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Fic update: Gently Down the Stream (chapter 3 of 6)
spike_neutral
shadowscast
Time for the next chapter! Yay!

A collective thanks, by the way, to all of the readers who have taken the time to comment on the individual chapter updates so far; you make this extra fun for me. :-)

In this chapter, Wesley arrives, Angel's sanity is questioned (again), and the search for Willow gets serious.

Title: Gently Down the Stream
Length: about 25,000 words total; this chapter is about 4300 words.
Pairing: Spike/Buffy along with other canonical pairings, but this isn't really a shippy story.
Warnings: Canon-typical violence; almost no sex.
Cross-posting: Dreamwidth, LiveJournal and AO3; read wherever you're most comfortable.


Chapter 3



Anya drove Buffy, Dawn, Tara and Spike in the Chrysler Sebring, while Xander bravely volunteered to ride with Angel in the convertible. They all arrived at Anya and Xander's building without incident and hauled their bags up the stairs.

Angel stopped at the door of the apartment, pressing his hand against the air as though it were solid. "You have to invite me in," he said.

"Uh, come in?" said Xander, who hadn't been around for the vampires/invitations discussion.

"I'm not so sure you should've done that, sweetie," Anya said quietly as Angel walked through the door.

Angel looked annoyed. "I'm here to help you."

"You bit Spike," Dawn reminded him.

"Okay, it's about time everybody let that one go. It was just a tiny bite, and I had a really good reason."

"And that reason was...?" Spike prompted.

Angel opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked at Buffy. "Well, it seemed like a good reason at the time," he said finally.

Buffy wasn't quite sure why Angel had decided not to tell Spike that he thought he was a vampire, but on the whole she was grateful.

"So, your friend Wesley," Tara said, dropping her duffle next to the couch. "He can help us find Willow?"

"He's not exactly my friend," Angel said. "But yes, I think he can."

While they waited for Wesley, Xander made coffee. They all sat around the table, and Angel finally asked some detective-type questions—when exactly had they last seen Willow, what had she been doing lately, that kind of thing. Tara kept a white-knuckled grip on her coffee mug and answered the questions as fully as she could.

Willow had been acting oddly all summer. They all agreed on that. "I think I remember when it started," Tara said. "There was one day in May. Willow woke me up just after dawn—she was already dressed, and she'd obviously come in from outside. She was dirty, and bruised. She kissed me and then wrapped her arms around me and started sobbing. She wouldn't explain why. She just told me she'd had a hard night. I was so worried about what had happened to her, but she refused to talk about it and she told me not to tell anyone." Tara gave an apologetic shrug. "So I didn't. I really hoped she would tell me what happened, eventually. But that was the start of it—after that she never slept well, and she started going out at night." She paused. "I think that's when I started having the nightmares, too."

"Nightmares?" Angel said.

"Oh," said Anya. "We've all been having terrifying, violent nightmares. Do you think that might have anything to do with the fact that Sunnydale is filled with vampires and demons and apparently we all used to know about this but somebody made us forget it?"

"Well," said Angel. "Um, yes. That seems likely. Did you all start having nightmares last May?"

Around the table, everybody nodded, some more confidently than others. "That sounds about right," Xander said. "It's not like I marked it down in my day planner."

"I did," Anya said. To Buffy's amazement, she pulled it out of her purse and flipped through the pages. "There. May 22nd. Dreamed I turned a Viking into a troll, eviscerated several villagers, and then was attacked by rabbits." She looked up. "That's a recurring one, actually."

"May 22nd," Tara said. "That's the day it happened—the day Willow started acting so strangely."

Buffy felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. "That was the day Spike had his first seizure."

"Something must have happened on that day," Angel said. "Do you remember anything else?"

Spike shook his head. "It was a perfectly ordinary day. I had a gig planned at the Bronze—had to cancel it on account of the seizure."

"I had a French test," Dawn volunteered. "I got an A."

"I ... don't think that's important," Angel said.

"Well you asked what else we remembered." Dawn frowned at him.

"You're right," said Angel. "Sorry. But—nothing else that struck you as weird?"

They all shook their heads.

After that, he asked them to tell him more about their dreams. There was a lot to tell.

As Spike, with obvious reluctance, took his turn telling Angel about his nightmares—about the hunting, the crunch of bone under his fists and the taste of blood in his mouth—Buffy sat quietly and remembered Angel's wild claim that Spike, somehow, was a monster.

Finally there was a knock at the door, and Xander let Wesley in. Wesley was a rough-looking guy in maybe his early thirties, unshaven and wearing a beat-up leather coat. He had a British accent, and he gave them all a very suspicious look as he stepped across the threshold. He looked vaguely familiar, actually—and after thinking about it for a second, Buffy realized he'd been the assistant librarian at Sunnydale High in her senior year. He'd looked pretty different then. She hadn't remembered his name.

"All right," he said, "I'm here. What seems to be the problem, then?"

"Like I said on the phone, Willow's missing," Angel said. "It's possible Drusilla has her. And Osiris may be involved in some way."

"The Egyptian god of the dead?" Wesley said, sounding faintly incredulous. "Angel, could I speak to you for a moment in the corridor?"

Angel stood up and followed Wesley out. He didn't shut the door behind himself, and Buffy could faintly hear Wesley say, "Angel, what exactly have you told them?"

"They don't remember anything about vampires," Angel said. "Spike—did you recognize him, sitting there? He doesn't remember anything about vampires."

"What are you talking about?" Wesley said. "You never wanted Buffy to know about vampires, you were always most emphatic about that—"

"What?" Angel said.

"Have you told her?" Wesley said. "I can't believe it."

"I—of course I told her. What do you mean, I never wanted her to know about vampires? She's the fucking Vampire Slayer."

"Don't be ridiculous," Wesley said. "Faith is the Slayer."

"I can hear you," Buffy called out.

Wesley peeked back in, looking appalled. Angel stepped around him, back into the apartment. "Wesley," he said, a strange note in his voice, "what do you remember about Buffy?"

"She was very important to you," Wesley said, in a careful tone that probably meant he was holding back a lot more than he was saying. "I believe you may still have ... feelings for her."

"But nothing about her being the Slayer?" Angel prompted.

Wesley looked confused. "Of course not."

"Fuck," Angel said. "The range of the memory spell was much wider than I thought."

"What memory spell?" Wesley asked.

"The spell that's made you all forget that Buffy's spent the last six years fighting vampires and demons and preventing apocalypses." Angel leaned heavily against a wall, scowling. "Now what?"

"Er, Angel," Wesley said, almost delicately. "Have you considered an alternate hypothesis? You've undergone some rather severe stress lately, and ... well, it just seems that since all of us remember things one way, and you remember things another way, perhaps you should consider that it's your memory that's wrong."

Angel blinked. "What?"

"Think about it," Wesley urged him. "If Buffy were the Slayer, she would have a Watcher, for instance."

"She did," Angel said. "Don't tell me you can't even remember Giles."

"Ah," Wesley said, rubbing his chin. "I see how the fantasy fits together. Yes, of course Rupert Giles is a Watcher and he did come to California because he believed a Slayer would be called here—but he was mistaken. He eventually returned to England, as you well know." Wesley frowned. "You do remember working with Giles and myself to defeat the Mayor at the time of his Ascension, don't you?"

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Are you talking about our old high school librarian?"

"Um," Tara said, "Excuse me, Wesley, but—Angel said you could help us find Willow."

"Yes, of course." Wesley looked around at everyone as though really seeing them for the first time—and then back to Tara. "I'm sorry, and you are...?"

"Tara Maclay. Willow's girlfriend." Tara said the last part firmly, standing up and offering Wesley her hand.

Wesley accepted the handshake, looking slightly bemused. "Girlfriend?"

"She means lover," Anya supplied helpfully. "They're lesbians."

"Ah," Wesley said. "Well." He turned to Angel. "Perhaps we should start again from the beginning. What makes you think that Drusilla has Willow?"

"She came by our house three days before Willow disappeared, looking for her," Buffy said, standing up as well. She figured Tara could use the support. "And by the way, I don't know if I'm the Slayer or whatever, but actually I am super-strong and I'm really good at killing vampires."

Wesley looked perturbed. "You ... have slain vampires?"

"One vampire," Buffy amended, figuring honesty was the best policy. "Earlier tonight."

"She is the Slayer," Angel added with a scowl. He seemed pretty annoyed with Wesley. "Ask her to squeeze your hand if you still don't believe me."

To Buffy's surprise, Wesley did hold out his hand. Curiosity and skepticism warred in his eyes.

Buffy squeezed his hand, but carefully, remembering Xander and the lamp. When Wesley gasped, she let go.

"Astounding," Wesley said softly. "But this explains so much. Why Giles' auguries so convincingly placed the Slayer in California ... why there seemed to be no Slayer for more than a year, until we artificially forced the call of Kendra ... only, how could Giles have failed to recognize you?"

"Well, I never actually went into the library at Sunnydale High." Buffy shrugged. "It looked really dusty. And boring."

"I can't believe this," Angel muttered. "I hate memory spells. Wesley, come on, you're supposed to be good at this kind of thing. Can't you see that none of this makes sense? How could I have dated Buffy without her knowing I was a vampire or me knowing she was the Slayer?"

"But ... you did know she was the Slayer, didn't you?" Wesley said slowly, giving Angel a dark look. "Only you didn't want anyone else to find out, least of all her. No wonder you were so insistent that she must never learn of your vampire nature."

"That makes even less sense," Angel said through gritted teeth, "because then why would I tell you now?"

"Only out of desperation—Drusilla has forced your hand."

"Well, what about him?" Angel said, pointing at Spike. "Something mighty funny going on there, wouldn't you say?"

"Oi," Spike said, "Was that meant to be an insult?"

Wesley, meanwhile, only frowned. "I'm not sure I get your implication, Angel. Who is this?"

"Goddammit," Angel said, "Don't tell me you don't remember Spike."

"Ah, Spike," Wesley said. "Yes, you've mentioned him."

"Mentioned him," Angel repeated, with a look like he'd just bit into a lemon. "You don't remember reading about him in, say, the Watchers' Diaries?"

"Well I never wrote about him," Wesley said, sounding a bit prim. "It's true, a pair of vampires, one souled and one unsouled, taking a human for a lover—it is probably unprecedented. But in any case, you haven't been particularly forthcoming on the subject of your and Drusilla's relationship with Spike, and I never felt it was a matter for the Council."

"A human," Angel repeated.

"Lovers?" Buffy said, simultaneously. She looked at Angel, and at Spike, who was meanwhile giving Angel a very strange look. "Okay, honestly, I'd already kinda guessed. But still. Wow."

"What was that about souls?" Anya asked.

"I have a soul," Angel said impatiently. "That's why I'm not killing all of you right now."

"Please could we talk about finding Willow?" Tara said, her voice breaking a little.

"The memory spell might have been cast to cover up her kidnapping," Angel said. "I doubt we can find her without breaking it first. That's why I called you here, Wesley."

"I'm sorry Angel, but I'm still quite convinced that this memory spell is a figment of your own tortured imagination. Of course I'll do everything I can do to help find Willow," Wesley said.

Angel slammed his fist against the wall so hard it left a dent. "I am not the delusional one here. Spike—do you even remember how we met?"

"Well, barely," Spike said. "Was pretty high at the time, wasn't I?"

"High," Angel repeated, sounding dubious.

"I suppose that might explain why I never noticed you and Dru were vampires." Spike frowned. "Still having trouble processing that, to be honest."

"Let's stay focused here," Buffy said. "Wesley, can you help us find Willow?"

Wesley gave a slight shrug. "A locator spell would be the obvious place to start. I don't have the necessary materials with me—but I recall that Sunnydale has a rather good magic shop for a town of its size."

"Right," said Angel. "Good idea. Let's go."

"It's one in the morning," Anya pointed out. "Nothing in Sunnydale is open this late."

"This shop will be," Wesley said, with an air of grim assurance.

"I'm coming too," Buffy said. At this point she didn't want to let Angel out of her sight.

"What about the rest of us?" Dawn asked.

Buffy gave her a hug. "Stay here and try to get some sleep. That way you'll be ready for whatever comes next."




The magic shop was indeed open. Buffy was surprised she'd never noticed it before, nestled between the check-cashing place and a dry-cleaner's. A hand-painted wooden sign over its door read "Clem's Bargain Magic Supplies" and there were actual live bats in a cage in the window display.

A bell over the door tinkled as they entered. The ... guy? ... behind the counter put down his bag of Doritos and gave them a toothy grin. "Hi!" he said. "I'm Clem. Can I help you?" His skin was wrinkled and floppy, like he had about four times as much of it as he actually needed, and his ears were pointy.

Wesley, meanwhile, had stepped up to the counter without so much as flinching. "I need half an ounce of powdered rose quartz, a twist of Hermes' Root, a green rat-tallow candle, and a map of Sunnydale, please."

"Ah," Clem said, reaching under the counter. "Lost something, have you? Me, I have to cast three locator spells a month just to keep track of my socks. Lucky for me I get the materials at cost, eh?" He laughed, showing even more pointy teeth, and set a jar of pink powder up on the counter.

"Angel," Buffy said under her breath, "Is he a vampire?"

Angel shook his head. "Just a demon."

Clem gave Buffy a concerned look. "Listen, sister," he said. "I'm not a vampire, but he is," with a nod at Angel. "Just so you know."

"I know," Buffy said.

Angel stepped up to the counter himself. "Do you have anything for breaking memory spells?" he asked.

"Oh, hm," Clem said, tapping his floppy chin with his talon-like nails. "That's a tough one. I mean, the easiest thing is just to break the focus—but I’m guessing you haven't got the focus?"

"That would be difficult, since there was no memory spell," Wesley said drily. "My colleague here is merely experiencing some disorientation. He recently spent several months starving at the bottom of the ocean in a lead-lined box."

Buffy stared at Angel. "Seriously?"

"Long story," Angel said. "Wesley—if Spike isn't a vampire, then who killed the Chinese Slayer in 1900? Who killed the American Slayer in 1977?"

Wesley frowned. "Drusilla, in both cases. And you were there in China in 1900. Angel, I have to say, these memory gaps of yours are rather concerning."

"Hold it," Buffy said. "Angel, you were alive in nineteen-hundred?"

"Indeed, he was already more than a hundred years old at the time," Wesley said.

"Holy crap," Buffy said. "So when we started dating, I was sixteen and you were over two hundred?"

"Do you folks need a little time to yourselves?" Clem asked. "I have a few things that need sorting in the back..."

"Clem," Angel said, "You must know a little vampire history, in your line of business."

Clem gave a modest shrug. "Well, sure, I do some reading."

"Ever heard of the Scourge of Europe?"

"Of course! In the 19th century, Angelus and his companions cut a bloody swath across the continent—" Suddenly Clem's eyes widened. "Oh. My. Gosh. You're him! Please don't kill me!"

"These companions," Angel insisted, ignoring Clem's groveling. "What were their names?"

"Drusilla and Darla."

"Not William the Bloody?"

Clem shook his head, causing his skin to wobble disturbingly. "Doesn't ring a bell. Of course, those Watchers' Diaries were a bit dry, I may have skimmed..."

"Hold on," Wesley said. "You've read the Watchers' Diaries?"

"Tried to," Clem said. "Like I said, dry as dust. I've got the set from 1850 through 1900 in the back room."

Wesley seemed taken aback. "The Council maintains strict control over access to the Diaries. How could you possibly be in possession of such a copy?"

Clem shrugged. "Demon flea markets. You know how it is."

Angel leaned over the counter. "I want to see it."

"Yes sir, Angelus sir," Clem said, bobbing his head as he backed away like a courtier in some costume drama.

"Angel," Buffy said after Clem had vanished into the back room, "What's this about Angelus and the bloody swath?"

Angel looked uncomfortable suddenly. "I ... well, I used to be evil," he said. "Before the soul."

"Clem seems a bit nervous around you," Buffy observed.

"I might still have something of a reputation."

Clem came back into the front of the store, cutting off that particular conversation. Buffy put the issue aside with a sense of unease. Who was Angel, really? Her ex-boyfriend? A good vampire? An evil vampire? How much of what she thought she knew about him was even real?

"Here you go," Clem said, holding out a big, dusty-looking leather bound book.

Angel snatched it out of Clem's hands and opened up to the last page. He read for a moment, shaking his head and muttering, and then started flipping backwards. After another thirty seconds or so, he slammed it shut. "Unbelievable," he said. "Fucking unbelievable."

"Um," Buffy said. "Could you be a little more specific?"

"He's not in there. Spike. He's not in there." Angel stepped back from the counter, clutching his head in both hands. "This is so much worse than I thought. A memory spell wouldn't affect the Watchers' Diaries. Somebody's changed our entire fucking reality."

"Angel," Wesley said, picking up a little skull (cat? Buffy tentatively guessed). He turned it over in his fingers as he spoke. "Consider the balance of probabilities. On the one hand—an alteration of the entire fabric of reality. On the other hand—a mere confusion in your own mind." He tapped the little skull. "Which would you say is more likely?"

Angel scowled. "Come on Wesley, it's not that hard to alter reality. Any higher power could do it, or a half dozen monks, or a vengeance demon—hey!" He turned to Buffy. "Didn't Anya used to be a vengeance demon?"

"What?!"

Angel palmed his forehead. "You have no idea what I'm talking about."

"A world of not." Buffy glared at him. "Exactly how many of my friends are you going to accuse of being demons?"

"Er, folks?" Clem waggled his talons apologetically. "Do you still want the locator spell components?"

"Yes, absolutely," Wesley said. "And quickly. A young woman may be in mortal peril."

"Oh my gosh!" Clem said. "Why didn't you say so?" He hustled away again to the back room and was back in moments with a dried root, a small candle and a local map. "That'll be $32.73 all together," he said. "Would you like a paper bag?"

"Actually," Wesley said, "I was wondering if you'd be willing to give us a space to perform the spell here. Time really is of the essence."

"Certainly!" Clem said. "There's lots of room in the back. A whole gymnasium, actually. This place used to be a boxing club before it was a magic shop. More space than I know what to do with, but hey, rent in Sunnydale is very low."

The back room did indeed show signs of being a gym, but with all the weird crap piled around the edges you could easily miss seeing the punching bag. Buffy caught movement at the edge of her vision and, turning, saw a stack of cages filled with writhing snakes. It took her a moment to realize what was wrong with them—each one had three heads.

"Don't mind the hydras," Clem said, patting her shoulder, "They're just excited because they think it's feeding time."

The middle of the room was clear, and that's where Wesley was already kneeling, flattening out the map of Sunnydale on the floor.

"Do you think he can really find Willow?" Buffy asked Angel in soft voice.

With all the weird things that had happened to her in the past couple of hours, Buffy had almost forgotten to worry about Willow, but now she felt an awful tightness in her stomach. Monsters were real, and one of them probably had Willow. Willow had been missing for more than twenty-four hours by now. How long could she possibly survive as a prisoner of a vampire?

Buffy took her cue from Angel, kneeling near the map but out of Wesley's way. She wondered how this magic spell was going to work. Clem had gone back to the front of the store—to him, apparently, magic wasn't even worth waiting around for.

Well. Apparently Clem used magic spells to find his missing socks.

Wesley lit the candle. He bit a piece off the root, chewed, swallowed. He muttered some words, paused, muttered some more words.

If Buffy hadn't plunged a stake into a vampire's chest earlier that night and watched the thing poof into dust, she would've been feeling really skeptical right about now.

Wesley tossed some pink dust over the map and then held out his hand to Buffy. "Take my hand and think about Willow," he said.

Buffy obeyed, as best she could. She squeezed her eyes shut and pictured Willow's face. Willow looked tired in Buffy's mind's eye—tired and scared. "Willow," Buffy whispered, feeling her throat tighten. "Oh God, where are you?"

"There," Angel said abruptly.

Buffy opened her eyes. There was a bright pinprick light shining over the map, in the middle of the Sunnydale Woods.

"What's there?" Wesley asked.

Buffy shrugged. "Trees."

"That's where we need to go," Wesley said. "As soon as possible. We'll need weapons."

"I've got some in the trunk of my car," Angel said, standing up. "Let's go."

"What about everyone else?" Buffy asked. "Tara, she'll want to know, and—"

"They'd only be in the way," Angel said.

Buffy nodded, accepting this along with all the other weirdness of the night. I'm the superhero, she remembered. It's up to me to protect them all.




They took Angel's car to the edge of the woods, and then they had to walk.

"This version of reality can't possibly be internally consistent," Angel whispered as they walked, apparently unwilling to let go of his argument with Wesley about whether it was Angel or the rest of the world that was crazy. "If Buffy didn't know she was a Slayer, then who stopped Acathla?"

"You did," Wesley said. "The moment Jenny Calendar re-ensouled you, you let yourself be drawn into it to seal the gap."

"Jenny Calendar?" Angel stopped walking. "Then Angelus didn't kill her?"

"Dear Lord, I hope not," Wesley said. "Last I heard, she and Giles were buying a flat in North London. I doubt Rupert could make the mortgage payments by himself."

"My God," Angel muttered. "The extent of the changes..." He started walking again. "Look, Spike doesn't make sense as a human. How does he think he even met me?"

"Well, Drusilla introduced you," Buffy said.

"And how did that work?" Angel asked. "I really want to hear this."

Buffy shrugged. "The way Spike tells it, it all started with an open mic night at some stupid little club in London. Spike got up and did one of his own songs. The crowd was pretty nasty—a bunch of drunk football fans. I mean, actually soccer, right? But anyway. They totally booed him off the stage, called him names, threw peanuts at him. Spike was only eighteen, and it was his first time performing in public. He took it pretty hard. He went out back, all upset, and Dru was there. She told him she liked his song, and she said she could make him feel better. She had some heroin. She helped him shoot up. He'd never gotten high before. He decided right there—to hell with being good, he wanted to feel good instead."

Buffy glanced back at Angel. Hard to read his expression in the dark woods, but he seemed to be scowling. "That's how he knew you. You were junkies together. And that's why it was always so complicated—when you went clean, Spike and Dru felt betrayed. And when you fell off the wagon while you were dating me, they couldn't wait to drag you back down. He's sorry about that now, by the way."

Angel made a frustrated noise and shook his head. "It's like someone re-wrote the universe, using heroin addiction as a lame stand-in for vampirism."

Buffy glared back at him. "Well, what makes you so sure your version is right? Maybe you're just using vampirism as a lame stand-in for heroin addiction."

"Actually," Wesley interjected, "As I always understood it Angel, you and Drusilla kept Spike doped up on heroin so that he wouldn't notice that you were vampires."

And that was when they heard somebody scream.


Comments at Dreamwidth: comment count unavailable

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"Er, Angel," Wesley said, almost delicately. "Have you considered an alternate hypothesis? You've undergone some rather severe stress lately, and ... well, it just seems that since all of us remember things one way, and you remember things another way, perhaps you should consider that it's your memory that's wrong."

Heh! Yet another possible wrinkle to mess with our minds! I think I love you!

I know loads of people have applauded the heroin/vampire metaphor thing, but I love the third beat by Wesley, which just puts the cherry on top:

Angel made a frustrated noise and shook his head. "It's like someone re-wrote the universe, using heroin addiction as a lame stand-in for vampirism."

Buffy glared back at him. "Well, what makes you so sure your version is right? Maybe you're just using vampirism as a lame stand-in for heroin addiction."

"Actually," Wesley interjected, "As I always understood it Angel, you and Drusilla kept Spike doped up on heroin so that he wouldn't notice that you were vampires."


Your comic timing is excellent. Clem approves!

I think I love you!

Aw, I love you too. :-)

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