“Why do you still have the keys to the house on your key chain?”
“Uh…” Buffy looked around for an excuse. All she saw was the hallway plus all the apartment doors. “Did you throw yours away?”
Dawn’s face tightened for a minute, and one corner of her mouth turned down. She glared. “No,” she said sharply. “But that doesn’t mean anything.” Buffy noted one small chin-tremble, and looked tactfully away.
“Of course not.”
“It doesn’t. I just haven’t had the chance to throw them away yet.”
Buffy nodded, turning toward the window at the end of the hall so she could act like she needed extra light to find the right key. All those keys to doors that were now lying on the bottom of a pit. Mom’s house key, her car key, even though the car had been sold to pay bills. The key to Giles’ old apartment, and the one that let her into the new school. That was all she’d salvaged. She glanced at Dawn before shaking the right key into the right spot.
“Nothing.” But just for a second Buffy touched her sister’s hair. So much had happened that sometimes the unreality of it all, contrasted with the simple day-to-day conditions of their lives, made her reach out for something to reassure herself that it was all real. Ah. Solidity. It was real.
The door creaked open. We need a better door, Buffy thought resentfully. Something I can slam. “Spike?”
There was a stir in the bedroom, and Dawn sank back against the door. Buffy noticed her lips were pressed tightly together and her eyes were huge. “It’s okay, Dawnie. It’s Spike.”
“I know, I know.”
They couldn’t even hear him coming because the carpeting was so thick. When he came round the corner, it was a bit of a shock. The tee shirt hung to the top of his thighs, swallowing his form, and emphasizing how slight he actually was. Dawn realized with a shock that she was almost as tall as he was. He’d left off the flip flops, and Buffy wondered if he felt they were more compromising to his dignity than bare feet.
Dawn stared, and Buffy glanced from one to the other before edging away. “I’ll just---leave---go----Uh, dinner….” Neither noticed her departure.
Dawn stared at his hair. “I always wondered what it would look like, you know, if---the stuff you put on your hair….“
“What? Oh.” He patted his hair as if surprised to find it there. “Yeah.”
“Are you, uh---going to bleach it again?”
“I, uh, hadn’t thought about it…..”
“Well, Buffy could help with that, if you know, you decide----“ Her throat was so dry that something clicked and she was unable to continue.
“Not making many decisions these days, pet.”
“No.” Dammit, he thought. Not one bloody coherent thing forming in his brain. No bloody thing at all.
“Are you really you?” Her voice seemed squeaky to her. Maybe he wouldn’t notice.
“Yeah, I am. I think so.” Her voice has gone all thin, he thought.
“Well….There were a lot of---changes….You did----Are you crazy?”
“No. No, I don’t think so.”
“So you’re not going to be weird?”
“That was a while ago, pet. You know that.”
“Well, there was….other stuff….there was….” Her face flamed.
He spread his hands helplessly, knowing what she was getting at, but he wasn’t going to use the sudden upgrade to the ‘living’ category to avoid what he’d done. “I just have a pulse now.”
“Oh,” she muttered.
“You’re…You could answer some questions, too, you know,” he said quietly.
God, he made her so confused. Giles was intimidating, and Xander was still the guy she sort of had a crush on, but Spike---He’d always been nice to her, in a manner that differed even from the way Xander treated her. For some reason, she’d always felt that she wielded the power of the little sister over him, that it had an effect on him that it didn’t have on Buffy, something that made him stern with her while at the same time he indulged her. Spike wouldn’t have kidnapped her because Buffy told him to. Spike might have roared with rage if she disagreed with the kidnapping, and then grabbed her and hauled her off, but he’d have been blunt about it, and not snuck around.
She didn’t want him to be the guy who’d almost raped her sister. She wanted him to be---not her cool surrogate older brother---but that fun uncle who taught her how to smoke and drive and never seemed entirely real. Ever since Xander had told her what Spike had tried to do—and his motives had gradually become clearer----he’d seemed real in a way that made everything seem more fragile, including herself. Spike wasn’t supposed to snap like that. He was supposed to always be there, patient in his own impatient, bad-tempered kind of way, and devoted. He was her constant. She didn’t want to think that maybe she’d been his---before she’d turned away.
“I don’t know if I could…” she whispered. “…answer.”
“Would you try?”
She sank down to the ground, just as Buffy had earlier. Spike took a few tentative steps forward, and slid to the ground opposite her. Somehow, seeing his bare feet seemed to bring it home to her. Bare feet. It was surreal. Spike would never be seen without his Docs. She hadn’t even known if he wore socks. She stared at his feet for several moments, long enough for it to be apparent to him, then lifted her eyes to his face. “What about you?”
He took a deep breath. Now was not the time to be evasive, but it wasn’t like he could understand much himself. “Is that going to be it, then, Bi---“ He stopped himself abruptly, not sure she’d accept the old nickname from his name. “What are you going to ask?” It was tacit permission to ask to her heart’s content, and of course, it silenced her.
Leave it to Bit to not pull her punches, he thought. Bloody Summers women, always going straight for the gut.
Nothing he could think of seemed any better than an excuse. Making excuses to her—and he knew she’d see them for that----would scupper any chances they had. He knew why. He just didn’t know if he could put what was in his head into words. “I don’t know if I can put it into words, B---“
“Because it’s harder to say things like that, than it is to feel them,” he said finally. “Everything I think of to say makes me sound like a bleedin’ lawyer.”
“Makes it sound like I’m makin’ excuses, looking for an exit that I can crawl out of.” That’s so human, he thought. Making excuses. Lessening the blame. I was cursed, he thought maliciously. Not my fault.
“Well, who else would be to blame, then?” She looked at him warily. He certainly wasn’t going to blame her for being angry, was he?
“No one but me. No one at all.” He ran his hands through his hair, squeezing his eyes shut. Instantly, images were flashing across his own little private movie screen, images of Buffy. Her face. The sun on her hair. “But I have to say that I, uh, I---“
“You what?” There was great suspicion in her voice, and he wondered if he could even put it into words, with her glaring at him. He wondered if he should even try.
“I was a vampire. I thought I’d changed, but…I hadn’t.” Couldn’t even fool myself. “So I went and got myself changed. It wasn’t an accident, Dawn. I did it for a lot of reasons, but…. It doesn’t erase---It doesn’t change….It didn’t fix….“ he took a deep breath----“anything, but, bloody hell! Doesn’t that count? Doesn’t that matter?”
It hit her like a wave washing over her feet, only hinting at the storm surge behind it. He was talking about Buffy. Sure, that made sense---it wasn’t like she, Dawn, had come back from the dead, after all. She’d been his whole world, until Buffy came back and----then she became his whole world, hellish though it had been. Something told her she had to hold out. She didn’t know what ‘it’ was, but it was important she listen to it. It was too confusing a matter to be decided, sitting here on the carpet in the hallway while Buffy banged around in the kitchen. He’d meant so much to her; shouldn’t she mean that much to him? Couldn’t he wait just a little longer? Let her be angry just a bit? Couldn’t he try a little harder? She knew Xander resented Spike. She knew Buffy had been weird her first year back. She knew there was all sorts of weird history. But what she didn’t know was how to fit it all together, and why she was on the outside of it.
She wondered if he was thinking about Buffy while he talked to her.
“It’s been more than a year,” he said quietly, as if he’d read her mind. And that just made her mad. There had been various things so where did he start counting? She knew where. He’d disappointed her so badly---and maybe vice versa, the little voice said again. She knew she was being a little unfair, but for more than a year she’d able to avoid thinking about it. Why did she have to start thinking about it again now, all of a sudden? Because he wanted her to? In a way, it had been easier when he’d been insane. All sorts of issues could be avoided by insanity. All sorts of questions did not have to asked or answered. She’d been able to make all sorts of excuses for him, and not question why she was doing it.
“What did you want to ask me?” she demanded. Abruptly, she stood up, towering over him on the floor. I might turn out to be taller than him, she thought. She wanted to sit back down on the floor again, so at least they were the same height. The thought came to her that she couldn’t count on him to be her protector any more, that she’d have to protect herself---and maybe him as well. He’s not my surrogate big brother any more, she thought sadly. Changed too fast and I missed it.
Spike stared up at her, startled. She’s gotten so tall. It was the sort of thing one didn’t notice when one had gotten out of the habit of being next to her. When was the last time they’d actually talked, the way they used to? “I can’t remember now,” he said quietly.
“Later I might remember.”
“Okay.” She looked around for an escape, and the smell of something burning gave her her window of opportunity. “I have to go help with dinner.”
No time for jokes. He nodded silently, but he waited till she was around the corner before he got up. The tee shirt flapping about had started to irritate him. He could only imagine what effect it had on anyone else who’d known him as Spike. He’d kill himself before Giles or Xander saw it.
Buffy found him in the bedroom when he didn’t answer the call for dinner. He was lying flopped across on the mattress, staring down over his crossed forearms at the carpet.
She sat down quietly next to him and he reached back one hand. Despite everything, it was gratifying the way she took it and held it between the two of hers. “So how did it go?”
“Custer? Apaches? Sound familiar?”
“Hm,” Buffy murmured encouragement.
“That went better. People shouldn’t have to survive what they can’t tolerate.”
“Well, look on the bright side,” Buffy said. “At least there was no scalping.”
Spike looked at her. “You know what it is?”
“The general problem with this?” He gestured at himself, but she was afraid that it might apply to everything---life, liberty, the pursuit of Doc Martens. “I’m still thinking like a vampire.”
“Well, I made your steak medium rare if that’s---Oh.” She was silenced with a dour look. Oh, boy, she thought. Angel might brood, but it looked like Spike was going to have a tantrum. “What do you mean, thinking like a vampire?”
“I did it for such a long time, I can’t help it.”
“You mean you think about killing people?”
“No. I think about knocking some sense into people---and I mean myself foremost, you know. And how….” He took a deep breath. “What I did to you.”
Five words, she thought, and her face flamed. “What you tried to do,” she corrected. “I don’t want to talk about it, Spike.”
“We’ve got to, some time.” Rolling over on his back, he found her flushing, her hair tangled from the heat in the kitchen. Entirely without conscious thought, one of his hands found her cheek, and she turned into it silently.
“Well, if we talk about it, we’re not going to stop, are we? That’s the problem. I’m supposed to be good and you were supposed to be bad. And we did a lot of switching back and forth. And I don’t want to talk about it till….I don’t really know,” she admitted. “I really don’t. One day we will.” One day after my retirement party, after they give me a nice little plaque. My luck, it will probably be a plague instead. ‘ To Buffy Summers, for fifty years of boring service in a boring-but-well-paid-job—‘
“We didn’t switch back and forth. It was----“
“Don’t go all twelve steps on me, okay? I don’t think Dear Abby is ever going to be able to handle any question I might have about relationships, you know? ‘Dear Abby, my ex boyfriend used to be a vampire, but now he’s human, and how long does it usually take to adjust and what are the stages?’ Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some kind of person like that for supernatural creatures, though? It would be a start.” She looked thoughtful. “You know, it could be a whole new industry.”
“There’s Giles.” Then he bit his tongue for saying it.
“Yeah, but I’m not ready to deal with the eye-rolling and the ‘oh, dears’ just yet. Don’t get me wrong,” she added hastily. “Love him, I do---even though I’m talking like Yoda for some reason----but, you know, it would just be kind of nice to have a relationship without interference? Just on my own. Just me and you. I swear, I think sometimes, with my friends and everybody getting a word in, it’s like being in a---a----sep-some or whatever.”
“But that’s different.”
“She’s family. She has to be involved. The rest----well, I never wanted veto power over who they dated. I don’t see why they have to over mine. Am I secretly Amish or something?”
He was momentarily diverted by the notion of Buffy in a bonnet, but returned to the subject at hand. “Meddling would have been fun.” He raised one eyebrow mockingly. “Could have avoided all sorts of---“
“It wouldn’t be any fun. Besides, I always had my hands full with my own---never mind.”
“What makes you think it wouldn’t be fun?”
“I sense some payback issues here.”
“Who, you?” She mimicked him, but when she tried to raise her eyebrow in imitation he smiled. “It’s enough like a soap opera as it is, okay? Soap operas and Dear Abbies. You know, maybe normal is over-rated.” She slid down till her chin was on his chest. He slid his hand in her hair and touched her face with the tips of his fingers. The sun played tricks on his eyelashes, turning them into translucent gold. The heat of his body coincided nicely with that of hers, and he shifted up on his elbows, cupping her face for a kiss. “Maybe not,” she muttered.
A knock on the door made them both sigh and shift, Buffy just a bit so that the erection she felt against her thigh wasn’t visible, and Spike so that the hand that had found her bum chastely repositioned itself on her waist.
“Sorry,” Dawn muttered. “But it’s Giles.”
“The phone didn’t ring,” Buffy said. She glanced at the phone next to her bed.
“Beats me,” Dawn said. “Maybe it was the moaning or whatever that drowned it out.”
“We were not----“
“Oh, yeah?” Dawn asked. “Next time I’ll tape it.”
Buffy glanced over at Spike. “Don’t you dare remind me what I said.”
She reached across his stomach to grab the phone, expecting to hear a dial tone. Instead she heard an impatient sigh. “Giles?”
“Hello, Buffy. How are you?”
She bit her tongue. Thanks for asking! Why, I’m lying on the bed with Spike and if I move my hand just the slightest, it’ll be in his----“Oh, I’m fine, Giles. And you?”
“I must have interrupted you doing something.”
“No, no, not at all.”
“I’m required to ask this question, by the way. How is Spike?”
“Conscious, alert, and, uh, unidentified.”
“I’m working on that. It would help if I knew what his real name had been.”
Oh, boy. “Maybe you two should talk about that yourselves without me acting as interpreter.” She held the phone out to Spike, who gave it the sort of look he’d once have given a gasoline-soaked stake. For a long moment, he looked from it to her, then back again. She waited to make sure he wasn’t going to hang up or anything, then tactfully left the room.
Giles saved him the trouble of trying to figure out what to call him by jumping in with both feet. “Spike. Do you remember anything about….what happened to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I need to know what you remember of your….experience.”
“I just remember the medallion lighting up like a rocket, and then I started to----“God, he could still feel it, burning all through his body. “It didn’t hurt. It felt like hot bathwater, really. Sort of tickled.”
“And when you came back?”
“Nothing much. Doctor said I wasn’t quite in a coma, just worn out. And then I just woke up one day.”
“Do they have any idea why?”
“Nothing they talked to me about. I’m just the patient to them.”
“Hm.” Giles sighed, and then Spike heard the scratching of a pen on paper. Leave it to Giles to take notes by hand instead of tapping them into a computer. “What about your name?”
What about it? He was silent so long that Giles prodded him. “Spike?”
“Yeah? What about it? What if I don’t remember it?”
There was a frosty sigh. “I find that hard to believe, Spike. It might just make things easier. And….” This time was Giles’ turn to pause. “You might have distant relatives.”
Relatives, he thought with horror. Then something else took over: people who would take him in. People who wouldn’t know who or what he’d been. He could invent himself with them, and they’d accept him---or not, he admitted grudgingly---but it wouldn’t be an uphill battle. He wouldn’t be the guy formerly known as Spike. He’d be---who, exactly?
“Well, then, let’s keep them distant till I know what to make of this whole human gig, okay? What if I forget and start gnawing on people’s necks?”
“I’m sure you’ll be reminded when they yank you off,” Giles said acidly. “Well, if you don’t remember or won’t cooperate, then I’ll have to see what I can do on my own.” With a click the dial tone returned, and Spike stared at the phone. Humans.
Buffy returned in time to see him sag back onto the bed. “Tough day at the office?”
“The boss hates me.”
“That’s….well…..Hm.” Stumped, she looked for something polite but realistic to say. “That’s not entirely accurate. I mean, Spike, just for hairpin turns and stuff, he’s got reason to be sort of…impatient with you.”
He looked at her for a second, but she looked perfectly calm. “And you?”
“It’s the sudden exits that get me,” she said.
Agreeably, she lay down next to him, stretching out on his side. “You think I like being like this?”
“No, what you said…You’re bang on about it. This, that, back and forth, always running about, changing my mind or my----“
“Existence?” She suggested.
“Had nothing to do with it.”
“You must have had something to do with it. The medallion was for a champion. Maybe this is what happens to champions.”
He refrained from mentioning that he was lying on a bed in a little apartment, wearing sweats and a tee shirt that were both three sizes too big. The underwear they’d offered him at the hospital had been two sizes too small. A champion should at the very least be entitled to underwear that fit. She kissed him just then, and none of that mattered in the slightest, because he suddenly felt very champion-like indeed.
Continued in Chapter 13