There were just the four of them, after the spell broke and most of the Council ran away to hide from itself.
"Well." Giles left the word hanging, as though he had said all he could manage.
"Yeah." Willow achieved more syllables, with an effort. "That was…"
Buffy contributed a morose, "Excruciating?" Got a round of agreement, and eye-avoidance.
It figured that Spike would be the one to break ranks. "Great girl, that Faith. Got to hand it to you Rupert. If your dreams are anything like reality-"
"For the love of God shut up about my dreams!" Giles's baritone didn’t rise to 'shriek' all that readily, but it was achieved on this occasion.
Buffy tried a disciplinarian, "Spike!" It didn't noticeably stop him grinning. So she tried reasoned argument, usually a last resort of apocalyptic proportions. "If you talk about what you just saw in someone else's dream, then the whole not-discussing-it pact falls apart. And then anyone can talk about what they just saw in anyone else's dreams. Anyone's personal, deeply private dreams. No good can come of this."
Giles nodded. A lot. "And I think we are agreed that now we have the antidote, we can roll out a patch to the general protection spells for all the regional offices without, um…"
"-Telling them anything specific?"
"-Spilling our guts?"
"-Getting all over-personal-revelatory?"
The glasses were being cleaned, but otherwise Giles continued without allowing a pause to disentangle that lot, "Quite. I think we can all agree that though the dream spell breakthrough has been a little-"
"Bit worse than you and my mom on the hood of-"
"-Thank you Buffy - tricky to manage, we are fully on top of the situation now and the next trickster that comes our way will find it hard to pull that one again."
"And so say all of us, Rupert. No need to overshare with the ickle bunnies in the outer offices, hmm?" Buffy actually couldn't tell whether Spike was serious about that. But he seemed to have gone back to respecting the Pact of British Reserve and that was mostly what she was invested in right now.
There was a relieved pause. No one need know the detail. Except for those who'd had the whole dream-meld thing already. They, sadly, could not forget.
"That bit with the green…" Willow sounded reluctant to bring it up. "Was that…?"
"Dawn. I suppose."
"Yep. She always dreams in green." Spike tried to look nonchalant in the face of united Senior Council outrage.
"You know about my sister's dreams? When did that come up?"
"Oh, years ago." Spike not really helping himself there. "When she calmed down a bit and thought about being the Key, she mentioned it. Like, 'So that's why I dream in green.' Very casual-like. Didn't hardly seem worth a mention."
"Huh. Things I never knew about my sister. And also you." Buffy sighed, and decided not to pursue it. "So, among disturbing things which we should talk about, does anyone know who's got the First Slayer going nutso in her brain? Cos that didn't go so well last time."
"Not to fret, love. She's with me. We're getting along fine."
The meeting room grew very quiet. Buffy tried to decide whether to address the not telling me part before the getting along disturbingness.
She was pre-empted before she could come to a decision. "This is terribly serious, Spike. I don't know if you realise what you're dealing with here, but Sineya is a very powerful-"
"Know it well enough, Rupert. Tries to kill in your sleep. And mine. Just hasn't found a way to get to me yet. I'm pretty tough."
"It took out three of us in barely an hour," was Willow's indignant contribution.
Spike shrugged. "You were young, most of you-" Giles tried not to look outraged "-Didn't have my experience. Been keeping her at bay, no trouble."
"But-" Pretty much all of them said that simultaneously. Buffy silently demanded, and won, precedence. "But you can't just go the rest of your life with the First Slayer trying to kill you in your dreams. It's… ooky. And intrusive. Why does she even want to inhabit your brain?"
Even as she spoke, she guessed the answer. From the look on Willow and Giles's faces, it was completely obvious to them too. Still, Spike filled in the blank in case anyone missed the anvil. "Vampire? In love with a Slayer, living with her, fighting alongside her? Pretty sure madam no friends, just the kill was always gonna have an issue with that. Well, I know she does."
Giles rubbed fingers against his frown lines, looking tired. Which was better than furiously embarrassed, she guessed. "Do you think she's really trying to kill you? It seems extraordinary that she's hanging around like that. Nobody did a spell invoking her, did they?"
"Nope, I'd have felt that." Willow said that like it wasn’t amazing. She was getting so strong they almost took it for granted, Buffy noted absently, before refocusing on the actual issue. Because that was big and urgent.
Spike shook his head. "Dunno why. Just turned up, a few days after I arrived here. Maybe she lives here."
"This is not okay. We have to get her out of your dreams." Buffy felt this was stating the obvious. But no one else was apparently focusing on that. And Buffy had old grudges against this friend-denying First Slayer. Who did not get to spend personal time with Spike, dammit.
Annoyingly casual vampire shrug. "Fine, if you want to spend time on this. But I've got it covered. It's only dreams."
Idly, Willow wiggled an interrogatory brow. "Why do vampires dream, anyway? Don't you just… switch off?" Thanks, Will. Really helping with the important stuff.
Spike embraced the diversion like a man anxious not to get to the point. "Why wouldn't we? Need the same as you. Recharge, processing the day, getting into the subconscious. All that junk. We're not just inanimate corpses, you know."
Willow was still pondering aloud. "But if you're evil, is there that much processing? I mean, isn't life a lot simpler if you don't have a conscience? Going with the id?"
"Oh, I dunno. Got to plot your next evil move. End of the world doesn't just happen, y'know. Anyway, I dream. Lots of stuff. Blood and death, mostly. Redemption, maybe. Mainly not, though. Oh, and sex. Lots of…" He leered at Buffy absently, a reflex. Then sobered. "I dream more, now, I think. Maybe because I'm not doing so much of the killing and whatnot. Sublimating my evil desires. Something like that. It's an interesting question, Red."
Willow was opening her mouth, interest in her eyes, when Buffy cracked. "OKAY! Everyone focus! On something important!" She was getting pretty good at the voice of doom. "We have the First Slayer trying to kill my guy. She isn't one of the bad guys, but I'm not happy with that situation. I need to have a conversation with her, you know? So, trance? Spell? What's the what?"
She could sense Giles gearing up to sputter, something about danger and irresponsibility. But Willow's voice overrode him. "Sure. We get you into Spike's dreams, you can meet the First Slayer, have a little talk, fight, whatever. Tonight, maybe? You can tell me about vampire dreams, after."
Two hours later, Buffy and Spike were still arguing about that one.
"I don't like it. You in my head, with the Witch in control? No way that's not going to have horrible consequences." He was weakening. It was better than No fuckin' way, which was the position they'd begun with.
Buffy stuck to the party line, because it was true, and it was working. "But it has to be done. Just has to be. And Willow won't see anything – she's only putting me into your dreams, not sticking around for the show."
"Well, don't go lifting any rocks while you're in there, okay?" Spike looked as wary as a vampire could without actually fleeing the scene. His resistance had definitely crumbled.
Buffy marked the moment with an eyeroll. But she kind of knew what he meant. Some things shouldn't be shared, and a vampire's dreams were probably right there at the head of the list. She vowed to keep the focus on First Slayers, and let other ookiness slip by.
It was weird to be curling up to sleep with Willow in the room. Spike's usual absent nuzzling seemed to be inhibited, and Buffy found she missed it. So she'd apparently gotten used to his night fidgets after months of complaints and insomnia. They truly were living like a real couple. Any year now, he'd learn to put his socks in the laundry basket, and their world would be complete.
Okay, maybe she was getting drowsy after all. Spike's sock habits really not the most important thing in her world. And he'd never be neat, however much she nagged.
Buffy could feel Willow's fingers tracing patterns on her temple as she drifted off. Beside her, Spike slept like the dead. Naturally.
Buffy opened her eyes in Spike's dream mind.
Huh. Décor not really to her taste. Way too much black and red. Also chrome and animal skulls. Spike's subconscious lacked subtlety.
Till she looked closer, and the strutting macho vamp pose started to stutter. The animal skulls were resting on a pile of books. Big, leather-bound books, that looked suspiciously as though they might involve sonnets from the Portuguese. The swathes of red drapes surrounded a neat little wooden desk, with a fountain pen and proper writing paper, like a tableau from some Victorian novel. That was better, more convincing. She knew Spike wrote; he'd given up trying to hide that now they were actually co-habiting. The black leather… okay, that was on a bed about the size of Buffy and Spike's apartment. Less subtle stuff. But then, while she knew Spike had layers, and was starting to glimpse some of the better-hidden ones, the outer sex-and-violence-lover wasn't a mere mask.
There were some sounds, from somewhere outside this space, that were less comfortable for Buffy. Sounds of sobbing, thudding flesh, tearing… Not going to think about that now-
The First Slayer landed on Buffy's head at this point. End of the dream analysis. Buffy should have felt more grateful. And yet, "Nuh-uh. No way. We had this conversation."
Buffy was aware that this was muffled by the clutching thighs of her opponent. But that was the advantage of dream fighting. You could bitch all you wanted and be sure of being heard.
"You doin' all right there, love? Looks a little hairy."
Spike, suddenly lounging on the huge bed, looked horribly disengaged from what was a pretty damned complex fight. With, yes, lots of hair. Buffy didn't actually want to kill the First Slayer, even in dreams. Bad Slayer karma. Sadly, Sineya didn't seem to feel the same, and was enthusiastically trying to tug Buffy's head off while Buffy contorted and twisted and rolled and generally tried not to get scalped with her predecessor's bare hands.
"Nice work," congratulated Spike as Buffy finally flipped her opponent off her shoulders. "What's your plan?"
"Plan is not to tell opponent what the plan is." A little short of breath, Buffy couldn't waste words. Besides, she was pretty sure Sineya could understand them. That was the disadvantage with dream fighting, of course. Understanding went both ways.
Spike sat forward on the bed, marginally engaged in Buffy's apparent death-match. "You need a hand? Or better yet, let me sort her?"
Steel bars slammed down from overhead, trapping the First Slayer. They made no sense – coming from nowhere, attached to nothing – but apparently dream logic ruled and this made for an unbreakable trap. Sineya raged behind the bars, muted in voice by another dream mystery.
Buffy wanted to feel better about that. But seeing a Slayer kept caged by a vampire wasn't comfortable, however much she accepted the need. "Is this how you've been controlling her?"
He raised a brow. "Not squeamish, love? It's only mind control. Picked up a little from Pavayne, a little from you. 'S just a trick. Keeps her bound and out of trouble. She'll be fine when we wake. Well, fine as a dream Slayer hallucination can be."
"Let her go!" That came from the gut, and got a blank look in return.
"Can't do that. Need her controlled else we'll get no sense from her. Or you, while she tries to rip your head off."
"Not gonna get much sense out of her this way either." The First Slayer was pacing behind her bars, sulky and powerless, evidently familiar with the strength of this trap. Buffy could feel her outrage. This was no opportunity for civilised discussion. But there was going to be no killing of dream Slayers either. Buffy wished violently that Giles were here. He'd have some formalities whipped up in no time to deal with Sineya properly. Not just a cage.
Of course, he'd probably also have some major head trauma by now, so it was possibly better this way.
Besides, just thinking about formalities made her think the direct approach might be better. Without the bureaucrats. "Hey, Sineya? We need to talk. With respect. In the way of our people."
"No talk. You have not the right. You hold me bound."
"Yeah, I know. It's a bad situation. But we need to talk to you or this will just go on. Things are different these days. You can't control the Slayers. It's not your call. Okay?"
"No talk." Buffy sighed. This was getting old.
"Yes talk," said Spike, irritatingly. Buffy caught Sineya giving him a dirty look pretty much identical to her own. But, this being Spike's dream to control, they were moving to his will even as the twin Slayers disdained him, shifting with a swirl of furnishings to…
"A courtroom? Seriously?" A TV-style courtroom at that. With Sineya on the witness stand. Buffy didn't and did want to mention the things she'd seen hints of in the swirling change. Again. The corpses. The screams. The other things in Spike's dreams, which he was trying to keep from her and she was trying to ignore. Focusing on the cheesy courtroom was the easy option.
Spike twitched a shoulder. "Well, yeah. Thought that was how these things were done. It was this or Oprah. Reckoned you'd prefer Judge Judy for this one."
"Good gods you watch too much daytime TV. If only Sineya wanted you to give that up instead of, you know, me. I'd be totally down with that."
"No lovers. No vampires." The First Slayer caught her cue neatly.
"Thanks honey, we got that." Snark was easy, reflex easy. Buffy was ashamed, after, though it brought a grin to Spike's face. "Sorry. Not helping. This is how we do things now. With two sides stating their case, and then a resolution." (Though usually with a judge… not sure how that was going to work out, since Spike was sitting about where the judge usually would. So much for impartiality. This had been a really bad idea of Spike's. Why didn't he dream about conflict resolution or mediation instead and dream her a nice arbiter to go with the scenario?) "So, you go first."
"Vampire must die. Slayer must kill."
Case for the prosecution completed, apparently. Which: "Uh. No." Conflict resolution. Meet her halfway. Not easy in this case. "No killing. Okay? That's the first point. This is a special vampire." Well, didn't that sound like kindergarten catechism? So much for the defence. My vampire is a special vampire. "He has a soul."
Buffy had said that sentence so many times, she'd almost lost the wonder of it. But it hit the First Slayer harder than anything Buffy or Spike had pulled so far. She flinched as though from a gut-kick, and turned her attention decisively from Buffy to stare hard at Spike.
"What, you didn't think that was worth mentioning to her?" Buffy'd noticed this about Spike lately. He'd got strangely quiet about the soul, which he'd once worn like a medal of honour.
Now his face was twisting, shoulders hunching. "'S just a soul. Doesn't make me special."
Before Buffy could even begin to address that, Sineya hurled herself towards Spike. Not threatening, more bowing down. Unexpected. "Vampire with a soul. You are prophesied."
"No!" Spike backed off. (Spike! Backing off! Buffy was baffled by this totally non-usual state of being from everyone else in this dream.) "I'm not anybody's prophecy-bitch. Make my own choices. Get my own soul. Don't have to swap it for anything. Don't have to live, okay?"
"You will have the shanshu." She was standing in front of Spike's chair. And not trying to slay him.
"So, you heard about that? Huh. Didn't figure Aberjian and his blasted scrolls were as old as you." Sineya and Spike seemed to be conversing on a level that excluded Buffy. Something hadn't been shared with her, and that was seriously starting to grate.
In contrast, Sineya looked almost smug. Her sentences were getting longer and she was far less hostile now. "I am Slayers. I know many things. I know the vampire with a soul is a champion, and will become human someday."
"What? What the- Spike?" Buffy couldn't keep that outburst in. Whatever the hell was going on with prophecies and aubergines (and why an eggplant had a scroll was something she wanted to come back to, someday), the whole Spike-becoming-human thing was simple. And important to Buffy, thank you.
Spike looked pretty annoyed, and didn't directly respond to Buffy's words. "What the hell did you tell her about that for? I'm not the one with the big destiny. We all know that's Angel's gig."
"Not so. Nothing is certain with prophecy. If you are a vampire with a soul, the destiny could be yours." Sineya rested her hand on Spike's head. Encouraging.
Buffy could feel that her face was radiating hope, totally without her permission. Because: human Spike? Human, maybe normal-life, family-having Spike? Surely, the First Slayer would leave them alone if he-
"Don't want it." Huh? That was Spike, shaking Sineya's hand away. Disposing of Buffy's hope before it barely budded. He looked angrier, if anything. "I know a hell of a lot more about prophecy now. Always comes with a sting in the tail. Or a kick in the teeth, more like." He vamped out briefly. "Sides, who needs humanity? I like this unlife."
Sineya was frowning, hands to her hips now. "You foreswear your chance of humanity? You remain a demon?"
Clearly, she was not in favour of Spike's lifestyle choice here. Back to Slayer mode. Except Buffy wasn't getting that vibe from Sineya, exactly. And Buffy herself was still confused as hell about Spike and the not-human thing. So, against all her instincts, she stayed silent and let them talk it out.
Spike was, for him, looking pretty serious as he spoke. "See, I reckon I do more good this way. Council's fulla Watcher-wannabes, but I'm the only vamp on the strength. (Well, almost, but Angel's miles off and let's not think about that wanker now.) And I'm never gonna go bad now, believe me, not with the soul and the memories of what I did without one… so you got a superstrong immortal warrior on the side of good and I reckon, yeah, it's better this way."
"A third confirmation: you sign away your right to hope?" Sineya was looking strange, Buffy thought. Not like her frowny, judgmental self. Which was surprising.
"Guess I do." He frowned as he caught the tail end of Buffy's suppressed moan. She could - just at the edge of sensation - feel something big and magical building, and some discussion would have been nice before he did anything final. Three was usually the magic number-
Too late. "Your sacrifice is accepted." Sineya closed her eyes, as unearthly blue light flared around her.
They spoke together, back in tune.
"What the hell?"
"Hey, whadd'you say?"
Sineya's eyes were still closed. "This vampire with a soul has sacrificed the shanshu in the cause of good. I accept this is sufficient earnest of his good intent. Humanity would not add to his heroism."
Buffy was absently interested to see Spike's ears turning red at the 'heroism' remark. That was pretty rare on a vampire, with the no-blood-circulation thing. The rest of her was occupied with trying not to say-
"Don't call that much of a sacrifice, love. Didn't want the bloody thing in the first place." That. That was what Buffy hadn't been pointing out. Mostly.
The First Slayer opened her eyes wide at last, looking past Spike to Buffy. "You sacrifice her secret dreams. It is a great loss to her. That is a sufficient sacrifice to prove your good faith."
"Ohhhh…" That was the other thing Buffy had been trying not to say. The blankness on Spike's face told her he hadn't even had time to think of what she would feel about what he was signing away.
Unlike Buffy, he could talk at this point, and did, calmly. "Me and the Slayer? We're okay as we are. No white wedding and fat babies in the suburbs, sure, but anything else we can't have? I don't see it. Never did like sunlight anyway, never wanted to snuggle a cross, always knew a stake through the chest would be bad news. You call it a sacrifice, write off my tab… well, that’s fine and we're square on the dream-haunting lark. I'm happy. But don't kid yourself, Slayer. This doesn't pay off my debt to society. I know that."
It didn’t seem to make much impact, for all the sincerity in his voice. Probably a good thing, as Buffy really didn't want to have to find her voice and conjure some other way to persuade the First Slayer to get the hell out. Sineya closed her eyes again, and blinked into a vanishing point of blue light, leaving Buffy and Spike alone in the courtroom-that-wasn't.
"Sacrifice, huh?" Spike was examining Buffy's expression.
She avoided meeting his eyes, though she did find her voice. Too late, already, for recriminations. "Can we get out of here? Your brain's kinda... gloomy."
He grinned at her, and held out his hand. "Fair enough. Come with me and be my love some more. First-Slayer-approved now."
Awake, the conversation faltered. Willow and Giles listened to the shanshu sacrifice story and asked Spike to report any future sightings of Sineya. If there was a strictly businesslike tone to their voices, and a carefully emotionless affect as they made notes, only a churl would have remarked on it.
Spike did. Of course. "Hey, you two, why so po-faced? Thought you'd be gleeful we got rid of her at no cost."
"No cost? Oh, bloody hell, you fool," said Giles, shocking with his unusual frankness. "Look at her!"
Buffy rested her head on the office desk till the room emptied of her friends and she had her tears under control. It would be okay, as long as she didn't speak. Spike, weirdly, didn't say a word either, till she lifted her head.
"Should have checked with you before I signed it away, hmm?"
"Yes. Obviously. We're a team now." Too late for this one, but seemed like there was a lesson to learn there.
He even looked abashed. A little. "Yeah. I just… It was quick. And I thought it was an easy win. Thought you liked me vampy."
She managed a watery giggle. "I do. I'd just maybe have liked a chance to think about you not being vampy before we said it wasn't an option."
In fact, Buffy could see a whole bunch of downsides to humanity, and every reason for Spike not to want it. He liked the lifestyle; he was as human as most people she knew and five times as strong. Beaches, picnics and churchgoing weren't top of his priorities, and she found it difficult to see him doing such things. Mortality would be weird for him now, and she wouldn't wish it on him.
But those fat kids he'd mentioned. They stuck in her brain. She'd have liked a few days to think on that, before they were taken away.
She loved what they had. She did, in fact, like him vampy. It was knowing they might have had a choice that stung.