By Devil Piglet
Disclaimer: All characters of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ are used without permission.
Author’s Notes: Set very loosely after 'Get It Done.'
Feedback: Reviews are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was a night for possibilities.
A year ago, or two or ten, Spike would have been the possibility. The monster just beyond the yellow glow of a streetlamp; grinning death at the end of a deserted alleyway.
But tonight, this night, the possibilities lay ahead of him.
About twenty paces ahead, as a matter of fact. The possibilities chattered and giggled, their high-pitched squeals piercing the otherwise still air. The possibilities occasionally risked glances backward – coquettish or scared or plainly suspicious – which he met with studied neutrality. The possibilities smelled of movie theater popcorn and girlhood.
He didn’t know what to make of the fact that Buffy had entrusted the Slayers-in-training to his care, and his alone, even for just a few hours. Most likely she’d simply rebelled at their choice of cinematic diversion. Perhaps the idea of William the Bloody, Chaperone of Annoying Adolescents had amused her. Maybe she just wanted to reclaim her bathroom.
Didn’t matter, really. She’d asked him to take them out, and he’d done it. Willow had been apprehensive at the request, Xander tight with anger, Giles unhappy and Dawn – Dawn’s righteous fury had not abated, and she walked away from the scene with a coldness that chilled him yet.
They turned on to Revello and Spike could see the age-softened lines of the Summers home. Finally. He’d be glad to turn the girls over to whichever responsible adult was currently couch-surfing, and retire to his basement. It was dark, musty and filled with random junk. Like his crypt, with a clothesline.
Ahead of him, Vi and Molly were bickering. What else was new? Pouting, Vi enlisted him in the debate.
“Spike, do you think she’s right?”
“What’s that, pet?” Please, if he had to referee another catfight over Orlando bloody Bloom, he’d set himself on fire.
“Do you think Jennifer Garner could be a Slayer? Elektra kicks all kinds of ass, and then on ‘Alias’ she gets to wear all that leather…”
“She probably has sixteen personal trainers and meals delivered to her doorstep plus she’s married to Noel from ‘Felicity,” Molly argued. “Anybody could be a Slayer with a sweet deal like that.”
He found himself smiling. Happened at the oddest of times. He was shaking his head, looking past them into the shadows beyond, when he saw her. Her.
In an instant, his world was replaced by the stink of the city, the ruthless clang of steel on steel, the grating light of a subway car.
Flatbush Avenue. End of the line.
Half-shielded by a tree on the neighbors’ lawn, she watched him hungrily. Hatred poured off her in waves -- rage and contempt and, underneath it all, the first stirrings of protective instinct toward the girls. He recognized the intent in her eyes, the ancient memory and new awareness that she would risk herself to save the humans she saw in his midst.
She – it – was the predator, though. Because it couldn’t really be her. No goddamn way. She was edging away from the tree now; slow and focused on him. He remembered the way the strong arch of her jaw felt, under his bruising fingers.
The girls dawdled in front of the house. “Spike! Are you coming in?”
Rona hopped down the porch steps. “Is there something out there? Is it a demon?”
“Go on inside, now,” he told them, struggling to keep his voice steady. “I’ll come up in a bit.”
Rona stared at him, clearly unconvinced.
“Go on,” he snapped. “Tell Buffy to lock up tight.”
“Now,” he growled. Rona’s eyes narrowed but she herded the rest of them inside. When the door shut and the latch slid into place, he turned.
She stood before him now as beautiful as she’d been twenty-five years ago.
Tall and regal, retaining that air of haughtiness that he’d somehow always admired. Nikki had been a street fighter, no doubt about it – just about the best – but she still managed to suggest that tangling with an enemy such as Spike was an affront to her considerable dignity.
“You’re The First,” he said.
She smiled unsteadily, even white teeth gleaming in the moonlight. “First what?” she asked.
She leapt across the space that separated them and dropped him with a kick to the solar plexus. Before he could struggle to sit up she was straddling him in a reversal of their last, fatal pose.
So much for his theory – whatever she was, incorporeal she certainly wasn’t. The body above his strummed with life and nerves and fierce tension.
Spike could see that she was shaking slightly, that her limbs and face shone with sweat. “I didn’t know,” she said hoarsely. “Why I came back. What I was meant for.” She produced a wicked knife – from where, Spike didn’t know – and swiftly, almost absently buried it in his shoulder. He roared in pain.
“Then I saw you. And I realized what I was doing here.”
She twisted the knife so that he hissed. The sound of metal scraping against bone reached his sensitive ears.
She was magnificent; but then, he’d always thought so. Crouched above him, feral grace in each efficient movement of her body. But something was off. Something besides the fact that she’d been dead for years.
Fever. Her skin burned with it and heated his at the contact. She smelled of sickness.
Her trembling intensified as her arms pinned him to the ground. It wasn’t a matter of exertion; restraining him should have been a simple task. Dead she’d been, oh hell yeah, and death still wasn’t far off. It slunk around the edges of her being, nipped at her feet and made her stumble.
Death is on your heels, baby.
She knew, too. Her slippery fingers gripped his shirt like a lifeline; her gaze betrayed the beginnings of panic.
“I’m going to kill you,” she said, but there was a plaintive note in her voice. I’m going to kill you – aren’t I? Don’t let me die again before I kill you.
“Nikki,” he whispered.
Her eyes began to glaze over. Fuck, she was slipping away. “Nikki!” Louder this time, insistent.
“Don’t say my name,” she murmured. She withdrew the knife from his shoulder and pressed the blade against his throat. He felt the pressure start, the first thin layer of flesh breaking open. But her hands wavered with the effort; she was weak. Christ, at this rate it would take her a fortnight to finish him off.
Or not. Abruptly her hold on him loosened, the knife dropping to the dewy grass beside him with a soft thud. He felt the pressure of her weight as she slumped forward.
He slid out from underneath her and caught her up in his arms. Tremors wracked her frame now, apparently beyond her control. What the hell? He risked a glance down, expecting to see that she had succumbed to unconsciousness. Instead, those furious black eyes stared fixedly into his.
He swallowed, looking away. There was a brief, fluttering struggle as he lifted her, but she collapsed against him almost immediately. God, this was not how he remembered her. In his mind she was ferocious and lush, with a belligerence that matched his own. Now – well, clearly whatever brought her back had banged her around on the journey. Understandable; look at how Buffy had been buggered by her return trip.
A new thought struck him and he nearly faltered. Was that what this was? Another heaven-bound Slayer, tossed back into the sea of life? This was all wrong; this whole thing reeked of dark mojo, the stuff Willow’d been seduced by last year. Had she conjured Nikki up, in some misguided attempt to supercharge their slaying power? Doubtful. They were fucking surrounded by Slayer-wannabes; calling up another would be beyond useless and verging on masochistic.
He was at the front door of the house before he realized it. She’d been unaccountably light in his arms, even though they were just about the same size. He was about to kick open the door when Molly yanked it ajar, her pinched and worried face peering around the edge of the jamb.
“Oh, my God! You killed someone!”
“Buffy!” Rona shouted. “Spike’s brought a body home!”
“Tell him to bury it in the backyard with the rest,” Xander called from the kitchen. “Remember, animals think that this sort of thing is a gift. Like laying a dead rat at your feet.” Xander sauntered into the living room as he spoke.
“Shut it,” Spike said harshly. “Can’t you see she’s ill?”
The commotion brought Giles down the stairs, followed reluctantly by Chao-An. “Would it be possible to go one evening without a crisis or shouting match?” he demanded tiredly. Glimpsing the scene in the living room, Chao-An simply dropped to the bottom step and put her head in her hands.
Xander frowned. Moving forward, he helped Spike carry Nikki to the couch. “Jeez, Spike. What did you to do her?”
“Not a bloody thing! Hello – all souled up, remember?”
“What I remember is soul-vamp cold-cocking me and going out on a murderous rampage not two months ago!”
“Boys, boys.” Buffy appeared at their side; Spike hadn’t heard her approach. “”Keep flirting like that and people will think you miss being roommates.” She knelt beside the couch. “Oh….” She pressed a small hand to the other woman’s forehead, then jerked it back. “She’s burning up. Spike, who is she?”
“Slayer,” he managed. Her eyes widened.
“Another potential? I think we’re going to wear out our welcome at Costco. We don’t even have any sleeping bags left.”
“No, she’s –“ he began, then stopped.
“Where did she come from?”
“Out front,” Rona piped up. “She was outside when we came home, and then Spike sent us inside, and he got her and brought her here.”
Buffy pressed her fingers to her temples and shut her eyes briefly. “Okay. Every bedroom in the house is full up. I want to give her a bed, but I’m not about to have her sleeping in close quarters with the other girls without knowing what’s wrong with her. The last thing we need is a dozen hormonal teenagers all suffering from the swine flu.”
“Buffy,” Giles said carefully, “Perhaps keeping her at the house is not such a good idea. She’s obviously unwell, and we are simply not equipped to provide any kind of extensive treatment. I’m loath to admit it, but hospitalization may be the best course of action in the long run.”
“Believe me, I’m not jumping up and down at the idea of a new roommate either. But she came here -- here – for sanctuary. This is the only place she’ll get it, Giles. No hospital in the world will be safe once the Bringers realize she exists.”
“We are bound to consider the well-being of the group as a whole –“
“She can stay in the basement,” Spike broke in. Several heads turned to stare at him.
“It’s got the cot,” he went on. “And the girls know not to come down there. I’ll bunk in the crawlspace above the hall.” At Buffy’s incredulous look, he shrugged. “Had my eye on it for a while, if you must know. Looks quite cozy.”
Giles’ lips curled into what was most definitely not a smile. “That is, of course, a…generous offer, Spike. However, the problem remains that she may require constant care. We know nothing about her condition nor –“
Spike was no longer listening. He lifted her again into his arms, felt her stiffen at the contact. He wished she would just pass out already but no, her eyes remained open, locked on his. She was seething but powerless and Spike knew he’d be paying for it later.
Amanda propped the basement door open and he took the stairs with caution, mindful of his cargo. Still each step jarred her and when his gaze accidentally dropped to her face he could see pain written across it in bold and jagged lines.
When he reached the cot he laid her down gently on the mussed sheets. The gesture seemed so lover-like that he winced.
If Nikki had similar thoughts, she gave no indication. Spike stepped away from her quickly and retreated to the far side o f the room, while Giles crouched beside her.
“Her breathing is shallow, but regular,” he observed quietly. “She appears alert.” No question, mate. “Our recourse may be as basic as bringing her fever down, hydtrating her and hoping for the best.” He sat back on his heels. “As relatively simple as that sounds, I don’t relish the idea of anyone in the house contracting her illness. For all we know, this is some elaborate plot by The First to weaken our forces.”
Spike made a sound of disgust. Giles turned to him angrily but Xander spoke first. “Did I just hear you volunteer your services, Junior?”
Spike gaped at him. “What?”
“We keep hearing about your shiny new soul. Why don’t you show it off for us?”
“Xander, you’re shouting,” Buffy said. “What do you want him to do?”
“I want him to put his conscience where his mouth is. I’m supposed to believe he’s one of the good guys, but I don’t see him pulling his weight. You keep saying how you’re carrying us? We’re carrying him.”
“That’s not what I –“
“Forget it,” Spike broke in. “Just put it out of your head. I’m not playing nursemaid for this – for her. It’s not right.”
Buffy's eyes widened appraisingly. “Ooo-kay. Why, exactly?”
Idiot. She’d been prepared to see him through this until he opened his mouth. Now she was piqued. You’d think after all this time he’d learn –
Giles braced his hands on his knees and stood. “Xander does have a point, Buffy. Spike is the only one among us who will remain immune to contagion. However, I hardly consider him an ideal caretaker.”
Spike couldn’t look at him, couldn’t even look in the direction of the cot and its new occupant. “Watcher’s right. I’d be no good.”
Her forehead displayed the telltale crease that told him she was turning something over in her mind. “Spike, you could help her. I mean…you could.” And then her face lifted to his, gaze filled with that strange combination of wistfulness and tempered hope and determination.
I believe in you, Spike.
She was waiting for him. Waiting to see what he would choose. He tried to tell her that she was wrong, that doing this would not be a kindness to anyone, least of all the silent woman on the bed. But he couldn’t refuse her. Could he? Not when she’d stuck by him, after all that he’d put her through. Hell, all that he’d put her through just since he’d staggered back from Africa, soul in tow. She’d stood up for him. To her friends and her father figure and to the evil from which she’d retrieved him.
Weak, he was. Not strong enough to shut her down.
He affected nonchalance. “Whatever you want, love.” Always.
She went to kneel again at Nikki’s side. “I’m Buffy,” she said softly. “The Slayer. And this -- this is Spike. He’s going to stay with you, until you get better. Which will be soon. Um, I hope. I’m sure! You’ll be back to your old self – whoever that may be – in no time.”
Nikki’s breath came in short little spurts, but her eyes assessed Buffy with a calculation that Spike recalled well. He found himself wondering what she made of her hostess.
Buffy took Nikki’s hand, gave it a brief squeeze. “We’ll let you rest now. You’re safe here, okay? This house is protected. You were right to come here.”
All the niceties and the sweet-talking and the can-I-get-you-anything made Spike want to crawl out of his own skin. This was fucking obscene, was what it was.
Buffy rose and joined Giles a few feet away. “I need to get back upstairs before the girls go ‘Lord of the Flies’ on me. Guys, I don’t think our guest needs an audience.” She arched an eyebrow pointedly and Giles straightened.
“Of course. Xander?”
Xander smirked once at Spike, then stuck his hands in his front pockets and followed Buffy and Giles up the steps, whistling under his breath. The sound of the basement door closing echoed hollowly.
He kept to the shadows of the far wall. Couldn’t bear to face her yet, and surely she didn’t want him anywhere near her. So he busied himself with useless tidying although he could feel her eyes on him every moment.
“Haven’t kept the place up properly,” Spike said. “Don’t entertain much. Hope you’re comfortable. Got a sink with fresh water –“ he nodded jerkily – “and a jerry-rigged bathroom, thanks to the carpenter. Smarter than he looks, I suppose.”
He kept up a steady stream of babble, desperate for distraction, until he heard a soft sigh from the other side of the room. He risked a glance over and saw her eyes drifting shut.
Relief and shame overwhelmed him. When he was sure she was unconscious, he gathered up the items he’d stashed, and prepared to settle in for the night.
The sheets smelled of him.
She wasn’t sure how she knew; they were clean and fresh and cool against her skin. But he was all over -- in her nostrils, against her eyelids. He was here now.
Across the room, she saw the orange glow from a cigarette filter. He sat, she knew, at the bottom of the steps. Watching her. Waiting. For what? She wondered if it amused him, that they gave her care over to a monster. She wondered what he planned for the others, wondered when he would pounce and rend and tear. Her vision caught the edges of a familiar shape. With an effort, she turned and looked down at the floor next to her.
There, laid out beside the cot, was a collection of stakes. Not hers; these were different wood, different sizes. But they would certainly serve her purpose. And at the end of the row was her knife. His blood still gleamed on the blade.
She looked up again, to the cigarette’s solitary flicker. Reaching down, she wrapped her fingers around his offering.
Continued in Part 2: Replacement Killers