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Chapter 21
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Betaed by: Goblin_Dae, Science, and Subtilior

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all recognizable characters, locations, and dialogue belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and the various writers. This is written purely for fun.

DUST: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fanfic by KnifeEdge



A few days later, Spike had to wonder if someone hadn't broken the Slayer. She hadn't left her mother's room since Christmas, except to go to the bathroom, and even that she'd kept shorter than he'd thought humanly possible. She wasn't dead yet, so he assumed she was eating or at least drinking water from the bathroom tap. She refused to talk to him. The last time he'd gone up to check on her, she hadn't even bothered with the crossbow. Every so often he'd hear her crying, but even if he'd cared there wasn't a bloody damned thing he could do about it.

He'd spent the first day watching TV, then going through the Slayer's martial arts movies. The fun wore off more quickly than he'd hoped. He should have expected it, really. After all, he'd spent three days in her house while she'd been unconscious, and he'd fairly exhausted all the potential for amusement he could think of, short of burning the bloody place down with her in it.

Bored and more than ready for the whole damned thing to be over, he'd continued researching, eventually finishing the last of the books that they'd retrieved from the Watcher's house. Since the Slayer was, essentially, Spike's library pass, that left him unable to do more than stare through the windows at the Watcher's flat and wish telekinesis had been part of the vampire benefits package. Going back through all the books they'd already read was pointless. Instead, he'd gone down to the magic shop and had a browse through their collection for a third time.

Finally, bored out of his skull, Spike wandered the streets after dark, looking for whatever minor mayhem he could cause while still toeing the line of the truce—in a sleeping town that didn't really amount to much, though. He considered moving some of the Sleepers that were out of doors into bizarre and humiliating tableaux, then discarded the idea when he decided that when the Slayer finally emerged from her funk, there'd be hell to pay when she saw what he'd done. No sense of humor, that girl.

He spent far, far too much time wondering about whether or not the Slayer would approve of his actions.

It was purely self-preservation, he reassured himself when he reluctantly turned away once again from a homeless bloke sleeping on a park bench—no one she would have missed, of course, but there was the spell to consider, too. And it wasn't the same, looming over the comatose and preparing to have a bite. There was no struggling or screaming, no sweet scent of terror. It was nearly enough to put him off his food entirely.

So he rooted out a nest of sleeping demons and pulled them apart until he felt better.

The trouble, he reluctantly admitted to himself several nights after Christmas, was that he missed having her with him. Not because he liked her, of course, but because it was bloody lonesome wandering the streets on his own with no one to tease or bait, no one to argue with, no one to even talk to other than himself. Hell, if he'd had a reflection, he'd have talked to that. It was sick, he knew, but even Spike could recognize when he'd been singing the same tune for too long. Sick or not, wrong or not, she was all he had. As he'd so jokingly told her that first night, she was his only hope, and the closest thing he had at the moment to a ... companion, for lack of a better word.

William the Bloody didn't have friends, of course.

Spike downed the last of his bottle of Jack. He needed her, it was that bloody simple. He needed her to get to the Watcher's books, needed her to help with spells, needed her knowledge of the town and its people to help track down the culprit, needed her to fix this so he could leave ...

He tilted the empty bottle up to the streetlight and considered the problem upstairs.

She'd broken herself, was what had happened, gotten her bloody hopes up and hitched her wagon to a star. Now she'd shut down, unable to cope with reality. Well, Spike knew better than most that life wasn't a sodding fairytale, and the only way to get ahead in it was to grasp it by the balls. It was about time she woke up and ...

Okay, clearly he'd had too much to drink, if he was thinking in bleedin' clichés.

He pitched the bottle into the street and grinned when it shattered. Then he contemplated exactly how he was going to pry the Slayer, and her crossbow, out of her mum's room without ending up as a big pile of dust.


Wherever she was, it was warm. And soft. Comforting. Like lying in her mother's bed when she was a child, cuddled among the blankets and dozing. She never wanted to get up. Never wanted to wake from this pleasant dream.

It was dark, but not scary dark, not the darkness that had threatened to overtake her for so long. This darkness was a friend, it held her close and soothed her. For a long time, she drifted in and out of consciousness, aware sometimes that her friends needed her but would be safe, that evil still existed, but there was nothing she could do about it—so why worry?

Nothing, after all, could touch her here. She could rest, be at peace. Out there was sadness and pain, heartbreak and loneliness and death. Here there was nothing: no demons, no apocalypses, no fighting. She was done with that. Finished. It was a feeling she'd had so seldom in the last few years, and she clung to it tightly.

It took a long time before she became aware of a voice.

She had a feeling it had been speaking for some time, or maybe no time at all. It was familiar, and it called to her, pulled at her. She didn't want to listen to it, didn't want to hear. She wanted to rest, wanted to just be, to float in the warmth and refuse all pain, all care.

But the voice grew louder, insistent, and demanded that she listen. She was needed, this wasn't her place, she needed to go. She was their champion, and they wanted her to fight. The words were unfamiliar, but the voice ... the voice was Willow's, and Willow's words were bright and harsh and pierced the dark like a star, and dragged Buffy to the light even though she clung to her safe place with all her strength—

Then there was pain: a hard, heavy thud like landing in your own body. The wind was knocked out of her, leaving Buffy gasping for air that wouldn't come into lungs that didn't work. Her eyes peeled open to see only darkness—a thick cloying darkness that smothered her. She had fingers, she remembered—she tore at it, clawed at the slick satin black above her head. It only seemed to cover her more, no matter how she fought it. Struggling, her limbs aching from disuse, she swam out of the dark and into space, and fresh air.

Gasping, she looked around, unsure of where she was.

Slowly, dimly, it came to her. She was in her mother's room, on the floor. She must have fallen from the bed, wrapped tightly in the comforter that she'd shredded in her panic to escape. It was night, and the hall light burned through the open door, making her blink to adjust her eyes. She was in Sunnydale, with no one but a demon for company.

It might as well be hell.



It figured. One step outside for a smoke and a drink, and somehow he'd lost the chit.

He'd gone up to her mother's room, fully intent on hauling her out of bed by the scruff of her neck, only to find her gone. The bathroom smelled of squeaky clean Slayer, though, so at least she'd taken some bloody initiative and showered.

"Slayer?" he called again, heading downstairs. No answer, but he could hear a heartbeat in the kitchen, so he followed his ears. She was standing in front of the fridge, staring at the alcohol and the drawer full of blood.

"Slayer?" Spike said again, softer this time.

There was something cautious in the line of her shoulders, the way she held herself, as if she might fall apart if she moved too suddenly. He shifted slightly, his instincts tingling: prey. He ignored them. "Was just trying to figure out how to fetch you out of bed ..."

"I'm fetched," she said, still staring into the fridge.

"Something wrong?" he asked, hovering in the doorway.

"You ... um ... you went to the hospital." Her grip tightened on the door until her arm trembled.

"I didn't eat anyone," he blurted, and he could have bit his stupid blurting tongue off.

Slowly, she turned her head to look at him over her shoulder. There was something empty and missing in her gaze, like Dru when her thoughts had been utterly elsewhere—like another dimension elsewhere.

"Good." She shut the fridge door. He watched her wander around the kitchen, randomly picking things up or staring vacantly into cabinets. Eventually she'd move on without finding anything to eat or whatever it was she was looking for.

"Are you ... are you hungry?" Spike heard himself ask. Her behavior was so strange, and he wasn't entirely sure what to do with this Slo-mo Slayer. Should he yell at her for leaving him on his own for days? Or ... just be grateful she had? Or ...

What the bloody hell is wrong with her?

It took her a full three minutes to respond to his question. He knew; he was watching the clock.

"Not really." She closed the pantry door and headed back toward the fridge.

"So ... uh, we gonna research then?"

"Okay." She changed trajectories, drifting towards the living room instead. He followed warily, watching her for any sign she might go on a curtain-opening spree—although, it was dark, so it wouldn't do her much good if she did. In the living room she stopped, her big eyes taking in the tree and all the decorations, then she deliberately turned her head and aimed herself at the sofa. "I think ... um, maybe a change of scenery would be ... good. Uh ... I'm just ... gonna take my stuff to the kitchen, I think."

"I went through those, already," Spike said, as she moved to pick up a stack of books.

"Oh." For a moment she cast around, looking for something else. "All of them?"

"Yeah. You ... uh, it's been a few days. Had some time to kill. Can't exactly get more books so ..."

"Okay," she said. "Um ... then, I guess ... I guess we go to Giles'."

"Guess so," he said, and watched her zombie her way into the foyer, somehow managing to never once look at all of her Christmas décor.


Her jeans were a bit loose on her hips, he noticed as they made the hike to the Watcher's flat—a route he could now walk blindfolded and in his sleep. She'd lost weight. He could see it in her wrists and her face—her post-holiday fast hadn't done her any physical favors. She was already a scrawny thing; if she lost too much weight it'd destroy her in a fight.

"When did you last eat?" Spike flicked his cigarette into the street. She didn't answer. Instead she trudged along, her gaze occasionally landing in the vicinity of her shoes. "Slayer?"

"Huh?" she said, looking at him without, somehow, actually looking at him. How the fuck was she doing that?

"Food. When did you last have some?"

"Uh ... earlier." Right. She had that same tone Dru used to get, after Prague—vague and evasive. Likely she hadn't eaten in days. Under other circumstances, it'd be a cause for much rejoicing—there was nothing guaranteed to give him a happy like a weakened Slayer—but Spike needed her on her game.

"You should eat, pet."

"Not really hungry right now," she said, her eyes avoiding his. "I'll eat later."


"Later, Spike," she said, shooting him a look full of stakes. Her venom was short-lived, though. A moment later she sighed and resumed her fascinating perusal of her footwear. The empty boxes she carried in one hand banged lightly against her leg.

Their trip to the Watcher's flat, for the first in a long while, wasn't punctuated by banter and insults. Instead, Buffy kept her eyes on the ground and her mouth closed and did her best impression of a walking corpse. As a walking corpse himself, Spike really thought she was failing at it spectacularly. Even monosyllables would have been preferable to the thick blanket of silence that was bunched between the two of them. He almost wanted to take back his wish: no Slayer at all might be better than this ghost of one.

Only that solution didn't sit well with him, either.

Spike stopped in the middle of the street and stared at Buffy's bowed back, his entire body rigid with shock.

Bloody hell, I don't want her dead.

For a moment he scrambled for some way to make that little revelation make some kind of sense: he didn't want her dead because she was his only hope to break the spell. Or: he didn't want her dead because he knew he'd go utterly loony if he were trapped here all alone.

But if there was one thing that Spike had carried over from his human life—besides his ridiculous good looks, a thing about mothers, and a tendency to fall deeply in love and stay there—it was his almost painful self-awareness. There was only so far that Spike could delude himself. With sudden clarity, he knew that even though his nature dictated that the Slayer was prime on the menu—and he'd personally put killing her on the top of his Evil To-Do list—somehow he'd actually come to like the bitch.

Bloody ... fucking ... hell.

He turned the thought over in his head, examining it from different angles. He liked her. Not just the Slayer bits of her, like her speed and strength and fantastic kicks. He liked the human bits of her, too: her tenacity, her bitchiness, even her stupid little rabbity nose. He liked her sense of humor and her quick wit. He liked her loyalty and her goodness and her nearly childish need to cling to whatever shreds of naïveté her calling had left her. If he'd had to be trapped in this town with only one person for company, he couldn't have found anyone he'd have enjoyed being stuck with more than the Slayer.

How was that for fucked up?

Spike didn't like many people. Humans were food, of course, so liking them was more a matter of flavor than friendship. Demons weren't particularly likable on the best of days, though he'd met a few in his time who'd been amusing enough. Vampires ... well, vamps fell into one of two categories: disposable and family. He couldn't give a toss about most vamps—they were there to be shoved between himself and the nearest stake or to do his dirty work when he didn't feel like doing it himself. Then there were the two he considered family: Angel and Dru, and he hated the former almost as much as he loved the latter. Angel was a turncoat, and Dru had left him—but it was easier to keep walking the world knowing that they were out there somewhere, and that someday their paths would cross again.

But aside from them, Spike could count on both hands the number of people (or demons) that he'd actually liked in the last century and not even have to use all his fingers. To discover that he'd added the Slayer to that number ... well, it was disconcerting to say the least, not to mention confusing as fuck, because now what the hell was he supposed to do?

Ahead of him, the Slayer continued her shamble, unaware that Spike had just been bowled over by his own stupidity.

He hurried to catch up, then hung back a pace or two and considered what liking the Slayer actually meant. First, could he still threaten her? Yes, he decided. It wasn't like she was going to hold back with those just because he stopped. Besides, it was fun—regardless of intent. Their threats had always mostly been empty anyway, so no real change there. Second, did he have to stop insulting her? ... No, he decided after slightly further thought. It was, after all, what they did, and he was still Spike. It wasn't like he was bloody in love with the bitch.

No, regardless of whether he liked her or not, it didn't change their circumstances. In the end she was still the Slayer, and he was still Spike, and they were still stuck together for the foreseeable future. It'd just make it slightly more tolerable. And when the spell was finally broken ... well, he could decide what to do then.

He just had a feeling that Buffy might be off the menu.


Spike was being weird. Or, weirder than usual. There was enough energy left for her to notice that at least, though she seemed to be flagging on the Do Something front.

At some point on their walk to Giles', he'd fallen behind. She could feel his gaze on the back of her neck. Buffy had finally worked up some forward momentum, and the thought of stopping to turn around and yell at him required way more enthusiasm than she was able to summon. Instead she'd trudged onward, and figured he'd either get bored and catch up or disappear and leave her alone.

He'd caught up quickly, though, and spent the remainder of the walk at her side, casting her little sideways glances and smoking frantically—as if he could make up for her lack of energy by being even twitchier than usual himself.

Even now, trapped outside of Giles' door while she listlessly stared at the bookshelves they'd only half emptied, he was fidgeting. His restless fingers were plucking leaves off the nearest ficus and shredding them while he watched her with narrowed eyes. Buffy supposed it might have something to do with the fact that she hadn't bothered with makeup or doing much with her hair after her shower. In the privacy of the bathroom she hadn't been able to bring herself to care much. But now, with his eyes relentlessly on her, she found herself unaccountably aware of him and uncomfortable, as if she'd forgotten to put on pants or button her shirt instead of merely forgoing a little lip gloss and mascara.

She shoved the thought to the back of her head. Who cared about Spike's opinion? In the grand scheme of things—and boy were they looking grander than usual—it wasn't like he mattered that much. He was just her ... assistant, her pulseless partner in the hell that Sunnydale had finally become. Nothing had changed a bit: the town was still asleep, the piles of books were still waiting, and she was still stuck with no one but Spike for company. Which really was like saying she had no company at all.

In the end, saving Sunnydale was her responsibility alone, and finally the weight of that was beginning to sink in.

It was all up to her.

"How's that telekinesis coming, Slayer?"

"What?" Buffy blinked.

"Way you were staring at those shelves, thought maybe you were planning to load the books up with your brain waves or something. I'd give a hand, but ..."

Oh. Right. She was supposed to be getting books because Spike couldn't. One more thing to add to the list of Stuff Only Buffy Can Do.

She rolled her shoulders and reached for a book: A Treatise on the Sociology and Psychology of Vampires and Pseudo-Human Demons. Maybe if she read that, she'd understand why Spike was weird. On the other hand, she didn't really care why Spike was weird or if all the reasons would fit into just one volume. She set it aside and reached for the next. This one was about magical artifacts—which was, she supposed, at least a possibility. That one went in the box. Meticulously she went over each book, discarding a few, but mostly putting them carefully in their proper boxes. It was something to focus on, at least. If she took this piece by piece, if she tried to think more like Giles or Willow, maybe she'd figure this out.

Probably not, but what was left for her to try?

It seemed to take forever to load up the two boxes, and when she was finished, Buffy stood and stared at them and wondered if she should take a few books out. They looked ... heavy.

"You gonna pass that over the threshold, luv, or just wait for it to tap-dance over here all on its own?"

Buffy sighed deeply. God, he was annoying.

She bent and lifted, but when she handed him the box he caught it in such a way that she couldn't immediately let go. "Slayer?" he asked, his brows drawn together in an expression that on anyone else she might have labeled as concern—but Spike didn't do concern so it couldn't be that.

"It's heavy," she said.

His hands shifted, brushing hers as he got a better grip.

"I know," Spike said, his blue eyes steady and serious as they gazed into hers. "I've got it, you can let go."

"Oh, right." Buffy stepped back. For a moment she thought he was going to say something. Then the muscles in his jaw flexed, and he nodded at the second box.

"Think you can get that one?" He paused, then offered: "Might be able to juggle two, if you need."

"No," she said, picking up the second box. "I can do it."

The walk back to the house was silent. She felt Spike's gaze on her the whole time, studying, assessing. When they entered the house, she automatically stepped into the living room to set down the box, only to be brought up short by the sight of the Christmas tree. The lights were still on, twinkling between the branches like hope. Something swollen and thick caught in her throat, and she blinked away the sting of tears.

"I'm tired," she announced. Or tried to. Her throat was kinda croaky. "I think I'll take these up and read them in bed."

Fleeing the room was cowardly, but she couldn't face Spike's 'I told you so' smirk right now.

Mostly because he'd be right.

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