but it is true that things are different now. Partly because of stuff I did, but partly because the world has actually changed. People think differently in it; they put stuff together differently. What we mean to them is something different and that means we have a better chance than we ever had before.”
For a few moments, Spike said nothing. But then ice blue eyes were suddenly staring into hers. “And what about this one?” he asked stubbornly. “Is she a person to you?” He sneered it, like the word was hateful to him now.
“What…” Buffy wasn’t quite sure what he meant. Faith? “Who are you talking about?”
“This bint we’re off to find right now,” he told her, driving past any prevarication. “Is she a person? Does she exist?” He sniffed, and it was one of the most familiar Spike-like gestures she’d seen from him all night. “I’ve probably met her, you know; she probably escaped with me. Are you going to kill her? I told you one of them was a Slayer, didn’t I – you going to kill her if that’s who we’ve found?”
“I don’t…” Buffy said, shaking her head slowly and wishing she could go back in time, get her boyfriend back and sort this whole thing out from the start. “This is not actually my job anymore,” she insisted, pointing to her chest. The seatbelt strained across her shoulder. “I don’t do this, because I don’t know! Because of you!” She turned her finger to his face, ready to curse his name despite the five years she’d spent longing for him to come back.
Of course, Spike had nothing to say for himself. He never did. Nothing that ever made sense, anyway. Always he used to say that he did everything for her, but Buffy couldn’t believe it. There was the wackiness you did for love, sure, but what Spike had done to himself in the time she’d known him was basically a complete overhaul of his metaphysical identity. What the hell was that? How could anyone compete with it? How could anyone understand it?
Frustrated, Buffy swung back to face the windscreen and stared at the car in front of them. She couldn’t see Spike’s reflection next to her own and she was glad of it, too tired from her own navel-gazing over the years to get involved with figuring him out too.
“You know why I’m so pissed?” Spike said from behind her, just as her blood pressure was about to drop back down. She felt a guilty sense of relief. “It’s not you,” he admitted, an old trace of affection returning. “You shouldn’t think that. I just think… I think you’re right.”
“Huh?” Buffy asked, confused as she cast a glance up to the felt ceiling. Somehow it felt like the words would carry better up there. “About what?”
“About vampires,” Spike replied, morosely. “We aren’t people, never were and never should be.” He sighed, like it was something he’d known all along. “It’s not possible, right?” he added, like he’d long given up hope. “We’re dead. We start out murderers; we don’t die in a natural way. The soul can’t change that. Nothing can change that. You know –” And he was whispering now, sharing a confidence like they were never going to stop. “It must have been thousands of vamps, what Angel and I did for, but I didn’t feel a single one. Not one. What does that mean?”
Unable to resist, Buffy looked back over her shoulder again. She didn’t know what to tell him. For a start, he didn’t look like someone unaffected, and for a second… Who was she to say anything about what it was like to kill thoughtlessly, night in, night out? She tried to tell him again, “That wasn’t what I meant, about the vamps. It’s not a physical thing… It’s not about what vampires are.” She needed Willow back from Buenos Aires, Buffy decided, because there had to be words out there for what she meant. “It’s not about that at all,” she tried anyway with the vocabulary she had, gesturing against the shoulder of her seat. “It’s about what they do – how they fit into the world. Everything’s all – connected together and I used to try and keep it apart, you know, but I couldn’t.” How was she going to make him understand? “I couldn’t when we were together and I can’t do it for you now. And it’s not that the vamps have changed in any really fundamental way. I know I haven’t either. But what’s changed is how I see them; they way that they see me. It makes everything different.”
There was a spark of something in Spike’s eyes, something more than admiration, but Buffy knew she couldn’t place it. “If it was that easy,” he asked slowly, like he wasn’t about to let her off that easily, “why did none of this happen years ago?”
“But it’s not easy,” Buffy contradicted, knowing that first hand. He’d see it, if he stuck around, all the fear and half-forgotten memories that swirled around them everywhere. Anyone would see it, if they chose to look. “And sometimes it doesn’t help.” She felt the need to reassure him, “Everything you’ve done still means the world to me. You know that, right?”
And he smiled a small half smile, just as Faith came back with the goods. “OK!” she said as she slumped in through the door. “Cut the sexual tension and let’s get this show on the road. Vamp’s name’s Clarice and she hangs out in some bar called Oakey Joe’s.”
“Oakey Joe’s?” Buffy asked with repulsion, just as Spike asked, “Clarice?” She figured his question was more important, so let the name thing go. “You know her?”
“Like I said,” Spike replied, a slight frown across his forehead. “We bonded on the way out of that hellhole. She’s old,” he added, as if that was the more pertinent observation he had to make.
“Well, what are we gonna do about her?” Faith asked, turning over the ignition. “If she’s trying to get vamps on her side then she must be up to something.”
Buffy blinked. They pulled out into traffic. “I thought we were gonna take her down?” she said, only realising as the words left her throat how outmoded that idea seemed.
Faith seemed to agree, just saying, “Oh.”
Spike said nothing.
“Was that the wrong answer?” Buffy asked, not sure what she expected as a reply. But then she didn’t get one, so it all washed out the same. The silence made her stomach sink.
November 2014, San Francisco CA
Oakey Joe’s was an oldschool dive bar, hidden off a backstreet with only a single sign to mark its entrance. It was oldschool in more than one sense of the term, as Buffy realised there weren’t only vampires down in its depths, but demons too, drinking themselves into oblivion while the neon reflected over sticky lacquered surfaces. Faith whistled at the array of drinks, while at Buffy’s side Spike growled and nodded towards a rockabilly black chick who looked like she’d stepped out of Project Runway.
“That’s her,” he said – and he sounded determined, though Buffy could tell how unsteady he was on his feet.
It made her hesitate. “Are you all right?” It had only been that evening that they’d found him, just a few hours since he’d been looming around like a walking skeleton. His clothes were still ugly as hell and, though Buffy was far too polite and infatuated to comment on it, the rings around his eyes were deeper than hers on a bad day. It hadn’t been so visible in the car. “We don’t have to do this tonight, you know?” Part of her was getting a bad feeling about the whole thing anyway. “It’ll wait.”
“No,” he growled, rolling his shoulders so the khaki monstrosity sat a little more like his duster around him. At least that was the effect Buffy figured her was going for. “We do this and we get out. And then…”
And then. Of course, that was the question. It had kind of crept up on her, the uncertainty. Now they were here, Buffy couldn’t help but wonder what it would mean to kill this woman. To assassinate her, though all the demons would know. To murder her.
It was something she’d done a thousand times before; the movements couldn’t be any different and Buffy could feel the stake digging into the tail of her spine. She still believed that that she’d been a force for good, back when she’d been a force of nature, and she was pretty sure that every vampire she’d killed had deserved to die.
But now that it came down to it, everything was different. It came down to this moment in a low-lit bar and everything inside her was different. What she believed was different, what she knew was different. It could never mean the same thing to put a stake through this vampire’s heart now that she’d lived with and loved them for so long. It was an altogether darker action, weighing heavily on her mind before she’d even had a chance to do it.
“Hey, Clarice!” Faith was yelling before Buffy could fully get her thoughts together. Spike stumbled as she barrelled past him, so then Buffy couldn’t even stop her – going to Spike’s aid instead. Clutching him safely to her side, then, Buffy could only watch as Faith set her feet and made herself big with pointing elbows, threatening hands. “You don’t know me, but what are you doing spreading all these rumours around getting the tinhats in a panic? Haven’t you figured out we’re the endangered species, here? It’s not gonna go well.”
“Take it outside,” the barman drawled, cleaning a glass with a rag and with a look not much unlike a Star Wars extra.
Everyone ignored him, including Buffy, who hissed, “Faith!” Really, she wasn’t quite sure why, because any element of surprise that they’d had was well and truly lost. “Goddammit.”
Spike had gone still, watching the confrontation play out. It was like he’d forgotten what it meant to start an argument in a bar. Buffy didn’t know what to make of it.
Playing to the silence, Clarice herself slipped elegantly from her barstool and turned to face them. She did in one fluid movement, full of the grace Buffy associated with older vampires. “And who the hell are you?” she asked Faith, extending the question to Buffy as well, before she recognised Spike at her side. “Never mind,” she added, rolling her eyes as she turned back for her drink. “I don’t wanna know.”
“Look, just tell us the plan, huh?” Faith said in her indoor voice, losing some of the Boston to show more of the California girl she’d become. “You’ve gotta see that it’s not gonna work.” She hiked a thumb over her shoulder, and Buffy could sense how little Faith wanted to toss Clarice back their way. “Because they’re gonna kill you, you know? Whatever plan you’ve got, it’s gonna end tonight, and I’ve got a feeling none of these guys in here are gonna care.”
“And what exactly do you want me to do?” Clarice asked, blinking slowly. Buffy could see her face clearly over Faith’s shoulder and she looked beyond unimpressed.
Faith remained squared off. “Uh,” she said. “Stop talking shit to people and let everyone get on with their lives. What d’you think you’re gonna do?”
“OK, see,” Clarice replied, momentarily addressing their audience, “now, was there ever a second that you thought I don’t have a plan? Hmm? Because I think that I’m insulted.” She pulled herself up high on her heels. “I’ll have you know I have been abducted and tested on and cooped up for years like my great-grandmama’s old nightmares.” She glared at them in turn. “And now you’re disturbing my drink.”
“I can smell the blood on you,” Faith said then, filling the silence so Buffy didn’t have to. It sounded like she hadn’t wanted to point it out, like she regretted the truth of it.
The comment made Clarice pause mid-sip. “Oh dear, now,” she said, her voice laced with what had to be false sympathy. “You’re one of those…” She sighed. “Yes, I drank a few people on my way down south. But, really, can you tell me they don’t deserve it? Any of them – those humans.” She nodded Buffy’s way again, drawing a murmur of approval from the other demons in the bar before she finished with her voice saccharine, “Because, sweetheart, you can kill me for my silence, but you can’t make it go away that those souls aren’t helping anybody where it matters.”
Tipping back her wine glass, Clarice finished her drink and picked up her purse from the bar like her night had simply come to an end. Buffy wondered where she was going next; what she was going to do… What they were supposed to do. There was a reason Buffy had moved on to helping teenagers with the problems they brought on themselves, rather than keep going after the creatures of the night, but it didn’t mean she’d abandoned her calling to protect the people of the world from any supernatural force that would do them harm.
For an instant Faith caught Buffy’s eye and she was begging her to figure this one out, the way she’d always figured things out before. But Buffy hadn’t; she never had. She didn’t know what to do with this world, really. Maybe if you followed one chain of causation she was the one who’d made it, forcing it into change so that evil wouldn’t consume it whole. But that was a long time ago. The consequences had long slipped through her fingers.
“You’re not leaving.”
It was Spike who spoke, stepping away from Buffy’s side. As her arm fell away it was like she was losing him for good, though she refused to accept the idea that that feeling bore any resemblance to reality. But still Buffy felt frozen, unable to intervene. Everyone around them was watching and she could feel their cold demonic eyes, their judgement.
“And how are you going to stop me?” Clarice asked him, like he was boring everyone with some esoteric plea to pedantry.
Hands in his pockets, Spike just clenched his jaw. “I’ll stop you,” he said. “Because I know what you’re feeling. That hunger, burning like you’ve just been born. The fear you’ll never be free of it again. And in the back of your mind, when you remember it, that dark, animal feeling of being caged up – which you know isn’t human, no matter how many prison dramas you’ve seen in your life. No devil on your shoulder but that demon right down inside you, yearning for revenge.” And then he shrugged. “But even without all that, the plain fact that you’re a vampire, so you figure you can just walk round killing people.” For a moment he paused, shaking his head like spinning on a dime made him dizzy. “I mean,” he recovered. “It’s some sort of argument, saying humans are all the same and they deserve to die… But it’s shit.”
“Have you seen this world?” Clarice asked him straight back. “Things change quickly around here. If you think you understand the balance of power, you might like to guess again.”
Maybe she was just too old, Buffy thought, but from what she’d seen over the last few years it was possible Clarice was right. It was a weird and dangerous thought, it had to be, but she honestly couldn’t remember the last vamp-led atrocity she’d seen. Not against humans at least.
“And where is your sidekick?” Clarice continued, widening her eyes as if she’d just noticed who was missing. “Or are you his? I never did work that out… But don’t tell me you left him in the forest?” She clucked her tongue and Spike looked down for a moment. “One would think a soul could buy you loyalty…”
It was possible that Spike was going to act. Buffy knew that, and she knew that if he really set his mind on something then there wasn’t going to be much that she could do about it. But at the same time, she knew that she was going to have to make a decision of her own. It was the Slayer’s curse in the end, no matter how many of them there were in the world, no matter how many of them there were in the room. She was responsible for the consequences of every individual action she’d made, just like all those people who’d kept Spike imprisoned for a day, one shift of their working lives. She was alone, in all the ways that mattered.
And she could get distracted thinking about Angel abandoned in the forest, but in the end he was a grown up vampire; he’d been looking after himself centuries longer than she or Spike had been, and one of those had been in hell. Out of everyone, he was probably capable of looking after himself and would likely show up eventually.
More than that, it wasn’t what Clarice was saying that was important. It didn’t matter what arguments she made or what guilt trips she pulled in her attempt to get them all off her back – because at the heart of it, that was all this was. She couldn’t have any well-defined views about the nature of good and evil any more than they did. No; what was important right now were actions. Specifically Buffy’s judgement about what she was going to do when she walked out of here. What she was going to do in six months’ time. What she might have been doing now if she’d been living in the world these past five years.
A lot of that stuff, Buffy really had no way of knowing. She just didn’t. But she knew that if Clarice went out and killed tonight, then there wasn’t going to be much the police could do. Even if they caught up with her and even if they were really as good at dealing with vampires as the high-profile cases seemed to say they were, no humans were equipped to get around a vampire at the height of their power – not when that vampire knew who was coming.
It was basically a choice. Kill her like a demon or let her go like a person Buffy was almost tempted to believe she somehow had become.
“Buffy,” Spike was saying to her now, speaking low like he could work out exactly what conflict was going on inside her head. “If the police get her, she’ll be deadmeat anyway.”
“Yeah,” Buffy replied, not sure why she felt so much resistance to the whole idea of taking out her stake again. “But she’d be tried by a jury of her peers…” It sounded ludicrous when she said it; Buffy knew it sounded ludicrous, but she didn’t know what to do. The moment it had become a choice – the moment it had become a possibility that Buffy could let her go – it just seemed like killing had to be wrong. Killing had always been a necessity to her, not a choice, just like when it had become a choice to let Spike live with the chip, when it was possible the police could actually have apprehended Warren. Humans had died at her hand before, Buffy knew that, but it had never been a conscious decision to take them out that way; she’d just been past the point where she had any capacity left to think about it, to weigh up other possibilities.
“Buffy.” When Faith took her turn to speak, Buffy was almost ready to quit. Again. She was almost ready to take the lives outside on her shoulders because all she wanted to do was nothing. She didn’t want these impossible choices. She didn’t understand how Faith could lack a soul and still appear to care so much, her mouth drawn below sorrowful eyes. “You let both of us live; how can you…”
As Clarice harrumphed, one foot moving in front of the other as she began her walk to the door, Buffy could feel whatever energy that powered her instincts snap right along her synapses. She could feel her own strength, her own speed, and she wasn’t sure how she could ever deny what that was meant for – what she’d always been told it was meant for. She’d come so far in her life and the world had changed so much around her, but she didn’t know how she could fight what she was.
It was a fact of the matter that the two vamps in front of her had changed themselves, wasn’t it? They’d made themselves who they were. She just hoped they could all go on as they had been.
This’ll be the last time, she told herself before she struck Clarice down. The last. And she did it from behind, swallowing down bile.
But then she was feeling it, the ash on her hands. Oh no. Spike was holding her, but he had to see it. Oh fuck. He had to see it now. Didn't he?