Title: All the Difference
Medium: Ficlet – 1900 words
Disclaimer: They all belong to Joss, the others. I just play in their sandbox from time to time. It’s such a lovely sandbox, you know?
Summary: A few extra words here, an altered emphasis there, and it all could have gone so differently.
A/N: readerjane is so much my beta hero. Her comments and suggestions on this piece constitute beta-action above and beyond the course of duty. Neither missing words nor plot holes nor impossible deadlines keep my beta from the swift (and brilliant) completion of her appointed rounds, for which I am endlessly grateful – this fic is for you, Jane. Big thanks as well to the lovely enigmaticblues for keeping this community (and thus, the dream) alive and to the other participants for the daily dose of Spuffy goodness. Can’t wait to catch up here, and thank you for reading!
Spike’s gaze followed Buffy’s finger and rested in disbelief on the object she was pointing at.
“What? It’s the perfect size, right?”
He closed his eyes partly in response to the bright glare of daylight and partly in exasperation. “So, let me get this straight. You intend to flee a hell god bent on fire-and-brimstone levels of destruction in an aerodynamically-challenged steel box on wheels? That is your great escape plan?”
What the hell was the world coming to?
Was the fact she’d actually knocked had gotten him into this mess in the first place. He’d become so used to having the Slayer’s arrival announced by the groan of hinges giving way, the clang of wood meeting stone, that any deviation was a sure sign something unnatural was afoot. And yet there she’d been, knocking tentatively, even calling his name before testing the crypt’s door handle. When curiosity got the better of him (holding out for three seconds still counted as holding out, after all), he’d found her working her lower lip between her teeth, the way she did when she was anxious, and the whole story tumbled out. Glory had discovered Dawn was the Key, and all hell was literally about to break loose.
When he demanded that they get out of town before the hour was out, he’d expected objections (verbal, certainly; physical, likely), but instead of the punch he was anticipating, she asked him—him—what she ought to do next.
And so that had brought them here: Speedy Pete’s Used Car Lot. Only it just so happened that “speedy” was apparently not an adjective applicable to the merchandise, a sorry bunch of vehicles more appropriately earmarked for the scrapheap than the sales floor. Spike thought himself a rather discriminating judge of automobile quality; the only thing he considered worth driving in the entire place was a silver Porsche (Pete’s, no doubt) parked along the side of the building, and it was most definitely not for sale. Well, there were ways to work around that, of course.
More troublesome was the fact that the car was currently bathed in the light of the afternoon sun.
Buffy’s voice broke into his thoughts. “It’s a Winnebago, Spike. Perfect for a group our size.” She did a quick mental calculation and glanced around the lot. “Nothing else here is going to seat eight.”
It both touched and annoyed him to be included in the Slayer’s merry band of misfits. The Watcher might be good in a fight, but, when it came right down to it, Spike didn’t like the way Giles seemed lately to be contemplating whether or not Dawn was expendable. Wasn’t that long ago that Spike would have sworn Giles was devoted to Buffy’s sister, but lately he’d seen Giles watching Dawn when he thought no one was looking – there was something going on there that Spike couldn’t quite put his finger on, and he didn’t want the pieces of the puzzle coming together at an inconvenient moment. He’d wager that Red could be useful, too, in other circumstances, but the witch was distracted now by caring for Tara and likely to be more trouble than she was worth. Lack of focus plus powerful mojo tended, in his experience, to equal disaster. The rest of them were, quite frankly, nothing but dead weight. They’d need watching over, and he and the Slayer would have their hands full without having to keep that lot out of harm’s way.
Spike voiced the part of this train of thought she’d find least objectionable. “Better to keep the company small, Slayer. Can move more quickly that way, attract less attention.”
Buffy stared. “You’re suggesting, what? That I leave everyone behind?”
“I’m suggesting that you, me, and kid sis make a getaway in that Porsche over there.” He gestured in frustration and was rewarded with a sizzling index finger. Damn sunlight. “The others are safer left behind, and you know it.” He was going to have to tread softly—never a particular strong suit of his—but if he put it in just the right terms, maybe she’d see reason. “I know you care about your friends, but right now, they’re a distraction at best, a serious liability at worst. Every second you spend worrying about keeping them safe is time you can’t devote to protecting Dawn, or to defeating Glory, if it comes to a fight. I can imagine what your heart is telling you to do, Buffy; I’m asking you to listen to your head.”
She hesitated. For a moment she stilled next to him, and he knew she was actually considering it.
He hadn’t counted on her listening to him. He’d been going through the motions, doing the little dance they did, expecting the standard outcome: he’d suggest applying logic to the situation, she’d look at him as if he were a daft git and do just the opposite. She wasn’t supposed to hear him out, to entertain the notion that his point of view might happen to be valid.
So now what? Beg? Cajole? Persist in the “It’s for their own good” routine?
He opted instead for the strong-arm technique. “So help me, Slayer, if you don’t agree to get in that car right now, I will knock you out, sling you over my shoulder, and put you there myself.”
She scoffed. There was something of the trademark bravado at least. Good thing, too. Defeated!Buffy was knocking him off his pins. “You can’t, remember? Chip – punch—” she raised her hand to her head theatrically—“ARGH!”
“You’re forgetting that headaches go away, love. I’m not saying it wouldn’t hurt like hell,” he added as her eyes narrowed. “Just saying that, with proper motivation, I would do it. In a heartbeat. You know, if I had one.” Dammit, when had he started sounding so earnest and vulnerable? The bloody awful poet strikes again. He was irrepressible, that one.
“So you’d do it if you had one, what? A heartbeat? Or motivation?” She was staring hard at the ground, avoiding his gaze.
“Already got the latter, Buffy. And I didn’t need the former to acquire it.”
At length, she looked up, squared her shoulders. “Okay.”
“What?” Clearly she was agreeing to something else, and he’d just missed the segue.
“Okay, I’ll go. Not ‘Okay, knock me over the head and throw me in the car,’” she amended at what he imagined was his stunned expression. “We get Dawn far enough away from here, maybe Glory can’t do whatever she needs the Key for. I’ll get the others to keep looking for info on how to stop her while this plan of yours buys us a little more time.” Her voice grew stronger, more determined. “Maybe we save the day just this once by running away. Keep everyone safe. Head wins.”
“Right, then.” He prided himself on sounding so matter of fact, what with the world tilting under his feet as they veered dangerously close to “dream come true” territory. He wondered if he dared pinch himself.
Good question. He hadn’t quite gotten to that part yet. Hadn’t thought he’d need to, really. In normal circumstances, he’d hot-wire the Porsche, have them away in a jiffy, but given the car’s sunny location, his modus operandi wasn’t exactly feasible in terms of self-preservation. He made his best escapes under cover of darkness.
So, he’d improvise by relying on a few of his other acquired skills. “Soon as I get hold of the keys, you get to work covering up the windows and drive around the back of the building, park in that shady bit there. Then we grab up Dawn, you say your very brief farewells, and the three of us can be on our way.”
She hesitated. “How exactly are you going to get the keys?”
Damn. She’d have to zero in on that one little wrinkle, wouldn’t she? “I’ll ask Pete nicely?” Buffy fixed him with a look. “Okay, no, I’m just gonna nick them, engage in a little grand theft auto. Pete probably deserves a bit of frontier justice coming his way, judging by the prices he’s charging for this junk.”
She opened her mouth to object, but he didn’t give her the chance. “Slayer, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.” Well, stealing would be an extraordinary measure for one of them, at least. “Listen, makes you feel any better, we can bring the car back after the world doesn’t end, yeah?”
“Promise.” It was a small concession to make. Hell, who was he kidding? As far as concessions went, this one didn’t even register.
Rather predictably, Spike discovered the keys hanging on a nail in the main office. When he returned to Buffy, he pushed them into her hand, along with the roll of aluminum foil he’d brought along. He mumbled something about being sure to cover the entire windshield and watched from the shadows while she slipped into the driver’s side of the Porsche, undetected.
Head wins, she’d said. Funny. He was thinking that it was the heart that got the better end of this deal.
But, of course, that hadn’t been how it happened. There’d been no getaway, no joyous discovery that Glory had only the one time to perform her ritual. There were no outpourings of gratitude that he could point to later as the start of everything there came to be between them, no secret smiles exchanged in years to come when they remembered their time together on the run, when she’d first believed in him.
There had been only Buffy’s single moment of hesitation when he’d suggested the Porsche—he knew he hadn’t imagined that—but it had been chased away by that steely resolve of hers, and he’d known better than to push the matter any further.
And why was that? Why exactly had he given up? That was the hardest part to remember as he watched it all unfold again in his head. Because he knew her too well, knew that she’d never seriously consider abandoning the others? Or because he’d been too busy feeling needed, basking in the warm, summery glow of her attention, to risk alienating her? He wanted to think it was the former; contemplating the latter left him choking on grief and guilt.
Spike pushed those thoughts aside for another time. Tonight, here in this place, this is how he would do it. Tonight he would go back to that bright afternoon and fix things, imagine the right words, figure out how to persuade her to leave with him, to save her.
Across the living room, Dawn sighed in her sleep and shifted on the couch. Spike lowered the volume of the television program he wasn’t paying attention to, and she quieted.
He set about to replay the whole thing once more in his head, tweak a phrase here or there, slow time in that forgiving way that memory and imagination allowed and linger on the sight of her, drink in the sound of her voice.
Play the hero. Be her hero.
It had been 148 days, and every night he saved her. This night, they would take the road less traveled by, and that would make all the difference.
It would see him through to one more dawn, at least.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/405611.html