By Mint Witch
RATING: PG-13, this chapter. Hey, nobody is forcing you to read this.
DISTRIBUTION: Previous chapters very kindly hosted at http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.html and ff.net, eventually.
DISCLAIMER: Joss is my type-monkey; I keep him chained under my desk. Naughty, Joss, no touching!
NOTE: Operating a computer while under the influence of Gin is never a good idea. The olives made me do it.
FEEDBACK: Oh, yes, please. And Little Spike-sicles for everyone who has fed the beast before.
7. A Very Brady Apocalypse
The Slayer almost missed the demon coming towards her, tingles running down her spine and jerking her back to attention less than fifty feet from the cemetery gates. Buffy looked up, searching for the source of that warning buzz and silently groaned when she located him. Not this, not now.
Suppressing an impulse to hide her face and beat a strategic retreat, Buffy worried at her lower lip and wondered if she could convince the grad student approaching her that she'd recently been in a terrible accident and lost her memory. Probably not. Maybe he hadn't seen her? Only if he'd gone completely blind in the past three days: the street light above her head picked her out like a spotlight. Or maybe a police helicopter. Buffy shuffled forwards, scuffing her boot on loose gravel, and glowered at the offending rock.
"Hey, Buffy!" Slater bobbed a nod, a sweet grin gracing his even, clean-cut features. "How's it going?" Swimmingly. Look, there! Behind you!
Buffy attempted a smile, reaching for friendly-and-casual, but landing on potential-stalker-beep-beep-beep. That wasn't fair. Other than his twice- weekly routine of casually running into Buffy, he was perfectly nice. Nice. She stuffed a variety of less charitable modifiers back down. The guy was in no way striving for Angelus and Spike's standard of spookiness, just cheerfully persistent in his suit.
Er. "Fine! You?" Maybe words of one syllable would distract the Brachen from Buffy's obvious mental impairment. Wait, somehow that didn't scan.
"Okay. Just heading home." He made the statement an offer, eyebrows climbing hopefully up his forehead, promising baked goods.
Buffy was not going to fall for that one again. Slater was perfectly capable of fetching himself safely back to his house without her help. Last time she'd walked with him, she had ended up spending two hours being gushed over by every female in his clan, all of them convinced she was the one to make an honest man out of their prodigal son. It was like trench fighting with muffins and tea. She still wasn't sure how she'd managed to get out without hurting anyone or ending up engaged.
"Okay, well, good to see you again. Gotta go! Bye!" Inanely waving, Buffy broke into a jog towards the cemetery gates, ignoring the disappointed look on Slater's face. Run away, run away! And no guilt. There shall be no Buffy- guilt associated with blowing off the very nice guy.
Somehow, no matter how often she told herself not to feel bad, she still got a little twinge every time she saw him. She'd been honest and forthright and all those synonymy things. So why did she still feel guilty about two tiny dates and one extraordinarily awkward 'let's just be friends' conversation? Maybe because Slater's definition of friend encompassed possible future romance, while hers was confined to panicked avoidance and nervous tics.
So much for buttonholing Spike while she still had her dander up. Buffy bid Irrationally Angry Buffy a fond farewell and welcomed Reasoned Adult Buffy back into the fold.
Buffy's steps slowed to a walk again, as she passed beneath the iron arch of the old burial ground. Spike had taken up residence in what was admittedly one of the nicer neighborhoods of Sunnydale, if you didn't mind all the dead people. The newer cemeteries really were graveyards, vast swathes of rolling green lawn studded with bland concrete memorials. At least here there were gracious benches, tasteful urns, and the occasional angel standing serene guard over the dearly departed. Most of the statuary dated from the late nineteenth century, judging by the inscriptions, a time when death was an art form, not a vaguely embarrassing faux pas. The residents had turned their last resting-place into a morbid plaza, compounding irony upon irony, as Buffy made her way to Spike's door.
She brushed suddenly sweaty palms against navy hips and took a deep breath. She wasn't here to ask him out, for goodness sake, she was here to. to. to what? Yell at Spike because Dawn snuck out? Give sanctimonious speeches and make hysterical accusations? Bomb his crypt, again? Buffy blew out her breath in a sigh, and shuffled mentally through her list of daily affirmations, seeking one that would apply to confusing relationships involving the formerly evil dead and mystical sisters. Nope, nothing. Where was Jack Handy when you needed him? Oh, yeah, he's dead, too.
Well, she'd wing it. They would have that talk-talk, she could reassure herself that nothing more evil than the usual assortment of demons lurked in the crypt, and, assuming appropriate footwear was available, invite back out Spike to go patrolling.
Oh dear lord, it was a date. Buffy had already invited him out, to the Slayer equivalent of a movie. They'd even had dinner first. The realization sparked a sudden attack of butterflies armed with machine pistols in her gut. This was what had been missing over the summer: sweaty palms and anticipatory insects.
The Slayer jigged nervously in place, then did the unthinkable. Raising her hand, she slowly closed it into a fist and cordially made introductions: fist, door, and door, fist. This is called knocking. Innovative and strange, but it could catch on.
Waiting for the door to be answered was excruciating. A small eternity passed while Buffy gravely considered the drawbacks of common courtesy. Maybe she could just kick it in, but that was naturally followed by the irrational rampage she'd resolved to avoid. What was taking so long? Three, maybe four seconds had passed!
The door swung open on the smiling face (don't look down! Do not look down!) of Hattie. "Hello again!" The woman stood in the door, patiently expectant. Buffy pushed her Slayer senses outwards, towards the female, seeking the source of the dissonance she provoked. Not a vampire, or even a demon, but different somehow. Weird. Hattie just looked back at her, serene and cheerful.
"Um. Hi. Is. is Spike in?" What was wrong with her? Buffy, not Hattie, but her, too. Argh.
Hattie didn't seem to notice that Buffy was losing her mind; she stepped back and beckoned Buffy inside with a graceful gesture uncannily reminiscent of Buffy's mother. "Come in. I'll get him." The woman smiled sweetly, and turned away.
The upstairs was empty of anyone else, the TV muted and flashing blue light at the walls. Laughter and music drifted from the lower level on pungent clouds. Thoughts that had tickled at her earlier returned and resolved into comprehension. The sense of relief at the human scale of Spike's latest peccadillo was nearly overwhelming. This Buffy could handle.
Hattie disappeared down the ladder to be replaced a moment later by Spike warily popping his head out of the opening. A burst of loud laughter propelled him the rest of the way upstairs: he gazed at Buffy, looking bewildered.
"Pet? You okay?" He seemed genuinely concerned.
"What? I'm fine!" Ripping Spike a new one and related Slayer fun was way easier than this. "Can we talk? Do you have a minute?" That couldn't have been any more awkward if she'd planned it. Buffy dropped wearily onto a sarcophagus and sighed into her hands. Spike's return had obviously unhinged her; it would be better for everyone if she just checked herself into a nice clinic staffed with quiet, soothing people who wore lots of white.
Spike sat himself beside her, keeping a close but careful distance. "You don't seem alright. You knocked!" He seemed slightly shocked by the uncharacteristic behavior.
Buffy dropped her hands into her lap and laughed quietly. "Didn't mean to scare you, I was just-" How to start this conversation? "I've been working on this little Slayer-Self-Improvement project. Dawn calls it 'trying not to be such a enormous be-atch.' I prefer the phrase 'voyage of self- discovery' myself." She laughed again. "Dawn is more honest than I am."
"Okay." Spike looked away from her, guarded but attentive. She'd forgotten he could do that, just sit and wait for her. The vampire was excellent at being there, sometimes, without expectations, simply present. It was very soothing.
She leaned into him, coming to rest against his shoulder. Obligingly, he scootched closer and wrapped his arm around her.
"Just tell me you're not hiding anything worse than recreational drug use down there? Please?" His shirt muffled her imploring whine, but her words were clear enough to make him start and try to pull away. She clamped onto his waist and held him in place. "Spike?"
Spike relaxed and she felt him shrug. "Nope, you got me, Slayer. I'm dead meat, go ahead and stake me. Illegal, immoral, a bad example for the kiddies, all that, right?"
Was he? Her feelings twisted and tangled, hissing contradictions in her ears. He wasn't good. He wasn't quite bad, either. He'd always been a little too. something, to be deeply evil. Flexible, maybe: just call him Blank. While ideal for stealing RV's and certain sex acts, it didn't make him a poster boy for goodness and virtue, much less DARE. What the hell ever.
"Not so much, I guess. Just don't corrupt my sister with your fiendish ways or start lurking near the Junior High, and I'll walk like an Egyptian. I mean, technically speaking, you are an adult."
"Hmm." Spike gave her an inscrutable look and shifted, fishing at his back pocket. Buffy raised up, watching with interest as he pulled out a small steno pad and a pen, and began writing against his knee.
"What's that?" She craned her head, trying to read the crabbed script, but Spike twisted away from her, tut-tutting mockingly.
"It's private and not for nosy little Slayer's eyes." His soft amused tone belied the words, so Buffy ignored them.
"No, really, show me!"
Spike finished writing and shut the little book with a flourish. Exhibiting a mixture of self-consciousness and pride, he passed her the pad, tucking away the pen at the same time.
Slightly embarrassed, Buffy flipped rapidly through the pages, not really looking. The sheets were crammed with tiny, uneven cursive. She stared unseeing at a line, her gaze sharpening as she realized what it was she was seeing. Turning back to the first page, Buffy began to read, while Spike alternately peered over her shoulder and ostentatiously looked away.
Increasingly engrossed, the Slayer nodded and muttered, occasionally breaking into muted giggles. A particularly shaky entry prompted her to poke at him. "Why is the handwriting so bad?" She pointed to the offending sentence.
Spike took back the notebook, examining it for a moment, as he answered. "Wrote a lot of it on the road; hard to practice your penmanship in a moving vehicle, pet." His lips twisted and he read aloud, "Addendum: Thou shalt not bugger the neighbor, either."
Buffy erupted in peals of laughter and snatched back the list. Turning to the last entries, she caught her breath. Exquisitely Spike, the last few lines read: #207. Thou shalt not expose the Bit to drugs (see #144); #208. Thou shalt not lurk about schools; #209. Thou shalt remember the Slayer can read you like a book (see #9).
Buffy flipped back to page one and reread Spike's version of the Ten Commandments, then handed the pad back to its rightful owner. "You know, most people make do with just the ten. But you seem to have covered everything." She grinned at him as he returned his tiny notebook back to its pocket.
She wasn't prepared for his serious response to her teasing. Pursing his lips, Spike quietly disagreed, "Not nearly everything, Slayer. Every day I have to add something. Things I never even thought of. I thought I was getting myself an instant moral compass, but I can't seem to find North." His troubled face suddenly seemed older, taut with remembered pain, and sins both real and imagined.
Folding her hand over his, Buffy tried to reassure him. "You're doing fine, Spike. Don't try so hard. It'll get easier." She cringed at the trite phrases coming from her own mouth, and continued resolutely. "Or maybe it won't. I don't know." She stood, and moved in front of him. The neck of his tee shirt hid the dog tags, and she reached for the choke chain, pulling it free to lie silver and gleaming against the black cotton. "But you have this to remind you." She regarded the chromed links thoughtfully, and stroked her makeshift belt. "This was a good idea, by the way. Kept you from going all dusty. Sorry I didn't say so, before."
Spike smiled, a sweet expression of pleasure and gratitude that she'd rarely seen from him. "Didn't know why I was buying them at the time. Got the tags in New York, picked up the collar in Ohio, and the leash is from Kentucky, if I remember right. Hattie suggested presents as a good way to. er."
Buffy batted her eyelashes, slyly. "To beg forgiveness? Win my favors? Yup, prezzies help." An ugly, jealous, completely irrational thought made her frown and tug on the leash pointedly. "This was Hattie's idea?"
"Not quite. Her suggestions included livestock and slaves. A bit out of my price range. Although if you really must have a herd of goats." Spike waggled his eyebrows, surprising a giggle from the Slayer.
"No, don't think I'm ready for kids, quite yet." Buffy laughed at her own joke and Spike's pained groan. Controlling herself, she continued, "Seriously though, I actually wanted to talk with you. About. about us?" Buffy shook with nervousness, and a loud thrumming suddenly sounded in her ears. Why was talking scarier than the end of the world?
"What the fuck?" Spike surged off the stone and crossed to the crypt entrance in three quick strides, ignoring her hurt gasp. Throwing open the door, he reared back a step and stared.
Oh. Not nerves, an earthquake. Not her heart beating triple time, giant hailstones in California. Well, that was reassuring: Buffy wanting to the have The Relationship talk really was a sign of coming apocalypse, right up there with seismic activity and prophetic dreams. Why hadn't she figured it out before?
Buffy drifted over to stand behind Spike and looked out at the storm. "Wow. They're the size of golf-balls. I don't think I've ever seen hail that big."
Several stones bounced and rolled into the crypt. Buffy bent to pick one up for examination, but Spike's voice rang out before she could process what she was seeing.
"Fucking hell. They are golf-balls."
Continued in 8. Little Earthquakes