I'm overwhelmed. Or possibly just tired. It is just after 3 am here. But I've stayed up late in order to post the first chapter of what is promising to be another epic length KnifeEdge fic. There's something about writing Spuffy that makes me think epically huge. I'll have a few more chapters for you throughout the day, today. At least four. Five if I get lucky.
Thanks to the mods for putting this all together, and to all of YOU for welcoming me with such open arms this past year. Super special thanks to my betas for all the time and effort and craziness from me that you've put up with.
So, now, without further ado, I give you "DUST".
Era/Season: Season 4 (post “Harsh Light of Day” and “Fear, Itself” but before “Beer Bad”)
Rating: Mature/NC-17 (strong language, sexual situations, adult content)
Betaed by: goblin_dae , yakimama , and subtilior
Summary: She'd kicked his butt, taken the Gem and sent it off to Angel. Buffy thought she'd seen the last of Spike. Clearly, she’d been too optimistic. That he was in her house, in her room, waking her out of a sound sleep and asking for (okay, demanding) her help meant that something had to be majorly wrong. They weren't due for another apocalypse, but...why else would a vampire make a truce with the Slayer?
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all recognizable characters, locations, and dialogue belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and the various writers. This is written purely for fun.
In the vast catalog of Unfairness that was Buffy Summer's life, one particular entry came highlighted and underlined like a possible test question in Willow's lecture notes: Spike, and Spike alone, had the power to get under her skin.
He could take her from bored to boiling in less than six seconds and set every single instinct in her body on high-alert by doing nothing more than standing within range. Under his gaze she was as transparent as cellophane. He knew how to manipulate her weaknesses, how to exploit every chink in her armor. She'd fought scarier vampires, of course. There had been more powerful vampires, stronger ones, smarter ones, too. But somehow, even after all those other vamps had bitten the literal dust, Spike remained, strutting away from her with an arrogant smirk, secure in his position as the only vampire she'd never been able to eliminate (one way or another).
And it certainly wasn't for lack of trying on Buffy's part.
Like a paddle ball, he just kept coming back.
Maybe it was for that reason that he had his own special tingle on the nape of her neck. Angel did, too, of course, but then Angel was different. He had a soul. Buffy knew he loved her just as much as she loved him. Angel deserved his own. Most other vamps just had the default goosebumpy ring-tone. But Spike's tingle was unfairly distinct: a cool tickle where neck met shoulder muscle, like he was breathing against her skin. Oh, he could still sneak up on her—her spidey sense wasn't always the most reliable way of detecting vamps—but that was the other thing about Spike: he really sucked at being lurky. It was like he couldn't help himself, the way he was always giving himself away, usually by running his mouth.
Tonight, it seemed, was no exception.
All it took was a single word in that roughly-accented voice, and Buffy's brain conjured him out of nothing into full un-living color: platinum-white hair, razor-sharp cheekbones, too-human eyes, the musky scent of old leather, cigarette smoke, and—
Was that … coffee?
His voice was like an electric shock to her system; her sleeping senses came alive, nerves twanging like a triggered crossbow, and her eyes snapped painfully open.
It didn't matter that she couldn't see, that her eyes were still cloudy with sleep and blurred from lack of light in the room; he was in her room, leaning over her bed, touching her, and that was unacceptable. Years of training and centuries of instincts kicked in before conscious thought: Buffy lashed out with a fist. Even half-asleep, the sound of cartilage cracking under her knuckles and the cry of pain brought a smile to her lips.
Then there was a stake in her hand, and a crashing sound as he backed away from the bed too fast for what little vampiric grace he possessed.
"Truce!" he said, staggering further out of her reach. "Truce!"
"Spike," she said, and was shocked at the raspy croak of her sleep-thickened voice. Vaguely she wondered if she were coming down with something. It would explain the headache, and the dryness of her eyes and mouth. Sometime between falling asleep and waking up she must have snacked on the Sahara.
Training told her to spring out of bed, pin him against the wall and plunge her stake into his chest—but her muscles abruptly protested, putting up a screaming fit about the fact that she was no longer fully horizontal in the first place. It looked like that first burst of instinct was going to have to wait for her to awaken fully for backup. Possibly even for a caffeine kick-start. Instead she chose to ignore the ache, and held her position. With any luck, Spike wouldn’t take advantage of her weakness. Heck, maybe he wouldn’t even notice.
Recent history, however, gave her little hope of that.
“Didn't anyone ever teach you to let sleeping Slayers lie? Was that ass kicking I gave you last week not enough, you thought you'd piss me off and get an encore?" She supposed the effect of her speech was ruined somewhat by the massive, jaw-cracking yawn at the end.
"Three weeks ago," Spike said from somewhere in the darkness on the other side of the room. She could practically hear him sulking.
"That ass-kickin’ you gave me," he said. "It was three weeks ago."
"The bleach has finally eaten into your brain, huh? That was ten days ago, Spike."
"No, Slayer," he said, sounding tired and worn-out and cranky. "It was three weeks ago. I should know. Spent part of it down in LA trying to pry the Gem of Amara out of Angel’s cold, dead hands. When that didn’t work, I got piss-drunk for a week and a half. Lost a few days, but it wasn’t less than two or three. Sobered up and thought I'd come back here, have myself a little revenge. That's when everything went a bit pear-shaped."
Aside from the fact that what he was saying wasn’t possible and made no sense, she really didn’t see the point in listening to Spike anyway. Listening to Spike never brought anything but pain and badness. Still, the fact that he’d ventured here, into her house, her room, meant that something was seriously screwy, and she needed to get to the bottom of it.
Without letting go of the stake in her fist, Buffy scrubbed at her dry eyes and blinked, trying to bring Spike into focus. Only he was doing that vampy thing and lurking in the shadows where she couldn't really see. With a sigh reserved for pain-in-the-ass, annoying vampires who refused to cooperate, Buffy leaned over and turned on the lamp beside her bed.
Light seared through the dim room, making her wince. It seemed to take longer than usual for her eyes to adjust, but when they did it was immediately apparent that something was off, though she was having a hard time placing what it was. It could have been the vampire that was skulking in the corner of her room, dabbing at his bloody nose and scowling at her, but somehow that didn't seem to be it. Buffy frowned.
"Bollixed all to hell," Spike clarified, except not really, because still totally not clear. "Though I suppose it'd be easier to show you than explain it. But I want your word you won't stake me. Trying to help here, Slayer."
“You don’t help, Spike," she reminded him, since he often seemed to need to be reminded of the state of the world. If it weren't for her, she thought, he'd probably go around thinking he was one of the good guys and forget to kill people. "I think I’d rather just stake you and go back to sleep.”
“No!” he said. If she didn’t know any better she’d say the look on his face was panic.
Since when did Spike freak at the threat of a staking? Normally he treated it like foreplay—and the only reason she connected the two actions at all was because she was still really sleepy, she reassured herself.
“No,” he said, darting forward, busted nose forgotten. She scooted back against the headboard with a thump, to avoid the vampire that was about to face-plant onto her bed. He managed to wobble to a stop just out of arm’s reach. “Don’t go back to sleep.”
If she’d been confused before, now she was even more so. Was there a word for extremely confused, she wondered? One of those big words that Giles liked to use so much, maybe?
But Spike was practically vibrating on the spot, he was so agitated.
"Why should I listen to a word you say?" Buffy said. "The last time I saw you—"
"I was a right and proper arsehole," he said. He had an expression on his face that suggested he'd accidentally mistaken a lemon for a neck. "Yeah. I know. Sorry about that. Just … doin' my job and all."
"Did you … just apologize to me?" she asked. Sure it had been lame and half-hearted, but it was still more than she expected from the evil undead.
He muttered something under his entirely unnecessary breath. "Would you wake up already, you dozy bint? This is bloody unnatural, and you need to fix it. Now."
"Fix what?" she asked, intrigued in spite of herself. That Spike, of all creatures, was here in her bedroom—and she really needed to get Willow to do a disinvite, like, yesterday—asking for her help and apologizing meant that something was probably up. Possibly something world ending, since that was the only reason she could think of that Spike would do something this incredibly stupid and suicidal.
Then again, it was Spike. “Stupid and Suicidal” was probably his last name.
"Your word first," Spike said, scowling. In the golden glow of the lamplight he looked eerie and threatening, shadows cast harshly under his heavy brows and along the lines of his sharp cheekbones. In his punk getup with his platinum blond hair, he couldn't have looked more out of place in her pretty-in-pink room than a corpse in a field of daisies. Which, technically, she supposed he pretty much was.
"Fine. You have my word I won't stake you tonight, on the condition that if I find out that you did something evil or hurt anyone since you got to town, this agreement is totally void," she said.
"Fair enough," he said, still eyeing her warily.
Buffy climbed stiffly out of bed. Her muscles protested the movement, but she put that down to not enough sleep. Not that patrol had been particularly stressful the night before, but in the days after Halloween, Sunnydale's graveyards seemed to sprout more vamps than usual, probably to make up for the not-as-demon-free-as-advertised holiday. She'd spent the previous night doing double her usual rounds, and crashing at her mother's had been preferable to hiking all the way back to the dorms. There were days when not having a car put a serious crimp in her schedule.
Buffy glanced down at her tank top and sweats and was glad she hadn't worn anything ridiculous or revealing to bed. It would be totally humiliating if Spike had caught her sleeping in any of her sillier pj's, but they were back in her room at UC Sunnydale. Her Spike-inaccessible room, she thought with a groan. Though if he was this determined to get her attention, he probably would have just knocked on the door all night—or thrown a brick through her window—and made a noisy nuisance of himself. At least here she didn't have to worry about explaining her nocturnal visitor to the RA or waking up Willow.
"You first," she said, moving toward the door. He sniffed, then strutted past her, as if he wasn't scared at all of having her and a stake at his back. She slipped a pair of sneakers on her feet and followed. The hall was dark, and he paused for a moment outside of her mother's door, then moved past it to the stairs.
Scowling, Buffy took a minute to open the door and check on her mom. Joyce lay sleeping, her head turned toward the hall with the moonlight from the window streaming over her face. Her mouth was slightly open, and as Buffy watched she gave a little sigh, then turned her head toward the pillow. She glanced back to see Spike waiting for her at the head of the stairs. Softly she closed the door and followed.
He led her through the front door and outside. The lock on the door was busted, but she decided to wait to call him on it. There was a strange, eerie feeling creeping down her spine. Something was definitely wrong.
"Bloody unnatural," Spike said, his voice oddly hushed.
She scanned the street, frowning, trying to figure out what he was talking about, but nothing seemed out of place. The Thompson's dog, down the street, wasn't barking for once, but other than that everything was silent and still, just like it ought to be a few hours before dawn. "I don't see anything," she said with a frown.
He rolled his eyes and marched down the sidewalk. "Come on," he said, muttering something about humans and their blunt senses that she didn't quite catch. Buffy stretched her Slayer senses, trying to pick up on anything that might register with Spike as unnatural, but came up with a blank. Shivering a little, she followed him, her sneakered feet pattering on the sidewalk in sharp contrast to the heavy clomp of his boots.
Which, now that she thought about it, was a little odd. Vamps tended to move silently as much as possible, even Spike, but right now he seemed to be going out of his way to make noise. He was clomping those boots deliberately, and he kept fidgeting with the edge of his coat, making it snap out in the autumn breeze.
At the corner he paused and pointed, and this time what she saw was strange.
There were two cars stopped in the street. One sat at the corner, as if waiting to make a turn. The other was halfway down the opposite street, simply stopped in the middle as if it had run out of gas. Their lights and engines were off. Spike approached the one at the stop sign and wrenched the driver's door open. The interior light came on, illuminating the inside of the car. "Look," he said.
Cautiously, in case it was some kind of trick, Buffy approached.
The driver was sitting up, still buckled in, and sound asleep with his head leaning back against the head-rest at an uncomfortable angle. She knew he was asleep because he was snoring softly.
When she glanced up at Spike he had an eyebrow raised as if to say 'I told you, now do something.'
Not that she was sure what she was supposed to do. The driver wasn't anyone she knew, but she couldn't just leave him here like this. It was dangerous.
Reaching out she gently shook his shoulder. "Mister?" she said. "C'mon, wake up. This isn't the place for a nap."
The driver only snorted in response, then resumed snoring. Buffy shook him again, with no results.
Without warning, Spike leaned across her and planted the heel of his hand on the steering wheel. The sound of the car's horn was startlingly loud, and she jumped back. The horn’s blare echoed through the intersection and down the street. Spike laid on it for a good two minutes, during which the driver never even twitched. Nor did any of the neighbors look out to see what the noise was. The Thompson’s dog remained ominously silent.
Buffy simply stared, feeling the wiggins start to creep up her spine.
When he let off the horn, silence fell again; silence as thick and smothering as a wet blanket. Her ears still rang a little from the sound of the car horn, but as they cleared she realized, finally, what was wrong.
No birds sang. No crickets chirped. There was no sound of traffic or Sunnydale's usual constant soundtrack of distant sirens. No music. No voices. Just the wind in the trees and a soft snoring from the driver in the car.
She didn't even realize she'd moved until she heard Spike following her, which only made her move faster. She paused at the driver's side door of the other car, peeking in at the sleeping woman inside. Then she moved on, almost running now, with Spike a black leather shadow in her wake.
There was a gas station down on the corner; the lights inside were on, but the clerk was asleep at the register. So were the two customers, both of them slumped on the floor with their purchases scattered around them. So was the vamp that had been in the process of stealing beer out of one of the open refrigerated cases in the back.
She ran on, down familiar streets dotted with cars with more sleeping passengers, until she got to Giles' apartment. The door was locked, but she broke it with a twist of her wrist, wondering vaguely if that's how Spike had gotten into her house. Inside the lights were on, and Giles lay slumped on the couch, his glasses askew, snoring softly.
"Giles," she said sharply, stepping over a pile of books and shaking his shoulder, knowing somehow that it wouldn't do any good. "Giles! Wake up!"
He murmured something in his sleep and slumped further into the cushions. There was a thin layer of dust on his forehead, she noticed inanely, as if he'd been in that position for a while. "Giles?" she said, sinking onto the coffee table. "Please wake up."
But he didn't.
"Slayer," Spike said, and Buffy looked up through eyes suddenly brimming with tears to see him hovering on the doorstep, just outside. "They're all like this," he said softly. "Whole bloody town. Been this way for at the very least a couple of weeks, best I can tell. Humans, animals, demons, vamps—everything's taken a soddin' siesta. You an' me? We're the only things awake for miles."
Action and Buffy tended to be synonymous, so it was little wonder that she found herself standing at the threshold, her knuckles throbbing again while Spike picked himself up out of a planter several feet away. "You did this," she said, even though there was a big part of her brain jumping up and down, waving and trying to tell her that what she was saying wasn't really possible. Spike simply wasn't this powerful or clever, and this certainly wasn’t his preferred form of attack. Still, she needed a scapegoat and, hell, a bleached one would do. "What did you do, Spike?"
"I didn't do anything, you stupid bitch," he snarled, putting several more feet between them in a hurry, shedding bits of sod and geranium on the patio tile.
"You're awake!" she said, latching onto the one thing he couldn't deny. "I was asleep and you were the only one awake! You had to have done something."
"Place was like this when I got here days ago, Slayer. Probably been like this since … what? Ten days after I last saw you, if that's the last you remember? Which means the whole soddin' town fell asleep right about the time I was …" He paused, frowning. "Well, I was too drunk at the time to do much of anything. You could ask the bartender at this pub down in LA. Would tell you to phone him up and confirm, but phone lines appear to have gone down for the count, too."
"What?" she said, turning on her heel and heading straight for the phone. He was right. There wasn't even a dial tone when she picked it up. Buffy listened to the silence blankly. Then she carefully put the receiver back on its cradle and went to the door.
"How?" she asked.
Spike was lurking at the edge of the small patio. He lit a cigarette, the orange flame of his Zippo flickering for a moment in his eyes. When he exhaled, blue streams of smoke drifted up from his nostrils; in the moonlight it looked as if he had an infernal halo around his bleached head.
"Don't bloody know, now do I? Else I'd have fixed it myself."
"How did you wake me up?" she asked, hating the note of panic that had crept into her voice. "You did it, so there's got to be a way, right? So tell me and we can wake up Giles and fix this." Spike mumbled something and slid deeper into the shadows, only the glowing tip of his cigarette giving him away. More than a little on edge, Buffy pulled out her stake and went after him. He quick-stepped into the open area, careful to keep an escape route at his back. "How, Spike?"
"I don't know!" he yelled, letting loose a stream of obscenities that would have blistered her ears under normal circumstances—provided she'd understood more than half of them. While Giles tended to use words that were old and big and confusing, Spike often seemed to speak another language entirely. Still, it was clear that he was confused and furious and actually sort of freaked out, she realized, which was wigsome all on its own.
"Tried for three bleedin' days, Slayer! Tried everything I could think of. Don't know what it was that did it. Just one minute you were out and the next you were punching me in the bloody face. So I don't know what I did. Wasn't exactly tryin' out the soddin' scientific method. And … and … you swore not to stake me!" He leveled an accusatory finger in her direction.
"You were in my house for three days?" Three days of Spike wandering freely in her house while she slept, defenseless and vulnerable—worse, while her mother was defenseless and vulnerable. Why hadn't she revoked his invitation? She should have known that just because they'd had a truce once that didn't mean he wouldn't break his word. He’d already come back twice after promising she’d never hear from him again. She should have had Willow do the disinvite the minute she'd gotten the Gem of Amara off of him. No, the minute he'd returned to Sunnydale with Harmony hooked to his side like a blonde remora. No … she should have done it after that incident last year, when he'd kidnapped her friends, or, better, right after she'd gotten back from LA the fall after Acathla. Or maybe called up Willow while she was in LA, so her mother wouldn't have …
Buffy swore softly. She'd had so many chances, and somehow never gotten around to it. Whether it was from lack of foresight or naïveté, she'd left the door wide open for an evil, soulless demon to enter her house whenever he felt like it.
Which begged the question: what had taken him so long to actually use it?
Spike was scowling. "Yeah, three days with you all tucked away in your beddy-bye, none the wiser. An' you're not dead. Ought to thank me, Slayer. Could have killed you, you know, while you were out like a light. Didn't. Never laid a fang on you. Shouldn't that count for something?"
"I can't believe I ever invited you into my house." Buffy gave him her best if-looks-could-stake glare.
"Yeah, well," Spike said, fingers twitching nervously against his thigh. "Ought to be glad you did, else you'd still be in dreamland, yeah? Couldn't have woke you from outside your window."
Buffy tuned him out. She had to concede, she infinitely preferred being awake to being caught by whatever had snagged the rest of Sunnydale.
Of course, she also only had Spike's word to go on that it really was the rest of Sunnydale.
She shut the door to her Watcher's apartment, tucked the stake into the waistband of her sweats, and set out for the university campus. She felt Spike follow, but at least he shut up, giving her time to think.
A spell, she thought, as she crossed over into what passed for "downtown.” It had to be a spell. Most of the streets were deserted, but here and there she passed people who had unexpectedly been caught in its web: the movie theater worker who'd been cleaning the box office windows at Sun Cinema, a bare handful of people slumped in their seats at Sunnydale's only all-night diner, a few drivers draped over the steering wheels of their stopped cars. It was surreal and creepy, and Buffy wished she'd thought to grab a sweater because goosebumps were breaking out all over her skin, though it had little to do with the temperature.
She paused to poke her head into Willy's Bar, which tended to host a more nocturnal (not to mention supernatural) crowd, and wasn't surprised at all to find the greasy little bartender sleeping behind the bar with nearly a dozen different demons and vamps passed out all over the place.
"Now there's something you don't see everyday," Spike said, studying several incredibly ugly demons that had clearly been in the midst of a brawl when the spell took effect, and were now snuggled up together amidst the wreckage of their table. He kicked at the tangle of sleeping bodies, and one of them gave out a loud snort. Spike shuddered. "Bloody unnatural, is what this is," he said.
Buffy couldn't help but agree—even though it went against everything she believed to admit that she agreed with Spike—this was wrong in a way that made even demons and truces with one's mortal enemy look totally normal in comparison.
And it was up to her to fix it.