By Mint Witch
RATING: PG all chapter. Sorry Guttersnipes, sometimes our characters must do things other than shag each other into the nearest available surface.
DISTRIBUTION: Previous chapters at http://www.the-sandlot.com/mintwitch/mwfic.html
DISCLAIMER: Joss is my type-monkey; I keep him chained under my desk. Naughty, Joss, no touching!
NOTE: This chapter is dedicated to the lovelies who kept me from committing hari kari last week while I had the flu: Shaddyr (sorry it took so long!), Jen, and as ever, Canada, beta goddess.
FEEDBACK: If I didn't want it, would we even be here?
PREVIOUSLY: Spike gets collared (Yum). Buffy invites Spike to live out a Ramones song. Xander remains unhappy with Buffy's life choices. Fun with cutlery.
Dawn runs away to dance with suspicious hippies. Buffy's got a Brachen beau. Golf balls from Heeeeeaven. Some walking and talking.
Xander gets over it (kinda) and Anya takes pity on his poor fragile self. Buffy and Dawn exhibit surprising new skills and scare the piss out of our Spikey. Awww, poor Spikey! The cruel sisters point and laugh. How mean!
Then some smoochies, some snot, and a lame-o epiphany, followed by sneaking around, Xander torture, and the obligatory dream sequence.
Wow, this part is rapidly exceeding the text for length. Maybe I should change my name to Robert Jordan.
12. Hotel California
“Hey, Giles, sorry to bug you again, this is Buffy by the way, but you probably knew that, huh?” She giggled nervously. “Um, I just had a pretty darn vivid Slayer dream, and ARE YOU THERE? Sorry. Call me back, okay?”
Dawn was staring at her, the banana bran muffin in her mouth completely forgotten. “Schoo ungky ‘uffy?”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” the Slayer replied absently. “And I’m not sure. I had a freaky Slayer dream.”
Dawn gulped slimy yellow protein goo in an attempt to wash down the expanding mass of carbohydrates in her mouth. The muffins didn’t actually taste all that bad, but one tiny bite seemed to grow until she felt as if she were having one of those dreams where she woke up trying to chew her pillow. No wonder Buffy was so skinny; a single muffin-puck could probably feed a small third world country.
She finally managed to swallow. “Wanna talk about it? Maybe I can unlock mysterious dreams, too. Was it prophetic?”
Buffy smiled. “Sure, I doubt it, and I don’t know yet. In the dream it all made perfect sense, except it didn’t. Like I was supposed to do something, and I was this close to knowing what it was, but I just didn’t quite get it.” She sighed and brightened. “But hey, you know how you can help me?”
Her sister looked suspicious. “No, and I’m not sure I want to. Will it involve work?”
“A little, but not much.” She ripped a page out of her dream journal. “Can you email this to Giles from school?”
“Oooh, is this your dream?” Buffy nodded. “Cool! Can I read it?”
“Sure, if you wanna. You’d have to see it for research, eventually. I don’t know if I got it all right, but that’s what I could remember when I woke up. If you could check the names too, that would be great. I don’t know if they are people or places or demons or what.”
Dawn scanned her sister’s crappy handwriting with interest. “Did you spell it the way it sounded in your dream? I mean, is this phonetic?”
Buffy frowned. “I hope so. I’m really bad with names.”
“No kidding.” Buffy frowned harder, looking a little insecure. Dawn hastened to reassure her. “Actually, if it is phonetic, they look a little familiar to me. Do you mind if I swing by the Public Library after school?”
“That’s a good idea, actually. While you’re there, make enough copies for the whole gang.”
“’Kay.” Dawn unwrapped herself from the stool and hopped down, a move that seemed less necessary every morning. She stuffed the piece of paper in her knapsack, swinging the bag over her shoulder as she headed out the door.
“Hey!” Buffy yelled. “Where are you going? You still have half an hour.”
“I’m gonna stop by the Pro Shop and turn some straw into gold, if your Wardeness would be so kind as to let me out on a day-pass.” Dawn could go from happy sister to sulky sister in 3.6 seconds.
The elder Summers grinned.
“Yep, I just like to know where you’re going. Have a good day and call me before you go anywhere other than school or the library, okay?”
Dawn saluted. “Aye-aye. Can I go now?”
“Yes, out of my sight, you ingrate.” Dawn bounced down the porch steps, waving over her shoulder at her sister’s shouted, “and be careful!”
Buffy closed the door behind her and checked the clock. For once she had plenty of time to get ready. Really, it was the little things, sometimes. An extra five minutes of bonding with the shower was heaven on a stick. Detachable showerhead with pulsing massage action, beware: randy Slayer on the loose! Resistance is futile.
As she made her way upstairs, Buffy considered the notion that she’d been spending too much time with Xander recently. The sci-fi quotage was getting out of hand.
He was sleeping. It was daytime, Spike was a vampire; thus, he was sleeping. If he was sleeping, then this was a dream. A nightmare even, but not real. Nope. Not real, because there was no way his crypt had been turned into a soup kitchen for homeless demons.
The head of Restfield security had stopped by before sunrise to tell him the RV would have to go and that the night watchman position was still available, if he wanted it. And he did, but so far he was refusing to acknowledge the RV problem, which could undermine his credibility.
Great, now he was thinking about a sodding job.
Spike closed his eyes and refused to breathe. Hattie was not cooking bean and rat stew in his kitchen. It was a dream, all a dream. Except someone was invading his personal space in the dream.
“Dude, you up?”
Spike cracked an irritated eyelid at Gil, looming about an inch away, then shut it again. “No, I’m sleeping, and this is a dream.”
“Oh, okay.” The other vampire’s voice retreated to the corner occupied by Hattie and Spike’s hot plate.
“He’s still sleeping.” Spike could actually hear Gil’s head rattle when he shook it. “These baby vamps, man, they sleep all the time.”
He resisted the urge to get up, just to prove the elder vampire wrong. It was a dream; there was no need to argue with a figment of his imagination.
The odor of Cheetos approached his slab, and Spike stifled a groan. What now?
He answered without opening his eyes. “Clem.”
“Do you have any extra towels?”
“Do I look like the day manager of the Holiday Inn, mate?” Bloody buggering hell, there was no way he was going to get any sleep, here, today. Spike surged off the sarcophagus with an impartial snarl, startling a family of Tomko demons playing pick-up-sticks and an aged Gorgon knitting a very large and hideously yellow cap with her brass claws.
“Do I? No, I bloody well didn’t think so! The lot of you, sod off. I want this place empty when I get back. Not a single sodding thing, living or dead, is using my towels.”
Spike grabbed the pink and purple batik cover from his bed and stomped down the stairs, heading for the deepest, darkest, smelliest cesspool he could find. Maybe there he could get some fucking sleep.
Xander nearly rear-ended the neighbor’s SUV when he pulled up to 1630 Revello Drive. Buffy had never, ever, in all the years he had known her, been waiting at the curb for anything. She ran like the devil, she leapt short stairways in a single bound, and she occasionally didn’t show up at all, but she never stood coyly waiting for her ride, neatly dressed and ready to roll. Not even for slayage.
It was Pod Buffy: that was the only explanation. Xander peered through the car window, waiting for the really real Buffy to haul down the porch stairs and kick Pod Person’s ass.
Instead, Pod Buffy opened the passenger door, slid into the seat, and smoothed her skirt over her thighs, favoring him with a glowing smile. “Thanks Xander. I wasn’t sure you would show. I really appreciate the ride.”
“Who are you and what have you done with Buffy?”
Pod Buffy cocked her head winsomely. “Xander, have you been smoking something I should know about? Because I know you’re an adult and all, but it’s probably not a good idea to drive under the influence.”
He stared at her. “Okay, you’re Buffy.” He put the car in drive and pulled out into traffic. “I was just surprised, that’s all. You’re never ready and waiting.”
She laughed and buckled her seat belt, avoiding coffee stains only through the magic of Slayer reflexes. “Oh, that! I woke up early with a Slayer dream, the spooky prophetic kind. So, I figured as long as I was awake, I might as well make with the readiness.”
Xander nearly rear-ended another car. It was definitely Pod Buffy. “You had a Slayer dream, but you’re laughing? How many fingers am I holding up and take me to your master!”
Buffy blushed, and mumbled something about getting reacquainted with household appliances and the joy of hot rollers. So not going there.
“Anyway, I left a message for Giles, but I’d like to have a Scooby meeting tonight. Can you be at the Box before sundown, maybe 7ish?”
“Sure, Buff, no problemo. The Xan-man is there.” Should he mention his encounter with Spike? Only it wasn’t an encounter, because that made it sound like there were orgasms and manly cries of passion, which there weren’t. Ever. His confrontation with Spike: that was manly sounding, without the orgasms. Yeah. Confrontation was the word.
Except, he and Spike had agreed the Slayer didn’t need to know. Yeah, but Spike was evil, so maybe he’d gone back and told her in order to score points. No, if he’d told her, she’d be pissed. Unless it was all some twisted game, to catch him in a sordid web of lies. Except there was nothing sordid about it, because hey! No orgasms.
Time for a little indirect interrogation: a subtle steering of the conversation with the single manly goal of finding out if she was about to break him like a potato chip. “So, Buffster, Buffino, Bufforama: will Spike be there?”
She shrugged, but blushed a little pinker. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen him since last night. Well, early this morning, really. But do you think he would come if I asked him? I mean, if I happened to see him to ask him?”
Okay, that conversation took a left turn at the interstate. Xander shot a wary glance at his passenger: Pod Buffy was slowly choking the life out of her chubby mug. “Um, I really couldn’t say.”
She nodded and looked out the window, chewing her lip. “Xander, can I ask you something?”
Uh-oh, here it came. The least she could do is wait until the car was stopped to kill him. “Sure, Buffy, anything.”
“Did Anya ever… cry on you?” Xander glanced at her, but she was still looking out at the traffic.
“Well, yeah.” Her head whipped in his direction, and his brief glance at her face revealed an almost desperate expression. “You know, when she was having that time of the month, or the cash register was short, or… well, a lot.”
“No, I mean, like total weepy, snot on shirt, make it all better, cry-fest?”
“Yeah, Buff, I get it.” His mouth twisted with wry affection. “For An, those things are world ending. As an ex-demon, she was surprisingly emotional.”
He shrugged. “I kinda liked it, you know? I miss it. It made me feel like I could do something for her, something no one else could. I could be there when she needed me.”
“Oh.” Xander looked over at his friend. Her eyes were swimmy and wide, suffused with emotion. “Oh god. You liked it? Really? It’s… normal?”
“Yeah, it’s normal.” Xander pulled up before Buffy’s building, and put the car in park. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason.” She looked down at her lap. “No, that’s a lie. I… I never cried on anyone, before, anyone guy-like, I mean. Or at least, not for a long time. I didn’t know I could. I thought it would make me… weak. Not the Slayer.”
“Oh.” Xander sat back, thinking over her words. “Did you cry on… Spike? Last night, maybe?”
She nodded, toying with her hem. “Did you feel better?” Another nod. Oh, god, this was awkward. This was Spike. This was so beyond surreal that Rosencrantz was in line behind him at the ATM.
“Well, if it made you feel better, that’s what counts, right?” She looked up at him, grateful.
“Thanks, Xander. I’m sorry.” Her eyes dropped to her lap again, and Xander wondered what could send her back into her shell so quickly.
“Why are you sorry?” He reached across the seat for her hand. “I love you, Buffy, you know that, right? You’re one of my best friends, and I want you to be happy.”
He squeezed her hand. “I can’t say that I’m thrilled about the Spike thing, but as long as we’re being honest, I wasn’t keen on Angel either. I still wish things had worked out with Riley, but…”
She flashed him a shamefaced look from under her lashes. “Oh. You never?”
“I never.” She shook her head. “I just couldn’t.”
“It’s okay, Buff.” Xander screwed his courage to the sticking place and reached out towards his friend, lifting her chin with his free hand. Screw twenty-minute load-and-unload zones. This was important. “If he couldn’t be what you needed, then you’re better off. I love you for who you are, bad boyfriends and all.”
Xander dropped his hand and looked at her thoughtfully. “You know, Buff, you’re not my hero anymore.”
Her eyes flew up to meet his, hurt, and he smiled. “You fell off the pedestal a while ago, and I’m glad. I don’t need heroes, I need friends. The paragon thing? Well, it doesn’t last. The friend thing? It seems to be working. Don’t try so hard, Buffy, it’ll be okay.”
She huffed out a breath and squared her shoulders. “Yeah. Everything will be okay.” She faced him. “Thanks Xander. You’re a good friend.”
“Thank you. I’m trying.” He watched her fumble out of her seatbelt, far less poised than she had been when she got into the car. He should remember that: messy Buffy was normal. Sharp Buffy was a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He wondered if all women were like that.
Xander Harris smiled to himself and stuck his hand out the window to signal, as he prepared to merge back into traffic. He learned something new every day. Now he just needed to remember to get the turn signal replaced. Xander sighed. The learning new things bit would be more impressive if he could remember the old stuff.
Swinging her briefcase, Buffy disappeared into the 9:00 AM herd of office-bots. She ducked and wove as groups of the bots clustered in front of the elevators, working her way to the rear wall. With a sharp left turn at the ugliest piece of corporate art on the planet, she was standing in front of a nondescript gray steel door.
She quickly checked over her shoulder to make sure no one was around, and then slipped through, silently easing the heavy door closed behind her. Endless concrete stairs loomed, and a sly smile flickered across the Slayer’s face. Eat your heart out Suzanne, this Summers has buns of titanium.
Fifty-six floors and thirty-nine minutes later, Buffy skipped to a halt before another gray steel door, barely breathing hard. She leaned against the wall and toed off her trainers, trading them for the heels lurking in her briefcase. She could totally take the stairs in pumps, but she’d learned the first day she’d tried this that the shoes crapped out long before she did.
Buffy exited the fire stairs and entered the executive suite, fully togged for corporate America. Well, actually a couple of secretaries and the random tourist or three. It was kinda mean, but she really enjoyed sitting at the reception desk. The glass wall of the suite had a freaking amazing view of the bay: several times a day she got to tell camera-wielding couples from Iowa that this floor was not open to the public and if they didn’t remove themselves im-meeeed-i-atly, she would be forced to call security.
Buffy smirked, unconsciously mimicking Spike. Oh, she was eeeevil.
Our vampy hero was coming to the end of his own, less vertical, journey. Without really thinking about it, he had ended up at The Magic Box. He looked up at the stairs warily, not sure if he should be expecting fireballs or not. Nothing had attacked him the first time he’d come here, but the episode last night had made him cautious.
Anya stuck her head through the door. “It’s not warded against you, Spike, just strangers. Unless you plan to steal something?”
He attempted to look mad, bad, and dangerous to know, and sauntered toward the stairs. The image was slightly undermined by the big purple blankie trailing behind him. “Just looking for a place to crash, Anyanka. You don’t mind if I use the sofa in back, do you, pet?”
Shaking her head in irritation, Anya shut the basement door as he passed through. “You do realize that this is a business, not a half-way house?”
“Yes, well, it’s not my first choice, either. Just tell me yes or no.” Spike tapped his foot, and gathered his blanket up into wad, cradling the bundle against his chest defensively.
“What’s wrong with your crypt?” Suspicious, Anya stared at him, still not relenting.
Spike sighed. “Nothing’s wrong with my crypt, it’s just a wee bit noisy with every fucking demon on the west coast,” his voice spiraled into the danger zone, “using my fucking towels!”
“Uh huh.” Anya nodded encouragingly. Spike on a tear was well worth the entertainment dollar.
“I have plans for the evening, you know? I gotta rest up, be ready.” He gave her a beseeching look. “It’s not like I can just rip out hearts and tear off heads night and day, day and night: I’m not a sodding’ robot, am I? A vamp needs his beauty sleep, now and again, right?”
“Yes.” Anya smiled and patted Spike’s shoulder in a reassuring manner that signaled fellowship between demons. Or she hoped that’s what it signaled, and not ‘I would like to have sex with you.’ She snatched her hand back, worried.
He cocked his head. “Yes?”
“You may sleep on the sofa. But don’t snore or do anything that might disturb the customers,” she warned, “or I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Spike looked offended and stomped towards the back room. “I don’t bloody snore.”
Anya sniffed. “All men snore.”
“Not a man, pet, vampire. I don’t breathe, and I don’t snore.” He slammed the door pointedly behind him, ignoring her disbelieving snort.
The vengeance demon smiled. All men snored, even vampires: she knew that for a fact. Male snoring was the single most common reason women made wishes.