Buffy’s much-improved mood lasted until they had cleaned out the three cemeteries on their list for the night. Instead of their usual ice cream treat on the way home, they both agreed that it was getting too cold for ice cream and they stopped at a coffee shop for hot chocolates. Spike told her how much he’d liked her mother’s hot chocolate and she smiled sadly as she agreed that it was the “best ever”.
The reminder of what she was missing sent Buffy into a melancholy silence and he fumbled around for some way to bring back her happy mood. Remembering the bags she’d been carrying when she came home, he asked quickly, “What was in those fancy bags you were carrying when you stopped to ogle me, pet? Did you get that dress I told you to?”
Making a face at his ogling comment, she nodded, regaining her enthusiasm as she spoke.
“Yep! Got a dress and shoes and matching underwear... and I sooo did not just tell you that!”
Grinning at her flaming face, he waited for her to stop sputtering before he purred, “So, matching underwear? ‘s that right, Slayer? Plannin’ on havin’ yourself a big night, are you?”
“Hmmmph!” she huffed. “Like that’s likely with you watching my every move and flashing your fangs at anybody you don’t like.”
Smothering the pang her comment gave him, he said mildly, “Wouldn’t get in your way, luv. You know that. Promised you a night on the town and that’s what you’ll get. I promise.”
Crap! I hurt his feelings again. Damn vampire and his feelings – and those eyes that show everything he’s feeling.
“I...I’m sorry, Spike. I didn’t mean that the way—“
“’s alright, pet. You’re likely right. Without that reminder, I’d probably be prowlin’ behind you promisin’ to eat anybody who had the wrong look in his eye. Won’t do it, I promise you. I’ll jus’ get you in the door and dancin’ and then watch from a safe distance.”
“You aren’t going to dance with me?”
“Thought I was takin’ you there to meet people your own age and have some fun? You don’t want to be spendin’ your time with an old vamp what hasn’t danced since the waltz was considered daring.”
“Way to remind me that you’re older than dirt, Spike,” she grimaced.
“Didn’t know you needed remindin’, Slayer,” he said gruffly as he stood up. “Let’s get goin’ – I want to watch that show where the demons compete with humans to see who can answer the most questions.”
“That almost-but-not-quite-Jeopardy show?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Like to get the answers before they do.”
“So you can yell at the TV and feel superior to somebody.”
“I AM superior, pet. An’ don’t you forget it.” He waggled his eyebrows at her and she giggled in spite of herself, following him out the door.
The walk home was quicker than usual, Buffy’s steps hastened by the fact that she hadn’t worn a winter coat and Spike’s by his urge to see his show.
I need to get that parka out of the back of the closet. I forgot how cold it gets here in the winter.
“Penny for your thoughts, pet?”
“I was just thinking about how much I miss southern California and the sun – especially at this time of the year. Do you know how much money I had to spend when I first got here – just buying stuff to keep me from freezing to death? You’d think the powers might have sent us someplace warm,” she grumbled, wrapping her arms around herself and shivering.
Spike eyed her heavy sweatshirt and long pants and nodded his head. “Got to admit, the outfits you wear here aren’t nearly as easy on the eyes as those short skirts and skimpy tops that you filled your closet with back home.”
“Are you saying I don’t dress well?” Dismay and disappointment flew across her face. In spite of her small salary, Buffy had done her best to continue to dress nicely – making allowances for the fact that this world was much cooler than what she was used to and short skirts and thin tops just weren’t practical. With a limited budget and the potential damage caused by her slaying duties, she’d been forced to stick with easily washed, long sleeve tops in warm fabrics, but she prided herself on coordinating things as much as possible. Even the thermal underwear that she wore in the winter was in pretty colors.
“I’m just saying, luv,” he said quickly, reading her unhappy expression and wishing he’d kept his mouth shut, “that I got used to seein’ a lot more of Buffy than what I get to look at now. Not that you don’t look nice – it’s just that I’d rather be lookin’ at skin than corduroy. Watching you kickin’ in pants just isn’t the same as watchin’ you kick wearing a mini-skirt...” His eyes unfocused for a minute as his mind wandered back to watching Buffy spinning and kicking in her short skirts.
“You’re a pig, Spike!” The response was automatic, but she couldn’t hide the relief in her voice.
Once again he was reminded that, in spite of her physical appearance, she was only approaching her eighteenth birthday and still very much a teenager when it came to worrying about her clothes. She did dress very differently from the way she had back in Sunnydale – and not just because it was cold. Without being in school and having to worry that she wasn’t fitting in, she hadn’t wanted to waste too much of her limited money on clothes that she was planning to leave behind as soon as she was yanked back to her own world. The dress to wear out dancing was her first real venture into shopping for pretty clothes since she had become resigned to living in this colder, less stylish world and she had forgotten how much she enjoyed shopping until she went looking for it.
Vowing mentally to have more shopping therapy in her future, she shoved Spike and began to run, calling back, “Last one home is a—“
She got no further before he was running easily beside her, so busy admiring the way her cheeks reddened and her eyes sparkled in the cold air that he almost ran into the little fence around the house’s bare excuse for a front yard. At the last second, he realized where he was and leaped it effortlessly, landing beside her at the foot of the steps and shoving her aside.
“Hah! I win, Slayer,” he crowed as he took the steps in one bound and put his key in the door. Before he could open it far enough to get inside, a giggling Buffy had slipped under his arm. She turned to face him triumphantly, pointing at him.
“Hah, yourself! I won. You’re a...a... Rats! I forgot what I was going make the loser be.”
“Well, you think on it for a while, pet. This loser is going to watch his show.” He went into the living room, dropping his duster on the chair and flipping on the TV. He tried very hard to concentrate on the picture in front of him and not so much on the now-warmed up slayer in the hallway. In a very short time, Buffy joined him on the couch to listen to him shout answers and mock the stupidity of the contestants when they didn’t know them. The camera shifted from the emcee to the contestants, and suddenly they were both focused on the screen. Standing in the middle box, wearing a low-cut blouse, tight pants and knee-high boots was Vamp Willow. She licked her lips slowly, causing the human contestant on her left to cast her a nervous glance.
“So, Ms Rosenburg,” the emcee tried to keep her attention on him, all the time wondering what had possessed the producers to allow what was clearly a less than tame vampire onto the show. “What are your qualifications for being on ‘Stump the Experts?’ You seem quite...young...to be an expert on anything.”
“Oh,” she purred, licking her lips. “I’m older than I look. And, I’m an expert on quite a few things...”
She ran her eyes up and down the announcer’s body, then did the same to an off-camera female assistant producer. The man cleared his throat and attempted to continue his show, indicating that the first question was up for grabs. Before the human contestant next to her could even move, Willow’s hand had smashed down upon the large round ball on her desk, causing it to collapse. Both men blinked at the speed with which she’d moved, and their growing suspicion was clearly evident in their faces.
“Ooopsie! Did I break your buzzer? Shame on me.” Willow’s grin made it obvious that she wasn’t sorry at all.
“N-no, that’s quite all right,” he stammered. “We’ll just—“
“I think we’ll just say I won and let it go at that. How’s that sound, huh?”
Once again moving too fast for the eye to follow, she grabbed the man now edging away from the contestant area and ripped his throat out, flashing her blood-covered fangs at the camera. They watched in horror as the camera moved backward, away from the stage, but still recording. The wider angle allowed Buffy to watch as Xander stepped up behind the emcee and buried his teeth in the man’s neck. She moaned softly and without thinking, Spike put his arm around her shoulders and gave her trembling body a sympathetic squeeze.
“’s not them, Buffy,” he murmured as she continued to watch in horror while minions swarmed onto the set and into the audience, ripping and tearing as they followed the directions of the red-head now holding the microphone. Spike swallowed hard, fighting back his demon, which was being called to in a way that he hadn’t worried about in months. He relaxed his comforting grip on Buffy’s shoulder, suddenly very aware of the nearness of her throat and the blood pounding there. He eased himself away from her and fought to remain in his human face, even as every molecule in his body was crying for some of the red liquid so visible on the small screen.
Missing his comforting presence, Buffy tore her gaze away from the sickening sights still being broadcast in living color, and glanced over at the vampire. She watched in fascination as his eyes flickered between their usual soft blue and amber; his fangs had dropped far enough that she could just see the tips of them protruding below his upper lip. Sudden understanding had her reaching for the remote so as to change the channel, but he stopped her with a claw-tipped hand.
“No, love,” he growled around his fangs. “Leave it. We need to know what’s goin’ on there. It isn’t like old Bat Face to go public like this.”
“But--“ she began. “You...isn’t it...?” She fumbled for a way to say that she hated to see him struggling so hard to hide what was his nature. A small part of her, that remembered her Watcher’s teachings, was screaming that she was sitting next to a dangerous vampire and that he would not be able to control himself in face of so much blood – even if it was only on a television screen.
“It’s alright, Slayer. I’ll be alright. It’s just been a long time, and I—“
“And you miss it,” she said flatly.
“I do.” His admission was equally uninflected, but he took a deep breath and then his normal blue eyes were staring at her – no trace of the monster within visible any longer. “I do, but I can control it. I’m sorry, Buffy,” he said more softly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“The only thing that scared me,” she said, tossing her hair, “was wondering if I was going to have to stake you.” She lowered her eyes and said more softly, “I don’t want to do that.”
He nodded and sighed. “Got to say, I’m not too excited about that idea myself, pet. Doin’ my best to see that it never happens.”
“I know you are,” she whispered. “But what if it happens? What if I have to stake you? I don’t know if I could do that, Spike. I don’t know if I’m that kind of Slayer.”
Remembering what the older Buffy had told him about Angel’s regaining his soul just before she had to send him to hell, he smiled and lifted her chin with a gentle finger.
“You are that kind of Slayer, Buffy. I know you are.”
Their eyes met and locked, hers worried, his warm and encouraging. Spike’s finger was still on her chin, his need to reassure her that she was stronger than she thought overcoming his usual reluctance to touch her in any way other than strictly platonically. His face moved towards hers, which remained where it was, only her widened eyes and increased heart rate indicating that she was aware of his proximity.
Ohmygod! Is he going to kiss me? Why aren’t I moving away? Do I want him to kiss me?
Suddenly, screams from the television interrupted the moment and they whirled to watch as vamp-Willow, still holding the microphone, talked directly into the camera.
“That’s right,” she purred at the camera. “We’re not hiding in the dark any more. This is our town...and soon it’s going to be our world.”
The camera, now being operated by one of the minions, panned over the audience, which was being herded into long lines, the people being held together by loops of rope around their necks. When the only untied humans were the ones lying dead on floor, Willow pointed to the exit and said clearly, “Get them out of here and into the trucks. We have more pick-ups to make tonight.” She turned back to the camera and gave a toothy grin. “Maybe one of them will be you!” she said, pointing at the screen, which then went blank.
Spike could feel Buffy quivering beside him and, forgetting the just-passed moment of tension, he pulled her in with both arms, rubbing soothing circles on her back until she stopped trembling. He felt her stiffen and without looking, he felt her transform from unhappy girl to angry Slayer. Her head came up and her voice was cold as she spoke.
“That’s not my Willow.”
“Told you that, pet,” he soothed, unwilling to give up holding her warm body until he had to.
“No. I mean, that wasn’t my Willow. Not the one I know or that I wouldn’t want to slay. My Willow is shy. She would never grab a microphone like that, or talk into a camera. I can slay that vampire,” she concluded firmly. “And I will as soon as I track them down to their lair.”
As she spoke, she pulled away from Spike’s no longer needed comfort, and stood up to pace around the room, muttering to herself.
“If I can borrow a car, you can drive me to that city and I can find their lair. I’ll stake her and that stupid Xander look-alike, and then I’ll kick that old guy’s butt---“
“Slayer? Buffy?” Spike stepped in front of her, bringing her ranting pacing to a halt as he did so.
“You can’t go charging in there like John Wayne, love. We need to find out what’s what in that place – preferably from a distance – before we plan how to take them down. I don’t think we’re looking at a bunch of fledglings that just got too big for their britches; this smacks of some plannin’ and a lot of confidence.”
“There you go,” she pouted. “Sounding like Giles again.”
“Jus’ sayin’, luv. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. They aren’t going anywhere.”
“But, Spike! Those people! I can’t just let them—“
She was interrupted by one of the loud popping notices that preceded Dawn’s arrival and they both turned to watch the younger Summers sister step out of the portal now visible in their living room.
“Hi, guys!” Dawn waved and then hugged Buffy and smiled at Spike. “I have some information for you from Sunnydale.” She took the letter her Buffy had written out of her pocket and handed it to the Buffy in front of her, then turned to Spike. “Have you got something to drink? I’ve been traveling all day and I’m really thirsty.”
Frowning curiously, he left Buffy reading the letter from her older self and led Dawn into the kitchen. Quickly reaching into her pocket again, she handed him the folded note from her Spike, whispering, “He said to give this to you when Buffy wasn’t watching.”
“Okay, thank you, Dawn,” he said with a smile that faded when her face fell a little. “What wrong?”
“Nothing,” she mumbled. “It’s silly...it’s just that you – the other you – has always called me Bit or Niblet or Bite-size or something. It just seems strange for you to be calling me Dawn.”
He laughed softly. “Well, can see where someone who’d known you since you were bite-sized would have given you a nickname like that; but you’re all grown up and as tall as me now, aren’t you? Doesn’t seem appropriate, somehow.”
“Oh, I know,” she sighed. “It’s just strange to hear you call me Dawn – unless you’re yelling at me for something.”
“Tell you what, pet. Between now and the next time I see you, I’ll come up with something, yeah?”
“Okay, I’m holding you to that,” she smiled back at him, turning to greet Buffy as she walked into the kitchen asking, “Holding him to what?”
“He’s going to come up with a nickname for me so I won’t feel so weird when he calls me ‘Dawn’.”
Buffy shrugged at the idea of Dawn needing a nickname and held up the letter.
“Well, if the Master they were talking about is the one that is described in here, then he’s planning to take over that city and maybe the world. Making humans just livestock to be used for food.”
“Well, given that they just went very public – I’m guessing they’re working on the city now.” He shook his head in dismay. “I guess you’re right, Slayer. We’re gonna need to pay that town a visit and try to suss out what’s goin’ on.”
Dawn looked back forth between their grim faces and wrinkled her brow.
“What happened?” she asked quickly. “Did they attack you again?”
Buffy shook her head and quickly recapped what they had just seen on the TV. Her voice was calm and controlled as she described how Willow had clearly been in charge of the gang of vampires that took over the television station.
“I have to stop them,” Buffy explained unnecessarily. “I can’t allow the Master to take over this world and turn all the humans into livestock.
“Of course you can’t!” Dawn agreed immediately. “But will you do me a favor?”
Both blonds looked at her curiously, Spike’s head was cocked to one side as he waited.
“Will you just find out what you can about them, but wait until I talk to my Spike and Buffy before you do anything? Please?”
Buffy stiffened noticeably as she replied, “Why? Your Buffy is back there in my world – where I’ve already killed this creep once. This is my world now; it’s my job to prevent the apocalypses here. I don’t need her help.”
“Of course, you don’t, pet,” Spike immediately soothed before she could start yelling at Dawn. “But it can’t hurt to find out what else older you knows, can it? She has managed to stave off a few more world-ending events than you have, luv. Seems to me it would make sense to make use of that experience, wouldn’t it?”
He watched as the familiar pout began to develop, and mentally prepared himself for her refusal. However, she surprised him by nodding reluctantly and suggesting, “Okay. How about if we just go to their city and look around? Find out where the lair is, maybe? “
Dawn nodded eagerly. “That sounds like a good idea. Meanwhile, I’ll go back and talk to Buffy and see if she has any other ideas.”
“Can you keep hoppin’ around like that without hurting yourself?” Spike asked dubiously. “Seems like it might be a bit of drain – all that blood-lettin’ and transporting.”
Dawn nodded in agreement. “Yeah, that’s what Giles keeps saying; but so far, I’ve been fine. It’s not like I keep bouncing back and forth between dimensions all the time. And the better I get at it, the less blood it takes. But, I don’t have to come right back,” she said quickly. “I can just send a note – and I can see what you’re doing—“
“Um...I...we...I mean how do you think I found you? We have a scrying bowl in the Coven House and I can peek in when I need to. That’s how we knew about Vamp-Willow – I saw her grab you.”
“You can see us? You’re watching us?” Buffy’s voice was dangerously calm and Spike involuntarily stepped between them as he asked his own worried question.
“Exactly how much watching have you been doing, pet?” he growled. “I’d hate to give up my only source of amusement jus’ because some nosey bint might be peeking in at me....”
“Oh, I...oh!... and ewwwww – I was thinking about something more interesting than...Never mind. I’ve got no desire to be scarred for life by catching you doing...whatever. Although,” she added with twinkle, “I’ll bet if I charged admission to watch you in the shower, I could make a lot of money from some of the slayers...”
“There will be no long-distance ogling of Spike!” Buffy’s outburst caught herself as much by surprise as it did them; she blushed when she caught Dawn’s knowing grin, and shot Spike a quick glance to see if he was going to laugh at her; but his expression was one she had never seen on him before. Instead of the cocky amusement that she expected, he was looking at her with eyes that held genuine warmth and more than a trace of hopeful speculation. She blushed even redder and immediately changed the subject.
“So,” she said briskly, “you’re going to talk to the other Buffy and then leave us a note if you have anything else to say? If I write back to you, will you be able to get my note?”
“I don’t see why not. It doesn’t take much energy at all to send tiny inanimate things back and forth. I just open the portal and toss them in. I could, like, check the kitchen every day and if you need to talk to me, you could leave a note on the table. Or, if I need to talk to you, I can just leave a note there for you to answer. That’s what I usually do with my Spike and Buffy unless it’s an emergency.”
“Do you spy on them, too?” Spike ignored the glare Buffy sent him for reopening the touchy subject of being watched.
“Oh my god, no! I know better than to look in on those two unless they’re expecting it! Speaking of being scarred for life....” She shuddered, and Spike had to smother a laugh when Buffy turned bright red again.
“Nice to know she’s not missin’ me,” he said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Can we talk about something else besides watching people doing...things,” Buffy said desperately. She was sure she wouldn’t be able to look Spike in the eye for a week if the conversation continued much longer.
“It’s okay,” Dawn soothed. “I have to get back anyway. I do have a life, you know. I’ll check in every day to see if you’ve left a note for me.”
They nodded and Spike went to the refrigerator to get himself some blood. He waved his good-bye to Dawn as he waited for it to heat up in the old microwave Clem had given Buffy. Dawn and Buffy walked into the living room and Dawn quickly pressed the folded note into her sister’s hand.
“She said not to let Spike see it,” she whispered, glancing towards the kitchen and hoping the vampire’s hearing hadn’t picked up her whisper.
Buffy shoved the note into her pocket and gave Dawn a quick hug goodbye as the other girl pulled her portal around her and popped into her own dimension.
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