Summary: Post-NFA Spike survives the battle, but something has gone terribly wrong with the Shanshu. Likewise, Dawn’s life is turned upside down when she begins to experience disturbing nightmares. Clinging tenuously to reality and themselves, Dawn and Spike explore the obstacles of lives in constant flux and the connection they share.
A/N: Thanks to Eowyn315 for her thoughtful beta work. All remaining errors are mine. This story has been bouncing around in my head for awhile, and at last it revealed itself to me. This first section focuses on Spike and Dawn, but the next two will be Spuffy-centric.
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No profit is gained from my writerly endeavors and no copyright infringement is intended.
No one had expected this, but then, nothing came as a surprise, either, considering everything they have seen and been through in their fight against evil. Things often didn’t turn out the way they’d imagined, people didn’t stay dead, and there were always consequences.
Dawn sat silently on the couch, her eyes fixed on the closed door where her sister and Spike were currently holed up awaiting the birth of their first child.
It all happened a year ago. A year after the Hellmouth had closed. A year after she thought she had escaped the hell of Sunnydale and could go on with her life, leave her ghosts behind, and recreate herself. She supposed she got what she wanted, just not in the way she expected.
Willow was the first to notice it, the disruption in “the force,” so to speak. She had alerted Giles to the big bad in Los Angeles, and, with great reluctance, they had sent in Faith and a group of Slayers to handle the situation. They hadn’t expected to find a nice showing of hell’s legions, or Spike, in the middle of the fray, bloodied and battered, half supported by a former god-king. While she manned the portal, Willow took it on herself to extract the vampire – it looked like he had had enough.
He lay unconscious for some days in England in a restored wing of the Watcher’s Council. Had he been awake to witness his return to the mother country, Dawn thought he would have made some snide remark about the mansions stately décor and doily-covered tabletops. Instead, on his first evening with them, she kept a silent vigil at his bedside, her eyes wandering the length of his compact, wiry frame. She had thought him long dead, buried at the bottom of the crater of her other life, but here he was. Buffy, of course, had insisted that she be the one to care for him. Somehow, she always seemed to make it about herself, as though she was the only person that had something to prove, to make amends for. Dawn wasn’t going to stand for the exclusive right Buffy thought she has to monopolize his time, and made a stand.
“Look, I know he meant a lot to you or whatever, but get over yourself, Buffy. I think I’ve earned this one hour a day with him. You can have the other twenty-three for all I care.”
And so they reached a compromise. Dawn would see to redressing his wounds in the morning, and Buffy could feed, bathe, and tend to him in any way she saw fit beyond that.
Dawn couldn’t hate him, but she tried. Sometimes she spoke, other times she didn’t. His only response was the occasional pained groan as his body set to mending itself. Beyond that, the only other sound that breached the space was the rain that fell in serpentine sheets down the large windows in the early morning. Many of the days were overcast and Dawn left the curtains open so that the eerie, green light of the landscaped, heavy foliage that surrounded the windows gave the room a certain ethereal glow. Spike always became a bit more active and fitful during the five to six a.m. hour, as though his demon could feel the approaching dawn creeping in along the glass and wood paneling.
On the tenth morning, she slapped him across the face.
“Why did you leave us!? You could have come, found us. You coward, you fucking coward! How could you?”
She thought of her restrained threats, her promise to burn him in his sleep that last year in California. Had he believed her? No one else did. No one ever gave any credence to her moods or anger. She was just a child. A child now a woman of eighteen. She sank onto the bed beside him then, silent tears running into the sheets as she pleaded with the corpse.
“Why did you leave me?” she repeated, the same question she often asked of others long dead. “Please…”
When he was still and pale, her chest would seize up, and she would remember the stiffened body of her mother laid out on the cold slab in the morgue when she had gone to say her last goodbyes; the bloodied carpet under Tara’s body where the bullet had pierced her chest and stolen her gentle soul from her; her sister's lifeless form where it had fallen into the rubble that was generated in the fight to save her from the death that Buffy had embraced instead. They always tried to shield her from death, but being constantly surrounded and inundated with its burdens only made its secrets that much worse. Leave it to Spike to answer her unanswerable questions, to be the only one who ever did.
Spike stirred, groaned, and coughed painfully. His eyes cracked open to stare up at her bewildered face. Their gazes clashed for a long moment until he whispered, “Bit? Am I…?”
“Spike,” she choked, and her face crumpled with relief and sorrow and joy.
“Someone must love me up there to send me to a place with you in it,” he whispered in a grating voice, his eyes glassy and still ringed with faint bruises. Dawn threw her arms around his shoulders, her chest heaving against his still one.
They talked of taking him to Rome once he made a full recovery. By unanimous Summers’ vote, Spike was now officially back in their lives and there to stay. By the third week back in their flat, they had all fallen into an easy routine that set both women smiling. Their patrol was nominal as they explored the Old City together and darted in and out of the ruins at the Forum. When they grew bored of the archaic cat-and-mouse by foot, they took the vespa out for long stretches at a time on the countryside. Though Buffy was his shining star, he always made time for Dawn, whether it was just the two of them eating gelato on the steps out front or sitting on the balcony in the early evening. But like all things in her life, her shared easy existence with her sister and Spike took a turn for the worse.
It soon became apparent that the Shanshu prophecy, if this was in fact the Shanshu, did not manifest in the way they had expected. As the three of them waltzed along the streets after taking in an early movie, Dawn suddenly felt Spike’s hand clench painfully against hers. When she looked up, startled by his grip, he pitched forward to the ground, his palm gripping his chest as he heaved in painful spasms. No one, least of all Spike, had expected that his body would awaken and join the rest of the not-quite mere mortal world of the living.
It would have been enough had he made the transition fully to human, but his mortality was tenuous at best, sputtering and coughing and roaring to life like a car engine, while other times its motor died, the car would stall, and then come to a complete halt. He straddled the line between mortality and immortality, his humanity wavering in and out so that he constantly felt as though he was bobbing in some liminal space. His reflection was ghostly, as though he wasn’t quite there, and sometimes that was how he felt, just some strange shade haunting the mirror. The first time he broke the bathroom mirror, the task fell to Dawn to pick up the broken shards and dispose of them.
Along with Buffy, many nights her sleep was interrupted. He would wake up with a start, coughing and sputtering and gripping his chest when he started to breathe again. Buffy had bought an oxygen tank for his episodes, and it was now a permanent fixture next to their bedside table. Other times, when his breathing would stop, he would be caught in a panicked realm of suffocation as the demon reasserted itself and stifled the struggle of his body to take in air.
Sometimes he was condemned to a hellish limbo where his digestive track worked, but it still required blood for sustenance. Those were often the worst times. When he was a man, the blood was bitter and foul on his tongue. As it slipped down his throat in sickening gulps, he would gag and retch, but he had to have it. At these times the demon tried to emerge, but failed under the weight of his humanity. She came home one evening to find him curled on the kitchen floor, a large bloodstain smeared across the expensive tile on the far wall. They mopped up the spilled pigs blood together, her hand squeezing his tightly.
There seemed to be little correlation between how often the subtle shifts in his body took place and how long they lasted. When his demon fled for days at a time and he was just a man it drove him to the edge, but he compensated as best he could. “For the girls,” he would say. With the amount of effort it took to control his body, the changes shattered his nerves and made him prone to nervous ticks and muscle tremors as his body prepared for the unexpected assault of life or death, whatever was in opposition to his state at the time. If this was the PTB's idea of a reward, Spike thought he would hate to see their idea of punishment.
And then, she began to lose herself, too, unease and disorientation subtly tugging on her consciousness. At first, it was night terrors. She would start up in bed screaming that there were monsters, unsure of where she was, insisting that she had been someplace else where everything was different. Then, it came during the day. She would panic suddenly, eyes wide and frightened, and then shake it off. They were all concerned about her, unsure what it was that seized her. When prompted, she said it was like she wasn’t there, that she could see other places, other things that weren’t here or meant to be. She was seeing into other dimensions and realities. She was the key.
Dawn and Spike spent a good deal of their time together, both clinging to the here and now. They never knew when they would lose themselves a little. When his heart would start and his reflection glimmer, when her perception of time and space would run and bleed like watercolor and distort large swaths of reality. Spike spoke of his “affliction” to all of them. It physically manifested, and there was nothing to hide. But Dawn kept it under wraps and told only Spike. The beings she silently whispered to in her mind, all the things she saw and knew. Whenever Willow came by, which was every couple of weeks, she would look at Dawn queerly, their eyes meeting with challenge and hostility. Her power crackled from her, and Spike could see Willow struggle to keep herself in control as Dawn’s aura taunted the still recovering witch with wicked intent.
It was often that Spike came rushing into her bedroom when the nightmares took her. She screamed, and then he was there, his strong arms wrapped around her as she struggled to free herself from the terrors that clutched her. She clawed at him, bit at him, fisted the material of his shirt if he was wearing one, and wailed into the night, frightened of what she knew was coming. Sometimes she left raw scratches all across his arms and chest and would only stop once he had shaken her from whatever trance she was in. Sometimes she would wake in the morning to the imprint of fingers on her upper arms where he held her as she thrashed in a fit, although she couldn’t remember the encounter. Afterwards, in her more lucid moments, she would heatedly whisper what she had seen to him. Buffy often tried to intervene, but Dawn always told her stay out of it, and Spike reasoned he had more experience with such things.
“Cha, you mean like crazy women,” Dawn huffed. “One too many screws loose.”
“Tended to Dru for a long time. And though she may have been a bit barmy, what she saw – the visions, the voices – that was all real. Had the sight before she was turned, had it after.”
Buffy sat on the terrace, drinking iced tea and watching the sun dip in the sky. Her hands shielded her eyes as she surveyed the city, Italian Cosmo on her lap.
“Where’s Spike?” Dawn asked, coming around to sit across from her.
She turned to look at her younger sister. “Giles deployed him on a scouting mission with Isabella. They’ll be in La Spezzia for two days.” Buffy didn’t have to say how fiercely she had fought with Giles the previous evening over the matter.
Dawn nodded and looked at Buffy. She was beautiful in her pregnancy, already five months gone and glowing with an elegant luminescence. For Dawn, this sometimes was more literal than figurative.
“How are you holding up?”
It had been hard on Buffy. Caring for Spike was not something that came naturally to her, nor was it something that came naturally to him, either. They quarreled, but they were family now, and they took it one day at a time. Still, seeing Spike in such distress made Buffy anxious and worrisome. She was constantly consulting Willow on new leads on how to stabilize his condition, make it easier for him.
Initially, it had been impossible to keep her own transformation from Buffy, but she was good at hiding and lying. She didn’t want Buffy to worry. So, she went to Spike, or gave into it and lost herself. She would creep to the roof or the park when she would have her spells. She kept a blindfold near her bed and, unbeknownst to Buffy, a heavy stock of valium and codeine in her nightstand to help her sleep, to keep her quiet. It was hard to wake her, though, which Buffy did notice, so she doctored the doses.
Palming her belly, Buffy glanced downward and then looked up through her lashes.
“As best as can be expected, I guess,” she admitted, dropping the magazine onto the table between them. “It’s just all…sometimes it just gets to be too much, you know?”
Dawn regarded her quietly. With Spike occasionally alive and kicking, his little swimmers were also occasionally alive as well. There had been some harsh words and raised eyebrows when Buffy had started getting morning sickness, but it quickly came to an end when everyone realized the extent of Spike’s roots in the realm of the living. There had been no question between them that they keep the child – neither of them knew if it was a fluke, if they would ever have another shot at collaborating to create life again.
But between Buffy going hormonal, Spike becoming…whatever it was he now was, and her own rapid descent into unreality, the Summers household was not a happy place to be. Spike’s need for constant supervision and care had dredged up memories of their mother both she and Buffy would have liked to forget. Buffy was constantly vigilant and fearful of leaving Spike unattended lest she walk in one afternoon to find him dead on their couch. Thus, Dawn had a renewed sense of responsibility to make it as easy as she could for the both of them, which subsequently meant little time for herself or her own concerns. She downplayed the severity of her rapid disassociation with the world, her sanity marginally tilting and whirling, but it got harder and harder as time rolled on.
Three weeks after their companionable chat on the terrace, Buffy couldn’t help but notice Dawn’s drastic change in mood. Denial became a difficult locale to squat in when Dawn took to smoking cigarettes, wearing heavy eye make-up, and dying sections of her hair cobalt blue. She wasn’t hostile, exactly; in fact, she seemed subdued and drugged nearly all the time. But despite her increasingly introverted behavior, she gave off an air of just not giving a fuck anymore, and she didn’t.
His taste was slick and bitter all at once, his appreciation a thick blanket to her cottony perception of the world. Crouched on a bottom step in the stairwell outside of her apartment, Dawn blew a boy she occasionally ran with from school. With her eyes closed, it could be anyone, and she liked it that way. She could pluck any old image out of thin air if she wanted, could close her eyes and see the possibilities of whose cock was caught between her lips in a different here and now. If she had to lose herself, at least grounding herself in the distractions of sins of the flesh was better than maniacal freak-out sessions. All in all, the road to madness hadn’t been too bad.
He smelled them before he even was able to lay eyes on the pair. The scent of sex was heavy as he ascended the staircase. He could hear the bloke grunting quietly in release as Dawn sucked him off with her pretty little mouth. He thanked the gods that she was with Josh and not some of the other up and coming mystics she hung around with. She had called him late one night some weeks ago, crying hysterically, unable to tell him where she was or what had happened to her. When he tracked her down at last, she was sprawled on a park bench, the blood stains still evident on her skirt.
He tread a little heavier on the steps to announce his arrival and heard faint sounds of a fly being zippered and a belt buckled. Dawn walked out first, smoothing her hair down calmly.
“Don’t even, Spike,” she said as she brushed past him, wiping her mouth.
“Not saying a word, Bit.”
Dawn whirled on him, her kohl-darkened eyes wide and frantic. “And why not!? Why do you…why do you let me…”
He talked to her as much as she was willing, trying to keep her with him a little longer, but each day was a trial, and he could see her slipping through his fingers. She was scared, but like his own ‘condition,’ they were at a loss to know what to do for her.
“You’re your own woman now. Not my place to say what lucky bloke gets the honor of a suck job from you. None of my business.”
Dawn’s head dropped forward, and her hands rubbed at her eyes. She pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Sometimes…sometimes I get confused,” she whispered. “About the here and now and the things that…that I see. It all gets jumbled in my head. Like I’m in two places at once, seeing two different realities all superimposed on top of each other. Like a fantasy.”
She looked at him dreamily, her eyes lingering over him with silent desperation.
“Sometimes…who I’m with isn’t even who I see I’m with.”
She paused meaningfully as she walked past him and closed the door.
The night was cool, the light breeze rustling her hair and causing fly-away wisps to dance along her neck. The small gusts also brought the scent of tobacco and bourbon to her nose.
“Where have you been?” Spike asked, settling himself next to her where she leaned against the rail of their terrace and stared intently at the sky.
With a flourish of her hand, she created a small ball of flame.
“Just out. Walking,” she said flippantly, causing the ball of light to hover and bob just above her palm. She watched it intently.
“That’s bollocks. My senses might pop in and out unexpectedly, but I trolled the area and you were nowhere near here.”
“Didn’t say I was here.” When she snuffed out the light, her eyes looked dull again, her skin pale in the evening light.
Spike gave her a long look.
She fished a cigarette out of her pocket and snapped her fingers, a small flame springing to life at her fingertips to ignite the tobacco.
“Sometimes I like visiting the other here and nows. Walking through. Seeing how things could have been. How they still can be.”
“I go away. Not away away. But I think my consciousness…? Or maybe my body, too.” She furrowed her brow with confusion, as though she couldn’t quite remember something, but the answer was on the tip of her tongue.
“I was with Tara. I like going places with her in it. It helps with missing her. She always seems to recognize me wherever we are.”
Dawn turned to him, her eyes wide and roving. “Do you ever wish you could turn back time or just change things? Or, like, experience them all over again, except as they should be?”
Spike smiled wryly. “All the time, luv. Lot of things in our pasts that need answering for.” He looked out at the twinkling lights beneath. “Made a lot of wrong bloody calls. More than I could ever fix.”
“Sometimes…I think I might be losing myself,” she whispered with a ghostly forlornness. “I know I am. Like I’m just floating, and I’m made up of little particles that want to dart every which way and scatter.”
Spike looked at her. She was a pillar of strength, she was. Just like her mom and sis. She was a survivor, and he wouldn’t lose her.
“I guess Richard Kelly really had something there with the Donnie Darko shit,” she murmured, blowing out a stream of smoke. “Maybe I’ll wake up from this and it’ll all just be a dream. Except, you know, without the plane engine falling on me and killing me.”
Spike woke with a lurch after his bender. Six days straight he had guzzled pig’s blood and all he could do was wash the memories away with glassfuls of Jack and Jim. Carefully, he slipped from the bed he shared with Buffy and stole into the bathroom. Lately, he had spent a lot of time there.
He writhed and shook as he crouched alongside the toilet, heaving with painful intensity. Of course, he drank like a sailor and had hangovers as a vamp, but as a man, well, William hadn’t been much for the drink, and his constitution wasn’t exactly used to the abuse. He coughed and shivered from the effort, felt like death was stomping on him. He should have heard her come in, but he was so caught up in his body’s processes he didn’t notice.
Dawn blinked against the harsh light of the bathroom and shielded her eyes. She was dressed only in a long shirt that came to her thighs, her hair spilling down her back in bed-head disarray. Sometimes, in her less lucid moments, with her blue-streaked hair, she reminded him of Illyria.
He felt her cool hand on the back of his sweaty neck as she came around him and crouched on the tiled floor with him, rubbing his back as he puked into the toilet. Him, William the Bloody, with a teenage girl tending to him. He should have been the one to take care of her, to take care of Buffy, but circumstances weren’t what they could have been. It made him feel useless, weak, toothless, like a complete invalid. If he rolled together all the emotions he experienced when he was helpless from his paralysis after the church incident, and his feelings of utter impotence after the chip, they still could not rival the shameful weakness that he experienced now. She petted him gently, even when there was nothing left. After he was finished and lay slack against the rim of the seat, Dawn stood to wet a washcloth from the towel rack.
“You have to be more careful, Spike,” she muttered quietly and scrubbed his face, wiping at his mouth. He moaned and shut his eyes, the light too bright for his sensitive eyes.
“Come on. Buffy will flip a shit if she sees you like this.”
She pulled him up to a sitting position and helped him tug his shirt over his head. Threading an arm under his shoulders, she braced herself, and helped him stand to guide him to the living room couch where he ultimately collapsed in a heap.
“I’m just gonna…,” she looked down at his shirt with a frown, “rinse this out and throw it in the wash.”
The walls swam, and he had a hard time closing his eyes though he body was weak and cried out for the rest. She returned shortly after padding into the kitchen to retrieve a pitcher of water.
“You’re going to have to drink, Spike.”
His hands shook a little, but he was able to clasp the glass firmly. “Thanks, Niblet.”
They sat in silence, her knees drawn up under her in the armchair as he burrowed under the quilt she had laid out for him.
“It’s worse than the chip,” he muttered. “Least I knew what to avoid. But with this…I never know. Never know when it’ll happen. Could drive a bloke mad.”
Dawn looked at him, her voice forceful. “Don’t do this ever again, Spike. Please. I need you with me. I don’t know…if I could deal –“
“I promise,” she heard the muffled response from under the blankets. Spike’s eyes settled on hers and slowly closed as he lost consciousness.
Now staring intently at the door of the master bedroom and listening for signs of life, Dawn wiped her nose with the back of her hand. It came away with blood. Recalling his words, Dawn consoled herself. Spike never broke a promise, ever.