Chapter 3

Chapter 3

The restless vampire exhaled a sharp breath of impatient air as he turned the TV off, as even the intricately drawn world of Passions held no real interest nowadays. "Bloody yuppie pounces," he grumbled as he tossed the remote to the coffee table, his left foot tapping a continuous, chaotic rhythm. "What kind of bleedin' poofter would write about a bloody doll who's alive? Daft nancies. Get a soddin' day job!"

Grimacing in distaste as the none too distant memory of It teased the forefront of his brain, Spike pushed himself up out of the tattered LayZBoy. With the energy of a caged tiger, he stalked across the mausoleum edgily, every movement only seeming to increase his impatience to get outside.

"Won't even be home yet," Spike mumbled as continued pacing back and forth. "And it's daylight, you git. Bloody brilliant plan. Go get crispy and let's see then who will protect the Nibblet. Bloody brilliant plan, Spike."

With a growl of impatience, the vampire shrugged off his black T-shirt and flung it carelessly to the ground. His arms, shockingly pale but well muscled, lifted up the iron cover which cordoned off the entrance to the old catacombs below.

Bypassing the wooden ladder that pushed up against the lip of the opening, the blond vampire leapt to the bottom, smiling strangely as he took a perverse delight in the pain of the sudden impact.

He crouched there, his head turning slowly about as he looked for any signs of intruders. Satisfied with his cursory scan, he leapt for the punching bag that hung rather precariously from the ceiling. His once smooth hands, now callused with a myriad of crisscrossing scars, clenched into tight fists as they struck the bag rapidly.

At least he hadn't run into It today, he thought angrily as he roundhoused the punching bag so hard that the chains almost seemed as if they were about to snap.

Spike couldn't understand how seeing that pretty face, trapped under the mop of dull brown hair, could hurt him so badly. Intellectually, he had expected that seeing Her face again would have assisted him in dealing with the loss, but it never seemed to work that way. When they had first brought It back and called It by Her name, Spike had been the last one to find out. Seeing It standing there, hovering about Dawn in a manner enough like Her's to show just how much like Her It wasn't, had sickened him until he was forced to leave the Nibblet early in order to vomit in private. That had been the first time in over a hundred years since he had such a mortal reaction, but unfortunately, it hadn't been the last.

The worst thing, he thought as he ignored the knuckles that bled freely from the intensity of the punches, is seeing It. He grit his teeth as his mind replayed the feeling of It's arms around him, kissing him, touching him.

"What kind of git are you?" he wondered aloud as he leaned against the cool stone of the wall as he watched the bag swing back and forth. "Fucking deserve it, you do. Serves you right. Just fucking sorry that Bitesize has to live with your mistakes, too."

No, that truly had been the worst part of it, he admitted silently as he slowly stretched out his cramping arms, the beads of sweat pouring off his body only to hit the dirt of the floor below. His pain, as gut-twisting and disabling as it may be, was something he needed. He failed Her once, but Spike swore to a god that he had long denied, it would not happen again. The pain reminded him of this. But the Nibblet? she just didn't need it. It was hard enough watching Dawn as she was forced to interact everyday with It, watching the way she cringed whenever It spoke, or even worse, how that spark of hope would dance in those brown eyes for just a fleeting moment until the horror hit as she remembered who exactly It wasn't.

He was living in hell, Spike decided as he slammed his fists against the stone wall. He had murdered the woman he loved by his own incompetence and sentenced the one person he had left to a life of pain and continual torture. How more fucked up could things get?

***

Buffy stood silently by, a huge smile plastered on her plastic face, as she watched them eat.

It was hard to remember when things were different, Buffy reluctantly admitted as she looked down at the hands set primly in her lap. She couldn't even twiddle her own freaking thumbs, she thought helplessly even as her damn mouth smiled blankly at the guests.

Anne.

Some days it was easy to forget that she had ever been Buffy Summers. Answering to "Anne" came so naturally now, almost as if this had been the way things had always been. A couple times, as she sat in bed at night just processing the day in her head over and over again, her rebellious mind had wondered if maybe things really weren't just in her head after all. Delusions of a psycho bot, her consciousness giggled somewhat hysterically to herself even as her hazel eyes stared blankly at the wall. HAL the Vampire Slayer, maybe? No, she told herself firmly as she passed the bowl of buttered peas to Xander's waiting hands, that night still haunted her with a vengeance until she remembered every colour and nuance of the night her body died, even if she didn't understand it.

It had been three months since It happened: three months since she had been sentenced to this living solitary confinement. Perhaps the worst part of it all was watching her friends and sister live and breathe on while being unable to do or say a damn thing about it. Their precious lives seemed so far away now especially since it she was condemned to watch but never participate. How could she? Most of them even now only dealt with her when they had to.

Like now, Buffy thought sadly as she watched them talk energetically around the table, each one ignoring her presence as if she never existed.

The Programming allowed her to ask questions, as long as they followed certain guidelines. But Giles and Xander would never answer, and the others? they would just look at her as if she had just sprouted a pair of shiny, white fangs as they gave her as short of a reply as possible.

So Buffy stopped asking the questions and they all stopped trying to remember she was there even as she sat right next to them.

"So," Willow started, her fork paused in midair as she looked toward Dawn, "you want anything special for your birthday?"

"A p-party, maybe?" Tara chimed in, her expressive eyes nervous as they glanced at her lover.

"No. It's cool," Dawn replied as she rearranged the cloth napkin on her lap. "Just thought I'd stay home and watch movies with Anne or something…"

Buffy didn't miss that sudden look of alarm that flashed between her friends.

"I know that you probably don't want to do anything m-much," the shy blonde nodded slowly even as she lowered her fork to the plate. "But we were thinking… Willow and me, anyway… that maybe you'd want to get out of this house for a night. You know, go to the Bronze and maybe sleep over at our place. We can… well, m-maybe leave … um… Anne here. Maybe even turn her off. Give her circuits and s-stuff a break."

"Why?" Dawn asked suddenly, a frown coming to her pretty lips. "Is she going to wear out or something?"

Willow shook her head quickly as she shot a glance at Tara. "No, no. Just thought maybe that she'd like a break, Dawnie. Nothing big, you know? I mean, we could… well, you know… walk on the wild side…"

"What? You mean like order a Shirley Temple with one of those cute little umbrellas?" Dawn interrupted, her brown eyes shining with humour.

"You know it, baby," Willow grinned. "You know, turning 15 doesn't happen every day. Gotta make it an occasion to remember, right?"

"Well, maybe…"

"Oh," Tara broke in, a small smile curving her lips, "no maybes about it. I mean, really. Does watching old, dusty movies really compare to having an umbrella in your drink?"

"You've got a point there," the teenager responded, her face almost seeming to glow with something akin to happiness.

It was almost like being punched in the gut, Buffy thought as she watched her friends coerce her little sister into leaving her behind. It shouldn't hurt so much, she thought as she remained silent, knowing that her heart couldn't handle hearing her distinctive but empty voice echo stupidly in the dining room.

But dammit, she cursed as she sat there quietly, it was her sister's first birthday since all the bad things started happening. Hell, it was her sister's first real birthday as a human. It may not have been much, but she wanted that dumb movie party more than anything.

It really was pitiful, Buffy sighed internally as she halfheartedly listened to the girls speak energetically about their new plans for next Tuesday.

She should be absolutely delighted to know her friends were trying so hard to take care of her sister, Buffy acknowledged as she watched them all burst into a fit of the giggles. But didn't make the burning pain of rejection any less, she admitted as the loneliness engulfed her very soul.