This Is Not My Beautiful House
Summary: After Spike goes after that dragon, he wakes up where he least expected</b>
Story Notes: Written for seasonal_spuffy on Livejournal. Spoilers for all of BtVS and Angel. Set post Not Fade Away.
Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow
Completed: March, 2006
Thanks: To thedeadlyhook, reader and commentator extraordinaire. A couple of the dialogue points in here were her idea too. I steal only from the best.
This is not my beautiful house!
You may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
You may ask yourself
Am I right?... Am I wrong?
You may say to yourself
MY GOD!...WHAT HAVE I DONE?
The wind from the dragon's fiery breath hurled the tails of Spike's leather up over his head, blinding him as he swung out hard with the sword, but he felt it connect, felt it slice through hard plate and muscle as the air went hotter than hell and he couldn't feel anything else, not the hilt in his fists, not his feet on the ground, not the ringing in his ears, nothing.
Then he came downphwoom!on his back, jerking and struggling, and sat straight up with a cry. He'd lost hold of the sword, he'd lost hold of
He wasn't in the alley.
No dragon, no demon hordes, no driving rain, no Old Blue, no Charlie, no Angel.
He was in a bed.
"Talk about bloody abrupt transitions," Spike muttered. "This's straight outta that 2001 flick."
He was in a bed in a room that felt strangely familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Suburban silence reigned. A lot of votive candles flickered all around, and the windows were made of dark stained glass. He could feel the afternoon sun hitting their outsides. He smelled ... smells that confused him.
The bed was large. Large enough for two. Beside him, the covers were thrown back, the pillow dented. Someone else had risen firstsome hours agoand left the room.
Before he could begin to suss out what the fuck was going on, footsteps clattered outside the door, which burst open with a bang, and something crashed onto his chest hard enough to knock the speaking air from his lungs.
"Papapapapapa! Mamma says get up now so you can watch me!"
The kidkid!was all smiles. He was halfway to wrestling free of the covers so he could throw her off when she leaned in and planted a big wet one right on his cheek. She was all warm and glowing with life, and she smelled likeagain he shied from knowing what the smells here meant. "Horsie, Papa?"
Spike sat up. More gently than he would've done a moment before, he pushed the little girl awayand dismissed the fleeting thought of how succulent she'd be, as a lick of hunger awoke in his belly.
Was he parked in some Wolfram & Hart holding dimension? Right next door to Angel's pal Lindsey in the Subdivision of You Are So Very Fucked? Was the kiddie sent in to summon him down to the cellar to get his heart carved out?
Looked that way, didn't it?
The kid screamed. "I wanna horsie! Horsie!"
"No bloody horsie. Quiet."
He started to get out of bed, then realized he was naked.
"Trot yourself on out of here. Give a bloke some privacy."
The girl looked disappointed, but she scrambled down obediently enough. At the door, she glanced over her shoulder, clearly expecting him to relent and summon her back for a romp.
"Go on. Shoo."
When he heard her clattering downstairs, calling out "Maaamaaa, Papa won't play with me!", Spike got up, and found his clothesat least, some clothes, which might've been his except they weren't exactly what he'd been wearing a little while ago, in the alley. But the jeans and boots were his brand, and they fit him. He found tee shirts in a drawer that fit him too. And on the dresser he saw his silver Zippo, and beside it, a thin black leather wallet. Inside, some money, a single credit card, and a California drivers' license with his picture, identifying him as Mr William Grieves of Revello Drive, Sunnydale. Licensed to drive a motorcycle, but not an organ donor.
He looked more closely at the room. Bloody hell. No wonder it felt familiar.
The furnishings were different, the window glass, everything. But it was Joyce Summer's room. Buffy's room, those last few months of his residence in the basement, not that he was ever inside it then.
Those Wolfram & Hart bastards sure knew how to stick it to you. They knew, they knew fucking everything, and used it.
Dressed, he looked out into the upstairs hall. It wasn't much different than he remembered it, though again the smells weren't what he recalled from those crowded, anxious days. This house wasn't filled to the rafters with teen girls on the rag; the air didn't smell like constantly-refreshed worry. As he hesitated, the door to Buffy's old room opened. A woman, wearing a bathrobe, a towel draped over her shoulder, came out.
Seeing him, she looked up and beamed. "Hey, Spike. Sleep well? Are youare youare you about to go into the bathroom?"
Tara. It was Tara, who was more than two years dead.
God, she was so beautiful. All serene and majestic and ... he wanted to reach for her. The goodness shone off her like a radiance.
Was she supposed to be the kiddie's mum, then? Was he supposed to be?
The kid reappeared then, at a run, and dashed herself against Tara's legs. "AuntieTaracanIwatchyoutakeabath?"
"I'm not going to take a bath. I'm in a hurry today, I have to go to an interview, and then I have a date." For some reason Spike couldn't fathom, Tara winked at him. "I thought you were going to hang out with your Papa for a little."
"Papa won't play horsie."
Tara smoothed the girl's hair, and threw him a laughing glance. "You'll have to negotiate that for yourself, Jemmie. I can't be late today."
"Can't be late today. Can't be late today. Auntie Tara can't be late today." Singing, the kid began to march around them, in and out in a figure eight, stamping down hard with each step, waving her arms.
"Spike, excuse me," Tara said, moving towards the bathroom door. A new fear gripped himwhat if she was The First? What if all that was begun over again?
Feigning awkwardness, he seized her arm.
She glanced up. "What?"
"N-nuthin', love. Your towel was slipping."
She was solid. Real, then, as anything here was. So, nix on The First Evil, back to the Holding Dimension Hypothesis.
Kid was a noisy little bit. Now that Tara was disappeared behind the bathroom door, the girl was butting up against his legs, bouncing like a nutter. Without thinking, Spike showed her some fang to get her to shut up.
She only threw her head back and laughed, reaching up for him with starfishing hands. "Pick me up, Papa!"
Why was he here? What did it mean? Was Angel dead, and the others? Was the battle over? Or on hold? Or still raging on while he was diverted on this loopy detour? The kid was practically climbing his jeans now. "Funny face again!"
"No more funny face. Where's your mother?" Who's your mother? He tried to put her off; she clung. Didn't like touching her. All his prior experience with picking up little girls ended in dropping their drained corpses.
The child was oblivious to his mood, and resumed her purposeful purposeless marching. "Kitching. Getting ready to go out."
He wanted to sprint, to catch her. See who she wassee ... see if it was Buffy. Must be, because that would be the worst thing they could set up in this Fun House of Sentimental Horrors.
But Spike found he couldn't move. Nothing supernatural holding him back; just garden-variety fear and a surge of some terrible longing and regret and desire that came up out of his still heart and for a moment, swamped him. His vision darkened; he couldn't feel his body.
It was the sound of the back door slamming, a car starting up, that brought him back to himself.
Kiddie's mum, whoever she was, had left the building.
For a moment he stood listening to the shower, and the little girl's chanting. Then the water went off; he heard Tara moving around in the bathroom. His throat was a knot. He was losing time here. He didn't know if he'd really slain the dragon, or if slaying it had turned the tide of battle. Angel and the others needed him, if they weren't already dead. He had to get back. He had to tell Tara he didn't belong here, that he must be sent back into the melee. Maybe Tara and Willow could work it. Willow must be around the place somewhere, if Tara was. They could return him to his rightful apocalypse.
The bathroom door opened. She started, finding him in the same place where she'd left him.
"Spike? Everything okay?"
He could feel her hurry. She crossed back to her room, friendly eyes on him, but clearly not wanting to pause.
"Sure, pet. Everythin's fine. You go on. Can't be late." He wasn't sure why he hesitated to speak up.
"Can't be late. And I know how much you need the place to yourselves this evening." She flashed him a smile. At the same time the child grabbed his hand, started tugging him to the stairs. "Paaaapaaaa. Let's goooo."
He didn't get it. What kind of a holding dimension scenario was this for him? The old beloved's house, yeah, fine, they'd rummaged in his past, maybe in his brain itself, and come up with that easy. But the little one, climbing him and kissing him? He'd never remotely thought of such a thing, let alone wished for it. Never wished for Glinda, sweet as she was, to be apparently lodging in the spare bedroom either. The whole set-up was just bloody odd. How'd those sick fucks imagine this, when he never did?
Downstairs was much the same too. Things were freshernice furniture in good repair, clean paint on the walls, rugs on the floor. Lots of toys scattered aroundthe little puss was clearly spoilt. No signs of imminent foreclosure and doom.
Pictures on the mantlepiece. He didn't want to look, but having once noticed them from across the room, he couldn't stop himself from drifting closer.
There was Joyce. There was Dawn, stunning in a cap and gown, having apparently survived Sunnydale High, which seemed to have survived too.
There was the little Jemmieand there, and there, and there and there. Most photographed kid in Sunnydale, looked like.
Here she was with her Mum. A sunshine pose, outdoors so Buffy's golden hair and skin glowed as she twinkled at the camera. Her face substantially reproduced in the child'sthey had the same smile. Spike stared. Buffy with a kid of her own. Never had pictured it. Couldn't believe it.
And there he was too. Holding an infant wrapped in pinka toddler wearing a birthday crown. And in another shot, holding Buffy, clinch-style, who looked up into his face with an expression of such absorbed satisfaction that he knew this whole thing was a total sham.
When he dashed the framed photo into the hearth, Jemmie cried out as it shattered.
"Shut yer yap, you little beast! I'm onto you! I'm onto this whole bloody head trip!" Sweeping all the pictures down, he bellowed at the room, the house, the Senior Partners who must be monitoring this, controlling this. "I know what you're doing! So just fucking have at meturn me inside out, rip out my soul, lop off my head, whatever it isbut do it straight out!"
Tara was there, Jemmie cowering in her skirts. She gawped at the broken frames and shattered glass.
"Whatwhatwhat happened? Who were you shouting at?"
A voice from the kitchen interrupted before he could begin. "Hey Spike! You here, buddy? Got something to show you."
Tara glanced around. "Xander will help you clean this up. I'm sorry, I really can't stay right now." Telling the little girl to be good and not to touch the broken things, Tara detached her and faded away, just as goddamn Harris came striding in.
Goddamn Harris, but equipped with two eyes, and about thirty pounds less than the one he'd last seen on the morning of his glorious but alas unfinal death.
This one, like the other one, entered talking. "Of course you're here, where else would you be in the middle of the afternoon? Hey Jemmie-girl. Uhwhat happened here?"
"I'll say. Shit." Xander squatted to survey the damage. "Did Jemmie do this? She didn't miss a single one! How'd she reach? Better clean it up before Buffy sees it anyway. I can pick you up some new frames before I go back to the site if you want."
"... uh, yeah. Yeah, that'd be right nice of you."
Xander didn't seem to notice anything amiss about Spike; he motored out to the kitchen on his own, bringing back broom and paper towels and everything else needed to clean up the broken glass, and he didn't seem to notice that Spike wasn't helping him, or that the little girl was hovering on the far side of the room in a skittish way, because she was still freaked out by how he'd roared at her. The whole time he was sweeping up, Xander talked about the job he was working on, building some mini-mall out on the edge of town. Spike didn't listen because he didn't care. Even not listening though, he had the sense that Xander was babbling because there was something else he was building up to.
It emerged when the broken glass was cleared away and they'd moved into the kitchen. Spike, ever hungrier, prowled around for a few moments before it occurred to him to check the freezer. It was half filled with blood bags (the other half was taken up with partially-eaten pints of Cherry Garcia, and neon-colored popsicles that must've been for the kiddie). Xander poured coffee as Spike heated the blood, and then all of a sudden he was at Spike's elbow, prodding him to turn and look at something in his hand.
"I've been getting nowhere just talking to her about it, like we were two sane adults, so finally I decided it was time to dazzle her. What d'you think?"
The blue box in Xander's callused hand held a diamond engagement ring of admirable size and lustre. Spike glanced at it, and then at Xander, who was eyeing himand Spike was surprised by how weird it was, the two-eyed thingwith an expression thirsting for approval.
Xander never had wanted his approval, or sought his advice, before. Even though this was bizarro-world, he couldn't quite bring himself to take this at face value.
"What cereal box you fish that out of?"
"You may well ask. I went to LA to buy this baby."
The mention of LA, where he was supposed to be in the middle of hacking ogres to death on his way to his own dusting, brought Spike up short. Was this a clue? A hint?
"LA? An' how did you find it?"
"How I always find it. A traffic jam. I got lost three times on my way to breakfast at Tiffany's, but I got what I went for. So what do you think? Is she going to laugh in my face? I always think she's going to laugh in my face."
You nearly killed me when I fucked her, an' now you're askin' me 'bout rings for your demon bird? This was getting more surreal by the second. Spike shrugged. "Doubt any girl would laugh at that rock."
"Yeah, but you know she's not just any girl. She's"
The microwave dinged. The sound reminded Spike again of the time. The elapsed time. He had no idea if time here was contiguous with time there, but the great thing was that he wasn't supposed to be here. He needed to get the fuck away from this place and get back to Angel's side where the action was.
"Hey Spike, I know. I know you think I'm being stupid about this, but you don't know her. Under all thatthat unhshe's this little girl that thinks nobody loves her."
"Anya's gonna bloody well know you're serious when she sees that. She's all about the dosh."
Xander blinked. "Anya? ... Spike ... what are you talking about?"
"Talking about" Uh oh. Was there no Anya in this world? Then who was under discussion here?
This was the perfect opening to say his piece about being the Vamp Out Of Time. Except that Jemmie chose that moment to begin howling.
Xander, barely missing a beat, pocketed the ring box, swung Jemmie up onto a stool, and went to the fridge. "Is it okay to give her a glass of milk?"
Spike almost snapped out How should I know? before recalling who he was supposed to be. "Yeah. 'Spect that'll quiet her down."
"You thirsty, toots?" Xander smiled at the little girl with such tenderness that Spike was again distracted. This was all just so flat out weird.
When he'd given her the milk, Xander settled on his own stool and stared into his coffee. "I want to give her the ring tonight, but what if she won't take it? I mean, if she refuses this, isn't that going to mean?"
Spike glanced up,. Had to be careful now. "Can't imagine she would."
Xander took the ring out again and studied it. "Who am I kidding? Faith doesn't even wear earrings, for Chrissakes. That pair I gave her last year, they're covered in dust an inch thick."
This place was giving him whiplash. Had to be a different Faith. Lots of women named Faith. Must be someone else. The Senior Partners would never expect him to believe that Faith The Vampire Slayer would look twice at Xander, in any possible world.
"I don't know what she's afraid of. I mean, I do know. But I also know she wants it, what we've built together. So why can't she justwhy can't she just trust, and take that final step?"
Spike buried his nose in the cup of hot blood. Why was this happening? Why was he in a place that was destroyed, among people he didn't know anymore, giving relationship advice to one of his least-liked acquaintances when he was supposed to be in a rain-swept alley battling to preserve the precious balance between good and evil?
"I mean, how difficult can it be for her to trust me? You got Buffy to trust you. You got all of us to trust you. If that's possible, anything should be!"
"Reckon so," Spike muttered.
"I'm supposed to be the Faith whisperer in our crowd, right? But she'll only come so far and noand maybe she's thinking what's up with him that he's got to pin me down into being Mrs Harris? And yeah, I get that too. But I want her to be abso-fucking-lutely sure that I'm always hers, that I'm always there. The whole marriage thing ... I dunno ... even though my parents' marriage sucks. Marriage just seems really romantic to me."
"You're a bloody romantic guy," Spike mumbled, wondering whether he should bring up how Xander walked out on Anya at the altar. Probably not. If he just kept making encouraging noises, Xander would go away soon.
"I don't think it's the slayer thing, really. Especially now she sees how Buffy and you make it work. And I haven't breathed a word about kids. I know she's not going to want kids."
Crikey. He was talking about that Faith.
If this was a Wolfram & Hart holding dimension, why was it like this? Why'd he wake up to an afternoon of child-wrangling and coffee klatsching when the thing they ought to have done was put Buffy in bed with him straight away. That would've made him forget the battle in no time flat.
None of this made any sense.
It was time to speak up. If this was some kind of prison, saying so out loud wouldn't make any difference, and if it wasn't, they could get going on figuring out how to send him back to his rightful placeand find the Spike who presumably got to live this existence as his rightful one, mind-blowing as that was.
He was about to interrupt Xander, who was still wittering on about his love troubles, when his eye fell on some photos stuck to the fridge with magnets.
Four shots of him and Buffy. They were in a photo booth strip, like you found at a fun fair. She was clearly sitting on his lap in the booth. Kissing him, and laughing. Laughing not in derision or contempt, but with delight. She looked radiantly beautiful, in some kind of off the shoulder top, her hair loose, and he was beautiful too, mussed by her fingers, eyes shining. Looking at those little black and white squares, he almost experienced the slipping weight of her giggling body on his, the moist warmth of her nibbling mouth, the sensation of her hands caressing his neck and face. She'd smell like sweat and shampoo and taste of whatever seaside junk she'd been eatingcaramel corn, hot dogs. He'd never known her happy the way she so obviously was in these images. Never knew her to look at him like that.
His eye fell on something else. A folded piece of memo paper with an 'S' scrawled on it, tacked with a magnet near the photo strip. He couldn't think why he hadn't spotted it sooner.
The note said:
Happy anniversary, lover. Jemmie gets picked up at 5:00 and I'll be back by six. Be in bed. B.
Spike stared, his eyes bobbling back and forth between lover and bed. It was her writing, though he couldn't imagine Buffy scribbling those words with him in her mind. Not unless she was under some kind of seriously heavy spell. He was hard instantly, aching for her.
He wanted to see her. The Buffy in those pictures, the Buffy who'd written this note, he had to wait here until she returned. All the love he held for her, in no way diminished though he'd firmly put it aside, took him over again as entirely as it ever had. He wanted her like blood, like sleep, like poetry and beauty. She was all those things. She was his soul.
Even though it would be a million times harder afterwards to announce that he was misplaced.
This was wicked, he knew that. His hard-won conscience blazed up at the idea of tricking her for his pleasure. But even reformed he was still Spike, his mind still ran as ever to what he could get away with, what would gratify him.
Even as he knew he must return to the battle, he wanted this one impossible chance to hold a completely willing Buffy in his arms. To kiss her ... tohis mind ran aheadto undress her and have her, slowly and every which way, upstairs in that big bed, with no shame on her part, no reserve haunting her tired eyes.
Oh bloody fucking hell yes. Couldn't he wait around for that? How likely was it, even if he spoke up now, that they could return him to the alley? Or that time there was running the same way? For one thing, it was daytime when he awoke here, but the battle he'd left was going on at night. If they could get him back there, maybe they could put him down right where he'd left. Or sooner. Maybe they could put him somewhere where he could make a strategic difference.
Yeah. Like that. So what harm if he waited a bit, to see her? If he raised the Scooby alarm now, he'd have no chance with Buffy.
"Papa, down!" Jemmie cried.
Absently, still focused on his fantasy, Spike lifted the girl down off the high stool. She scampered out of the room. Xander rose then too, put his coffee cup in the dishwasher. "I'd better go if I'm going to pick up those frames. I'll be back in an hour, okay? Get here before Buffy does."
"Yeah, okay," Spike said. "Uh, thanks." Watching Xander go to the door, he wondered how it possibly could've come about that any version of himself, any version of Xander, could be friends. Leaving aside that Xander loathed him, he'd always loathed Xander. The kid was a witless fuck-up, and despite his tendency to attract demon girls, a hopeless mundane. Why would Wolfram & Hart think he'd believe in this friendship he never sought? Though they apparently expected him to believe that Buffy left him little mash-notes in the kitchen.
Fucking hell. Gonna believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Yet when Xander paused to smile and wave as he went out, Spike's heart lifted.
No one in his LA life ever did anything like that.
"Papa, I have to go potty."
He was rifling Buffy's desk when the tug came on his jeans leg.
"Bloody hell. So go on then, Bit. Go."
She frowned. "You have to take me."
"I have towhat?"
"Paaaa-pa. Stop fooling." She danced a little, holding her crotch.
"All right then." Scooping her up, taking the stairs in threes, he wondered: how was this possible? What Buffy in her right mind would try to raise a kid while cohabiting with him? And how did she get pregnant anyhow? Couldn't be his. Sperm donor? He couldn't get his mind around it.
At least the girl didn't expect him to pull her pants down. He had to lift her onto the toilet though, and then didn't know whether to turn his back or not. In all his decades of experience, this had never come up.
He wanted to get back to the desk; he'd just found a diary in one of the drawers, and had high hopes there'd be some useful information in it.
But now she was on the can, young Jemmie seemed more interested in singing and kicking her little red-shoed feet than in doing her business.
Finally she produced the necessary. Spike carried her back down to the desk. The diary was intriguingly scrawled in the same handwriting as the note. But it only went back to the beginning of the yearfive months.
The diary read like an outline for one of those chick novels Harmony used to read listlessly during off momentsShopping and Fucking books, they were called. The accounts of slaying were perfunctoryshe seemed to have a system of symbols to indicate the various spots and what she'd killed there, but the new clothes and their apparently constant screwing were outlined with relish. They did it, as far as he could tell, every day, and everywhere, and everyhow. And while they did, he sometimes said things to her that she saw fit to jot down afterwardsendearments, bawdy compliments. Their lovemaking, daily as it was, didn't jade her; she recorded it happily just as she wrote about Jemmie's cute sayings, the sale at 9 West, the new TV shows she liked, how she'd cut herself wittling stakes, the recipe she'd tried ... it was, Spike realized, as he turned over page after page, actually supremely dull. A day-to-day record of a contented life. If there was a Big Bad brewing, she didn't mention it.
He brought the book up to his face and inhaled hard. It smelled like her ... but more and more he couldn't bring himself to believe in this so-called reality. A scenario of Buffy-and-Spike-Livin'-La-Vida-Doméstica was far far wackier than if he'd been asked to believe that she was a whore and he was her pimp, or ... or even the other way around.
He knew about alternate universes, every demon did. But this ... this one was just too damn improbable.
A knock came at the front door.
He opened it to Faith.
"Hey," she said, shuffling in, her hands in her pockets. She looked pretty much as he remembered her. Same style, same stance, though she was curiously subdued at the moment. Looked worried. "B here?"
Jemmie came thundering up; Faith lifted and swung her towards the ceiling, which produced a shriek of delight from the child. "Hey girlfren, whatcha doin'?"
"Papa an' me are hanging out."
"How's that going?"
"Papa's in a bad mood."
Faith looked towards him, an eyebrow raised. "You're in a bad mood? That makes two of us," she said. "You got any coffee?"
"If Xander didn't drink it all."
"He was here?" She started towards the kitchen. This was starting to feel like a soap opera.
"Yeah, an' he'll be back soon."
"Shit." She was frowning now like she had a migraine coming on. "This is so fucked up."
"What's fucked up?"
She studied him for a moment, then shrugged. "I was gonna ask B, but what the hell. You'll do. I happen to know Xander went and blew some very large bills on buying me a fucking ring. A diamond! Now how in the hell am I going to fend that off?"
"Why fend it off at all."
"Fuck that noise."
"He loves you."
"Why can'tthings are good like they are. Hell, they're better by about a million percent than I ever thought my piss poor life would be. So why's he got to fuck it up by shoving marriage proposals at me?"
A soap opera. That's what this was. They'd taken all the people he used to know, and stuck them into this insanely absurd scenario, starring himself as a desperate housewife confined inside 1630 while the sun was out and forced to field endless visits from lovelorn walk-ons. Maybe the sun was always out. Maybe that was where it turned into hellthe sun always out, the doorbell always ringing, Buffy always gone, the kidlet always needing the toilet. Forever.
Faith was sitting now on Xander's stool, similarly staring into a coffee mug.
"I can't do this. I can't take the ring, can't get fuckin' hitched. But if I don't ... Spike, I can't lose him. I can't."
"So don't. Why's it got to be so complicated? Wear the ring, say the words, go on bein' yourself."
Her face twisted in exasperation. Looking at her, shooting anxiety like sparks in the bright kitchen, Spike remembered when he was in a similar stateback before he gave up on Buffy, gave up on romantic love. No one had loved him for a long time, and he'd stopped expecting that to change. Getting a soul made him less lovable, he felt, not more. In the last year he hadn't stopped wanting and revering Buffy, he'd just stopped maintaining even the thinnest glimmer of hope that she'd ever want him, or that she even should. He didn't wish to see her, or for her to know he still existed. He liked thinking that by staying behind in the hellmouth, he'd made her nice new Spike-free life possible, but mostly he didn't even think about that.
It was easier in a lot of ways, but ... but there was still something to said for what Faith was fighting so shy of.
"Sometimes greater part of valour is capitulatin'."
"Just sayin', pet. Know it's nuthin' a vampire or a slayer wants to hear."
"I don't know how to" Suddenly she punched the countertop. The tiled surface cracked like ice beneath her fist; Jemmie let out a wail and grabbed his leg.
Faith stared, and wrung her hand. "Shit, man. Sorry."
"Better that than Xander's face. You be nice to him when he gives you that rock, all right? Least you can do."
"Least I can do," Faith echoed, sounding dazed. "Shit. I'd better go."
He was glad to see the back of her; was in no mood to field her and Xander in the same place at the same time.
As it turned out, Xander drove up five minutes after Faith drove off.
"S'like Bloody King's Cross Terminal in here," Spike muttered.
Xander with the picture frames was like Xander at work. He quickly sorted frames and photos by size, matched them up; his hands were deft as he removed the backs, fitted the pictures into the frames, adjusted the glass, replaced the backs. He handed them one by one to Spike, to replace on the mantlepiece.
He couldn't recall the order they were in, and anyway, Buffy was bound to notice sometime that they weren't exactly the same frames. He really didn't want to handle these pictures anymore. The life they depicted wasn't his, and shouldn't be. He was being fooled about, tricked and tempted. He was quite possibly going to betray his comrades and his own conscience by staying here longer than he might have to, because even now he was still weak and susceptible. A perfect pawn for whatever game the Partners were playing with him.
Buffy would be back in less than ninety minutes, and the thought of being able to take her in his arms made Spike feel weak and desperate and lit up with joy. Even if she was a hoax, or just a substitute like the Buffybot, he was still fool enough to desire that toy consolation.
His task finished, Xander, suddenly solemn, offered Spike a hand. He hesitated for a moment, then put his own out to accept Xander's clasp. "Congratulations, man."
"You did all the work."
"Not about the pictures, you dummy. Congratulations on the anniversary. Never thought I'd say it, let alone as often as I do, but you're good for the Buffster. So, many happy returns and all that."
"Ah ... yeah. Thanks."
"I'd better go get started if I'm ever going to have an anniversary of my own."
"Good luck with that," Spike said, thinking Xander certainly wasn't in for a pleasant evening. For a second Spike considered warning him, but quickly decided it was none of his business. Even if he was the Spike who belonged in this place, better to keep quiet. But he wasn't, and since when did he give a tinker's about Xander? Let him suffer.
When the door closed, the house felt curiously still. Spike stood in the foyer for a few moments, listening, inhaling. The whole house smelled like Buffy, and like the little girl, whose aroma was similar to her mother's, but sweeter, with that sweetness of preadolescence, before the pores got bunged up and the sweat turned rank. The scent of little girl children had always roused his appetite; now it just made him uneasy.
Where was she, anyhow? He recalled with a start that he was supposed to be in charge of her. Sick joke that that was. And she was being entirely too quiet.
He found Jemmie stretched out under a table in the back room, asleep on her belly with a toy truck clutched in her hand. Might be just as well to leave her there; he wanted to reconnoiter a bit more while he had the place to himself, so he returned to the bedroom he'd awakened in.
The candles had burned down some; he could see that they were kept more or less perpetually burning, but he couldn't sense any magic about them. Just for the crypt-y atmosphere, then. Right. Anyway, their flickering glow was plenty bright enough for him to see everything in the place.
In her jewelry box, amidst huge jumbles of costume stuff, some of which he was startled to find familiar, he saw the big silver skull ring he'd used to engage himself to her under Willow's spell. Odd enough that she'd hung onto it, he was gobsmacked to realize that it was strung on a chain, which suggested she sometimes wore it around her neck. How much more of this were they going to expect him to swallow?
The big closet was almost entirely full of her clothes. The Eau De Slayer they gave off when he flung open the doors was overpowering; he was engulfed by nostalgia, and hard again in his jeans.
There were some more photos, too, hanging on the wall. But these weren't of her and hers; they were old, sepia-toned. He had to stare at them for a bit before the faces, in unfamiliar circumstances, swam up to greet his comprehension.
His sisters. Sisters? A sick feeling gripped his temples; he blinked, tried to gather his thoughts. Sisters. Yes, of course he'd had sisters. Hadn't he ...? When he tried to place them, with him, in their old home, everything went foggy. He couldn't see it. Yet as the three solemn faces in the stiffly posed portrait wavered in and out of familiarity, he knew it was true.
He couldn't find their names. The confusion burned at him, like acid in the gut. He remembered his mother, remembered coming home to her with Drusilla, remembered what had happened that night. Didn't he? Because they'd brought all that back to him with that worm in the stone spell. But now he couldn't bring to mind anything else about his human life. All those things he'd left behind when he was turnedit never occurred to him that he'd forgotten, because he just wasn't in the habit of reflecting back on them. So that now, as he looked at the three still young ladies, with their arms clasped about each other's waistsand at the little girl in the pinafore, who was a younger version of the youngest one, serious and intelligent looking like Tenniel's Aliceand at the wedding daguerrotype of the clergyman and his young wife who must be his parentsSpike's mind twirled and heaved, trying to fight off what was flooding in. Memories so far blotted out he wasn't even aware of their loss.
He looked and looked, and the more he did, the less sure he was of anything from the human past.
What were their names? If he could get the bloody names, then maybe ... backing away, he sat down hard on the unmade bed. Why were they messing him about like this? This wasn't in the brochure. Hadn't he done his duty? Got his soul, made his sacrifice, come back against his will and yet gone right back into the good fight? So why this?
Why was it so painful, seeing those faces that had come so unstuck from him?
They'd died ahead of him. He knew that muchknew it all at once from scratch, with the sudden awful blow of a telegram delivered on a wintery afternoon. He'd loved those girls, and lost them before he ever stumbled out and lost himself. What were their blasted names?
Bloody fucking hell! Spike leapt up, went back to the pictures. Jemimathat was the little girl in the pinafore. His favorite sister, his particular darling. The other two were older than him, but she was younger. She was the last, the family's treasure.
When she died, everything was ruined.
Buffy had named her daughter Jemima.
The voice shrilled out again. "Where is your father? Where are you? Jemima!" It was followed by steps, and a moment later Anya loomed in the doorwayamazing how such a slip of a woman could loom. In one arm she held the Cuisinart he'd noticed in Buffy's kitchen. "Here you are! Well? Where's the kid?"
"You were supposed to have her ready, Spike. We're in a hurry too, you know."
"Where're you goin' with that?"
"You know this is mine. Buffy needs to learn to return things when she borrows them. How am I supposed to make that ratatouille Rupert likes when my Cuisinart is at your house?"
"Oh. Yeah. Well. Kiddie was havin' her nap downstairs, little while ago. 'Spect your bellowin's roused her."
Wait a tickRupert?
He was about to open his mouth when Jemmie entered at her habitual shot-from-canons trajectory, a towel trailing behind her.
"You certainly are. Are you ready to go?"
"Anya, you cook for Rupert ... uh, often?"
Her look could have burned through titanium. "What are you implying? I take very good care of my husband! Ask anyone! Ask him!"
Her husband? It was all Spike could do not to burst out laughing. Giles and Anya!
Soap Opera World really was the Land Of The Mismatched Couples, wasn't it? Too right. Next thing would be Tara coming back in hand in hand with Warren.
"Not implyin' anything, love."
"Well, good. You don't want to alienate me when you expect me to babysit so often." Seizing Jemima's hand, Anya turned. "I can't stand here chatting, Rupert is waiting in the car. Come along, sweetheart."
Giles was outside. Giles, who ought to be told, if he told anyone, that something was wonky in Wonkland. Giles, who'd know how to rally the mind and muscle that might be able to get him back to his own place.
Giles, who'd set him up to be killed by Wood.
Giles, who wouldn't send help when Angel called up and asked for it.
Well, fuck Giles. Didn't want to see him now. Wanted to just stay here and wait for what was going to happen next, what the decks were so clearly being cleared for. The return of the fake Buffy of this fake world ... this fake beautiful world where they were all friends and all getting on with things. He'd wait for that Buffy to come home and smile at him.
After that, maybe, the abyss. But he'd have it first.
See Part Two in the following post.