- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear, Part 1 of 8
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (2/8) (Part 1)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (2/8) (Part 2)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (3/8)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (4/8)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (5/8) (Part 1)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (5/8) (Part 2)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (6/8)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (7/8)
- Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (8/8 – Pending until 12/4)
Wow… so now it’s my day. Who knew that a fall could pass so quickly?
My offering today is an eight-part story series called Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear; each installment deals with a different, canon-based moment in which Buffy and Spike have a conversation to which no one else is privy, a conversation that serves as a watershed moment in their relationship. The series spans a period beginning post-season 2 of BtVS and ending post-Not Fade Away. With each story, I’ll give a little note to orient you time-wise.
Before I go any further, I have to give proper thanks (and, well, worship, really) to jen-nsync-landl and beanbeans, for beta/proofreading/brainstorming duty extraordinnaire. The idea itself wouldn’t exist without jen-nsync-landl‘s uncanny ability to urge ideas forth from the abyss of my brain; she also has an amazing knack for whipping my ramblings into presentable shape. beanbeans, in addition to a tremendous amount of moral support and sneak-peek-reading and encouragement, was also generous enough to make icons for each of the eight stories, and I’ll use them when I post each installment. I think I would’ve given up a thousand times over without them, and I really can’t thank or acknowledge them enough for the long nights and amazing support and encouragement.
So, now… the first part of the story. (I’m shooting for updates every 2 hours, work permitting, but all 8 installments will be posted today.)
Title: Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (1/8)
Author: Amy B. (amybnnyc)
Setting: Throughout canon for both BtVS and AtS
Rating: R at most (language)
Summary: So many years, so many chances for conversation; how many whispers have passed between Buffy and Spike, and what have they meant?
Author’s Notes: This installment is set post-Becoming; Buffy’s in LA, and all-night diner clientele is nothing if not unpredictable…
Whispers in a Dead Man’s Ear (1/8)
Of all the gin joints in all the world…
Was that how the line went? It felt like she ought to know, like she ought to remember better… it had been her mom’s favorite movie, after all, and she’d seen it more times than she could count. Especially after the divorce, when her mom had been all about the beneficial nature of good tears and had gone on and on about Greek drama and Aristotle and catharsis until Buffy’s eyes and brain had glazed over in self-defense.
It was funny how it all came back; never as a whole, just bits and pieces, like ghosts of a life that wasn’t hers to live any longer. Memories of how Willow’s hair felt between her fingers as she braided the long strands and mock-scolded her friend for moving, the sound of the giggles and little snorts that Willow would muffle as she tried to stay still. The taste of the popcorn when Xander fixed it for their movie nights, like it had too much butter and not enough salt and was always just a little bit burnt. The way that all of the different languages and accents on busy city streets blended together somehow, seemingly becoming the Hindi dialogue she’d never understood but which had become synonymous with the ‘best friend video fests’ that had been her one real badge of normalcy. The smell of tea and old paper, the sight of long wooden tables piled with books that screamed “Giles;” it had broken her heart to walk into the reading room at the L.A. Public Library to read the Sunnydale newspaper. She had only wanted proof that everyone was okay, but upon passing through the door something had twisted inside; she’d learned what she needed to know, but her heart wouldn’t let her go back there anymore. The scent of her mother’s subtle perfume, the soft cotton of her sweater and the faint acrid scent of a blown-out birthday candle, the memories of the last night that anything had been remotely simple between she and Joyce. The cool porcelain of the bathtub, warmed only slightly by the heat of the shower water, that surrounded her when she curled up and wept in the embrasure of its corner, allowing it to be a poor substitute for Angel’s arms because it was all she had left.
It hadn’t even been a month, and she was already forgetting, her mind and heart quickly pushing to a crucial distance the pain, the fear, the loneliness, and the love that would invariably try to direct her feet back towards a place to which she couldn’t return.
Every tiny moment, every triggered flash, was as much a gift as a torment, and that was all that could explain why she wasn’t completely furious with the creature who’d spawned her latest bout of remembrance. Instead, she bore down harder on the cracked tabletop with her damp rag-covered hand and shot the smirking figure a glare as she flipped the shaggy ends of her hair over her shoulder, resolutely avoiding thought of how long it had been since she’d had a haircut.
“I told you not to come back, Spike.” It sounded more like a sigh than a threat. Then again, almost everything she did anymore felt more like a token gesture than anything backed by a real sense of purpose.
“Am I in Sunnydale?” the vampire asked mockingly, hand splayed over his heart as he ducked his head and peered theatrically out the window. “Funny, but I don’t remember this level of… dreck on the good old Hellmouth. Nor do I recall you prancin’ about in sensible shoes or that rather fetching plaid milkmaid number. So I’m thinkin’… this is LA, kitten. Big, bad city, far different from your little burg. An’, coincidentally, that means that I’m keepin’ my word—since you seem to be keeping track.”
“Oh, good. So I’ve found the one honest vamp in all the world. Now if I could only solve the ‘how many licks to the center of a Tootsie pop’ mystery, I could just die happy,” Buffy shot back, eyes rolling as she turned her head back to her work.
“There’s the chicken or the egg debate, too. If we’re talkin’ about the eternal questions,” Spike chimed in, shooting her a smug grin when she glared at him anew.
“Maybe the universe should be allowed to keep a secret or two,” she answered, pulling silverware from her apron and beginning to set the booth’s table.
“So. With you here in living—well, existing—color, I’m goin’ to go out on a limb and guess that ye olde paterfamilias is well and truly done for, then?”
“You’re not wrong.” Buffy felt the muscle in her jaw tick, cursed herself as she realized that Spike had surely seen it and would be on the weakness in an instant.
“Good on you, pet.”
The words were more than a surprise. Buffy’s head shot up, the case knife in her hand bending as her fist clenched around it. “W-what did you say?” she stammered, clearly confused.
Spike was visibly amused, laughter dancing in his eyes even as he fought to smother the accompanying smirk. “Well, was the whole point of it, wasn’t it? Killin’ Angelus, savin’ the world…”
“Running off with your goth ho of a girlfriend,” she finished snidely, watching with no small amount of satisfaction as his mouth slammed closed. She gave him a self-satisfied smile as she shoved the bent flatware into her pocket and fished out an undamaged piece. It was about time he showed a little bit of disturbance; it shouldn’t be only her who was so affected by this bizarre little meet-up.
“Right. There was that, too.” Spike sat up, straightening out of the graceful sprawl into which he’d thrown himself upon entry into the booth, and the slap of his hand against the top of the table made her jump a little. “Coffee,” he said simply in response to the vengeful look she sent his way, and his face resumed its self-satisfied lines as she groused and turned to fetch the coffee pot from the counter.
“Don’t be so hasty, love. I’m feeling peckish, wanting something. Hmm. I think… pie.” The words were accompanied by yet another superior twist of his lips, and Buffy bit the inside of her cheeks nearly bloody as she raised an eyebrow at him skeptically.
“You’re eating food? People food?”
“You’re offerin’ somethin’ else?” he challenged, eyes fixed pointedly on her jugular, giving a low chuckle at the slight angry flush that decorated her cheeks and crept daintily up her throat.
“What kind of pie?” Buffy asked through clenched teeth, the scrape of her pen against her order pad nearly enough to slash through half of the paper sheets in one go.
Spike cocked his head thoughtfully, drumming his fingers on the tabletop as he made a Broadway-worthy production of his decision-making. “Apple,” he determined finally, watching Buffy’s soundless huff as she scribbled on the pad. “That’s nice an’ all-American, isn’t it? Worth the effort for a bloke to fit in now an’ again.”
“If you’d like to fit in, Spike,” Buffy answered sweetly, “perhaps you’d like to shop somewhere other than Blue-Collar-Vamps-‘R-Us. Because denim, really? So déclassé. And whatever points the swoopy leather coat earns you are wiped out by the ‘I got lost on my way to the rinse bowl’ hairdo.”
“’s that right?” Spike looked far too entertained by her, and it was completely unsettling. “I suppose you would be the go-to girl for information on how to disappear an’ fit in everywhere. Make friends, influence people, rise to the top of the corporate ladder…” Spike’s fingers traced a crack in the plastic booth cover as he narrowed his eyes predatorily, giving her a knowing little leer as he went in for the kill. “’s a positively stellar job you’ve done of sweeping away from home and hearth and making a go of it in the big city; certifiably heartwarming, really. You’ve done fine work here, Anne.”
Buffy gasped, her hand flying up to cover her name tag, kicking herself for thinking of it too late. She couldn’t have taken it off anyway, but she could’ve hidden it somehow, kept him from gathering evidence he’d only turn against her. That’s what vampires did—took what they knew of you and used it to make you hurt. The only fix for it was to kill them before they ever got the chance; she understood that now.
But that understanding did nothing about the presence of Spike here, at her workplace, where she couldn’t stake him because of a nearly-empty diner that was still too full of civilians to allow for staking without unwanted questions; there was also the irksome fact that he was apparently determined to be a customer. *He’d better tip really well… 20%. No… fifty. Pain in the ass.*
“Do you want something to go with your pie? Maybe a handful of those pretty flag toothpicks that we have in the back? They’re very festive. But I’ll warn you, I’m terribly unsteady on my feet nowadays. And what a tragedy it would be if I landed them all point down in your chest.” She made certain that her face was the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, though she edged her voice with a latent threat; even as she spoke, however, she knew he’d ignore it. It was just how he was.
True to her expectations, Spike simply snorted and rolled his eyes, waving her away dismissively with his hand. “Pie’s fine, Anne. Day you kill me with an hors d’oeuvres pick is a day you’ll never see dawning.”
“Then it’s just my luck that I slept so late this morning,” Buffy said, saccharine drenching every word.
“Sleep later tomorrow if you keep up with the sassy mouth. Takes longer than just one night for one of us to come back ‘round, after all,” Spike shot back, his eyes again fixing hungrily, pointedly on her neck as he flashed a hint of fang that she tried to tell herself she’d hallucinated. The moment passed quickly, all the menace melting from his expression as he carefully schooled it back to docility. “Now,” he said pleasantly, the threat absent from his voice as well as he regarded her calmly, “believe I placed an order.”
Buffy’s jaw tensed, and she glared again at the vampire and cursed the situation that meant she had to put up with him for now. She’d been pretty easygoing on the demon patrons front, but there had been a few vamps that had gotten pushy, and a few trips to ‘take out the garbage’ that had meant customers not coming back in to pay their bills. She’d covered it, even when it meant picking up an extra shift to make up the difference, but it had been enough to raise suspicion. She didn’t want suspicion; she’d had enough of that. She wanted normal, and she was going to have to treat Spike like an actual person in order to get it.
“Fine,” she gritted, going to the counter and slamming the pie dish lid down on the counter. It earned her a glare from both the vampire and the cook, but she didn’t care; petty vengeance and stress relief was still vengeance and stress relief. She cut Spike’s slice of pie a little generously, knowing that he’d be all too happy to complain loudly if she short-changed him, and grabbed a mug and the coffee pot in her free hand as she made her way back to the table.
The plate landed unceremoniously in front of him, the mug making a not-much-more-graceful descent as well, and she focused her eyes pointedly on the dark liquid and its steady progress up the inner walls of the beige porcelain.
She hated beige now, in a way she had never thought she could hate anything. Beige walls and dirty, drab-colored industrial carpet in her apartment; dingy white-faded-to-beige counters and tabletops and floors and dishes here. Even her apron bore the stains of one too many coffee spills, despite her fledgling attempts at bleaching. Everything here was so dull, not even shades of grey. Shades of brown. Black at least had character; brown just had… mud.
She put down to her starvation for color the appreciation she felt for the vivid crimson of Spike’s shirt, the dark black of his coat, the luminous pale of his skin. He stood out from everything around her in a sharp relief that made her both grateful and uncomfortable.
She finished pouring his coffee and turned wordlessly to take the carafe back to the counter; his hand around her wrist stopped her, made her wheel around and send a defiant, challenging look in his direction even as she wondered what the hell he was up to.
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
The question startled her, caught her off guard. He sounded… serious? Not mocking, at any rate. “What?”
Spike repeated his question in a slow, clear voice, complete with long pauses between words and overenunciation. Bastard.
“Why do you care?” Buffy asked skeptically, smoothing her skirt self-consciously over hips that she knew had become sharper over the past month.
“’Cause you look like a half-starved urchin. Newsboys in my day were bigger than you, an’ they were barely out of single digits.” He blithely ignored her scowl, turning lengthwise in the bench and resuming his lounging as he gestured vaguely towards the room behind her. “You get a break, right? How ‘bout you go get yourself a burger or somethin’ that’ll keep you goin’ an’ come back here, keep me company?”
“Why would I eat with you?” She couldn’t help the little amused grin that she felt curving her lips; the complete surreality of the situation demanded it, and she was helpless to resist.
“Because all the other suitors on your dance card seem to be otherwise occupied?” Spike retorted, casting his glance around the near-vacant diner and its few other inhabitants, all male—Roy, the rather large and sweat-stained cook; Joe, the trucker who seemed to hold out hope she’d develop a Daddy fetish just any day now; and Tom, the elderly man whom she had a sneaking suspicion was homeless, but who was always dressed in his shabby Sunday best and was, unlike Joe and any number of other customers, never anything less than a gentleman towards her.
“I’m not paying. And if this is some kind of twisted ‘fatten up the future minion’ ploy, then you can just forget it. Your fangs come anywhere near me, you’re gonna need either a dentist or a dustpan,” she challenged, and Spike chuckled as he shook his head.
“’s nothin’ of the kind, Slayer. Just don’t fancy you droppin’ to the floor mid-conversation, is all. Figured you might want to chat with someone you didn’t have to be this brave new you with, someone who knows who an’ what you are. That, an’ you look like hell.” He slapped two twenties down on the counter, silently countering her other voiced objection.
“Do you talk this way to all the girls?”
“Only the ones who’d soon kill me as break bread with me, kitten. Consider yourself one of the ‘Chosen’ few.”
Buffy groaned at the pun and flounced away, murmuring her order and her break plans to the cook and standing behind the counter, drumming her fingers and watching Spike through curious, befuddled eyes, turning them away whenever he looked in her direction. She made a quick round with the coffee pot, taking advantage of her sole coworker’s distraction to sneak Tom the rest of the apple pie and a soft smile, and was back at the counter in time to snag her sandwich before Roy could slam his hand down on the bell that always managed to set her teeth on edge. Balancing her plate while she drew herself a soda from the fountain, she carried her meal off to Spike’s booth and sat down warily across from him.
“That doesn’t look like a burger, Slayer,” Spike said, looking at the gloppy orange cheese that seemed to be gluing the luminescent, yellow-tinged bread together. “Doesn’t even look like food. What is that, exactly?”
“It’s a grilled cheese. It’s what I wanted,” she answered, peeling the gooey bread apart and happily arranging her tomatoes and condiments on one side of the bread before reconstituting the sandwich and taking a bite that was bigger than she’d planned. Apparently, she had been hungry after all. “Besides, you have no reason to be concerned about my iron levels,” she taunted as she swallowed the first mouthful.
“Touché,” Spike muttered agreeably, sipping at his coffee as he stared at her measuringly.
“Why are you…” Buffy bit back the ‘being decent to me’ portion of her question, looking back at her plate and rethinking her words. “Why are you buying me dinner?” she finished, reaching for the ketchup bottle and pouring a puddle on her fries.
“Maybe I’m impressed. World didn’t end, an’ I knew that was your doing… takes a hell of a lot to get the best of Angelus. Never managed it myself—only a few who have. So, the fact that a schoolgirl did it… well, I can admire you all the more before I kill you, now can’t I?”
His tone was so downright cheery and affable that she couldn’t take the threat seriously; she knew that he meant it, of course, because killing slayers was just what he did, but he clearly didn’t mean to do it tonight. That was strangely comforting.
“Doesn’t seem like much of a hero’s ending here, though. Not exactly auspicious surroundings for the girl who saved the world,” he continued around a mouthful of pastry, and Buffy made a face as she shoved the napkin dispenser wordlessly in his direction. “How’d you get here?” he asked, taking the hint and wiping cinnamon goo off the corner of his mouth.
“Remember that thing I said about the universe being allowed its secrets?” she said, drawing abstract patterns in her ketchup with a sharp-edged french fry.
“I’m allowed mine, too.” Her tone was firm, even though her voice trembled, and she forced herself to hold Spike’s gaze unwaveringly until he acknowledged her.
Spike, for his part, gave her a short nod over his coffee mug and speared an errant apple slice with his fork, somehow managing to tuck it back into the crust before scooping up another mouthful. Buffy smothered the laugh prompted by his surprisingly fussy eating and went back to her sandwich, enjoying the gooey badness and the precious minutes off of her feet. The strangely companionable silence was nice, too, but she wouldn’t let herself think too long about that.
“So why are you here?” she asked, waving a fry in the direction of the window. “I thought you were leaving forever. ‘Out of the country, I bloody well hope,” she quoted, smirking at the face he made when she massacred his accent.
“Got waylaid for a bit,” Spike answered, shifting slightly in his seat and fishing in his shirt pocket for his cigarettes. Buffy made a face, but he effectively countered her criticism by playing an impromptu, if pointedly demonstrative, game of knock-hockey with the table’s ashtray and his hands before lighting his cigarette and taking a deep drag. “Be on my way soon enough. An’ then I’ve seen the last of you colonials I plan to see outside of a tour bus or a zoo.”
“So what held you up? Since we’re all big with the sharing. Can’t imagine it’d be anything less than…” Buffy’s voice trailed off as Spike’s face turned a bit stormy, and she gave him a look that was positively predatory. “Oh, now I have to hear it. What happened? Our Lady of Eternal Damnation run out on you?” She leaned forward, her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “Are you chasing her down?”
“Mind your tongue, Slayer. Dru didn’t run off anywhere.”
“Then where is she?”
“Out there somewhere,” Spike shot back, gesturing out the window. “Huntin’ or shoppin’ or some such. Reckon I’ll find out come the dawn, now won’t I? Judge it by what she drags in.”
“Well, if she’s still around, what’s the holdup? What’s a nice boy like you doing in a place like this?”
“Car trouble,” Spike answered, snagging a fry from her plate and giving her an unapologetic grin in exchange.
Buffy snorted and picked up her fork, holding it tines-out in a defensive position as she pulled her plate towards her. “What kind of car trouble?”
Spike mumbled something around a hastily-shoveled mouthful of pie, and she leaned back in her seat and arched a brow. He swallowed and glared at her, jaw tense as he ground out, “Drusilla kicked out the bloody windscreen.”
She gagged, pressing her hand to her mouth as she fought to keep her soda solely in her mouth, swallowing with no small amount of effort and not bothering to hide the now more-than-obvious gales of laughter. “She did what?”
“Misjudged a bit. Put her out good an’ proper, but only enough to keep her under for an hour or so, an’ she went a bit spare in the car. Woke up thrashin’ about an’ kicked out the glass tryin’ to get at me, so I had to knock her out again an’ get to someplace we could hole up while we waited on the car to get fixed. Glass for a classic car isn’t all that easy to find, so here we are. Still.”
He didn’t look particularly pleased, but whether it was L.A. or the story that had put him in the mood, Buffy couldn’t tell. She also wasn’t trying very hard, given how distracting the hysterical giggles were proving.
Buffy finished her laughter as she went to refill her soda and return her plate to the service window, checking on her two customers and then taking the coffee pot with her as she went back to the table. She refilled Spike’s coffee automatically and then sat back down, this time just at the edge of the booth’s bench, feeling the weight of his eyes on her every movement.
“So, I told. Your turn to pony up. What takes you so far from home?”
Buffy thought for a moment, choosing her answer carefully. “I wanted to be somewhere that was else. Here’s as good a place as any.”
“And livin’ like this? Looks like running to me.”
“Feels like standing still,” Buffy retorted, suddenly acutely aware of the strangeness of the situation and the nature of her confessor. She stood again, this time jerkily smoothing out her apron. “Look, this has been… bizarre, really, but I should get back to work.”
“Yeah,” Spike answered, standing far more gracefully than his seated posture should have permitted and holding out the twenties from the table. “I should head back out, too… night bein’ young and all. I’ll make sure to stay out of your path, Slayer. For now.”
She held the money, a bit stunned that he’d given it to her, and watched him walk to the door. He was reaching for the push bar when she took a step towards him and called his name; he stilled and waited for her approach.
“If Dru’s out there… keep her away, too, if you want to keep her around.”
Spike snorted, arching a brow skeptically. “Had the chance to kill her before, Slayer, an’ didn’t go through with it. What’s different?”
“Is that right?”
Buffy merely looked at him—a calm, level stare—before pivoting on her heel and taking a few steps away, only to look back over her shoulder to find him still watching her. Biting her lip for a moment, she said quietly, “I saw the look on your face when you saw the stake that night, Spike. I didn’t want to be the person who killed that kind of love. But I’m not afraid of that anymore; not after…” Her eyes misted, and she blinked furiously, resuming her progress towards the counter.
“It was him, wasn’t it? Not Angelus. You shoved the soul back in somehow, had to deal with Angel. That’s what’s got you running.”
She gave a brief nod, not bothering to wonder how he’d managed to guess. He seemed to have a sort of uncanny gift for figuring things out. “Doesn’t matter who it was, Spike—I put him down, and would do it again if I had to. And if I’d do it to him… just keep her away.”
Buffy stood there, unmoving, until she heard the door chime behind her, felt the tingles that screamed ‘vampire’ fade from her senses. She closed her eyes, willing them dry, and then opened them, taking a deep breath and pasting on a smile as she walked to the cash register where Joe waited, bill in hand.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/48998.html