Buffy stared at the badge, hypnotized. Funny how it’s always people that seem to inflict the most damage, she thought, not monsters. “Hell, no,” she snapped. “Is he under arrest?” Spike slapped his hand over his mouth, simply because he wasn’t in a good position to slap it over her mouth. The idea of being arrested while nude was appalling, so he yanked the despised sweats on swiftly. Wonderful. Just wonderful. The name Spike will go over so well in prison.
“We’d like to ask some questions.”
“I’d like a pony,” she snapped again. He took a step back. “Guess which one of us is likely to get their wish?”
“It’s not a wish, Miss Summers. I can---“
“If you could, you would have already.” With some effort, she refrained from biting off her words this time. “You think those girls were murdered, because otherwise, you and your whole department look really bad. No, not even that. Just kind of pathetic.” She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. “Is that it?”
“I could come back with a warrant.”
“Better come back with a pony,” she advised instead. “At least that way I’ll open the door.” She braced her hands on her hips to get him to step back, and he quietly backed away. Aiming for a loud, conclusive noise, she yanked the door back for a slam, but when she tried it, the thick carpeting and the insulation in the door frame prevented the door from slamming in a really satisfactory kind of way. So she kicked it. Unfortunately, she was barefoot, and all she got for her efforts was a loud thump and Spike’s look of pitying disgust after he rounded the corner and found her hopping around with one foot in her hands. It was so exactly the sort of look the old Spike would have given her that she stopped hopping around the hallway in pain and stared at him.
“You know, I was going to ask that question.” He glanced down at her abused foot, which she was hunched over, clutching with both hands. “What did you think you were going to accomplish?”
“Get rid of the detective, and make a satisfyingly loud noise.”
“One out of one, not bad.”
“I’m injured, and you’re mean.”
“You’re injured because you kicked a door.”
“You should have kicked him,” he said dryly.
“Well, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He nodded at her foot. “Does it hurt?”
“Not as much as my pride. Ouch.” She flopped down on the floor and leaned back against the wall. With a wry grin, he slid down opposite her and tentatively picked up her foot, stretching out his legs. She swallowed at the cheeky look he gave her, then shifted as those long fingers went to work on her injured foot. Sure, she hadn’t done anything to her arch, but it sure felt good. “You know, that’s not where it hurts.”
“I know, but you tell me how I’m supposed to rub a stubbed toe.”
“Point taken. Good bait and switch, though.”
“So I thought.” She put her other foot in his lap as a hint and he gave her a long-lashed look before beginning to press and rub the muscles in that one. She shifted, and he moved a bit to accommodate her, so that their positions mirrored each other. The whole time, his fingers continued to press and explore, rubbing relaxation into her muscles. It was heavenly.
“Where’d you learn that?”
“Where’d birds learn to say, “Nothing,” when they’re really pissed off?”
“There’s a memo.”
“’Nothing’?” she quoted. “What does that mean?”
He shook his head at her. “Ask a girl what’s wrong, and she’ll say ‘nothing’.”
“Is that like a guy saying, ‘I’ll call you’?” She asked sweetly. Any twinge that she might have experienced at Parker’s phrase was not strong enough to withstand the soothing way his hands felt on her skin.
“I’ve heard of it,” he said thoughtfully. “Harm used to go on about that a bit.”
She looked at him, once more at sea. Sitting, getting a foot massage from her…boyfriend. It was so…normal. She pulled her feet from his lap, tucked them under her and crawled over next to him. “I bet.”
“Yeah,” Spike said, still in that contemplative voice. “She did.” He glanced over at her .”Didn’t quite believe her much of the time, you know. Wasn’t a total fool.” There was a slight tinge of indignation in his voice, and she stifled a grin. He sounds so respectable, she thought, and knew that if he could read that thought in her mind, he’d withhold foot rubs and God only knows what else forever. “She wasn’t bad, really.”
“Oh, boy, I am so not gossiping about Harmony,” Buffy said.
“Oh, no? What about….Hm…” Spike gave her a rather evil look.
“Hey,” Buffy said nervously. “No need to go over all those exes.”
“Oh, come on,” he said. “We have a lot in common.”
“Do you have a kid sister who used to be a Key?”
“No,” he said, and then his grin softened. “Did have a kid sister, though.”
Spike had never spoken of his human existence with her, not really, and she gazed at him, startled. Thinking of him with a family felt almost as odd as feeling his pulse. “Really?”
“Three. And an older brother.”
An older brother, Buffy thought. That explains a lot.
“Really,” Spike confirmed. His eyes were faraway now. “Played a lot of cricket, Paul did. Big fellow. Took after my Dad down to the last little detail.”
“Oh, yeah. Definitely the sort to go on down the pub every evening.”
“Your dad, too?”
“Father? Respectable, but….not as much as he’d like people to think.” Something clouded his eyes. “What about Dawn?”
“Oh, boy, that’s right. Damn police.” She scrambled to her feet. “Want to come with?”
Spike glanced down at his sweats. Christ, he thought. I look like a shoplifter who’s just lifted a couple of plums and a banana. Just the way I want to be re-introduced to Buffy’s kid sis. “Like this?”
“You were in the hospital. They don’t exactly hand out jeans and black leather there, you know. She’ll understand.” About that part, she added. She couldn’t understand why Spike was back yet herself, so it was doubtful Dawn would, either.
“Yeah, but….” He sighed and looked at his feet. For some reason that depressed him. Good bye, Docs, he thought, and that tipped the balance in favor of not going. “Look, it’d be better if you just told her on your own. It’ll be a bit of a shock, you want to ease her into it.”
Buffy looked at him. “A shock for research girl?” Then she reconsidered. The deeper Dawn went into research mode, the more she left behind all the normal teenage stages. It reminded her, frankly, of Willow. “You might be right. But…you want me to explain to her why you’re wearing sweats? She won’t care.”
“Well, I will,” Spike said dryly. “It’s….” He raised his hands helplessly.
“Fine, fine, fashion boy, go right ahead.” She headed back to the bedroom. “It could be worse.”
He thought of Xander’s gaudy Hawaiian shirt with a shudder and realized she did have a point. However, with that shirt consigned to the depths of Sunnydale, his current ensemble had to be the place holder for fashion horror gold medalist. “Not by much,” he shot back.
“You had one outfit before.” She pointed out. He followed her voice to the bedroom and peered around the door frame. “How come you’re getting all weird now?”
“Because it was mine!” he exclaimed. Good lord, could the woman not see the importance of that? “And it was….”
“It was what?”
“It was….” Too late, he saw the trap. Answer honestly, and she would mock him as he’d mocked her all those years…as a fashion slave. Lie, and it would be transparent. “Mine,” he finished. “Those were mine.” No one could try and wear black without looking like his imitator. No one had owned that outfit like he did. More than that, it was just the familiarity of it that he missed. He felt naked without his leather coat; he was simply accustomed to its touch on his back. He’d earned that coat. Now he recognized that earning his armor, so to speak, was not possible. Humans didn’t do that kind of thing. “They were my clothes. Not anyone else’s.”
He was surprised when her face softened. She stepped up to him and touched his face, looking into his eyes. “They were. But do you want to go backward or forward?”
“Don’t have much choice, do I?” He neglected to mention that going forward entailed making decisions he’d avoided for over a hundred years. One of the reasons he’d liked his clothes was because they neatly sidestepped any issues of conformity or fashion. Those were his clothes; no one else could wear them and look like him. It didn’t matter if grunge was in or punk was back. He had always been Spike, and he didn’t have to concern himself with petty human issues.
“Yeah, you do,” she said softly. “You get to decide who you want to be now.”
“Yeah,” she said seriously. Then she smiled. “Of course, I may put a vote in here and there….” With that, she stepped back rather regretfully, and yanked a sundress over her head. She kissed him with a sigh, and left him to think about what she said, and he couldn’t shake the feeling she’d maneuvered the whole thing.
All this time, he’d worried about what other people would perceive him as. He’d never really considered what he thought of himself, for all his fretting.
He laid down on the bed in the slanting sunbeams, and looked up at the lazily turning ceiling fan blades. Something in his chest seemed to loosen and relax. He didn’t hear her leave, but then again, she probably didn’t try and slam the door this time.
It was funny how you could just forget you were hanging out with vampires and demons. Okay, with Lorne it was sort of hard to overlook the whole green, horned thing, but with Angel, unless he was sitting in front of a mirror or something, you could totally forget he was a vampire. For long periods of time, Dawn did just that.
Something was definitely going on, though. He was different this afternoon. A lot of the time, she just didn’t see him this time of day, and the poker games would be her and Lorne and Harmony and whoever else happened to be around. Wesley wasn’t much of a poker-playing kind of guy although he’d try in a quiet way, but Gunn would play a hand or two---badly---to humor her. Fred played for a few games, but she won so much that after a particularly bloody streak of twelve wins, she was banned for life. Besides, if it was one of those days when Angel wasn’t around, and it was Wes, Lorne, herself and Gunn, it got kind of weird.
Now, though, Angel was here, and it was weird, and she didn’t understand why.
He’d been distracted all through the game, and that was no surprise; he’d been sort of distant when she came in. Normally, he alternated back and forth between two extremes with her. When she was in a feisty mood, he’d make dorky Angel jokes until she was placated, or if he was in brood mode, he’d just make one or two-word replies till he just vanished.
Now, though, he was here, but he was in brood mode. It was like he was in a bad mood, but he didn’t want to brood on his own about it. Great, she thought. We get the group brood. She pushed her puzzlement about his weirdness out of her mind---live two hundred years, you were entitled to some mood swings----and concentrated on her hand, which sucked as usual. A glance over her cards showed Wes not even looking at his cards, but sort of staring off into space in a way that made her rethink the whole older guy thing, while Gunn frowned at his in a way that told her he wasn’t thinking about his cards at all. Lorne’s cards were flat on the table, and he was giving everyone the same look: a combination of pity and impatience.
“Is someone going to bet here?” He demanded.
Angel shrugged; Wes sighed. Gunn rolled his eyes, and Lorne grimaced. “This is hopeless.”
“Your hand?” Dawn asked.
“No, sweetheart, my existence. Fold.” He gave all of them an exasperated but fond look and got up. With his movement, Buffy’s presence in the doorway became apparent. Dawn leaned sideways to get a better look at her. Oh. Not good. Buffy had The Look on, which meant something significant. Hm. It wasn’t a bad look, but it was still pretty serious. Hm again. Had the insurance company kicked up a fuss over the settlement? Had their dad had an attack of conscience? “Why, hello, gorgeous. Don’t you look….” Lorne’s voice trailed off. “Interesting. You look really interesting, sweetness.” Behind her, she felt Angel go rigid in his chair. No one else paid Buffy any more attention than the, ‘oh, hi Buff’ level. They went back to frowning at their cards. Oh, boy, not good, she thought. Now why would Buffy be serious about something that had Angel all tense? Hm. Couldn’t be professional, she thought; they were really on the same side, even if they disagreed on methods.
Was it personal?
“Hey, Buffy.” Buffy crossed the room to her side, and Dawn studied her curiously. “What’s up?”
“Uh…It’s kind of ….” Buffy hesitated, and then finished. “It’s…weird, Dawn.”
Dawn looked around the table. She had been playing poker with a vampire, two humans—one black, one white---and a green demon. She wondered nervously just what Buffy thought could be more weird. “How weird?”
Everyone around the table was calm but silent. They must know already, she thought. If it was good, that was okay, but if it was bad….well, that was okay, too. So they’d found out about it first. Too much bad news lately. Postponing it was good.
“You want a scale?”
“Yeah, give me a number,” Dawn said. “That would be good.”
“It’s about a….”Buffy stopped, flummoxed. “It’s a seven, I think.”
“Bad weird or good weird?”
Buffy glanced uncomfortably at Angel, who Dawn saw, had gone from brooding to tight-lipped in about one second. “Let’s head for home, okay? I’ll tell you on the way.” Dawn gave a half-hearted wave to the guys, who had dropped their cards on the table and were pushing their chairs back and yawning and stretching. She thought again, It can’t be that bad. Nobody was acting like they’d just had bad news. But weird news meant ambivalence. She could handle that.
Outside, she glanced up appreciatively at the mild sky and took a deep breath, bracing herself.
“Is it Anya?”
“No, it’s not. She’s still…”
“Okay,” Dawn interrupted hastily. “So…Did somebody get hurt?”
“No. No injuries. Look, why don’t you stop asking questions, and I’ll….” Buffy’s hands were clenched into fists from tension. She walked a few steps in front of Dawn, and stopped with her back to her. “It’s….” She took a deep breath. “It’s Spike, Dawn. He came back.”
There was silence behind her, so Buffy turned. Dawn was standing in the same spot three feet back, frozen like a pillar of salt in place. “What?”
“He came back.”
“But he---you said he was---“
“It’s more than that.” She didn’t want to be reminded of the days immediately after the disaster, when she’d had to say one thing---the sensible thing---while holding an entirely different hope in the back of her mind. “It’s more than that. It’s just….It’s weird. Even for here…it’s unexpected.”
“Good unexpected or bad?” Buffy started walking again, aware that people were watching them.
“Good.” She gulped. “It’s--Spike.”
Dawn just stared at her, her mouth open. “What do you mean, it’s Spike?”
God, this should be so simple, Buffy thought. But the words seemed too small for her thoughts. “Spike is….Spike came back….Spike….”
“Spike came back,” Dawn repeated numbly. Unlike Buffy, who was walking slowly and steadily, Dawn was proceeding in fits and starts. She stopped and threw her arms apart in exasperation.
“Spike came back where? How?”
“Here,” Buffy said. “Here. Spike is here.”
“Yes.” Question and answer, Buffy thought. This is good. I can handle this.
“You said before…”
“I said…” Several centuries ago, she’d been sure he must have dusted in the ruins of Sunnydale. His hand had been in flames when she clasped it in her own. For a vampire, that could mean just one thing. Now she couldn’t even bear to repeat anything she might have said back then. “I said what I thought happened.”
“But he’s back,” Dawn said. “You were wrong, weren’t you? He’s back.” Oh, no, Buffy thought. Dawn’s eyes were brightening in intensity as the two sisters faced each other. “So…this whole time, we thought he was dead, and what…? Somebody finally found him? Was he mad?”
“Was he hurt?”
“I hope they found him at nighttime at least…What?” Dawn broke off as she saw the look on Buffy’s face. “What? Was he hurt?”
“No, it’s not that….” Buffy fidgeted and Dawn crossed her arms very firmly, as if to ward off whatever news was still forthcoming. “I don’t know what happened just yet, okay? Or why. But there’s something else.”
“Bad?” Dawn demanded. “Something bad? What?”
That did it.
Dawn’s mouth opened and closed several times, but no sound came out. She shook her head, blinked, and grimaced at Buffy. Still no noise. She stared at the ground, taking deep breaths. “He…Huh?”
“Are you sure?”
“Pulse and all,” Buffy said perkily. She’d gone to sleep already with that pulse under her ear, and just thinking about it made her want to check it yet again, feel it beneath her hand or her skin.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, has it?”
“No. Did you say human?”
“That I did.”
“Oh, boy. Oh, boy.” Dawn sat down on a low retaining wall with a thud. After a moment, she leaned over and rested her chin in her hands. Every now and then she shook her head, as if something in her line of sight was misbehaving. Several more minutes ticked by before she looked up. “You know…”
“What’s he going to do for a birthday?”
“Uh, I don’t think anybody’s thought about that just yet.”
“Well, you know…”
“I’m sure it will be on the list of considerations,” Buffy said soothingly.
“Are you sure he’s human?”
“Does this mean he Shansued?”
“Shansued,” Dawn said impatiently. “It’s something in a prophecy. It’s something about how a vampire, if he, uh, I forget, fairy tale blah blah blah stuff---he’ll be turned human. Oh, my God. Does Angel know?”
“About Spike? Yes, he does.” Oh, boy, this is going to be so fun, she thought. A part of her just wanted them to get it over with, but now that Spike was human, she figured that was impossible. “Was that prophecy supposed to be about Angel?”
“Well, I think he thought it was.”
“Oh, boy,” Buffy muttered. “So not good.”
“Well, for Angel, it’s not,” Dawn said thoughtfully. “But for Spike it is.”
“How do you, uh, feel about that?”
Dawn gave her a scathing younger sister look. “What are you, Oprah?” She shrugged. “I don’t know yet. There’s just got to be a way to, you know, get over all this stuff. But I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s just so much. It’s like this contradicts that, and then there’s this thing over here. You die and come back. You and Spike have a thing, then he tries to---“
“Yeah, whatever, Buffy, but it’s complicated. And then he goes and gets a soul and loses his mind. Then he saves the world. Now he’s human. He goes through more changes than Madonna. That’s why people don’t like her.”
“You don’t like Spike?” Buffy asked softly.
“I don’t, no, that’s not what I meant, Buffy, just relax…I don’t understand him any more,” Dawn said. Buffy’s face fell, and Dawn reached out and patted her shoulder. “I used to, I thought, but now I don’t think I do.” Angel’s easy to understand, Dawn thought. He stays the same for hundreds of years at a time. “But I’ll try. I really will.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, it’s not going to be Oprah, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Oh, thank God.”
Dawn got up and brushed off the seat of her jeans. “I’m more of the Dr. Phil kind of person myself.”
Buffy gave her another look. “You mean, you’re a loud opinionated blowhard who just goes off at the drop of a hat?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “I just like to be decisive.”
“Oh, is that what you call it when you set a TV limit?”
“Come on, Buffy, you were watching some stupid DVD over and over.”
“It had vampires in it,” Buffy said. “I got sort of homesick.”
“Well, why don’t you take some of Angel’s guys and---Buffy?”
Slaying, Buffy thought. A dim memory, formed by some brief event, coalesced in her brain. Slaying. Then the hospital visit. And the next day, Spike awakening. It was like a word hovering on the tip of her tongue, waiting to be spoken. “What?”
“You’re thinking about Spike, aren’t you?”
“Uh, sorta. Look, Dawn, be nice to him about the outfit, okay? He’s feeling really….”
“Lost?” Dawn asked.
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “How did you know that?”
“That’s how I felt when you were gone.” She shrugged, nervous at having been so blunt about it. “Why do you think Angel never goes and does all the weird stuff Spike does? What happened to Spike might happen to him. It’s got to be real scary. Weren’t you real scared when you came back?”
“Yes,” Buffy said. “Yes, I was.”
“Well, see….there. But we can’t baby him or anything.”
“Yes, Dr. Dawn.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“I will to Spike. You’re my sister. I’m contractually obligated to get on your nerves.”
They headed home.
Continued in Chapter 12