[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part one of two

Episode Eleven: Structural Damage

by cousinjean
Schism by Tool

Thanks to the usual suspects for the betas and the support. Much thanks also to James Marsters, just because, even though he'll never read this. I'm just in a grateful-to-James kind of mood right now. I also want to thank everybody who writes to provide constructive criticism and to tell us the stuff they don't care for. We might not always agree with it, but that kind of feedback keeps us honest.

*
Buffy slept on the couch. Spike didn't sleep at all. Instead he lay in bed and listened. He'd been listening since he'd first heard her leave, waiting for her to come back home, wondering if he should go after her and getting angry at himself for taking so long to decide. She was the only being on the planet with the power to paralyze him with indecision. He'd just sat up and reached for his jeans when he'd heard the front door open; then he had lain back down, pretended to sleep, and kept listening.
She never came upstairs. He could hear her down there, puttering around, cleaning up the mess they'd made. After those sounds died down -- after the soft creak of the sofa told him she'd decided to settle there for the night, instead of coming back to him; after her muffled sobs gave way to hiccups and then to the smooth, even cadence of sleep -- he got up, pulled on his jeans, grabbed the quilt from the foot of their bed, and went downstairs.
Spike found her curled in a ball on one end of the sofa. He draped the quilt over her, tucked her in nice and tight. Went to brush her hair out of her face, but even in her sleep she shied away from his touch. He pulled back and stood over her. His jaw clenched, but otherwise he made no movement. Again, he didn't know what to do.
Her reassurances that this wasn't about Rayne did little to comfort him. It might have nothing to do with what he'd done, but it had everything to do with what he was. By giving in to his own instinct he'd awoken hers, caused something deep within her to remember that he was her natural enemy. They could keep fighting that fact. But they could never change it.
The scent of blood coaxed him from his reverie. He looked down and saw it seeping through the bandage over his heart. Cursing under his breath, he went into the kitchen to re-dress his wound. He knew she hadn't meant to stake him. Just more of that instinct kicking in. He hadn't been able to win out over his, so why should he expect her to defeat hers?
How long until we both lose the battle and our instincts lead us to kill each other?
Spike shut his eyes against the thought, pushed it out of his mind; but it was quickly replaced by another, just as upsetting:
I should leave her.
His eyes flew open in alarm, but he didn't banish the thought immediately. Instead he allowed it to linger, let it float around his head as he re-bandaged his chest. Maybe he should. It'd hurt like hell, but it'd save them both a lot of pain in the long run.
Wouldn't it?
They were fools to think they could make this last. Hell, he was immortal, and she was already old by Slayer standards. Sooner or later it would have to end. That was the way of things. He could walk out the door right now and never look back. Live on instinct, go back to being what he was supposed to be, take himself and his inherent evil far away from her where she'd never have to be bothered by it again. Never have to decide if she should forgive him when he slipped up. Never have to fear that he'd slip up on her... never have to make sure that she didn't miss.
But another image tugged at his memory: two bodies, battered and bruised, clinging to each other for dear life, doing all that they could to meld into one in the midst of their shared grief. A tearful plea: Don't ever leave me. A solemn pledge: Never. I swear it. I will never leave you.
Spike leaned over the sink and sighed. He wouldn't leave her. He'd promised. Besides, he couldn't. He didn't have that kind of courage. He wasn't that sodding noble. The simple truth was that he couldn't live without her. Not yet.
Could he?
He considered this. For over a century he'd managed to keep going, without breath, without sun... things he'd once believed he could never go without. But Buffy?
He'd sooner go without blood.
So much for that, then. He put away the first aid kit and went back into the living room, where he settled into the comfy chair near the sofa. For a while he watched her sleep, repeating his vow again and again, to her and to himself.
Her hand slipped out from beneath the quilt -- the one he'd had made for her in Paris to commemorate their first year together. That year hadn't exactly been easy, but it had sure as hell been worth it. Whatever it was that she was going through, they would get through it, just like they'd gotten through everything else. They were fighters, the both of them; and they would fight for each other just as fiercely as they'd once fought against each other.
Spike reached out and took her hand, slowly, allowing her time to pull away. She didn't. Instead her fingers curled around his, grasping him tightly as if she'd heard his thoughts earlier and was now commanding him to stay. Comforted, he recited his promise once more, then leaned back and closed his eyes. The peaceful sound of her breathing was the last thing he registered before he drifted off to sleep.
***
Driving in his DeSoto, on the way home from... he didn't know from where, he could see the town spread out on the horizon. Beyond, a monstrous tornado loomed, huge and black and violent. He stepped on the gas, knowing he had to get the girls out of there; but the wind picked up and blew against him, keeping him from going forward. A tree branch smashed his windshield, missing him but raining glass all over him. He could only sit and watch as the storm ripped through Sunnydale, a trail of decimation left in its wake as it came for him. It picked up his car and his back window shattered. He didn't care. He knew it was all over for them. For him. As the winds shredded through him, he heard more glass breaking in the distance.
Spike opened his eyes. He jumped to his feet and, shaking off his sleep fog, took in the state of the living room. It looked like... well, like a tornado had hit. The curtains had been torn down and the windows shattered. Morning light poured in, missing him by a couple of feet. It would've reached him where he slept before much longer.
"Buffy?"
She wasn't on the couch. Neither was any glass, for that matter. Windows broke from inside, then. Swallowing hard, Spike skirted around the light and made for the stairs. The dining room windows had also been broken. He counted the chairs around the table. One missing. He suspected he'd find it on the front porch. The narrow windows on either side of the front door had also been taken out, a beam of direct light cutting off his path to the stairs. Spike stood blinking at it for a moment, trying to make sense of it all.
More glass breaking upstairs. Something in the house. Buffy must be fighting it. Could probably use his help, and ... "Dawn!" Gritting his teeth, Spike dove for the stairs, sucking in air as the sun scorched his bare back. He scrambled up the stairs three at a time, reached the top and rounded the corner just in time to see Buffy coming out of her old bedroom. She held a candlestick in one hand. Nice improvisation. Though maybe this would convince her to bring her weapons back home.
"Pet? What was it?"
She didn't seem to hear him at first. Then, turning her head slowly, her eyes narrowed.
"Vampire."
Confused, still not fully awake, Spike tilted his head and blinked at her. "How'd it get in?"
Without answering, she looked at the window at the end of the hall. Then she hurled her candlestick at it. It tore through the blinds, ripping them from their brackets and taking them with it as it smashed through the glass and fell to the yard below. Morning light spilled into the hallway behind her. Instinct sent Spike backing into the bedroom door. "Buffy, what're you --"
As he spoke she started toward him, then halted, both of them cut off by Dawn coming out of her bedroom. "Hey, I thought you guys promised to keep the sexcapades in your bedroom when I'm --"
"Dawn, get back in your room."
She ignored Spike, coming out in the hall to stand beside him. "What's going on?" she asked, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
"I don't --"
He stopped as Buffy's intense gaze shifted from him to Dawn. She sniffed the air. "What is it?" Her voice sounded low, guttural. Almost a growl.
Dawn dropped her hands and glared. "'It?' That's not funny, Buffy."
"Dawn," Spike warned, grabbing her wrist.
Buffy sniffed some more, eyeing her sister up and down. Then she scowled. "Not human."
"What? Buffy, why are you --"
She didn't get to finish. As Buffy charged at them, Spike opened his bedroom door and pulled Dawn inside with him. He slammed the door just as Buffy banged into it. Spike pushed his shoulder into the door to hold it shut against Buffy's attempts to tear it down.
"What is she doing?" cried Dawn.
"Don't know." He nodded at the door connecting their bedrooms. "That locked?"
"Yeah," she said, trying the knob. Then she limped over to the bureau and tried to push it over to him. Buffy's assault on the other door stopped. Spike locked it and went to help Dawn. Once both entrances were blocked, they stepped back to take a breath and figure out what the hell had just happened. Dawn looked like she wanted to ask another question, but jumped as the sound of more breaking glass came from her room. "Why is she doing this?"
Spike shook his head. "It's not her. Something got into her, maybe, or ..." He trailed off as he realized Buffy had gone silent. Then his eyes widened. "The bathroom." Spike flew across the room. The door slammed open before he could get to it. Buffy rushed at him, but he twisted out of the way and she crashed into her dressing table. Dawn screamed. In a flash Spike had crossed back to her and tore the bureau out of the way. He opened the door to the hall and shoved her through it. "Go. Get help."
"But what about --"
"Go!" He slammed the door shut and turned back to where Buffy lay sprawled in a heap of broken furniture, jewelry and makeup. "Buffy, Love... can you hear me?"
Climbing to her feet, she looked at him, her eyes revealing nothing but murder and determination. She leapt up on their bed and stood glaring down at him. "Vampire," she said again.
"Yeh. Believe we covered that already. But I'm a friendly vampire, Pet, so what's with the windows? Not really feeling up to a morning sunbath, though if you'd like to take the regular kind I'd be happy to..."
She wasn't listening. Instead she examined their bed. With a spin, she kicked one of the posts, splintering it in two. She grabbed the piece she'd broken off, crouched low, and sneered at Spike.
"Slay."
She lunged at him, makeshift stake poised to strike.
***
Giles reached for the snooze button on his alarm clock. And missed. He squinted groggily at the spot where his night stand should be and gradually realized that he wasn't in his own bed. And that the electronic ringing he heard was not an alarm clock, but a phone. And also that he wasn't alone. A warm body stirred beside him, smooth and naked and feminine.
Lydia rolled away from him and picked up the cell phone on her side of the bed. "It's not mine," she said, squinting at the screen. "Must be yours."
"Oh. Right. It's, ah, it's in my pants." Giles sat up and looked around the room. "Have you seen my pants?"
"Not recently."
The ringing stopped. "No matter," he said, "looks like I missed the call."
Lydia snaked her arms around him from behind. "They'll leave a voice message if it was important." Her lips trailed across his shoulder, up his neck to his ear. Giles thought perhaps he ought to go check in case it was important, but the combined feel of her breasts pressing into his back and her tongue swirling in his ear were serving to make the phone call seem much less urgent.
He twisted around, caught her by the waist and tugged her into his lap. For a moment they just sat there, grinning at each other like fools. "Good morning," he said at last.
"Indeed." She kissed him. He'd just begun to respond when she broke it off and moved south, her mouth taking its own sweet time getting to know his chest. Giles tilted his head back and closed his eyes, then snapped them open again when he heard more ringing. Her phone this time. With a groan of irritation, Lydia pulled away from him and reached for it.
Giles caught her and pulled her back. When she opened her mouth to protest, he sucked her bottom lip into his mouth. "They'll leave a voice message if it's important," he said. Lydia smiled, and he kissed her again. He leaned back into the pillows, bringing her with him, both of their phones forgotten.
***
The phone rang in the kitchen. Xander opened his eyes and squinted at the clock on the VCR. Eight thirty-seven. Nobody he knew would call this early. Probably a telemarketer. Or possibly Willow, calling to leave some lame excuse for not coming home last night without confessing that she'd gotten lucky. Xander grinned. Either way, let the machine get it. He didn't want to disturb his companion.
He looked down and considered his and Faith's fully-clothed forms. Falling asleep and then waking up with his Slayer in his arms definitely fell under the category of "lucky." The movie had already put her halfway to sleep by the time she'd snuggled up to him on the sofa. He'd have to remember how much war movies tended to bore her. Maybe he should've woken her, taken her home. But he'd been pretty sleepy himself; and besides, he felt pretty damned content to sit there and hold her.
God, she looked so innocent. Xander combed his fingers through her hair, then buried his face in it and breathed her in. He sighed. This wasn't anything to get excited about. Nothing out of the bounds of their Watcher/Slayer/really good friends on the side relationship-defining dynamic. Nothing to give away how he really felt about her, to freak her out or make her have to worry about letting him down gently. Just friends. Friends who are comfortable with a night of prolonged physical contact, so long as it's confined to the couch and there are plenty of clothes between them.
The phone stopped ringing, and the whir of the tape told him the machine had picked up. He'd turned the volume down so they could watch their movies in peace. Whatever it was, it could wait. Xander held Faith a little tighter, savoring the moment. It would be over way too soon as it was.
***
"Xander, Willow, we need help! She's -- oh God, she's trying to kill Spike! Where is everybody?!" Dawn slammed down the phone and wiped her eyes. She did her best to ignore the sounds of the struggle upstairs as she decided who to call next. All she'd gotten so far were answering machines and voicemail. Who hadn't she tried? Her dad? He wouldn't know what to do, and for all she knew Buffy might try to kill him too. Ditto the police. Oz? Crap, she didn't know his number. But his place was the closest. Maybe she could walk --
Before she could even finish the thought, she heard a door crash open. Buffy and Spike tumbled down the stairs, landing on the hardwood floor of the foyer with a bone-crunching thud. Leaning against the wall for support, Dawn made her way to the French doors to look. They both seemed to be out cold. Dawn blew out a sigh of relief, but sucked it back in as a sizzling noise and the smell of burnt hair told her that Spike lay in direct sunlight. Ignoring the pain shooting through her leg, she hurried to the couch, grabbed a quilt, and limped over to Spike.
She hesitated when she got to Buffy. Remembering every slasher movie she'd ever seen, she kept clear of her sister's hands and edged around her feet. When Buffy showed no signs of waking up, Dawn spread the quilt over Spike. turning back to check on her sister, Dawn screamed. Buffy stood facing her.
A hand shot out and grabbed her throat, cutting off her scream. Buffy slammed her against the front door and held her there. Dawn clawed at Buffy's hand and tried to kick her away, but Buffy held tight, unwavering, the only expression on her face a cold determination. Dawn couldn't breathe. Her vision began to blur at the edges, and her arms went limp. She closed her eyes. She didn't want to see her sister's face like that as she died.
Dawn heard a crash and opened her eyes. Spike stood holding a kitchen chair over his head. Buffy staggered, letting go of Dawn and turning to face him. He hit her again. That time the chair shattered, and Buffy went down. Dawn doubled over, coughing and trying to catch her breath.
Spike's arms slipped under hers and pulled her up. "Basement," he said, half-dragging and half-carrying her to the back of the house as he tried to hold the quilt around them both. When they got to the kitchen, beyond the reach of direct sunlight, he let it slip to the floor and left it behind.
On the basement stairs, Dawn leaned against the wall and rubbed her neck as Spike tied the door shut with a rope. "Why is she doing this?" she asked again.
Spike spared her a glance, then shook his head. "Wish I knew, Bit. I s'pect she looks at you, and all she sees is Key. Can't see you as her sister anymore'n she can see me as..." His jaw clenched as he swallowed. "Something other than vampire," he finished.
"But, why?"
"We'll have to find that out, won't we?" He looked around and sighed. "Speaking of the Key, can you open a portal? Get us out of here?"
Dawn tried. She closed her eyes and focused all of her energy. Nothing happened. She shook her head.
"'S okay. Don't fret about it. How's the leg?"
"Fine," she lied.
Spike nodded. "You're gonna have to go for help."
"I already called. Nobody's home."
"It's early. Probably all asleep. Try Oz, he's closest."
"What about you?"
As if in answer, the basement door started to open, straining against the rope. Spike grabbed the knob and pulled it shut. "I'll hold her off. You go."
"But Spike --"
"Now!"
Blinking back tears, Dawn turned and hurried down the stairs. Her leg was on fire, but the thought of what might happen if help didn't arrive in time spurred her on. She climbed up on the washing machine and pushed the window open, then pulled herself through it, for once grateful for her time in the chair and the upper body strength it supplied. She crawled through the bushes, got to her feet and, gritting her teeth, ran for Oz's as fast as she could.
***
Spike listened for a sign that Dawn had made it to safety. Not too easy to pick up over the rattle of the doorknob. Harder still to hear over all the pounding and kicking and inhuman snarling coming from the other side of the door. It wouldn't hold long. She'd already kicked a hole through it.
Then, silence.
"Buffy?"
Thud.
She threw herself against the door. It cracked. Spike backed down a couple of steps.
Thud.
The door splintered. He began a retreat to the basement, then thought better of it. He didn't want to have to fight his way past her. With a bare foot on the stair rail, he hoisted himself up and, bracing himself against each wall, shimmied above the door.
Crack!
The door disintegrated. Buffy flew through it with a scream, tumbled down the stairs, and landed on her feet. Spike grabbed the top of the door jamb and swung himself out of the basement. She charged up the stairs at him, a jagged piece of door in hand. He met her at the top with a heel to the face. She fell back, arms flailing wildly but finding no purchase. This time, when she landed at the bottom of the stairs, she stayed down.
Spike's knees gave out a little. He braced himself against the doorframe and stared down at her crumpled form, his mind racing. His first instinct was to go to her, make sure he hadn't hurt her too badly. Then he thought of the way she blindsided Dawn and made himself stay put. He forced his ragged breathing to stop so he could hear hers. Sounded shallow, but it was there. Strong heartbeat, too. Spike blew out a sigh of... well, certainly not of relief.
Steadying himself, he grabbed the baker's rack and pulled it in front of the basement door's remains. Then he went to the hutch, hauled it over, and shoved it up against the baker's rack. When he had a sufficient barricade in place, he slumped against it and slid to the floor.
His foot brushed against something. Buffy's quilt. How did that ...? Spike drew it to him and spread it out. Must've been what Bit had covered him up with before. A couple places had been charred. He traced his finger over the bad spots. The patch commemorating their first date was ruined.
A snippet of discussion from that night came back to him. Our time together has an expiration date. It got all mixed up with other memories.
Getting drunk on French wine while wrapped up in nothing but luxury hotel sheets and each other.
Happy anniversary, baby.
How can we think about a future together, when I'm going to grow old, and you won't?
Holding her as she slept. As she woke. As they danced. As they made love.
I'm drowning in you, Summers.
We're your family, you dope!
Being held by her.
I will never leave you.
Never leave.
Spike's eyes stung. Balling the quilt up, he clutched it to his chest, and buried his face in it.
***
Faith jerked awake with a gasp and sat staring wild-eyed at Xander. Startled, he held up his hands in surrender. "Morning?"
Blinking, she looked around at his apartment.
"I hope you don't mind," he said. "I mean, you fell asleep before the movie ended, then you looked so comfortable and I didn't want to --"
"Did I hear the phone?"
Now Xander blinked. "Well, yeah. About twenty minutes ago."
"Who was it?"
"I dunno. Probably a telemarketer. I let the machine get it." Faith got up and padded toward the kitchen. Xander followed. "Why? You expecting a call here?"
"Had a dream," she mumbled, rubbing her face.
"A phone dream?"
She stopped and looked at him, her face serious. Scared. "Slayer dream."
"You sure?"
Faith shrugged. "Pretty sure." She scanned the kitchen. "Where's the machine?"
"Over here." Xander went to the cubbyhole next to the microwave and dug the machine out from beneath a week-old stack of newspapers. "What, you dream about evil telemarketers? Or is that redundant?"
She shook her head. "Buffy."
"You dreamed Buffy's gonna be a telemarketer? Or is she gonna save the world from telemarketers, put an end to their particularly insidious brand of evil?"
Faith shot him a groggy yet dirty look. Obviously way too early in the morning for her to fully appreciate the levity. Caffeine, then stupid humor. Check.
"I saw ..." She sighed. "I don't know what I saw. But I got a really bad feeling."
"And those are never good. Okay, then. Playing the message." As he reached for the button, the front door opened. Willow came in, quietly, then turned and froze in place as she saw them looking at her.
"Hey, hi! You guys are up! You ... you're both ... oh! You're both here, in the early morning, looking all disheveled and ..." Her eyes caught Xander's and she gave him a "you sly dog, you" grin. Behind Faith's back, he frantically shook his head. Willow frowned, then she looked confused. "So, whatcha doing?"
"Checking messages," said Faith, oblivious to the exchange.
"Faith had a bad dream about Buffy. Possibly prophetic. We're seeing if she called."
"Huh," she said, digging her own phone out of her bag. "That's not ... oh, hey! I got a message from Buffy!"
As Willow punched in the numbers to check her voicemail, Xander pressed play on the machine.
"Hello? Is anybody there? Please, guys, it's Dawn ... Xander, Willow, we need help! She's -- oh God, she's trying to kill Spike! Where is everybody?!"
That was it, the whole message. The message he'd ignored for a few more minutes of snuggle time with his non-honey. "Oh, God," he said. "Dawnie."
"And Spike," said Faith. She looked at Xander, horrified.
"She said 'she' ... you don't suppose ..."
"It's Buffy," said Willow, holding up her phone. "She ... that was Dawn. Buffy attacked them both."
After one of the longest seconds of Xander's life, they all shook off the shock and stopped standing around staring at each other. "Let's go," said Faith, heading out the door. Willow followed right behind her. Xander grabbed his keys, then his shoes, then Faith's, and went after them.
***
Oz had a bad feeling. He couldn't put his finger on it but something had changed. He didn't know what. Or why. But it was not normal. He'd been aware of it for a few days, some unnamable thing tugging at the back of his senses; but Willow hadn't mentioned anything and if it was something magical, something evil, surely she'd have picked up on it. She was the one all tuned in to these things, not him. He didn't have any Spidey sense. Well, he had wolf sense, but that was different. That was the same five senses he'd always had, only heightened. He didn't have a sixth one. Except for the one that told him a full moon was coming. Or that another werewolf was near.
Okay, so maybe he had a little bit of a sixth sense. And it had woken him in the middle of the night telling him that something had changed. And whatever it was, it wasn't good. He wondered if it was just his imagination. Or maybe his talk with Spike last night had left him feeling more stressed than he'd thought.
He worried for the vampire. That was new.
He hadn't really dealt with Spike much before. He remembered Parent-Teacher night, and he knew Spike and his ex had been behind that Judge guy. Of course, Oz had taken it personally when Willow had been kidnapped, but the major harm done in that instance wasn't exactly Spike's doing. And then there was that whole thing in L.A. with Angel and the ring and the torture. It had all been enough to convince Oz that Spike was bad news. So when Oz had first heard that Spike was on their team and that he and Buffy were together, he'd been ... well, surprised wasn't really the word for it.
That he liked the guy had come as an even bigger shock. Maybe it shouldn't have. He had a lot in common with Spike. Music. Books. The Initiative. And that whole struggle to hold onto your humanity when you had this thing inside you that wanted to destroy you and everything you cared about. But even so, Oz definitely hadn't expected the vampire to become his friend. Much less a friend worth losing sleep over
But whatever was bothering him this morning was more palpable than simple worry or empathy. Oz had given up trying to get back to sleep and had tried to distract himself with guitar practice. To stop thinking about it for a while and focus on his technique instead. He'd call Willow later and see if she'd sensed anything.
After taking a break to put on a pot of coffee (no more Starbucks for him), he went to his printer and picked up a sheet of tabs Devon had e-mailed him for a song they were working on. He slipped his guitar back on, turned up the amp, and began to play.
Three chords in, he stopped and listened. He could've sworn he heard something.
"Huh."
He shrugged and went back to playing, but got as far as two more chords when he heard it again. Oz stopped playing and sniffed the air. Someone was out there. He shut off his amp, laid the guitar on the bed and started for the door. Halfway there he heard somebody pounding on it. Along with a frantic shriek of his name that stood his hair on end. "Dawn?" He ran to the door and pulled it open.
She practically fell inside. As he caught her, she clutched his tee-shirt in her fists, trying and failing to get something intelligible out between sobs. Oz helped her to a chair and sat her down. He grabbed hold of her shoulders. "Dawn, calm down. What happened?"
"Buffy ... Spike's trapped ... she's gonna kill him!"
"Wait, who is?"
"Buffy!"
"Okay." Oz let her go and straightened up. "Dawn, did Spike do something ..."
She shook her head so hard he heard her neck pop. "No! She's crazy, Oz! She tried to kill me!"
That was all he needed to hear. Oz went to a trunk and took out a tranquilizer gun. Then he grabbed his sneakers.
"You're not gonna shoot her!" Dawn eyed the gun. She sat doubled over in the chair, clearly spent, her face contorted in pain as she rubbed her leg.
"It's only a tranq," he said, putting on his shoes. "Look, call your dad, have him come get you. I don't know how long this'll take."
Dawn wiped her nose and nodded. "Oz?" she called as he started out the door. "Be careful. She'll probably turn on you, too."
"That's fair." After all, how many times had Buffy taken him down after he lost control and turned on them all? "Dawn, it'll be okay." She nodded unconvincingly as he left, locking the door behind him.
***
Spike hadn't yet moved when the front door opened and sneakered feet stole in. He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there, clutching Buffy's quilt like a child with a security blanket. He was vaguely aware of the sun's rays creeping up on either side of him, but they couldn't reach him where he sat.
A shadow blocked the light, then the feet entered his line of vision. Spike lifted his eyes until they rested on a tranquilizer gun. "Will that hurt her?"
"No, man. Human-sized dosage. Just knock her out for a while."
With a swallow, Spike nodded. He took Oz's outstretched hand and let the boy pull him to his feet. Together, they pushed the hutch out of the way. Spike bundled up the quilt and laid it on the hutch, then turned to the baker's rack as Oz readied his gun. They made eye contact, and when Oz nodded, Spike hauled the baker's rack out of the way.
Oz didn't move. Finally, he lowered the gun. "You sure she's down there?"
Spike stood next to him and looked down at the spot where she had fallen, now empty. He took the gun from Oz and started down. "Stay close." He padded down the steps as silently as he could, but as he reached the bottom his eyes only confirmed what his senses already told him.
As Spike stared up at the open window, Oz lifted the gun out of his hands. The front door slammed open above them and several more pairs of feet rushed in, their owners calling Dawn's name. Xander, and Willow. Faith too.
"Basement!" Oz called up to them.
A single pair of feet bounded down the stairs. "We got a call," said Xander. "What happened? Where's Dawn?"
"She's okay. She's at my place."
Xander sighed. "Thank God." Then, "What about Buffy? Spike, what happened here?" Spike tore his eyes away from the window and turned around. When his eyes met Xander's, the other man's gaze went from accusatory to sympathetic. "You okay?"
"She's gone," said Spike, in a tone that said he was anything but okay.
***
It had taken twenty minutes to get Dawn calm enough to offer any kind of coherent explanation, and by then she was just a sniffly, monosyllabic mass of depressed teenager. Only after they'd gotten to Hank's place and she'd been safely tucked in on the sofa -- leg up with a heating pad, box of Oreos in hand, universal remote within easy reach -- had she been able to talk about it. Even then, Hank didn't understand. Buffy wouldn't deliberately hurt her sister. More likely Spike had finally slipped up and Buffy did what she had to do. Dawnie just got caught in the crossfire.

Hank's knuckles whitened as he gripped the steering wheel. Spike. This had to be that vampire's fault. Any good will that had formed between them after Dawn's accident shriveled up as scenes of domestic violence played out in Hank's mind. He'd gotten too complacent about that freak living with his girls, and now it was biting them all on their collective ass.

He pulled up in front of the house, and his mouth fell open. Glass all over the yard glittered in the late morning sun. It looked like every window in the house had been blown out. The remains of a kitchen chair lay in a heap of kindling on the front lawn. Hank got out and looked around, wondering what the neighbors were thinking. He couldn't believe nobody had called the police.

Inside was just as bad. Another broken chair, more glass, signs of a struggle. Buffy's friends were there, the Harris kid on the phone and Willow in the dining room, bent over an array of candles and herbs and stuff. Looked like she was praying. Hank didn't want to interrupt her. He saw no sign of Buffy. Maybe she was upstairs. He started up, but stopped short when he saw Spike. The vampire sat near the top of the staircase, hidden in the shadows, holding his head in his hands. A smoldering cigarette rested between two fingers. Hank gripped the stair rail, hard. For some reason the sight of that son of a bitch smoking in his daughters' house pissed him off more than anything else.

Spike looked up. "Where's Dawn?"

"She's safe. No thanks to you."

Spike stared at him for a moment, then barked out a laugh and shook his head. He took a hit off his cigarette and looked hard at Hank as he blew it out. "Let's get something straight right now. Bit would be dead if not for me."

"Buffy wouldn't hurt Dawn. Not on purpose. What did you do to her?"

In an instant, Spike was on his feet, towering over Hank, his eyes flashing gold fire. Hank backed down a couple of steps. Spike closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, an angry tendon popping out on the side of his jaw. When he looked at Hank, his eyes were blue again. "You're right," he said, his voice calm and controlled. "Buffy wouldn't hurt Dawn. Whatever that was I fought off of her, it wasn't Buffy."

Before Hank could argue, the front door opened and Giles rushed in, followed by that blonde whose name Hank couldn't remember.

"We're here!" Giles called. "Where's Dawn? What's happened?"

"Dawn's at my place," said Hank. "As for what happened, that's what I'm trying to find out." They all looked up at Spike.

He sighed. "Woke up to Buffy smashing out all the windows, turning the house into a bloody vamp trap. Then she turned on me and Dawn. Knocked me into the sun and tried to strangle the Nibblet. I held her off long enough for Dawnie to get away and go for help."

Giles removed his glasses. "Where is Buffy now?"

"That's what I want to know," said Hank.

Spike winced. "I had her shut up in the basement, but she climbed out a window. Oz and Faith are out looking for her. Will's doing a locator spell."

"Was," Willow said, coming in from the dining room. She shook her head. "No go. She won't stay in one spot long enough, and something else is interfering."

A spell? Hank opened his mouth to ask what that meant, but Xander hung up the phone and cut him off.

"I just talked to a buddy from my old construction crew. He's got some spare plywood he can give us. He'll have it here in about an hour, then we can get these windows patched up."

"Thanks," Spike mumbled.

"That's lovely," said the blonde, "but back to the issue at hand. Spike, is there anything more you can tell us about Buffy's behavior? Anything you can think of that might have triggered it?"

Spike and Giles exchanged a look that Hank didn't like one bit. Then Spike shook his head. "She ... yesterday she stabbed me with a stake. On accident while we were sparring. She was right freaked out about it, so much so that she came home and got all her weapons out of the house. Took 'em to the shop."

"Yeah, she showed up at my place after," said Xander. "Freaked out is an understatement."

"She said she's been feeling weird the last few days," said Willow. "Like… not always in control of herself. She said she's been feeling sorta extra-Slayery."

Spike nodded. "Got a taste of that last night."

"How so?" asked Hank.

Spike gave him a pointed look. "Privately so." Hank wished he hadn't asked.

"Yes, but what about this morning?" asked Giles, thoroughly cleaning his glasses.

"Like I said. Woke up to the Slayer wanting to make me a slayee. Don't know why. She barely said two words as she was coming after us, and those were mostly 'slay, slay.' She was almost ..." Spike pursed his lips, and shook his head.

"Feral?" asked the woman.

Spike nodded. "Yeh. Something like that. Wasn't herself, wasn't all there. Hell, Buffy wasn't in there at all."

The woman took off her glasses and turned a shade paler.

"What is it, Lydia?" asked Giles. Hank silently thanked him for providing a name.

"It's, um..." She shook her head. "I'm really not certain. This seems familiar somehow, but I'll have to do some research."

Hank shook his head. "I still don't get why she would attack Dawn."

"Because Dawn's not human," Spike said, and Hank felt something twist in his gut. "Not entirely. Not really. And by the way, why is she alone?"

"She's fine," said Hank. "She's locked up tight in my condo. I came to get some of her things, but shouldn't we go look for Buffy?"

"Yes," said Giles, "I'm sure Faith and Oz could use the help. We'll go by the shop first, get my tranquilizer gun."

"You want to use a dart gun on my daughter?"

"Believe me," said Spike, "you'll need it."

"I'll go with you," Lydia said. "The records I need are at the shop."

"I'll stay here and work on making the house vamp-friendly again," said Xander, pointing at the flood of sunlight behind him.

"'Preciate that, mate."

"I'll stay too," said Willow. "I'll keep trying with the locator spell. And if Buffy comes back, maybe I can use magic to subdue her, or something."

"Magic?" Hank asked.

"Red's a witch," said Spike, with the weary patience of one speaking to a small child.

"A witch." Hank suddenly felt his understanding on par with a small child's. "A witch? Like, Samantha? Or Jeannie?"

Spike rolled his eyes, but Willow nodded politely. "More or less. Except, Jeannie wasn't a witch, she was a genie, hence her name. Or a djinn, as is more accurate, but I mean, she was hardly an accurate portrayal…" As Hank felt his eyes glaze over, Willow smiled. "Anyway. Didn't Buffy mention?"

"No."

Her smile faded. "Oh. Well, hey, now you know."

"Right then," said Giles. "We've got a plan, I suggest we get going." He and Lydia headed out the door.

Hank shot Spike one more look of loathing for good measure, then followed them.

***

Trading Spaces wasn't doing much to take Dawn's mind off of the whole almost being murdered by her sister deal, so she switched to MTV. Road Rules marathon. Eck. She tried Cartoon Network next. Tom & Jerry. That would do. Dawn tossed aside the remote and dug out another Oreo.

Before he left, her dad had forced enough Advil down her that at least her leg pain had faded to a dull ache. It pretty well matched the one in her chest. Sighing, she looked over at the phone on the desk. She should've asked her dad to leave it within reach. She wanted to talk to Spike, but she didn't want to get up. She weighed her need to know versus certain pain… then jumped when the phone rang. But weighing and jumping didn't lead to moving soon enough, and the machine clicked on.

"Dawnie, it's Dad. Don't get up, Honey. I just want to let you know that I'm going to help look for your sister. You take it easy. Call me if you need anything."

"What about Spike?" Dawn hollered at the machine, as if her dad could hear. The machine clicked off, and she rolled her eyes. She shoved the remote and snacks away, heaved herself off the sofa with a wince, and hobbled across the room. Halfway there, the tinkling of broken glass made her jump. She spun to see Tom hurling dishes at Jerry. Shaking her head at her own jumpiness, she finished the journey to the phone.

***

Clean kill. The demon lay face down, neck broken, extra-large Icee still clutched in his hand… er, webbed, flippery appendage. Michael Bolton singing Disney classics blared from the headphones attached to the Discman lying nearby. Oz shuddered.

"Poor bastard didn't even see it coming," said Faith, crouched next to the body. "At least the one back there got to put up a fight."

"Where'd these guys come from?" asked Oz. "I thought Sunnydale was demon-free these days."

Faith stood up and shrugged. "Guess they were lying low. Which probably means they weren't doing any harm. Lot of good it did them." She looked at Oz. "Got her yet?"

He sniffed the air and shook his head. "Too windy."

"Great." She nudged the demon's foot with her toe. "Nice of her to leave us a trail."

***

Dawn clicked off the phone, and for a long moment she just sat there. As she'd talked to Spike, it had hit her again, what happened that morning, and she felt sick. This definitely counted as one of the worst days of her life. And in the bad day department, she'd had some doozies.

It wasn't that someone had tried to kill her. Hello, been there. Bought the tee-shirt, sold it on eBay, found it again at a thrift shop, turned it into a dust rag. It wasn't even that it had been Buffy. Scary, yeah, but she didn't really feel betrayed. Obviously Buffy wasn't in control of herself. Maybe she wasn't even in there, and that was what made Dawn want to toss her Oreos. What if they couldn't get her back? She couldn't deal with that. Not losing her family.

Not again.

At least Spike was safe. That was something. He'd wanted to send Xander over to pick her up, but she'd convinced him she was okay at her dad's. She'd wanted to say yes. She didn't want to be alone. But the sound of his voice… she imagined that same dullness on his face, in his eyes, and she couldn't handle that. Not right now. She felt like a little shit for it, because she knew he needed her, but she just couldn't take his sadness on top of her own. Couldn't take that despair, coming from him.

Because if Spike thought it was hopeless, then it really was hopeless.

That did it. Dawn jumped up from the desk and stumbled to the bathroom just in time to spill her guts into the toilet.

***

It was a magic shop. He'd known that. Figured it from the name on the sign. But Hank had expected that to mean trick hats and wands with silk flowers inside and the like. Not this. Crystal balls, and eye of newt, and fortune teller cards. Crosses hung on a charm display alongside pentacles and other shapes Hank didn't recognize. "You don't really believe in this stuff, do you?"

Giles looked up from loading the tranquilizer gun and stared at Hank like he'd lost his head. "Your daughters are both gifted with supernatural abilities, and what's more, they live with a vampire. You're not seriously questioning the existence of magic?"

"Supernatural's one thing. I can accept that things exist, and things happen that we don't have any explanation for. But casting spells and fortune telling? This devil worship stuff you got here?" At that Giles snorted. That just pissed Hank off even more. "What I'm questioning is what kind of influence you people have had on my daughters. What did you do to Buffy?"

Giles took off his glasses and laid them on the counter. Then he stormed across the shop toward Hank. When he didn't stop at a respectful distance, Hank backed up against a bookshelf. Giles used the gun to pin him there.

"Listen to me, you ignorant pillock. You have hardly been part of Buffy's life for the last six years. I, on the other hand, have been here. Guiding her, teaching her, fighting beside her. Caring for her. You have no bloody idea what that girl has been through. I equipped her to survive. And until you learn to pull your head out of your ruddy ass and pay attention, I suggest that you shut it!"

"Rupert!" Lydia appeared out of the back room, carrying a stack of old books. She dumped them and ran over to pull Giles off Hank. "What are you doing?"

Giles jerked his arm out of her hands and went to retrieve his glasses, while Hank absorbed what had just happened. Fists clenched, he took a few hurried steps toward Giles, but stopped himself. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

"I'm her W--" Giles stopped, and sighed. Lydia folded her arms and stared at a spot on the floor. Finally, Giles took a deep breath and looked at Hank. "I'm her friend."

"Yeah, well, I'm her father."

"Then act like it!"

Hank threw his hands in the air. "What the hell does it look like I’m doing?"

"Getting in the way," said Giles, turning his attention back to the gun.

Hank gritted his teeth. Man, did he want to punch that guy. Probably not a good idea, seeing as how he was surrounded by all sorts of weapons. Hank pointed at the gun. "What are you planning to do to Buffy after you shoot her?"

"We'll restrain her," said Lydia, "and try to figure out what's causing her to behave this way. I assure you, we won't harm her."

Hank stared at the darts that Giles was loading into the gun. "She used to be so afraid of needles. When she was little it took Joyce and I both to hold her still enough to get a shot."

Giles softened a little. "Really, there's nothing you can do. You should go home to Dawn. She shouldn't be alone right now."

"No. No, Buffy needs me. She has to… I just want to be there for her this time." Hank slumped against the counter next to Giles. "I can't sit around waiting for word on her. At least I know that Dawn is home safe."

***

Dawn rested her head against the cool porcelain. Every time she tried to get up, her vision went all blurry at the edges and she felt sick again. So she huddled on the bathroom floor and willed the nausea to go away. Finally, she managed to pull herself up to the sink and rinse her mouth. Feeling slightly more steady, she splashed water on her face, then stood there and watched it drip for a moment before grabbing a towel.

"Coward," she accused her reflection. That was almost enough to make her heave again, but she got it under control. Now she really did just want to go home. She looked around for the phone, sure that she'd brought it with her. There it was, on the floor next to the toilet. Slowly, she bent to retrieve it, and dialed as she straightened back up.

One ring. Two. Then the lights went out, and so did the phone.

***

"Well," Xander stood back to survey his handiwork, "at least now the living room is a no fry zone. I'm gonna have to get a hold of some more plywood before I can patch up the rest of the house, though. In the meantime we'll just have to go with the old fallback of garbage bags and tape."

"Don't bother on my account," Spike said from his perch on the stairs. "Soon as the sun's down, think I'll be heading out."

"To look for Buffy?" Willow returned from the basement with Buffy's quilt folded in her arms. Despite her stain removing skills, Xander still saw burn marks on it. Maybe if she tried magic. "Do you think that's a good idea?" asked Willow.

Xander laid his tool belt on the couch and went over to join them. "I'm sure the others'll find her by then."

Spike wouldn't look at either of them. He just sat there and smoked, like he'd been doing all afternoon. Like those damn cigarettes were the only tie to his sanity. Xander figured, at this point, they were. That was why he didn't rag Spike about smoking in the house. That, and it wasn't Xander's house. Finally, Spike took the cancer-for-anybody-else-stick out of his mouth long enough to say, "Think I'd best not be here when she gets back."

"Spike," said Willow, "they'll have her subdued somehow. Nobody's gonna let her attack you again."

"Not me I'm worried about." Willow looked at Xander, and he looked back, and Spike saw them both. "Nothing you haven't already thought of, I'm sure."

"Spike…"

"She's probably fine, now she's away from me. Herself again, I mean. If I'm here when she comes home, I'll probably just set her off again."

Xander shook his head. "No. That's not…" Spike looked at him then, and raised an eyebrow. Xander sighed. "All right, yes, it occurred to me that you -- you're vamp-ness -- might be making her Slayer sense extra tingly. In the bad way. But that was just a theory."

Spike stared at the filter of his cigarette for a long moment. Then, "You got any other theories you want to try on, Harris, I'm all ears."

But Xander had nothing.

Spike nodded, agreeing with the silence. "So it's best if I make myself scarce."

"What? No!" Willow moved around the stair rail to stand in front of Spike. "That doesn't make any sense. You've been together -- together together -- for over a year, and you've been part of each other's lives way longer than that. So why now? What, her Slaydar just suddenly wakes up and remembers you're a vampire and, and kicks into overdrive?"

"That's about the size of it, Pet."

"No, Willow's right. It doesn't make sense. Why doesn't Faith have any problems with you if it's that simple?"

Spike let out a long sigh. Xander thought he could hear every minute of Spike's century-plus long existence in it. "Maybe 'cause Faith doesn't know what I--"

Xander and Willow exchanged another glance. "What you what?" asked Xander. "Spike, is there anything you can think of that might've triggered this?"

"Like what, he left his underwear on the floor one too many times?" Willow scoffed. "I don't think there's anything short of him killing again that'd--" Her face fell. "Oh. Oh, no."

"Spike?" Xander watched him, waiting.

Spike stubbed out his cigarette on the palm of his hand, making Willow jump and Xander wince. He barely seemed to register it. "That's right, kiddies," he said, standing up. "The wagon hit a pothole named Rayne, and yours truly tumbled right off." He came down the stairs and pushed past both of them into the living room.

Willow and Xander just stood there, trying to wrap their brains around what he'd just said. Willow carefully smoothed out the quilt, and hung it over the banister. Xander couldn't tell what she was thinking. He wasn't sure what he was thinking. Or feeling. Betrayal. Disappointment. Understanding. Relief. It occurred to him that one thing he didn't feel was fear. He turned back to the living room. "Ethan was a creep. Creepier than you ever were. But, Spike, he was human. He--"

"Oh, save it!" Spike whirled around and threw his cigarette past Xander's head. "He was human. Killing him was wrong. I know that! I don't need a sodding lecture!"

Xander held up his hands. "I'm not lecturing. I'm just… I'm… okay, lecturing. Because I don't know what else to do. You killed a man."

"I killed a miserable excuse for a human being while he was in the middle of killing this whole town! He almost killed Dawn. Giles. You."

"I know that. But we don't get to make those decisions."

"Not according to Rupert."

"What?"

Spike sighed. "Nothing. But I think you've got a lot of learning to do yet about what it means to be a Watcher."

"Okay. I can't really argue with that. But, Spike--"

Willow laid a hand on Xander's arm. "Not the point right now, Xander."

"No. Right." He watched Spike pace the living room, running a hand through his hair. "So. The going theory is that when you… killed Ethan, that jump-started whatever it was Buffy had to suppress to be with you."

Spike stopped pacing, frozen to the spot. His hand fell out of his hair and just hung there, and he looked so stricken, so guilty, so completely and utterly lost that Xander had nothing left to feel for him but pity.

"I don't think so." Willow stood beside Xander, arms folded, scrutinizing Spike. She shook her head. "I just don't think it's that simple."

"But what else--"

"Nothing's that simple, Xander." She gave him a meaningful look. Then she unfolded her arms and crossed over to Spike. "Maybe she's not okay with you killing Ethan. Maybe even if she is, something deep down isn't letting her be. But that doesn't explain why she went all 'beer, bad' on you this morning. Or why she attacked Dawn."

"You think something else is at work?"

Willow nodded. "I felt something last night. I don't know how to explain it … I didn't think anything of it. I pick up all kinds of weird vibes and disturbances. Y'know, Hellmouthy stuff."

"So, what?" Spike looked too weary to really be hopeful. "You think it could be some sort of spell?"

"Maybe. All I know for sure is, she was really upset last night about hurting you. And she felt like something was wrong with her."

Spike nodded. "Yeh, she's been saying that for a couple days now. I just figured…"

"That it was you."

Spike shrugged.

Xander moved into the living room. "Will, is there any way you can tell for sure? If it's a spell, I mean."

Willow's brow furrowed as she puzzled it out. Then a light bulb went off. "There is. I'm gonna need supplies." She pointed at Spike. "You stay here."

"Sundown's not for a while yet."

"If I'm not back, you stay. Xander, don't let him leave."

"Not planning to."

Willow nodded, but he could tell her mind was already at the Magic Box, taking inventory. Then she was out the door, and Xander and Spike were alone with each other.

Spike sniffed. "Sorry, Mate. Buffy got rid of all her weapons last night. You want to stake me, you'll have to get creative."

"What? I don't-- I'm not--"

Spike waved him off and went to flop on the couch. He lit another cigarette. Xander could see the hope daring to surface. He watched Spike for a moment longer, then decided to leave him be. He had windows needed covering. He knew how to fix windows.
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