Part 1: Questions
“This old house is falling down around my ears/I’m drowning in a river of my tears/When all my will is gone you hold me sway/I need you at the dimming of the day./You pulled me like the moon/Pulls on the tide./You know just where I keep my better side…Come the night you’re only what I want./Come the night you could be my confidant…I need you at the dimming of the day.” ~Richard Thompson
“Dawn! Have you eaten yet?”
Silence answered her, and Buffy climbed the stairs to Dawn’s bedroom. “Dawn?” she called, knocking on the door. “What do you want for dinner?” She still didn’t get an answer, so she opened the door, only to find the room empty.
Buffy sighed, leaning up against the wall wearily. “Crap.”
It was one thing after another with her younger sister. One thing after another since coming back from the dead. If she wasn’t running out of money, she was dealing with a friend who seemed to be hooked on magic, a vampire whose attentions weren’t nearly as unwelcome as she wanted him to think, and an apathy so profound it frightened her.
There were days when all she wanted was to get away, just disappear until she’d actually adjusted to being alive again, let alone being the Slayer, the girl everybody seemed to think had all the answers.
She poked her head into Willow’s room, but the witch was gone. Buffy wondered how she was dealing with Tara’s absence, or if she was dealing at all. She felt like she was also failing Willow, like she should have been able to stop her from going off the deep end.
Or maybe Willow shouldn’t have brought her back from the dead. There was an idea.
She rubbed her temples, trying to stave off the headache that threatened. She had to look for Dawn and then maybe figure out what she was going to make for dinner. Probably a frozen pizza; her culinary skills and her budget wouldn’t let her do much more.
She went to the kitchen to get a drink of water before leaving and saw the note on the fridge. “Buffy, I’m going to Janice’s for dinner tonight. I tried to talk to you, but you weren’t paying attention.”
“Crap,” Buffy repeated, reading between the lines to the hurt in Dawn’s short note. This was what Giles had been trying to bring to her attention, but Buffy couldn’t seem to do anything right. She couldn’t connect with her sister, her friends, anyone—except for a certain vampire, and that scared her more than the possibility of her own death ever had.
She grabbed a jacket and left the house, making sure she had a stake with her. There was always her duty to do; it seemed to fill up the lonely nights admirably.
And if she met Spike while she was out, she’d just have to tell him to stay away.
“You shouldn’t be here, Bit,” Spike said, stepping out of the shadows behind the girl. He’d had to move quickly to avoid the sunlight.
Dawn started. “I didn’t see you there.”
“What are you doin’ here?”
“I came to see you.” She shifted from foot to foot. “I told Buffy I was going to Janice’s.”
Spike glared at her. “Have you forgotten what happened the last time you lied about where you were goin’?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “No, but you’re the only vampire I’m going to be meeting, so I don’t see what the problem is.”
“The problem is that your sister’s goin’ to blame me for leadin’ you astray.” He glanced outside the crypt, frowning. The sun hadn’t set yet, but it would be dark before Dawn reached her house. “Let’s go.”
She didn’t move. “No.”
“I haven’t seen you in weeks!” she protested. “You’re never around anymore. I thought…”
She trailed off, but Spike thought he knew what she hadn’t said. “Dawn—”
“Don’t.” Dawn glared at him. “When you use my name, you’ve always got bad news. I don’t want to hear it.”
He sighed. “Your sister thinks I’m a bad influence on you.”
“What?” Dawn snorted. “Please. Doesn’t she know that you stayed with me every other night because the others were conspiring to bring her back from the dead?”
“She knows,” Spike said softly. “’Course she knows. But that was before she got back.”
Dawn shook her head. “I’ll talk to her. I’ll tell Buffy that you were great, the perfect role model.”
Spike let out a bark of laughter. “Don’t overdo it, pet. She’ll never buy it.”
“Then I’ll tell her I feel safer with you than with anybody else,” Dawn insisted. “She’ll have to listen to me.”
“Slayer doesn’t have to listen to anybody,” Spike replied. “Much as we’d all like to think otherwise.” He saw the disappointed expression on her face. “But if you want to try, I won’t stop you.” Raising an eyebrow, he asked, “You comin’?”
Dawn sighed. “Yeah, I guess.”
Spike touched her shoulder, awkwardly trying to offer comfort. “It’s gonna be fine, Bit. We’ll work it out.”
She shook her head. “How, Spike? You saw her after Giles left. She’s not fine. It’s like there’s a part of her that’s missing.”
He didn’t reply, instead leading the way through the trapdoor towards the entrance to the sewer tunnels. Spike knew even better than Dawn did that Buffy wasn’t fine.
And he wasn’t sure she would ever be fine again.
Buffy stopped outside the small shop with the curious sign on the door. It read—rather boastfully, she thought—“All Your Questions Answered.”
“I wish,” she muttered, turning to walk away.
“And what is it you wish?”
The voice startled her, and she whirled, her hand going to the stake hidden in her jacket. “Who’s there?”
“No one who means you any harm.” The man emerged from the shop, his salt-and-pepper hair falling over one eye, and his dark eyes warm. He had a kind face, although Buffy had long since learned to distrust what her eyes told her about a person.
Sometimes when Spike looked at her she could almost believe that he really did love her, and she knew that was a lie.
“I’m not buying,” Buffy said, raising a hand to ward off any sales pitch he might offer. “Sorry.”
He smiled genially. “Who said I was selling? For you, my dear, the answers are free.”
Buffy stiffened. “I don’t need anything.”
“Of course, you do,” he replied, his eyes crinkling up at the corners as he smiled. “You have quite a bit on your mind, and no wonder.”
Buffy frowned. She didn’t trust him; she knew better than that. At the same time—what if he was telling the truth? What if she could get the answers to even a few of her questions? “What kind of questions do you answer?”
“All kinds,” he replied. “Mostly questions of ‘what if’ and paths not taken. Or paths you’ve yet to take.” He gestured her inside the shop. “Please. It’s the least I could do.”
Buffy shook her head. “No, that’s okay. I should really be going.”
His gaze was piercing, reminding her of Spike. Spike had looked at her like that in the Bronze, right after Giles had left. Like he wanted to listen, like he wanted to solve her every problem, if only she would let him.
This man, too, looked at her as though he could see right down to her core. “My dear, you have such a great burden. I would like to lighten it.”
“You don’t know me,” she objected.
“Don’t I?” he asked. “You are the Chosen One, the one girl in all the world. Your journey was over, and now it’s begun again. You feel as though you’re wandering aimlessly, as though nothing in this world can matter quite as much as the one you’ve left. You feel empty, and the one person who can offer you solace is the one person you believe is most dangerous to you.” He raised an eyebrow. “How am I doing?”
Buffy swallowed. “Really well. Who are you?”
“A friend.” He opened the door once again. “But you may call me Casamir.”
Dawn looked around the empty house. “See? Buffy isn’t even home, so we didn’t have to rush back.”
“I’d rather beat her back here than the other way around,” Spike replied, standing awkwardly in the hallway. He’d been so comfortable here during the long, hot summer months with Dawn. He’d been needed in a way that he hadn’t been in a very long time, and it had been a balm to his wounded spirit.
“I’m hungry,” she announced, heading into the kitchen.
Spike followed her, feeling as though he had little choice in the matter. He could tell that no one else was home, and that Dawn shouldn’t be left alone. The danger wasn’t as great as it had been when Glory had been around, but the girl would always be a target as the sister of the Slayer.
He caught a glimpse of the contents of the refrigerator when she opened the door. “Where’s your food?”
“We don’t have any,” she replied glumly. “Tara was the one who was doing most of the grocery shopping and cooking, but she’s not here anymore. And Buffy isn’t eating much these days.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” Spike muttered. She’d felt thinner to him when he’d held her in the Bronze on both nights—the first when he’d prevented her from dancing to death, and the second when she’d tried to lose herself in him.
He had known exactly what she wanted from him, and he’d given it willingly. The fact that she’d been using him still stung, though.
Spike pulled out his wallet to check whether or not he had enough cash for dinner. “Right, then. Pizza or Chinese?”
Dawn looked at him hopefully. “Really?”
“Yeah, might as well. If your sister comes home while we’ve got the food out, maybe she’ll eat.”
Dawn made a face. “Good luck.”
“Is something going on between you guys?” she asked.
Spike froze, knowing that if he let slip to Dawn that he and Buffy had shared more than conversation, he’d be as good as dust. “What makes you ask?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Please, Spike. I’m not stupid.”
“Never said you were.” Spike decided that ignoring the question she’d left hanging would be his best bet.
She gave him a look that said she knew exactly what he was trying to do. “Well? Is there something going on?”
Spike closed his eyes, torn between his desire to give Buffy exactly what she wanted and his loyalty to Dawn, who loved him for himself, and who wanted nothing more than his company. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what’s going on?”
“I don’t know what your sister wants,” he admitted. “And that’s all I’m gonna say.”
Dawn met his eyes, and he could see understanding there. “I’m in the mood for Chinese,” she said, changing the subject.
“Then that’s what we’ll get. Figure out what you want, an’ I’ll make the call.” He was grateful that she’d let it drop; Dawn could be incredibly persistent when she wanted to be.
Spike glanced at the clock. Buffy was probably out on patrol and would likely be out for hours yet. She’d be pissed as hell that he was hanging around Dawn, but at the moment he didn’t care. He wasn’t going to leave the girl alone.
He’d figure the rest out later.
Buffy entered the dim shop cautiously, hardly able to believe that she was doing this. As much as she’d seen and done in Sunnydale, she wasn’t sure she bought this psychic, fortune-telling stuff. Sure, she had a destiny, but it wasn’t like she needed confirmation.
“Would you like some tea?” Casamir asked. “I find that it calms the nerves.”
Buffy hesitated. “Yeah, sure. Thank you.” She sat down at the small table while he poured hot water from an electric kettle. It seemed out of place, although practical.
“It is my pleasure. You’ve done much for the world. Perhaps it’s time for the world to do something for you.”
Buffy snorted. “Right.”
“You do not think yourself worthy of help?”
She was taken aback by his question. “What do you mean?”
“I suggest that perhaps you’ve had a lucky break, and you scoff.” Casamir raised an eyebrow. “This either means that you are very cynical, or that you do not believe yourself worthy of help.”
“Try cynical,” Buffy said. “It’s not like anything has gone right for me recently.”
He was a stranger; she had no reason to tell him anything. And yet—he was a stranger, it didn’t matter what he thought of her, and he wasn’t as dangerous as Spike was. Her story spilled out—from her sacrifice, to her resurrection, to her confusion over being alive. She held nothing back; after all, he already knew she was the Slayer and that she’d been resurrected.
It felt good to get it off her chest, better yet to voice exactly how angry she was at her friends for bringing her back, at Spike for confusing her every time she turned around, at Dawn for being a typical teenager.
“I can’t believe I’m telling you all of this,” Buffy said abruptly, cutting her story off in mid-flow. “I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time.” She put her cup down and stood to leave.
“Don’t you want your answers?” Casamir asked softly. “It is what you came in for.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I should be out patrolling. I should—”
“Sit.” The gentle command had her sitting for some unknown reason. Perhaps this was what she had really needed—to talk to someone who would listen, and who would ask for nothing in return. It was one of the reasons that she found Spike’s company so appealing. He hadn’t asked for anything until the night he’d sung to her of his feelings.
Casamir poured more tea for both of them. “Ask your questions, Slayer, and open your heart to the answers.” Gracing her with an odd little smile, he added, “Love, give, and forgive,” he added, repeating what the First Slayer had told her.
Buffy’s eyes went round and wide, and she set her cup down on the table with a clatter. “How did you know?”
“Is that really the question you want to ask?” he asked.
She shook her head, no longer sure that she wasn’t dreaming. This was too surreal to be happening.
“Very well.” Casamir stood, going behind the counter and rustling around. “It is a simple ritual. I will ask you to write down three questions, then you will burn the slips of paper one by one.”
Buffy raised a skeptical eyebrow, but she didn’t comment. After all, she wasn’t paying for the service, so she didn’t have anything to lose. “Okay.”
Casamir smiled, as though he had read her mind. “You will be shown everything you need to know,” he promised. “I can show you all manner of ‘what ifs.’ It works best if you ask those questions most dear to your heart.” He put the slips of paper and the pen on the table. “I’ll leave you to it while I get the rest of my supplies.”
He headed for the back of the store; for a moment, Buffy considered ducking out of the shop, but she’d come this far. Setting her jaw determinedly, she scribbled down her three questions—or three possibilities, rather.
She’d just dotted her last “i” when Casamir returned, placing a brass bowl on the table in front of her. He dropped a handful of aromatic wood shavings in the bowl, then sat down across from her. “Are you ready?”
Buffy nodded jerkily. “What do I do?”
“Simply relax, and breathe deeply.” He put a match to the shavings and instructed, “Drop your first question in the fire.”
She took a deep breath, and the pungent, spicy scent assailed her nostrils. With a trembling hand, she dropped the first slip into the gentle flames, seeing the dark letters flare red before darkness overtook her.
“What if I hadn’t come back?”