By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION THREE: ENGAGEMENTS
Chapter Ten: Crisis of Conscience
“Dawn. Wake up. Dawn. Bit.”
It was the tone of voice that brought Dawn straight upright in bed, trying to smear the sleep out of her eyes.
“Dawn. You got to come now. Please. Can’t, didn’t know, it’s all gone wrong--”
The last time Dawn had heard that disjointed mutter it had been coming through the high school ventilation system.
Dawn went into emergency mode, rolling out of bed and finding the switch of the bedside lamp as part of the same motion.
The light wasn’t fast enough to catch him. Just a glimpse of his bare back disappearing into the hallway. Dawn jammed a foot into one of her sneaks and kicked to find the other one, then hopped, treading on flopping laces, to grab yesterday’s hoody sweatshirt off a chair. Scuffing the sneaks on while yanking the sweatshirt over her head, she dashed down the stairs, holding the handrail in case she tripped on the laces.
In jeans and nothing else, Spike walked lopsided figure eights in the downstairs hall. Before Dawn could reach him he was gone again: out through the kitchen and across the yard. Racing after, Dawn caught up past the hedge and grabbed at his wrist, but he yanked away from her, then stumbled and almost fell, down on one knee. She latched on again.
“Quit that,” she told him when he tried to pull away. “This is mine. Show me, Spike.”
Still talking to himself but on no breath, Spike staggered upright. Making no further attempt to dislodge her, he continued into the house, Dawn trotting alongside and trying to notice everything.
He was shaking, continuous vibration, moving in a series of lunges as though he was going faster in his mind than his body could manage and he kept having to wait for it to catch up. No smell of liquor, so he wasn’t drunk. By the basement door he came to a halt, swaying, saying something but again no breath, no audible words. But it was plain he wanted her to go down and didn’t intend to go with her.
“No, you have to show me. Go on, now.” As if she’d let him out of her sight in such a state. Not for a second. “What’s happened to Buffy, Spike?” Because that had to be it, or part of it. “Show me.”
He let her bully him down the stairs ahead of her. She automatically hit the switch, expecting a bare bulb. Instead it was muted track lighting. Carpeted floor, a wall of built-in cabinets, actual furniture. Way upscale compared to his crypt.
As Dawn paused, looking, Spike went straight on to a substantial brass bed, left from the stairs, projecting from the wall. Its mattress was tilted because the right corner post had been pulled away from the crossbar. On it, Buffy was asleep on her side: knees slightly bent and feet apart, hands laid by her face, hair spread about. No clothes. Nothing gross showing. More like a layout in one of those magazines Dawn wasn’t supposed to know about. Nothing visibly amiss except the strange dance of approach and retreat Spike was doing on the far side of the bed. Reaching for the sheet rucked up at the foot, to cover her maybe, then jerking the hand back and spinning away, then back again, reaching, touching nothing.
Only a little hesitantly, Dawn touched, and Buffy’s shoulder was warm. She was breathing OK. Except for being asleep and naked of course, if that counted, nothing Dawn could see to have thrown Spike into incoherent panic.
So it had to be something she couldn’t see.
Dawn thought for a second of waking Buffy so there’d be both of them to deal with this, but changed her mind when she got her first good look at Spike’s face. His eyes were wide and shocky. From second to second they changed between stages of not-quite-blue and not-quite-gold, averaging a muddy dull green. When Dawn went around the foot of the bed to take his arm, he jerked, startled and uncomprehending. Dawn got between him and the bed, interrupting his view, and that let her back him into a heavy wood armchair against the wall. A push got him down in it. She set her hands on the chair arms, boxing him there.
“Spike, breathe. You can’t talk if you don’t breathe.”
For a moment, no reaction. Then, “Right. You stay with her then. I didn’t know. You tell her I didn’t know, didn’t mean. That’s all right then.”
He was up again, pushing heedlessly past. She chased him and got to the stairs first because he’d stopped to go through his pockets. What bills and small change he came up with, he pitched on the floor, just getting rid of it, muttering on no breath. When he was sure there was no more he came on to the stairs and again seemed startled to find Dawn there, blocking the way.
“Bit, got to go now. Can’t be here.”
“First you have to tell me what’s wrong.”
He looked around to the bed and started toward it, then spun back as though he’d smacked into a disinvite spell that wouldn’t let him past. Caught between conflicting impulses, he dropped to sitting on the floor, bent forward with his arms wrapped defensively over the back of his head. He was saying something. As Dawn cautiously left her position, she thought it was No repeated compulsively over and over.
She didn’t dare sit with him because he could move faster than she could and she was quite certain if he got past her and up the stairs, she’d never see him alive again. She compromised, going down on one knee, and took good hold of his wrist so she’d have some warning if he moved. His skin seemed cold, even for a vampire. Still shaking deep inside. Really shocky.
“Tell me what’s wrong, Spike. Breathe first.”
“Well, I fed off her, didn’t I? An’ it should have been all right, tried it out an’ everything, no harm, she’ll be fine and she even said. Can’t be here. You just look after her, she’ll be fine except.”
“Didn’t know it would feel like this, did I? No idea whatever. Wrong, Bit. Wrong, wrong, bloody hell, she said an’ I come up at her, just as fine as the dream, all sorts of fine an’ she’d even said but she didn’t know, not really. An’ I didn’t know, didn’t know it’d be like this, not the least fucking clue--”
“Spike, do I need to call an ambulance. Transfusion. Like before.”
“--no harm, I thought, no bloody harm. Set my mark on her like Drac, like fucking Angelus, an’ I said and she didn’t tell me no, didn’t say I wasn’t to but she didn’t know. Hurts. Hurt her again. Can’t be here when she wakes, no, can’t do that.”
Despite Dawn’s attempt to be ready, vampire agility and swiftness still took her by surprise. He was up and already on the stairs before she could rise and turn. From the sweatshirt’s front pouch she took and armed the taser. A jump and a long lunge, reaching as high and as fast as she could, she hit the back of his right leg. His fall, collapsing back down, took her legs out from under her. She flopped forward, the edges of the steps sharp and painful. Spike ended up sprawled at the bottom of the stairs. At least it was carpet and not cement, and he looked more dazed than hurt. Not knowing how long one hit would keep him down, Dawn put the business end of the taser against his throat and hit him again. His eyes rolled up white and she was reasonably sure he’d be down at least long enough to get him secured some way.
Rummaging through bureau drawers, she found a cache of silk scarves right next to a collection of thongs and panties that certainly weren’t his, even if she hadn’t known he went without. What he went without certainly wasn’t that. Forcing her eyebrows down, she grabbed a handful of the scarves with the vague recollection that the tensile strength of silk compared fairly well to that of steel cable. Considering options, she dragged another of the armchairs, easier to move than he was, out from the wall and then lifted, pushed, tipped and slid him into it, and Girl Scout training was never wasted. She knew how to find north and she could do clove hitches with her eyes shut. Bent to tie his ankle to the chair leg, she saw a different-shaped glint among the spilled change: the bike’s ignition key. She pocketed it. And as a further just-in-case, she added a square knot on top of each hitch, then took a moment to consider the result. If the chair itself held, he was there until somebody released him.
If the chair held.
She carefully lifted his head to check his eyes. Still out, OK. Having laid the taser on the floor to do the tying, she stooped to retrieve it, setting the safety before slipping it back into the sweatshirt pouch.
He’d given it to her in the Magic Box. So like him to have put one aside for her, regardless of other plans, other purposes, to keep with her at all times in case things went bad. So strange to have this be her first use of it.
Well, this was conditionally OK, should hold awhile: long enough for her to get backup.
Since there was only the one floor, it didn’t take Dawn long to find the bedrooms. She poked her head into two before she located Amanda, the most level-headed of the Potentials, and woke her, not caring whether she disturbed the two other SITs sharing the bed. Amanda would see to whatever was needed.
“’Manda. It’s important.”
“What? Oh…. Dawn?”
“You don’t recall, but you and I were good friends once, all right? You had a cocker spaniel named Dirt and he got hit by a car when you were ten and the vet said they buried him but they really didn’t, he went into the furnace. I really know.”
Sitting up and pushing the covers aside, Amanda had an all-over shudder, waking up. “OK, I got that.”
“There’s been a thing in the basement. Nobody really hurt that I can tell, but Spike’s gone all weird about it. Get who you need and get on the basement door. Whatever happens, don’t let him past you. Especially not after sunrise.” Dawn showed the taser. “I took him down with this. How long does a hit last?”
“On a human, ten, fifteen minutes depending on body mass. On a vamp, maybe half that.”
“I hit him twice.”
Amanda gave her a slow, blinking look that reminded Dawn somehow of Tara. “All right. Good. That gives us time, then.” She got up and started getting dressed. Over her shoulder she asked, “Anything else?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m going back now.”
At the door, Amanda’s voice caught her: “He knew something was coming.”
Reaching for a T-shirt, Amanda continued thoughtfully, “Last night he said goodbye to us, or as good as. Didn’t say why, but that’s what it was. And then at the Magic Box…well, you saw. Mostly he keeps us all in his head, no problem. But he’d lost us, forgot us half the time. Couldn’t manage anything beyond one-on-one. We wondered about that, after. I don’t remember ever seeing him so distracted.” Slight quirk of an un-smile. “Not that my memory is obviously apt to win any competitions.”
“It’s OK. I just got edited out. I’ll explain later, if you want. You noticed, and I didn’t. Deduct major points for that. All I saw was him vamp-faced nearly the whole time.”
“Yeah, there’s been more of that lately. Maybe we should talk. Compare notes. After, because we both should go.”
One of the other SITs, Kim, sat up all bedheaded and yawning, asking Amanda what was up. Dawn didn’t wait any longer to get back downstairs. Spike was still out, that situation stabilized for the moment, so Dawn went to see to Buffy.
Dawn now knew what was wrong: Spike had fed on her. Since she wasn’t dead, the only question was whether Buffy would wake up, or the Slayer.
Dawn still had the taser. She’d take the Slayer down too, if necessary, until the whole thing could be sorted out. She checked her watch: just past two. Plenty of time still before daybreak.
Adults could be such idiots. And vamps. And guys in general. Spike in particular. Not to mention Slayers. Much over sixteen-and-a-half, something kicked in and rendered them all insane. The best thing would be to tie them both down and make them talk. It was all so stupid.
Sniffing and rubbing impatiently at her eyes, Dawn shoved at her sister’s shoulder.
From a long way off, Buffy felt somebody trying to make her wake up, which she very much didn’t want to do. She didn’t think she’d been dreaming, not exactly. Just in some pleasant post-coital drifting place, very soft and deep. But the pest wouldn’t let her drift, pinches even, and that was really annoying but it wasn’t Spike, and who could possibly be pinching her?
She had to wake to find out, waving and slapping vaguely. It came to her dimly that it was Dawn trying to shake her to alertness, very extremely dizzy sitting up and terribly thirsty. She licked her lips and announced muzzily, “Thirsty.” Dawn let her alone, maybe to go get something for her to drink, and sometime around then Buffy realized she had no clothes on and bumped around trying to find them. She hadn’t known the track lighting worked, Spike always just used candles, and that should make things easier to find but it didn’t, far too bright and glaring. A hangover, she thought, locating her top by color on the floor by the bureau. She bumped into a chair, and Spike was in it, tied down and unconscious, and that was seriously odd but first she needed to get some clothes on, anybody might come in and find her like this, highly embarrassing.
With a shirt and a pair of the spare underwear from the top drawer, Buffy felt a little more secure--specifically, less naked--noticing in buttoning the shirt that the collar felt harsh against the side of her neck, which didn’t exactly hurt: a slight dull ache, and tingling like the beginnings of sunburn. Oversensitized somehow. She was rubbing at it when Dawn came trotting back down the stairs with a glass full of the most wonderful cold delicious orange juice Buffy had ever tasted. She finished the glass in about four long gulps and handed it back, saying, “More.”
Dawn turned and called up the stairs, “Bring the whole thing,” staying by the chair, one hand holding the glass, the other one poked into the front pouch of her sweatshirt. Below the sweatshirt, only long bare legs and sneakers. No pants. Pants were important. Certainly customary.
Buffy spotted her jogging pants by a wall-mounted cabinet and found that really extraordinarily wonderful juice she wanted more of had made some of the dizziness back off. She could bend over to retrieve the jogging pants without having to hold onto anything this time. But standing on one foot to get them on was something she wasn’t ready to attempt yet. She leaned against the cabinet, holding the jogging pants dangling in one hand and rubbing at her neck with the other.
Dawn brought more juice. Buffy drank that more slowly because it was very cold and made her sinuses twinge. And that in turn started to drive back the fog like wind off the mountains.
Her neck felt strange. That brought up a very clear image of Spike coming up at her in vamp-face and biting her. All right, that connected. And she guessed that was why he hadn’t wanted to turn for her. Why hadn’t he just explained clearly that that was part of the package? She thought over what he’d said, the other night, and in retrospect it was clear that he’d known: that was what he’d meant about it all being one thing. So why hadn’t he just said so? And knowing, why had he changed his mind? And why had somebody tied him down to a chair like the worst of the bad old days?
Putting the empty glass on a small cabinet, Buffy wandered back to the chair and started undoing the top knot holding one of Spike’s wrists. Another hand closed around hers and stopped her. Frowning, Buffy looked up, wondering why Dawn was getting in the way.
“He freaked,” Dawn said bluntly. “Totally lost it. Until you tell him you’re not mad, assuming you’re not, I wouldn’t trust him anywhere near an open door in the daytime. Some way, you got to make this right with him, Buffy.”
Buffy’s head cleared still further, and her frown intensified. “I have to make it right with him? Explain that to me, please. I’m the one who got turned into a midnight snack.”
“All right, I’ll put it a different way. Which is more important to you: getting snacked on a little, because you’re certainly not dead here and it didn’t have to be that way, or Spike? The man is out of his fucking mind about this, Buffy, and I mean that literally. Out. Of. His. Fucking. Mind.”
Buffy wondered if Dawn had always been this much of a pain. Probably. Although Buffy lacked details, the feeling of wanting to crush her like a bug seemed very familiar.
Absently, she asked, “Did I used to wash out your mouth with soap a lot?”
“Never.” Suddenly Dawn’s face crumpled and she was crying, which Buffy found uncomfortably upsetting. “Nor Mom either. But Mom was gone before I needed to learn Spike-speak. I miss Mom. She never wanted to hurt him. Except for the axe, and that was like forever ago and she didn’t know him then.”
“Mom never knew him. Not really. And why do you think I want to hurt him?”
“You mean you don’t?” Dawn asked, suspicious and hopeful.
“Snacking is out. Biting of any sort is out of bounds, if it involves teeth. Fangs. Way out.”
Dawn smeared snot across her face with a fist and lifted her chin challengingly. “Did you ever tell him so? In so many words?”
The fact was that she hadn’t. Such things didn’t need to be actually said, it was ridiculous. But she hadn’t, that was true.
“He knew,” Buffy said flatly and with certainty. “But I’m willing to call it an accident. Maybe. Really bad communications. And nothing new about that.”
Spike could talk for five minutes before he’d cough up the noun, the thing he was actually talking about. And there was also the fact that she’d asked him to show her. Dumb maybe. Ignorant. But she had asked him. And he had insisted on the scarves.
And there was always the fact that she had this thing for vampires. A certain amount of potential biteyness inherent in that. A certain built-in Land Shark potential.
At least he hadn’t lost his soul and decided to kill everybody she cared about.
God, she hated it that things got so complicated!
Her sister, whom she didn’t know and who might not even be human anymore, was all wound up in dread that she’d stake her boyfriend, a vampire. What’s wrong with this picture? Buffy thought.
“OK, conditionally, an accident. So why’s he in the chair? What’s the matter with him?”
Dawn showed a wincing face and hands hesitantly flapping at shoulder level. “I tasered him a little. Twice. To keep him from leaving. Thus the chair, ditto. You got to talk to him, Buffy. He was waaay beyond upset. It was really hard getting anything out of him because he kept forgetting to breathe.”
“OK, I get the picture.” Buffy decided that if she held onto the back of the chair with one hand, she might attempt the jogging pants with the other. She searched for the label that would tell her which side was the back. “All right, Dawn, you rang the big bell and the cavalry is here now. Your presence is no longer required. Time for the grown-ups.”
“Triple no! Quadruple no! You’re not the cavalry, I am. And I’m here for the duration. Not budging here! And if you go all Slayer on me, I’ll…I’ll make you sorry!”
At last all pantsed and secure, Buffy folded her arms. “Dawn. Out.”
“No squared! No cubed and whatever is beyond cubed double tripled!”
“No French toast for you. But I certainly know you’re my sister. Same great vocabulary skills. Go upstairs, at least.”
“No. Really. Sorry, but I don’t trust either of you right now not to screw things all up. I’m staying. Just consider me your friendly neighborhood referee. With a taser.” And Dawn had the gall to display it, with very slight embarrassment, on the flat of her hand. And Buffy thought she’d really use it: after all, she’d used it on demigod of Hotness Spike. She wouldn’t scruple for bedraggled through-the-wringer permanent wrinkle Buffy.
Agreeing tacitly to the standoff, Dawn tucked hand and taser back into the sweatshirt pouch, and Buffy tried to determine how much longer Spike was apt to be out, before they could get this settled.
Spike had been listening to them bicker for what seemed quite awhile. Dawn’s voice, and Buffy’s. So that was all right then. She was, anyway. Dismiss that, then. Maybe he could have moved. Hadn’t tried. Didn’t care.
Most of it had played out about as he’d expected. What he hadn’t expected was how it hurt. Nothing as distinct as a headache. Nothing that seemed to have any limit or a foreseeable end. Just absolute wrenching wretchedness so that continuing one more minute seemed a complete and utter waste of time. Fetch Dawn to see to her and then get out, go anywhere, set a fire, something. Not even wait for the sunrise, what was the point of that? Just go. Be done.
Had to be the soul.
Mostly he’d been indifferent to it. It had been the thing apparently required of him, so he’d done it, stuck it out, gotten the damn thing. A very few times, maybe twice, he’d taken some small obscure pride in it because it seemed to mean something to the Scoobys. Even Giles. Even Buffy occasionally seemed impressed and didn’t beat him up nearly as often as before. Accepted him as the official acknowledged boyfriend cum enforcer, which he’d never thought she would. Do Angel one in the eye, whenever he chanced to find out. Seemed a good idea at the time.
Hadn’t liked the craziness much, everything all stirred up and unsettled, the two souls, human and demon, having it out back and forth, but he’d thought they’d pretty much finished that, settled the boundaries, declared a truce or some such, some months back. Figured the soul was nothing much he had to take into account anymore, like the dysfunctional chip.
Well, he’d been wrong. And if this was the way it was going to be, he just wanted it ended. He was so fucking sick of being wrong, and yet he’d had no idea doing something perfectly sensible could make him feel wrong not just to others, which he was used to, but to himself. That was a whole different thing. Then you had noplace at all to stand and noplace to retreat to.
He’d had his turn at playing by the human rules, being mostly polite and patient with everybody no matter what kind of idiots they were. So what, if none of it was actually real or made any sense. He could learn the rules and do that, at least for awhile. Do the required tricks, what everybody seemed to want and accept from him. When that got old, it wasn’t much to let go, do another thing. He’d shed skins before and always traveled light. Nothing he had that he couldn’t do without. Except for Buffy. And except for Dawn. So he’d stayed with the tricks longer than he could actually bear.
But seeing the end of that coming, he’d planned out how it should go, a way Buffy could shed herself of him and be pretty much reconciled, figure she was right and get on with it with no great regrets. He’d told Giles: he’d lose it on his own terms before he’d let Angel take it all away. Hadn’t quite figured out Dawn yet, how to see to her, but he’d thought a way would come to him, only could do so many things at a time.
But if he couldn’t even be a proper vampire anymore, if the tricks and the rules and now the awful gut-wrenching misery when he broke them was all there was, then that was it, there was nothing left worth staying for.
A hundred, a thousand times worse than the chip.
No wonder so few vampires got souls. Far fewer than humans who drank poison on purpose. Vampires had more sense. Himself excepted, of course.
After about half an hour, Buffy knocked on Spike’s forehead. “I know you’re in there. No point hiding, Spike. And no need. If I was gonna dust you, I would have done it already.”
His eyes opened. More than anything, he looked bored. As if he wasn’t really paying attention. A look that said Yeah, what is it now? and didn’t really care about the answer.
Buffy went on, “Just to get it said: no more biting. Ever. All right?”
“Sure. Get me loose of this now.”
“I’m willing to call it an accident, it was a little more than, than either of us expected,” Buffy said, uncomfortably aware of Dawn behind her, “and things got a little out of hand. But nobody’s dead, and I guess it was a bad idea. Very bad idea, but I didn’t know. And now I do.”
“Good you got that settled. Get this off me.”
Buffy was reminded of the first stage of the trip down to L.A. He’d made noises like he was actually there but he really wasn’t. A whole different scenario playing out for him than anything she’d known or could have known.
Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to take off the restraints just yet. Until she was sure he was really here and not off someplace inside his head.
Dawn had picked up on it too because she came and knelt at the side of the chair. She pushed her hand under Spike’s and clasped it but she might as well have been holding the chair arm. His fingers didn’t move and he didn’t look at her.
Dawn said to him, “I bet it’s the soul. Isn’t it.” Then he looked at her. Just a flick of a glance. Dawn said, “I thought so. What’s it doing now?”
“Doesn’t matter. Get this off me.”
“So you can do what?” Dawn said, about as sympathetic as a pointed stick.
“Doesn’t matter. Just do it.”
When nobody moved to untie him, the chair creaked. With steady, almost invisible force, no straining or yanking, he was pushing his arms outward. One of the chair arms cracked off the back and then off where it connected to the seat. That arm, of his, completely free although still attached to the wood. Dawn showed him the taser: practically under his nose. And they stared at each other.
With that free arm, he could have broken her in pieces or simply whacked her into a wall. Maybe Buffy could have stopped him but probably not, probably not until after. And they all knew that. And then they all knew that he didn’t because he couldn’t and Dawn’s taser therefore was the power here.
Dawn said steadily, “Don’t make me do you again. What do you need, to talk to me, Spike?”
He began picking out the knot in the scarf binding his right wrist. Then he slid that scarf off and dropped it. It took him a little longer to undo the scarf from his left wrist, which let the broken chair arm fall.
He said, “You do me if you want. Doesn’t matter. Don’t care.”
“What’s the soul doing, Spike.”
They were, Buffy thought, going after each other like a couple of vampires. No softness, no give. Absolutely relentless. Suddenly Buffy couldn’t listen to that anymore. She leaned past Dawn, leaned past the taser, put her arms around his back and gathered him in. For awhile she was holding him. Then indefinably that changed and he was being held, too. A different way his weight rested, maybe. Something she simply felt and knew. After a longer while, he started breathing and bent his head against her shoulder, and his spread hands settled on the small of her back.
“Can’t do this no more.”
Dawn prompted, “Do what, Spike?”
“None of this. All the sense run out of it. Doesn’t none of it make sense.”
And Buffy understood that perfectly. She knew exactly how that felt. The time after her resurrection, when he’d been all she could hang onto and all she could afford to hit. When he’d been absolutely the only thing that made any sense at all.
From that realization she told him softly, “We’re the sense. It’s noplace if it isn’t here. Do we still make sense to you.” That he didn’t answer didn’t necessarily mean no. She understood that too. She thought, and said, “Way out on the far edge of nothing, where it’s all dark except for the fires.”
That was what she’d come into, after clawing her way out of her grave. That was what it had looked like: the streets, empty except for the nightmare bikers. When she’d been certain this was hell.
He murmured, “I can’t be but what I am. And that’s a vampire. Never gonna be nothing different from that. And if that’s wrong, I’m wrong, and there’s no mending it. Don’t know how to do, anymore. None of it. Dunno how to be that wrong.”
Buffy took that thought and turned it: was it possible for there to be a right way to be a vampire? And if there wasn’t, if just being meant being wrong, how the hell could anybody live like that?
She thought, You came back wrong. Yeah, she knew a whole catalogue about how it felt to believe you were fundamentally wrong.
She told him, “I see part of it. Give us time and we’ll see the rest of it. You can’t be wrong because you’re the one I want. And I wouldn’t want you the same, or as much, if you weren’t a vampire. I know that. So that much makes sense to me. There has to be a good way for you to be. And still be a vampire. What you are. Keep on a little longer and we’ll find it. I promise.”
He didn’t believe her. But that was good enough for now. That was enough, she thought, to keep him out of the daylight.
She asked, “You gonna help with the patrol tonight?”
Long silence. “Yeah. That comes next. Figured to do that.”
Nothing if not persistent, Dawn asked, “What’s the soul doing, Spike?”
“Dunno. Hurts. I think…it hates me.”
Continued in Chapter Eleven: Working Conditions