Hello! Yes, this is my day, and no, I’m not cutting it fine at all. That is absolutely not the reason why I’ve had to be my own beta.*
Right. This is my story “Near Misses”.
I can’t say it’s the most happy thing I’ve ever written, but I personally wouldn’t call it angsty. OK, so there’s a bit of angst. I wish ‘angst’ wasn’t such a melodramatic word… All right, so it’s angsty. I need to work on my classification technique…
Anyway, it’s my own idiosyncratic (ie. slightly odd) spin on the old post-A5 Buffy comes to LA plot-line, and could never be rated any higher than PG-13.
(*On that note, if you do spot any typos, please point them out to me. I’ll be extremely grateful.)
Warnings: Mental health issues (briefly mentioned)
Buffy had never thought she would see the stars in LA.
Well, not the big, burning balls of gas, anyway. But there they were. She could even make out the Big Dipper, or – what was it Giles had called it that one time? The Tractor? It was definitely something from My First Farm Book…
Still, stars meant no lights, and no lights equalled badness, and that meant she was in the right place.
It was going to be good for her to get back to slaying, really. It was what she was good at, after all, and she’d missed it in Rome. And with the Immortal turning out to be, well, what everyone had said him to be, she needed something to root herself again. And she knew she was needed here.
She looked up at the apartment block in front of her. Willow’s location spell had brought her there, so she supposed that it had to be the right place. It looked pretty abandoned.
Oh well. As long as it got her out of the wind.
She came to a door that had a rectangular hole at eye-level, cut roughly into the wood, and something metallic behind it. This had to be the right place.
She put her hand up to the door to knock, when she felt something completely unexpected. He was just on the other side. She didn’t know how she knew, but she was certain he was close. And now getting closer. His hand met hers (when had she flattened it?), and she was sure she could feel it through the grain of the wood.
Her fingertips grew more sensitive, erogenous almost. She let out a shaky breath, before the feeling sparked away.
She looked at her hand, utterly confused, and flexed it, when the metal disappeared from the hole with a scrape and two familiar eyes appeared in its place.
“Who is it?” He was so cold; unsurprising, after their last meeting, but it was still a bit of a shock.
“What d’you want?”
There was a pause, and she readied herself for questions. But he said nothing, and the door swung open in front of her.
“Lucky for you, we’re in no position to be picky.” He didn’t meet her eyes and she nipped inside as he bolted the door closed behind her.
The first thing she noticed were the candles. They littered every surface, casting a dull glow that she associated with Spike’s old crypt (and she really hoped that wasn’t nostalgia she was feeling). The walls had been knocked through to the adjacent apartments, and the assorted demons in the main room were all casting her furtive glances.
“Women’s things are over that side.” He pointed to the right-hand apartment. “I’ll get you on the rotas.”
And that was it.
He moved away and she looked down, not wanting to gaze after him like the lovesick idiot she wasn’t. The thing was, she couldn’t be upset, not after the way she’d treated him when he’d come to her.
With an involuntary sniff, she picked her way over to the hole in the wall, trying to block out the hissing tones that were discussing the bandage-supply. There was very little floor to walk on. Not that the place was a mess – Spike had always been so tidy – there were just too many things to store: sleeping bags, wash bags, a few piles of clothes, a crossbow…
The women’s apartment wasn’t that different. Although the air seemed more hostile, if that was possible. The islands of people all presented their backs to her, and she was suddenly conscious of her gold sandals, and how pathetic they looked compared to the others’ shoes and boots. She edged her way forward, eyes sharp for a place to put her things but avoiding the other women’s.
She found a space eventually, in the corner by the bathroom. Wrinkling her nose, she dropped her bag and sleeping bag, and realised that her ‘living rough’ was probably going to get a whole lot rougher.
“… doctor said anything about Angel?”
Buffy span around. A grey demon with a beak had obviously just changed the subject and the blonde woman she was talking to was wondering how to answer.
“Did you say ‘Angel’?” Buffy asked without thinking. The two turned to look at her, and Buffy’s eyes were caught by the blonde woman’s.
She looked at Buffy with a dull, heavy gaze that shone against her sallow skin. “And you are…?”
Buffy was immediately embarrassed. She could feel sweat run streaks through her Pearl Shimmer crème shadow. “I’m Buffy.” She felt so stupid. “I’m a Vampire Slayer. Um, you?”
The woman swept some of her slightly greasy hair out of her eyes and continued to look at her coolly. “I’m the girlfriend who hasn’t sent him evil.”
“Oh.” Buffy looked down and blinked, not knowing how to respond. It wasn’t that she was surprised, not really. What was there to be surprised about? Although, shewas kind of surprised Spike hadn’t told her Angel had a new girlfriend. It was the sort of thing he’d normally slip into conversation.
Wait, hadn’t Beaky mentioned something about a doctor?
“What’s wrong with him? Angel, I mean.”
The girlfriend looked at her again, cataloguing her appearance. Buffy wondered why she didn’t feel better about herself – Miko, the Immortal’s personal stylist, had picked out her current outfit himself, and she knew from several sources that it was gorgeous. And compared to the other woman’s grimy black sweater, well, there was no comparison.
“Don’t worry about it.”
She dismissed Buffy, turning her back on her and talking to the beaked demon again. Buffy knew that this was the point to assert herself, demand to know what was going on and put herself on the same level as the other two, but for some reason she couldn’t. She didn’t want to. And so she drifted away, further into the room.
Back through the hole in the wall, she finally saw someone she recognised, that wasn’t a vampire.
“Hey, Illyria!” She rushed over and the Old One blinked at her. “It is Illyria, right?”
“You are the one we sought assistance from.”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
Buffy suddenly realised that starting this conversation hadn’t been a good idea. “Yes I did.”
“Yet you are here.” Illyria sounded more curious than anything else, which Buffy hoped was a good sign. She needed someone to explain herself to.
“Well, I made a mistake. See, I was involved with this guy, called the –”
“Oi, everyone!” Buffy shut up. “We’re having a meeting.” Spike was back, looking weary but otherwise pretty much at ease with being the leader. It was slightly weird.
Illyria left her alone, and headed to the front with Spike. All the others in the complex filtered into the main room, milling around Buffy but not really looking at her. Angel’s girlfriend, she was annoyed to see, also had a place at the front.
Leaning against the wall, the bare brick rough against her hands, Buffy wondered whether she would have been at the front if she’d come those weeks before. She probably would have – Spike had been so desperate then, not capable like he was now, assigning duties.
But that didn’t matter. She wasn’t there for the glory. Or for Spike. She was there to help.
“The demons don’t belong here. Remember that. It might seem like they’ll keep coming forever, but they can’t. That portal can’t hold. It might be huge at the moment, but no one, not even the Senior bloody Partners can keep it that way forever. And as long as we survive, we’ve won.”
Those who went on patrols went in pairs, she soon found. It was to maximise stealth, apparently, and also, though no one wanted to say as much, to minimise casualties. That had become clear the night Illyria had returned alone. There had been such an uproar about that, but she hadn’t been involved.
She dressed like the others now, in sensible clothes she’d scavenged from abandoned shops, after her silk shirts had torn and her stilettos had snapped. She was still an outsider, and she still lived by the bathroom.
Presumably because no one else wanted her, she patrolled with either Spike or Illyria. Illyria didn’t find her interesting and Spike hardly ever spoke to her. She wanted to apologise to him, but she didn’t know how. It was obvious that he didn’t need her help; he was coping more than well enough without her. But that wasn’t the point, and never really had been.
Rome had twisted her mind; she saw that now. A year away from death and apocalypses and she had turned back into the shallow, self-absorbed person she had always been destined to be. Maybe that was who she was, deep down.
She was glad that her cell phone’s battery had run out. It stopped her from complaining to Dawn, which she did far too much.
There wasn’t much to complain about, really. She wasn’t dead yet, and Spike always said that things were getting better. Of course, she’d spent the entire of that year trying to convince the Potentials of the same thing in Sunnydale, so who knew how true it was.
Her and Spike’s silent patrols sometimes reminded her of Sunnydale, when she felt like deluding herself that they were silences of comfort and not of tension. Or when silence was necessary, by the portal, whose eerie blue glow swallowed the dark but never gave anything back.
One night, they fought a dragon, stalked it through the streets of LA. Far above their heads its scales glinted in the moonlight, and they hid from its hawkish eyes behind wrecked cars. It was a silent chase, except for the soft run of the wind, which had so far refused to turn into white noise.
That was when she realised that she really had missed it all. This was her.
They chased the dragon to an intersection, where Spike fired at its head. It reeled upright, cawing harshly, and smashing a nearby building with its tail. She fired her own crossbow and pierced its heart, bringing it screeching and wheeling to the ground.
She watched, fascinated, as it fell to the crossroads. She’d seen a dragon before; she could still remember the shriek of the one from the portal Dawn had opened. But this was different somehow, she was sure of it.
Spike was kneeling by the dragon’s head. He drove a knife into its black, glazed eye, and then wiped the ichor off onto its scales. He didn’t stand up, and so she joined him. In the feeble light of the clear sky, the dragon was indeed beautiful, and, laying a hand on its thick, cold hide, she suddenly understood why someone could take a trophy of a dead animal.
She settled into the gravel, and, next to her, Spike spoke.
“Angel slew a dragon.” His voice, so different from usual, came as a surprise to her. “You know. Before. Haven’t seen one since.”
Buffy wanted to look at him, but denied herself, staring instead at the dragon’s crest. Everything was so still now; the dragon’s dead flesh had drawn energy from her and her heart had settled.
“Before what?” she asked softly, not sure whether she was more eager for the answer or for Spike to speak again.
“Has nobody told you?” His coat rustled and she turned to him. His eyes were fixed on hers, shrewd and clear.
“Told me what?” She wanted to snap and demand an answer, but she couldn’t, not now.
“Agoraphobia.” That word meant something to her, but she couldn’t remember what. “Least, that’s what Xanx calls it.” He looked down, at the dull cavity of the dragon’s eye. She was enthralled. “He’s bloody paralysed with it. He wants to help, wants to save everybody, but the moment he gets near that door…” He looked up, and she swore that she could see fear in his eyes. “He doesn’t want to die and be useless.”
“But why?” she asked. “What’s changed? Why would he…” He didn’t reply.
And suddenly she knew the answer, even though it seemed impossible.
She wasn’t sure Spike could see her, but she reached forward anyway, placing a hand on his shoulder. He didn’t reject it, but blinked. In a stronger voice he said, “I’m surprised Nina didn’t tell you.”
She ran the name through her head, but couldn’t make a connection. She smiled in a way that she hoped was self-deprecating, and said, “I’m not very popular.”
He turned away suddenly, and she dropped her hand as he frowned. “No. You wouldn’t be.”
He stood up then and walked away. Embarrassed, she followed afterward.
“You might think we don’t have the strength, or the fire-power. And, all right, compared to those things out there, we don’t. But what are they? A bunch of useless demons whose only thought is to get out of their grubby little hell-dimension. They don’t have the first clue about order. But we do. And that’s why we’re better than them.”
Time passed, and she became almost certain that the dragon had been entirely in her imagination, never mind the withered corpse that she still went to see sometimes.
Her patrols with Spike were silent once more – something that made her feel incredibly disappointed, for no particular reason she could work out. She didn’t try and speak again, because that was up to him. It was all up to him.
They were coming back from the portal when the three demons appeared from around the corner. They were brown, hairy things, with tusks, and Spike immediately broke one of their necks. The demon dropped to the pavement as another ran at her. She blocked its gnarly fist and kicked it away from her.
The fight seemed almost muffled. Neither she nor Spike spoke, and no growls came from the demons. Even her hits were softened by the demon’s body. It all felt slightly surreal.
She shook herself mentally, and brought her attention back to the demon. Grinding a heel in its instep, she roughly brought it to the ground and pinned it. Looking into its yellow eyes, she breathed heavily and her fingers quivered as a globule of spit ran across them. Suppressing the instinct to cringe between breaths, she reached for her ankle sheath.
Her knife was missing.
She braced herself to release the demon. There had to be some pipe around, or –
Her ears quirked as the silence broke, and she flicked her head around, raising her spit-free hand. As her eyes registered Spike’s figure, the leather-bound handle of a knife, her knife, slipped into her fist. Something warm, like gratitude, began to suffuse through her, as instinct had her stabbing the thing in front of her.
It stopped struggling and Buffy stood up, wiping the knife on the corpse. She looked over toward Spike, who was still dealing with his own demon. He looked like he always did when fighting, elegant and deadly, and for some reason she felt detached once more.
She could still feel the knife in her hand. It hadn’t moved from where it had fallen, perfectly on target, and that caused a slight tingling sensation. She shifted her hand, and fingered the binding, holding the blade up to the pale light.
She lowered the knife again as she watched Spike finish his fight. He kicked his demon in the chest, following a split-second later with a stake through its throat. As it dropped to the floor and he span around, looking for others. When he found none, his eyes settled on her. She wanted a smile to spread over his face, but he didn’t react, until his eyes suddenly widened.
A hand was on her shoulder and a flash came from the right. She lost her balance somehow and fell forwards onto the ground.
She could smell blood, and her neck was burning.
It hurt so much.
She lay there, exhausted tears in her eyes, and the dull thunder of crowded footsteps lulled her into slumber.
“We’ve got the easy job. We’ve just got to keep this place under control, keep hidden, and we can let the demons do themselves in. It might not seem like it at the moment, but you wait ‘til you’re on the run from the kitten shark again… or, you know, the hairbrush shark, or whatever it is you women borrow. You just wait. This’ll seem like a breeze.”
“Are you awake?” something hissed above her. She punched it.
“We will win this. I’m telling you, we will win this.”
The ground churned just beyond the ends of her shoes, toeing them with thin blue light, and the ever-present wind ruffled her skirt. The portal was so much smaller now, but it still drew the wind, dragging the heat away from LA.
They weren’t meant to go out alone, she suddenly remembered, to here of all places. It was dangerous.
Well, it was supposed to be. She was starting to think that someone or something, somewhere, had immunised her against danger. Which was probably impossible and therefore a dangerous thought in itself, but she’d stopped caring about that a long time ago.
She was supposed to be dead, after all. Several times over. There had been something inside of her, though, that had believed this would be the final time. But no. She was alive.
It was obvious that Spike had saved her. She didn’t have a problem with understanding that. She just couldn’t work out the reason why he had saved her. She couldn’t believe it had anything to do with feelings he might have for her, because he didn’t. And even if he did, he was a leader now, as ruthless and cut-off as she had been in Sunnydale.
Not that she minded. It was perfectly understandable, good even, no matter how much she wanted him to trust her.
Buffy looked down at her feet, sensibly-heeled boots barely visible. She knew that when she got back to the apartment they’d be covered in that the blue dust that was everywhere – had been everywhere – and seemed thicker now. Sure enough, when she reached down, she could feel the crust of it.
It was heavier than she’d realised, and more grimy than gritty. But then, she’d never taken the time before. The wind didn’t bother it, even as she rubbed it from her fingers.
Buffy sighed. Everything was so different now. When she’d last been here (and who knew who long ago that was?), the place had been dangerous, spewing forth terrors that there was no hope to containing. With this visit, though, the only thing she’d seen was a feeble, half-dead little thing that had flown into a building, framed by the setting sun, and died as it had fallen. The dragons, it seemed, and the other great beasts, now unable to come themselves, weren’t letting anything else through for the glory of Earth.
She wondered whether Spike knew. He should. Though there was always the possibility that he’d stayed in with her comatose body, the way he might’ve done before. But that was stupid.
She wished she knew how he felt, or even how he thought. Then she would know what to do, and that would make things so much simpler. At the moment all she did was love him from afar. And yes, she did love him, even though she had no idea when it had happened.
It wasn’t that frightening when no one else knew or cared about her feelings. They couldn’t touch them that way.
It couldn’t go on forever, she knew that. But why not? If she never told him then he would never know, and if she never told anyone else then they wouldn’t know either. But the portal was getting smaller, and she couldn’t stay in LA after it had closed, not without a reason. And what was holding her there apart from him?
And besides, her feelings, pristine though they might be, were worth nothing if they couldn’t counter opposition. Or accept affirmation.
She shivered, and in the same moment there seemed to be a pulse in the portal. It made it look warm, almost welcoming. Which was stupid, since she knew that it had to lead to somewhere sub-zero.
It was always darkest before dawn, and it was even darker in LA now. The lack of light meant that sight had once again been relegated to the least useful of the senses, and Buffy had found that there were a dozen other ways of knowing someone was coming.
It was by taste, this time, and the bitter curl of tobacco that she was made aware of him.
“Buffy.” He stopped behind her, grinding a cigarette end to the ground.
She closed her eyes. He had followed her. He wasn’t supposed to do that anymore, he had duties and dependents. Was this what she did to him, with her presence? Hook him in and lead him away from where he should be? Maybe all their patrols together had been by his choice, because he felt responsible for her.
With a sigh she opened her eyes and turned around, stepping away from the portal.
“The doc never said you were better. There’s still stitches.” He raised a hand to her neck, and she swallowed, slightly painfully, at his attention.
“I figure if I can walk I can walk.” She crossed her arms, looking away.
He took a step closer, something he always did, daring the retreating lion. When had his bloody-mindedness become so endearing? And God did that phrase suit him well.
“You shouldn’t…” He stopped. “We shouldn’t be going out by ourselves, not when the demons outnumber us –”
“Outnumber us by what?” She looked back at him, indignant. “There’s barely any left. Besides…” she trailed off.
“Nothing.” How could she tell him that she didn’t want him rescuing her? That’s what it came down to, in the end.
“Oh, is that what this is about?” He started pacing, just a little, and she was confused.
“Is what about what?”
“This… snit you’ve got yourself into.” He angrily lit another cigarette, and in the lighter’s sharp light she made out a fierce red scar on the back of his left hand.
“I am not in a snit!”
“Oh, right.” He stopped, looking through her. “You’re pissed off ‘cause I saved you.”
There was silence. She couldn’t speak; no words seemed to form. Apparently she didn’t want to be told the fact either.
“You’ve come here with a death wish, that it? Got bored with the jet-set lifestyle and thought you’d pop in on an old mate before you copped it?”
“No!” She hadn’t had a death wish in a long time. “I…”
“The Immortal ain’t keeping your toes warm anymore, I s’pose, so life just isn’t worth living.”
She glared, annoyed as always. “What is it you said? Oh yeah. There are too few of us for heroics, so we’re all expendable. Is that right? Or was it ‘bloody’ expendable? I can’t remember.” She shrugged. “It was a great speech, though. Hey, how many of the others were lies?.”
He stopped. “I didn’t sodding lie.”
“Then what the hell were you doing?” She grabbed his wrist and held his scarred hand to his face. “What’s this?” She dropped it, and curled her hands into fists. “I came here to fight, Spike. Not for special treatment!” Her voice rang around the empty street, and she looked up to the moon, feeling the stretch sharply in her puckered neck. She sighed. “Why did you do it, Spike.” She met his eyes again. “Why did you do it?”
“Because,” he said, “you daft bint.” The words were quiet, but she could almost feel their thrum on the air. She had no idea why she was so angry. “I bloody love you. It doesn’t leave me with much option.”
She stared. The breeze pierced one of her tear ducts.
“I know it’s not what you want to hear, but…” He looked away.
No; that was what she was supposed to croak out now. He would turn back, shocked, and she would explain. And she would be eloquent. He would be disbelieving, but smiling, and then he’d be holding her, and they’d close the portal and run off to be travelling demon hunters. With Dawn, of course. And probably Andrew.
But time passed, and she wasn’t saying anything.
“Let’s go back to the apartment.” He sounded disgusted, but she couldn’t work out whether it was with her or with himself.
She didn’t want to go. She was so close. There wasn’t anything to fear anymore. A few more minutes, a few more hours and it would come out of her. Why wasn’t he pushing her? Didn’t he realise that was all she needed, an opportunity?
He was walking away.
She looked over her shoulder quickly at the dwindling portal, screwing her eyes closed for a moment and unclenching her hands, before following him.
A week later the portal had closed completely, and she went back to Rome.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/53650.html