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Chapter 24
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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


Buffy didn't know how long she'd sat, staring at the candle as it slowly melted. Eventually there was nothing more than a tiny spark of light, floating in a sea of wax. She kept waiting for it to fizzle and die, but it held on for a long time, refusing to give up. Spike hadn't spoken since she'd requested some peace, which was probably a good thing. He made her head hurt sometimes, especially when he started to talk about Angel. She had no idea why she'd opened up to him, and she knew eventually he'd just use it as more ammo against her, but it was strange—and heartbreaking—to hear the perspective of someone who had known Angel for decades longer than she had.

She didn't want to think about Angel as ... as heartless. He was Angel. Surely the soul turned him into the person that he'd been as a human, didn't it? What did Spike know, really? Angel had been turned ages before Spike. He hadn't known Angel when Angel was human so he was probably just messing with her. And what did it matter if Angel had been broken? The soul had turned him around, put him on the path to redemption. It had let him fall in love with her.

Only, was it love?

Spike was so full of crap most of the time, but every so often—okay, more often than she liked, but that was beside the point—he said something so true she couldn't help but agree. Love was ... you fought for it, when you had it. She knew better than most that life didn't guarantee you any kind of happily ever after. If you wanted it, you had to grab hold with both hands and hang on tight.

But Angel had let go, and she had ... well, if she was going to be honest, she hadn't been holding on as hard as she could have. She'd been scared after what had happened before, afraid that they could never have a real relationship without risking his soul and the world along with it. Maybe if she'd worked a little harder at it, if they'd found some way of dealing, if she'd ...

God. It was her fault he'd left, wasn't it? Her fault she couldn't give him what he needed, that he didn't trust himself around her, that she wasn't old enough or experienced enough—

Spike shoved himself up off the sofa, derailing her train of thought. Just as well, since the train was rapidly approaching a break in the tracks.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"Bar," he said. "Need another drink. Want something?"

"No," she said. Except her stomach chose that moment to rumble.

"When was the last you ate?"

She thought back, but couldn't really remember. He heaved a sigh, as if dealing with her was the most annoying thing on the planet. It probably was. "Come along, Slayer. This joint has a kitchen, I assume. Let's see what they've got. Feelin' a bit peckish myself."

"I don't think they have blood on tap," she said, but she stood up anyway, glancing at the little candle, which was still valiantly clinging to life.

He shrugged. "Regular food will do me, for now," he said and descended the stairs.

She was feeling slightly headache-y from lack of food, now that she thought about it. Maybe even a little nauseous. Not that she'd admit that to him. Better to follow him just to be sure he kept his fangs out of any sleeping Bronze employees.

It was strange, wandering through the empty building. It wasn't the first time, or even the second or third time she'd been here after hours: the Bronze was a demon mecca in Sunnydale, a veritable feeding ground for some of its nastier denizens. When it wasn't serving as an all-you-can-eat buffet, the old building was occasionally overrun with minor demons the same way it was with cockroaches. Patrol regularly included a swing past, just to be on the lookout for trouble. Of course, patrolling the Bronze usually included a live band, some pretty shoes, and some almost-adult beverages.

Now, the place felt hollow. Her footsteps echoed on the empty dance floor, and even though she tried to close her eyes and summon the ghosts of her friends, they didn't appear. Then she remembered that they weren't dead, just asleep. Hence, no ghosts.

So why did she feel so haunted?

"Slayer?" Spike's voice drifted from the shadows near the bar. Buffy glanced up and realized she was standing, alone, in the middle of the dance floor again. With a sigh, she followed. There was a door just past the bar that opened into the Bronze's kitchen. She'd never actually been beyond it, but Spike sauntered in as if he owned the place. Two large, stainless-steel fridges took up a chunk of one wall, and he opened them and frowned at the contents as if he were at home.

"Lot of rabbit food in here," he said, fishing out a big bag of celery and another of carrots. Then he glanced at her. "Think you need something more ... meaty, though. You're already skin and bones, Slayer."

She peered around his shoulder and sighed. "Don't suppose you cook?" she asked, staring at a tub of what looked like raw hamburger meat. Her stomach gave a nauseating little lurch.

"Why would I be able to cook?" Spike cocked his head slightly to one side. "Liquid diet, remember? And most of the human food I eat I usually just pinch when no one is looking. Junk food's good, too."

There was so much stuff in the fridge, she could probably figure out something to make, but when she turned to look at all the cooking appliances in the kitchen behind her, all she felt was tired. The stoves were all too big, or wrong. The ovens looked complicated. There were fryers along the walls, and she could maybe figure out how to turn one on, but it was just so much work. "You never cooked when you were human?"

"No," he said, and opened the other fridge. "Ah! Leftover buffalo wings. Perfect."

Spike proved to be a decent scavenger after all. Before she knew it, she was sitting at the bar with some microwaved buffalo wings and blue cheese dressing; a plate of tortilla chips that he'd dumped some cheese, jalapeños, sour cream, and pico de gallo on top of; bread that looked like it was probably for another kind of meal entirely; and the remains of a chocolate pie. He set a can of Coke in front of her, then pulled another bottle of whiskey off the wall. "Well," he said. "Tuck in."

She picked at her nachos and watched as he stripped a buffalo wing down to the bone in three quick bites. "I thought human food didn't taste good to vamps, or something."

He snagged some nachos, loaded them with jalapeno and pico de gallo, then stuffed them in his mouth. "Depends on the flavor. Spicy still tastes good," he said around the mouthful. Mr. Manners, he wasn't.

"Huh." She nibbled at her bread.

Spike popped a jalapeno in his mouth and chewed it like a bit of candy, grinning at the disgusted look on her face. "Let's see what's on the telly."

There was a television behind the bar, usually reserved for showing the local college football and basketball games. Spike flipped the switch—and they both froze.

"... this is a massive New Year's eve crowd with a minute and thirty seconds left. Listen to the music build! They're ready; they're in their sombreros. That's our street cam ..."

Thousands of people in sparkly, multi-colored wigs and glittery paper hats cheered and screamed beneath the voice of Dick Clark. Cameras panned over the truly epic crowd, then cut back to a shot of the giant glittery ball of light that was hovering above it all.

"... you were wise to stay at home, in one minute the ball will drop and you will see pandemonium ..."

"Bugger," Spike muttered.

"Uh huh," Buffy agreed.

"... in forty-seven seconds it will be 2000. You're in Times Square with a couple of million intimate friends ..."

"No," Spike said, "we're stuck in hell with a few thousand coma patients."

"... get close to somebody you love, in twenty-five seconds, it'll be the new year ..."

They glanced at each other.

Buffy shifted further back on her barstool. Spike stepped away from the bar and leaned against the racks of bottles.

Inside her, Buffy felt a gigantic aching hole where her friends should have been. They should have been here, the Bronze filled with happy people, watching the ball drop on a big screen.

"Ten ... nine ... eight ..."

It echoed through the hollow building. The screen seemed incredibly tiny, the amount of people contained within it surreal. It had been months since Buffy had seen so many people, happy and awake and smiling. It was whole continent away, but it might as well be another world.

The ball dropped steadily, flaring brilliantly as it ticked away the final seconds. "Happy 2000!"

From the TV the strains of Auld Lang Syne started up—then died abruptly as Spike switched off the set.

For a moment they just stared at each other resentfully, then Spike sighed and reached for a bottle. "Whiskey, Slayer?"

"Yeah," she said. "I think I will."



"That's not a shot," Spike said, "and it's not your turn anyway." He leaned over and lined up his cue, taking aim at the little black ball. Just as he hit the cueball, however, a tiny hand reached out and snatched the eight ball off the table.

"Oi!" he shouted, but she ignored him.

Buffy giggled, though he couldn't hear any real humor in the sound. "This looks like you," she said, squinting at the ball in her hand. "Cause it's all black with this white bit on the top ..."

"Put that back, Slayer, you're mucking up the game."

"Pffft," she said and tossed the ball back onto the table. It rolled, ricocheting into three of the balls she'd had left, somehow managing to sink all of them before plopping into a corner hole itself. "This game is dumb."

Bloody hell. She wasn't even trying to play and she still managed to beat him. "Look what you did, you stupid bint."

She peered at the now empty table. "Does that mean I won?"

"Technically, no." He glanced around, then scowled. "Where's the whiskey?"

"Gone," she said. "Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone."

"Yeah, and where has it gone to?" She made another noise and waved her hand in the general direction of nothing. "You drank it. The whole bloody thing?"

"Me? No. I don't drink," she said as she clambered up to sit on the pool table. She leaned over to peer into one of the pockets. "Hey, where'd the balls go?"

"Same place as the whiskey, apparently," Spike muttered under his breath. He eyed the Slayer, noting the flush staining her cheeks and the unnatural brightness of her eyes. She was well and truly pissed.

After a moment she yawned, then flopped back on the pool table to stare up at the dim overhead lights. He ought to yell at her for possibly scratching the surface, then decided he didn't really give a bloody damn if she tore it off and wore it as a hat.

There was something quite nearly adorable about a drunken Buffy, and he found himself smiling slightly at the picture she made, her hair spread out in a golden halo across the green felt. He leaned against a nearby pillar and lit a cigarette, puffing on it and watching her swing her legs over the edge.

"Spike? Why are the lights spinning?"

"They're not, luv. It's just your head."

"Oh. It's kinda pretty."

"Wouldn't watch them for too long. Might make you sick."

"Okay," she said and obediently closed her eyes.

He frowned. It was too bloody bizarre, having her spread out before him like a buffet, trusting his word. It was wrong. And yet, he still felt the smile tugging at his lips, and a slight pull inside his chest like he'd sometimes felt with Drusilla. The difference between Buffy and Dru, of course, could be measured in light years—but the effect was the same. Whether it was Dru having a fit and babbling about stars or Buffy dead-drunk and watching the lights, it was ... nice to be needed. Not that he'd ever tell anyone that.

He wandered back over to the bar and liberated a bottle of bourbon, popping the cap and taking a swig. "Are you getting more booze?" Buffy asked, still lying across the pool table.

"Yeah." Spike turned to study her some more. She was wearing a dark pair of jeans and a black sweater. With her arms over her head her navel was exposed. He eyed the expanse of skin between hemlines curiously, wondering how in the few months they'd been glued to each others' sides she'd managed to stay tanned. There were fine golden hairs on her stomach that caught the light and he half reached out to brush his knuckles over them—

"Can I have some?"

He blinked and withdrew his hand. "No, think you've had enough." He set the bottle down on a nearby table. Clearly he'd had enough as well.

"But I'm thirsty," she complained, turning her head toward him, but not opening her eyes. The movement exposed the long column of her throat to the light, and he watched, fascinated, as her pulse beat strongly against the skin.

"So am I," he muttered, running his tongue along the edge of his teeth.

"What?" Her eyes popped open, but the look in them wasn't suspicious. He didn't think she'd actually heard him.

"I'll get you some water, then," he said, but he made no move toward the bar.

"You're sideways."

"So are you." Spike smiled at her, bemused. She frowned and a tiny crinkle appeared between her brows. For some reason he wanted to touch her just there, smooth it out with his thumb. Clearly he needed something to do with his hands.

"You're tall," she said then, and he barked a laugh.


"You're taller than me."

"That's not exactly an accomplishment, pet. Lawn gnomes are taller than you." He felt the grin stretch his face before he could control it.

"Hey! I am so too taller than a lawn thingie," she said.

"If you say so."Deciding that he'd be less tempted to touch her if he couldn't properly see her, he hopped up on the opposite end of the pool table and laid down himself. If he twisted his head to the side, he could look at her. When he did, she was staring back at him, her green eyes dark and cloudy with confusion and too much whiskey. "Thought I'd check out the view from here," he said, by way of explanation. This seemed to satisfy her, and she turned her face up, contemplating the ceiling. He did the same.

"So, this is the future," she said.

"What's that?"

"It's 2000. I kinda forgot. Feels like it should be … bigger."

"It's just a number," he said, feeling for a moment the weight of all his own years. "Eventually they all run together."

"Still, there should've been something."

"Wanted the world to end again, did you?"

"No." There was a pause. "Well, it might have at least made a stab at it or something."

"Think we've got enough on our plate without adding a potential apocalypse to it," he said, studying the ceiling. There were a couple of skylights up there that he'd never noticed before. He watched the rain spattering across the glass and the occasional flicker of distant lightning. Would make a good quick exit, if they opened, he thought.

Buffy sighed. "They say that the person you spend New Year's with will be with you for a year."

"Thought that was only the person you kissed at midnight," Spike said.

"Really? Boy, do I hope that's true."

He was suddenly assaulted by images of kissing Buffy, of that clock counting down and him leaning across the bar. He could nearly feel the weight of her hair in his hand as he cupped the back of her neck to draw her closer, taste her on the tip of his tongue, smell her as he breathed in ... "Me too," he said, hearing his voice roughen with desire. "Good thing we didn't, yeah?"

He felt her turn her head toward him. "Spending the holiday with you is bad enough. Besides, you probably have blood and jalapeno breath," she said.

Then she sighed again. "It doesn't work, anyway."

He tilted his head so he could meet her eyes. "No?"

"No." There were tiny flecks of gold in her eyes, he noticed, just before she shut them. Her lashes lay thick and dark against her cheeks. "I know it doesn't. Cause if it did, Angel would be here instead of you."

In his chest a growl started, too low for her to hear it. He stilled his lungs and faced the ceiling again. "Ought to be glad he isn't," he said when he had wrestled his temper back under control. "Likely be one more pile of dust in Sunnydale, the way he likes to walk about after dark, brooding his pants off."

"Shut up," she said, slurring a little. He wondered how long it would be until she dropped off to sleep. "They never stay, you know."

"What, the pants?"

"Men," she said with such vehemence he had to stifle a laugh. "It's always: 'we're just good friends, Buffy' or 'it's for your own good, Buffy' or 'I need to go un-live my own un-life now, Buffy.'"

"Angel said all that?" he asked, surprised. The friends thing didn't sound at all like the big wanker.

"No. Well, some of it. And stupid Parker. And my dad. And Scott and Pi—"

"Your dad?" Somehow Spike had never given much thought to the Slayer's father. If he'd been asked about him, he'd have assumed she'd had one, of course. Come to think of it, hadn't her mum mentioned him briefly, during their little tête-à-tête last year?

"He left," Buffy said. "He and mom used to fight. Then, poof! Gone. He visited a couple of times and then that was it. No more dad for Buffy. I think he went off with his secretary." She opened her eyes again and speared him with a glance that was far too sober. "Why are men such lying liar-heads?"

"It's genetic," he deadpanned.

"It's cause I'm the Slayer, isn't it?" she said, ignoring him. "I'm too weird. My life is all weird. Guys don't want weird. They want pretty and nice and … and ... not super strong or a girl who hangs around with dead guys all the time and comes home all gooey. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get demon slime out of leather?"

He thought about it. "Yeah," he said. "The trick is club soda, or seltzer. Get that on there before it crusts up and it'll come right off."

"Really?" she said, perking up. "I'll have to try that."

"You're not weird," he said, absently counting the lights on the ceiling. "Trust me, I know from weird, and you're not it, pet. You're ... gorgeous. Any man doesn't fall at your feet after watching you kick some demon arse isn't much of a man. And I happen to think you hanging out with the dead is ..."

"You think I'm gorgeous?"

Oh, balls.

"Well, aesthetically speaking, yeah. Of course. You must know you are."

Way to go, Spike. Why not hand her your bollocks while you're at it? Compose some poetry, maybe? Pillock.

"You're just saying that," she said.

"Why would I just say that, Slayer?" He leaned up on his elbows and twisted to look down at her. "What the bloody hell would I get out of lying about something like that?"

"I don't know. The lights are spinning again. Maybe you shouldn't have sat up."

"Well, I'm feeling insulted," he said. "Not all men are ... what'd you call us? Lying liar-heads?"

"You're not a man," she said, sleepily. Her face cracked in a yawn. He grabbed her upper arm and yanked her upright and around to face him.

"Where it counts, yeah, I'm a man. And I'm telling you, I didn't lie just to spare your little feelings. When have I ever lied to spare you pain?"

She blinked at him.

"Never," he said, feeling his temper calm a little. "And I don't plan to start now, princess. If it'll make you happy, I'll swear here and now to only tell you the truth, even if it hurts."

"Okay," she said. She glanced down at her arm. "You're hurting me, now."

He let go abruptly. "I need a drink," he said, and slid off the table.

It wasn't until he tried to twist the cap off the bottle of JD that he realized how badly his hands were shaking.

Author's Note: Dick Clark's dialogue is … well, Dick Clark's. Borrowed from the footage of the 2000 Times Square Ball Drop.


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