TITLE: Choices (4a/?)
AUTHOR: OneTwoMany (Sabre)
SUMMARY: I'll think of something clever to write here eventually...in the meantime, I changed Chosen a little and went from there.
RATING: R

THANKS TO: Glasslipper for this chapter; Alanna, hesadevil, Juliaabra, LadyAnne and

FEEDBACK: onetwomany@bigpond.com

PREVIOUS PARTS: This is the R version of this chapter. The NC-17 version is available on my website (www.orchestratedchaos.net). If you read it there, you warrant that it is legal for you to do so where you live. Really, you're not missing out on that much :)

Dawn had forgotten to pack her favorite red shirt.

It's such a dumb thing to worry about. Stupid red shirt, cheap like everything Buffy bought her, easily replaced. But Dawn knows she'll miss it. Nothing else would ever be the first thing Buffy bought her with the scarce leftovers of her DoubleMeat paycheck, or the most memorable thing she was wearing when Brad Tabala had told her she looked "fucking-A". And nothing went quite as well with her bootleg Levis, a Christmas present from Anya, who so rarely gave presents, let alone ones she'd actually wanted to receive.

Anya. Shit.

How was it possible to feel so horrible over someone you really didn't even much like? To feel heavy and sick at the memory of Anya, who made stupid comments, back-stabbed Buffy and worked Dawn like a slave after the whole shoplifting thing and spent a thousand years doing gross stuff to men like Xander and still didn't feel even a little bit sorry for it.

Anya, who actually looked good in hot pants, and wore them with rollerskates and looked just like Farah Fawcett. Who'd helped her plot revenge against Evil Kirsty, high school nemesis from Hell, as they'd worked through the stocktake.

Anya, who made Xander so very happy – least, before he walked out on her, 'cause then he kind of deserved to be miserable.

Miserable like he was now.

And so come the waterworks. Not torrents of tears overflowing, not yet, but water lines her cheeks, and she can't hold in a soft, painful sob. She thinks she might cry for real, soon. Maybe she even wants to. But she can't do so here, amongst strangers, girls who'd see it as weakness. Blubbering from the average one who didn't really belong.

She needs to be elsewhere. Now.

Quietly, Dawn sits up, careful not to disturb Vi where she lies on the bed next to her, snoring softly. She's gotten so used to that, moving around as silent as a mouse, trying not to get in anyone's way or disturb anything important. Anyone important. Anyone else.

She doesn't bother with a jacket, and finds she doesn't need one. It's hot outside, and quiet, the air thick and oppressive with dust. Little bits of Sunnydale, she realizes, flittering through the sky, coating her clothes, burying themselves in her lungs. She wonders if they used to be part of something important; thinks, then, that they more likely were than weren't. Everything's important when it's your home.

Or maybe nothing's important, except your family? That was what you were meant to think in a situation like this, right? She has the people she loves, her family, or most of them.

Better than some silly red shirt.

One pink-painted toe-nail sketches patterns in the dirty pavement; the skin on her feet is probably already black from the soiled surface. She'd have to have another shower and wash more mess away, but right now she likes that Sunnydale still clings to her.

Another glance at the closed door to her room, and Dawn wonders what had possessed her that she'd wanted to spend the night with those girls. Excitement, probably. But the adrenaline and relief have long since worn off, and the idea of a party, or chatter, of celebrating the destruction of the only home she's ever known is suddenly nauseating.

Not thinking, just instinct, Dawn staggers over to the garden, and quietly throws up.

It seems an age until dizzy, spent, she stumbles away from her mess, and collapses onto the concrete. The world's still spinning, her ears are buzzing like an orchestra of drunken crickets. Weird, the sky's so murky she can't see the stars. She takes deep breaths until she thinks she's right to stand again.

A handful of ice from the ice machine deadens her mouth, takes away the bitter taste of vomit. Another handful, larger, feels good against her back, rivulets of ice water trailing down her heated skin. Her feet leave muddy imprints where they touch the dripped liquid.

Family, she reminds herself when she can think again. Family is what's important. But where can she go, on a night such as this, to be with her family?

She wants, first, to talk to Xander, because he'd understand. He'd say something honest, and sensible, and she'd break into a smile and all would be well. Except that Xander'd just lost Anya, who surely meant more to him than her. And what could Dawn say to him about that? How could she possibly pretend to understand? "I lost my mom, I know what you're going through, come let me talk to you because I'm too self-centered and needy to be alone?"

Besides, Xander has Willow, now, his oldest friend. His older friend, an adult who'd understand these things so much better than she. Willow knows all about death, after all, and they've shared so much besides. They wouldn't want her intruding, with her big mouth and her whininess and her stupid neediness; the little sister who'd just be an nuisance that they'd have to be nice too, another burden to share their stretched sympathies with. No, Xander would have no words of comfort and spare, brown-eyed smiles for her, not when he was breaking himself.

So she longs, instead, for Buffy. But when she makes it to her sister's door, legs still slightly shaky, she remembers that she'd given her sister away, too. To Spike. Standing outside, she can hear them inside, soft sounds of sex; a moan, Spike's honey-coated voice. She turns away quickly, because it's way too ewwy to listen to your sister screw, but her heart is heavy and she can't quite make herself feel happy for her sister, no matter how much Buffy wanted this.

Lost, Dawn returns to sit outside her room, rests her head on her knees, and, finally, lets the water flow freely. Safe in the knowledge that no one can see; that she is so very much alone.

***********

Buffy'd held Spike's hand as they'd left the safety of the hotel bedroom. Or he'd held hers, firmly, in an almost possessive way that'd kind of pissed her off even as it sent tingles rushing up her arm and down, to other places. They'd made only the front porch before he'd realized the sun would put a dint in their triumphant parade. Smiling, she'd left him to make his own way to the bus, sheet draped over his head, swear words flying from his mouth.

So much for the afterglow, but it was an accepted part of their relationship now to piss each other off just as much as they got each other off.

Funny, though, how they'd both expected a commotion; condemnation from Giles, and Xander. Insults, maybe a fight. She'd been dreading it, working on words, excuses, all night – or, at least, those times of night when she had been able to think. He, she was sure, had been looking forward to it, probably thinking on quite different responses. But if anyone had an objection to her and Spike, no one voiced it. Xander had merely glowered a little, but held his tongue. Dawn, pale and slightly wan despite her early night, smiled a thin-lipped smile that made Spike stand that little bit taller. Willow was too busy making up lost time with Kennedy, kissing her passionately against the side of the bus after a argument of hushed whispers that left little doubt that Kennedy was less than impressed with having been abandoned on their first big night of freedom. The girls whispered hushed words behind cupped hands, but who they were talking about was no concern of Buffy's.

Only Faith, observant as ever, had decided to take a stab at such a vulnerable target.

"I see I wasn't the only one to get a little bump and grind action last night," she'd said, eyes dancing with amusement and that subtle, taunting humor that infected even her attempts at being sympathetic.

"Not sure how that's your business," Buffy had said, defensive as ever.

"Hey! Woha! Backing up, hands in the air, B. Not looking for a fight. Just here to say goodbye."

That had surprised her, but only a little. "You're off? Where?"

"Cleveland. Sounds fun, eh? I'm sure it's just as much funky fun as it looks on Drew Carey..."

That Faith would be so eager to get back to work seemed strange, almost obscene. Faith, being all responsible. Huh. End of the World, indeed. "But you just saved the world!"

Another saucy grin. "No rest for the wicked. 'Sides, there are still warrants out for my arrest here. Figure it's better to go where cops aren't quite as familiar with my sexy mug until your Watcherman sorts stuff out. Go north, lay low, leave bed to kill things. Sounds like my kinda living."

Buffy nods, slowly. "And Robin?"

"He's comin' with."

"Good. I'm glad. Surprised. But, happy for you." Funny, how these things turn out.

"Hey, we're not talkin' white dresses and picket fences yet. But he's cool, you know. And hot." Faith's gaze had wandered over to where Wood was piling their stuff into a beaten old car, her eyes softening when they fell on him. It made Buffy smile a little, even she'd chosen not to think about where they'd gotten that car.

"'Sides" Faith had continued. "Check out the irony of me endin' up with the school principal. Betcha no one saw that one coming!"

Buffy had laughed too, because, really, it was absurd. "I probably would have laid more money on him being eaten."

A final grin, a wink, and way too much information, "oh, he will be," and Faith was gone. Gone to a new Hellmouth, to earn her own strange version of redemption.

Buffy has no idea if she'll ever see the other one and only again, or even if she wants to. There's too much history between them to ever really be friends, and too much jealousy to truly work together as partners.

So now Buffy sits beside Dawn on the bus, spilling out the details of their Big Move, and watching her sister's face remain passive and neutral, hands folded in her lap. It's not the reaction Buffy had expected, and she can feel the nastier side of herself yawning and stretching inside; that intense irritation she can never quite stifle when things don't go her way. It's an all too familiar feeling when dealing with Dawn.

Yet she tries to control her disappointment as Dawn speaks to a distant spot on the flat horizon.

"England. This is absolutely decided?"

"Well, yeah, I guess...I mean, I suppose if you don't want to go..." Buffy pauses, tries to form some thoughts. Decides to be honest rather than make excuses. "I don't think I have any choice, Dawn. Not right now, anyway."

"No, and it's all about you..." Her voice is flat, neutral.

"What?"

"But I'm not English." A change of tack rather than an answer.

"But you'll love England!"

"How do you know? You haven't been there."

"I just...I know, all right. It'll be cool." More irritation, worming its way into her voice despite her best efforts to control it. "Besides, Dawn, we don't have any choice." No doubt this time, just upbeat decisiveness. Put on a happy face, stir a little excitement.

"Anyway, you like history, right? England's all about the history and stuff. Spike's already talking about all the things he wants to show you..."

A flinch, narrow shoulders trembling a bit. "You talked about it with Spike?"

"Yeah, last night when we..." Momentary panic. "Last night."

The silence between them stretches on for an age, growing thick and uncomfortable. Then Dawn turns to look at her, large blue eyes searching her with that intense, all-seeing gaze that sometimes makes even the Slayer tremble. Whatever her sister sees seems to satisfy her.

"No, it's okay, you're right." She says, dropping her eyes to her hands. "There is nothing for me here, now. England'll be good. And maybe, you know, we can see dad?"

At this, Buffy gives a genuine smile. "I'm working on it, Dawn. He's in London a lot, so maybe, yeah."

"Cool then." There's a glimmer of something in Dawn's voice, and Buffy decides it must be happiness. "England here we come."

Relief, like a cool shower, and Buffy hugs her sister enthusiastically. "Excellent! Oh, I'm so glad you're excited too."

They talk for a little, and plan. Yeah, they'll live in London, and Giles will buy them a place - or rent them one, hopefully someplace swanky. Maybe they can shop at Harrods? She hopes so. Marks & Spencer too. And they were definitely having a real afternoon tea, and would certainly see castles. Then they fall silent, and after another quick hug, Buffy makes her excuses and wanders back to Spike.

He greets her with a snicker, a daring caress that makes her shiver and tremble, then words that make her giggle and slap away his hands. It was fun to be happy again, she thinks. Fun to act sixteen again.

********************

Angel Investigations was no more, that much was obvious. Spike wonders if he's ever felt quite so relieved as he did when they'd arrived to find that Angel wasn't there.

The building was empty. Not quite abandoned, but getting there. The musky smell of old hotel, of countless visitors, still lingers, but Spike can barely sense the scent of a familiar vampire and his mini-troop of do-gooder mates.

Still, the Scoobies weren't the type to look a gift horse in the mouth, not when vast and comfortable accommodation is on offer. Willow had unlocked the door with a simple spell, and Giles and Buffy had hurried the girls in as Willow then dialed some fellow called Fred to find out where the hell everyone was and Xander and Andrew searched for a telephone book or a spare takeaway menu.

Spike sets about trying to find a fridge, and maybe some blood. Least, it being Angel's and all, it'd probably be good.

He'd be lying if he said he was comfortable with this arrangement. Seeking succor from a bloke he hates, treading on his sire's territory without the appropriate call to arms. It's enough to make him bristle. He can't help the lingering jealousy, either. Trust Angel to own something as plush as this, to make his living in such a proper, responsibly manly way, earning dosh for doing favors for the otherwise helpless, while Spike lives off the charity of the woman he loves. Standing in the foyer, hands clenching, Spike realizes that he doesn't have any plans for doing anything income earning, even now. Funny how that still offends his Victorian sense of propriety. Just not enough to do anything about it.

"They've relocated." Willow's voice, breaking through his thoughts.

"You're kidding me? They left this place?" Dawn, sounding stunned, even awed. He feels himself cringe. "For what? The Taj Mahal?"

"Um..." There's a slight crack to the Witch's voice, enough to pique his attention. "Wolfram and Hart."

Spike blinks; hears a chorus of voices -

"Oh my god!"

"You're joking!"

"No way!"

"Angel?"

He smirks. Nice to know a certain evil law firm's reputation precedes it, even amongst the ranks of the white and pure. He's shocked too, slightly amused, wonders if maybe also a tad disappointed, but he dismisses that fast. Got no expectations where Angel's concerned, he reminds himself quickly. Couldn't even hazard a guess at what the Old Man thinks he's doing, but there's probably a heroically good reason. Or maybe some really snazzy cars. Poof had always had a liking for them.

"Apparently the firm's had an epiphany." Willow says, and Spike's not sure if she's quoting Fred, or just being sarcastic.

"That is most extremely strange." Giles now. "But I'm sure Angel has his reasons. We are definitely out of the loop."

"But they're fine with us staying here." Willow continues, to much relief. "Oh, and Buffy - Angel's on his way."

It takes a second to resonate, and Spike's not quite quick enough to catch whatever expression flashed across Buffy's face in that time. By the time she turns to face him, she's controlled, expression gentle and a little sympathetic, large eyes filled with that commanding calm.

'Be good, okay," she says softly, approaching him, laying her hand on his arm. He imagines he can feel the warmth through his duster. It's searing. For a moment, he thinks that her voice sounds condescending, and he feels something stir inside him, a red hot anger. But it's gone fast, replaced by something he resolutely refuses to acknowledge as fear.

"Yeah, I'll play nice," he promises. "Promised already, didn't I?"

She nods, maybe not quite convinced, but satisfied for now. He wants to kiss her, here, in front of everyone, in Angel's lobby, maybe even as Angel walks in those gaudy double doors, but she drops her gaze in a silent refusal. He stiffens, can't quite contain the soft, annoyed beginning of a frustrated growl.

"Spike..." She sounds tired, and he curses internally, but leans into her touch as she gently runs her hand along his cheek, covers her hand with his. Mine. For a long time, they stay like that, gazes locked, and she doesn't pull away.

Then Giles coughs, and Buffy starts. The world comes back – Willow's shuffle, Dawn's impassive, curious watchfulness, Xander's dark, suspicious glare, the mixed looks of jealousy and interest from the assorted potentials. Andrew's silly, dreamy smile.

"I've got work to do," Buffy says, removing her hand. "Talk to you in a bit."

And then she's gone.

The walls seem to close in on him as he watches her walk away.