It was late morning when Spike awakened to the dim glow of sunlight seeping through the closely drawn curtains on Buffy’s bedroom window. He opened his eyes slowly, and they fell immediately on the peaceful face of his slumbering Slayer.
The momentary apprehension he felt as his mind raced back over the trauma of the previous day melted away as he took in the stunning stillness of her beauty, her smooth brow free of the tension that had marked it so frequently these past few days, her slow even breaths gently rustling a few stray blonde hairs that fell down over her eyes.
He thought back over the unexpected tender moments of the night before, drinking in the peaceful, contented expression on her face – and wondering how long he would have to enjoy it this time.
His sensitive hearing picked up the quiet sounds of Dawn moving about downstairs, and he suddenly remembered their unfinished conversation of the night before. He had yet to ask Buffy how much she wanted Dawn to know, but he was certain that what he had told her was already too much. At the very least, they had to work out a game plan of how to conduct themselves around Buffy, considering the secret but very close friendship that she did not know that they shared.
Very, very slowly, he slid out from between the warm, soft arms of the Slayer, not wanting to awaken her – unsure which “Buffy” he would be awakening if he did. She did not stir, as he got to his feet and reached for his clothes, where they had been discarded by her on the floor the night before – the same clothes he had worn for three days now, he realized with disgust.
He thought absently that he would have to return to the mansion at some point to get the rest of his clothes, and bring them – here?
He frowned in pensive wondering. Was the Slayer intending for him to stay here now? He had a feeling that if she knew the whole story, Joyce would not mind – but he was certain that Buffy had no intention of telling her anywhere near the whole story, and how did she plan to explain to her mother why a vampire she had openly and vocally hated for years was suddenly moving into the house with them? And wasn’t Buffy living in a dorm room with Willow at the moment anyway?
He had a feeling that all of these questions would soon be answered – and there were going to be a lot of changes.
He made his way quietly down the stairs to the kitchen, where Dawn stood at the counter with her back to him, pouring herself a bowl of cereal. He noticed as he casually approached her that her hands were trembling, sending little dribbles of milk over the sides of the bowl. He felt a pang of guilt, realizing that his going upstairs with Buffy, after the conversation they had just had regarding her recent behavior, must have given the girl a bit of a scare.
“Morning, pet,” he said softly, not wanting to startle her.
But he *did* startle her, and she jumped with a little shriek, dropping the bowl to the floor with a shatter and a splash, sending Fruity Pebbles and milk flying through the kitchen, as she whirled around to face him with wide, fearful eyes.
“God, Spike, could you *not* do that whole scary silent vampire thing?” she gasped in genuine annoyance.
“Bloody hell!” he muttered under his breath, glancing anxiously up the stairs as he crouched down to begin picking up the shattered pieces of glass from the floor. “Sorry, bit,” he added with an apologetic grimace. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
Dawn was leaning back against the counter, catching her breath. “It’s okay,” she gasped out in relief, as she retrieved a dish cloth from beside the sink and began mopping up the mess on the floor, walls, counter – pretty much everywhere. “You just – just startled me. I mean…” As she went on, her eyes were carefully focused on the floor that she was half-heartedly wiping at. “I guess – after last night – I just…”
As she spoke, Spike quickly discarded the shards of broken glass he was carefully holding in his hand, returning to her in time to cut off her words by putting his arms around her gently. “It’s all right, Nibblet,” he murmured, holding her close to him. “She didn’t hurt me, pet. She didn’t.”
She suddenly pushed him back, the sopping dishcloth in her hand leaving a darker mark on his black shirt, as she fixed him with a fierce, blazing look that seemed to see right through him – a Joyce-look if he had ever seen one.
“Say that again,” she ordered calmly, but leaving no room for argument, her eyes focused searchingly on his.
He was suddenly very glad that he was telling the truth, knowing that had he been lying, she would have seen through it in an instant. Slowly and emphatically, holding her gaze unflinchingly he repeated, “She didn’t hurt me.”
She stared at him for a moment longer, and he could see the satisfaction and relief in her eyes when she decided that she believed him – but something was still clearly bothering her. Without a word she turned and finished wiping up the spilt milk and cereal, tossing the sopping dishcloth carelessly in the sink before sitting down at the counter with a sort of dejected air.
“So what’s up, pet?” he asked plainly, taking the seat beside her, crossing his arms on the counter in front of him and looking at her sideways, trying to read her expression.
He had long since known that Dawn had a bit of a crush on him – well, more than a bit, actually – and realized with a pang of guilt that if she had any inkling of what had gone on the night before in Buffy’s room, that might be what was responsible for her mood now. And the girl was not stupid; she had to know.
But this seemed to be about more than that.
“Come on, now, Niblet,” he pressed her gently. “What’s wrong?”
She opened her mouth to respond, then shut it again, and he could see something in her close off as she decided not to ask her question – but then changed her mind again. Finally, she replied in a low, reluctant voice, “I just don’t get it.”
Spike could not help but laugh, though he knew the reaction was probably not helpful to the situation. When Dawn glared at him reproachfully, he stopped laughing, his smile warm and apologetic as he explained, “I don’t either, pet. I’m so bloody confused at this point I don’t even know what it is I’m supposed to be getting that I don’t get.”
That at least earned him a weak smile.
After a pause, he sighed softly, “Could you just be a bit more specific, pet?”
Dawn frowned thoughtfully. “Well – here’s the thing. You came in here last night looking like shit…”
*Bloody hell, I’ve become soddin’ Joyce Summers in her absence!*
“Crap,” Dawn amended without missing a beat, her tone agitated and building up steam as she went along. “And said that Buffy did it. Okay, she’s not herself, she’s possessed or something, so we don’t hate Buffy. *I* do. *We* don’t. Just so that’s clear.”
Spike suppressed a grin that he knew would only provoke her further in this mood, nodding seriously.
“But the point was,” Dawn continued, meeting his eyes questioningly. “You were scared of her.”
When Spike opened his mouth to indignantly protest, she held up a hand to silence him, going on, “And don’t give me that ‘I wasn’t the least bit bloody scared, I’m the Big Bad,’ bull crap. You were scared. It doesn’t make you any less of a man so let it go.”
Her quick, matter-of-face words left no opportunity for argument, and he closed his mouth again as she went on, “But then, next thing I know, you’re upstairs in her bed, getting it on, letting her pretend that everything’s just fine!”
Astonished and horrified at the girl’s seemingly impossible knowledge, Spike stared at her in shock. “How could you…?” he began.
She waved a hand dismissively at the details as she interrupted to answer, “Next door bedroom – thin walls – very *not* stupid teenager – you do the math. *I* did.”
“Anyway, that’s not the point!” she insisted, stopping suddenly to draw in a deep breath she had not paused long enough to take, and now desperately needed. When she spoke again, her voice was softer, calmer – sadder.
“Why are you letting her do that?”
“I told you, pet,” he reminded her quietly, feeling suddenly very tired – and somehow, ashamed. “It’s not like I can help it. It’s the bloody claim. I’ve gotta do what she says, whether I want to or — *what*?” He stopped, frowning at the look on her face. “Bit, what?”
Dawn’s eyes were wide with horrified shock. “You…” she whispered, aghast. “You – didn’t want to, and she – she…”
“*No*!” he quickly objected, horrified by the suggestion – though the very real fact that if Buffy took a notion to do such a thing, she could, made him feel a strange sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “God, no,” he went on, softer. “I wanted to, pet. I did. Not – not that it’s anything I ought to be discussing with you. Your mom would be looking for that axe again if she knew.”
Dawn ignored that, frowning, deep in thought.
“But – if you only wanted it because of the claim – then – isn’t it still…?” Her voice trailed off, as she saw the oddly guilty, trapped expression on his face – and read it perfectly.
“Except,” she concluded softly, “It’s *not* all just because of the claim. Is it? You really like her.” Her words were slow, flat with the effort not to reveal the truth that he already knew, of how badly it hurt her to know it.
Spike looked at her intently for a moment, trying to decide how to respond – before deciding that regardless, Dawn was his friend – and only the truth would do. The truth might hurt her, and her girlish feelings – but not as badly as a lie would hurt her.
“Like her?” he repeated with a soft, bitter laugh at the childish term that did not begin to describe his obsession with the Slayer, even before the claim. “There’s times when I hate her, Bit. But – but I’ve always – wanted her. Cared for her. Since – well, since long before this bloody chip.”
Dawn was silent, forcing herself to take it in without displaying too much of her emotions.
It was one of life’s cruelest tricks, played on many a teenage girl, that the one she idolized, adored and dreamed of, should have just such a fascination with her older sister – who happened to treat him like nothing more than dirt on the bottom of her shoe.
*I should write a teen novel,* Dawn thought cynically. *Everyone would love to read about the disaster that is my hopeless, non-existent love life.*
She suddenly decided that the best thing at this point in the conversation was to change the subject.
“So – yeah,” she said aloud. “*About* that ‘bloody chip’! What’s up with *that*, anyway?”
Spike shrugged easily, relieved as she was to change the subject. “Bloody well buggered if I know,” he replied, shaking his head.
“Do you think it stopped working when she claimed you?” Dawn speculated, getting up and getting the cereal from the counter. “Want some?” she asked as she opened the cupboard.
“Sure, pet,” he replied distractedly, before answering her original question. “And I really couldn’t tell you, come to think of it.” He frowned, remembering. “The chip was already turned off by the time we ever got to that. See, in order for the dominance ritual to work, I had to be able to fight her – so – they knocked out the chip before the whole thing ever started.”
Dawn raised her eyebrows in another expression a la Joyce Summers – God, how Spike wished she was there! – as she sat down at the table, setting down two bowls of cereal as she did. “How did they manage *that*?” she asked skeptically.
Spike took a bit of his cereal before replying with another shrug, “One of Red’s spells. She managed to turn off the chip temporarily for the fight…” His eyes widened with realization, his spoon poised halfway to his mouth. He lowered it slowly, thinking.
“Or not so temporarily,” Dawn finished dryly. “Trust a Willow-spell to go majorly wonky.”
“Do you think that’s got something to do with what’s happening to Buffy?” he asked, eyes wide as he thought about it.
Dawn shrugged, her eyes focused on her bowl as she took another bite. “It sure sounds like it might. I mean, come on. When has Willow ever down a spell that went totally *right*? They ought to just keep her away from magic, permanently.”
“That could very well be it,” Spike nodded, getting excited about the prospect of finding a solution to the problem at last. “If it’s something in the spell she did, then – then we can get her to undo it – and Buffy could get back to normal. Get rid of whatever that – that *thing* is that’s controlling her.” There was a bitter anger in his voice, not directed at Buffy, exactly – but at whatever unknown force was causing her to hurt him.
Dawn nodded. “Sounds good. Let’s talk to Buffy when she wakes up – assuming she’s sane,” she amended as she stood up, taking the empty bowls and spoons to the sink. “And take it to Giles. Maybe he can help figure it out.”
Spike nodded slowly, staring at the table, deep in thought, as Dawn gave his shoulder a supportive squeeze, before going around him toward the stairs to go get dressed. He did not even notice when she left the room, still staring down, his mind racing with the new possibilities opened up by Dawn’s suggestions.
*Bloody magic,* she thought, shaking his head in disgust. *Best left alone by soddin’ children who don’t know what the bloody hell they’re doing.*
“Consequences,” he murmured aloud with a weary sigh. “Always consequences.”
The soft, husky voice behind him sent a chill down his spine, as he immediately recognized the dangerous note of anger to it. She had managed to get unsettlingly near, directly behind him, before he even knew she was there. Instinctively, he moved to get to his feet, to turn and face her.
Before he could, however, a strong hand on his shoulder shoved him back down into his seat, her arm snaking around his shoulders and pinning him there as she crouched behind him, her other hand clamping tightly over his mouth to prevent his calling out for Dawn.
Not that he would have. He wanted Dawn as far as possible from this deranged, dangerous girl.
“Consequences to what?” she whispered, her mouth so close to his ear that he could feel her malicious smile against his cool skin. “Talking about me behind my back? Plotting against me?” The menace in her voice was terrifying, though he knew that he was innocent of her accusations.
*Buffy,* he whispered in his mind. *Buffy, please – I wasn’t…*
He could not hold back a small, muffled cry of pain as she jerked his head to the side, pulling at the wound on his throat as she exposed it to her. “Don’t lie to me,” she ordered in a cold whisper. “I heard you, Baby. I heard you talking to *her* about getting *rid* of me!” she practically spat the words out with hatred in her voice.
A cold chill went down his spine with the realization that this was not even Buffy that was speaking to him. This was something that had not happened before, even in all the strangeness of the past few days.
It was her voice, her mouth, but the entity that was controlling her was addressing him directly.
“You can’t get rid of me!” she sneered. “Not without killing her! And we both know you don’t want that!”
*Who are you?* Spike demanded, his anger rising with the realization that some *thing*, some outside force, was controlling and even threatening his Slayer.
She leaned her head around to give him a falsely sweet, wide-eyed smile. “You know who I am,” she smirked. “I’m Buffy.” Her expression became very serious as she added, “You’re starting to scare me, Sweetie. You’re talking crazy. Better be careful about that.”
The phony smile faded and she leaned in close to his ear again to snarl softly, “ ‘Cause you wanna make this my word against yours – you know who’s gonna win!”
He knew she was right. If it came right down to it, almost anyone he tried to tell about this would not believe a word of it if Buffy denied it. True, her friends had witnessed some odd behavior, were convinced that she was in trouble – but they had not been convinced enough of the danger he was in to actually take any measures to protect him.
Or perhaps, they just had not cared.
“That’s right, Spike,” she said softly in response to the thoughts he had not known she was listening to. “You hit the nail on the head right there. They. Don’t. Care.”
Her name flashed into his mind unbidden, a reminder that at least someone *did* care – even if that someone was not really able to do much to help him. And in the next instant, a flash of fear, as he wondered if Buffy had read that thought – and what, in her possessive rage, she might feel compelled to do about it.
His fears were not unfounded.
A low feral growl rose in Buffy’s throat, and suddenly, her hand on his shoulder rose to viciously dig her fingernails into the sensitive flesh of her mark, mercilessly punishing his daring to even think of relying on the affections of someone besides her.
His helpless cry of pain was stifled by her hand still over his mouth, and he was oddly grateful for it. He did not want Dawn to hear it, did not want her to come to his aide, only to get hurt herself.
“You know,” she sneered close to his ear, smiling maliciously again. “It doesn’t matter if she comes down here or not. I can find her. If I wanted to hurt her, I could. And there’d be nothing you could do to stop me.”
Fury rose up in him, and he struggled against her restraining arm – until she viciously assaulted the mark again, and his body went rigid under her grasp, then still, trembling with pain that coursed through him.
“Don’t worry, Sweetie,” she whispered, her hand rising to caress his hair in a mockery of tenderness. “She doesn’t matter to me. She thinks she can help you. She thinks you *belong* to her…” With those odd words, the seething hatred in her voice seemed to intensify, as she turned her head slightly to glare up the stairs, before looking back to Spike.
“But it doesn’t matter. *She* doesn’t matter. She’s not even real.”
The words made absolutely no sense – and yet they angered Spike in a way that he could not explain. Unexpectedly, he jerked his mouth out from under her hand, one hand rising to grip her wrist and hold it away from her mark, twisting quickly and managing somehow to escape her grip, toppling the chair in the process.
But it was between them.
He faced her warily, eyes wide and searching for any escape. Buffy was clearly out of control – out of control? She had left the building entirely for the moment. All he could think was that he had to get himself and Dawn away from her as quickly as possible.
And his fledgling plans were dashed in an instant, with a quiet, authoritative command from his claimant.
Dark eyes blazing with wrath, the thing inhabiting Buffy at the moment, glared at him with menace as she said softly, “Still.”
Spike’s mind screamed at him to run, to fight, to do something — *anything* — but what he did – was to keep still.
He stood there, helplessly frozen by her command, struggling to overcome it, but unable to disobey, as she slowly approached him, kicking the chair between them across the room with savage force, shattering it into pieces against the far wall.
Spike was vaguely aware of Dawn’s hurried footsteps on the stairs, her concerned, small voice calling his name, drawn by the crashing sound. He was more aware of the steadily advancing Slayer, his doom glittering in her feral, furious eyes.
She reached him, stopping just a foot or so away from him, looking him up and down with a cruel smile.
“Buffy,” Dawn’s small, trembling voice called from the bottom of the stairs, then again from a few steps nearer, “Buffy, don’t!”
The Slayer stretched a deceptively tender hand toward him, caressing lightly over the mark, and although he did not want to respond, wanted to reject her hold over him – his head tipped back and to the side, allowing her access, acknowledging wordlessly that he was hers.
Her hand at his throat suddenly jerked him closer to her, and she spoke softly but with overwhelming intensity, her lips, her eyes, bare inches from his own.
She released him then, taking a step back, looking him up and down. He was aware the instant before it happened of the vindictive fury, the desire to punish him in her eyes of jade – knew what she was going to do.
Her fist smashed down once again across the side of his head in a blow of such power that it felled him to the floor, struggling for consciousness, Dawn’s terrified screams in the background sounding hollow and faint to his assaulted ears.
And in the next moment, he was barely aware as the kitchen door opened, and someone entered – until he felt the shock go through his claimant, felt every inch of her emotion.
Shock – guilt – fear – and finally, sorrow and shame, as the feral dominating creature was driven back by the strength of the girl’s bond with the person who had just entered the house.
And with the single word that echoed through the Slayer’s mind, and thus through his own, Spike felt an intense sense of relief. He did not know how, but he knew that everything was going to be all right, when he heard that single whispered breath of thought in Buffy’s timid, confused mind.