Title:Once, I Dreamt You Were A Vampire
Timeline/Spoilers:The Normal Again 'verse
Disclaimer:Not mine. We all know that.
A/N:Thanks & hugs to desotohia873 for the beta!
She was home. Finally, after so many years of being lost, she was home. Her real home - with her real parents, in a real house, in a real city. She wasn't sick anymore. She was just Buffy Summers, a normal twenty-one year old girl. She'd had a rough time, but now she was putting her life back together. It wasn't always easy - after all, she had pretty much a whole lifetime's worth of fake memories just sitting around in her head, gleefully waiting to trip her up - but she was getting there. She hadn't looked around for Dawn, or tried to call Giles, in over two weeks now. Best of all, the dreams had almost stopped; no longer was she being forced into the starring role in a dozen different monster-movies every night. There was still one vampire that tended to haunt her, but -
No. She wasn't going to think about that. No more vampires. She was past that. She was better.
She signed up for a self-defence class, because her therapist thought it would be a good idea. Her mom agreed; Joyce thought that she was spending too much time cooped up on her own. It'd be good for her; get her out of the house, build her strength up. She would have done it anyway, to please her mom, but she found herself agreeing with a surprising amount of enthusiasm.
The outfit felt strange when she first put it on, but it soon became comfortable. She dropped into a fighting stance, and it felt like coming home.
"Ah ha," said a voice from the back of the room. "I see one of our beginners has a little experience after all." It was a warm, attractive voice, full of good humour and that particular kind of class that an English accent always seems to have.
Everyone spun round. "Ooh," said Buffy's neighbour in line, a tall dark-haired girl who up til now had acted bored and disaffected. "What a hottie. Maybe this idea wasn't such a dud after all."
Buffy followed the girl's eyes, and found herself meeting a bright blue gaze that she'd never expected to see outside of dreams again. Something in her chest came loose, some part of her heart that she hadn't even realised wasn't beating.
"Spike," she said, and then the world went black.
In her dream, he laid his hand on her forehead and smoothed the hair away from her face. He could be so gentle, when he wanted to. Or rather, when she'd allow him to be. He said her name, and in her dream she smiled at him and pressed his hand to her lips. "I thought I'd lost you," she said.
"It's okay," he said, his beautiful voice a caress. "You're home now."
She came to in her own bed, with her parents' anxious faces hovering over her.
"Buffy? Sweetheart? Are you okay?"
The word that came to her lips was a name, the name of a figment of her sick, deluded mind. She bit it back. "Mom," she said instead.
"I'm here, darling. We're here. How do you feel?"
"Okay, I think. What happened?"
"You fainted. At your class." Joyce turned her face to Hank. "We shouldn't have pushed her. She's still very delicate." She turned back to Buffy. "You don't have to go back there any more, honey."
"No," she said quickly. "I mean – no, that's okay. I want to. I was just – I hadn't eaten, that was all. It was nothing. I'll be fine."
Joyce looked doubtful. "I don't know, honey. We don't want you to overdo it."
"I'll be okay, honestly. I'm fine. Look, I'm getting up. I'm all better."
"Well, if you're sure…?"
"I'm sure. Really sure."
Joyce smiled. "All right, then. Well, if you're really sure you're okay, I'll just go down and thank that nice instructor, and then I'll make you some hot chocolate. How does that sound?"
Buffy barely heard the last part of the sentence. "Thank the – the who? The what?"
"The instructor. He brought you home, wasn't that sweet of him? I think he was quite worried about you, the poor dear. I'll go and let him know you're okay."
"Probably worried that we were going to sue his ass off," said Hank, and Joyce glared at him.
Buffy couldn't focus. "He's here?"
"Yes." Joyce smiled and patted her hand. "I'll tell him you said thank you."
Buffy struggled off the bed. "I can get up," she said. "I'd like to see him, I'd like to - " She stopped. Like to what? What exactly was it that she wanted to do?
She swallowed. She wanted to get a proper look at this man and see what he really looked like. Outside of whatever remnants of hallucinations her mind was obviously still throwing out. A pair of blue eyes, and those old crazy circuits just kicked straight back in. She wanted to see him, to see that he looked nothing like – anyone she thought she used to know. Yeah, that was it. To see him, and be able to laugh at herself for the silly tricks her eyes played on her.
"I'd like to thank him," she said. "Myself. He didn't have to bring me all the way home, that was – nice of him."
"Oh, well, I'm not - " began Joyce, but Buffy was already halfway down the stairs. She felt fine. Slayer healing, whispered a part of her mind, and she had to grip the banisters to keep her footing. Stop that, she told it furiously. Let me go and thank this nice man and get this crazy shit out of my system once and for all and then maybe I can get on with my life.
He was standing in the living room, with his back to her. He'd changed into street clothes, black jeans and a red shirt. His hair was short, obviously curly but controlled by gel. It was a dark, sandy colour, and she smiled. See? No platinum blonds here, oh no.
"Hello?" she said, as she came down the last step. He started to turn, while a part of her mind ran a little looped litany: his hair was bleached it wasn't natural you don't know what colour his hair really was it was bleached it wasn't natural you don't know –
He completed the turn, faced her, and the world fell apart.
"Ah," he said, in Spike's voice, with Spike's face. "Well, you look better. Are you okay? You had me a bit worried there."
She wanted to scream. She wanted to run. She wanted to fling herself into his arms and make him promise never ever to let her out of his sight again.
She stared at him, her mouth trying to form sensible words. It was him. The eyes, the cheekbones, even the scarred eyebrow. It was him. Lighten his hair and put him in a leather duster and no-one could have told the difference.
Of course they couldn't, her mind screamed at her. Because there is no difference to tell. Because Spike doesn't exist. There was no Spike. There never had been. He wasn't real.
"I – I'm fine," she managed to stammer.
His brows drew down. "Sure? You suddenly don't look quite so fine."
Her hand was rising of its own accord, lifting towards him. It wanted to touch him. He looked at her with a thoughtful, considering look in his eyes and his head tilted to one side in a gesture that was such pure, distilled Essence of Spike that she could almost feel the coat, the boots and the rock-pimp jewellery being created out of the fabric of the Universe. Atoms and molecules were re-arranging themselves into new patterns, old patterns, correct patterns. Realigning themselves into where they were supposed to be. She could already smell the cigarette smoke. Even the annoying Mr Spock part of her brain had shut up, having no logic left to argue with. It was him. He'd come to save her after all. She should have known he would.
"Spike," she said.
Slayer, he would say, and rake her over with that lazy, proprietary stare that said I know you. Inside and out, I see you and I know you. I own you.
Instead, he said, "Sorry?"
"Buffy? Honey?" Her mom had followed her down the stairs, and now she was getting that scared expression that Buffy knew and hated so well. The look that flashed between her and Hank was painfully loud. "Spike," she heard him say, "wasn't that one of the - " before Joyce shushed him.
She winced. The pain and the fear in her mom's eyes were unravelling the new Universe that was trying to be born. The patterns spun and broke apart, the smoke disappeared into the cracks in her mind.
Get a grip, she told herself. For once in your hopeless, screwed-up life, get a grip. Her hand was still half-raised, frozen in the act of reaching out to a lover she'd never had. She carried on extending it, finding a smile from somewhere.
"I said thanks," she said. "For bringing me home. That was cool of you. Sorry for messing up your class."
"Oh, right." His eyes cleared, and he reached forward to shake her offered hand. "That's okay, don't worry about it. Joe – that's the other instructor, he does Wednesdays – took over." He smiled, and still her memory tried to see shadows of vampires. She shut it down. "And seeing as how playing Good Samaritan gets me the night off, I'd say there's no harm done."
He gripped, shook and released her hand in one smooth, polished motion. Her skin tried to sing out in recognition at his touch, but she shut that down too. For a second there was that thoughtful look back in his eyes and she half-expected him to say 'don't I know you?' But he didn't.
"Well," said Joyce, seemingly tentatively relieved. "Thank you again for bringing Buffy home. We're very grateful."
He nodded and moved towards the door, obviously understanding that was his cue to leave. "No problem, I'm glad she's okay." He gave Buffy one last smile. "So - see you at the next class, then?"
She nodded, unable to speak for fear that anything she might start to say would end up as 'don't leave me,' and then he was gone.
"I'm fine," she snapped at her parents' concern, and went back to bed. She didn't cry, and guessed that was some small kind of victory.
She didn't continue with the Aikido training. It was for the best, they all decided. She took up aerobics instead, with a tall Amazonian woman called Jess who didn't remind her of anyone at all.
Although she didn't go back to the class, she did discover a shop just next door which sold all sort of fascinating film posters and old photographs, and she often went there to browse. She didn't really know who a lot of the actors in the photos were, and she'd never heard of many of the films, but she was sure she could learn. Hey, she was allowed a hobby, right?
She saw him, sometimes, coming or going in a little foreign car. She'd stare out the shop window, clutching her picture of Cary Grant or Rock Hudson or whoever to her chest, and think about going out there to just coincidentally run into him. She would stammer something, and maybe somewhere in the mess of unintelligible nonsense would be the word coffee, and maybe the word would become a question. An invite. And maybe he would do the head tilt thing again, and say something casual but friendly, like, "Okay. Why not?"
Why not? Oh, there were a thousand reasons why not, most of them concerned with not feeding psychotic delusions. So she stayed in the shop, and let him go about his business un-bumped-into.
It was for the best.
She realised she didn't even know his name, but maybe that was for the best too. She didn't trust her memories, fantasies, whatever they were, about that time. The projections of a sick mind weren't exactly going to be reliable, so it was probably the case that she didn't accurately recall what 'Spike' had looked like at all. Her mind had seen Mr Martial Arts Instructor, perhaps liked what it saw, and immediately slotted his face into one of the holes – jazzing it up a bit, of course, as befitted the lunatic world it had created – and making her think that she recognised him. It was like a form of déjà vu, just the flips and settlings of a disturbed mind finally trying to right itself. Not a memory at all.
So no, she didn't need to know his name. She didn't need to see him again. She didn't need to have anything to do with him at all.
She just liked to browse the shop next door, that was all.
Sometimes she would watch him get out of his car and stop on the sidewalk outside the shop, his face preoccupied as if he'd forgotten something and had almost caught it again. He'd look up sometimes, and into the shop. She'd shrink back then, hide amongst the photo racks while he looked inside. She didn't think he ever saw her. Not, of course, that he would have remembered her if he had. He'd only seen her once. He didn't know her. So she hid, and after a little while he'd move on, shaking his head.
It wasn't that she followed him, exactly. She'd got her licence - surprisingly easily after the fantasy horrors of the other place - but she still needed driving practice, and it made it easier if she had a focus. She just found that watching for his little blue car was easier than watching for street signs.
He lived in a nice-looking apartment building about ten miles or so away, in what looked like a quiet, well-maintained neighbourhood. Very neat, very normal. No graveyards in sight. She liked it. It was a pleasant place to park up and just take in the autumn air. Watch the leaves fall, commune with the world a bit. She'd been away for six years, she felt she was owed a little communing time.
The first time she saw him with a woman, something constricted in her chest. Heartburn, she told herself as she peered out through the windshield. Then she got a proper look, and the acid seemed to loosen its grip. The woman was old, in her fifties or maybe sixties. She had longish hair, a light grey-blonde mix, and she walked slowly with her hand on his arm for support. He looked down at her with a fond smile, and didn't seem to mind.
There was a definite resemblance between them, something around the eyes perhaps. His mom, she thought. Somehow, that made her feel a little better. She couldn't ever imagine the Spike she'd created having a mother. Drusilla was probably the closest thing to it, and that thought made her shudder slightly. She wouldn't have admitted it then, but Drusilla had scared the living shit out of her.
Stupid Buffy, she thought. Can't even get a fantasy world right. Create a whole universe just to please yourself, and what do you do? Fill it with monsters. She shook her head. She could have spent the last six years lazing on a white sand beach being brought cocktails by Tom Cruise, but no. She had to have a life full of death and pain and vampires. Shit, she really was crazy.
She shook her head. No, no. She used to be crazy. These days, she was perfectly sane. She'd left that terrible life behind.
Of course, if she actually found herself missing it, well - that would prove that she really had totally and utterly lost it.
She laughed, a little shakily. Lucky that wasn't the case then, wasn't it?
She got a job, eventually, in a bookstore. It didn't pay much, but then she wasn't exactly qualified for any high salary positions. She considered going back to school, but found that she just couldn't face it. Again. She hadn't been much of a reader before, but she found herself drawn to the books, spending her lunch hours reading Anne Rice novels. She kind of fell in love with Lestat, and laughed at herself. She thought it was probably healthy that she could do that.
She went to work, and watched TV with her mom – some of those old black and white movies had turned out to be pretty good, in the end – and ate, and slept. Sometimes she even went for drinks with the other girls at the store. It wasn't a bad life. It wasn't a thrill ride, but it was normal. And there were no monsters.
She answered the door with a mug of cocoa in her hand, and almost dropped it.
"Uh, hello," he said, with a smile that looked two parts embarrassment to one part terror. "I'm sorry to bother you. You probably don't even remember me, but - "
"I remember you," she said.
"Oh. Right. Good. Well, I – um – look, I promise I'm not stalking you or anything, but – well, could I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure," she said, holding the door wide. "Come in."
Great, great. On her own in the house and just freely inviting people to walk in off the street. Really good idea, that. Very safety conscious. Way to go, Buff.
But still she held the door open for him. He walked through into the hall and then hovered, looking steadily more and more uncomfortable.
She felt strangely calm, which was crazy. She didn't know this guy. He wasn't who her brain still insisted on calling him, and even if he had been – well, then inviting him in would hardly qualify for the Buffy's Top Ten Greatest Decisions list either, would it?
"Can I get you some coffee?" she asked, leading him into Joyce's sparkling kitchen.
"No. Thanks." His voice was strung tight, vibrating like a violin string. He was going to turn around and bolt at any second, she could tell. She didn't think she really wanted him to do that.
"So. You wanted to talk to me?"
Maybe he wanted to ask her on a date. Maybe he'd been smitten ever since she swooned in his arms and had been working up his nerve ever since then. Maybe.
She gave him her best non-threatening, non-crazy smile. "So, go for it. Talk."
"You're going to think I'm nuts."
The smile didn't really waver. "I doubt that. I have experience of nuts, and you don't look it." Oh, fabulous. I have experience of nuts? Could she conceivably have said anything more stupid?
Luckily, he seemed distracted enough not to have noticed. At any rate, he wasn't leaving.
"Okay," he said, but he wasn't meeting her eyes and it looked more like he was speaking to himself than her. "Okay. Let's just do this, and then we can just get straight to the part where you throw me out and then we forget all about it."
He set his shoulders and looked up at her then, seeming to have gathered his courage. "I dream about you," he said.
"Oh." She found herself remembering another declaration, another reality. You're all I bloody think about. Dream about. I'm drowning in you, Summers. She scrambled for something more articulate. "Right."
"I don't mean that in a crap pick-up line kind of way. I mean really. I've been having these weird dreams, and you're always in them. It's been getting worse lately, and - I don't know, I just – I keep feeling like I need to tell you. I can't shake it off. So, here I am. Telling you."
"Right," she said again.
"I'm sorry. This is ridiculous. I'll go. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
At last, she seemed to remember how to form a sentence. "No. Don't go. Please. Tell me – tell me about the dreams. Why are they weird?"
"I don't remember ever having dreams like these before." He paused. "Actually I don't always remember that much of anything, but that's a whole different story. These dreams, they're – very vivid, but really confused. There's this girl, she's not anyone I know, and she shows me things. People, sometimes. It's like she's a teacher, and we're in a class, except that the class is in a graveyard. And at the time, in the dream, I understand it all. I know all the stuff, all the people, and I know what I have to do. It's all so obvious, and I'm really pissed off with myself for not getting it sooner. Then I wake up, and it's all gone. Except for the feeling that I have to come and see you. I honestly don't know why."
Don't get into this, said a part of her mind very clearly. It sounded like Joyce. Let it go. Tell him you can't help him, and make him leave. Make him go away. Make it all go away.
"Graveyard," she said. "You see this girl in a graveyard?"
"Yeah. Said you'd think I was nuts, didn't I?"
"I don't think you're nuts," she said quietly. "I - " Don't do this, Buffy. "I dream about you, too."
His eyes went wide. "You do?"
She nodded. "Yes. I think – I think maybe I also dreamt about this girl." Stop it stop it stop it stop it – "In my dream, her name was Willow"
She saw him twitch at the name. Score. But what was the prize?
"Does she ever show you - vampires?"
He gave a nervous laugh. "Yeah. Vampires. At first, I thought I'd just been watching too many films, you know? Having nightmares like a little kid. But there was always this girl, too." He looked back at her. "And yeah, her name is Willow. How – how do you know her? Why am I dreaming about her? How do you know about any of this?"
"What does she call you? Does she call you Spike?"
Now he was just staring at her. "What is this? What's going on?"
"Does she? Does she call you Spike? Does she talk to you about other people? Xander? Giles? Or Tara, or Anya, or - ?"
"- Dawn," he finished with her. "Yes, she talks to me about Dawn. She tells me to say that Dawn misses her sister." His voice suddenly took on an odd tone, as if reciting. "Dawn wants Buffy to come home. She wants her back. We all do. Buffy, come back to us. We love you. We miss you. Buffy, come home."
She put her face in her hands. Something seemed to have sucked all the oxygen out of the air, because she couldn't breathe. She stumbled forward, putting her hands out to him. Was he real? No, of course not. All this time, she'd thought she was getting better but her traitorous mind had just been lulling her into a false sense of security, waiting until she got on her feet again to hit her with this. To undo everything, make a mockery of how hard she'd tried to get herself together. To torment her with ghosts, with visions, with -"
Her hands connected against something solid. The cotton of his shirt, the denim of his jacket. His chest felt firm. Real. She folded against it, and his arms went around her. She began to cry.
"Spike," she said, and then she couldn't speak any more because his mouth was on hers. His lips were cold, but oh so familiar. Her hands clutched at his back like she was drowning, and maybe she was. Her fingers grabbed handfuls of denim, except that it didn't feel exactly like denim any more. It felt colder, smoother, stronger. Felt like leather. Felt like home.
She finally pulled away, but only because she needed to breathe.
"Fuck," he said, sounding dazed. "Slayer?"
"Spike – what - "
"Fuck," he said again. "Fuck! The bastard got me. Fuck."
"What – I don't – Spike - " Her sentence-making ability seemed to have deserted her again. He tried to move away, but she wouldn't release her grip on him. Eventually he stopped trying to move, and just held her to him. "Hush, pet," he said. "It's okay. It's all okay now. We found you."
"Spike, what's happening?"
This time she let him move back a little, but not out of touching reach. She was convinced that, if she let him go, he would vanish before her eyes. Maybe everything would. The world seemed a very unstable thing.
"You got hurt," he said. "Do you remember? Got yourself sideswiped by one of the big uglies. It poisoned you."
She remembered. "Dawn. Willow, Xander. I – oh god, I left them, I - "
He shook his head. "They're okay. No-one got hurt. Tara came looking for Willow in the middle of the fight, and did some mojo on the demon. They all got out okay. They're fine, love, I promise."
"A demon? It was a demon?" Oh, and how could a single word sound so good and so bad? Familiar and scary and comforting, all at the same time. Blame the bad stuff on a demon. She understood how that worked.
"Yeah. It infected you with something, I don't know what. Willow does. Psychoactive something or other. It messed with your head, sent you on a trip inside your own brain. That's what it does, see. Rummages around until it finds something you want but can't have, and creates it for you. The complete virtual reality experience. Keeps you happy while it eats you."
"So how – how did you-"
"How'd I get here? Fucked if I know. More mojo. I don't ask how they do it, I just stand there like a prick getting covered in smelly dust. But it worked, so what the hell. Or it did in the end, anyway. Fuck, Red is going to kick my ass. Wonder how long she's been screaming at me out there? I swore it wouldn't sucker me."
"But it did?"
He went very still for a second. "Yeah. I guess it did at that."
Buffy remembered the woman she'd seen him with, the way he'd looked at her.
- until it finds something you want, and can't have -
"I, I - saw you, you know - once. With a woman, she - "
"Yeah, well. Wasn't real, was it? Just a bit of leftover demon juice." He seemed to shake himself. "So, Slayer, you ready to get back through the looking glass? We should go."
"Go? Go where?"
"Back. Sunnydale. Asses to kick, worlds to save. You know the drill, Slayer."
"But – there is no Sunnydale. It doesn't exist. I checked."
He gave her a gentle smile. "I think you'll find it does now, pet."
Buffy looked around at Joyce's sparkling kitchen. Already it seemed less substantial, less real. Her time at the bookstore, the people she'd met, even the books she'd read and the films she'd watched, snuggled by her mom's side on the sofa, eating popcorn and gleefully pointing out the actors she had photos of in her collection – none of it seemed real, the memories draining out of her mind like water. What had her mom made her for breakfast that morning? What clothes had her dad been wearing? Where had they said they were going? What was her supervisor's name, at the store? What, even, was the store itself called? She had no answers to any of these questions.
"This – this isn't real, is it?"
Spike looked as if a sharp response was trying to get out, but when he saw her face his expression gentled. "No, pet. No, it's not."
She nodded. "No. Right then, let's go."
"D'you want to – you know, say goodbye or anything?"
Buffy glanced over at the photo on top of the fridge; herself, Hank, Joyce. Happy photo. Except that it just didn't look right without Dawn.
This isn't my life, she thought. It never really was.
"No," she said. "I said my goodbyes a long time ago."