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Could Be You ~ Chapter 13

Author: Abby
Title: Could Be You
Chapter: 13
Previous Chapters Here
Setting: Season 5
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Sexual Situations, language, bloodplay
Summary:  You know you wanna dance.  Spike knew it, the fans knew it, and this time, Buffy knew it, too.  Begins in the alley scene outside the Bronze during Fool for Love and moves swiftly off-canon.
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em.  I’m just borrowing them for a while.  Not for profit and no copyright infringement intended.
Beta: dampersnspoons 
Banner:
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Could Be You
Chapter 13

*~*

An engine roared to life outside.  The sudden noise pulled Buffy up from her bed and toward the window just in time to see a black SUV speeding off down the street, headlights dark.  She blinked her bleary eyes, shook off the shiver dancing across her shoulders, and scanned the street.  No other vehicles lingered there, at least as far as the streetlights reached.  She knew from experience, however, that Mrs. Henderson’s rhododendrons made great hiding places, and she’d long ago stopped trusting the moral integrity of anyone in a black ops uniform. 

That SUV could’ve been the last of the commandos watching her house, or just the first of them to abandon post, but that mattered less to her than why they were there in the first place.

Riley would claim they were waiting to see if the smelly little demon was expecting company, but right about now, anything Riley might say held about as much weight as a feather.  No, Buffy rather doubted they were just waiting on the demon.

Which begged the question of why. 

They weren’t Initiative, at least if she were to believe what Riley said about it being disbanded, so slayer study probably wasn’t in their mission statement.  They did appear to be in the business of demon hunting, and probably knew Spike was a vampire.  If Riley suggested they should wait around and watch the house in case Spike returned, they would be waiting a long time. 

Buffy rubbed away a stream of fresh tears and stared out at the place she last saw him, staring up at her from under the tree.  No, Spike wouldn’t be back tonight, she’d made sure of that.  None of them knew about his crypt, either, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

A prickling sensation rose up the back of Buffy’s neck and raked over her scalp, and she backed away from the window, not quite able to catch her breath.  The commandos didn’t know where Spike lived, but Riley did.  Riley, who hated Spike at the best of times and now had a pretty damn good reason to act on it.  Spike might be resourceful, but that chip made him vulnerable and Buffy didn’t know if he had it in him to run and hide, either.    

She dragged her palms down her face and sank down on her bed.  Two hours ago, she’d have sworn to anyone who would listen that Riley wouldn’t attack a defenceless Spike no matter how much he hated him.  Two hours ago she wouldn’t have dreamed of him ever whoring himself out to vampires, either, and her blind support of Riley’s honour tasted rotten on her tongue.  Buffy knew what Riley was capable of, now more than ever.  

All the words she didn’t say in the foyer stuck in her chest, hot and spiny.  If she’d only said something, maybe Spike would have a hope in hell of seeing this coming.  But he wouldn’t, and slayer powers didn’t do her an ounce of good with her dying mother and little sister sleeping down the hall. 

She couldn’t leave them, not tonight.

There was no choice.

Except, maybe there was.

Her gaze drifted to the telephone on the table by the bed. It was a stupid idea.  Ludicrous, really, but also her only option.  Buffy lifted the receiver from its cradle and dialled the Magic Box before she had time to stop herself.

 “Riley, that better be you,” said Xander after picking up on the third ring.

Buffy couldn’t answer immediately, the sudden pounding of her heart making her words catch in her throat.  She took a breath, willing her body to get control of itself, and said, “Xander, it’s me.”

“Buffy, hi,” Xander said, his voice losing its edge of annoyance.  “Guys, it’s Buffy!  Hey, I know you’re on Mom duty right now, but you haven’t seen Riley, have you?”

Buffy swallowed hard.  “Um—”

“Because we may have a problem,” Xander said.  Buffy heard the voices of the rest of the group speaking softly in the background.

“Let me guess,” she said, glancing in the direction of her mother’s room.  “It’s a smelly, screeching, tries to drown people in gunk while hanging from the ceiling kind of problem?”

A weighted silence followed.  “Does that mean it’s not a problem anymore?”

“Not unless it brought friends.”

“No, this was a one-demon-band sorta deal,” Xander said.  “We figured out what it is, but then Riley up and vanished and we didn’t want to bother you.  But, um, Tara just wondered if—”

“If it might go after my mother?”

Buffy could almost hear Xander cringing through the phone.  “If we’d thought of it sooner...”

“It’s okay, Xand,” she said.  The demon was dead and Joyce was as fine as she could hope to be right now.  

Spike, on the other hand wasn’t, and he probably didn’t even know it.  Her breath hitched, ringing loudly in the silence of her room.

“Buffy?”

She tried and failed to hide the shakiness as she exhaled.  “It’s been a rough night,” she whispered, clutching the receiver as though it might slip from her fingers and ruin her only chance to help Spike.

“Can I do anything?”

Oh, sweet Xander.  The sincerity in his voice sent a trickle of warmth through her chest that thawed out little of the cold.  She could do this.  She could ask him.  He was the least obvious to ask and the most likely to disapprove, but of all her friends, only Xander had a hope in hell of succeeding.

He listened quietly as she explained the situation, her details scant at best and full of holes she wasn’t ready to fill.

“You want me to check on Spike?” Xander said, speaking each word carefully as though she was speaking in a foreign language.

Buffy squeezed her eyes shut against welling tears.  “Please, Xander.”

“You’re serious about this,” Xander said, after half a minute of silence. “You really think Riley might...?”

“I don’t know,” she said, whispering because anything more would betray too much, more than she had already.  “He was so angry.

A soft sigh, and more silence.  Buffy imagined Xander’s face, pictured him staring straight ahead, blinking as he replayed the conversation in his head, searching for some strand of logic to explain Buffy’s sudden concern for Spike.  She bit her lip and willed him not to voice the questions gathering in his mind.

“I’ll go,” Xander said at last. “And for the record, I’m ignoring the weirdness factor—for now—because it’s been a rough night.”

Buffy released her lip from between her teeth, half the tension melting from her shoulders. “Thank you, Xander.  Just—just don’t say anything, okay?”

A soft clicking sound came through the receiver, the sort of noise a person made when they disapproved but had the brains not to say so. “To who? Riley, or Spike?”

“I don’t care what you say to Riley,” Buffy said, before she could stop herself, but she didn’t have the energy to regret it.

“I’m getting shades of the Twilight Zone here, Buff,” Xander said, and Buffy imagined him holding up his hand to stop her from speaking.  “I know, I know, ignoring.  But Buffy—”

She hated how her breath shook, and hated even more that Xander could hear it.  “I know.  Thank you.”

When they hung up the phone, Buffy fell back onto the bed, her heat thumping now with what felt a little bit like relief.  Involving Xander was only going to cause more headaches later, but if he could stop Riley—

“Don’t say if,” she said to her ceiling. 

If would only drive her crazy.  Or crazier, because she was pretty close to certifiable already.  There was a reason the proverbial Slayer’s handbook didn’t cover heartache and certainly not heartache involving vampires.  Buffy didn’t think there was enough room left in her pounding head for any more drama.

She tried to look at the clock, but her eyes, sore and heavy, only blurred the glaring red numbers.  It didn’t matter what time it was.  She wouldn’t be sleeping tonight anyway.  Buffy pulled off her clothes, smelly demon guts and all, and dumped them in a pile next to the bed.  Pajamas she hadn’t worn in days tempted her with promises of flannelly comfort, but instead she pulled on a fresh pair of jeans and a t-shirt and headed down the hall to check on her family.

Dawn was tucked into bed with Joyce, Joyce’s head pillowed on Dawn’s shoulder, both of them asleep.  So peaceful, their breathing deep and even and unconcerned, nobody would know they’d just been attacked by the weirdest demon Buffy had ever seen.   Thank God for small miracles. 

Buffy shut the door on the sleeping pair and went downstairs.  She left the back door open in case either of them so much as mumbled in their sleep, and slipped out into the night.  The stars, brighter tonight under the waning moon, shone down on her like twinkling companions and she tipped her face up toward them as she sat on the steps.  Buffy breathed an involuntary sigh, thankful for the clear night.  Alone with the stars was an achingly familiar state, but a comforting one when the rest of the universe seemed out to get her.

Her gaze drifted to the back of the yard, and though she knew he wouldn’t be there, Buffy felt a sharp pang in her chest when the half-expected cigarette failed to flare into smoky existence.  He wouldn’t be back, even if Xander—when Xander—took care of the Riley situation.  Spike might be a fool for love, but even he had some pride left in that bleached head of his, pride she ripped to shreds tonight.  She’d only wanted to protect him, the way that she protected everyone she cared about, but ended up breaking his heart instead.  The look in his eyes when he left said it as clearly as a knife to the gut.

She shouldn’t care about Spike or the feelings he wasn’t supposed to have.  She should be a good girl and forget her sins with the vampire and instead pine over the loss of her human boyfriend, no matter that Riley’s actions had as much to do with that as hers.  She should, but she couldn’t, and the throbbing ache spreading through her chest with every beat of her heart proved it.

*~*

When the sky began to lighten, Buffy rose stiffly from the steps and wandered back inside, shivering from the cool morning air only when the warmth of the house touched her bare arms.  Dawn and Joyce hadn’t made a sound the rest of the long night, and neither had the telephone lying silently on the counter.  Buffy hadn’t asked Xander to call, not wanting to make him even more suspicious than he already was, but maybe she should have.  Not knowing made her imagination run wild and she couldn’t keep the worst ideas from wriggling their way into the growing knot of worry in her gut. 

If Xander hadn’t gotten there in time, maybe she didn’t want to know, except that would mean he’d have to tell her in person and there’d be no way she could keep her feelings hidden.  She wasn’t sure she could hide her feelings anymore either way, but if Xander couldn’t stop Riley, what she felt wouldn’t matter.  Something inside her whispered she would know it if Spike was gone.  Their connection wasn’t just a fantasy, even though she hadn’t felt it for long.  Neither were the growing feelings she held for him.  Her whole body was a jittery bundle of worry and nerves, but the threads binding her and Spike together wound ever tighter around her, humming and pulsing soul-deep.

She didn’t love Spike, but she could, so easily her eyes pricked with tears when she let her thoughts linger too long on it.  This knowledge snuck up on her when she wasn’t looking, sometime between the first of many shooting stars and the initial hints of impending dawn, and she couldn’t un-know it.  She couldn’t do anything about it, either.  Not anymore.

The commandos left muddy boot prints in the foyer and through the kitchen all the way down to the back hall.  With her thoughts still a dizzying whirl in her brain, Buffy tackled the now-dried and crumbling piles of dirt, sweeping them up and mopping the floors until they gleamed.  The demon stain on the hall carpet took a little more elbow grease and a lot more gagging, but when she finished she could barely see the spot marking its screeching death.

With the mess gone, Buffy drank some coffee and rewashed yesterday’s dishes.  Dawn came downstairs partway through and, after taking a sip from Buffy’s cup and grimacing at its taste, started drying things and putting them away.

“Cereal?” Dawn asked, when the dishes were done.

“No,” Buffy said, shaking her head as she scanned the kitchen for something else to tidy.  “I’m not hungry.”

A bowl of Fruit Loops mixed with strawberry Mini-Wheats appeared in front of her a few seconds later, and Dawn tapped Buffy’s bowl with her spoon.  “Yes, you are.  Eat it.”

Buffy wasn’t, even though she couldn’t remember the last time she ate anything, but she didn’t want to argue.  The cereal went down tasteless and soggy, but her efforts made Dawn smile. 

Dawn cleared her throat.  “So.  Riley...?”

“Gone,” Buffy said, moving to the sink to wash her bowl .

Dawn set her bowl in the sink, bumping Buffy’s shoulder with hers.  “And Spike?”

Gone?  Dust?  Never coming back?

The bowl in her hand cracked, driving tiny shards of glass into her fingers.  Little swirls of red washed down the sink and Buffy stared at them, the pounding in her ears so loud she barely heard Dawn gasp and say her name.

“Buffy,” Dawn said again, shutting off the water.  “What—?”

Footsteps above their heads brought an end to Dawn’s words and gave Buffy something else to focus on besides the gloomy thoughts swirling around in her head.  Joyce was always better in the mornings, her mind clearer and her headaches less crippling.  By the time Buffy and Dawn reached her bedroom, Joyce was already dressed in fresh pajamas and was brushing away the worst of her bed-head.  Buffy and Dawn got their mother safely settled on the couch, covered with a blanket, and fed a light breakfast.  Dawn put on a movie and snuggled in at the other end of the couch while Buffy tackled an alarmingly large mountain of laundry.

Laundry was another of those tasks Joyce handled in the background and Buffy hadn’t ever really thought about the time it took to keep everything washed.  She had on occasion washed her own clothes when the bloodshed of slaying was a bit too much for her mother’s eyes, but this was normally Joyce’s job and Buffy couldn’t believe the amount of laundry the three of them generated in half a week’s time.

She couldn’t remember whether socks were supposed to go with lights or darks, either, but the process of deciding bought her a few minutes of time to focus solely on the fate of the essential but under-appreciated bundles of cotton/polyester blend.  In the end she sorted them by colour and hoped for the best.

Buffy had washed, dried, and folded three loads before she saw it.  The faded black sock with the hole in the heel tumbled out of the dryer at the end of the forth load, landing on top of the pile she had gathered from the floor in her bedroom.  It stared up at her from the basket as she brought the load upstairs and it sat on her bed, unpaired but not forgotten as she put away her clothes with shaking hands.

When she came back downstairs, her mother called her name from the couch.

“Buffy,” Joyce said, her eyebrows drawn together in worry as Buffy came into the living room.  “You’re zipping around here like a hummingbird.  Come and sit with us.  The laundry can wait.”

It couldn’t, but she didn’t want to argue. Though she had slept well, Joyce looked tired, her skin pale and dark circles beneath her eyes.  As much as she knew she should be spending as much time as possible with Joyce today, Buffy couldn’t stand to see her mother looking so weak any more than she could stand being still.

She sat anyway, curling up in the chair and doing her best to keep up with Joyce and Dawn’s easy banter and humorous comments on the movie they were watching.  Buffy felt Dawn’s eyes watching her when she wasn’t looking, but didn’t acknowledge her.  Her sister was more observant than Buffy had given her credit for, and she didn’t doubt Dawn knew exactly what was driving Buffy to stay busy.

Willow and Tara arrived around lunchtime, bringing with them some trinkets for Joyce and sandwiches and coffee from the Espresso Pump.  Giles came along a few minutes later and made some tea, while Dawn and Buffy brought in extra chairs from the dining room.  Buffy would have thought that a gathering of her friends was the last thing she wanted right now, but her chest filled with warm gratitude for them.  Joyce was smiling and happy, exhausted but content to listen to the conversation around her, and Buffy didn’t think she could ask for much more on the eve of her surgery.

Only when Xander and Anya arrived did Buffy’s heart begin pounding erratically.  Anya dove right into the chatter swelling around them, but Buffy could only stare hard at Xander and hope that what he had to say wouldn’t completely destroy the day.

Without a word, Xander disappeared toward the kitchen.  Buffy followed, a sudden headache thumping behind her eyes.

“Spike’s fine,” Xander said, when she burst into the kitchen to find him leaning on the island, looking at her with an unreadable expression. 

Buffy let out a very shaky breath, unsure what to do with the crashing wave of relief and adrenaline bombarding her chest.  “He’s—”

“Fine,” said Xander, his brow furrowing slightly.  “At least, Riley didn’t manage to kill him.  The Jack Daniel’s still might, and let me tell you, I am never sharing a glass with him again.  He’s totally pathetic and talks too much.”

Oh, God.  Buffy swallowed hard, imagining the sorts of things a drunken Spike might say. Xander was still staring at her, and she looked down to avoid his stare.

“Still,” Xander said, carrying on as though she weren’t trying to hide something.  “I kinda felt bad for the guy.  He did a good job of beating himself up long before Riley got there.”

Buffy’s head shot up. “What happened?”

Xander sighed and his eyebrows rose higher on his forehead.  “I think that’s a conversation you need to have with him.”

Buffy huffed.  “I don’t plan on talking to Riley any time soon.”

“I didn’t mean Riley.”  At the wide-eyed look Buffy gave him, Xander pushed away from the island and moved toward her.

Buffy stared at the floor, avoiding his eyes as though they might burn.  Xander’s shoes made loud footsteps as he came around the counter, stopping when his toes appeared in her field of view.  His hands gripped her shoulders and she looked up slowly, expecting to see anger, or at least disappointment reflecting back at her.  Xander wasn’t stupid and there was no way he didn’t know, especially now, whether or not Spike blabbed the news in his drunken misery.

To her surprise, something like gloomy acceptance resonated from him, in the way his forehead wrinkled and he bit his lip and sighed deeply.  “I don’t like this,” he said, making some vague gesture in the air with one hand.  “Whatever this is.”

Buffy squeezed her eyes shut.  “Xander—”

“Let me finish,” he said, his voice quiet.  “I don’t like it, but I like what I found out about Riley even less, so don’t explain.  Not yet, anyway.  Being angry and ignorant makes it easier to take.”

Buffy fought simultaneous urges to hug the stuffing out of Xander and break down in tears, but quickly lost the battle with both.  She threw her arms around his neck, her eyes growing misty as she pulled him into a crushing hug.  “Thank you, Xander.”

Xander let out a wheezy laugh.  “Don’t thank me yet.  Ignorant and angry, remember?”

“Right,” she said, clinging to him just a little longer before letting him go, still not quite able to meet his eyes. 

Xander didn’t challenge her need for avoidance, and instead went back over to the counter to reach for the phone book.  “How’s your mom?” he asked, flipping through the yellow pages until he reached the restaurant section.

“As good as can be expected,” Buffy answered, glad for the topic change.  “I’m glad you all came.  You didn’t have to.”

Xander looked up from the book.  “Yeah we did, Buff.  We’re your friends.  It’s what we do.”

It’s what we do.

Somewhere along the way, Buffy had forgotten that, but she could see now she shouldn’t have.  Xander ordered some pizza and the two of them went back to the living room to join the others.  Joyce had nodded off with her head on Dawn’s shoulder while the others laughed at Willow’s perfectly normal, non-magical or slayer-related story.  Buffy settled onto the couch beside Dawn, who squeezed Buffy’s hand and started telling her own funny story.

Maybe things were finished with Spike, or maybe not.  He was alive, or at least not deader, and the rest of it could wait.  Maybe her friends would disapprove – okay, definitely – but that didn’t matter.  Not really.    Buffy had never expected to need them like this.  A girl just didn’t stop and wonder if her friends would stand by her side while her mother fought for her life.  But they had, all of them, without being asked, without concern for their own discomfort over Joyce’s illness.  Faced with this staggering show of support, Buffy couldn’t hold it in any longer.  Tears slid down her cheeks as she watched them laughing and loving and holding her together. 

*~*

 

>>To be continued in Chapter 14

 

Comments

( 8 have spoken — take the speaking stick )
sarian71
May. 31st, 2011 10:55 am (UTC)
What a night! Not knowing what's going on is the worst! I don't know how Buffy made it through the night. I would've gone crazy with worry! I'm glad Xander came through as a good and trustworthy friend.
abelina
May. 31st, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
I hate character bashing, especially when it comes to Xander. He wouldn't be happy about what he thinks is going on, but when it comes down to it, he's her friend and she's under so much stress right now that he can not like it but still be there for Buffy. I'm glad you appreciated this, and I thank you for specifically commenting on it. Thanks so much for reading -- I'm glad you've not given up on this story despite the long time between updates.
donnamour1969
May. 31st, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
ch. 13
I love your Xander here. Great job with characterization and dialogue. And poor Spike--hope we hear from him in the next chapter. I've been missing this story, so glad to see you updated!
abelina
May. 31st, 2011 06:26 pm (UTC)
Re: ch. 13
I'll repeat what I said to Sari above -- thank you specifically for commenting on what I've done here with Xander. Thank you so much for your reply and for not giving up on this story despite the long delay in updating.
aislinn_nicole
Jun. 10th, 2011 05:53 am (UTC)
Just want to say how much I love this fic! Sorry not to hear from Spike this chapter, but I'm sure he'll be back with his usual fury next time around. You're doing an awesome job - keep up the great writing! :)
abelina
Jun. 14th, 2011 03:57 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for reading and reviewing. Glad you are enjoying this and I hope you enjoy the (eventual) rest of it.
dredhedred
Jul. 15th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
I always have a shiver of excitement when I see that you've updated this story.

I love the way that the warmth, support and love that Buffy's friends have for her no matter what really shines through in this chapter. I've always loved Xander! :)
abelina
Jul. 16th, 2011 11:48 pm (UTC)
shiver of excitement

Thank you! I loved hearing that. Thank you also for commenting on the "no matter what" aspect of this, because that's totally what I wanted to convey.

In case you didn't know, there's another chapter added since this one.
( 8 have spoken — take the speaking stick )

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