TITLE: IMITATION OF A MAN, Chapter 1: Woman Bites Vampire
SUMMARY: Remember how Fool For Love transformed your view of Spike? Ever wish Buffy could have seen that ep? Buffy goes back to the alley to collect the pieces after her assault of Spike in Dead Things, and does something that lands the two of them in FFL land.
NOTE: Imitation of a Man is a 300,000 word novel. Only the first chapter will be posted at seasonal_spuffy. The remainder will be posted at my LJ, in its entirety, later this year. Many thanks to enigmatic blues for letting me make the first chapter available here.
IMITATION OF A MAN
WOMAN BITES VAMPIRE
The breeze, chilly for
Across the street from the police station, the breeze sent a pair of empty plastic grocery bags skirmishing along the curb, tumbling like tumble weeds past the liquor store and the stemmed, green neon cocktail glass framed in the store’s window. The glass flashed on, then off, then on again, tipped to a bottoms-up angle. Below the twitching Happy Hour icon, the window reflected a neon ad from the police side of the street, a pitch to the public to “Try Our Bread Sticks.”
She just stood there for a minute, staring at the cocktail glass, watching its blinking, toggle switch motion and taking deep breaths while the tension drained from her muscles, while her fists loosened.
Her fists… She looked down at her right fist, at the dark lines scored across the knuckle on her middle finger. She’d probably scraped the knuckle on Spike’s teeth. Or split it on his cheekbone. You could cut yourself on those cheekbones. Take a slice right out of your hand.
She shivered, pulled a Kleenex from a pocket to press against the bleeding knuckle, and walked slowly back to the alleyway.
The light of the street didn’t reach into the alley. It stopped at the mouth, leaving the littered stretch of pavement as grim as an entrance to an underworld. More smells hung in the air: car ashtray emptyings, the boozy staleness of old beer bottles, the rotting garbage of the police station’s pizza franchise neighbor.
Pavement grit and broken glass crunched under her tennis shoes as she stepped into the darkened corridor and wandered down it, avoiding a rusting car muffler in her path, picking her way around a sloppy pile of broken-down cardboard boxes. She scanned the shadows on either side. Nothing had changed. Everything was just the way it was when she’d left the alley a few minutes ago, except… he wasn’t there. She glanced down at a dime-sized spot of moisture glistening, red-black, against the silver of a flattened Coke can. “Spike?” she called softly, eyes sweeping the alley, right, then left, then right again.
“Buffy?” The muffled answer came from the dumpster to her left. She went toward it. At the steel bin’s elevated sliding door, she thought: in it? Then: no, behind it. She circled around to its rear. Sure enough, there he was—wedged on his side, sandwiched between the thing and the wall of the pizza place, as far as he could squeeze into the tight angle formed where the dumpster’s other end touched the brick. He had his arms wrapped around him like he was cold.
“Spike, what are you doing there?” she said.
“Thought I’d lost you, but you came back.”
“Yeah, I came back.” She squinted into the narrow gap between the wall and the dumpster. How had he managed to cram himself in there? And how the heck did he think he was supposed to get out without somebody—her, probably—moving the half ton obstruction?
“I knew you’d do it, Slayer.” He lifted his head to look at her, giving her a flashcard glimpse of the words Mario’s Best on a crumpled box before he collapsed onto his cardboard pillow again. “I knew if I got you to really lay it to me good, you wouldn’t turn yourself in, you’d have to stop and deal with me. Clean up your mess, so to speak.”
“So, you telling me to put it all on you was all a fiendishly clever plan, huh? I mean, you being a fiend and all?” She leaned against the dumpster and gave it a trial shove with her shoulder. It didn’t budge.
“Give the lady a cigar.” He coughed—a wet, clotted choking. “It’s my standard plan for dealing with Deathbitches from Hell. Piss ‘em off till they beat the liver and lights out of you and forget all about their damned mission. Works every time. Worked with Glory, with you…” His voice faded.
The corner of her mouth drew up in a small knot of annoyance. The comparison to Glory irked her, made her want to bridle and get defensive. The squirmy, guilty feeling behind the annoyance wasn’t new. It surfaced more and more lately; but just like she always did, she clamped a lid on the guilt and focused on things tangible, taking another look at the impossibly small space he’d jammed himself into. “Spike, can you push yourself out of there?”
“Don’t think so, pet. Wasn’t easy getting here. Tried standing. Fell. Had to crawl.”
She eased behind the dumpster, weighing the odds that she could push it away without straining something. A sample of Sunnydale graffiti—white spray-paint letters asking “Got blood?” over a fanged stick figure, its upper lip outlined in red—trailed across the wall behind the massive steel box. She braced her back against the urban vamp art, flattened her palms on the wall, and worked both legs up till she was scrunched into a tight ball—knees to chest, back to brick, sneaker soles to metal. Then, she slowly, steadily, pushed. “Why’d you crawl back here—unh!—anyway?” she asked, calf muscles trembling.
“Had to. I’ve got enemies in this town, luv. If one of them found me like this, there wouldn’t be enough left for a toy poodle-size urn, and as little as life would mean to me if you were off in prison, I have to live so’s I can keep my promise to you.”
“And that would be… umph!” —her legs forced out one last pound of pressure—“what promise exactly?” The dumpster shuddered, something clanged hollowly, and the whole whopping, king-size stink bomb skidded forward.
“You know. Take care of the Bit for you.”
She landed on her feet and kneeled beside him. “Can you stand?”
“Yeah. No problem. Just as soon as I quit seeing stars and the bloody ground stops spinning.”
“Let me see you.”
In the dim light, she could barely make out that both of his eyes were blackened and already swollen nearly shut. Blood trickled from his nose, and bleeding from a split in his upper lip had left a crusted track down his chin. Wet blotches darkened the front of his shirt. She reached an arm in back of his shoulders. “Spike, I need you to sit up.”
While he pushed, she pulled, till finally he was sitting with his back against the wall, his knees drawn up in front of him. She took his hands. The palms were cut, bleeding, the blood sticky on them. Another damp stain ran from his knee down his pant leg. More blood, she thought, touching the sticky-wet denim. He must have crawled through broken glass to get behind the dumpster.
“I can call Xander,” she said. “He can drive you back to the crypt.”
A muscle tightened in his jaw. “No! Don’t want any help from that sanctimonious wanker!”
“Alright.” She curbed by a hair’s-breadth the sharp, impatient response that fumed up in her. “Then you’ll have to walk. It’s six blocks. Can you do it?”
“Might take a while, but yeah, with you to fight off the baddies… and hold my hand.” He managed that familiar, mocking smirk of his. Leave it to Spike, the thought, to still be able to sneer with two black eyes, a broken nose, and a lip dripping blood. “Just gimme a minute,” he mumbled.
He tipped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. She studied him.
Christ, it was bad. The worst it had ever been. She could tell from the swelling and how fast the bruises were yeasting up that he was still going to look bad days from now. She felt something twist inside her—that uneasy sense of guilt again—as she looked at his battered face. When had it happened: the change—as unproblematic as a shift in the weather—that had turned her into someone who could gauge to the hour how long a bruise would last? Someone who could pull a punch so the bruise it left faded in just a couple of days, given vampire healing. Someone who could beat, batter, bludgeon, and stop—with expert precision—just this side of killing. ’Cause slayers don’t destroy a creature that can’t hurt a living thing, even though the old excuse that she couldn’t stake him because the chip made him harmless wasn’t exactly valid anymore, given that nowadays the chip did allow him at least one potential victim: her.
But then, of course, there was also the other reason she didn’t kill him, the best-left-unsaid cause for restraint that, ironically, was also the list-topper of 10 Good Reasons to hit him in the first place: she wanted him. Even though she despised herself for it. Hated herself, lying in bed at night thinking of how just seeing him made her pulse dance, of how the whispered magic of his skin against hers could engulf her with desire, of how the lightning strike of his body joined to hers could—like some wince-worthy Harlequin romance might say—make Heaven and Earth touch. She wanted him, and went right on wanting him through the hating. He could make her want him just by being there every day. That’s all it took.
And every day, his punishment for doing it, for making her want him, got a little bit edgier.
If she’d had a stake with her, it could’ve been the night her nightmare of the last two months came true: the night she slipped up and killed him. The thought of it—the shattering dust, the familiar jarring impact shuddering through her arm—was like the thought of stepping into the gloom-filled alley around her and never being able to leave it. Ever. The every-other-week damage she already did was bad enough, and studying him now—his head resting against the garbage-stained brick wall, his features bloodied, his eyes half hidden by bruises—she felt like throwing up. Instead, not finding any more Kleenex in her pockets, she pulled up the front of her shirt to wipe some of the blood away.
“Don’t,” he said, shivering. “You’ll ruin your shirt. Mine’s already ruined. Use it.”
“I’ll use my shirt if I want,” she said, scrubbing at the red trail leading from a cut on his brow to his cheek.
She went on cleaning him till he looked good enough to leave the alley, at least so long as no one got a clear view of him. He stared at her with one eye while she worked—the other being swollen shut—looking for something, always looking for something there in her face: some softening in the firm line of her lips, a hint of warmth in her eyes, one second of tenderness. She didn’t look at him; just kept her eyes on her own busy hands.
When she finally helped him to his feet, he said “Thanks,” with that rote civility of his that surfaced at odd moments, but she didn’t answer. Instead, she suppressed an angry impulse to snap at him. If he yelled obscenities at her, snarled at her, tried to hit her, it would be easier.
He staggered a bit till she steadied him. Then, with her hand under his elbow, they moved out of the alley and onto the street, taking slow, deliberate steps and stopping occasionally to let a dizzy spell pass, or—a couple of times—to avoid the eyes of other pedestrians by faking interest in a store window. His gait was unsteady. At the third intersection they came to, his knees buckled, requiring a five-minute rest stop on a bench. She tried to think of what she’d do if a cop spotted them and decided some hands-on enforcement of the public intoxication ordinance was in order.
When they finally reached the brick and wrought iron of the cemetery wall, she breathed easier. The few streetlights around the cemetery’s dark bounds were too dim to let anyone see Spike’s injuries—if anyone was actually crazy enough to be at a Sunnydale cemetery after dark. “Careful,” she said, hand firm under his elbow as she helped him skirt a tree whose roots had cracked the sidewalk into an uneven rubble.
“So,” he said, “got any plans after you get me all nicely tucked in? Not still thinking of turning yourself in are you?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I didn’t do it.”
“Yeah, I know that, luv. I mean what—”
“I mean I didn’t kill the girl.”
“What?” He stopped.
Crap. Low as she felt, he was about to make her feel lower. She turned to him, her face hot, her lips a tight, resentful line, as she admitted it. “I heard her name in the police station. She dated Warren. You know, your former personal sexbot purveyor?” Her sarcasm sounded petty even to her own ears. “I think he killed her and made me think I did it.”
He looked at her in blank surprise for a moment, then studied the air to his left—not a good sign—and rolled his tongue around inside one cheek while smiling that cynical smile of his that meant he was regrouping, collecting his thoughts, and not liking them. He took a deep breath and confronted her. “Then the reason you came back wasn’t ’cause you couldn’t leave me bleeding and defenseless in an alley,” he said with dead-on clarity. “You came back ’cause you didn’t need to turn yourself in. ’S ’at it?”
“Spike, I came back as soon as I could!” She reached for his arm and he jerked it away.
“Oh, right! Right after you decided you didn’t have something more important to do like sacrificing yourself for some noble lost cause!”
“I wouldn’t have left you! I would’ve called Xander, Willow, somebody, and had them come get you!”
“Yeah, when it was bloody convenient! Oh, bugger! Meant to see before sunup whether Spike was still comatose in an alley, but what with being trapped in m’ own poor-superhero-me, must-save-the-world mythic destiny, seems I never got around to it. And speaking of dawns, not really surprised you’d leave me to my fate, but how could you abandon the Bit? She doesn’t’ have a dad, her Mum dies, then you die, then you come back, then you go to prison?! Everything she’s been through and you’re willing to add one more rotty potato peel to the compost! Buffy, you have a responsibility to her!”
“I—am—the Slayer!” she gritted out between her clenched teeth. “My responsibility is to the world! I have to hold myself to the highest moral standard because of what I am! Don’t you dare lecture me on my responsibilities! I know them!”
He rolled his eyes skyward. “Oh right, white man’s burden and all that. You’re just like Angel that way, ya know? Always wanting to throw yourself on your own sword or some bleeding sacrificial altar, add some luster to the tragic mystique. Take a word of advice from the cheap seats pet: don’t overplay your part.”
“Why do I even try to make you understand?!” she said scornfully.
He sighed. “Look, all I’m saying for God’s sake, is that you have to balance the slaying and your responsibilities to those you care about, which, hopefully, will include yours truly someday. Although that’s a big step and not something a girl can just rush into,” he added as her eyes flashed. “But the point is, even human laws say people owe more to their own than they do to strangers. For instance, did you know, you can go to jail for letting your pet parakeet starve, but not your elderly neighbor? ’S true! Saw it on Ricki Lake, I did!”
She groaned with impatience, but before she could work up a response, someone behind them called her name. While Spike sagged against the cemetery wall, all the fight suddenly gone out of him, she turned to look down the street from where they’d come. It was Jonathan running up to them. “Buffy! Buffy, I have to talk to you!” he panted. He bent over till he was nearly double, wrapped his arms around himself, and gasped for breath. “It’s about the girl, the dead girl.”
She stared at him, dumbstruck. “Y… you know about her? How do you know about her?!”
He gulped down lungfuls of air, his hands on his knees, bracing himself, and looked up at her uncomfortably. “I was, well… kinda there,” he said. “Do you know what happened?”
“Only some of it. I know who the girl was.” She glanced at Spike leaning, weak and gray-faced, against the cemetery wall. “Talk while we walk.” She took firm hold of Spike’s arm and set off for his crypt again.
“It was a set-up.” The words came out in a rush as Jonathan hustled to keep up. “Warren killed her and tried to make you think you’d done it.”
There they were: eyewitness, spilled-beans facts, backing up her roving suspicions. “Kinda guessed that!” she said. “Tell me something I don’t know. Like where I find Warren and make him long for a nice, safe cell in the county lockup!”
“At his parents’ house, but only if you hurry. We followed you to the police station to make sure it worked. When you came back out, we knew something went wrong, and now… I think he’s planning to skip town. Buffy, you have to stop him!”
“Oh, he’s gonna be stopped alright. Like a vamp with two broken legs and a death wish,” she muttered, pissed off enough to bite through bullets.
When they reached the crypt, she made Jonathan wait outside while she and Spike went in.
Spike barely mustered an apathetic grunt when she said they should hide him. She parked him against the nearest wall, moved aside the stone slab that capped the sarcophagus, and helped him clamber stiffly in. As he closed his eyes, she covered him with the wooden pallet that served as a false bottom, then arranged the bones and shroud over that. “Spike, I’ll be back,” she said before shoving the stone lid back into place.
Outside again, she sent Jonathan to call the police while she headed to the address he gave her for Warren’s parents. If she hurried, she might get there in time to hold the slimy s.o.b. till the cops arrived.
Warren’s parents’ home was a circa 1960, beige brick ranch—low-slung, hip-roofed, with a jetliner length frontage. A couple of palm trees sprouted from its wide suburban lawn, a yellow bug light shone in a front door alcove, and another yellow bulb glowed between the double bays of an attached garage. A Dodge Ram van with blacked out windows—exuding secrecy like a government lab on wheels—sat in the driveway. She went to the driver’s side, putting the vehicle between herself and the house, and waited.
It was a short wait. Within three minutes, a latch clicked, followed by a key ring jingle and the dull bump of something against a tempered glass storm door. Footsteps hurried her way. She stepped away from the van and faced the garage, feet planted solidly apart.
The approaching crepe sole squeak got louder and louder, till finally it was just on the other side of the blacked out windows. A second later, Warren came around the van’s nose carrying an overnight bag and a laptop.
“Hello, Warren,” she said.
He shrank back, eyes widening at the sight of her. “Buffy!”
“Goin’ somewhere?” she asked pertly. Her right hand balled into a fist at her side. “I was hoping the two of us could compare notes on our evenings. See how they match up.”
His eyes narrowed to two razor slits. “Well, right now really isn’t good. Why don’t you give me a call and I’ll check my calendar and try to fit you in later in the week.” He’d recovered instantly, his expression and tone going from off-balance to in-your-face arrogant in no time.
“Oh, I think you’ll fit me in now,” she told him with just the right amount of girlish menace.
His eyes darted left, to the front door at the middle of the house’s airline-hangar-length façade, then back to her. “Well...” He sighed, biting his lower lip and looking like he was about to cave. Then, with no warning, he slung the suitcase and laptop at her and bolted.
The laptop whonked—BAM!—into the van’s door and ricocheted off onto the asphalt driveway at her feet. The suitcase spun at her head. She threw up an arm and batted the bag aside, deflecting it onto the driveway one second before she jumped for the top of the van.
From the corner of her eye she caught a last view of blue-gray Samsonite skidding along the blacktop toward the street. Then her feet thumped onto the sandy soil of the lawn and she tore after Warren.
Her hand snagged his windbreaker and spun him sideways into the front yard, but came away with only the jacket as he snaked out of it and made another break for the house. She dropped the jacket and was right behind him, throwing herself at him from a running start, tackling him around the knees and toppling him to the ground. Something hard—his heels—banged into her ribs. A denim pant seam scraped her cheek. He twisted, trying to roll to his back, but she scrambled forward and landed saddled across him, her weight over his kidneys, pinning him. She jammed his shoulders into the lawn with her hands as he tried to twist free. “Why’d you do it, Warren?! Why’d you kill your girlfriend?!” she said.
“Get the hell off me! If you don’t, I swear when I get up I’m calling the cops!”
“Oh, waaaay… late for that.” She bounced her weight on him, making him groan. “They’re already on their way. Jonathan’s called them. You see, he’s got a real interesting story for them. All about you and a live—only not so much anymore—sexbot that used to be your girlfriend.” She grabbed one of his arms and brought it up tight behind his back.
“Fuck!” he yelled.
She kept the tension on his arm. “Tell me Warren! Why’d you do it? What made you think you had the right to turn your girlfriend into a sex toy, and kill her when she wouldn’t play?”
A police siren threaded its way to them. Four blocks south and moving fast.
“You stupid bitch!” he spat out, wriggling beneath her. “You goddam stupid bitch! You think you’re better than me? You?! Asking me about sex toys! Like I haven’t seen you with your pet vampire in your backyard, doing it on the ground.”
The police siren’s wail reached them again, closer now, and then a second and a third joined it, converging from different directions, but she couldn’t tell how far away they were, and suddenly didn’t care.
She slid off him and flipped him onto his back. “You’ve been…” she looked into his face with a sick feeling, “watching me?”
“Like free porn,” he said with venomous glee. “I’ve had your yard wired for months, been watching you fuck him, then punch him, then fuck him some more. You take him out of the box when you want him, then you put him back. He’s your plaything; Katrina was supposed to be mine. Hell, I got the idea from watching you! I mean, your example is so inspirational! You don’t have to worry about feelings or remember some fucking anniversary! And it’s ten times better than any ’bot ’cause he’s alive, well… sort of,” he sneered, “and of course, so long as your friends don’t find out.”
Behind them, tires screeched on pavement. Paired beams of blinding white light raked across the yard, and a flashing, lasery blue luminance strobe-lit the grass, the scaly trunk of a palm tree, an in-ground sprinkler system’s spigot two feet away. “Freeze!” someone yelled over the slam of a car door.
Warren’s voice dropped to a smarmy, co-conspirator whisper. “And you see, I won’t tell. I mean, aside from the fact that no one would believe me, I can relate. I just wanted Katrina without having to deal with the whole package. Just take what I want, on my terms. You ’n’ me, we got the same secrets. Only difference is, looks to me like the poor sap actually loves you. All those hours he spends hanging out in your yard…” Behind them, more sirens wailed, more car doors slammed. “Hey, you’re my role model, sugar, my hero!” Warren grinned into her shocked face, the grin manic, gloating, leering with contempt.
A man with arms extended and both hands gripping the handle of a gun rounded them in a wide circle, pointing the gun first at her, then at Warren.
Keeping his eyes and aim on them, the man turned his chin to one side. His lips moved, saying something into a small, dark gadget projecting from the shoulder of his quilted blue vest. A second cop training the barrel of a pistol on them appeared across from the first. Banging sounds, brakes squealing, more beams of glary white light. She raised a hand from Warren to shield her eyes. The first cop twitched his gun to the right, motioning her off.
Her mouth had gone dry and a ringing filled her ears. She hadn’t killed the girl, but she might as well have. The girl was still dead because of her. Because of things she, Buffy, had done.
The two SWAT officers, now joined by a third, yanked Warren to his feet. She looked around and the yard was full of men in quilted vests, milling around, talking. Some of them were talking to her. One touched her shoulder and said it would be okay, everything was okay now. And she wondered how? How can it be okay? Another asked if she was alright and said her hand was bleeding. And she looked down and her knuckle was bleeding again from when she’d hit Spike, and one of the policemen—was it the same one?—asked her if she’d hit him. And she said no, no I didn’t hit anyone, and put the hand in her pocket. And a third one said if she had to slug him, the s.o.b. deserved it and how had she managed to restrain him, a little gal like her? and they would need to get a statement, and what was her name, and what did she know about it? and she said nothing, I don’t know anything about it, and Warren stood by one of the patrol cars, his wrists circled by metal, grinning at her and mouthing Hero silently, Warren’s eyes looking at her, seeing the hidden evil, and a bald man in a bathrobe gestured, yelling, and they asked her again, what did she know? but she still didn’t know anything, and a policeman wrote it down on a clipboard —that makes it true, doesn’t it?—and a man holding a camcorder pointed it at Warren as they took him away, the siren dying, and a woman with curlers in her hair was crying on the shoulder of the bald guy in the bathrobe, and there were other people, all watching, and the police told them to go home, the cops that were left still talking, shadowed, moving around in slow, diminishing circles, and she stood there answering in mumbles for the third time nothing nothing nothing I know nothing see no evil hear no evil speak no evil, no evil at all, and they said they could take her somewhere, and she said no, there was no place she wanted to go, and then at last they left and she was alone.
Alone with the evil.