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Beta'd by [livejournal.com profile] slackerace

Chapter Thirteen

I don't want you to pledge your future
The future's not yours to give
Just stand there a little longer and let me watch while you live
~ If We Try, Don McLean


"Hit me."

Spike turned to blink at the Slayer. They'd been walking for an hour now in silence and the girl had obviously been deep in thought. Occasionally, to Spike's well-concealed amusement, moving her lips in time to the sentences running through her head. For a second he assumed she'd spoken unconsciously, but she turned to Spike and repeated her command. When he continued to gape at her she rolled her eyes.

"I'm starting to hate that look," she said with some asperity. "I haven't gone crazy. I don't mean, like, break my nose or anything, just hit me."

"Uh... No."

The Slayer looked stumped. Opened her mouth and shut it again, gave him a look he could have sworn was annoyed.

"This some kind of test?" Spike asked tentatively.

Buffy nodded. "That's right, a test."

"Did I pass?"

A snort of exasperated amusement from the Slayer. "I won't know until you hit me, will I? Besides, it's not really a pass or fail test." She stood in front of him expectantly. Spike hesitated.

"Why?"

"Because we've been patrolling for nearly an hour and we haven't seen a single vampire for you to punch. We're supposed to be testing your chip, remember? It's not a trap," she added impatiently when Spike continued to stare at her. "I'm not going to hit you back. I just want to know if your chip goes off."

The vampire curled his hand into a fist but couldn't quite bring himself to strike. It had been a good long time since Spike had hit anything at all but the swift and vicious punishments were seared into his memory. Conditioning that ran deeper than a few words of reassurance.

"My chip didn't work on you?" he asked, stalling as much as curious.

"Cellular suntan," said the Slayer with another of those explanations that explained nothing. "I'm still human," she added defensively, glared him down as if she expected him to argue.

"Was that a no?"

For a second Buffy glared harder and Spike took an instinctive step back. His nervous movement seemed to recall the Slayer to herself, and she rubbed a hand over her eyes with a sigh.

"Sorry. I keep forgetting how much you don't know, and that one is a touchy subject. No. Your chip didn't work on me. It didn't work on vampires or demons or robots. I'm not sure about animals - I never asked, and after the whole kitten poker thing I didn't really want to know. It's not like I'm the sworn protector of kittens. Would you just hit me already, before I ramble myself into some kind of tongue injury?"

Spike tapped her lightly on the arm and Buffy gave him a withering look. "That wasn't a hit. I've squeezed pimples harder than that."

Bracing himself for the shock he was sure would be coming, Spike punched her shoulder. Nothing happened. Spike stayed braced, couldn't help but expect retaliation of some kind, but the Slayer merely nodded as if confirming something she knew all along.

"Nothing, huh?"

Spike shook his head. The girl must have picked up on his unease because she put a calming hand on his arm. "It's alright. It shouldn't have gone off really, if it didn't before. This is just research, okay?"

She held his gaze until Spike nodded, though it wasn't okay, not from any direction. Much as he might wish the last three years had never happened it wasn't settling, not being able to trust your own mind and your own memories. And, as per usual, nothing made sense.

"Why didn't I kill you?"

The Slayer raised her eyebrows. "Did you miss the part where I'm stronger and faster and generally cleverer than you? C'mon, there've got to be some fledges you can hit around here somewhere."

She started walking again. Her normal response, Spike was realising, to almost any question. But this was his past, apparently, and he had to try and make some kind of sense of it.

"I mean," he tried again, "why didn't you stake me when I tried to kill you?"

"You didn't. He didn't, whatever. That is, you did, but not when you could so... I don't know." The Slayer grinned wryly at her own jumble of words. "I'm not helping any, am I?"

"I guess it's another of those long stories," said Spike diplomatically.

"Oooh, yeah. I'll try and give you the synopsis, you'll just have to say if it all sounds like nonsense.

"Your chip did work on me, at first. It never worked on other vampires but you didn't know that when you came to us, I suppose you'd only tried to bite people. And you did try and kill me a couple of times. You totally sold us out to this nuclear Frankenstein and... Well I don't know why I never staked you for that, to be honest. You just made like you'd never done a thing wrong and... you got away with it. And there was another time, you thought you'd got your chip out but you hadn't and... I might have staked you that time, but I was busy."

Spike was taking in this sudden flow of solid information with rapt attention that was having a noticeable effect on the speaker. The Slayer increased her pace a notch, as if to escape her one man audience, and the phrase 'I was busy' had a distinctively defensive ring to it. With sudden insight Spike realised he'd hit another sore spot with his 'why didn't you stake me' question; it was obviously something she'd asked herself before.

"Clearing up the mess you and Harmony made, mostly," the Slayer added, a touch snidely. "We needed a doctor and she'd beaten him up."

"Harmony?"

"This bimbo vampire you-"

"I remember who she was, just... wow."

"Yeah. You and Harmony. There was a plan that never had a chance. And afterwards it was kind of funny, you'd been all 'grrr' ready to bite me and... zap! You should have seen the look on your face, like Wile E. Coyote when he's realised he's run right off the cliff. You don't stake Wile E. Coyote, do you? Just laugh at him when he's foiled by his own stupid dastardly schemes."

"I made such a crap villain you couldn't be bothered to dust me?" summarised Spike. He felt like he should be bristling at this insult to his big bad self but nothing was coming; if all that had kept him undead was the crapness of his villainy then who was he to knock it?

"Something like that. You were... comic relief. Like Warren and his nerds until they, y'know, actually killed someone. And it should have gone the same way with you - sooner or later you'd have got the chip out or managed to kill someone instead of just trying to and then I'd have... dealt with you. Except you pretty much gave up on the whole evil plan thing and started helping - actually helping, not just for money. There was... you remember what I was telling you about my sister? That's when... There was this thing after her, a hell god, and she tortured you, this hell god, but you didn't tell her who Dawn was."

"That's what you meant when you said you owed me?"

"Yeah. Partly."

"Might be you're reading too much into that. Tell a body what they want to know and they've got no reason not to off you."

Buffy smiled slightly and shook her head. "That's not how it was," she said with a confidence that spoke of details omitted. From avoidance or for the sake of a simple narrative, Spike had no way of knowing. "There was other stuff and... Right. Wait. I'm getting off the point. Then I died, last summer, and a couple months later Willow brought me back from the dead."

"Willow?" Spike couldn't help but interrupt. He knew enough about magic to know that bringing someone back from the dead in a fit state to be walking and talking was very heavy stuff. Very heavy, dark stuff. "And we're still talking about the Willow that's popping back over the Atlantic to fix my little memory problem? She flying coach or broomstick?"

"Plane," Buffy answered automatically before catching herself and giving him a look. "And she's cut way back on the black magic."

"Still, reckon I'll be minding my manners when she turns up."

She gave him a disbelieving look. What felt like a liberatingly free tongue to Spike was obviously still unusually polite to the Slayer, then. He'd been making great efforts to be himself but it didn't come natural nowadays, the urge to wound, even with words, not returning with his confidence.

"I'm riding right over the part where you couldn't get any more polite. After I came back from the grave your chip didn't work on me, 'cause of the cellular suntan, but by then you'd stopped trying to kill us anyway so I never had a reason to stake you. And I guess, now, your chip not working on me just means it can't be the chip you remember which means.... Okay, which means we'll have to ask Willow what that means, because I don't know. But we should still find a demon to test it on."

Which means the chip that I remember was nothing more than a trick, finished Spike in his own head. Out loud, he said: "I don't remember Sunnydale ever being this quiet - looks like you really cleaned the place up."

The Slayer frowned. "I wish I could take credit, but... It's always quiet in summer. The big evils never start rolling in until the beginning of winter at least. But this year, the last couple of weeks, it's almost been eerie. There've been fledges and the odd little demon, the really stupid kind of evil, but not much of it. I even went to Willy's while I was looking for Dawn - the Alibi Room, do you remember? It was like there'd been a mass evacuation according to Willy, every evil thing finding a better place to be."

"Same people that took me, you think?"

"Maybe. Except, again according to Willy, they were going of their own free will. And if it was because they were frightened of those slave traders then one of them would have told me about it, right? I mean I virtually dissected this town looking for Dawn and... nothing. Even Clem... Do you remember Clem? No? I guess you didn't meet him until after the chip. He's a... a something I can't pronounce, he's living in your old crypt at the moment and he doesn't eat people. He said, and I quote, 'the air's just gotten scary, man.' Hey, if we can't find anything better you can always hit Clem."

But another twenty minutes of plodding in silence and, in the seventh cemetery of the night, they eventually turned up the promised fledgling. It felt strange to be fighting again, strange but not bad. Though even with Spike still under-weight, the newbie hardly gave him a real fight and the Slayer staked the hapless fledge as soon as she was satisfied his chip wasn't going to fire.

"Looks like everything's normal," said Buffy, dusting off her hands. "From my point of view, that is. Let's see if we can make it three for three. Do you have your necklace?"

A rhetorical question, presumably, seeing as he couldn't go anywhere without it, but Spike hesitated and he knew she saw it. He could follow her way of thinking just fine; if the chip didn't work as he remembered then there was a good chance that neither did the necklace. But still, it was a symbol of freedom more potent and solid than the right to vote. At least, that's what it had become since it found its way into his own possession and ceased being an invisible chain that made all thought of escape hopeless.

The Slayer's mouth quirked up in a knowing half-smile that wasn't unsympathetic. "Don't worry; I'm not going to wrestle you for it."

But Spike was already digging in his skin tight jeans pocket for the little stone. Perfectly sensible plan, after all, logical; and his symbol was nowt but a pebble if it didn't work. Besides, it was very hard to say no to the girl; just the way her laughter lines crinkled when she smiled made Spike want to give her everything she might possibly want.

The vampire firmly trod on that thought, the years of incarceration must have driven him sentimental. Still, he couldn't help but smile back, softly, as he placed the stone in her outstretched hand, and the effect on his companion was immediate and disturbing. Her eyes widened as they met his and she pulled her hand back sharply, flushed and flustered.

"I'll go this way-" she started quickly, looking away. "No, wait! You should be the one moving in case it really does work. Just go out of range, or, you know, until your chip goes off. I'll stand still."

Spike opened his mouth, not sure of what he'd done to offend, but unsure how to frame the question. Buffy stared steadily at the ground while he hovered until her natural impatience reasserted itself. "Well go on then!"

So obediently he went, a tad confused but that was nothing new. Spike jogged right across the graveyard and a good deal further before the last doubt was erased from his mind - the chip wasn't going to fire no matter how far he got. Maybe there should have been a temptation to keep right on going but Spike didn't feel it, and it wasn't a thirst for answers that sent him running right back to the Slayer.

It wasn't until he could see her standing where he left her that Spike could admit he'd been afraid she wouldn't be. It wouldn't make any sense for her to ditch him on patrol when she could just send him packing, but then fears were rarely rational. She looked up expectantly when she heard his footsteps on the grass.

"Nothing, right?"

Spike shook his head. "Nothing. But you already knew that, didn't you?"

"I was pretty sure. I went out, remember? To get blood, yesterday, and I was wearing this. I figured you'd have said something if your chip had been going off the whole time."

Casting his mind back to yesterday Spike wasn't so sure. She'd seemed eager enough to hurt him that morning and if she'd set the chip off he would have assumed it was deliberate, punishment for a rape he didn't remember. And he wasn't sure he would have blamed her. But he would have been unconscious by the time she returned, so safe to say she would have noticed. It wasn't an anomaly that had occurred to Spike before and if he'd thought on it any he would have assumed she'd simply left the thing behind.

"So this really is just a pretty stone," the Slayer continued. "Does this mean I can keep it?"

Spike looked at her in surprise. It was the first time since he'd been here he'd seen a real flash of the shallow valley girl he remembered pre-chip. The girl who liked shiny things. She misinterpreted the look on his face and hastily back-pedalled, throwing him the stone. "I totally understand if you want to smash it or something. Bad associations and-"

"Keep it," he interrupted, tossing the jewel back to her with a smile. She looked pleased, and though it went no way towards paying her back for rescuing him from hell, Spike was pleased that she was pleased. "It goes with your eyes."

It was enough to ruin the moment. The Slayer didn't return the stone to her neck but shoved it into her pocket with a mumbled thanks and started walking again. Briskly. This time, the vampire had an inkling of what he'd done wrong. Shouldn't even be noticing the delicate grey/green colour of her eyes; he could understand why she didn't want even a hint that he found her attractive. And he was trying hard not to. Well, not not find her attractive, exactly, because the Slayer was undeniably attractive to anything that's taste ran to human females, but Spike was trying to squash the feelings that had him constantly looking.

So he followed her quietly as she did a quick sweep of the town centre, and didn't try to reengage her in conversation. Tried plenty to guess what she was thinking, but knew she wouldn't turn around and stake him for one poorly thought out comment. It should have been enough, but it wasn't.

Two minutes past the Magic Box, Buffy remembered the international call she needed to make to Giles. She cited poverty as the reason for using the Magic Box phone but Spike suspected she just wanted to be away from inhumanly sharp ears. He could hardly begrudge her the privacy and didn't argue, even when she sent him home to her sister alone and unprotected.

********


Dawn had finished the ritual of digging out schoolbooks that had been forgotten over the summer and was as ready as she could be for the start of a new term - considering she'd missed the end of the last one due to the murder of one friend and the murderous rampage of another. She was putting the Oxy-10 touches to her beauty routine when a sharp gust of wind caught the door, banging it open against the dresser. The teen glanced up in annoyance and jumped to see Spike leaning casually against the doorframe.

"Fuck off!"

Dawn's sharp greeting came more from irritation at being caught unawares and showing it than any real hostility to Spike, and she would have regretted it but the vampire didn't seem to mind a bit.

"Tsk tsk, Bit. What'd your sister say, she heard you using language like that?"

"Are you gonna run and tell her?"

The vampire smirked; it wasn't a nice expression. "She ain't here."

A threat was perched at the tip of Dawn's tongue, the typical 'you'd better not have hurt her' fare, but something stopped her speaking. Maybe that sudden, clenching fear that he really had hurt Buffy. Packed off out of the way to Anya's, Dawn had hardly spent much time with Spike since his latest trip to the vet, but the difference between new Spike and old had been so marked even a self-absorbed teenager had to notice it. That difference was gone. The mousy brown roots still showed, but his hair was slicked back to his head and the bad boy duster had been reclaimed, hiding his weight loss and replacing the costume of nervous diffidence.

"She had something more important to do. Sent me back home to you all on my lonesome. Now isn't that trusting?"

This time there was no mistaking the threat in his tone, the mocking undercurrent. He took a step into the room and despite herself Dawn shrank back. He saw it and smiled.

"What's the matter, Niblet? Your sister knows I'd never hurt you."

And Dawn knew that too, didn't she? She didn't know why her fingernails were digging into the palms of her hands, why her mouth was suddenly too dry to make the expected flippant retort. Because Dawn had never been afraid of Spike. Not from the first time she'd seen him, sitting awkwardly with her mother in the sitting room. Not when she found out what he really was, not when he was tied up and angry in Giles's apartment, not even when she spotted him amongst her captors on that nightmare trip to LA, even though by then the trust she'd had in him should have been shattered.

But right now, something was wrong, wrong, wrong.

"What did you call me?"

"Niblet?" Spike repeated with exaggerated surprise. "I'm sorry, what would you prefer? Snacksize? How 'bout walking, talking, happy meal?"

If he hadn't been standing between her and the door, Dawn would have bolted then. In all the time she'd known Spike she'd never before seen that look directed at her. The look that promised a slow and painful death for his personal entertainment. The look she'd seen him give a hundred different demons right before he ripped them to shreds with hands and teeth. But she couldn't run, and Dawn was too accustomed to the threat of death to panic or scream; whatever Spike's intentions he couldn't physically hurt her. She folded her arms in front of her chest and pretended confidence she didn't feel.

"You can't touch me. You've still got a chip, remember?"

There wasn't even the pretence of sincerity in his wounded innocence. "But Dawn, I'd never try and hurt you," said the vampire through his smirk. "And of course my chip still works. I'd never lie about a thing like that, would I?"

His voice just invited her to ask, but Dawn knew better. Moved to her second line of defence. "You hurt me, my sister will kill you."

But Spike just smiled wider. "Maybe."

"What have you done to her?"

"Nothing. Well, nothing recently. She's just popped over to the Magic Box is all. Maybe it's not her I'm interested in. Maybe I've had my fill of that bitch. Already know how she screams when I hold her down and fuck her. What about you, pidge? You a screamer?"

He took another step into the room and Dawn hopped over the bed, finding it more important to keep distance between herself and Spike than to conceal her fear.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Me? I don't remember, do I? Don't remember you, don't remember trying to rape Buffy. Don't remember what a whiney, snivelling brat you are or how I ever put up with you. No, wait, I remember that bit. It's because I was fucking your sister blind every night. Just about made it worth listening to hours of you droning on about your stupid friends and their stupid clothes and stupid boyfriends. Course, that well's run dry."

"And you think faking amnesia is the way to get her back?"

"Back? Oh, no. I didn't think that. Tried every perversion going already with your sister, there weren't nothing she wouldn't do. It all gets old in the end, doesn't it?"

As surreptitiously as possible, Dawn picked up her flashlight from the bedside table. It wouldn't make much of a weapon against a supernatural being but it was all she had to hand, and Dawn was still trying to tell herself she wouldn't need it.

"Could be I just want revenge," mused the vampire. "Or fresh meat. So, how was your summer, Summers? You let any of those high school boys take a poke?"

Another step towards the bed and Dawn, but he was still between her and the exit. The teen tilted her chin and tried for defiance. "None of your business."

"Oh, but it makes such a difference. Virgin blood tastes so sweet. Almost as good as Slayer's blood. Feels so sweet too, virgin cunts. So tight it hurts to rape 'em, but the nice kind of pain, y'know. For me."

Well screw what she had to hand. Dawn reached down and yanked open her bedside drawer, not caring he could see just what she was doing. She took out a bottle of holy water. He took another menacing step forward.

"Make such a lovely gift for your sister, too. Nothing says thank you for dumping me like a mutilated corpse."

One more step away from her bedroom door and by now Dawn was desperate enough to take the risk. She threw the bottle of water blindly as she ran, heard it smash as she rounded the corner onto the landing. The girl didn't pause to listen for footsteps following her down the stairs as she raced for the front door, but Spike's mocking laughter rang in her ears.

To be continued...



There may be a tiny bit more of a gap between this chapter and the next. I started writing the rough draft of 14 two weeks ago and so far I'm on sentence four. They do cover two pages, I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse... I'm like a sloth in winter, seriously. A dead sloth.

Got my bag back, btw. Maybe I should have a little more faith in human nature but the estate I live on is, um, not exactly what you might picture when you think of Oxford and the main hobbies here seem to be vanadalizing stuff so I was pleasantly surprised.
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