Buffy tossed and turned all night. Every time she fell asleep she was confronted with yet another vision of Spike's fate in prison or how painful it was going to be to keep him from that future. Finally she found herself staring up at the ceiling as the light turned from silver to gold. Life used to be so much simpler when I could just stake all my problems, she thought resentfully.
As her brain woke up, it registered that Spike was not next to her in bed. She laid her hand on the sheet; it was cool. So much for that Slayer sense. She sighed and sat up.
In her mind she imagined negotiating with Angel for his help. I need a dispensation from somebody, she grumbled to herself. There's just got to be more than one evil law firm in LA, she thought.
Just hurry up, Giles, she thought. Please hurry.
Buffy's apartment building had a recessed entryway that faced east and soaked up the sunrise's heat in the morning. Shops filled the first level of the building and some had external entrances while others opened only to central courtyard. The first place to open was of course the Starbucks, but Spike viewed the tea options with disdain and got something whose very name made him cringe . Turned into a bloody Yuppie, he thought dryly. Here's my fate.
Afterward he sat on the stoop and glared at the caretaker who came to roust him. There was seating inside, but he preferred to be alone. A couple of other brief forays into the courtyard had given him his Yuppie eavesdropping quota for the year, and made him wonder if biting Yuppies really qualified as a crime, considering the conversations he'd overheard. They were impossible to avoid as they were conducted a level that could have drowned out the sound of low-flying aircraft. One lady had described in horrifying detail a recent sexual encounter which had ended successfully when she had given precise directions to her partner. It had simultaneously fascinating and ghastly. Something else he'd overheard made him wonder if life was a worthwhile thing at all. That one had been a supremely confident little rat with a nasty little goatee that Spike wanted to grab and yank vigorously, who had drawled his way through a loud conversation about some movie rights negotiation. Well, he'd thought----at least that's not what I have to do. Every conversation had been like that: loud, as if the speaker wanted to boast, and utterly boring to him. He learned more than he ever wanted to know about the movie business, about boring paperwork, about stock trading, and other things that made prison seem like an ambition rather than a punishment. At least if he got killed, it wouldn't involve being bored to death.
What he did have to do, he had no idea. But he had at least made notes to himself: nothing that involved movie rights or prison sentences.
He needed to be alone to think, and solitude was very hard to find in the small flat. At the very thought, he rolled his eyes at himself. Give him what he wanted, and suddenly he wanted what he'd tossed aside. Although the part where he'd wanted to be a frail human had escaped him.
He had no powers, no options. His future as a vampire, even one with a soul, had been comfortably fixed, despite some of the drawbacks. Chief among those had been the idea of living on after Buffy inevitably died. Now he realized that he might very well not see that, assuming something supernatural didn't get him prematurely. He'd also had the ability to casually soak up information and he knew that women typically lived longer than men.
He'd managed to look at the papers off and on, and prison seemed frighteningly real. Lovely, he thought. Something didn't like him, but now he didn't know how to fight it off. In exchange for a few sure fates as a vampire, he'd gotten a hundred dire possibilities as a human.
The cappuccino thing he was drinking was certainly caffeinated enough to get his blood going and give his brain cells a jolt. He'd have a headache later, he realized. All these things he had to cope with all of a sudden, and he simply wasn't prepared for any of them. Not just that: there were big things and little things, medium things and huge things, and then----
There was Buffy.
What love lost in tragedy, he thought, it gained in complications. No star-crossed loves for him any longer; what was worse than mortal and immortal, slayer and slayee, good and bad? Once they'd had it actually easy, even though it had seemed complicated then. Good, bad, something to resist: their whole existence had been based on struggling against one another, on uneasy truces. At the end they'd had a raprochement of something they'd never had, a glimpse of things that might have been. Now everything was shattered and they were picking at the small pieces and looking for a pattern.
He'd loved her once because he was evil and she was his mirror, his compliment, his fate. Now they were similar and he looked for the old push, something to fight against. Worse than that, what if there wasn't a struggle--what did you do with yourself? He'd never had to ask Dru for a single thing: it was all his job, his pleasure to do what he willed, and now there were rules, none of which he remember, and most of which he suspected he wouldn't like.
He squinted up at the sun. Time to go back. Buffy would have noticed he was gone. Would it be worse if she didn't?
Dawn was splashing around in the bathroom like a porpoise and Buffy was clattering around in the kitchen when he came back. Something in his face gave Buffy pause as she poked her head out and looked at him. She poked her head back in and stared at the toaster. It, hopefully, could take care of itself.
"Hey," she said. Oh, God, not another moody boyfriend moment, she thought. Then she felt deeply and profoundly guilty.
"Coffee," he said, lifting his cup aloft. Then he realized he had not brought her any. "Sorry, uh----I forgot." Then he realized this was a deeply boyfriend-like thing to say, mundane and apologetic, even more so as he realized that he had not gotten more because he had no more money. Whatever happened to breaking things as a sign of affection? Whatever happened to breaking things as a lifestyle?
"Oh, hey," she said hopefully. Then the hope was dashed. No coffee. She rallied. Adjustment time. After all, vampire to human was a huge thing. Eating habits and caffeine additions were just little sprinkles of irritation on top of life-changing events. "I hope you didn't get me any. I hate their stuff."
The politeness exposed the ruse; Spike flopped over on the couch and moaned out loud. Then he realized the true dimensions of his existence: one cannot be moody, melodramatic, or tragic unless one is immortal. Being all those things as a mortal meant that he'd better be a tragic victim of fate, someone with such a tragic past that its long tentacles affected his present and future, or someone who had a terrible disease. Without those things, he was just a drama queen in search of a cause. Nothing he did had significance, unless it involved jail time. He groaned again. "Buffy?"
"I wonder if stakin' a human is fatal." He didn't see Buffy wince.
"Is there somebody you have in mind?"
"Myself," he sighed.
"It's not that bad," she said firmly. "Uh---is it?"
"I could bore myself to death," he said thoughtfully. "I could do that, you know. Give me something to look forward to. Oh, bugger," he muttered. "It's actually a bit flattering they think I'm a murderer. At least I'm not harmless." The last word was said in the contemptuous tone he reserved for Angel.
Buffy refrained from reminding him that they didn't necessarily believe he was a murderer: he was just convenient. "So…Are we having a mid life crisis early?"
"Try life crisis. And even that's boring. I'm not sure I'm not dead."
"Do you have pulse?"
He snorted. "Well, okay, you're alive."
"Depends on what dictionary you use for that definition, pet."
"So what set this off, may I ask?"
"I can't even buy more than one coffee at a time."
"Too much caffeine makes for a hyper Spike."
"Not what I meant." There was some disgust in his voice and she recognized it: this was very much old hyper Spike, eager for a spot of violence.
"I can't pay for my own coffee. And I don't fancy running to you every bloody time I want something. Already had a mum."
"Ah." Once upon a time, Buffy thought, I wished for boredom. She looked at him. "Spike?"
She looked at him for a long time, kindly but firmly. She looked a lot like Joyce, then, he saw, at least in her eyes. Her words, however, shattered the resemblance.
"Get over it."
This took a moment or two to register. His mouth opened, then slowly closed. My, she thought. What big blue eyes you have.
"I said get over it." She headed back to the kitchen. "You know what? I don't."
"I don't know. Do not know. No comprende. Beats me. Haven't a clue. Do not know what's going on. But it's weird stuff and I need your brains---er, not literally---and what we do about your finances can wait. Because I have money."
Spike laid back on the sofa and glared at the ceiling, but she could see his brain working furiously. Not quite certain whether her presence was required or not, she turned back to the kitchen, but was startled to find him at her back with a suddenness that startled her. "Buff?"
He reached out and stroked her arm. "Sure it's just my brains?"
"That," she said, "sounded disturbingly literal."
In return Spike closed his eyes and banged his head lightly against the doorframe. "Pet? Could you be a bit less blond?"
"You are going to pay for that, mister."
"I'm sorry, love, there's little I won't do, but I refuse to have cute conversations. I may be human, but I won't be a human cliché, right?"
"Oh, good." He said. He nudged closer then, eyelashes sweeping his cheek as he leaned closer to her. "Where's Dawn?"
"Trying to kill the mood, huh?"
"Thanks!" Dawn said from the living room, staring at them in disgust. "Ew, get a room, you two." She stomped to her bedroom and slammed the door, loudly but not angrily. In teenage doorslamming language this meant she was merely annoyed rather than grossed out.
"I pay the rent!" Buffy yelled after her. Spike winced at the volume. Then she turned back to Spike. "What were you saying?"
"I'm not saying it again till Dawn leaves."
"With our luck, she'll stay home instead of torturing my undead ex boyfriend," Buffy said dryly. She sighed and stepped back into the living room to test the waters. Drawers were slamming in Dawn's room, though, so that seemed like a good sign. She walked up to him slowly. "I do have to do something today, though."
Spike hissed as she drew one finger across his lips. "I hope it's a small, short something."
"I don't know, but---" She actually didn't want him along. Who knows what was going on, whether he could help or not? But not asking him after mentioning it would be disastrous. "Want to come?"
"Funny you should ask," he said, dropping his chin. The front door slammed somewhere behind them. "Funny you should ask."
Continued in Chapter 19