AN: See the pretty banner that my wonderful beta made me? Thank you, Always_jbj!
There was no sound from the basement as Buffy threw some cereal in a bowl and sat down at her small table. As she spooned the Cheerios into her mouth, her eyes kept darting to the locked door and to the chair still braced against it. When she finished eating, she gave a sigh and put her bowl in the sink before removing the chair and unlocking the door.
(Seems kinda stupid to try to keep him out when I’m not here – it’s not like he couldn’t just walk around and break in a window or something. I hope older me knew what she was doing when she decided to trust him even though he wasn’t her Spike. I hope I know what I’m doing…)
Shrugging off the worry about Spike and his intentions to think about later, she left the house and began the short walk to her job at the local mall. Malls in this dimension were nothing like those in the California she had come from, but they were still a good place for an underage girl to find a minimum wage job without too many questions being asked.
The entire dimension seemed to be a bit less structured than what Buffy was used to. In addition to the open acknowledgement of the existence of vampires and demons, no one seemed concerned that she was not in school, nor that she didn’t own the house in which she was living. Which worked out nicely in terms of her ability to blend in quickly and make a place for herself. She was a bit puzzled by the fact that everyone who knew what she was had accepted her status as the Slayer without giving any indication that there had been one around before she found herself here.
(It’s not like I go around advertising it, but a lot more people seem to know about me than they did in Sunnydale. It’s really strange, in a relaxing kind of way…)
Until she no longer had to do it, she hadn’t realized exactly how much energy she had expended in her own dimension just maintaining the fiction that she was a normal high school junior. The fact that her mother hadn’t even known what she was, and would have freaked if she did, had pulled on her in ways she’d not really admitted; and, as much as she missed her home and her mother, she was finding it a relief to be living in a place and time that didn’t require her to pretend to be anything but what she was.
She gave the restaurant manager a cheerful wave as she walked in and headed directly for the kitchen. Greeting the chef, a man whom she suspected of being a demon but who was such a wonderful cook that she couldn’t bring herself to challenge him on it, she pulled on her hairnet and apron and got to work lining up the table settings for the lunch crowd. She carefully wrapped each set of clean silverware in a clean napkin and laid it upon the cart that the waiters would use to make the tables ready for the anticipated lunch crowd.
While she continued the mindless task, she thought back over the previous evening’s events and marveled again at her own easy acceptance of Spike’s story and her curiosity about his soul.
(I’ve got to remember to ask him about that – if he has his soul, like Angel does. And why he hasn’t talked about Angel.)
Absence had done little to diminish Buffy’s schoolgirl crush on the souled vampire and she missed him just as much as she missed her mother and her friends. Although, she did find herself forgetting occasionally exactly what it felt like to be held and kissed by him, and now had the memory of how Spike’s body had felt the night before to muddle her memories even further.
(Just because the other Buffy loves him, doesn’t mean that I have to. He didn’t actually say she loves him, did he? He said that the other Spike loves her, but he didn’t say that she loved him back. Maybe she’s just dating him because Angel…where would Angel go? He wouldn’t leave me. Would he? He loves me. He said so. Angel is my boyfriend. I don’t care what this vampire says, or how good-looking he is; he isn’t Angel and he isn’t going to get me to cheat on my boyfriend by telling me that the other Buffy—)
Her internal rant was interrupted when the rather tall stack of tableware and napkins began to slide toward the edge of the cart and only her slayer speed prevented the destruction of the previous half-hour’s work. With a guilty look around to see if anyone had noticed her lack of attention, she spread the table-ready packets out more evenly and pushed the cart out into the main part of the restaurant.
For the rest of the afternoon and early evening, she resolutely kept her mind on her job and off the blond vampire currently occupying the basement of her house. As soon as her shift was over, and she had eaten one of the chef’s excellent dinners, she took off her work clothes, grabbed the bag that contained her stakes and left the restaurant via the back door. A route which allowed her to check out the alley for lurking vampires before turning toward home. Since Buffy had begun leaving by the back door, incidents of mall employees disappearing while emptying trash had almost completely stopped. Most nights Buffy took another quick swing down the alley before going home and the unpredictability of her patrols had made the former vampire buffet a place to avoid if at all possible.
Buffy reached the end of the alley and turned her steps in the direction of her home. She had decided to check on Spike before going out for her nightly patrol and she hastened through the darkness, anxious to catch him before he might leave for the night. She used her key to open the front door, noticing that the light was on in kitchen and that there were wet footprints in the hallway. She called out as she followed the footprints down the hall and into the kitchen, noting that they led to the now-open basement door.
“Spike? Are you still here?”
“Yes, pet.” The vampire’s blond head appeared at the top of the stairs, followed quickly by his body as he entered the kitchen somewhat timidly. “I hope you don’t mind; I took a shower and borrowed one of your towels. I’ll put it back soon’s it dries off.
“Uh…no, that’s fine.” Buffy stammered briefly; not having thought far enough ahead when offering the vampire her basement to think about things like extra towels, soaps and other everyday items. If asked, she probably would have admitted that she had no idea that vampires even took showers, although common sense told her that Angel must have done so.
Spike cocked his head and looked at her curiously. “Are you alright, Slayer? Havin’ second thoughts about sharin’ your home with a vamp?”
“No! Yes…maybe?” She scrunched her face up apologetically. “I’m not used to having anybody else around and I just didn’t think about—it’s nothing,” she concluded with her best fake smile. “It just takes a little getting used to – sharing my shower with a…a guy.”
“Well, technically, pet, we didn’t share the shower but if you’d like to try that sometime …” His gentle laugh at her indignant “Not even!” made her color that much harder as she realized that he’d been deliberately trying to make her blush.
“Very funny,” she muttered, doing her best to pretend that she exchanged sexual innuendos with men all the time and was just bored with it.
“So, Slayer,” he said briskly, changing the subject abruptly, “what’s the plan for the evening? Spot of violence, maybe?”
She gaped at him, noting the way he was almost bouncing on his toes with barely controlled energy.
“I’m going to patrol,” she responded stiffly. “You know, slay vampires, stuff like that?”
“Well, yeah. That’s what I meant. I could help. Bu- the other Buffy and I worked pretty well together.”
“You want to help me? To slay other vampires?”
“Well, was thinkin’ more about watchin’ your back while you take out the vamps, actually,” he admitted sheepishly. “But you never know when you might run into a gang of Fyarl demons or something… Come on, Slayer. Let me go with. Please?”
With his lower lip poking out and the hopeful expression in his eyes, he looked more like a little boy than he did a master vampire and Buffy shook her head in bewilderment.
“I don’t understand you.”
“What’s to understand? There’s got to be a reason I got dumped here. You, I understand. Somebody wanted the other you to have a chance to change some…events…that would have happened in that dimension or time, and they kicked you out. Don’t know why I didn’t get left there, but since I woke up within screaming distance of you taking apart a nest of demons, I’ve got to figure there’s a reason I’m here.”
“What’s that got to do with helping me?”
“Well—“ He looked at her uncertainly. “Don’t you want me to?” He suddenly appeared embarrassed, and turned his back on her saying gruffly, “I’m sorry, luv. I jus’…” He turned back and smiled at her apologetically. “I guess I’m not quite used to you not bein’ the one who knows me. I didn’t mean to force myself on you, Slayer.”
She gawked at him, her mouth hanging open as she tried to absorb what had just happened. A master vampire, older than dirt, has come here from my world and he thinks he’s supposed to help me. And he’s hurt when he thinks I don’t want him – vampires have feelings? Who knew? And he has manners, too. None of this was in my non-existent Slayer handbook. When she didn’t respond, but continued to stare into space with her mouth still open, he stepped closer to her and gently touched her chin, pushing her mouth closed.
“Wha-?” She blinked and tried to focus on his face and ignore the way her chin tingled where his finger had touched it so briefly.
“Where’d you go, Slayer?”
She flushed and shook herself. “I’m sorry, Spike. It’s just…you…I…Giles never…I’ve never met a vampire like you,” she admitted in a rush. “I don’t know what to do or say.”
“ ‘s OK, pet. I understand. Never would have thought I’d end up offering to help a slayer do anything but have a glorious de...” At the shocked expression on her face, he quickly back-tracked. “If you think I need remindin’ that I’m a stranger to you, you jus’ let me know, yeah? I don’t mean to act like we should set up house together - I’m just…it’s hard sometimes to remember that you… Nevermind, pet. Jus’ tell me to back off when you think you need to, yeah?”
He was still standing where he’d stepped when he touched her chin and she couldn’t control the way her heart pounded at his proximity.
“B…back off,” she whispered, not moving herself.
He frowned and she thought she saw a flash of pain in his eyes before he shrugged and closed down his face.
“Right, Slayer. Was in your space. Sorry.”
In spite of his words of apology and understanding, his stiff posture as he moved towards the basement door told her that she had somehow offended him. Before she could decide what, if anything, she wanted to do about it, he disappeared down the stairs, his voice drifting back up to her.
“I’ll jus’ grab my boots and be with you straight away.”
She shrugged, reminding herself that he was a vampire and probably got offended by all sorts of things that she would never understand. While she waited for him to come back up, she collected her stakes, hiding them around her body everywhere that she could tuck something that size. She hefted her sword tentatively, then put it down. If the fact that she was going to have an old vampire watching her back had anything to do with her decision to leave it behind, she carefully ignored the thought.
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