Setting: Season 6, AU after "Gone"
Word Count (this part): 3815
Summary: What if the second social worker actually paid a visit to Buffy and Dawn after the incident in “Gone,” and Dawn and Spike convinced Buffy to set up house with Spike? (Eventually, it's a bit of a crossover fic with AtS.)
Thank you: Extra special thank you to enigmaticblues for beta-ing the final chapters of Setting Up House.
Dedication: This story is written especially for aimeedee, who believes in me! I also dedicate this to _sin_attract, inxsomniax, zarrah04, indiana_jane_, jenniepennie, roxyw, ghostgirl13, lilith77, eyesthatslay, musing_mia, sweet_ali, and Aydin.
Chapters 1-15 can be found on here on AO3.
Sixteenth, Be Honest with Your Ex. . . and Yourself
Seventeenth, Be Civil to Uninvited Guests. . . Within Reason
Eighteenth, When Company Becomes Too Much, Strategize to Get Rid of Them
Nineteenth, Appreciate Coming Home After a Trip Away
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, B.” Faith is hanging back with the rest of us. For all her bravado in prison, maybe something has changed in her.
I stop next to her, hands on my hips, surveying our destination. “You and me both.”
“What the bloody hell is this?” Spike gestures in the direction we’re all looking.
“The school’s supposed to be a blown up heap of rubble.” Faith is confused.
“Xander?” I twist back to view my friend. “What’s going on?”
Xander gives me a blank look but can’t maintain it. Finally, he raises his hands in defense and says in a small voice, “Okay, okay. I may have heard that there was a contractor set to rebuild the school. They started rebuilding. The lead contractor quit. Probably some hellmouth-y stuff. You know how that is.” He pauses. “And my company may be sort of taking over?”
“What?! Why didn’t you tell us? Kinda an important detail to leave out that they’re rebuilding the high school on the hellmouth!” I humph and cross my arms. “And I worked side by side with you, carrying beams and helping build. . . a building. . .”
“For one day,” Xander reminds me. “And we’ve been kind of busy with a lot of other stuff.” He waves his hand around. “So, it slipped my mind.” He looks and sounds reasonably abashed, so I let it go.
“And you’re going to help rebuild it?” Faith glares at Xander. “Tell me how that’s a brilliant plan?”
Spike snorts. “No kidding.”
“Dawn is going to that school next year,” I add.
Xander shrugs. “Gotta pay the bills?”
Arms full of supplies that they won’t let the rest of us help carry, Wesley and Hanna haven’t said a word to play into the banter among Faith, Spike, Xander, and me. Instead, full moon lighting the way through the darkness, Hanna leads him toward the old teacher-student parking lot, no doubt following some witch-y sixth sense. The wreckage that was Sunnydale High School has been cleared, and evidence of new structure being built is all over the place. Some portions are more complete than others, but luckily, the area where we’re headed doesn’t look too difficult to navigate.
Faith leads the way after Wesley and Hanna, and Xander shuffles after her without trying to keep up. Spike hangs back, and I catch his hand in mine as I deliberately walk a little slower.
I have something to check out with him.
“So,” I try to sound nonchalant or as nonchalant as one can be on the way to preventing major evil from infiltrating the world. “I’ve been noticing something.”
He holds my hand like he doesn’t quite believe I’m okay with it. “What, pet?”
“Well, like tonight, at the Magic Box. Fred stayed behind with Anya.”
“So? Demon girl had something she needed to sort out, and the other bint. . . Fred, is it, decided to stay. I didn’t make much of it.” Now who’s not making eye contact?
“Well, it’s not odd for Anya to stay behind. She put in her two cents about the spell like Giles asked her to, and well, you know her. . . if anything’s off in the shop, she has to figure it out before she can do anything else, but why Fred?”
“How am I supposed to know?” I detect a faint hint of annoyance in his tone, and he’s studying the ground way too hard.
But I press on. It’s what I do with Spike when he’s hiding something. I’d been too nervous to ask him about what I noticed in the car ride back to Sunnydale. The tension had been high enough with Xander driving us and knowing about me and Spike and with Faith asking questions about everyone in Sunnydale and making running commentary on whatever Anya told her. Plus, with Faith in the back seat with Spike and me, we all had to uncomfortably hold those stupid boxes on our lap.
“Fred said something weird at the hotel. She said she was working on a project for Anya.”
“Still don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t really care about Anya’s little projects. . . as long as they don’t involve me. Did you know she tried to get me to weigh in on the seating arrangements at the reception? Said I might have insight or whatnot because I’m a vampire. I have no idea who should or shouldn’t sit together, and I don’t bloody well care.”
I ignore the part about Xander and Anya’s wedding reception. “Well, I didn’t think it involved you until I thought about Anya catching us in the Magic Box.” Was that only a few days ago? “And then, later, at the hotel when you gave Anya a little signal while Xander was yelling about you and me. There was a whole signal-y thing going back and forth between you.”
Halting, Spike pulls his hand away and stuffs both his hands in the pockets of his duster. He stares at me evenly, trying to make me believe him. “Honestly, pet. I think you might be seeing things.”
Hurt shoots through my chest. Really? After everything that’s happened and everything I’m going through, he tells me such an obvious lie? “I am *not* seeing things, and I don’t believe you don’t know anything about what I’m talking about. Spike, it’s me. I know you; you know me. I know when you’re hiding something. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out either.”
Breaking eye contact, he sighs in defeat. Before things shifted with us, he never would have given in so easily. “Look, Buffy.” He peers up at me with that loving look in his eyes. . . the one I’ve been notorious for running away from. “There is something to what you’ve noticed.”
I start to say something, but he puts a finger to my lips. His touch stirs something peaceful inside of me, and I instantly forget what words I was going to utter.
He continues, “I will tell you. I promise. There’s a lot I want to talk about. But first, can we get through this next part?” He sounds so worried that I realize that I’m doing the avoidance thing again. I never quite realized how much I do that.
So, I admit, “I’m scared, too, but I’m coming back. I promise.”
He pulls me close then and holds me tight, and I close my eyes against the cool smoothness of the leather covering his chest. “You better. I don’t think I could handle it again. . . at least not very well.”
“You guys coming?” shouts Faith.
“Quiet, Faith,” Xander shushes her. “We don’t need to attract any vampires while we’re doing this. . . any more vampires, that is.”
“Whatever,” she says, not quietly. “You know, there’s something homey about being back in Sunnydale.”
Spike and I part and move to join them as I give a little giggle. “Two vampire Slayers, and we don’t need any more vampires.”
* * *
Hanna and Wesley take us to the place where the library used to be. . . directly over the hellmouth. A foundation has been poured, and there are brightly-colored markers where walls will be. Wesley and Hanna start to set up their supplies and dole out small tasks to the rest of us who are less magically inclined.
“Wonder what this will be in the new school?” Xander conjectures aloud as he draws a giant chalk circle in the newly poured concrete.
“Definitely not the library,” Spike speculates. He trails Xander, sprinkling some large concoction of herbs over the circle.
An ancient book in one hand, Faith is drawing small symbols in some ancient language inside the circle. “Why not?”
“It’s way too small,” Wesley pauses in his task of stacking wood for a fire. “It would be quite telling about the American school system if this were the library.”
“Or, it could just be that the books will have all been replaced by computers. Maybe it’s a computer lab?” My job is to pass ingredients at the right time to Hanna who is mixing things in a cauldron-type pot. I wish Willow were here; I miss her so much, and I hate how things have been between us lately with her escaping into the dark magic and hurting Dawn. . . hurting me.
“That would be worse.”
“Nah. Not a library.” Xander stands up and surveys his handiwork. “Odds are this will be an office of some sort.”
“Weird. An office over the hellmouth. Doesn’t seem right somehow. Giles will be disappointed.” I finish helping Hanna who begins softly murmuring the words of some sort of spell. Dusting my pants off, I join Wesley. “Spike, got your lighter?”
Spike is busily making sure the herbs don’t go flying away in the light breeze that blows through every so often, but he doesn’t hesitate to toss me his Zippo. The silver lighter reflects moonlight as it arcs through the air.
The metal lands neatly in my palm. “Thanks.” Flicking on the flame, I lean over and touch it to the dry kindling.
Wesley gives the fire some gentle coaxing with his breath until the branches are consumed by a blaze of yellows and oranges. The smell of wood burning fills my nose. “Hanna,” he calls. “Ready.”
Hanna’s voice doesn’t cease as she carefully balances the vessel, settling it into the nest Wesley created in the wood.
Sidling up to Spike, I try to give the lighter back to him, but he shakes his head, his eyes shining warm in the firelight. He folds my fingers over the object. “Keep it, love. If I can’t go with you, it’ll ground you if you need it.”
The bit of Spike that I slide into my pocket reminds me of the time he dug around to get it back from me, but the memory doesn’t make me feel disgusted with myself anymore. I smile up at him, not hiding the tenderness in my expression. “Okay.”
Faith joins me, arms crossed over her chest. “So, ready, B?”
I don’t bother nodding. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Before we left the Magic Box, Wesley explained the spell to us again. The spell involves Faith and me shifting into another dimension while channeling the power of the hellmouth. . . never mind that it’s an evil power. Of course, Wesley, in his infinite Watcher wisdom, reminded us that the power in the hellmouth is “neither inherently good nor evil” just because demons and various other creatures with “nefarious motives” are attracted to it. Spike seemed to agree with him at least.
I wonder why it’s called a hellmouth then.
Anyway, the shift there and back should reset the Slayer line once we return. Wesley said a whole bunch of other stuff like Giles usually does, but as usual, I only pay attention to the broad strokes. They’re usually enough to get me by.
Wesley nods at us, giving us the go ahead. Faith crosses gingerly into the circle, and I follow suit. My heart begins hammering in my chest as Hanna joins us, her voice increasing in volume and speed. Faith and I do as Wesley instructed and face one another. She puts her hands out first, and I grasp both firmly. We smile at one another, cognizant of the miracle of Slayer strength flowing between us.
“You know I’m okay if I don’t keep the powers, right?” Faith is sincere and calm now that the reality of the spell is imminent. “It’s not like I need them in prison.”
Faith has been through so much and obviously come farther than I thought. I find myself forgetting her earlier bluntness and forgiving her for the past, the last bit of anger and hurt at her betrayal draining away. . . at least for the moment. Mom would be proud of me. “And I hope you keep them.” And I do.
Hanna’s voice echoes in the small space and fills my ears. Her fingers dip into the small ceramic pot she’s holding. She strokes warm blood mixed with some sort of spices onto one of my cheeks and one of Faith’s. Then, she deliberately walks around us and repeats the gesture on the other side. The bloody concoction drips down our faces, and resolve shines in Faith’s eyes. I barely register Hanna’s exit from the circle.
Abruptly, all sound ceases and a small glowing light appears to our left, brilliant in pinks and blues. My eyes are drawn to the radiance as it expands, sizzling with zigzagging lines of energy. My heart skips a beat, and mesmerized, I stare into the portal, reminded of the dimensional tear created by Dawn’s blood. . . the tear that I leaped into not so long ago when death was my gift. I find myself swept up into the emotions of that moment. . . fear, sadness, determination, resignation. . . and peace. I would save Dawn. . . save the world.
My little sister.
I forgot to call Dawn to tell her we were back. . . to tell her that we’re okay!
I shake my head.
Too late now.
Faith and I step into the rift at the same time.
* * *
The power of the spell courses through us in a rush like a gale of wind curling around two tall buildings so that we are forced to stay upright, and somehow we manage not to let go of one another. The pain is excruciating as lightning waves of energy skim over my skin and dive deeper, invigorating every cell in my being and straining them to the breaking point. I try to keep my eyes open as long as possible, but the throbbing ache becomes too powerful, and my lids slam closed so that my vision is scarlet red from the brilliance all around me. The scent is sharp and cloying like burning sugar, coming to my awareness in intermittent but piercing moments, almost as if my sense of smell is partially incapacitated.
As the magic abruptly dissipates, Faith’s hand slips out of my grasp, and my legs buckle under me as the hard ground crashes into me. My arms fly out to catch me, but the force is harsh and powerful, and my ankle twists followed by a sharp, shooting pain.
My eyes fly open then, and I blink at the bright, almost white light that fills my surroundings. The ground beneath my feet is dusty and cracked like hard-packed desert sand that has not consumed a drop of rain in several months. I cough away the itch in the back of my throat, and the sound is flat and small like I’m standing in the middle of a domed football field. The world before me, wherever it is, is flat, featureless, and dressed in colors of tan and brown. When I squint against the luminance of the bright twin suns above, even the sky is a faint shade of lightest pink. As my senses come back online, I glimpse Faith to my left, and she moans a little as she stirs.
Before I can form words, a guttural female voice echoes through my mind.
*You have come to reset the line.*
I immediately know who it is.
The First Slayer.
Who else has such a rasping, hissing voice? No one in this century.
I want to reply with my own voice, but my mouth opens and no sound comes out.
So I resort to using my thoughts. *Well, duh.*
*Wise choice. Without resetting the line, Evil will spread over the Earth.*
Favoring my injured ankle and still trying to shake off the effects of the dimensional jump, I rise more shakily than I would have liked.
*Where are we?* I have to know.
Faith doesn’t rise from the ground but gives me a quizzical look, pointing to her head before raising questioning hands. She opens her mouth, frowns, and sighs. She isn’t used to magical Willow speak like me and the rest of the Scoobies.
Faith hears the First Slayer, too, but she has no idea who she is. She’s never met her, and I’ve never told Faith about her. Unless, she’s dreamed about her, too.
*You are in a space between.*
Well, that tells me nothing. Forgot how much her cryptic drives me crazy.
Trying not to sound impatient, I think, *What does that mean?*
*It means that your Watcher orchestrated the spell to send you to a place that will not be harmed by the change you made. . . the change you will make.*
*Great. How do we do this thing?* Faith’s volume is way too loud, and I make a face, covering my ears. She pushes her lips to the side in apology.
I have to concentrate to hear the First Slayer’s next hissed words. *You are both damaged. You have cracks in your shell. Like baby birds. Before the line can be reset, you must be healed. Each in your own way.*
Dusting sand off her jeans, Faith slowly stands to her feet. She slaps her hands together, and the dirt flies. *That is the most obscure way of telling us what to do. I’m a simple gal. Can’t you be a little bit clearer?*
*Silence!* A pause. *You will know what to do.*
I strain but find I can’t project anything else, and then, I know. The First Slayer is gone. Well, that was a quick visit and run and so not very helpf. . . .
With a snarl, Faith crouches, her leg shooting out and swiping mine out from under me.
What the. . . ?
My ankle screams in agony as I fall, but I manage to melt my movements into a backward roll away from Faith.
I catch a glimpse of a feral look in her eye before she charges me, ducking her head and crashing into my chest. I bring my arms up to shove her away. We fly backward, and I land hard on my back, breath rushing out of my lungs.
Legs straddling my torso and her left arm pinning my right, she raises her opposite fist and punches me in the face, her knuckles almost dislocating my jaw.
And then. . .
. . . fury blooms in my chest. . . fury born from all of the times Faith has hurt me or those I care about, from the cavalier attitude she has about being a Slayer, from how she had me covering for her for the man she murdered, from how she almost killed Angel and contributed to an apoca. . . ended the earth, from how she took over my body and slept with. . . my boyfriend . . . . And she never even apologized. Not once. She didn’t even have the decency to take over the Slayer duties when I died. She should have taken my place, and then, my friends wouldn’t have brought me. . . I’d still be in. . . at peace.
Unbidden anger spreads like wildfire so that my whole body is hot and humming. The pain in my ankle and jaw seem insignificant.
When she raises her fist to strike me again, her body rises just a little, long enough for me to bend my knees to my upper body and kick out. She hurtles off of me, and though she lands on her feet, she stumbles, giving me time to arch back and jump to my feet. I hardly notice anything but the visceral rage pulsing through my veins. Without thought, I go on the offensive, landing a roundhouse before she can blink. There is a satisfying crunch, and her nose comes away bloody. I grin as she checks to make sure the liquid coming out of her nose is red. Then, she comes at me again.
And we fight.
Driven, neither of us slows down long enough to consider what we’re doing. We kick and punch and leap and tumble until we’re both limping and staggering and covered in cuts and burgeoning bruises. . . neither of us gaining an upper hand. Dust flies all around us, and the only sounds are our soft grunts and heavy breathing as well as the thwack of fists and boots against flesh.
Time passes, and fatigue overtakes us. We begin to stumble around, our movements becoming sloppier . . . less precise. My breath is ragged and harsh as a broken rib presses into my lung. Blood saturates her shirt, droplets flying through the air when she whirls to strike me.
Instead of landing her hit, she lurches and grabs a handful of my hair, yanking hard. Tears glisten in my eyes at the blinding pain, and then, she has me on my back again, arms restrained over my head and legs held tightly down. Hate flashing in her glare, a smile slowly curves her lips, and she gathers a handful of dirt and stuffs it in my mouth.
Like the other side of a coin, anger flips over into fear and consumes me. A rumble and chattering sounds in the distance. . . a somehow familiar sound, and I choke and sputter. Faith continues to punch me over and over as my body freezes, but I barely feel the pain because I’m somewhere outside of myself almost like I’m looking on.
I know this too well, and I can beat it back. I don’t have to go all the way there again.
And then. . .
Faith rolls off of me to one side, blinking as if a haze is dissipating. She lies on her side, panting and facing away from me, as I hack and spit a combination of metallic blood and gritty sand onto the ground beside me. I collapse back onto the ground, trying to catch my breath and reorient to myself.
Then, Faith pushes herself up, putting her hand to her forehead before running a filthy hand through her disheveled hair. Strangely calm, I watch her stand and face me. She sways as she bends and offers me a hand up. Then, I notice that her face is streaked with tears, wet tracks streaming down her brown and red-smudged cheeks. At the sight of her emotion, I well up, too, and before I realize it, I accept her help to stand. Everything in my body starts to come online, and oh, everything hurts.
Looking into Faith’s eyes, I find myself in her arms, and we hug each other, faltering a bit as we hold each other up. She gives a shaky laugh that’s cut off by a sharp tug and another dazzling light display.