By the click of someone else's slippers
S6 | NC-17(ish) | ~33,500 words total
Spike has spent the last few months in an AU LA with no memory of Buffy or even Sunnydale. Buffy comes to rescue him, but Spike’s not sure why she bothers. At the end of the day, though, it’s really just a rewrite of Smashed…
“So what did you really think of her?” Buffy asked a little later, after they’d come inside. Spike had just about got online, after a couple of tries with the modem, but he hadn’t yet figured out to search for.
“You what?” he asked distractedly, not exactly thrilled with the question, but hardly itching to read through his spam. Oh yes, eight messages of it he’d been ignoring earlier. “What d’you mean, ‘really’?”
He looked up, and from Cordelia’s desk Buffy was watching him. She was a little smaller than Cordelia, obviously, but something about her in that chair made her look waifish, lost. It was the dark colours she was wearing, as far as Spike could tell. Usually that part of the office was full of fuchsia, turquoise and – if he was really unlucky – bright sunset orange, so the black was something new.
This girl was timid in the way she spoke to him as well, at least right now. The eyes on her held his, like she knew all his secrets and wasn’t telling. “You liked her too, right?” she suggested. “Like Cordy. You preferred her to me.”
Spike rolled his eyes, hardly interested in this particular episode of Sweet Valley High. The latest spam email’s promise to grow his cock into some sort of gargantuan trouser snake was beginning to sound appealing. “I’ve barely known you five minutes,” he replied, “and I can’t say your starring role at Castle Anthrax is doing much to endear me.”
“Right,” Buffy replied, not sounding nearly as put out as he’d hoped she might be. He’d got his AOL inbox receiving yet more mail now – and, low and behold, some twat wanted him to harbour a massive pile of cash. “So you’re not attracted to her at all; that’s what you’re saying?”
Where was she getting this from? Had he forgotten something about slayers in the last thirty years? Were they mind-readers now or something? Everyone said genetic engineering was coming – maybe the Council of Watchers had got in there first… “Why on earth would you think I was attracted to her,” Spike replied, knowing he’d taken the bait but unable to leave the question all the same. “I had no idea what she was on about. She was inscrutable, like some sort of sodding robot or something.” A killer robot. Or a sex robot. It was about time someone invented a sex robot…
“Aha!” Buffy interrupted his thoughts. Spike looked up to see her face, a little startled to find her eyes filled with humour and something like a smile pulling at her mouth. For a moment she looked not unlike the other one. “And you hate robots, right?” she asked him. “Can’t stand people who are predictable.”
Irritated, not least for the challenge to his sex-robot-dream, Spike was a little worried she was proving her point. Bemused, and not entirely sure when this had become about him, he tried to turn the tables around. “What exactly is your angle?” he asked.
“I’m just curious, you know?” Buffy asked him, guilelessly. Even though he obviously didn’t have a clue what these questions were about. She leaned her elbow on her desk and leant her chin on her palm, always watching him. “I know what you’re like in my dimension, but not really what you’re like when you’re not, I guess…” After a moment, she seemed to stop searching for a word and just shrugged, guarded. “You’re different here. I wanna know how much.”
“Right,” Spike replied without really thinking about it, caught up in the Man U match reports as the email clicked over. “Because in your world I got dumped by Dru and moved straight on to shiny-haired sorority bimbos.”
She didn’t reply, at least not for a moment. It took him that moment to realise, but when he looked up again her mouth was pursed, her eyes still on him. “Not exactly,” she said, and it was a warning. Some promise of something dark.
For another moment, Spike let himself examine her. There was absolutely a secret she was keeping: it burned in her eyes and seemed to hum right through her. Yet beyond that, he couldn’t help but notice the way her hair trailed around her forehead, loosened from plaits and coming down to soften the particularly harsh set of her jaw. It was greasy that hair, no doubt about it, and for a second there was nothing he wanted more than to clean her up and dress her the way he used to do for Dru. He could imagine her with blonde, bouncing waves of hair, dressed as smart as the other one but still with this secret in her eyes.
It was only a second, but it was arresting. Thankfully in the second afterwards Spike had himself back together and back on the task in hand. There were some thoughts even he refused to follow his mind down, and so when he suggested they begin their search on cat thefts, it was with nothing but relief that he heard Buffy’s acquiescence.
The internet didn’t turn up much of anything. Inevitably there were a few other missing cats in the world, some with owners more web-savvy than others. Over on Cordelia’s computer, Buffy distracted herself by trying to figure out what was different in this dimension; Spike too often found himself watching her over the rim of his whiskey glass. He’d told a lie, of course, because he did have some contacts in this city – he just didn’t like talking to them. It was usually embarrassing, even when it didn’t involve that bloody karaoke bar.
Thankfully, at some point around three or four AM Buffy had fallen asleep, out for the count, and it seemed like the best idea to help her into the armchair downstairs – because she certainly wasn’t having his bed – and then to throw himself under the sheets for another day’s rest.
That should have been it, even as the girl murmured nonsense into his arms. But the thing was, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the end of her, not at all. Not in his head.
In a dream that night – because later, at least, he would figure out it was a dream – him and sorority Buffy were sitting opposite each other on a sarcophagus. There was a candle between them and candles all around them; the heat was like a gentle, lapping wave.
“Is that supposed to scare me?” she asked, and he realised he was wearing his vampire face. “Sorry; it’s just… I’m badder than you.” Her face was all girlish as she said it, untouched by evil as he was by good.
“Are not!” Spike insisted, even as his face receded to human.
Laughing, the girl shook her head. “Am too.” She held his gaze for a moment, before slumping her shoulders. She sighed, and Spike had the odd urge to comfort her. “Look,” she told him seriously, far too aware for a girl still in college. “You don’t have to be all nice to me. I know why you’re doing this.”
“Enlighten me,” Spike replied, not sure why he was there or what he was doing. His world was calm enough inside the crypt, but it still felt like there was something for him to be doing outside – something they were both preparing for. Something was coming.
This Buffy shook her head, just a little. “I think you can,” she informed him, though the emphasis was wrong. Enlighten. The light behind her was bright, playing off her hair to make it gleam. “I think you can if I let you,” she promised him, openly and bizarrely seductive. “I want to let you.”
For a moment, the words wouldn’t come, but she waited for him, easy and accepting. The sense of something brewing outside the crypt grew stronger, and as someone now quite familiar with the workings of a geas, Spike wasn’t sure he could resist. “The other Buffy,” he admitted at last, an uneasy feeling inside of him. “The other, not-so-pleasant Buffy. I couldn’t live, her being in that much pain.”
This Buffy shook her head again – beatifically, almost. “I was torn out of there,” she explained, like it was something that was supposed to make sense – like it was something Spike didn’t know. “By my friends.” The pain in her was something unfamiliar, different from what he would have expected. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
Shifting off the sarcophagus lid, her slim legs bending and folding beneath her, the image tore her eyes away first. “You should be careful,” Spike called after her, raising a hand. She paused; he explained. “Never know what kind of villain's got a knife at your back.”
Buffy looked back at him, heels two gentle taps on the floor. The betrayal in her eyes ran deep, clouding pupils he could barely see through mascara. “Isn’t that what you sang?” she asked him, with more meaning than he would have thought possible.
It cut into him, that low curling feeling in his lower abdomen – part of his anatomy he was beginning to think belonged to her alone. Because he realised now, though he hadn’t changed and the crypt hadn’t moved, he was nonetheless talking to the other Buffy, dolled up in red and leather, starlet waves of hair around her face but the pain still fresh and vivid.
Till the end of the world.
He wasn’t sure where the words came from, but they resounded in his head, reverberating from the walls around him. Buffy snorted, like they meant nothing, and turned steadily away from him.
Panicked, he called after her. “You can’t just shut me out!” he said, climbing down onto the crypt floor himself. What was that, Buffy? he wanted to ask her, but he wasn’t so sure he’d like the answer. What was that…
She looked back at him hopelessly, enough sorrow on her that he realised what it was he could feel. Because it had to be, didn’t it? Guilt. That feeling he’d thought he’d long forgotten, pulling and grinding at his insides. It felt like nothing else, nothing he could name.
Thankfully the girl took a step closer; a rush of her smell washed over him. She’d been exerting herself and now, in the heat of the candles, it was intoxicating. The guilt didn’t recede, but there was something warmer inside him, the first few sparks of lust pricking him a little bit lower. Adrenaline set his nerves on edge.
Of course he couldn’t help but step closer to her. She bit her lip like she was hesitant, but her coat slipped from her shoulders just as his fell from his. “I should’ve done this years ago,” she said as the distance collapsed and he reached out to catch her to him –
Of course, that was the moment Spike woke up. He gasped, sitting upright, the sense-memory of silk and slender arms burning on his hands. He wasn’t sure where he was, his eyes darting around the dingy walls.
The armchair across the room was empty, thankfully. It was early evening, it had to be –
“… all right, it’s Kip Casper; KLON Radio. LA’s infinite repeat…
Spike turned to the clock on the nightstand. It seemed like he was awake right on time.
Fuck, he thought, coming to. His arms were shaking to hold him, sweat covering his skin like a veil. He looked down at himself. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Spike’s luck had run out months ago, but as he came upstairs it became clear that the nadir of his existence had still yet further to sink.
Because it turned out that his timetable was too short, or something, for the queens of UCLA’s sororities, and so rather than enter his office to the mild tones of typing and bickering, he rose into the heart of a full-on shouting match between one girl clearly too used to getting her own way and her double, who he’d really hoped had just fucked off during the night.
The Buffies had landed. And they were not happy.
“You know what?” the more polished one demanded, hands on hips and glaring at Cordelia. “I think someone needs to tell me right here and right now what the hell is going on!”
“And we’ve been trying to tell you, Sorority Jane!” the other Buffy answered, before Cordelia even had a chance too. There was something of a vindictive look on her face. Spike couldn’t figure out what had put it there. “I’m you and you’re me,” she continued, snidely. “Only I’m not you because, guess what? You were going to figure it out anyway and I didn’t want to be the one to tell you, but magic is real; demons and vampires are out to get us all; your life is screwed from here on out, and it wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t managed to lose your cat.” Spike looked at Cordelia; Cordelia looked at him and shrugged. “Get with the programme!”
When this world’s Buffy spoke again, her words were directed at him. “Who is she and why is she saying these things?” she said abruptly, turned an acute angle from the other Buffy and now directing her questions at him. It was like her double didn’t even exist.
Spike blinked, a little taken aback. He knew what that move felt like; he’d had it from the other one the other day. He couldn’t help but take a glance at raggedy Buffy, who was dressed in a black top of Cordelia’s along with some jeans, but otherwise still looked on edge. Her hair was clean, tied back in a ponytail; she must have taken a shower while he was asleep.
Shaking his head, Spike distracted himself again and turned back to the softer Buffy, though right now she didn’t look it. “She’s you,” he began, not entirely certain he could explain effectively. Or even there was really a need. Honestly, what was happening to him? “Get over it,” was how he decided to finish that particular conversation.
Drawing himself into the room proper, Spike took a seat at his desk and raised his eyebrows at the Buffy they were talking about. In the end, if she was the Slayer and she wanted to take him home with her, then as far as he was concerned it was time for her to start pulling her weight.
This Buffy, on the other hand, seemed to have other ideas. She stood there with her arms crossed, a mulish set to her mouth and her eyes trained on nothing in particular. The silence was awkward.
“Oh my god,” Cordelia exclaimed eventually, setting her hands on the papers that covered her desk. “Seriously,” she challenged the girl, “what is your damage? I would never be this rude if I met me in another dimension.” She got no reaction. “Do you hate yourself or something?”
Of course, the Buffy of this world didn’t give the other one a chance to respond. “Look,” she interrupted, the expression on her face hinting that she was more than a little spooked. It didn’t seem to affect how she spoke, though, addressing Cordelia while Spike watched her hand tremble. “I came here because I got this letter in the mail.” She started digging through her plum-coloured bag, her cream blouse fluttering as she rummaged. “It’s a ransom note, for Ketchup. Or at least I think it is. It says I have to find five thousand dollars and come to this place alone.” She found the letter, opening it between her fingers and replacing the bag on her shoulder. “I don’t understand, though,” she added, as if Cordelia could explain. “Why isn’t it for more? Aren’t ransoms usually for as much money as they think they can get? They must know who some of the girls are in our sorority.”
The other Buffy was closest, but she didn’t react, so it was Cordelia who came round her desk to take the note. Spike said nothing, watching the exchange with an elbow leaned by his keyboard. She was a spoiled brat, this Buffy, and it seemed she was the tsarina of other spoiled brats – but she was also clearly not stupid.
“Maybe they aren’t after the money,” said the other Buffy, grudgingly, taking a few acquiescent steps across the lino as she folded her arms. She wouldn’t meet her own eyes, of course, but she seemed to have reached the same conclusion that Spike had. “They ask for enough to distract you –” That was assuming that five thousand dollars would be enough to distract Malibu Barbie, Spike felt like pointing out. He wasn’t quite so sure. “– but really they don’t care about that. They just want you to be where they want you.”
“But what do they want me for?” Buffy asked herself, sculpted eyebrows knitting together.
Spike found himself a glass and two fingers of bourbon to drink while Cordelia explained, “Maybe they want you as a sacrifice. Demons love sacrifices.” She spoke like she was talking from bitter experience; Spike couldn’t help but smirk. “You might have found yourself walking in the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong moon, and now you happen to be the girl they have to have in order to raise the Beast of Quinoa-Cake or whatever.”
“Or it could be because you’re me,” the other Buffy added, set against the night like a Madonna in some stained glass window. “You must have the potential to be a slayer. There are things out there that can do something with that.”
“But I don’t wanna be a ‘slayer’,” the polished Buffy immediately replied. “Apparently it ruins your taste in clothes,” she explained. “And it makes you mean.”
Spike snorted into his drink; he couldn’t help it. Of course, this made the Buffy who was the Slayer, supposedly, glare at him with a look of hate. Oddly, she also seemed slightly hurt by it all. As though they were supposed to like her even when she was behaving like a moody cow.
He rolled his eyes. “Well, whatever it is, I’m sure we’ve all figured out the obvious Carry On answer to all of this.” Turning to Sorority Jane, Spike continued, “If you might dress Madam Summers here for the part, then she can go along as you and one hopes get herself out of any trap they bother to lay. Maybe even with Ketchup the cat, so we can all get on with our merry lives.”
It seemed obvious to Spike, but for some reason they all looked at him like he was mad.
Polishing off the rest of his bourbon, he waited for someone to say something. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Cordelia, who none-to-smoothly came over to his desk and grabbed him by the arm. “Spike,” she asked as she pulled him out of the office foyer, “could I talk to you alone for one second?”
Spike went without protest; didn’t see much point in resisting. There was a kitchenette just off the side from the main office, right by the door to his basement. He didn’t spend much time in there apart from when he was microwaving his blood. There was too much booze in him, most of the time, for coffee to have much of an effect, and while he didn’t mind the taste it just meant there was no reason that Cordelia could ask him to wash up the cups.
And, god, his thoughts couldn’t make him sound any more like a domesticated, pathetic loser if he tried.
“Look,” Cordelia addressed him once they found themselves there, talking in a hissed whisper so the Buffies couldn’t hear. Even with her mortal hearing, though, Spike thought she should have been able to hear the two of them start up again, so he didn’t know why she bothered. “Do you really think this is a good idea?” she kept whispering nonetheless. “I’m not sure we can trust her.”
“Trust her with what?” Spike replied. His voice came out in a low tone, despite himself. Staring at a shelf full of cheery coffee mugs, he really did figure he was depressed. “It’s obviously a trap for this other girl; best option was always going to be to not let her go.”
“I mean letting her in on the whole operation,” Cordelia charged right back. “For all we know she’s some crazy demon in disguise, trying to get us into a vulnerable position so she can kidnap us. This might be part of her plan!”
To be fair, it was a realistic possibility. Still, looking at Cordelia’s tense face, the dark spikes of her fringe cutting up her forehead, Spike couldn’t help but think she was just reliving some of her Sunnydale trauma. “Thing is,” he admitted, letting it out with a sigh. “I think she’s telling the truth.” The idea was ridiculous, him in this other dimension; he knew it was, and the look on Cordelia’s face said that she thought it too. And yet – “I dunno,” he continued, shaking his head. “She was here last night and I suppose we must’ve bonded or something, but…”
“Oh my god, Spike,” Cordelia interrupted, screwing up her face and ruining his train of thought. “You slept with her?” She pulled away like he was diseased. “Geez; have some class, why don’t you?”
“For fuck’s sake; I didn’t sleep with her,” Spike replied, irritated. Although… Naturally, he couldn’t help but then glance back down the short corridor to where the two Buffies were talking – possibly… Was that a laugh? At least they were distracted, he supposed. “We didn’t talk much either,” he explained to, god help him, his closest friend in this current charade of undeath he was living. “It’s just, the way she speaks to me when she’s not thinking about it. And, I dunno; the way I was dreaming last night, I think part of me might remember what she’s going on about.”
Cordelia looked at him sceptically, arms crossed as she leaned back on the countertop. She clearly thought his subconscious was better at getting its end away than it was. “You mean you actually believe all that stuff?” she asked him, moving right over that particular question. “About you as the friendly neighbourhood vamp and Xander Harris the demon fighter?”
Spike shrugged, challenging himself to really think about it for the first time. The booze was helping him a little bit, keeping his thoughts nice and fluid. “It makes as much sense as anything,” he explained, allowing himself to accept the possibility. “I mean, when I think about it, it even fits together.” He shook his head. “There’ve been times in my unlife that I’ve lost time, right? Gone nowhere for a bit,” he said it carefully, not entirely sure how he felt about all this. “But only for the odd week or two at a time. And yet… When I went to Sunnydale, after Dru, that was – what, the end of ‘99? All right, I was in LA for a while before I remember all this happening, but…” And this was the point he tried to impart on her, meeting her eyes more seriously than usual. “There are two years to cover there and I just can’t place ‘em. It makes me think, right – what if I was actually dead?”
Cordelia looked taken aback; Spike couldn't help but laugh, watching her face. "Wha…" she began, but it went nowhere.
“Yeah,” Spike agreed, way ahead of her. “I'm thinking, this feeling like I might be in hell – maybe the Spike I am here’s long gone. Some time in 2000 I got so sodding drunk I didn’t wake up again the next day; I lost a bet; lost a fight; just missed the fucking sunrise.” He snorted at himself, the idea of that pathetic end to a pathetic existence. “It’s always what I said I’d do without Dru anyway,” he explained. “And, all right, some bastard wants to get rid of me? Well, that leaves a nice convenient little dimension to dump me in.”
Her mouth turned down into a frown, Cordelia seemed to take him seriously. She was running the numbers in her head, Spike knew it, just like he was. It was more than true enough that the life he had going here didn’t entirely make sense. Hell, he wasn’t entirely sure that he made sense. Sometimes he was convinced there was a softness in him that didn’t belong, that had dug into him like rootworm and wouldn’t bloody go away. This girl Cordelia right here was a case in point.
“But what does that mean?” she asked him, the hiss gone from her voice as she took a more relaxed stance against the tea-towels. “For you, if you go?”
Part of Spike was tired of sneering, but he just about got his lip to curl. “Figure I’ll go back where I came from, I suppose. Me as I am here will still be dust; me in the other place will carry on… Only I’ll know,” he realised, and this was the slightly cringe-making bit, “that her in there –” He nodded towards the foyer. “– she’s the reason I’m not dust in the wind.”
Cordelia raised her eyebrows, looking down at their shoes. “Well,” she said hesitantly, though he knew she was mostly joking. “Better you than me.”
Spike laughed, or felt the movement of it at least. He was trying to figure out what else needed to be said.
“How’d she manage it, anyway?” Cordelia asked, catching his eye again. She was actually confused, which surprised him. Most of the time he figured he was easier to read than a book. “What was so special about hanging out with her gang?”
And now Spike looked purposefully back towards the foyer. The two Buffies seemed to have settled their contretemps, if only for the moment, and were leaning beside one another against his desk. One of them was casual, the curve of her slender back picture-perfect but utterly unconscious; the other, he accepted now, could feel him like he was starting to feel her, a memory of battles long forgotten. She was stiff, ever so slightly, not poised but ready to move, ready to go.
The girl hadn’t mentioned anything of the sort, of course, about what had kept him with her. But he feared he was starting to feel it, in the ache he had to see her move; in the guilt he felt about nothing, that feeling he couldn’t quite place.
Spike turned back to Cordelia, not sure what he was going to say, part of him still thankfully disgusted with himself. She, at least, had the grace to keep quiet. With nothing more than a slight roll of her eyes, she crossed her arms and changed the topic. “So,” she asked. “If you go, then what’s going to happen about my job?”
“Well,” he suggested, glad for the distraction. “You could always take over here…”
This suggestion, however, did not go down well. “Are you kidding me?” Cordelia immediately responded. “Chasing around after other people’s lost chihuahuas and getting my clothes covered in turtle crap? No thank you.”
“Oi,” Spike replied, not sure why he’d even bothered suggesting it. Thankfully the memory doused any thought he was having about their resident Vampire Slayer. “We agreed to never mention that again.”
Of course, the girl’s only response to that was to shrug. The cow.
The meeting was meant to take place at midnight, down in some warehouses by the docks. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had been snuck back into the sorority, and tarted up as far as Phi Eta Pi Buffy had seen fit.
When it came down to it, Spike was surprised by how easily the pair of them got on with the plan. As they drove downtown, the Buffies took turns to explain why, despite this being the most ridiculous set of circumstances anyone had ever concocted, it ultimately wasn’t something they had beef about.
“I guess it’s just that, when you think about it,” sorority Buffy explained, “we really did live the same lives until the age of fifteen. Just because Buffy freaked out and went to live with Mom in Nowheresville, it doesn’t mean we don’t have anything in common.”
Inevitably, though, some things never changed, so Cordelia took issue with her. “Hey!” she complained from the front seat of the car. “Sunnydale is not Nowheresville. We have an international airport.”
“Whatever,” Buffy replied. The other Buffy let out a giggle; Spike took a moment to remember he was meant to be watching the car behind rather than her face.
“I can’t believe Mom is dating Giles,” was what that Buffy actually said, allowing Spike to return his eyes to the road (because he had no idea what the bloody hell she was on about there). She sounded like she wanted to complain about it, but part of her was pleased all the same. Why the hell his mind found itself so occupied with reading her tone, Spike didn’t know, but for the moment he was going with it. “I mean, you remember Giles, right, Cordelia? He’s like, this total geek,” she explained, apparently for her double’s benefit.
The only thing that Spike could think was that the expensive beauty products she’d been bathed in were going to her head.
“I guess it’s…” For a moment, then, she faltered, cheer fading. “I mean,” she explained, audibly perking herself up, “you’ll never know how lucky you are that he was there that day and I love him actually probably better than our Dad, but, seriously, the guy is so British that it hurts.”
Spike thought about complaining on that point, but since the one thing he did actually know about this bloke was that he’d been Harmony’s watcher back in the day – well, he was keeping his mouth shut.
The other Buffy seemed happy to natter on nonetheless. “I’m just saying that he sounds better than the last guy I remember – what was his name? Ted, or something? Eh; anyway… Dawnie said he made her act like Stepford Mom… You know she’s a massive geek herself, though, right? It’s where Dawn gets it from.”
It was a more pleasant atmosphere than last time, it had to be said, but Spike had the B Side of the Clash to play, and letting his mind wander, it did.
It was about ten minutes before he realised Buffy from the other world had gone quiet, watching him.