quinara: Wishverse Buffy in a white frame. (Buffy Wish white box)
Quinara ([personal profile] quinara) wrote2015-08-14 10:34 pm

Fic: 'I love you' is a thing you say to people who are dying (12/18); hard R

[start of fic and notes]

'I love you' is a thing you say to people who are dying

by Quinara

Season 7. Buffy/Spike. Some Watchers survived, because sometimes people do.

[bodies I]

bodies II

--back then--

Giles wasn’t going to move from the basement, it seemed. He looked down at where she and Spike were sitting on the bed and all Buffy could do was look back at him. Also not back at him, so much as the stairs.

“Umm…” Buffy said, still trying to buy herself some time. What had he wanted to know? Why the video games? Why Andrew was saying he was an elf again? Surely Giles didn’t expect her to have an explanation for Andrew? “It’s, uh, game night?” she tried eventually, because at least that was the truth.

“Game ni…” A hard frown crossed his face and Giles shook his head, as though he couldn’t even bring himself to finish that thought.

Buffy panicked, just a little. Was it really so bad an idea? It hadn’t seemed so when the guys had been setting it up, and at least when the girls were occupied they didn’t eat quite so much food. It wasn’t like they could train all the time. “We thought it would be a good idea, you know?” she said out loud, not sure if it was better if she assumed or abdicated responsibility for the whole idea. “For morale.”

“Morale,” Giles repeated, in that tone of voice he had. He looked at Buffy again.

“Yeah,” she replied, trying to shrink herself very small.

With a flicker of recognition in his eyes, Giles then glanced at Spike. It was as though he’d noticed a vampire was sitting there with them for the first time, and when he looked back to Buffy there were conclusions written all over him. “Oh,” he said, as if it all now made sense. He took his glasses off. “I see.”

“See what?” Buffy replied, feeling it where Spike’s thigh brushed against hers. It was tingly, which usually was nice, but right now it wasn’t working for her quite so well. Xander and Willow she could cope with; with Dawnie she could figure something out. With Giles, though – when she looked at Spike and he looked as busted as she felt – Buffy didn’t know what to say. “What do you see?” she asked again, almost dreading the answer.

“Well,” Giles began, in exactly the same tone. He put the glasses back on his face. “I see that, as usual, you’ve decided to – hear my advice, and then do the precise opposite.”

“What?” Buffy shot back, not much voice coming into the breath that left her mouth. Giles couldn’t think it was all that simple. It just plain wasn’t.

“Need I remind you,” he continued anyway, like Buffy really hadn’t spoken, “who exactly the First has been targeting? Which creature in this house has been its primary agent of destruction these past months?” He was bristling with anger now. “And need I suggest –”

Buffy interrupted this final point. “The trigger,” she emphasised, “is not active anymore, OK?” Spike shifted, like he was agreeing.

But it wasn’t relevant. “– the lessons of the past need to be learnt,” Giles finished, as though he felt sorry for her.

“No,” Buffy told her Watcher, finally feeling annoyed. Screw the past; she wasn’t gonna take it. Leaning forward, she rested her hand on Spike’s knee – for balance, mostly. He touched the back of her elbow, as if to hold her back, but then seemed to think better of it and let her go. “You are the one,” she told Giles, pointing at him and his pitying eyes. “You are the one who’s stuck, thinking things can’t change.” They’d ghosted around this on the phone a few times, but this was now, in the flesh. Buffy pointed at herself, trying to feel it. “I know they can.”

For a moment, Giles said nothing. He looked at her until his expression hardened, and then he was talking again. “I suppose this is how it is. Do you even train the girls anymore?” he asked, sounding like Buffy was a lost cause. “Or do you spend all of your time down – here?” He looked around the basement in disgust, turning up his nose at Spike’s things before he cast an eye to the bed and its blue sheets.

There was actually only so much of this Buffy would put up with. “You do realise this is my actual basement, right?” she replied, not moving from Spike’s side, even as her legs began to itch.

Spike himself was keeping silent, watching Giles warily.

“It’s not some den of iniquity,” Buffy added, looking back to her Watcher. She tried to mollify him. “If anything attacks us, I’m right here.”

“Yes,” Giles replied, as though that was the problem. He pulled his glasses off – started cleaning them. “And I’m certain it’s convenient,” he suggested, as though this thought had come out of nowhere. “To have – someone – so close to home.”

Buffy glanced at Spike, wondering if he would see it that way, like Giles so clearly wanted him to. She’d tried it before.

This time around, Spike just glanced back at her and promptly rolled his eyes. Like she was an idiot. “Do I get a say in all this?” he spoke up then, for the first time, addressing Giles.

Like they were still roommates, but with a heck of a lot more bad blood between them, Giles immediately shot back a childish, sarcastic smile. “No,” he said bluntly.

Buffy wasn’t sure what the heck she was supposed to do in this situation. When she looked at Spike, he was wearing his own expression of irritation. “Should I leave you to it?” he asked after a sigh. Buffy shrugged and he glanced upwards. “I think I hear Mario Kart calling my name,” he added, with the suggestion that it would probably be easier if he left. The hubbub was a-bubbing.

“OK,” Buffy agreed, because she figured she had to say something. Also because he was probably right.

All of his face was hard, but Spike nonetheless took Buffy’s hand and squeezed it for a moment as he kicked himself off the bed. She smiled, or at least tensed the muscles in her chin, and her serious vampire boyfriend nodded back at her. Then he was storming out of the basement. As he passed Giles he cut in close, on purpose so her Watcher got a surprise bump on his shoulder. Then without comment he was heading up the stairs.

Buffy watched him go.

“That’s where you should be,” Giles said when Spike was just about gone. Buffy looked at him again, not quite getting the point. “Upstairs,” he pressed. “With those girls. You are their mentor,” he reminded her.

Pressing her fingers into the hollows underneath her eyes, Buffy tried to figure out what she was going to say. With Spike gone, sitting on the bed felt a hell of a lot less decadent and a heck of a lot more like a thin camping mattress with one broken spring not so far from her ass. It sank under her weight, and not in a good way. She had to curl her feet under the frame it was so low.

The thing was, she’d been upstairs all afternoon, and mostly it hadn’t been enjoyable. “You know why I’m with Spike, Giles?” Buffy came out with eventually, looking up.

There was already a quirk of disbelief in Giles’ eyes. With the cellar light, he looked like he’d come to find a bottle of wine and ended up with a rack full of schnapps. Still, he didn’t say anything.

Buffy tried to explain, “It’s because he’s the only one who doesn’t call on me to do things I can’t do.” Rubbing her hands on her knees, she wondered if these were the words and this was the time. The washer needed running again. “To be this perfect Slayer, you know?” she suggested anyway. “To be the girl who doesn’t… Find a relationship. Who doesn’t take her eye off of the apocalypse for one single second.”

Now Giles was looking at her with pity. It didn’t seem so good a result.

All the same, Buffy finished her point. Pointedly. “He doesn’t ask me to be this perfect ‘mentor’ to a bunch of girls who hate me.” And he didn’t ask her to save everyone.

“Buffy…” Giles said when she was done, like all hope was lost. “You are being melodramatic.” He looked around the basement and didn’t seem to notice the washer, just the gloom. “This is no star-crossed romance,” he added, as though Buffy might have been confused. “This is a fling. With Spike.”

They were at a stalemate, clearly. With yet another sigh, Buffy pushed herself backwards to a slightly more comfortable position on the bed and figured it was time for sheer negotiation. “What do you want me to say?” she asked Giles, trying to level with him.

When it came down to it, after all, there were certain things that were clear in Buffy’s mind. The basement was comfy. She had no plans to leave the basement this evening, except to get Spike back down there with her. He was clearly still tired and vulnerable-feeling after his detriggering with Lydia, which had to be why he’d left so soon rather than revelling in the discord. So, obviously, he was due some Buffy TLC and she was due some of those warm, sharp, wriggly feelings she got in her gut when they made out. Without them she was just an exhausted old Slayer, waiting for the end to come.

There were lots of things she would do to get that, Buffy decided, but first she had to figure out what it was that Giles really expected from her. “When Xander…” Buffy suggested, keeping her eyes on her Watcher’s expression. “I told Xander how it was. We didn’t plan any of this,” she explained, reasonably. “I’m not trying to hurt anybody.”

Giles, of course, was unrelenting, even in his kindness. “Buffy,” he said gently, like he was also bone-tired. Also as though he hadn’t realised yet that this was a negotiation. “I’ve just come from the Council’s base in Johannesburg,” he explained. “The place is – levelled. Obliterated. The issues here are too…” He finished even more gently, closing his eyes for a moment, for strength Buffy thought. Then he changed the subject, shaking his head before he revealed, “Dawn told me that he bit you.”

Without thinking, Buffy slapped her hand to her neck. It felt like so long ago, but it wasn’t; it was a day. The wound was still pretty fresh, for her, and though her hand covered it up the slap hurt when it smacked against her bruises.

God, for some reason she still felt guilty. About this – about the Watchers. Looking down at her lap, Buffy couldn’t work out why. Johannesburg. “He was triggered,” she said carefully, when she found her strength. Her hand slipped to her shoulder as she raised her head. “It wasn’t his fault,” she insisted, “and he’s better now. Lydia went inside his head and fixed him.”

As she glanced again at the unwashed laundry, Buffy seriously wished she could stop feeling shame about what was otherwise no different from any other wound she’d got from patrolling. It was worse than with Dracula, this feeling – like everyone was thinking this was something she’d wanted, rather than an accident; like this was a visible mark of all the kinky sex games and Spike weren’t even playing, the sort of sign everyone could see, unlike all of the bruises and bites and contusions she’d been covering up the last time.

Of course, for once it didn’t seem as though Giles was thinking along those lines at all. “Lydia?” was what he picked up on. He had his nose screwed up as though this was the most surprising part of all Buffy’s news. Also like he was affronted. “And what experience does she have with this?”

At least he was distracted, Buffy thought. She bit her lip, trying to remember. “Well, she knows his history,” she tried. “And she has more training in hokey vampire psychology than half the people in this house…”

“That may be true,” Giles scoffed, as though this was commentary he’d known for so long he didn’t have to think before it flowed from his tongue. “But Miss Chalmers is hardly one to think about the big picture.”

Buffy frowned. “What do you mean by that?” she asked him, looking for the guy who’d always had faith in her, no matter how small or blonde or screechy or weepy she’d been. He didn’t seem all that present. “She’s a Watcher, isn’t she?” Really, Buffy felt almost bad for her, now Lydia had been driven to the nicotine. After everything in London… “She’s just like you,” Buffy finished, trying to remind Giles what he’d always claimed to be.

For a moment the man looked speechless, before he told her, “There are Watchers and there are Watchers,” like this was still important, even after everything. “I would no longer let Lydia Chalmers inside a vampire’s head than I would let Nigel Ramachandran. They’re mandarins, Buffy,” he insisted, though Buffy herself had no idea what miniature oranges had to do with anything.

Are you saying that they’re fruit-flavoured?

“They protect and serve the needs of the Council,” Giles answered the question she hadn’t asked. “All they know are the archives.”

“But…” Buffy interrupted, ignoring this whole citrus distraction. “There’s no archives left, last I heard. Don’t you think that…”

“They’ve never been in the field,” Giles finished, as if this really, really was the important point. “They don’t know what it’s like.”

There was something haunted about Giles, right about then. Buffy scrutinised him, wondering what it was he did, all the time he spent away from Sunnydale. OK, he was tracking down the girls, and from the way she found Althanea outside sometimes at sunrise, doing witchy stuff, Buffy figured his old friend was still helping him. They spoke on the phone when Buffy was done. At the same time, it seemed like there was something else. Possibly he was trying to track down Watchers. Possibly he’d joined the poker circuit. Possibly he had an ex-murdering vampire girlfriend that Buffy would never even know about to call an intervention because it wasn’t his house they all lived in.

“I think they’re doing OK, actually,” Buffy said eventually, pulling herself back to the point. After all her years as the Slayer, she could be serious, and so she was being serious now. She put her hands on her hips. “Lydia and Nigel.” Did he really think she’d have let them do stuff if she didn’t think they were doing OK? She was selfish, but she wasn’t that selfish. “They’re here during the day when I can’t be,” she explained, looking Giles in the eyes. “The girls like them; they trust the both of them. You have so much else going on,” she accused, because it seemed like a relevant point. “And, you know what?” she finished. “So do I.”

That was all that needed to be said, as far as Buffy was concerned. It was clear Giles didn’t want to talk about what was going on with him any more than Buffy wanted to talk about what was going on between her and Spike. He said nothing, just looked at her, and Buffy stared her Watcher down.

Now came the negotiation.

“You should be showing those girls,” was what Giles said, finally, pointing to the ceiling. “You should be showing them what it means to be the Slayer.”

“Fine,” Buffy agreed. Since she was the only one alive and not incarcerated, she assumed that wouldn’t be so tough. She didn’t move from the bed. “Tonight they’re learning how to have fun and forget for a little while about their certain, impending death. Hence I’m playing hooky right along with them.”

For a moment, Giles was cowed. He looked down, apparently remembering what he’d forgotten, that there was only one thing certain when you were the Slayer, and it wasn’t something fun.

“All right,” he agreed, even if his expression was hard again when he looked back up. “And you will train them,” he added. Buffy couldn’t quite figure out if he thought it was best for her, for the girls, or if he simply didn’t trust Lydia and Nigel to do their jobs.

“From tomorrow,” Buffy confirmed, because it seemed like she wasn’t going to get out of it. She didn’t fight battles she wasn’t going to win.

Giles nodded and with one more glance to the bedsheets he turned to walk away. It was as though this was the only thing they needed to discuss after he’d been absent a week and a half.

“Leave Spike alone,” Buffy demanded from the back of him. She wasn’t going to ask.

One foot on the stairs and one hand on the bannister, Giles paused. He looked back at her, and Buffy knew he got what she wasn’t saying.

You’re gonna need him.

After the minutes it took to gather herself, Buffy followed Giles upstairs. She found Spike right there in the kitchen, of all places, talking to Xander – of all people. The sound of game night was still zipping and zooming from the living room and the smell of warm popcorn was rich and buttery where it wafted from the overflowing bowl on the countertop.

Spike was pulling a bag of warm blood from the microwave. Xander was eating the popcorn. “What?” he asked, crunching the last kernel in his hand from between his fingers, “And you’re saying Giles busted straight in? Without even knocking?

“Get your mind out of the gutter, mate,” Spike snarked back, shoving closed the microwave door. “He didn’t see anything you’ve seen.”

Then he was ripping the bag open with his teeth, catching Buffy’s eye and winking. She blushed, trying to figure out how the microwave had made the kitchen quite so hot…

Thankfully, Xander seemed to have missed this reference, as well as the wink. Either that or he was politely ignoring it. Bullishly, he carried on. “That’s not he point!”, he exclaimed, clearly far away as he plunged his hand back into the popcorn bowl. “This house is full of people and there’s not even a lock on the bathroom.” He pulled his fresh handful free, gesturing with it. “People need privacy! To have…” Finally he caught sight of Buffy, who raised her eyebrow, wondering what exactly Xander had been doing in her house. “To have conversations,” he finished a little more feebly, bringing his hand to his mouth and smothering anything else he might have said with munching.

There was pity on Spike’s face. “Can’t you take it back to your apartment?” he asked, like he was thinking exactly what Buffy was thinking. God, she hoped Xander and Anya had cleaned up after themselves. After that time at the Magic Box…

Xander looked between them. Muttering something about ‘pressure’, he abruptly took the snack bowl up into his arms and escaped.

Buffy watched him go, wondering if this was what the apocalypse reduced them to. It was all kind of sad.

“It must be hard, I guess,” she suggested, looking back. Sucking on his blood, Spike raised his eyebrows – the picture of vampiric innocence. Buffy suppressed a giggle, glancing down. “I mean,” she emphasised, trying to remember that they were talking about Xander. “It must be hard to take Anya back to his apartment. You know,” she explained, because she was sensitive, “after they spent so much time there together.”

Spike shrugged, licking his lips. “Life’s hard,” he said, pitching away from the counter.

Buffy raised her own eyebrows. It was an impressive pitch. When she caught Spike’s eyes again, he was looking at her with hot, narrowed eyes and a smirk on his face. “And what exactly are you thinking about?”

Letting the joke go, Buffy sighed. She leaned back on the basement door. “Giles wants me to try training the girls again,” she informed him more seriously, crossing her arms. “It’s part of some – deal – which means he might actually get off my case.”

“What’s the deal?” Spike asked, catching the mood and accepting it as he went back to his dinner.

Buffy wasn’t sure what to tell him. She shrugged. “I train the girls,” she repeated, “and he gets off my case. Gets off yours, actually,” she corrected, though she wasn’t entirely sure how it was different.

With the microwave behind him, Spike didn’t look all that scary. He was squeezing blood into his mouth from a plastic packet, which was pretty gross, but why Giles could ever think he was a threat to her – for real – Buffy didn’t know. She wasn’t scared of him.

“Rupert Giles doesn’t bother me,” was what he said, and even though he sounded annoyed Buffy knew she had nothing to fear. “You don’t need to do what he says to protect me.”

“I want us all to get along,” Buffy replied, thinking that maybe Spike at least deserved to hear it out loud. “Stuff goes down,” she explained, off his confused look, “then everybody’s gonna need everybody.”

Spike paused. The bag’s last veins of blood sank back to the bottom. When he looked at her, it wasn’t like he couldn’t believe it, but it was like he hadn’t thought to see it coming. “You’re going back there,” he said. To the dragon.

“I’ve gotta try,” Buffy confirmed, because she wasn’t afraid of this guy. The way Spike looked at her, it was as though she’d hurt his feelings, but they both knew that he would get over it.

This much was obvious from the way Spike asked her, serious and to the point, “Did you tell him?” He nodded his head towards the living room, towards Giles.

“What?” Buffy replied, feeling the size of the kitchen around them, the two yards’ space her voice had to travel. “The part where training’s all gonna be pretty much pointless anyway, if we get it right.”

Spike nodded, sucking the last of the bag.

Buffy shook her head. It was difficult, really, to feel like the whole idea was going to go anywhere, at least while her neck still stung in the shower. Yet it all seemed necessary. It seemed vital. They didn’t have any other ideas, really – and she wasn’t scared of Giles either, but she didn’t know how she was supposed to tell him that. “I figure even Travers has forgotten he suggested it,” she admitted, not thinking about it for the moment. “I haven’t seen him.”

With another, more emphatic nod to the living room, Spike pointed out, “He’s in there.” Then he said what was probably the last sentence Buffy had ever expected to be connected to Quentin Travers. “He’s killing it on the N64. Got Bowser running circles round the rest of ‘em.”

Huh. Buffy ignored that whole issue. It was beside the point. “It doesn’t matter,” she said, shaking her head again. “If it happens, it happens,” she added, rubbing fingers into her forehead as though she could push the tension away. “Otherwise, I figure training’s always useful. We’re gonna need us to be an army.”

Hands in her face, Buffy could still just about watch as Spike approached her. He shoved the remains of his blood bag in his back pocket and easily put himself in her space, curving his hands her upper arms to rub at the muscles. “Mrmm?” he didn’t quite hum, and didn’t quite shush her like a child. It was a much more effective stress-relief.

“Xander’s right, you know,” Buffy added in a lower voice, dropping both her hands to Spike’s chest. She looked up at him and he seemed intrigued by the sight of her. “There’s no privacy in this house,” she told his mouth, imagining the way it had been sucking just a minute ago. They had really been very rudely interrupted before, and she… “If we’re gonna,” she explained, looking up, “we might as well go like Wills and Kennedy and make out on the couch.”

“Oh, please,” Spike mocked her, and his chest rumbled with the words. Rubbing Buffy’s arms all the way down to the elbow, he let her go just enough to open the basement door and step back into darkness. He took her hand. “Unlike you lot,” he accused, “I remember what it means to have class.”

The invitation in his eyes was irresistible. Certainly, Buffy thought, it was a very classy snick that shut the door behind them.

--the next time--

The house was quiet when Buffy came home that afternoon. Nigel and Principal Wood had finally found time in the after school schedule for the girls to get some training in the tennis courts, rather than the backyard. Racquets weren’t too much like axes, really, although some of the ones in the Sunnydale High storeroom weighed the same – but given how some of the girls had been throwing them around when Buffy had left, she wasn’t sure she wanted them on weapons anyway.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely clear whether the girls should be trusted with basic utensils either. Now that they were gone, the house was showing all too many signs of expressly multiple occupancy: the walls were scuffed; part of the repaired coffee table was missing; the couch looked like it had aged ten years and there were crumbs trodden into every tread of the stairs, when there weren’t unidentified stains.

It was weird without the girls, 1630; uncanny. It was even weirder now, when it seemed that almost everybody else was gone too.

Buffy could still see the Seal of Danzalthar glowing in her mind’s eye, malevolence pregnant in the air, and she wondered if it was the wards, making the house feel so strange. Here was the only place in Sunnydale free from the First’s influence. It was an artificially preserved time capsule of a town already lost. Coming home like this, it was tempting to turn around and head straight back out, no matter how much she ws supposed to like the quiet. It was either that or head down to the basement, where Spike was probably sleeping the sleep of the well-sexed unconscious. That hadn’t gone well the last time, though, and Buffy knew he had issues about her using him as an excuse to hide.

Thankfully, the main downstairs wasn’t entirely empty, so Buffy didn’t have to make a choice. Travers was sitting in the dining room, halfway between the books and Willow’s computer stuff like he missed being chair of the board. He was reading the Sunnydale Press with a bemused expression on his face.

“Where is everybody?” Buffy asked when he looked up.

Travers smiled, though his eyebrows remained knitted while he folded the newspaper closed. His right arm was still out of action, so it took him a while. “Apparently,“ he told her as he folded, “the Sunnydale Mall will from tomorrow be closed until further notice. There are sales.”

He nodded at the seat opposite him, then, and Buffy took it, still feeling the awkwardness of this empty house all around her. “What, and people went?” she asked. Not that she blamed them, of course. The mall was a little far for her to get to now she’d already come home, but there were things she might have gone for. “I mean – are you saying Giles went? He let everybody go?”

Now Travers looked up at her, taking hold of the cup of tea that was sitting just to the side of the paper. “The girls are in training,” he said, sounding like Buffy had surprised him with her question. “There is no immediate call on our time.”

“No, I know,” Buffy said immediately, glancing around the empty house again. She could feel Spike almost, stirring with the sense of her, but that wasn’t it, why this place felt so weird. The time was over for all this stuff, wasn’t it? Going to the mall and laughing as Sunnydale hollowed out? “It just seems…”

He was looking at her seriously, Travers, the small white mug just below his chin like he couldn’t decide if he wanted another sip or not. “Are you quite all right, Miss Summers?” he asked, ultimately setting the mug down on the coaster again. “You don’t appear to be yourself.”

Buffy sighed. She knew how she was sitting: half in her chair and half out of it; hands resting on the wooden table. She couldn’t relax – something from the night before had knocked that out of her, or else it was the fear of falling so deep inside herself again. “You can call me Buffy, Mr. Travers,” she said as a distraction, trying to school herself into someone who wasn’t what she was.

“It’s 'Quentin',” Travers replied, as though Buffy had missed her own joke – which, actually, she had. Great.

Drumming her fingers on the tabletop, Buffy rolled her eyes. “How many apocalypses have you faced, Quentin?” she asked when the question came to her.

He was picking up his tea again, never fazed from the frown he was looking at her with. “Rather too many, I fear,” was his reply.

She was going to ask, Did you ever work out what to do about the waiting? Yet as she clenched her hands to hold them still, Buffy realised this was a weird question, the sort of thing no one asked. The Slayer didn’t wait for the apocalypse: she fought it. She prevented it. That was what Robin wanted from her, the way they all did, so she wasn't sure anymore why she was wasting time.

For some reason, though, that thought sent a shiver through Buffy even stronger than the general pulse of adrenaline she had pumping in her veins.

“Would you care for a game of backgammon?” Travers asked eventually, his tone somewhat more light-hearted. “Maybe best of five?”

“Huh?” Buffy replied stupidly, still caught up in the sight of her bitten-back fingernails. She wondered whether there was a section in the Slayer Handbook about manicures. “I mean…” she covered herself as she actually took the question in. Of course, that was when she realised it was a ridiculous question. “Huh?”

“It’s there on the side behind you,” Travers said, nodding over Buffy’s shoulder. There was an aura of patience around him, but it wasn’t so odd a look with his fisherman’s sweater and his sling.

Turning her body in the chair, Buffy realised that Travers was right. Stacked on the sideboard were about six games she’d never really noticed, including Risk and Monopoly and Xander’s battered version of The Game of Life complete with the stain from where it had landed in the pizza that time. There was also a small and flat wooden box, which Buffy remembered from back home in Los Angeles, even though she’d never played it.

“I don’t know the rules,” Buffy said, even as she leaned back on the chair to take hold of the set. Slayer co-ordination had to be good for something. “Isn’t it just dice and stuff?” She couldn’t let Spike see her like this anyway, she decided as she swung back with the wooden box. It was either this or pointless housework. “I mean,” she added, addressing Travers, “where’s the skill?”

Travers sighed, reaching to take the game from her with his one good hand. “Most games are a question of luck,” he pointed out, opening the catch to set the board flat. “The skill lies in manipulating the odds.”

As he began to lay out the pieces, Buffy wasn’t so sure she wanted to play. It all looked arcane, with the red and black checkers sitting on their art deco points. There were jumps behind her knees and this looked like it was going to be slow, and she was over this – she was over this whole house.

“Now, you’ll have to concentrate while I explain how to play,” Travers said, not unkindly.

Buffy blinked at him. He started talking, and she tried to pay attention, her elbows leant on the dining table and her chin in her hands. It was weird, though. No one had tried to explain to her anything like this in forever, so her attempt to take it all in was like stretching an underused muscle. Or something like that anyway; Buffy hadn’t had an underused muscle even when she’d come back from the dead.

Not for the first time, Buffy wondered what it was like for these Watchers, to have their place of work and their friends all gone, to be flown across the world into a slovenly California residence that was full of children and smelled like a locker room. They didn’t seem to resent it too badly, and yet Buffy thought even she had before today. Possibly there came a time for everyone when you got over that – and possibly she was there right now.

He was patient with her, Travers, once the game had started. He’d play his move and explain it, then tell her her options and let her decide what to do. Buffy found herself resenting him for it, frowning at the board and wishing she could smash it into pieces on the floor. The urge didn’t come to her hands though – not the way it would have done yesterday, and she wondered what it was that she’d become.


[bodies III]