Buffy's having a really strange day.
Back to your scheduled fic posting, with Chapter Seven. This part was a little awkward to divide into chapters; everywhere else each section was pretty much self-contained at a decent length, but here the section with Spike was much too short to stand alone, so I ended up splitting the previous chapter (6) at a cliffhanger moment and combining it into this one.
Characters, in order of appearance: Buffy, Willow, Dawn and Spike. Rating 12. 1,751 words. Chapter One is here.
Ch.7 - in which Buffy discovers some things
Buffy knocked again, and was about to give up when she heard a faint, barely audible "Yeah?" from inside the room.
Inside, Willow was sat on her bed, hunched into a ball and facing the wall. She didn't turn around when Buffy came in.
"Willow, what's wrong? You're scaring me!"
"Is there trouble? Are we in danger?"
"What? Where? Willow, come on!"
"Me. It's me, Buffy. Oh Goddess, I should never have come back, Giles was wrong. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
"What are you saying? You mean you did this to me after all?" Buffy felt her anger building. "Why didn't you say so before? Did you lie to me?"
"No! I didn't... I didn't know. Please Buffy, I didn't know. But I did it to you all the same."
"Willow." Buffy walked over and sat on the bed, putting her hand out and squeezing her friend's shoulder. "Willow, come on. Talk to me. What's happened? Was it, uh, one of those subconscious magic spells, like before when none of us could see you?"
Willow finally looked up at that, met Buffy's eyes, a watery half-smile flickering briefly over her lips.
"Why would my subconscious turn you into a man?"
"I really don't want to know. But if it wasn't that, what else?"
"Do you remember a couple of weeks ago, that friend of Dawnie's? The guy with the jacket, what was his name...?"
"RJ? But we burned his jacket, so - oh! You were going to turn him into a girl, weren't you?"
Willow nodded mutely.
"But - I don't understand. You didn't even cast the spell in the end; Xander stopped you in time. And that was two weeks ago and nothing to do with me!"
"Apparently that doesn't matter. I invoked Hecate. And I even told Xan at the time that she hates being interrupted like that! She obviously decided to take it out on you instead, and it's all my fault."
"Um, isn't it RJ's fault? And Hecate's. And even Xander's, actually, for stopping the spell, although on balance it's probably of the good that he did."
"But I still used the magic, didn't I? It was the very first thing I reached for. And I managed to hurt the people I care about. Again."
"It wasn't your fault. You were under a spell yourself. All three of you were: you, Dawn, even Anya. You're not responsible for this..."
"Yes I am, Buff. I have to be, always and everywhere. The magic's in me, and if I don't learn to control it, keep it safe... it's better if I were dead."
"No!" Buffy's denial was firm, but then she cast around worriedly for what to say next. Then it came to her. "How will you learn to use magic safely if you don't practice?"
"It's practicing magic in the first place that caused all that, y'know, what I did... I killed people, Buffy. I never realised I had that, that darkness in me..."
"You wanna compare internal darknesses, just try mine. So you screwed up. You made some bad mistakes. Are you going to try to do better in future, or are you just gonna spend the rest of your life sitting in the dark and brooding?" A smile crossed her lips. "'Cause believe me, I've met your competition, and he's got 240 years more experience than you."
Buffy was pleased to see that her last remark drew a reluctant chuckle from Willow. She jumped off the bed, clapped her hands together encouragingly.
"So come on then! You know what the spell was now. Surely that means you know how to lift it, too?"
"I suppose. Uh, I mean, yes I do. " Willow uncurled and sat up straight again, and Buffy was relieved to see the light returning to her features. "Actually, it may even be as easy as..."
She sat up straight, closed her eyes and extended both arms, palms outwards.
"...Let the spell be ended!"
She opened her eyes again eagerly; then pursed her mouth in disappointment. "Huh. Let me try again."
This time she kept her eyes open, and Buffy was rather alarmed to see them flash solid black for just a moment as she said, far more forcefully, "Let the spell be ended!" But she hid her concern, and looked down at her body again.
Willow looked stricken, and Buffy was more than half afraid she'd retreat back into her shell again at the disappointment. But then she frowned, and Buffy could practically hear the cogs whirring in her brain. Without another word Willow got up and hurried downstairs again, and when Buffy followed her at a more leisurely pace she was sat back at the kitchen worktop typing into her computer as if nothing had happened. Dawn, surprisingly wise for her years, made no comment on her absence but simply laid out the plates and served up lunch. (It was pasta shells and salad).
Afterwards, Willow asked Buffy to stick around the house as she might need to try out some more counterspells on her. So she sat restlessly on the settee next to Dawn for a while trying to watch a movie - and enduring Dawn's curious staring. When her sister started trying to poke her in the chest in fascination, Buffy gave up and made her way down to the basement instead.
She'd planned to take out some of her nervous energy on the punchbag down there - and she actually didn't mean Spike by that, but the real one. But after he'd watched her beating the poor helpless leather and sawdust for a while, he offered to spar with her instead. He'd never fought a male Slayer before, he said, and now he was curious to try it. As for Buffy, she remembered her conversation with Anya and was interested to see if her change actually had affected her abilities at all. So for the next hour they traded punches, kicks and bodyslams that would have killed any normal human ten times over.
After they were finished, Buffy dragged her aching, bruised body onto the bed and plonked down with a sigh of relief. Spike, she was glad to see, was in an even worse state than her. As she lay back and waited for everything to stop hurting, she ran through the fight again in her head.
First things first: she didn't seem to be any stronger than before after all. Well, no, actually that wasn't quite true. When she focussed her mind, let it flow with the rhythms of the combat around her, then her strength seemed to be exactly the same as always. But that one time, Spike had hit her from behind when she'd relaxed for a moment and let her guard down, and she'd still managed to catch his hand and hurl him around. And in all honesty, she was pretty sure that if he'd tried that move before today, it would have caught her, at least for a moment. So: her physical male body was stronger, but the Slayer strength was mostly mystical and that was the same as ever. So.
She'd felt angry about what he'd done too, enough to shock her a little. They were only sparring, not fighting to the death - but when he scored that low blow, she'd wanted to mash his face to pulp. For revenge, to prove he could never get the better of her. She'd thrown caution to the winds as she lay into him then, abandoning all finesse in the urge to beat him down. In the cold light of hindsight she knew that only Spike's own surprise at her reaction had stopped him taking advantage of her recklessness. Eventually she'd got control of herself again, but it was a concern. In a real fight, that sort of behaviour could have got her killed. Something to watch, then.
Another downside was that her bulkier muscles and bigger body were just slower to move around. She'd actually failed to dodge Spike a few times - and had the bruises to show for it now. She'd misjudged her moves, not got out of the way fast enough or far enough. She supposed some of that would just be practice, getting accustomed to this bigger body, but part of her doubted male-Buffy would ever be quite as fast as the genuine article. Hopefully it wouldn't be an issue once Willow came through.
Reach, though, that was the one unqualified advantage of her current body that she would miss. Her arms and legs were longer than Spike's now; she could hold him at a distance, inflict damage on him while staying out of danger herself. Of course, that was less than useful when her fighting style relied so heavily on getting inside her opponent's reach, ducking under his blows then using her supernatural ability to deliver punishing blows without actually needing leverage or purchase on the ground. But Buffy was nothing if not adaptable in combat, and she'd soon learned the benefits of her longer limbs. Much to Spike's discomfort.
She glanced over at him. The bruises she'd inflicted were already fading, and she presumed her own were too. God, that was a fight! She stretched, suddenly hungry again, feeling buzzed. Spike looked at her speculatively, then down at the ground again, and she wondered what was on his mind.
Well, whatever. For some reason, the memory of another fight came to her then with vivid intensity. It was almost four years ago now: her and Faith, across the floor of her apartment, crashing through the window onto the roof; two bodies moving in uncanny unison, trading blows and counter-blows in synchrony, perfectly matched, each the other's equal and mirror... until the end. When Buffy's belief in what she was fighting for had finally overmatched her enemy's. God, she'd not even thought about Faith in years, so why now? The other Slayer's image was sharp before her; long chestnut hair whipping into her face, tight leather pants hugging her figure, t-shirt stretched tautly across her bosom... Buffy felt a heat rising inside her at the memory. She looked up...straight into Spike's blue eyes, meeting her gaze and returning it.
Then she suddenly got up without a word and sped frantically up the stairs again, hoping desperately that Willow had finally worked out the counter-spell. Oh, please turn her back into a woman again soon, before she really did something she'd regret forever...
On to Chapter Eight