Dreidel 12

Mar. 7th, 2007 01:27 pm
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Bit of a reveal and absolutely no cliffhanger in this one. Beta'd as usual by the lovely [livejournal.com profile] slackerace.
Feedback is food... but you know what? I've read at least three good fics this week that I've yet to comment on, so I probably deserve to starve.

Previous Chapters Here



Chapter Twelve

The Angels are lost in the city of stars
The wise men are down on their knees
~ Magdalen Lane, Don McLean


Buffy watched as Spike picked nervously at his finger nails. Every so often this stopped being sufficient distraction and he'd wander along the back counter, standing awkwardly in a slightly different part of the shop. The vampire had hardly been relaxed to start with but the spell seemed to have him even more on edge and Buffy wasn't sure why - the Slayer had long ago accepted she was never going to be the most perceptive of people but today that irked her. She longed to set him at his ease if only to cease the mindless fidgeting but she couldn't fathom exactly what was bothering him.

After five minutes of Buffy umming and ahhing over the spell, Anya had taken over impatiently, much to Buffy's relief. Armed with a tourist map of Sunnydale that showed the town centre in minute detail and Spike's neat transcript of Willow's spell, the vengeance demon sat in the middle of her sand circle, trying to clear her mind as Spike paced.

His duster sat in a neatly folded pile by Anya's crossed legs. Spike had appeared fascinated by his erstwhile second skin, one eye often on the garment like he longed to ask a question and Buffy could guess what. But he didn't ask, and even if he had Buffy wouldn't have explained how he'd come to leave it at her house. His silence saved her the effort of lying.

He asked a question now though, breaking in on Buffy's thoughts. "What if the spell shows I'm in Alaska?"

"It's a map of Sunnydale, Spike. It doesn't show Alaska," put in Dawn snidely from her perch on the counter.

"If it shows you're not in Sunnydale it would mean you're not the Spike who left that coat here," said Buffy, with a brief and mostly resigned glare at her sister. "That's all it would mean."

"Could we have a little silence," said Anya sharply. "I'm going to chant."

And chant she did, a short verse of rhyming gobbledygook, to Buffy's ears at least. The end result was a neat hole burnt into Anya's map. The Slayer leant over to check.

"Well unless there's another Spike hiding in the basement, I'd say that was fairly conclusive," she confirmed. "On the bright side, there's not going to turn out to be two of you." Anya opened her mouth and, anticipating a comment about how two Spikes might be no bad thing, Buffy rushed to continue. "Now we just have to find out why your memories are different."

Another bright side, Spike was finally standing still. Stock still, regarding Buffy carefully. The Slayer didn't know how she felt herself, except that now the answer had come she could be fairly sure she'd been expecting the other one. Feeling all eyes on her, she tried to keep her mind on the practical conundrums but Dawn obviously wasn't thinking the same way.

"So, are we allowed to hate him now?" she asked coolly.

Buffy saw Spike turn his eyes briefly towards her sister, flinching under the force of her glare.

"Only if you forget he just saved you from a fate worse than death," replied Buffy in a voice she hoped conveyed the threat of groundings. Just to be certain, she changed the subject. "Hey, it explains why your hair is only half grown out."

"It is?" Spike started tugging on his overgrown locks, trying to pull his hair down in front of his eyes so he could see for himself.

"You look silly," put in Anya, rising from her magic circle. "And slightly effeminate."

"She means girly," Dawn corrected. "And stupid."

Buffy coughed. "Helpful suggestions?" she asked pointedly, with another glare for Dawn.

"Maybe he's been in a hell dimension for years?" offered the teen half-heartedly.

"Wouldn't my hair grow in another dimension?" Spike glanced so timidly at Dawn as he spoke, so patently afraid to contradict her, that Buffy decided she couldn't hate him for really being Spike after all. He might be the same evil vampire underneath but the annoying parts were all still absent and besides, Dawn was doing enough hating for the both of them.

"Does vampire hair grow slowly?" asked Anya.

"Spike touched his roots up, like, every week," said Dawn. "He was such a woman."

"I think it must be some kind of spell," said Buffy firmly, determined to keep this conversation to the research matter at hand.

"Stasis then," said Dawn. "Your hair doesn't grow in stasis."

"So say bad science fiction films."

"And vampires aren't science fiction?"

"No, they're... myth. Stasis isn't a real thing."

"It would be the wrong way around anyway," said Anya sensibly, and Buffy gave her a grateful smile. "He's not lost three years, he's just re-written them. And the hair might be irrelevant. Someone else could have dyed it, or maybe it stopped growing because he wasn't feeding well, you shouldn't base all your theories on that."

"Can we base all our wild speculation on his hair? 'Cause I think 'theories' is over-dignifying."

"Stasis is wild speculation, alternate dimensions are theory," said Buffy.

"It could even be something to do with the chip itself," said Anya. "Everything seems to change from when he had it put in."

"Could be," agreed Buffy. She opened her mouth to mention how Spike had said he couldn't hit demons, but for some reason shut it again. She didn't want it to be anything to do with the chip, the chip was an ethical knot that she'd rather leave well alone. "But I'm still thinking spell. When Willow gets here-"

"What!" If Dawn had been irritable before she was furious now. "When did that happen?"

"Umm... Last night?" Buffy took a guilty step back from the wrath of Dawn. "Giles said she was ready to come back and-"

"...and you just forgot to mention it."

"Again, there's been a lot going on here," Buffy defended. "And I was focusing on your clothing needs," she added weakly. "It honestly slipped my mind, okay?"

"And will she be staying in my home too? There's going to be two psycho killers-"

"That's not fair, Dawn."

"Well I don't like people who try and kill me!"

That was a point hard to argue with. Though Dawn had sometimes managed, when Buffy had used that very line to justify her antipathy to a newly chipped Spike. 'Pfft, that was months ago' had been Dawn's response, if she remembered rightly. But bringing up past arguments would only make Dawn madder, especially if they proved Buffy right, as would getting pedantic about the difference between 'trying' and 'threatening to'. No doubt about it, next time she was reintroducing a temporarily evil former best friend into the household she'd have to plan ahead and use a little psychology.

"Xander will be back in a few days," she appeased. "Willow can stay with him then if you really don't want her at ours." Oh the joy to come. Xander hating Spike, Anya hating Xander. Dawn's tantrums were probably a kindness, breaking her in gently. If it wasn't for the torture she might have envied Spike his memory loss.

"And what about Spike? If I don't want him there?"

"Well Willow can fix him, and he can go back to wherever he was before he got his brain melted." Before Xander gets back from L.A. and I have to have this conversation all over again, Buffy added silently. She spared a sympathetic thought and glance at the vampire in question but he was looking at Dawn, expression carefully guarded.

"She'll be here tomorrow, Dawn. You don't really want me to throw them both out on the streets, do you? Maybe Anya-"

"No," said the vengeance demon bluntly. "And she's not coming in my shop either. Nothing is going to spoil the grand reopening."

"A few days," said Dawn grudgingly. "Now can we go? Unless there's going to be donuts. That cheese-burger from the mall is ancient digested history, y'know?"

Buffy looked outside at the darkening sky and nodded. "I'll just get all your shopping out of the car. No offence, Anya, but I never want to see that thing again."

********


Momentarily left alone with Dawn, Spike wrapped his arms tightly around himself and stared at his socks. But he could sense the girl approaching and when she was close enough for him to feel her body heat the vampire was forced to look up.

"Spike. You sleep, right? You. Vampires. You sleep?"

He hesitated, nodded.

"Well, I can't take you in a fight or anything, even with a chip in your head. But you do sleep. If you hurt my sister at all... touch her... you're gonna wake up on fire."

Piece said, the girl turned on her heel. Spike hugged himself tighter.

********


The walk home might have been perilously awkward but, inspired by the fear of uncomfortable silence, Buffy remembered the gossips of Dawn's last school year. One tactical mention of the former favourite Janice and the teen was off on a rant far removed from vampires and witches and literal killings.

Unbeknownst to Buffy, Dawn was finally ready to be distracted. Lacking the self-awareness of an adult, she didn't fully understand her own reasons for threatening Spike, or the uneasiness his silent response caused in her. Like Buffy two days earlier, she'd expected Spike to be pleased to see her, even though she wasn't about to let herself be pleased to see him, and had let it hurt when the vampire had barely glanced in her direction. As she could hardly blame Spike for his amnesia that hurt spilled over into more rational grievances, which had led to her controlled outburst. And instead of shocking him into attention the vampire had accepted the threat as his due, serving Dawn a side order of guilt to go with the hurt. It was all so confusing.

Dawn had enjoyed planning Spike's rescue with Anya, being part of the in-charge team who made decisions while her usually bossy sister had taken an antipathetic back seat. It was a nice change from playing gooseberry to the competent Scoobies and even nicer not to be the person in need of a rescue, but it didn't look as if anyone was about to thank her for her part. Worse than the total lack of gratitude - Dawn had been relegated straight back to gooseberry. If it hadn't been for Dawn, Buffy would never have gone to rescue him and it wasn't just that she expected thanks, the girl had expected herself to be the only person on his side. Instead, while she'd been dumped on Anya, Buffy and Spike had once again formed their own little club that left her excluded.

Still, Dawn's sulks couldn't make her impervious to Spike's condition. He'd lost the starved look that had so shocked her in LA and his cuts and burns, the ones not covered by the T-shirt at least, had faded to old scars already, but the personality was entirely absent. The meekness not an act to impress her sister as Dawn had wanted to believe but a real lack-of-Spike. In fact, Dawn was forced to conclude, maybe she was being unfair. And she resolved to be nicer to the vampire, despite the provocation of Buffy being nice to him too.

So she let her sister divert the conversation to school, and when the chatter ran out Dawn moved up the pace, walking ahead so she wouldn't even have to look at Spike. Vampire and Slayer followed her silently.

********


Buffy fixed dinner for her and Dawn as soon as they got home, and they were sitting down and eating before she realised Spike had not followed them into the house. She could sense him nearby, though, and was grateful for the time alone to think once Dawn had shovelled down her food and disappeared upstairs. She cleaned up meticulously after dinner, deliberately delaying patrol, not quite ready to talk to Spike.

Buffy could no longer defer serious thought until after the spell. Unless Willow's spell-casting skills had slipped considerably Spike was most definitely the same creature that had spent three confusing years in Sunnydale, despite all evidence to the contrary. And presumably, sooner or later, he would revert to the vampire that she knew. Two days ago, she'd just wanted him to go back to his normal, obnoxious self so she could kick him out with a clear conscience but since then things had got more confusing. In fact, Buffy paused with the thinking to indulge in a brief day dream of never fixing him at all. Ignorant herself of the intricacies of magic, Buffy was nonetheless confident that Willow could fix whatever had been done to the vampire but it would have the distinct disadvantage of turning him back into Spike.

And okay, Buffy wouldn't really leave him in that state for the sake of her own quiet life, but it did make her warier of her interaction with him. This Spike could see a threat in the slightest thing but her Spike could take a broken nose as a come-on, which made conversation a tight rope. For both their sakes her Spike needed to give up on his Slayer obsession and taking him in like this could only fuel the fire, if he ever remembered. Not taking him in would have been cruel beyond what Buffy was capable of. This evening even hating Spike seemed a distant and unobtainable dream.

When the last dish was dried she found him sitting on the porch steps, contemplating the sky.

"Getting more of that fresh air?" she asked conversationally, sitting down beside him. He didn't turn his head.

"Maybe I shouldn't stay here," said Spike abruptly.

"That's your choice," Buffy answered carefully. She hardly wanted to order him to stay, a mere day after telling him he was free to leave, but it made much better sense to Buffy to keep him where Willow could fix him. Whatever Buffy's personal preferences, and she wasn't sure herself, he was safest here. So she kept her voice casual as she asked: "Any particular reason?"

"Your sister doesn't want me here. Don't want to cause trouble between you."

"We're sisters, fighting is our natural state. She's only acting up."

"Because I tried to kill her?"

"What!" But the plaintive confusion in his voice stopped Buffy's anger rising too far and she remembered Dawn's words earlier. "You don't mean recently, do you?"

The vampire shook his head. "I don't know. I don't remember, do I?"

"Dawn was talking about Willow earlier. She meant Willow tried to kill her, not you."

That got his attention; the vampire turned his head to goggle at her. "Are we talking about the same person here? Cute little redhead with a penchant for dungarees?"

Buffy couldn't quite stifle a smile at his obvious astonishment. "That's the one. Only she's more with the flowing tie-dyed look now. There was this thing back in May, someone killed her friend and she went a bit crazy. She didn't really try to kill Dawn, she just said she was going to, but seeing as she'd just killed two other people we kinda took her seriously "

Spike let out a whistling breath through his teeth. "Last time I saw her I was waving a broken bottle in her face, and she was mostly cowering."

"It's probably best if you don't try that again," said Buffy dryly, "She might vaporise you. So, are you staying?"

He hesitated, uncertain. "Dawn was just being a brat," Buffy said again. "Half of all that was getting at me for making her stay at Anya's, and the other half... Well I told her she had to be nice, so she made an extra effort to be horrible. If I'd thrown you out she'd be sulking just as much."

"She hates me," said Spike bluntly.

"No she doesn't. Well... only half the time. You should have heard her a few days ago, all 'you have to go and rescue Spike'."

He raised a sceptical eyebrow. Maybe it was just because she knew who he was now, but Buffy could have sworn she saw the old Spike in that familiar expression. Indeed, his eyebrows had been strangely inactive over the past two days and maybe, subconsciously, that was a part of why Buffy had managed to convince herself he wasn't her Spike at all, that and the silence. Those eyebrows lent his face expression enough to convey sentences with a single glance and he just wasn't Spike without it. And though Buffy tried hard to convince herself there could be nothing erotic about an eyebrow, still that familiar look caused a tremor that Buffy tried hard to label learned behaviour.

"Dawn will be fine," Buffy said as the silence started to stretch. "And you're a vampire - you can tough out a few slammed doors, right?"

He shrugged. "If you're sure."

"I'm sure. And if she scares you then you can patrol with me, she'll be in bed by the time we get back. And Willow will be back tomorrow, hating her will take up most of Dawn's time."

The vampire smiled, an amusement without malice or mockery that definitely wasn't familiar from the old Spike, but still, an expression Buffy was coming to like, and he fell in with the idea of patrolling easily enough. "Not that I'm scared," he added hastily.

"Then you really don't remember my sister," Buffy joked, and was rewarded by another smile. "I was going to ask you to come patrolling anyway. I thought we could maybe find a vampire for you to punch, see if that chip really does work on demons now. Is that okay?"

He agreed, as Buffy knew he would. Spike seemed to have lost the ability to really argue with anyone. The Slayer trusted that the spell they'd done was correct, but aside from the occasional moment or mannerism she was having a hard time really believing the results. For all the talk of slavery and alternate dimensions Buffy couldn't imagine anything that could beat the communication out of Spike but there he sat, meek and mild and agreeing with everything she said.

"It'll all be okay when Willow gets here," Buffy said aloud, though the lie was more for her benefit than Spike's. He nodded again, as if he believed her, though if one little location spell had him dancing around on hot bricks she could only guess at what he really thought about having a powerful witch poking around in his head. Still, if he could pretend to believe everything was okay, Buffy could too.

"I'll just go and tell Dawn we're going, and I have the whole 'good night’s sleep, important new school year about to start' mom lecture to deliver. You can try your boots on while you're waiting, they're just in the kitchen. And if they don't fit, you can consider that Dawn's first revenge, because she picked them!"



And huge thanks to whoever nominated this fic and Let Nothing You Dismay for various stuff at the Love's Last Glimpse awards.
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