Chapter Three: Autonomic Responses
Opening another window, she accessed the bookmark for the telephone bill and got ready to pay it. After a moment, her eyes widened. Something was wrong. Really, really wrong.
She clicked on 'details' and watched as a list of long distance phone calls appeared on the screen. Jaw slack in horror, she scrolled down.
There was a month's worth calls to two numbers in Sunnydale, California. Not ten minute calls either. They were hours long and had been placed at all times of the day and night.
Four hundred twenty-two dollars worth of long distance out of state calls. She was sure she'd never set up a call plan to cover this.
Buffy pushed her chair away from the computer desk in disbelief. She should have never gone 'paperless' on her bill. She'd have known about this a week ago.
The former slayer jumped out of the chair and charged down the short hallway to stand in front of her sister's room, hand up to knock. Inside, she heard Dawn's muffled voice in conversation. Buffy didn't need slayer hearing to know that she was talking to someone. And she was pretty sure it was long distance.
Twisting the doorknob as she knocked, she caught her younger sister trying to do three things at once.
One was to hang up the phone. The first was being hampered by the second and third, which seemed to consist of shoving a pile of photographs in an envelope while trying to open the drawer to her bedside table.
Dawn's face had the same look as that of a deer in headlights. Frozen panic. She cleared her throat, straightening nonchalantly as she leaned, hands empty, against the partially closed drawer. "Hey. You knock and you wait," she complained mildly.
"Was that long distance?" Buffy asked coldly.
The girl straightened and then went for bravado. She raised her chin. "Maybe..." she answered. "So?"
It was exactly the wrong tack to take with Buffy. "So? How about four hundred dollars worth of 'so'?"
"As in four hundred dollars in long distance calls. And that's only the ones that have shown up on the bill. Which was dated ten days ago!"
Dawn's mouth fell open.
"When did you buy a camera?" Buffy was all on the offensive now and determined to keep her sister off balance.
"Umm..." Dawn unconsciously pushed herself against the bedside table, catching her hand in the drawer by accident. She tried to look nonchalant. "When I was... home?"
"Uh huh," Buffy said derisively.
"I did too buy it," Dawn said defensively, instantly regressing to fifteen years old again. "You can ask Kitt!"
That brought Buffy up short. "I didn't mean..." She took a breath, calming herself. "I didn't think you stole it," she said firmly. "Dawnie, what's going on?"
"Going on?" In spite of herself, Dawn choked a little on the words.
"You met a boy, didn't you?" Buffy nodded her head, encouraging her sister to share with her.
Dawn considered it. God, she hated to out and out lie, but... She thought of Will.
"Well," Buffy said firmly, "it's going to have to stop. He can call you if he's that interested. And you have to get the money for the phone bill from Dad - or get a job. I can't afford to pay this right now, if ever."
Dawn nodded gratefully, relieved that she'd dodged the bullet. She'd call Dad and guilt him for the money. She could do that.
"The long distance thing really doesn't work well," Buffy said uncomfortably.
Dawn nodded some more. "I'll... be prepared. For that," she stammered. "The 'not worky' thing." Were they going to have an older-younger sister talk? Because Buffy was continuing to stand there, staring at her expectantly.
She put out her hand and waggled her fingers. Dawn felt like she was almost forcing herself to be interested. "Well? Let's see him. You got pictures, right?"
"Uh, no," Dawn said, fumbling for an explanation. "I wanted... But you know, too embarrassed to ask, so..."
Disappointed, Buffy's hand dropped to her side. "Oh. Well, I get that." She turned away.
Sighing audibly, Dawn sagged against the bedside table, jerking her hand out of the drawer. The sharp movement caught the envelope of pictures, which immediately slid onto floor, scattering the photos in an area covering about three feet.
Dawn dropped to her knees, scooping the snapshots together with both hands. There was a second bunch of them that had fallen to her left...
The next thing she knew, they were lying in Buffy's hands, as she quickly flipped through them, straightening them as she went. Dawn held her breath. She'd go right by it. If it even *was* in that pile.
Dawn grew very still as Buffy squinted at one of the shots. Luckily, that picture had turned out badly. Mostly Spike's head of too-long, curly hair and the shadow of a chin. No problem.
But Buffy's hand had slowed. She carefully went to the next one.
Finally, she was looking at the picture of Dawn and Spike. Dawn drew in a breath. There was nothing *but* recognition in her sister's eyes.
Dawn fluttered, trying to take the photograph and by doing so undo what had happened.
The former slayer put a hand out to forestall Dawn, while continuing to stare at the picture. "What is this?" she said slowly. "Some kind of..." She took the other photos from Dawn's nerveless fingers. But she continued to go back and look at the one that was the most damning.
"It's not what you..."
Buffy sat down heavily on Dawn's bed. "Think?"
The girl felt miserable. She should have told her. Or at least, should have never taken the pictures, she thought guiltily. Or hidden them better.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Buffy looked up, eyes flashing. "'We'?"
"I didn't know before I went home."
The look of betrayal on her older sister's face bit deep. She looked down at her feet.
Buffy got up and walked to the door. "Get packed," she said quietly.
Buffy softly closed the door to the small bedroom and walked down the hall, forehead knit in thought. Nervously, Dawn waited for her in the living room.
"He isn't in there," her sister said to no one in particular. Dawn thought she might be assuring herself of it more than Dawn. "Whoever it is," Buffy continued, "it isn't Spike anymore."
The trip to Sunnydale had been characterized by silence and a pained tightness in Buffy's expression that Dawn hadn't seen in years. Though relieved that she was no longer keeping Spike's reappearance from her sister, she hadn't known what to say.
So Dawn had said very little.
She watched her sister walk into the galley-type kitchen and heard the refrigerator door open.
Buffy returned to the living room, twisting the top off a bottled water. Xander bustled out of his bedroom. He looked at both Summers women in concern, gaze moving from one to the other.
"Ready to go?" he asked them both. "I'm buying. Dinner at Mario's." He rubbed his flat stomach. "I feel like a binge. Italian and red wine."
"You two go on," Buffy answered. "I'll have a sandwich later if I get hungry. Which is about all you can cook in a kitchen that size."
Xander sighed. "I was gonna take you to the new Bronze after." At Dawn's acid stare, he stammered, "Both of you."
"Have fun, then," Buffy said with a ghost of a smile. "It'll be great."
"He's been known to stay alone," Xander said stubbornly.
She shrugged. "Well, not tonight."
Dawn put her arms around her sister's neck as Xander got his coat. "I'm sorry I brought you here," she whispered apologetically.
"You didn't bring me," Buffy said softly into her hair. "I came. You gave me the information, I made the decision."
The man walked out the front door, leaving it open for Dawn to follow.
"Did he... say anything?" the girl asked.
Her older sister shook her head.
Dawn gave her another little hug. Not something she did much of anymore, but desperate times... desperate measures, she thought ruefully. "Call me on the cell if you need us."
"I will," Buffy said absently. Her thoughts were already somewhere else.
She knocked softly and waited. Buffy had never knocked on his door in her life, and wasn't sure what constituted a 'polite period of time'. Finally, she pushed it open.
Will was lying down, head against the headboard, still wearing his tee shirt and pants. He'd taken off his button-up shirt, belt and boots, but was still wearing his socks.
So strange not to see a welcoming look in those blue eyes. Instead, what she saw was the unruly top of his head. Poor Dawn. She hadn't seen Spike when he was freshly installed in the basement at the high school. A hundred years from now, even as briefly as he'd had it, Buffy would still recognize that hair.
He raised his eyes, chin still on his chest. Like a little boy. Buffy almost sighed aloud. The same response as earlier; she would speak, his eyes would find her, sharpen briefly, and go flat.
His eyes fell back to his hands.
She tried something new. "William?"
It somehow seemed deliberate that his eyes stayed down as he ignored her.
The third time was the charm. He frowned slightly and his lips thinned.
She stood in the doorway, just watching, as he slowly relaxed again.
Despite what she'd said to Dawn, there'd been too many clues. The problem was that she had to get Xander and her sister out of there without making them suspicious.
Buffy couldn't reach his mind. She was sure of it. If she stood toe to toe with him, screaming in his face, she wouldn't get any response at all. But she thought there might be another way that would get her inside. A side door.
She thought about it carefully.
An autonomic response on a basic level.
How badly did she want him back?
She walked over to the bed and sat down beside him, her eyes finding his hands as interesting as he did.
They looked the same, same fingers and palms, but so different with the deep shade of brown they'd turned. She almost smiled as she thought about the day Spike had uncovered the Gem of Amara. Instead of taking advantage of the first sun he'd been able to enjoy in over one hundred years, he'd headed straight for Buffy, intent on kicking her ass into next week. And ran for the sewers, smoking, when she wrested it off his hands.
It looked as if something deep inside him had sought to remedy that. She hoped.
Buffy stood up and walked to the door. With a decisive nod, she put her finger on the small button in the middle of the knob and twisted until it locked.
Dawn smiled gratefully at Xander. "This is so nice. And hey, feeling very grown up here."
The man grinned recklessly. "You are grown up. I admitted that after you left. And nothing's too good for my best girl. The fact that I was ready for a carb fest had nothing to do with it."
Giggling, she gave him a mock-appraising look. "Non-fat Xander."
"Like the hot chocolate I consume," he nodded in satisfaction.
A strange look flitted across the girl's face. "Have you tried that?"
"What? Non-fat cocoa? Sure. I..." He stopped as her meaning dawned on him. "For... Spike? Yeah. Yeah, I did. He likes it, but there was no moment of grand disclosure for him. Same with the Buffalo wings. Even drove across the county line for one of those onion things before the Bronze reopened. Those things don't travel well, by the way. Drew the line at cigarettes, though."
Dawn was disappointed.
"You know, I haven't thought of him as 'Spike' in over two years. Just Will. And now, since you've been back, I have to be careful not to call him that to his face."
Xander shrugged. "Doesn't seem right. When I first found him, I didn't call him anything after the initial 'oh, Spike, you're home' thing. He didn't react to it and it almost seemed like I was... hell, I don't know... mocking him. Who he was. Well, who he *had* been, I guess. William was too... I don't know... not right either. 'Will' fit.
"For a while, he was just on the street. He seemed to be eating and I really didn't get too close, but I'd keep my eye out for him." Xander smirked. "Eye. Singular. Get it?"
"I use that one a lot," he confessed. "It's good for business. Can end a contract negotiation in the blink of an..."
"Don't you dare!" she hissed.
Xander laughed loudly. He pointed at Dawn's reddening face. "Got you again. And then, there's always..."
She looked around the restaurant as she leaned toward him threateningly. "I'll gouge out your other eye if you don't stop it!" she said quietly.
That sent the man into fresh gales of laughter. He gasped and grabbed the napkin. "See? I'm laughing so hard, I have to wipe the tears out of my...." At her angry look, he subsided. "I love you, Dawnie. And I missed you and your sister like crazy. If only for times like these," he chuckled as he waved a hand. "I'm catching the waiter's 'eye' now," he explained. "Oh, wait. Make that one plural."
Dawn let out a long-suffering breath.
He turned his attention back to his story. "Anyway, I'd keep an eye out, like I said. Then, one day, I didn't see him. Anywhere. As much as I didn't want to, I got worried." He shrugged self-deprecatingly. "So idiot that I am, I went looking for him."
Xander had a look on his face that bothered Dawn. "Something was wrong?"
"Yeah. Some punks got to him. Beat the living hell out of him. Broke a couple of ribs. Some internal bleeding. Found him behind the Magic Box." Xander thought back. "I don't even know why I looked there. I pretty much avoided even driving by back then."
At Dawn's troubled expression, he continued. "I got him to a hospital and they patched him up. No vampire healing anymore. Heartbeat, so it was safe to take him. I paid the bill and took him home with me. Just until he got better, of course." He shrugged. "Yeah, right. I know. Anyway, I got him settled, knocked him out on pain meds, and went hunting. Just me and Anya's favorite baseball bat."
Dawn's eyes narrowed.
"And no, they're not in some shallow grave somewhere, all right?" He sighed in disgust.
"Well, with the eye and all, I thought you might have buried them in a box somewhere. Like the treasure-to-be-announced later?" Dawn said archly.
"You're good," the man said appreciatively.
Dawn leaned forward, giving in to the urge she'd had all night.
"Just now figuring that out?"
Buffy stared at the doorknob. The path she was contemplating was wrong.
She didn't care.
It was the hard decisions, the distasteful ones, that made a general, Giles had said. She'd proved it time and again. Swallowing once, she set her chin and turned back to face Spike. Spike, because she had to believe he was in there somewhere, that she was doing this for his own good.
He gazed at her calmly, no curiosity in his expression. No trust, but no distrust either. He was just living in the moment. She moved before her knees buckled and returned to the side of the bed, sinking down beside him. Slowly, placed a hand over his heart and drew in a shuddering breath.
The unfamiliar warmth of his body permeated the tee shirt. What was even more wrong was the steady, powerful beat of his heart. Buffy winced. Everything was wrong, incontrovertibly changed.
Trying not to frighten him, she shook her head lightly to clear it and pushed her palm against his chest, adjusting to his heat and the rhythm that pounded under her hand.
He continued to gaze up at her - Spike's eyes without the tenant.
She could do this, she thought dispassionately.
Wonderingly, he looked at her hand as his own slowly crept atop hers with a light touch, and then tightened.
His hands were dry and tanned to roughness, tiny hairs on the backs bleached white by the sun.
Her eyes closed. Maybe she couldn't do this.
Inwardly she steeled herself for what would come next, as she bent down and touched his lips with her own. The shape was the same, but they were dry and hot. She felt him jerk slightly and pulled back. Eyes narrowed, she scrutinized his face for some kind of response.
Nothing but the reflection of a child's surprise. No smile, but no fear either. She bent her head and kissed him again, deliberately moving her hand from his chest to the crotch of his soft loose khakis.
He gasped in her mouth, body stiffening in fear. She continued to kiss him, trying to pretend that she was kissing someone else - the one who knew her better than anyone. As his lips continued to lie slack under hers, too unschooled to be responsive, she gave up the fantasy and just got on with it.
Buffy noticed that his pants were tightening, which was the upside of the soft loose fabric. Of course, the pressure of the old tight denims would have helped her with this. Callously, she wondered if he would fully harden. The thought that this might not go at all spurred her on. She pushed her tongue past his lips and into his mouth, curling her hand around his length lightly through his pants.
Another catch in his throat and his breath hissed out. She made a shushing sound, moving her mouth away from his. His eyes were wide and very, very blue as he gulped at the air. Shock, but no knowledge behind it. So different from that first time they'd done this.
She exiled the images from her mind. Fantasies weren't going to help here. She had to rely on the clinical.
Well, she'd used his body before, Buffy thought coldly, and for less reason than this. She could do it again. Had to.
She slid her hand off his crotch and under his shirt, fingers skating over too-prominent ribs, absorbing and discarding the unimportant fact that his skin was hot to the touch.
As her hand reached his chest, he shivered. Slamming his hand over the tee shirt, he clamped his fingers around hers, stopping her progress as he panted shallowly. She allowed him that much, letting him adjust to the sensations that were assailing his body.
Feelings he didn't have the capability to understand, she reminded herself.
After a long minute, after his breathing returned to normal and the grip of his hand relaxed, hers began to move down again.
As her fingers slid over his belt line and approached his crotch, she held her breath. His hips surged up slightly, responding, and he pushed himself up to meet her hand. She cupped her fingers around him and squeezed.
His eyes flashed and she felt a surge of triumph, followed by the thought that any animal would do as much. He pushed against her again. And again. Beginning a slow, tentative rhythm.
She realized her throat was dry and that somehow her panties were damp. Unexpected, but it would make things a little easier, she guessed.
Lying down on the bed beside him, she put her hand on his chest as she pulled her leg over him, resting the side of her knee against his crotch. She tried to prepare herself for the warmth of his lips as she plunged back to his mouth. He pushed against her knee.
One minute she was kissing him and the next his tongue was in her mouth clumsily, probing and exploring.
She realized that his hand was on the small of her back and he was pulling her atop him, pinning her tightly against him as his hips lightly rose and fell. He strained against her once, hard.
Using the palm she rested on his chest, she pushed herself up to look at his face.
His lips were red, cheeks flushed, eyes almost glazed with the primitive sensations he'd surrendered to.
Nothing of Spike in there at all. She'd allowed herself to be fooled by the strength of his hand on her back and pulled back to find... nothing. No knowing look, no smirk, no adoration.
This was wrong, wrong, wrong. And she was determined to finish it. Skin to skin. All or nothing.
Almost roughly, she sat up and jerked her top over her head. Naked from the waist up, she grabbed at his shirt and he moved to allow her to pull it up, finally finishing the job himself. Angry, she reached for the waistband of her skirt, knowing that she needed to take the lead so that she wouldn't frighten him any more than she already had. If she did, there might never be an opportunity again.
Concentrating on the buttons, she almost jumped when a brown hand crept up her ribs and over her breast. Her eyes found his face and saw the childlike curiosity in them as his blunt fingers closed around her nipple.
She closed her eye and let out a slow ragged breath.
Buffy knew she should let him adjust to her, but she was losing her nerve quickly. Horrible, sick words that started with letters like 'm' and 'r' were bouncing around on the edges of her thoughts. Refusing to think about them, she slithered out of the skirt and turned to his pants, agilely unfastening them as quickly as she could.
Just get it over with, some part of her said calmly.
His limbs were pale where they'd been untouched by the sun. But not pale enough. Not him, not him, not him. Her mind furiously chanted the mantra as she straddled him and guided him inside.
This was far worse than anything he'd ever done to her.
His gasp was ragged as she sank down. She continued sinking, belly to belly, chest to chest, bonelessly lying against him as he twitched inside her. There was nothing left in her to go on with this. Numb. She was numb.
He began moving sporadically. Realizing that his arm had crept across her shoulders, she pushed herself down against him, wishing she could just dissolve like one of those demons they used to kill together. Melt away into non-sentience.
His other hand had returned to the place where her hips and back met, pulling her against him in a parody of the way it used to be.
There was no art in it, only his need to move in and out, to scratch an itch, no rhyme or rhythm to it. His muscles quivered with effort, as his body grew hotter and hotter. He felt as strong as he ever had, but paradoxically, she was weaker than she'd ever been. Stronger than most women, faster, but still no slayer.
She bit back something that felt like a sob. That *she* had come to this. That *he* had come to this. They'd been warriors. Now they were just shadows, both of them. Strangers wearing faces that used to house someone else.
She didn't even know who she was anymore.
Along with her tattered pride, she felt hot tears leak from away into the hollows of the place where his neck met his shoulders. The tears itched. He itched - his skin hot and sticky, not cool and slick like she remembered. She wanted to get up, wanted to run away and never come back, do *anything* except give in to the wracking sobs.
And he was still, she realized. She knew that she should do something, begin moving, stop crying, but she couldn't. He'd probably lapsed back into that state he was in before she'd started this.
She'd screwed it up.
His hand slid from her shoulders as she was rolled to one side. Buffy felt the bed give beside her as he raised himself on his hand. Opening her eyes, she waited to see the damage she'd done.
Instead, she was met with anguish.
"Buffy..." he breathed out, looking at her swollen eyes and moving down her chest to the place where they were still tenuously connected. He looked shocked. Confused.
But he was back. Soft tremors jerked her body as the tears began to flow again.
"Christ," he muttered and gently slipped from her, rolling onto his back as he gathered her up against him. His heart thudded against her ear as her still-flowing tears mingled with the hair on his chest. That itched, too.
All of the tension went out of his body as he expelled a shaky breath. "Buffy, I..."
"You didn't believe me," she whispered. "I told you and you didn't..."
His breath caught on the intake. The silence stretched between them.
"I do now."
Companionably, Dawn and Xander stood outside his house, gazing at it with wistful smiles.
"It's in the Craftsman style," he explained. "I thought about mission, but this just seemed right."
Dawn smiled sadly. "You say that a lot. The whole 'right' thing. Did you know that?"
"Certainty - about anything - not so easy for me. It's better now," he said honestly. "One day I decided to start trusting my feelings." As he said the words, he blanched. "It was obviously a Luke Skywalker-type moment for me," he grinned face red with embarrassment.
Dawn looked at him wickedly. "What? You had to lose an eye to figure that out?" she grumbled.
His answering smile lit his whole face. "I was never a quick learner. Quick wit, but not so quick on the rest. Once it registers, though, it's imprinted for the duration."
The girl pulled her eyes from his and back to the house. "A family could be happy here."
"This 'family'," Xander said softly, pointing to his chest, "already is. But it's looking for adoptees. Or other kinds of recruits."
Dawn started up the steps and stood by the door. "Recruits?"
Grinning, Xander pulled the key out of his pocket and unlocked the door.
"Where were you?" Buffy asked.
"Deep." The word rolled out, mysterious and haunting. He cleared his throat. "Somewhere deep, pressed down."
She moved her hand under her cheek to keep the hair on his chest from tickling her nose. "You're not going back, are you? Inside, I mean."
His chest stopped in the midst of a breath.
"You're still going to be here when I wake up, right?" she prodded when he didn't answer.
The rise and fall of his chest began again. She thought she might be able to get used to it. Over time.
"Dunno," he answered candidly. "No plans to go, though. Like it better out here."
"I'm in college in Arizona. It's nice there," she told him. "Majoring in psychology. Doing case studies on dreams." She paused expectantly, but he didn't say anything. "Had any?"
"One or two," he responded carefully. He didn't elaborate.
"Cause I could take you with me," she said quickly. "Make you my primary study." To Buffy, the words sounded strained. Like a joke falling flat.
She realized he had been holding his breath. This would really take some getting used to, she thought. When he spoke again, there was an admiring tone to his voice. "You've been busy."
She nodded. The hair scraped her cheek. "Very. I've elevated the concept of 'busy' to a fine art. They'll be offering degrees in it soon. And I know lots of new big words. I can even use them in conversations without embarrassing myself."
His answering chuckle was appreciative and completely familiar. Her eyes stung again.
"So," he said finally. "What do we do now?"
"I don't know," she said slowly. "Live?"
Somehow that seemed right.