I’m starting these posts late because my internet access went down this morning. I should manage to finish posting even if it goes down again by hopping on a dialup connection for short periods.
Thanks to keswindhover for betaing on short notice, and thanks to the friend who has since disappeared from the fandom but who encouraged this idea in the first place. (If you ever read this, you know who you are, and you are missed by others as well as by me.) Thanks as well to itmustbetuesday and everyone else here, with a special tip of the hat to liliaeth, with whom I share this day.
Title: Buffy and Spike: Cubed
Author: Miss Murchison
Rating: R, overall
Word Total: about 19,000. Maybe longer, I’m still editing the final chapters (yeah, I know) This will be posted by the end of the day in my time zone.
Confession: A tiny bit of this appeared in a slightly different form in an LJ post some time ago, but most of it is making its public debut for the first time.
Summary: To solve a mysterious string of deaths, Buffy and Spike must go where they have never gone before—undercover at a large company, where they must hunt down a murderer amid the cubicles while coping with PowerPoint Presentations and the Coffee Fund Rules.
Extra long, boring, skipable note: This is a long-gestating fic. In fact, several elephants could have gestated, been born, and grown to adolescence since I started it. I started it just before Season 7 began airing and worked on it a bit more during the depths of angst-ridden drama on the screen, at my job, and in my fic. I kept adding to it whenever I was desperately in need of cheering myself up. I finished it as an antidote to my current fic, which chronicles Buffy’s depression. Therefore, I’ve set it in an alternative Season 6 where there is no angst. Assume Buffy didn’t die at the end of Season 5, or, if she did, she was glad to get back. Don’t go looking for any huge problems among the canon characters. They’re not there, although all is not sweetness and light. Which is good, because we all know how bad light is for Spike.
The road was long and winding, destitute of any lights or human habitation. Two sinister red lights gleamed ominously in the depths of the dark and stormy night. It was impossible to make out the contours of the thing that hosted those crimson eyes in the moonless, velvety darkness. The scarlet beams veered suddenly to one side, as if a demon had leapt on some unwary prey. Then they jumped again, with stomach-churning swiftness, but in the opposite direction. Xander peered over the steering wheel and ground his teeth in frustration. What the hell was the driver in front of him doing?
And what kind of jalopy was that idiot driving? Either the third tail light had burnt out on the vehicle in front of him, or it was too old to have ever had more than two. Some decrepit old pickup truck, he guessed. Probably with bald tires. The twin red lights zigzagged dizzyingly again. That asshole was going to slide right off the road if he wasn’t careful!
“Damn!” said Xander. He flicked his own lights off, then on again. One of his headlights had definitely burnt out. It wouldn’t have mattered so much in town, but out here, things seemed unusually dark, even for the vicinity of the hellmouth. And he was afraid the asshole in front of him was about to have an accident, possibly blocking the path home. He navigated carefully around the curving path of the rural road, trying to remember how far away the turn to Sunnydale was.
As he negotiated a hairpin turn, the tires of the car in front of him shrieked painfully, scraping against the road surface as the driver slammed on the brakes while spinning the steering wheel hard to the left. Xander’s way was suddenly barred by the rear fender of an aging Toyota and—something else. He stood on the brakes out of instinct, thinking that it might have been better to keep going and use the Xandermobile as a weapon. Too late. There was a shriek as metal met wood and objected strongly to the acquaintance. He’d wrapped his ride around a tree trunk.
By the time he’d assimilated this information, he was pulling his head out of an airbag to the sound of someone drawling in an annoyingly familiar voice, “A bit of career advice, Harris. Driving instructor may not be your vocation.”
Xander was too shaky to quip a response. He even allowed a helping hand on his elbow as he emerged from the car. He leaned against the frame, choking from the dust and checking himself for damage. When he’d found only scratches and his breathing had returned to normal, he said to his non-breathing rescuer, “Fuck. The Xandermobile is no more.”
“It is an ex-car,” Spike agreed. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder up the hill. “But at least you’re not an ex-Xander. Other bloke wasn’t as lucky.”
Xander and Spike walked through the kitchen door of the Summers’ kitchen and into an argument between Tara and Dawn about the viability of broccoli as a foodstuff. Tara was for, Dawn against.
Willow looked up from weighing a small pile of herbs on a tiny scale and saw Xander’s face. “What happened? Your cheek is bleeding. And look at your hands!” She glared over her friend’s shoulder at the vampire. “Has Spike been getting you into fights again?”
“No need for the suspicion, Red.” Spike shrugged out of his coat. “I was out making minimum wage to keep young Dawn in broccoli when I just missed crashing head on into someone on the county road and got treated to the sight of Xander sliding his basically boring transportation into a ditch. I picked him up, tossed him in my cab, and, seeing as Anya’s out of town, brought him home to the rest of his womenfolk.”
Three feminine squeals were followed by hugs, requests that Xander sit down and assure them he was okay, and demands to know if they could get him anything. Spike ignored the fuss and rummaged in the fridge.
“Spike called 911. They’re towing away the wrecks.” Xander was perking up under all this female attention. “They were scratching their heads and other body parts over the skid marks when we left.” He reached in his pocket.
“Eww,” said Willow. “But kind of typical of Sunnydale’s finest.”
Spike’s head emerged. “They’d be pissing instead of scratching if they saw what I saw just before the crashes.”
“Crashes?” Tara looked more puzzled than usual. “There were two?”
“I didn’t hit the other car,” said Xander. “It spun sideways for no reason and I went into the ditch trying to avoid it.” He pulled a small card from his pocket. “Why do I think that heroic action is going to make things even harder to explain to my insurance agent?”
“There was a reason.” Spike popped the lid off a beer bottle. “I was heading in the opposite direction, out of town to pick up someone who’d called for a cab and I saw it happen. Something jumped right in front of the poor bugger.”
Willow left off petting Xander and stared at Spike. “Since Buffy’s not home yet, I’ll be the one to hope it was a deer.”
“Not unless Sunnydale deer are 6 feet tall, walk on two feet, and have a vertical jumps like a grasshopper. Thing was there, and then it wasn’t. I barely missed crashing myself. By the time I stopped the cab, it was gone.”
Xander got up and went to the fridge to retrieve a beer for himself. “I don’t think it was the first time it spooked whoever was in the car. The driver was all over the road, as if he kept seeing something scary.”
“What kind of a demon was it?” Willow was already heading towards the dining room and her laptop as she threw the question over her shoulder.
“Didn’t get a good look,” said Spike, following her.
An hour later, Willow was scanning the police report. “The victim was a guy named Harvey Kofax who worked the midnight shift at Ashiana Industries but lived outside of town. I guess that’s why he was on that road.”
Dawn, who had been peering over Willow’s shoulder, looked up as the front door opened. “Speaking of people who were supposed to be working the midnight shift –.”
“I kind of had to revise that plan when I got fired,” said Buffy. She tossed her backpack on the floor. “Why does it have to be against the rules to kill your supervisor?”
Dawn’s expression became even more severe. “I hope this was a Slayer thing and not just an anger management issue.”
“A bit of both.” Buffy looked around. “There are lots of people and a demon in my dining room. They are eating my food and Willow is researching. Why does this not please me?”
“Sorry. Xander almost got killed,” said Tara so apologetically that someone who didn’t known her would have thought she was guilty of snacking on more than a few Doritos.
But Buffy’s eyes were straying elsewhere. “Hey!” protested Spike. “I saved the wanker!”
Xander sat up straight. “You did not! My continued existence is due entirely to the airbag engineers and those crash test dummies who convinced me to buckle up. All you did was give me a ride back to town.”
A chorus of voices brought Buffy up-to-date on events. When they were done, the Slayer’s eyes focused on the one person who had been silent during the confusingly non-linear description. “What about you, Will? Picked up on something?”
“Yeah.” Willows fingers were still flying across laptop keys and she didn’t look up as she answered. “The employer. Ashiana Industries. This place must have a florist that delivers to funeral homes on retainer. They’re listed as the employer on over thirty death certificates issued so far this year.” Willow hit a few keys, scanned the screen for a moment, and moved on to another document. “All violent deaths. Ick.”
“Accidents, dismemberments, freak poisonings. All kinds of weird and nasty. Any place but Sunnydale, people would have noticed, even though most of the killings didn’t happen on the job.”
“My theory is there’s something in the water here,” said Spike. Everyone turned to stare at him. “Well, other places, crowds come after my lot with pitchforks and burning torches. Here, the butcher shops give out two-for-one coupons for pints of pigs’ blood.”
“But demons don’t usually check to see where the person is working,” Tara objected. “Even in Sunnydale, I mean.”
Buffy was still watching Willow. “Anything else on this Asinine Industries?”
“A bunch of ads for temporary and even some permanent jobs,” said Willow. “It looks like they have lots of openings. I guess all those dead employees make for a pretty high turnover.”
“Which suggests a plan!” Everyone looked at the Slayer. “Maybe I can get a job there. I could investigate from the inside.”
This announcement won her some unflattering stares. “You’re going to work in an office?” asked Willow.
“And even if you get in, how are you going to stay in?” asked Xander. He caught Buffy’s glare and tried to justify himself. “I mean, your track record for keeping jobs is worse than, uh, mine when I first got out of high school.”
Spike was silent for once, but his expression was not reassuring.
Dawn was the only one to react with anything approaching enthusiasm. “You could earn some grocery money too. Because my plan to pay the mortgage by playing the lottery—not panning out.”
“You’re too young to play the lottery,” said Buffy.
“Not if I can talk some older guy into buying tickets for me,” said Dawn.
Willow and Buffy turned to stare at Xander and Spike, both of whom raised their eyes to the ceiling and tried to look as if they weren’t following the conversation.
“And is there anything else they’re buying for you?” asked Buffy, turning her attention back to her sister.
“Oh, no,” said Dawn. “Spike steals the Jack Daniels, he doesn’t buy it.” Then she added quickly, “Joke. That was a joke. The only thing he ever got me besides the lottery tickets was the American Pie DVD.”
“You gave her American Pie?” shrieked Buffy.
Spike shrugged. “Didn’t see the harm. Of course, I missed the film in the theaters so I didn’t know the wanker was going to shag the symbol of motherhood and American goodness. I might have asked you first if I had. Not completely irresponsible, you know.”
“No, just 99.9 percent purely irresponsible,” said Buffy.
“Hey, it was Xander who got her the sequel,” said Spike, abandoning all sense of male solidarity in an effort to protect himself.
“Was that bad too?” asked Willow. “I’ve never seen it.”
“Wasn’t that the one with the flute?” asked Tara.
“What about a flute?” Willow looked confused.
“Don’t worry, sweetie.” Tara patted her hand. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
More pointless bickering and fruitless research followed. Eventually Xander managed to get through to a towing service that promised to retrieve his car first thing in the morning, and he announced that he was heading home. By that point, everyone was tired enough to agree to Buffy’s plan. She would try to get hired at Ashiana Industries the next day and see if she noticed anything odd going on. Dawn said Buffy wasn’t to worry if it took a while. “Feel free to keep working there long enough to, say, collect a paycheck.”
Buffy ignored this and reached for her coat. “Time to patrol.”
“Yeah,” said Spike, jumping down from his perch on the dining room table. “Patrolling. Still very important. We can’t forget that.”
Buffy looked over her shoulder. “Dawn, it won’t matter if I’m kind of late, will it? Tara and Willow are here just in case. Because there could be a lot of demon out there for me to take care of. Demons, I mean. Plural. Lots of demons.”
“Sure thing, Buffy,” said Dawn. “We’ll be fine. You go take care of that demon, er, demons.”
The three girls watched until the kitchen door shut behind the Slayer and the vampire. “My sister’s gotta take care of that demon, all right,” said Dawn with a snicker.
Willow snorted with equal amusement. “Yeah. Just who do they think they’re kidding?”
Tara, however, was serious. “Do you think we should just tell them we know so they don’t have to sneak around all the time?”
“Oh, no!” Dawn was horrified. “Buffy doesn’t want me corrupted by the knowledge she’s got another vampire boyfriend, and Spike’s afraid he’ll lose even more face among the other demons if they find out his sleeping with the enemy isn’t just, you know, figurative. Besides, watching those two try to be subtle is one of the few joys of my desolate teenage existence. If you took that away, I might have to get into real trouble just to keep myself amused.”
Tara gave her a quick hug. “Well, okay then. As long as it’s important to your well-being, we’ll continue to snicker behind their backs with a clear conscience.”
Chapter Two, where Buffy enters the belly of the beast.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/26168.html