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A Most Exquisite Corpse

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Chapter 1 - Deadlier Than Keats

Buffy sprang up out of bed, hitting the floor already crouched in a defensive stance.  She frowned.  Where the hell was this? She was in some sort of rocky chamber, lit by a few guttering candles, their wax pooling atop a battered dresser and spilling to the carpet in elaborate, elongated drips.  She could hear water splashing.  Her eyes followed the pattern of the carpet — owls and snaky, curling vines — all the way back to her own feet.  Bare feet; she suddenly realized she was dressed only in an oversized, red, button-up shirt.  She turned her head to take in the rest of the room and stifled a gasp.  Across the black sheets stretched Spike, naked.  Or possibly some idealized marble statue of Spike.  Because surely vicious, evil vampires couldn't look that ... perfect as they slept.  Nothing about this made any sense.

Hadn’t they just been fighting, with brutal ferocity, in broad daylight on campus?  No, wait — hadn’t they just been divining the future with a huge, psychic, floating fish?  No, no, no — hadn’t he just been talking her through her reading for Art History, livening it up with anecdotes about hanging with the surrealists, while Dawn interrupted with random questions?  How can that woman’s head be a butterfly? Do you think she eats nectar?  Does a melted clock still tell the right time?   The tangle of images flashed through her mind’s eye in pulses.  Each scenario, like the last, was concrete and compelling and without a doubt what had just been happening. None of them led her here, to a bed in a cave with her mortal enemy. 

Well ... whatever was going on, it was undoubtedly Spike’s fault.  Some kind of kidnapping ... followed by some kind of magical memory wipe.  And she’d take care of that, and of him, the moment she found a stake.  And also maybe some panties.  She dragged her eyes away from the naked vampire and started poking through the open drawer of the dresser.  Even in the dim, flickering light, she could see:  black t-shirt, black t-shirt, black t-shirt, black t-shirt. These were definitely Spike’s clothes.  She pushed the drawer closed and tugged at the lower one.  The warped wood screeched, and she winced.   

“... Buffy, love? What time is it?”  She grabbed the first thing she found off the nearby shelf and spun around. She so did not want to deal with a Big Bad half dressed.  And she wasn’t even going to think about how she’d come to be so scantily clad, except that it was probably a really excellent extra reason to kill him really extra dead.

He was propped up on one elbow now, all indecent and pretty. (And she was going to, like, totally ignore his notable morning wood.  Totally.)  She narrowed her eyes at him.  “It’s time to tell me what’s going on, Spike,” she growled.  “And since when do you call me ‘Buffy’?”

He stared at her.  “’nother one of those dreams, pet?  I’m sorry.”  His acting skills were astounding.  He oozed solicitude, without a trace of fear for his unlife.  There was a large mirror positioned behind the bed.  She shuddered.  Creepy hedonistic vampire.

“I’m just going to ask this one more time, Spike.”  She threateningly raised the little book she’d grabbed.

Spike swung forward into a sitting position, puzzled.  “You gonna throw Keats at me?”  She put the poetry down on the dresser, flustered.  Spike’s head tilted slightly, his gaze suddenly more assessing.  “Something’s not right.”

“Oh, do you think?”   She reached out and gripped the side rail of the little bookcase, breaking it off. “You, you kidnapped the Slayer and did ... god knows what and you think maybe, just maybe, something’s not right?” She snapped the rail over her knee, splintering it into a jagged point.  Even deadlier than Keats.

“Oi!  Love, what?”  He rolled up off the bed on the far side. “You’re Buffy —”

“We’ve covered that,“ she barked, stalking towards him, “and you’re going to tell ‘Buffy’ what you did to her.”

“Now hang on a bit — you’re Buffy, but you aren’t my Buffy.”  He backed cautiously around the head of the bed, almost bumping backwards into his own reflection, as she came after him. 

“Of course not. I would never, ever be … I mean, ewww.”  She was really regretting not having found pants yet, but no matter.  He’d die just as dustily.

“Sorry; I’m not explaining it proper.  I mean my Buffy:  her hair’s shorter?  She’s maybe a little older?  We decided to sleep here last night ’cause Dawn was having friends over at the house?”

Buffy gaped at him.  “That’s ridiculous. We don’t — there’s no ‘we.’  There could never, ever be any kind of ‘we,’ Spike.”

“Take a look right there at the night table, luv.  That’s my Buffy’s Mr. Gordo.”

Fury flooded her as she spotted her beloved pig. “You stole Mr. Gordo?  Not even Angelus went after —”  She raised her make-shift stake.  And then the book Mr. Gordo’s weight was holding open registered in her brain.  She blinked and looked back at the nightstand.  It was her art history textbook, the one Dawn’d been pelting her ... and Spike ... with questions about. The butterfly-headed woman stared up at her.  The butterfly-headed woman from a memory that she couldn’t be remembering, because it could never have happened in the first place, because she and Spike were so not homework buddies.  She wasn’t even in college, she’d dropped out when her mom ... but Joyce had been making the three of them cocoa. The anger drained out of her.  She held perfectly still, staring at the book. 

Spike spoke carefully into the silence.  “That’s your book, yeah.  We’re nearly through with surrealism and into dada.  What did happen last night?  To you?  What’s the last thing you remember?”  He wasn’t talking like an evil fiend; he wasn’t even talking like Spike. The Spike she knew was all innuendo, had never spoken a snarkless sentence in her hearing (except maybe when he’d explained that he wanted to save the world so he could continue to eat people; he’d sounded pretty matter-of-fact then).  She raised her eyes and really looked at the vampire.  She didn’t remember those loose two-toned curls, and she was absolutely sure she’d never seen Spike — her Spike — look so earnest.

“I’m not ... we were fighting, out in the sun, but then we ... I’m not sure. It’s some kind of spell.”  She faltered, aware she chosen to describe pretty much the only memory from the jumble in her head in which they were on hostile terms. “You put a spell on me?”  She meant to be accusatory, but it just came out baffled.  The reflection of the candles behind him seemed brighter than the candles themselves.    

“Didn’t.  Wouldn’t.  But sounds like someone did.  Look, if you can hold off staking me for a couple o’ ticks, pet, I think we should go see your Watcher.”  He kept a careful eye on her as he bent down to snag a pair of jeans off the floor.  “Think you’ve slipped between worlds.  Or through time.  Maybe both.”

“I don’t have a Watcher any more.”

He paused a moment.  “Well. My Buffy’s Watcher, then.”  He concentrated on his pants and she had the uneasy feeling he was concealing sympathy, or some other non-Spikish emotion, to let her save face.  

“Wonder where she’s at,” he muttered.

“Who?”

“Buffy, my Buffy.  Went to sleep here last night together … hope she’s not alone.”  He sounded distraught.  She didn’t know how to reply.   She didn’t know how to respond to a Spike that cared about a Buffy.   She watched his back flex in the mirror as he buttoned his fly.

“Spike?”

“Yeah?”

“If this is a different world, with a different Buffy and a different Spike … in this world, do you have a reflection?”

He looked at her and frowned.  “Course not.  Don’t even have a mirror.”

“Course not,” echoed Buffy.

 

***

 

Buffy sighed noisily.  For, like, the hundredth time.  Stranger-Spike had been staring at himself for at least thirty minutes.  Or maybe it was ten.  Whatever; it felt like a lifetime.  “I’m so pale.  I mean, it comes across in photographs, but…”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Buffy.  “Look, Narcissus, I realize it’s been forever since you could ogle yourself in real-time.  And I can see why you’d be concerned about this whole Billy Idol knock-off thing.  But I need to find out what’s happening to me. I need to get home.”

Spike took a step backwards, heedless of the fact it put him inches from her stake.  He was still shirtless, and she was still pantsless, and in the mirror they looked disturbingly like a matched set, a thoroughly debauched couple.  “And you don’t think you being here’s got something to do with a giant magical mirror showing up at the very same time you did, Slayer?”

“Oh.”  She actually hadn’t thought about that.  She considered the mirror.  It was grandiose.  The frame was thick, dark wood, carved into oak leaves and vines. As she contemplated the carvings she realized creatures were hidden in the vegetation: an owl here, a turned-away face with pointy ears there.  Somehow everything reflected in it seemed a little too well lit.

Spike had cocked his head at himself and flexed a little.  “I’m right muscley as a vamp.”

Buffy snorted to cover that in fact she’d been noticing those muscles.  “Do you think maybe you could find me some pants, and we could go see Giles now?”

“Yeah, yeah, you can borrow something from Buffy — my Buffy — back there in the wardrobe.” He waved vaguely back behind himself, without looking away from the mirror. “I’m sure she’d help you out if she were here.  But we’ve still got a few hours til dawn …  and look at that, there’s my scar.”  Spike stepped forward again, fascinated by his own raised eyebrow.  

Spike.”

“Sorry, love.  Been sportin’ it nearly a century, but I never saw it before.”  He clucked his tongue, reaching towards the mirror.  

Every Slayer alarm in Buffy’s brain went off at once, and she dropped the stake to grab at his arm:  “Don’t touch the —”  She half expected the mirror to meet his hand in a swell of silver.  Or the surface to ripple like liquid as his fingers sank into it.  Or reflection-Spike to vamp out and yank stranger-Spike through the glass by the wrist.  

But apparently she’d seen too many movies; Spike merely touched his fingertips to their own reflection at eyebrow level, and looked at her sidelong.  “Worried about me, not-my-Buffy?  ’M I growing on you?”

“No!  You are so not … growing on me.  I just don’t think you should be touching the mirror.  We don’t know what it is.”  Dammit.  Well.  At least it wasn’t her own, evil Spike who was growing on her.

“Uh-huh.  Y’know what I think?”

“I really don’t care —”

“Think when we get my Buffy back and send you home, you should maybe give your own Spike a bit of a chance, love.”  Stranger-Spike relaxed his full palm against the mirror, and curled his tongue at her.  It was the very first moment he felt anything like the Spike she knew, but hold on — flirting with her mortal enemy felt familiar?  Since when?  It was disturbing, she decided; she was experiencing disturbance.  And a little disorientation, from being in the wrong world.  She put her free hand out to steady herself against the cold glass.  And then with a wrenching feeling in her stomach, everything, everything went pear-shaped, upside-down and inside-out and she was hanging onto stranger-Spike’s arm with every ounce of her Slayer strength as each atom in her body was sucked forward separately and painfully into the mirror.  And her last, foolish, inappropriate, fashion-conscious thought was not about how to get herself back to her own dimension; or who would take care of her sister if she didn’t; or even the evil metaphysics underlying magic mystery mirror portals. No, her last thought was this:  if she had to be sucked painfully through a looking glass as part of some big cosmic let’s-mess-with-Buffy event, did she really have to do it dressed in nothing but Spike’s stupid red shirt?