Alive or Dead

Chp.5 Is it a Spell?

Dawn Summers came hurtling down the stairs, late for school as usual, wondering if she would have time to even pour herself a bowl of cereal, let alone eat it. Tara, who usually cooked her pancakes or waffles, was away at some wiccan event and not due back until that evening. For the past three days, breakfast had been either Buffy's attempt at pancakes - usually burnt - or left-overs from whatever they'd had for supper the night before.

She'd stopped expecting her sister to take her mom's place. Buffy was the Slayer and soooo busy that nourishing meals didn't often happen. And she was out such a lot at the moment, patrolling, checking that Spike was not up to some dreadful evil, getting herself back into the swing of things after the being all dead. What was hard to accept, though, was that Buffy never seemed happy. Oh, she said she was, even though she'd been brought back from heaven by Willow.

But after she'd rescued Dawn from Sweet, the Dancing Demon, she'd seemed even more uptight and cranky. She came back from patrolling looking hot and sweaty with the oddest bruises on her arms and legs. Dawn had carefully pushed to the back of her mind that when she'd accidentally caught sight of her sister in the shower last week, she'd had what looked like a bite on the soft rise of her breast.

So she was used to Buffy being silent in the morning as she fought the toaster and put together Dawn's lunch. But this morning was different - Buffy was singing under her breath, a catchy, happy tune and when she turned to greet her sister, she was smiling, eyes sparkling. "Morning, Dawnie. Isn't it a lovely morning?"

"Er...yes."

"I made you eggs and pancakes with funny faces."

"Buffy, I'm fifteen. I so do not need funny face pancakes, but, hey, thank you."

"No problem. Quick, sit and eat before they get cold."

Dawn glanced at the clock, but being late for school was way down her list of priorities now. She was tempted to say, "Who are you and what have you done with my sister?" but this was Buffy, a happy, cheerful, glad-to-be-alive, Buffy. It was weird and unsettling.

"You're all good moody today," she ventured through a mouthful of pancake and syrup.

Buffy laughed. "And why shouldn't I be?"

"Well, you know, coming back from heaven and everything that's been happening and - "

"Oh none of that's important. Sometimes you just have to wake up to see that what you've always wanted is right in front of your nose."

Dawn glanced up, expectant, but realised with a sick disappointment that this wasn't going to be some big sisterly-bonding moment. Buffy was gazing out of the window, arms wrapped round herself as if holding in the excitement that danced in her eyes. She took a deep breath: Buffy being happy for a change was nice. "Hey, I'm going to be late. Thanks for breakfast."

"Don't be late home. Xander and Anya are coming for supper."

It was dark when a screech of brakes leaving rubber on the road echoed down Revello Drive and Xander's car came to an abrupt halt outside Buffy's house. The message he'd received from Anya was brief and stark. "Come at once to Buffy's. Big trouble."

He sat, frozen for the moment, unable to conjure up the will to get out of the car and rush inside the house. Fear coursed through his body as he sat staring out at the place that had been the centre of his life for so many years - fear that was always there, lurking in the background of his mind every time there was a major problem in the Slayer's world.

As far as he was aware, he hid his terror well, not even Anya knew, although he sometimes thought she guessed. But he realised only too well that one day the forces ranged against them would be so terrifying that the fear would break through and he would turn and run, and keep on running because he could never face his friends or live in Sunnydale again once that occurred.

He wondered what would have happened all those years ago if he'd admitted to Buffy that he was scared. Oh, they all had said they were at different times, facing different demons and vampires, death, torture and destruction. Angelus had left him unable to sleep without a light on. The Slayer accepted that her friends were scared - she was proud of the fact that they still fought at her side - well, two steps behind her, if he was accurate. But she had no idea that his fear was more than that - it never went away, it had become part of his life, just as the realisation that Buffy Summers would never look at him with anything but affectionate friendship. The only reason he had ever fought was because of his feelings for her.

Shifting in his seat, he tried to force himself to open the car door. Unrequited love had warped him, he knew that. Oh, he loved Anya, but it wasn't the same. Could unrequited fear warp you in the same way? How brave was it to swing himself out onto the sidewalk, slam the car door and walk towards the door? He had no idea, although he felt that his time for hiding how he felt was fast running out. But at least there was one chink of light in the darkness - since she'd been recalled from death, Buffy had shown zero interest in men. He could cope with anything as long as that remained a fact.

"Hi guys! What's up? Another apocalypse? Didn't we have one only just last week." He pulled on the cheerful Xander persona like a comfortable pair of shoes on aching feet. Then he felt his grin fade as he took in the grim expressions on the people sitting round the table.

"It's Buffy," Willow began, running her fingers through her hair.

"Oh, don't worry, she's not injured," Tara broke in, looking more puzzled than upset.

"There's no need to look quite so terrified," Anya said tartly, pulling out a chair and waving him into it. "I personally think that Willow is over-reacting, but then you'll probably agree with her so I thought it best that you heard straight away."

"Heard what?" Xander glanced at them, bewildered. "Where is Buffy?"

"That's the problem," Willow said grimly.

"Oh, I don't think it's a real problem," Dawn said. "Just, kind of, you know, weird. But I'm OK with it, I think."

"It's probably a spell," Anya said, trying to sound interested and failing badly.

Xander banged his hand on the table. "Will someone please tell me what the heck you're all talking about?"

"Buffy's gone to live with Spike," Anya said, her words sharp and cold. "And do close your mouth, Xander, I can see the remains of pizza all round your teeth!"

For once Xander ignored her. "Gone to live with Spike?" The words made sense, but at the same time they didn't. "What? Why? When?"

"Well, we can answer the last question," Willow said tersely. "She left about an hour ago. Packed a case, came downstairs and just - you know - announced she was off and she'd be at Spike's if we needed her."

"Needed her?"

"Sweetie, do stop repeating everything. I'm telling you, it must be a spell."

"She likes Spike a lot," Dawn ventured. "Perhaps she loves him."

Xander felt sick. "It must be some sort of joke." He spun round to Dawn. "Have you been annoying her, Dawnie? Is this a sort of "stop being a brat or I'll move out", thing?"

Dawn shook her head, biting her lip. "I thought that...I asked her was it my fault...was it something I'd done or said. I promised to do more in the house...but she just..."

"She smiled," Willow broke in grimly. "She smiled at us, Xander, and it was horrible. She looked...all sort of glossy and happy and said she knew now that where she belonged was with Spike and she was - well, going there."

"We asked her to explain," Tara put in softly. "But she wouldn't listen."

Anya was busy filing her nails. "It's a spell," she said again, then broke the file in two and said loudly, "I can't keep on saying this. It Must Be A Spell, although, on second thoughts, Spike is very fit. Buffy might just fancy him."

Xander stared at his lover, appalled, then found himself clinging to the only words that made sense of the nightmare. "A spell - yes! That's it. Will - you haven't, I mean, lately, I mean, by accident or..." His voice trailed away as his best friend glared at him across the table.

"No, I haven't cast a spell wishing Buffy to go and live with Spike!" she snapped. "And I was so much younger and upset about Oz when I did that other silly spell. Give me some credit, Xander, for growing up!"

"Then perhaps another witch has magiced her," Dawn said brightly. "I mean, we know there's lots around Sunnydale. Perhaps Buffy upset one of them really badly."

"Or she just fancies Spike."

"Ahn, stop saying that!"

"Well, sweetie, I don't know why you're all so touchy about it. But the easiest way to find out is just to go and ask her, isn't it?"

"Anya's right," Willow said, trying not to frown at using those words out loud. "And as it must be some sort of charm, then I'm sure Spike will know all about it."

Tara started to speak, then stopped. She didn't think that chasing after the Slayer was going to get them anywhere, but she recognised that look on Willow's face only too well. The red-head hated being thwarted when it came to magic.

Xander stood up. "Right, let's go. Quickly, before, well, before Buffy gets too - settled."

He couldn't put into words what he really meant: the appalling vision of the Slayer sleeping with the vampire was now firmly embedded in his brain and he couldn't shift it. "Or whoever's doing this casts another spell, even more - spelly!"

tbc