Fic: ‘As Good as a Rest’ (2/3) by Quinara [R/NC-17]

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Massive cheers to the mods, I should have said in the last post, also! Yay for seasonal_spuffy!

As Good as a Rest.
[Sequel to The More Things Stay the Same.]
So, Buffy’s alive. Ish. Spike’s dead, but she’s hoping for the ish. Katrina’s definitely dead. At least the cops are investigating that one?

Author: Quinara
Rating: R/NC-17 for explicit sex (some of it somewhat dark? Or something?)
Length: ~31,000 words (in three chapters of approx. 10,000/9,000/12,000)
Setting: Late S6, AU OAFA.
Notes: Many thanks to evilawyer for her help on US-California finance thingemies, lettered for reminding me how many words could be conceived in a short time period, plus extra massive thanks to dear bogwitch, who was a brilliant and fantabulous beta, sounding board and whinging post, comboed all in one and without whom this fic would probably have been ditched halfway through. Or just suck. [ETA: Plus, she made me a lovely, lovely banner, which you can see under the cut!]
As mentioned above, this fic is a sequel to my seasonal_spuffy fic from the last round, The More Things Stay the Same; I think it functions fairly well on its own as a post AU Dead Things AU fic assuming that Buffy and Spike are getting along better – but why would you read this on its own when you could read a 55,000 word diptych? :P The chapter titles are indeed from Dead Things, BTW.
Warnings: Graphic violence? Otherwise nothing the AO3 would make you warn for, but violence and sex blur a bit at certain points. There’s also angst that maybe isn’t angst and fluff that maybe isn’t fluff? I’m bad with judging tone.

[Chapter One: Don’t Close Your Eyes.]


Chapter Two: Look at Them.

Staring at the woman in the doorway, Buffy had to accept that they looked kind of similar. They were definitely around the same height and build, even if the cop was a touch stockier, her hair the colour of Buffy’s highlights all over, shoulder length, probably, but pulled back into a ponytail. She was older, however, more like thirty, and looked a hell of a lot more comfortable with life. Even if – there were bags under the other woman’s eyes, Buffy realised, almost like scars.

She glanced back at Spike, completely lost with this new turn of events. How was this relevant to her life, again? “Katrina…?” she asked. The name was kind of familiar, maybe, but she couldn’t remember where from. She came across a lot of dead women, not including herself.

Frowning, Detective Lockley looked like she was noting every single response. “The young woman whose body you found last week?” she replied, calmly.

At that point, Buffy knew, her muscles seizing up. It was her, she thought, it was that dead girl. Buffy had actually forgotten about the phone call to the police station, but apparently they had not. Clearly anonymous tip-offs didn’t preclude the cops finding out who had left them. Well, crap.

Behind her, Dawn was asking “Buffy?”, looking young and strangely as if she wished she’d made normal mac’n’cheese for dinner. Far from her left there was Willow, still at the table but sat still, trying to figure what was going on.

Battling panic, Buffy answered, “Um, yeah, I remember.” Spike remembered too; she could feel him bristling on her right. He’d advocated leaving the body like they’d never been there, but Buffy hadn’t able to do that, had felt responsibility, not only because as far as she was concerned the girl had been alive thirty seconds previously. It was her duty, her calling, to care about all the people that otherwise became nameless demon victims. She had to look out for them, even if that meant paying the price. “What…”


That was the other thing she had to remember, of course, because it wasn’t just a duty, it was a secret duty, completely stupid and annoying and unnecessary though that was. She needed a cover story, something other than patrolling. Looking at Detective Lockley again, who was still watching, waiting through and absorbing Buffy’s silence, it was obvious that anything too vague wasn’t going to work. OK, well, she could mostly stick with the truth, couldn’t she? That she’d been with Spike? Moonlit shortcut to the movies with her boyfriend, that was a Sunnydale story, wasn’t it?

It wasn’t a story she could say in her house, though. There was someone else watching, after all: Willow, who didn’t know, who’d catch Buffy’s eye and frown when the word ‘boyfriend’ was mentioned, who lied almost as badly as Spike did when she was put on the spot…

Air jerked into her mouth from panic, and Buffy tried desperately to breathe it through, keep her head. This conversation, she could get through it, get through the questions – but she couldn’t do it here. “Is there somewhere we can go?” she asked the cop, trying not to sound like a murderer, certain she needed to get out nonetheless. “Like the station?” Oh crap, no, bad suggestion; they probably still recognised her there from all the times… “Or, um –”

“The Espresso Pump,” came Spike’s voice, proving he could at least be somewhat useful. But then he was good with plans, wasn’t he? Just not the follow-through. “There’ll be bugger anyone there right now.” That definitely sounded better than the station, and she could explain her nerves away with coffee.

Coffee seemed to be on Detective Lockley’s mind as well. “Sure,” she agreed, shrugging with a strange lack of suspicion. She smiled Buffy’s way. “It’s only to talk; I’m not charging you with anything.” That comment wasn’t very comforting, but Buffy wasn’t sure if it was meant to be, even though the deal kept getting sweeteners: “If you want your boyfriend to come, that’s fine too.”

Ignoring the gesture, Buffy concentrated on the content, to realise that this was the moment to start developing her story – the detective had assumed Spike was her boyfriend, so wouldn’t need to be convinced later, as long as Buffy confirmed.

Grabbing the opportunity, she did confirm, flashing a smile. “No, that’s OK,” Buffy said, hoping Spike would get what the hell she was talking about and hoping Willow could be convinced later it was all a cover up. Hoping she could keep the whole lot of this straight in her head even though she felt like she was on the edge of a cliff. “He has to… We were going to the store.” She turned her head, praying she could convince Spike to play along, maybe get him out of the house where Willow couldn’t question him with her resolve face. He’d crack like an egg, at least about this… “Right?”

Staring at her, Spike’s lips were parted in something like amazement. She really needed to start being better at this relationship stuff, if only to stop making him so surprised. She jerked her head, hopefully in a girlfriendy way that only came across as, speak up.

Finally he seemed to figure at least something out; he nodded, blinking rapidly. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah!” It sounded false enough to make her blush, but that didn’t have to be suspicious, did it? What the hell even counted as suspicious?

Silence hung for a couple of moments, but Detective Lockley seemed satisfied enough with it all. “So, the Espresso Pump,” she said, almost as if she were trying to give away that she was new in town, which was a really odd response. Possibly useful? “That’s the coffee shop on Main, right?” She was smiling, even, as awkward as Buffy felt. “Good choice. I think I could use some caffeine.”

“Uh, OK,” she replied, reaching back to get her coat from the bannister, all the stories in her head freezing for just a moment as she wondered what the cop’s actually was. “Let’s go, then.”

As she left, Dawn still looked terrified. Buffy knew how she felt.

Her body clock was still screwed up, so it was really weird for Buffy to realise that they were driving through the early evening and it wasn’t even time yet to patrol. All the same, the Espresso Pump was basically empty: one coffee cup sat on an outside table, looking recently abandoned with a half-eaten muffin by its side, and inside a bag-laden shopper was recharging near the doorway, but otherwise it was essentially the staff and them.

This wasn’t surprising for a Monday, to be honest, and Spike’s plan had been pretty good. Open Mic was on Tuesdays and they had the house salsa band on Thursdays, but otherwise the Pump’s evening clientele tended to be strung-out students, and on Mondays they seemed to remember to study. Or were still recovering from the weekend. At least, that was how Buffy remembered student life, ancient history though it was.

The bar was line-free, so very quickly Detective Lockley had paid for their lattes and was gesturing for Buffy to choose a place to sit. Out of earshot from the staff was Buffy’s choice, if nothing else, so she led them to the back of the deep salon and its well-worn purple armchairs, engineering it so the low, sticky table sat between them.

“You didn’t have to buy me coffee, you know,” Buffy said as they settled, not sure how else to start things but wanting to make the first move. That made her sound innocent, right? A willingness to talk? Of course, it was all a complete lie: she’d been planning to ask for water and the contents of her pockets boiled down to lint and a grocery receipt. (Potatoes, discount pizza and the bottle of Coke she still felt guilty about.)

“You work at the Doublemeat Palace, right?” the detective replied, sitting with a legs open in a way that made her look much more butch than her hair did. She drank her coffee pretty firmly as well, projecting an aura of Tough Chick that Buffy had always tried to avoid, just in case it gave her strength away. “I figure you don’t need to waste, what, a half-hour’s pay? Forty minutes? All on one coffee you’ll drink in less than that.”

“I didn’t need to have the coffee,” she persisted, not wanting to get off her guard with this woman, but still savouring every sip of creamy-java goodness that passed her lips. It was way better than what the Palace served, and pseudo-artsy canvases beat motivational elephants any day. Not that she wasn’t still suspicious. “And how do you know that I work there?” She had to have been eavesdropping, at the Magic Box; it would be all too convenient if she’d actually wanted candles. Or knew about the occult.

Raising her eyebrows, Detective Lockley didn’t immediately say anything. With the blue eyes and platinum hair, no make-up, the look was almost familiar, and Buffy found herself inclined to think she might be reasonable. Not that that made any sense, since Spike was one of the least reasonable and most pig-headed people she knew, but Buffy was listening attentively all the same when the cop carried on, “Does it bother you that I know?”

OK, scratch that. Reasonable or not, a question like that was clearly a covert attack. Buffy had to remember where she was. “Bother’s the wrong word,” she replied, regrouping; she tried to smile, be more pleasant, more guileless, but it mostly came out as a grimace. “I mean, duh, obviously my job isn’t a secret, it’s just… I’m not gonna be there forever, you know?” Why did she say ‘duh’, really? Now she sounded like a vapid Barbie doll. And where exactly was she planning on going after the DMP? She was probably coming across delusional to boot.

Yet Detective Lockley nodded, at what Buffy didn’t know. “I get it,” she said, leaning forward to put her coffee down, then resting her forearms on her knees, palms spread open. It was like she wanted to chat, rather than interrogate her about a murder. “Between you and me,” she confessed, “Sunnydale’s not where I planned to end up either. I’m not much for small town nightlife and the pay at Sunnydale PD isn’t overly competitive, but…”

“Where were you before?” Buffy asked as the woman lapsed into silence. She was thinking that maybe curiosity would count in her favour, or at least that staying on this subject would deflect attention from her. Crossing her legs, Buffy clutched her coffee over her knee, savouring the warmth from the mug. “Were you in LA or something?”

As a strategy it seemed to work quite well, initially: for some reason, Detective Lockley laughed. “Am I that obvious?” she asked, looking around their empty, awkward coffee shop, glancing up to the dusty ceiling fan. In LA it would be shinier, Buffy thought. “I never figured I came across like a city gal, but I guess the ‘small town’ thing gave it away, huh?”

Buffy shrugged. “I dunno, I guess, I mean – I’m from LA too, so I always think about there first. And Sunnydale is pretty small.”

“Really?” For some reason, the cop didn’t actually look too surprised. “How did you end up here?”

Maybe it was because no one ever asked her that question, or maybe it was because the answer had to do with slaying, or maybe it was just because Detective Lockley wasn’t that good a liar, but Buffy felt like she’d been set up. And so she didn’t answer, letting the silence hang while she took another slurp of her coffee, and then replying with a question. “Oh, you know…” she led it in. “There was stuff. But, hey, aren’t we meant to be talking about Katrina?”

Detective Lockley frowned, and Buffy felt like she’d failed a test.

She sat back at this point, the cop, narrowing her eyes in a way that made it quite clear she was reading as much into this conversation as Buffy was trying to skim over. “Sure,” she said, sounding disappointed but resigned that situations would always let her down. “OK. Why don’t you tell me about that?” Then, however, she seemed to warm to the topic, picking at the thread on the arm of her chair. “I mean,” she commented. “You’re curious for an anonymous.” Buffy shifted, uncomfortable. “You called the station, not 911, so somehow you must have known Katrina was dead beyond helping, even if you wanted to act like Jane Public who wouldn’t call a hospital. On top of that…”

Pausing, Detective Lockley shook her head, as if faced with a particularly irritating puzzle. Buffy gulped.

“Usually anonymous callers won’t give their name because they panic,” the woman continued, apparently getting into this now. “You can play back the recordings and hear that they’re afraid. But you, if you listen to your call like I have a dozen times, what you hear is someone selectingexactly what information they’re gonna give, like they want the body to be found, but don’t want to give away how much they know. And, I mean…” She was closing in for the kill now, shifting in her chair to prop her elbow on the back of it. “As far as I’m aware you don’t have any forensic or medical training, so I don’t know how you know. I’m left asking myself, why does this underemployed ex-co-ed know about livor mortis? I mean, how would you explain it, Buffy?”

The silence that followed was filled by the dusty ceiling fan.

“I…” Buffy had no idea what to say. Adrenaline was leaking into her muscles, seizing them up with the urge to flight; she could feel her knees bending in preparation. The dingy interior of the Espresso Pump wasn’t enough to hide her blush, she was sure of it, and for some reason she could not believe that in all her years of slayer training she had never asked Giles how she was supposed to cope with questions like this. “I read a lot of books…?”

“But you don’t, do you?” It wasn’t like Detective Lockley’s expression was unkind, but she definitely seemed impatient with Buffy’s bullshit. Not that the bullshit had really started flowing yet, and other than which Buffy obviously had nothing to give her, but maybe the fake smiling had been a bad idea. “I spoke to your professors, and –”

“You spoke to my professors?” Buffy couldn’t help but ask, surprised and her voice very small. It was one thing that the detective knew about the Palace; it was kind of another that she’d tracked down her record at UC Sunnydale. That was from her life before, when things had been good. That was different.

Dectective Lockley didn’t seem to think it mattered. “Yes,” she said. “A Professor… Lillian, was it?” Recalling the name made her frown, but it only made Buffy’s stomach clench. “He remembered you, which I gather is quite an achievement for an absentee sophomore who left over a year ago.” The woman shrugged. Artfully. “Anyway,” she continued, “he told me something interesting, namely that your grade profile was really odd for someone like you, who wasn’t on any sort of scholarship.” She smiled at Buffy then, like it was some kind of sly joke, before explaining, “People with grades like yours, he told me, tended to be the intelligent jocks: they could perform when they had time to do the reading, but most of the time they prioritised, so they never really progressed as far as they could.”

“I –” Buffy cut in before she could stop herself, momentarily irritated. She was not a jock; she was a freaking vampire slayer, which was a hell of a lot more important than stupid college football or whatever. She couldn’t say that, of course, and the detective’s smile had become a smirk as she watched Buffy’s rage grow, so Buffy forced herself to sit back. Meekly, she invited, “Carry on.”

Working out where she was, Detective Lockley frowned as if to apologise, before saying, “With your mother, Professor Lillian said it made sense.” Her voice was softer, more kind. “He assumed it had been going on for a while, affecting things.” Buffy swallowed, feeling the despair creep back. It seemed to push the cop on more urgently, bring her forward. “You’d kept up well, considering, he told me, and had been what he’d call conscientious for someone in your situation. And –” Now they were back at business-like suspicious. “– to get by with the time you had available, obviously smarter than your grades would give you credit for.”

The words washed over Buffy in a way she wasn’t quite able to process. If this was an interrogation technique, it was working: Professor Lillian thought she was smart? That was almost incomprehensible – but then she had tried hard, hadn’t she, to get her assignments in on time all year? She could almost cry to know that had been appreciated…

Oh, but now Detective Lockley was looking at her, as if putting these particular cards on the table meant that she could be more obvious about staring. Smart probably wasn’t good as far as she was concerned, Buffy realised. It probably meant potential murderer. Dammit; when had this got out of hand?

“Um,” Buffy said, thinking she was probably meant to reply about now. She swallowed. “So what are you saying? I don’t make any sense? Because, sure, with my mom and stuff, but… I just know some things about dead – people, it’s some stuff I know. That’s how I knew about Katrina. It’s not…” She could feel tears in her eyes from the frustration of trying to get out of this. “I’m not… I don’t…”

Exasperated, Detective Lockley seemed to slump. “If you could only hear yourself on that recording,” she said, “you’d realise how aggravating this is for me, Buffy. Because I can tell you now, since you don’t seem to be convinced, that you don’t know stuff about dead bodies, you know them. They’re as familiar to you as they are to a coroner, even if you don’t have the medicine to describe it.” With that she clenched her jaw, steely aggression coming out before she said, “I just want to know why.”

Jumping at her voice, Buffy felt it as her tears suddenly came free from where she was holding them back. A sob escaped as well. She froze, covering her mouth with her free hand, but she couldn’t help it as the water started leaking through her mascara, escaping where she blinked at it. She felt like such a fool – but she couldn’t help it, just like the way she couldn’t help knowing about dead bodies, couldn’t help that she’d been one, that she slept with one. More than that she couldn’t tell any of this, couldn’t say it, just couldn’t.

It felt like an inevitability of being a slayer that she was becoming steadily stranger and stranger over the years. But then she couldn’t say that either, of course, was locked into the secret that gave her more to keep, pushed her further and further into the corner, leaving her there with absolutely nothing to defend herself.

Honestly, she was tired of being stuck there.

“What…” she hiccoughed at last, wiping at the dribbling tears, accepting. Silence was all that was left to her, so getting arrested was inevitable. Whimper not a bang, wasn’t that the way everything ended? Maybe she could use her phone call to get Giles on the line. He hadn’t called her in weeks. “What are you gonna do to me?”

Several emotions crossed Detective Lockley’s face at that moment, which was something of a shock. Sympathy, which was strange, because Buffy was fairly certain this woman never cried, always kept in control (she looked like the type); guilt; yet more frustration; confusion, definitely confusion. “I’m trying to get you to help me here, Buffy,” she said, nevertheless sounding slightly awkward now in the face of Buffy’s tears. “Help me help Katrina. Isn’t that what you do? Isn’t that what you did that night?”

Not caring anymore, but feeling slightly melodramatic for suddenly giving up the way she just had, Buffy laughed. All the same, since it looked like Detective Lockley really wasn’t on the right page, she explained, “I don’t help anyone.” She sniffed, humour not quite leaving her. “If I was meant to help Katrina, then I failed. I’m pretty much a failure; haven’t you heard?”

“No, actually,” the detective replied, blinking – almost as if she’d only just recognised who Buffy was. “Everything I’ve heard says the opposite.”

“Then what do you want from me?” Tired now, Buffy couldn’t be bothered with trying to get this out through some sort of mind game. Her voice was stronger and she asked out right, “What do you actually want me to say? If you have all the answers, what am I doing here?”

“I…” She looked shaken, Detective Lockley, and now she was looking at her watch. Maybe the Tough Chick act really an act; who the hell knew anymore?

But no, Detective Lockley was pulling herself together with nothing more than a deep long breath. A breath she’d practised, it looked like, almost certainly. What the hell?

“OK. I’m gonna level with you,” she said, changing tack again and reaching for her coffee like she needed the crutch. Her voice had returned to her initial attempt at openness, but there was an edge of exhaustion that hadn’t been allowed in before. Now she actually sounded like someone Buffy could get along with, if it hadn’t just been made more than obvious that that was not going to happen. “I’m surprised you didn’t know,” she added. “Katrina’s death was called as an accident, injuries consistent with a fall down a nasty looking hill.” Looking over her mug, the woman seemed to be making sure she had Buffy’s full attention. She continued, “But that didn’t cover everything. Her death was called as an accident the same way that a lot of deaths here get called accidents. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Buffy was definitely understanding something, but it couldn’t, couldn’t be what she thought it was. No way was this cop implying she knew about demons; it had to be something else. Although exactly what, she didn’t know. “I…” she started, like she seemed to be starting every sentence this evening. “No,” she covered, not well. “What?”

Grimacing, the other woman didn’t seem that inclined to get explicit about things either. “When I was in LA,” she tracked back, “I got interested in – more unexplained crimes. It wasn’t popular, which was the main reason I had to leave. But I know what it’s like, to think that no one will believe you when you tell them something.” Suddenly she seemed quite earnest, desperate for Buffy to share her pain, even though she was obviously older than Buffy and it felt really strange to have someone her senior staring at her like she alone could understand. Although, the blue eyes, they were getting familiar again. “I know what it’s like to have people think you’re crazy,” Detective Lockley continued, making Buffy wonder for the first time what her first name was. “And I know what it’s like to have a mission all the same, even when you feel like you’ve lost it.”

Actually, Buffy was starting to believe that she possibly did understand. But, all the same, she highly doubted this woman had also spent time in a mental institution, and, frankly, she was the one with the gun: Buffy was not going to bring up the D word first. Not the V word either. And so she shrugged, uncertainly, not up for sharing and hoping the detective had some other point.

She seemed to realise Buffy wasn’t going to answer, thankfully, and gathered herself again, setting herself business-like. “OK. Look, what I’m asking is… When I was in LA, I worked with a consult, a PI, someone who knew – the other world. Kind of a jerk. Apart from when he… Anyway.” She shook her head. If Buffy hadn’t known better, she would have thought the detective was talking about Angel (didn’t he call himself a Private Eye down there?), but that was ridiculous and would mean they were living in way too small a world. “Without that contact my investigation didn’t always go so well, so I was hoping we might… You need a job, don’t you?”

Finally, at long last, Buffy got it. The coffee; the smiling; this was all making sense. It wasn’t an interrogation – it was a proposition. For her to consult with the police. On slaying.

Wow, did she feel stupid.

Also, however, that was never gonna happen.

“Uh, um, sorry, but…” She was putting her coffee mug down, brushing down her pants. It felt like she’d been hit on under false pretences, and now she had even less idea what to say than before. “I don’t think it would work,” she told the detective quickly, trying to ignore how hopeful she looked. It couldn’t work, she was certain. “I’m not a team player, and –” Law enforcement gave her the heebies; they had too much authority and not enough of a clue. And they’d been working with Mayor Wilkins, hadn’t they, way back when? Besides, this was barely any different from charging for slaying straight out, and she couldn’t do things that way, her ethics wouldn’t let her, what was left of them. She couldn’t prioritise what she did based on what the police were paying her to do; she had to save the world the best she could, as many people as she could, every night – and day, if necessary. “I’m really sorry,” Buffy finished, starting to stand up, hoping she could go before Detective Lockley decided she owed her for the coffee.

“Buffy, wait,” the cop said immediately, putting her hands on the arms of her chair as if she was going to stand as well, but then resisting as Buffy hovered, still on the far side of the coffee table. “Why…? I’m not saying you have to sign on or wear a uniform; you’d be independent, wouldn’t need a PI licence, even. We could just try it for this case, see how it goes…”

Blinking, Buffy didn’t sit down, but didn’t leave either. Something wasn’t quite adding up. “What’s there to solve?” she asked, lowering her voice. Maybe she was gonna drop the D word after all. “There were – demons.” Detective Lockley didn’t flinch. Buffy let it go. “Time-swirly scalp-tingling demons; I came across them when Spike and I were patrolling –” And there was another very obvious reason not to get involved with the police. They thought Spike was her boyfriend now, so how was that going to go down when they realised he never went out in the sun? Authority meant conformity, at the Palace as much as everywhere else. Spike wasn’t allowed there, and if she did this, slayed officially, he wouldn’t be allowed there either, would he? Live bodies only. “We – I slayed them.” She had to keep him out of this. “Katrina was there; I thought I’d hit her; she was rolling down the hill – but when we – I found her she was stiff and her shoulders were going blue, so I knew it couldn’t have been me. They got her the night before.”

When I should have been there. Buffy remembered as she finished, losing all of her steam to guilt. Swallowing it away, Buffy watched Detective Lockley’s confusion and hoped that she could leave now, that that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t. “But she wasn’t killed in the cemetery,” the detective said, nonplussed. “The body was moved there.”

Wait, what?

Now Buffy sat back down, staring at the other woman’s pinched expression.

How did she even know?

Pulling a notebook from her jeans pocket, Detective Lockley checked her facts, looking nervous as she openly tried to be convincing. “Yeah; post-mortem bruising and she didn’t get that head wound in the clothes she was wearing.” Buffy could barely take it all in; her mind was racing. Katrina had to have been killed in the cemetery, didn’t she? “Defensive wounds on her hands…” What else could it be? “But – underneath her fingernails was cleaner than you’d get at a manicure.” At last the detective said it, raising her eyes to Buffy’s, “We’re looking at a murder victim here, even withthe claw marks to scare off the coroner.”

“Who… Who did you say she was again, Katrina?” Buffy asked, thoughts starting to move in her head. The name was almost familiar after all – and Anya had said that the demons were only supposed to cause slight temporal disturbances. (Murder, though? With the demons as a cover?) A whole day hadn’t really made sense, Anya had said, even though there’d been no other explanation at the time.

Detective Lockley was looking down at her notes again. “Katrina Silber,” she said, scanning. “Twenty-two year old senior at Dutton Tech, majoring in robotics…”


April the Sexbot. Trina. Warren.

What the hell had he done?

Buffy could feel as the blood drained from her face; Detective Lockley was watching. “What is it?” she asked.

“I know who killed her,” Buffy explained, absolutely certain. “Warren Mears.” And in that moment it was all worked out, she realised, even as she kept her swearing to a hiss. “Bastard! God; he tried to set me up! Son of a bitch, I can’t even…”

“Hang on,” the other woman interrupted, pulling a ballpoint from the binding of her notebook and noting. “Warren… Mears? Who’s he? How do you even – what proof do you have?”

Buffy groaned, urgency kicking her patience into touch. She’d known this was coming, hadn’t she? Something bigger, something she had to – “He’s her ex-boyfriend,” Buffy explained quickly, certain she couldn’t do anything while the dectective was still here, “but, look, this is why this whole freelance thing is never gonna work. I don’t do stuff the way you do OK? I figure things out, I go smash; I figure out it’s a human and –” I go smash something else. “– there’s nothing I can do.” That was what it came down to.

“But why not?” the detective answered, sounding reasonable as she recapped her pen. “OK, you work on intuition, but maybe that’s all we need you for – I’ve got a lead, which I didn’t have before; I’ll check it out, call in, and after that…”

It sounded nice in theory, but, unfortunately, Buffy’s urge to kill was kicking into overdrive, and she was pretty sure Detective Lockley would never understand that part. In the end any alliance was going to be just like the Initiative, ancient magic and modern forensics coming together in perfect discord in a way that would get dangerous, fast, and probably leave Buffy in a worse situation than before. She had too much to worry about to risk this, too much instability in her shitty life to gamble on making it better.

Going for the way she’d seen Giles kill conversations before, Buffy rose to her feet and stuck out her hand, needing to patrol, trying not to feel bitter. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t gonna work out,” she said, attemping to stay in control. “And it’s been nice talking and everything, but I’ve gotta go.”

Detective Lockley shook her hand, and that was fine – but then she held it a moment too long. “I’m not gonna give up on this, you know, Buffy.” She looked serious, something deep in her eyes. “It took me so – it took a while, but I’ve got a job to do. Believe me on that.”

“I do.” Just as convinced that she was going to have to let it go, however, Buffy told her, “But I’ve got a job to do too.”

A dozen demons dead, one sword won and then lost in something melty, the house was dark when Buffy finally got back. That wasn’t surprising; it was late, but Buffy stared at it all the same, feeling taunted. She remembered now that Willow had had her Spellcasters Anonymous thing, so probably Spike had stayed with Dawn, maybe, but he’d have gone home about an hour ago, most probably. That was a good thing. Definitely a good thing, no matter how it felt like the contrary, because she was tired and didn’t need the awkwardness. Plus it proved that he’d got the message about the lack of sex they were doomed for. Yay.

There was no one left downstairs: Buffy checked, but all she had to greet her was an empty, blacked-out house. Fine. That left her with the choice of whether she heated up some dinner or gave up and went to bed. Bed was the most tempting.

Not quite able to resist the grumbling in her stomach, however, Buffy gloomily compromised. Grabbing a spoon she headed to the fridge, pulled out the casserole dish and sat with it on the floor with it by the cabinets, letting her head rock back against its meagre support. There wasn’t much left of Dawn’s quesaroni – four good portions had been taken out, so Buffy could imagine the others had eaten pretty well after she’d left, had a really nice, normal dinner. It was shame Willow was gay, Buffy decided as she dug her spoon through the congealed lump, hit the enamel – if Willow weren’t gay, after all, then she and Spike could get together, adopt Dawn and have happy family meals every day, keep Buffy in the back bedroom and feed her leftovers when she was good. That would be easier, wouldn’t it? Buffy figured she wouldn’t have to do anything then.

Cold, the goo didn’t quite have the same flashback effect on her as before. The jalapeños still burnt, but the overwhelming sensation in Buffy’s mouth was of the claggy, cheesy mess. Not that she wasn’t OK with that.

That was pretty good, actually; she was a cheese fan and it went down well. The whole lot went down, in fact, eventually, leaving them with no more leftovers and one cheesy casserole dish to clean. Buffy stood up and balanced it precariously on the dinner plates already in the sink. (Eh, she decided; she’d do dishes tomorrow.)

After rinsing her mouth with a glass of water, the glass keeping intact this time – see, she could do these things when there was no one around to see it – Buffy headed up to bed. She felt exhausted and was hoping, mostly, that her night would be dream-free and that tomorrow’s routine would go to its pre-set plan. It was a birthday plan, which was essentially an oxy-wotsit, but whatever, she was hoping.

She didn’t notice the body in her bed at first, trudging into her room, not until she turned the light on. Then, suddenly and certainly, there was no doubt it was there, snuggled up under the covers. Not at home, back in its crypt, but here.

Buffy sighed, trying not to feel loved. “I know you’re not asleep, Spike,” she said, trying not to sound amused. It was difficult, though, because when he feigned the appearance he moved, and snuffled, and kicked the covers: everything, essentially, that he didn’t actually do when he was sleeping. “And why are you in my room?” She even tried to get some anger into that question, but it mostly came out hopeful. Giving up, she shut the door behind her then moved to check the curtains, walking out of her shoes as she went. Spike was still pretending he couldn’t hear her, so she sat on the bed by his feet, not quite sure what to do, not wanting to throw him out, but pretty sure she’d have to. Hadn’t she told him not to come? “I thought you were gonna be gallant,” she ended up saying.

Really not so blearily, Spike finally opened his eyes at that point, looking down at her over his bare arm. It was pretty enticing, that was the awful thing; it wasn’t fair. “You know, Summers,” he said nonetheless, “Gallantry doesn’t preclude a bloke liking his bed warmed up.”

“Oh, right,” she said, not quite believing him, but still pretty tired. “Is that what this is?” He did look comfortable, though, so it was only a moment before she was scooching up the bed and flopping back, over the covers but with her head on the pillow next to his. “It’s an ‘I can’t sleep without you’ thing.” She mocked, “You should’ve told me you were needy.”

Not grateful for that comment, Spike rolled his eyes – but nonetheless didn’t move. It was kind of presumptuous, wasn’t it? Him appearing in her room and going to bed in her bed? She had a feeling she was meant to be angrier about it, but when it came down to it his voice was nicer than the silence – and now he was reaching out to run his fingers over her clothed knee, pressure circling in a way that made her tingle. Stupid hormones. “So, go on then,” he said, somehow managing to judge the exact moment when she relaxed, “what did she ask, small and blonde? You in the clear, or is this your last night as a free woman?” He sounded like he had some plans for that, which Buffy wasn’t sure really fitted with the ‘gallant’ thing.

“She offered me a job,” Buffy told him, turning her head and giving in completely to the bed-sharing idea. It wasn’t actually that hard. “Freelance consulting detective, or something, with her or the Sunnydale PD or, I don’t know… Demon duty, anyway.”

The motion on her kneecap paused. Spike looked impressed, but confused. “Like Sherlock Holmes for the ghoulies, you mean?”

“Uh… Who?” Buffy asked, more confused than him, definitely. Spike made the weirdest references sometimes. And why had the knee thing stopped? “Oh, wait;” she suddenly remembered, distracting herself, “you mean the guy with the dog? With the garden and the country house, and the cape made out of a picnic rug? With the matching hat?”

At that point he figured out who she meant. He was not impressed. “For Christ’s sake, woman; who did your education?” the exclamation came out hushed, which thankfully at least implied that Willow and Dawn didn’t know he was here, but it was still totally unnecessary. “Guy with the dog…” He shook his head.

“Whatever,” she replied, not even insulted. Like she was meant to care about some old Victorian loser. “If he’s like some blanket-wearing Van Helsing guy who works with the police, then fine, yeah, like him.” She shrugged. “But it doesn’t matter anyway, because I turned it down.”

“You turned it down?” Now Spike was distracted as well, turning serious again and apparently even more dismayed than before. He leaned in closer, pulled up his arm so he could rest on it. “Why on earth did you do that?”

“It wasn’t gonna work,” she explained, resigned, shrugging. “I mean, come on; I need a job that gives me enough time to do slaying – how am I gonna do that if my job basically is slaying, but slaying whatever the cops want me to slay?” And if that word soup didn’t convince him, nothing would. It convinced her. “We’d get our interests conflicted; it wouldn’t work.”

He blinked at her. “And the real reason is…?”

“Huh?” Confused, she rolled over herself, settling on her side so she could face him properly. “That is the real reason,” she said, kind of affronted. Hadn’t he heard the soup? “Why can’t that be the real reason?”

“Because it makes fuck all sense?” he offered, looking at her like she’d decided to start wearing her shoes back to front. “They’re offering to pay you for what you do anyway; if the strings aren’t too tight, why the bloody hell would you not go for it? The Doublemeat’s a shithole; you need out any chance you get.”

Instinctively, she tensed. He was right about the DMP, she knew that (didn’t she?), but the idea of leaving didn’t sit right with her. It didn’t make any sense. She needed to keep working so she and Dawn could keep living, couldn’t stop, couldn’t start getting her paid work confused with her slaying. That wouldn’t work; it couldn’t. Slaying wasn’t part of the real world. “But that’s the thing, about the strings – what if I needed to stop an apocalypse, or whatever, but they wanted me to do something else. I need the money, so I’d have to do everything they asked, but then what would happen to everything else I did?” She could see it happening, being pulled and twisted by her paycheck, lured into not helping the way she had a duty to help. She was a slave – or, how was it Anya had put it, a serf? – to the DMP as it was, but at least that was a building she could leave, a place that didn’t exist when she took the hat off her head.

“But don’t you have the same motives, you and the police, them being gits aside and you wearing much better outfits?” He was still appreciating her shirt, not that she knew when Spike’s looks at had started registering as appreciation rather than leering. Maybe it was something to with smelling like burger grease eighteen hours a day, seeing people cross the street so they didn’t have to walk by her. Or to do with the way that his looks tended to lead to multiple orgasms and a piece of spoken word. “You’re both meant to have those annoying do-gooder instincts – you know, like what you’ve got in spades,” he carried on. “You both want to stop people dying, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, shaking her head – not that it did much, just rustled her hair against the pillow. “They’ve got that thing where they need to prove how people were killed; I’m more into the executive slaying kinda deal.”

“But only with demons, yeah?” Spike prodded, not letting it go. “They aren’t about to care what you do with them. And the humans –”

“But what about the Initiative?” All of her objections seemed to be making less sense now she was saying them out loud; wasn’t that great? “They cared about demons. They had us capture them so they could do weird experiments, remember?”

Unimpressed, Spike shot her a glare. “No. They’ve completely vanished from my mind.” Oh yeah. Chip. When the hell had she forgotten about that? She blushed, but Spike seemed to take that as an apology, storming on, “Sunnydale PD doesn’t have anything like the funding for that sort of jaunt, though, love. They’ve got enough trouble keeping their human baddies locked up and fed. What they’ll be wanting is to get their stats up on the cheap, pay you enough to keep you quiet, but otherwise get the demon numbers down and not have to fudge their figures so much.”

“But…” And this was the thing she really wondered, in the end, even as it made the tension gather behind her eyes. “How much more can I do?” It sounded pathetic, but, actually, she didn’t care. “What am I supposed to make happen? I can’t… I’ve been trying as hard as I can for years and years and years, so how can they expect me to do any more, to make any bigger difference? There’s so much stuff going on,” she explained, feeling it tumble out of her, “with money, and the house, and Dawn – did she tell you? It turns out we might not be so poor, but to actually not be we’re gonna have to go through this giant load of stuff no one’s quite sure how to do. Isn’t that just great.” She slumped a little lower. “And, and maybe I can’t keep working at the Palace,” she continued, “but there I’ve actually got a job that I’ve managed to keep, and that’s never happened before, and it’s like, because there’s such low expectations, they don’t mind if I’m weird and do slayer things, and no one wants to be my friend and make things awkward because no one wants to make friends there. Things are bad right now, but they’re working, aren’t they?” She looked at him desperately. “I can’t fix things up again, Spike; I’m so tired, I don’t…”

Suddenly, cutting her off, he grabbed her hand where it was lying between them, his right seizing her left. It felt cold, dead, bony – dammit, again it was making her feel sick – but he held on and she didn’t shake free. “Why’s it I feel so dead, d’you reckon, love?” he asked, changing the subject. “All that stuff aside, what d’you think?”

“I don’t know,” she sobbed out, clenching his fingers in hers and feeling them too much, this her right hand inconveniently sans-gauze. It was just one more thing, wasn’t it? When it came down to it, she wasn’t allowed to be happy, so her life just screwed it up for her. When she thought she was coping, everything always decided to change things around, screw themselves up so she couldn’t keep going in a straight line. “It was all fine, and then…”

“It wasn’t fine, though, was it?” Spike’s blue eyes were pinning her down, like he knew the answer, or thought she knew and wasn’t telling. It made her feel hopeless. “When you first got back, you know I got the feeling you liked to chat me up ‘cause I didn’t matter. Sang that blasted song, didn’t I?”

“About you being dead and me not leaving you alone?” That, at least, she could answer. “Yeah, I remember, but I don’t –” It had never been about him being dead, had it? He’d understood because he’d been in the grave himself, because he wasn’t her friends, but she didn’t mean – “That didn’t mean…”

He frowned, briefly, hand warming in hers. “‘Course it didn’t,” he said in his comforting voice, even as it rang false.

“We had fun on the motorcycle, didn’t we?” She’d never said so at the time, but Friendly Buffy was trying to admit it when she enjoyed spending time with him, even retrospectively. “And then after, with the –” Many bouts of dramatic Olympic fuckathons. “That was fun?” Oh, crap, why was she talking in the past tense – it couldn’t be over, could it, this thing with Spike? That was the first time she’d thought it might be, actually seriously rather than just saying it in the hope he’d take it at her word, and it didn’t really sit the way she’d wanted it to. “I mean…”

“It had certain fun-like content, I’ll grant you that,” Spike replied, before sighing. “But I’ve been lying here, you know, trying to figure it, and I don’t know if anything really changed after that singing. I thought it had but then, you know…” Apparently without thinking, this thumb swept over the back of her hand, full of softness and certainly shocking through her. It was pleasurable and disturbing in equal amounts, enough to be unnerving. All the same, she knew what he meant; it was the violets and moonlight thing again, because who knew things could actually be approaching good between them? Buffy certainly hadn’t known before.

“I sang it back at you, didn’t I?” she commented, thinking about it, trying to remember what exactly her reasons had been. “When we had our curtain-call, um, moment; I wanted to feel alive, I remember that, knew that you were the only thing that made me feel even vaguely like I was, so I went with it. I mean, you’d saved me from the dancing and stuff, so…”

Apparently Spike hadn’t been much listening at that moment in the alleyway, however, because he looked confused. “Is that what you said?” he asked, wrinkling his nose. “I don’t remember much of what happened before the snogging…” And then he winked, verve returned for a moment. “I think you shorted something.”

Bringing her left hand into play, Buffy slapped him on the shoulder, causing rather a loud clap of sound that echoed through her bedroom. Whoops… “I did not,” she hissed, keeping her voice low as he snickered. Yet again, though, she suddenly found herself questioning her reaction, because hadn’t he just paid her a compliment? Why couldn’t he ever make his expressions match what he actually meant? “I mean… You weren’t paying attention because, clearly, you were too interested in my lips to listen to what I had to say. Because you’re a man and you’re evil.”

He bit his tongue, raising his eyebrows.

She felt herself getting slightly flustered, so she carried on, “Anyway, I was all about the aliveness, which I remember because I couldn’t actually believe I was singing, still – and maybe it’s best you don’t remember it because it was really embarrassing, but, anyway. Umm…” Where was she going with this? Oh yeah, further embarrassing relations, because those not having sex were doomed to talk about it, apparently. “And it did kind of work, I’m sure you’ll be really vindicated to hear –” Still smiling, Spike made a gesture like he was tipping his hat; Buffy rolled her eyes. “– but I don’t think the sex with you really changed anything apart from making my schedule harder.” And plunging her into fathomless depths of existential doubt when she came out the other side. All the things he used to say, make her feel

Buffy frowned, thinking. All right, so she remembered one specific part of her existential crisis being nipped in the bud by the rather abrupt declaration that she wasn’t a demon, but she couldn’t figure out where the rest of it had gone – morphed into this pretty gloomy predicament, she supposed, but how? When? Why?

“Well,” the vampire in question answered, sounding very sensitive indeed, “throwing around my dead bones a bit probably didn’t feel…”

“No,” she stopped him, looking up and trying to be kind, if truthful. “I didn’t care about that when we started… It was only later; I used to wake up and it was afterwards I’d notice, maybe, sometimes I would – but it didn’t…” Strangely, he was looking at her with hope, and she was trying to think, trying to struggle through it all, and finally, clenching his body temperature hand, she felt like she could say, “I think… I never felt alive, back in the world, so I’d come to you, and you’d – we’d try, we’d do stuff, and sometimes that would be when…” Her voice dropped as a feeling of vulnerability swept over her, and she dared herself to trust him with what she wanted to say. “Sometimes you actually would make me feel alive, like I was functional, or whatever, and sexy, and – happy.” Why did that have to be such a terrifying confession? His face had gone blank, of course. It always did when he really cared. She carried on, “And that was when I’d notice, you know, how dead you were – physically. Because I’d feel so warm. I think. And then I’d run away.

“But it was better!” she cut into herself abruptly, remembering, one dead hand still tight and shivering in hers. “That stopped happening. This week – now – I don’t know, do I, do I feel like I’m alive all the time now? Is that what’s happened?”

Spike brought his other hand to clasp around where she held his – and it hadn’t started that way, had it? – before he ducked his head, like in prayer almost, to the point where she had to resist leaning in to meet him. His hands she could cope with. “Don’t know,” he murmured, like he thought this might have been it, but the actual truth of it made him feel sick. “Could see it, though, you on the edge of all this stuff, scared of change ‘cause you’ve stabbed a stake in it all. Can see how I wouldn’t fit.”

Colder than anything his touch had made her feel, she froze. It made him bring his head back up and she stared at him: it was dawning on his face, the idea that he’d done his part and was only holding her back now, settling in lines of tired, old-guy resignation in the weirdest twist ever.

He hadn’t imagined them staying together forever, it seemed like, even though she would have expected it; it was like this was the end he’d always seen, when she outgrew him, didn’t need his services anymore and moved on. It was even more pathetic than thoughts she’d had herself. “But you have to fit,” she told him, frankly not accepting any other idea. “That’s how this works. You’re part of the system.”

Her life, as she saw it, she decided now, had many things in delicate balance. Hello – that was why she didn’t want to move jobs, or have to worry about the money stuff. If she took Spike out of that balance, where the hell would that leave her? Why wasn’t he fighting this?

“Spike, come on,” she said urgently, pulling some indignation out of him as she rolled back out of bed, standing with her hands on her hips. Less woeful, he sat up immediately, the duvet falling from his high chest to his hips. He got off on being naked, she was sure he did, so hopefully this was making him feel better. She had to say that she didn’t mind. “What the hell are you saying? If I’m feeling alive – then that’s good, right? Yay me? What’s with the maudlin?”

“Well, apparently,” he drawled, grouchy as a roused cat, “you feeling alive means my touch disgusts you, so forgive me for not being entirely sure where I fit in right now.”

“Yeah, but…” Buffy bit her lip, still not one-hundred-percent sure she was figuring this out right. “Well, for a start,” she went with, sardonic, “what happened to Mr. Gallant ‘I just wanna be with you’? That didn’t last long.” Not that she could blame him. But that – that was the other thing. “Also, hey, newsflash!” She gestured, indicating his pleasingly undressed state. “I’m not actually uninterested in you, which maybe hasn’t been coming across so well, but I was hoping it had been clear all along that we’re in gross-out territory here, not trauma – or, not new trauma anyway – or me losing my, uh, interest in the… Men.” She trailed off.

Through the silence that followed, he stared at her, and she was struck by the ridiculousness of the fact she was still keeping her voice down, and had gone through that whole spiel in a stage whisper.

“Gross-out territory?” Spike asked at last, sounding almost sublimely unimpressed. “Gross-out territory?

She blushed. “Well, yeah; like when you go to a Halloween party and you do the thing with a blindfold, and you can’t eat grapes for a week – or like Dawn and the monkey-brain marshmallows…”

“Right,” Spike interrupted, climbing out of bed in one long stretch of pale, gleaming, tasty sinew. She may actually have licked her lips. “You,” he pointed at her (she jumped). “Get in that bed. Got no intention of making you uncomfortable, but this is fucking ridiculous. Time to test some limits.”

A shiver ran through her, but it wasn’t entirely of the bad kind. “Is that your plan?” she asked, watching him walk. “Seduce away my problems?” To be honest, that was the kind of plan she could get behind, even if she wasn’t entirely sure it made sense. At least it wouldn’t take much effort.

Spike, at this point, stopped by the light switch. “I’ll have you know,” he told her, sounding slightly bitter, slightly admiring, “I’ve never once managed to seduce you. Even when I try I always end up doing what you want.”

With that he sent the room into darkness, but Buffy still shrugged, trying to disperse a little energy. “You would say that,” she said, already feeling where he’d hooked her in.

[Chapter Three: That’s Not Your World.]

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