RATING: Series NC-17, this part PG-13
SPOILERS: I started this series after Gone and it's AU but spoilery in general for S6.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Part four, in which Buffy reaches a critical point
DISTRIBUTION: Please ask my permission first, just so I know where it's headed. This is posted along with the rest of the chapters at http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.htm
FEEDBACK: Yes please? email@example.com
Part Four: Catalyst
"Why should I yell, Dawnie? I know things are strange for you right now. And coming back to Spike missing had to be hard. But you had to know you could come to me." said Tara.
"Yeah. I knew. But I wanted to see his new place," replied Dawn.
"You shouldn't have hitchhiked, though. It's dangerous, and I don't want to see anything happen to you."
"Nothing bad was going to happen. It's not like I'm the key any more. No need to worry about freaky Dawn. No keyness, no demon boyfriends. No friends at all, in fact."
Tara pulled up to a stoplight and turned to catch her eyes. "I wish you didn 't feel that way. You're still important. And you might be young, but you' re our friend. Not just Buffy's sister."
"Awww. I know, Tara. I'm sorry. Sometimes I just can't help what come out of my mouth," Dawn apologized.
"But what's going on, Tara? You have to tell me what's going on. Or were you planning to leave me out again? I'll just find out the way I found out where he moved," she threatened, chin jutting forward.
Tara turned onto Revello Drive and said, "I'm going to tell you Dawn. Everything I know, at any rate. But we're almost home now - will you come to the Magic Box later, after Buffy leaves for work? We'll be doing research, and I can fill you in then."
I hope you mean it this time, Tara. I might just know a thing or two you'll need.
"See you later," Dawn said as she stepped out of the car. "I'll be there after while. I want to talk to Buffy and then take care of a few things, then I'll be over."
"Be careful what you tell her," warned Tara. "She's not herself right now."
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
Peeking into the living room, Dawn saw Buffy sitting on the couch, staring off into space. Her head was leaned to one side, and that oh so familiar vacant look occupied her eyes. "Buffy," she called tentatively. "I'm home."
Startled, Buffy snapped upright, eyes coming into focus. "Dawn. Where were you? It's barely afternoon; I thought you were still upstairs."
"No, I got up early to meet Tara for breakfast. We talked a long time." Taking a deep breath, Dawn continued in a whoosh, "I need to talk to you about something. It's important."
"I can't talk now," said Buffy. "I have a shift at the Doublemeat. Can we talk later? Maybe after patrol?"
The robot again. Spike said I have to shake her out of it when she's like this. Well, here goes nothing.
"I miss him, Buffy," Dawn whispered.
Softly, Buffy replied, "Me too."
She can't mean *him*. How would Dawn. . .Willow. I'm gonna kill her.
For a split second, their eyes met and the sisters shared their sadness. Then Buffy broke the connection. "Nothing is the same without Giles," she covered, turning away to hide the tears blooming in her eyes.
. without either of them. Nothing will ever be normal again.
Giving herself a little shake, Buffy continued, "Maybe we should call him soon. But not now," she breezed as she headed for the stairwell. "Time to make the donuts!"
Good idea. Very good idea. I wonder how many hours the time difference is?
Watching Buffy disappear, Dawn began to scrounge around for the address book with Giles' contact information.
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
Buffy let the spray of the shower wash over her, the pattern of the hot water providing a mesmerizing beat inside of her skull. The counterpoint of the water to the pounding in her head was a blessed relief, a numbness that let her reach the void. That space inside where nothing and no one mattered. The only space she felt safe.
In the void, she called him to her. Silently, she tried to call the calming images. No words, no clothing between them, she saw his form shimmering before her. Willing it, she felt long, cool fingers sliding up her rib cage, thumbs grazing the sides of her breasts. The image shook, his blond form hazy, barely there. And the stillness faded as she reached out, to touch what wasn't there.
The tears began to slide, invisible in the cascading water. Even the images failed her now.
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
The books were stacked around them, four heads, each buried in a tome, flipping through page after page looking for clues.
Closing yet another book, Xander groaned, "I got nada. Is it time to get snacks yet? "
"Snacks are good," said Anya. "Maybe we should go fix some cheese and crackers. And some chips and dip."
Looking at the pair unbelievingly, Willow said, "I'm not sure we're going to find what we're looking for in these books, guys, but.snacks? Why don't we try going over what we know again? Maybe something will click into place."
What planet do they live on these days, anyway?
"We know that Buffy's zoning out, big time. She patrols alone every night, but it looks more like hunting to me. And now we know it's not because she was, umm, recreating, with Spike. It gets worse every day, too," she said.
"And we know that her aura is messed up in a major way, maybe because of the resurrection spell," said Tara. "But we still don't know how or why."
"And we know that she was getting better, too, before Willow cast that spell to make everybody forget." Four pairs of eyes swiveled to see Dawn walking toward the table and glaring at Willow.
"Why do you say that, Dawn?" Tara asked.
"Spike told me," she answered confidently.
Xander exploded, "What do you mean, Spike told you? Why would he tell you and not us? And how would he know anyway?!?"
"Well, Xander, you know they were, umm, close. He was basically the only person she talked to at all right after she came back," said Tara.
Oh rats. I should have found a way to tell Dawn that Xander doesn't know Spike's still around. She'll let the cat out of the bag for sure..
"Dawnie, can you come help me find another book up here?" Tara asked, crossing the room and pointing to a row of books.
Dawn joined her near the shelves, and Tara said quietly, "Look, Dawn. I know we should have talked to you about all this before now, but.Xander doesn't know that Spike is still around. Anya is trying to work up to telling him, but we couldn't figure out a good way to do it. You know how protective he gets about her."
"Yeah. The knight in shining armor. I know just what you mean. I don't guess he'd take too well to having the wool pulled over his eyes by the three of you. I know I didn't. You know you're going to have to tell him eventually," Dawn pointed out. "In fact, you still haven't finished telling me."
"Alright," said Tara. "It all started that night that Buffy and Willow both stayed out all night - you remember, the night Willow was out with Amy . . ."
As Tara spoke, the teenager's mind began piecing together the bits of information slowly, as a pattern began to emerge.
Spike hasn't told her about the bond.
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
"Have a nice day."
"Would you like fries with that?"
"Thank you for coming."
"I hope you enjoy your meal."
Buffy straightened her hat in the mirror as she worked up the courage to return from her break. She continued the monotonous litany under her breath as she moved from the break room back to her station at the front. The dinner rush of customers was over, so she reached for the washrag under the counter to begin wiping the sticky remains of soda and ketchup from the stack of orange trays in front of her.
Top, bottom, back, front, clean.
Top, bottom, back, front, clean
Top, bottom, back, front, clean
Like a robot, she worked her way through the stack from the top to the bottom, wishing the door would open, that someone would walk in to break the tedium of the night. Restlessness moved her from the spot she stood rooted to, and she turned to the back line, scanning for intelligent life.
"Oh. Buffy. You're back from your break," said Lorraine. The perky blond was annoying, and a little Stepford wife-y, but tolerable.
"Yep. All refreshed, ready to work, work, work," Buffy chirped at her boss.
"Actually, Buffy, I was hoping you'd be willing to take off early tonight. I know you need the hours," she apologized, "but everyone else has had a turn this week already. The Mardi Gras carnival downtown has been drawing away a lot of our business lately, and corporate is breathing down my neck to cut back on the staffing levels when our sales are so low."
Give up on my grease quota for the night? So not a problem.
"No problem," said Buffy. "Who's gonna complain about a Saturday night off? Want me to clock out now?"
"Yeah, you better," said Lorraine. See you on Monday bright and early!"
-- -- -- -- -- -- --
Buffy headed back home to shower and change, then slipped out the back door before anyone could come home and question her plans.
Time to hunt. Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum.. Watch out demons, here I come.
She'd gotten over the loneliness of patrolling alone, and was even beginning to enjoy the solitude of the hunt and the darkness that surrounded her.
It was a good night for patrol, dark as midnight although it was only 8pm, with a bright moon and a sprinkling of stars to light the way. Shadows provided protection to their denizens as she worked her way comfortably through them, eyes scanning for a target.
The thrill of the hunt was thrumming through her body as she rounded a corner into the cemetery, slayer senses extended. Almost instantly, she located two vampires near a mausoleum and stealthily made her way near. Her eyes slanted upwards a bit as and she crouched down, tensing her body to dive in for the kill. In a flash, she had first one vamp, then the other dusted. So absorbed was she in the flush of victory, the power of the kill, that she didn't notice him in the shadows.
Watching from a safe distance, Spike pressed a hand to sooth the pain in his temple as he watched her move gracefully from shadow to shadow, a sleek lioness on the hunt.
Ah, luv. What a pair we'd make. but it's bloody dangerous, what you're doing. If the blood lust grabs hold, you'll never return to us as you once were. I should know.
Suddenly, she straightened up, looking into the distance across the cemetery toward his former home. She began stalking toward the crypt, obviously after something or someone he hadn't yet sensed. Looking forward, he saw what she was after. There were two teenagers, spray painting the crypt.
Ah, well. Doomed to disappointment this time, pet. But hang around a bit. The night's catch will improve.
Expecting her to turn away when she got close enough to see that they were just boys, Spike broke into a dead run when he saw her swoop in. Stake in hand, she seemed unaware that her prey, this time, was human.
Reaching her just before she struck the boy through the heart, Spike shouted, "Slayer! They're not bloody demons."
She hissed in anger as he grabbed her hand, pulled her back from the boy and tossed aside the stake, "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" he questioned as the two hoodlums ran away. "They're people. Human beings. Like you."
He looked into her eyes, searching for the humanity in their depths, but finding nothing. There was no spark of recognition as she began to fight him wildly, claws and teeth taking the place of surgical punches and kicks. Her strength matched his own, but lacked precision or control; he soon had her pinned to the ground beneath him.
"Lovely as this is, Slayer, having you beneath me," he said as her jerking and twisting began to slow, "I can't let you do this to yourself any longer." He drew back his fist, intending to knock her unconscious.
Just as his blow was landing, she let out a mewling cry and said, "Spike. help me."
Gathering her crumpled form in his arms and pulling her in to his chest, he pressed his lips into her hair, promising, "I will, luv. Tonight."
Continued in Part Five: Reminded