All About Spike - Print Version
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It was so stupid.
All the years she longed for normality, and
now she had it.
And she was bored.
Safety brought many things. Contentment was
not one of them.
She’d gotten used to so much danger, and now
she had to adjust to safety. This is what Mom felt like, when I moved out, she
Patrolling had become exercise, like a club
she took Dawn to. They wandered through cemeteries at night, and every night
the vamps fought less and fled more. She was left standing behind them, staring
at their backs, somewhat amused. Frequently, they arrived back home, just in time to see the
end of the evening news, and she discovered a world more bewildering than the
one she was used to, where there were definite rules and solutions.
She read books. She
loaded up on poetry books at the library, till the librarian perused one stack
and raised one eyebrow. “Bad break up?”
Buffy could only
shrug and slink away. But in her room, she curled up with them, glancing up
periodically as some line struck her, expecting to get a reaction from Spike,
only to find that he was not there.
Giles still hated
email, but he was so delighted at his progress in England
that he braved the torture device, as he called Willow’s
computer, and emailed her. She received a substantial stipend now, and found
that as the summer swirled by, the thought of work was interesting rather than
ghastly. Thanks to Robin, work no longer brought to her at automatic twinge at
the thought of the Doublemeat Palace.
Work didn’t have to mean smells, unending labor, and blood. Odd that fast food
slavery and vampire slaying had so much in common. She didn’t quite know what
she wanted to do, or could do, but she at least had the knowledge that with her
reference letters from Giles and Robin, she had some choices in the matter.
She found that her
bitterness against her father had disappeared. There was no point to it, any
more, not as long as she had Giles, not as long as Giles had her. After the
flurry of news stories about Sunnydale, it took him two weeks to answer her
phone calls. For a man who still didn’t know his daughter was the Slayer, he
was curiously blasé about her fate. She
found herself pausing outside his apartment door before knocking. When he
answered, he actually blinked a moment. “Buffy?”
“That’s me.” She
glanced around him.”Your daughter?”
“You, ah---“ She
watched, incredulous, as he glanced around uncomfortably. “You, ah, you look
really good.” The secretary he’d taken
to Italy---something he’d never done for Joyce----perched on the leather sofa,
one expensive Jimmy Choo tapping impatiently on the floor. “You know, the
daughter you don’t pay for? That’s how you tell us apart.”
trying to get ahold of you.”
“Sure,” she said.
He remembered himself, then, and gestured inside, but she hung back. “Did I
ever tell you, Dad, that I’m the Slayer?”
“I’m the Vampire
“I knew I should
have called more often. Buffy----“
“Well, I used to be
the only one,” she added. “But anyway, I figured you should know.”
wrong with you? Come inside. Is it…It is…Did you hear about the baby?”
She noticed him take a step back. It was the perfect opportunity to peer around
him at the secretary, noting again the clothing that cost more than a month’s
pay at the Doublemeat Palace.
So, that explains it, she thought. “You’re
not even showing yet. And I’m still the Slayer. With a capital S.”
“Buffy, I know this
has been really hard on you, but do you need help? Need to talk to someone?“ He turned around and bustled over to the
desk, avoiding her eyes. “I know this therapist…”
Oh, not dad help. Hired help, as a
“I’m not nuts, if
that’s what you mean.” She glanced again at the secretary, whose name she’d
carefully avoided discovering. It felt far better to refer to her as ‘the
secretary.’ She’d never be a substitute for Joyce, and keeping her anonymous
only confirmed that. “I’m the Slayer. Remember all those fights? Remember the
gym burning down? Remember all the kids who disappeared in Sunnydale? Remember
when the school blew up? Didn’t it sort
of bother you, taking me to a town with such a high mortality rate? Leaving me
there? Especially after Mom died?”
“Whatever. I’m the
Vampire Slayer, and I figured you should know that about me. So, you know, you
can put it in my baby book or something. Except, I guess, the baby book’s with
Mom…” She turned away from his house with the sure knowledge that she would
never seek him out again.
She wasn’t getting
anything from him except the support check, and that could be handled
automatically by the court. She filled out the paperwork, and put it in the
mail. He was gone from her, and she felt like she’d released a long-held
decide where to settle, so somewhat uncomfortably, they returned to LA, and
there Dawn confronted for the first time the fact that monks had relied on
somewhat out of date research to form some of her memories.
“What do you
mean, there’s no Disneyland?”
“God, Dawn, could
you yell a little louder? You just knocked a Russian satellite out of the sky.”
Buffy gestured down the slope of the hill. “Look, see that? Russian debris.”
“I’m serious. Disneyland
is supposed to be here.”
“No it’s not.”
“Is not. We’re in Griffith
we already walked all this way. I want it to be here.”
Slayer. And there’s only one of me.” She ambled down the slope, glancing
suspiciously as the trees, as if the amusement park was compressed behind them.
Buffy yawned and smiled behind her, amused and tired in spite of herself. They were tourists
these days, while they adjusted. She’d never had so much fun
before. Not since before she became a Slayer.
seemed to fill her senses these days. She found herself conscious of all the
holes he left in her life, even more aggravating than the loss of the house and
the environment. She had Dawn and the visits by Giles and Willow,
but it was a new world, and in her dreams, she escaped to the old, and to his
There were so many
emotions crowding her life now, and she couldn’t keep them straight. Before,
she’d kept them rigidly under control, but that didn’t work now, and it was a
relief, if sort of frightening. Once, standing at the sink in their little
apartment, she suddenly deflated into tears, glad only that Dawn was out with
friends and couldn’t see her cry for absolutely no reason at all. The tears
left her weak and stunned, and suddenly, there was no one there. She curled up
on the couch, and pulled a blanket around herself, hoping to sleep.
That was the first
time he came back to her, covered with dust and ashes, sitting on the chair
across from her. He looked as he had after the time she’d beaten him, but
exhausted besides, sitting slumped in the chair as if he had no strength left.
His eyes were hollow and lost, and her throat closed up. Oh, God, I missed you so much, she thought, and reached out to
touch him. That was what woke her up. She was awake, and she was alone.
She stared around
the little apartment, eyes wide, empty inside.
It was time to
“Ouch, Giles, if
you’re going to yell, you should just open a window.”
“Oh, right, sorry.”
She heard rustling and crackles. “It’s been rather a bit since you last called,
Even his subtle
reproach was better than her father’s disinterest. “Sorry, I’ve been sort
“Oh, well, then,
I’m so glad you found time----“
“No, it’s nice,
Giles. I’ve been getting acquainted with this thing called ‘relaxation.’”
paused. “I suppose if anyone’s earned it, it’s you.”
“Yes, I like to think of it as taking
all my vacations at once. How’s Merry Olde?”
“I beg your----Oh,
yes, of course. Well…” She heard a chair scraping out, and realized with
amusement that he was settling himself in for a good long chat. She wondered if
she should take notes. “Well, of course, the building’s a loss. And the
casualties were….” There was silence there, and she actually heard traffic for
a moment. “….terrible. I’m amazed some of us managed to survive. Some of the research
is still here, too.”
“Yes, yes, it’s
better than nothing. But it’s been hectic----“ he sighed deeply, and she
wondered if Dawn would like to go to England.
“----with all the funerals, the notifications, the police----“
“Giles,” she said
“Yes, I know, we
were lucky,” he said, in a somber tone that matched her own. ”But---now we have
all the Slayers. They’re reporting in from all over. It’s extraordinary,
really----I just received an email today from a Watcher in Nairobi.
He’s noted the presence of no less than four Slayers in his immediate vicinity,
and for the first time he can remember, his province is free of vampires.
They’ve all been staked or driven off. This is extraordinary, Buffy, we might
very well be entering a new era. Vampires are much more cautious these days. And
it’s all because of you.”
She gulped then. Funny how it was all the little things that
got her sniffly. Slaying vampires, dying not once but twice, but a genuine
compliment from Giles like that would keep her going for days. “Part of the
Buffy, you thought of it. Even
Even after we kicked you out, she
thought. “That was you,” she said. “You trained me.”
“Well, yes, yes I
did,” he acknowledged. “But still, Buffy----“
“Giles, are you
feeling guilty about something?”
“God, yes, Buffy, I
hate this,” he burst out. “I’m not a CEO, I’m a Watcher. I feel like Quentin
Travers is smirking at me from beyond the grave, watching me turn into him.”
“But you like
“Well, yes, but
that was on a small scale. I have no one to blame but myself if things go wrong.”
“Oh, I can think of
all sorts of people you can blame. Want a list?”
scoffed, but she could hear him smiling.
“Doesn’t being in England
Everyone knows me here, and this incident was on the news. Before all this
happened, I knew the rules. Now everything is disorganized, and I have to make the rules. It’s very disturbing. I
don’t want to make rules. I want there to be rules which I can break myself. I
don’t want to be the---the---old---fuddy duddy that’s in charge of inventing
“Well, Buffy, what
would you have me do, lie?”
She thought about it. Once upon a
time, yes, she would have preferred it. “You know, Giles, once I would have
wanted exactly that. Isn’t that funny?”
“Well, I think so.
I mean, isn’t it a change? Now I don’t.”
“It seems you’re
growing up and I’m regressing.”
“No,” she scoffed.
“You’re just stressed. How about if I come visit?”
“I’m sorry, but
will that alleviate my stress?”
“It won’t,” she
said cheerfully. “But you’ll have to worry so much about me, that you’ll
completely forget about whatever else is going on. And you can use me as an
example of what not to do. It’ll be
just like old times.”
She could hear
street noises from what was going on around him---the muffled sound of people’s
voices, the oddly high-pitched beeps of what sounded like bumper cars. She’d
never heard cars that sounded so small; were they all tiny? She wondered why
Giles was hesitating. “You always hated
it when I argued with you,” she offered helpfully. “Never argue with your
Watcher, girls, it’s very----“
said gently. “I never hated it.”
“Well, I might have
disliked it slightly----“
“I was right some
of the time, you know.”
“As was I.”
“Does that mean we
were both wrong most of the time?”
“Yes, Buffy, I’m
starting to think it does.” He hesitated again, and she could feel it. Am I
another responsibility to him? She thought suddenly, panicked.
“ Buffy, is
everything all right?”
“Oh, no, I’m---“
“Buffy,” he said
sternly, and she crumbled.
“No, Spike dreams.”
“No, not those kind
of dreams, Giles. I just have dreams where I don’t think I’m dreaming, and he’s
here, and then I wake up. And I miss him.”
“I’m sorry, Buffy,
I hadn’t thought----“
“Does that make
“Well, I miss him,
but we weren’t exactly----“
said, and stopped. She could almost hear him collecting his thoughts. “I’d
think less of you if you didn’t. It wasn’t an easy situation, and it won’t ever
be easy to sort out your feelings. He did something extraordinary in getting
his soul, and then he did something even more extraordinary by sacrificing
himself. But he was William the Bloody for a century. One can’t pretend to not
be confused by it all. It’s very difficult, holding those two extremes before
you. And everything in between.” He hesitated again. “Why on earth should this
bother you at all? Has anyone said anything to you?”
“About Spike? No,
but, you know----“
“What is it,
“You’ve got so much
to worry about already.”
“Buffy, if you
don’t think you merit a special category of worry, you’re mistaken.” Buffy
gulped then, and Giles sighed. “That sounded much more sincere when I was
thinking it. Has someone been bothering you about this?
“No, no, it’s not
that.” She picked at the upholstery of the chair. “It’s just that it’s hard not
to think things when my dad isn’t interested in me at all, and this vampire who
said he loved me, died for this, and my dad treats me like I’m the new Avon
“Buffy, have you
considered….letting him go? It sounds as if he’s ….gone.”
“Do you want him to
still be in your life?”
“I don’t—but there’s
“Buffy, I can’t
help but think he doesn’t deserve you.”
“That’s the thing.
We don’t earn our families.”
“Wouldn’t it be
nice if we did, though? Like collecting Green Stamps?”
“Well, Buffy, you’re
entitled to more and he’s entitled to…punishment.”
“God, Giles, when
did you join the Mafia?”
“What I meant,
Buffy, is whether you’re getting anything at all out of your relationship out
of your father.”
money. I already filed the court papers. We tried doing the social thing, but
he acts like I’m somebody he has to be polite to. It’s not really comfortable. And Spike’s…not here, and I miss him.”
“Buffy, you can’t
dwell on it.”
“Well, that’s the
problem, Giles. It’s not that I’m not grateful for the money, but I thought I’d
like being bored more.”
“Oh, yes. There’s
so many Slayers now that Slaying isn’t really Slaying any more. It’s Watching
Them Scurry Away like Bunnies. But it gives me time to read.”
“Okay, okay, gloat
all you want.” Buffy played with a pencil on the table, closing her eyes and
flipping it into the air and catching it between two fingers. “But you know,
the boredom is only fun when there’s excitement against it. And there’s no
“I’m sure Angel
could use your help.”
“I’m not sure about
that, Giles.” She got up and flopped down on the couch. “That’s why we’re not
living at the Hyperion with everyone else.”
“I’m just sort of…uncomfortable
around him now.”
“I just keep
comparing him to Spike. And I shouldn’t. It’s not fair to either one. But, it’s
like this whole thing---Anya dying, Spike saving us----it’s like Angel got the
easy way out.”
“You told me you
asked him to leave, in case he was needed.”
“I know.” She could
hear him tapping a pencil against some hard wooden surface. “That doesn’t mean
he had to do it. I don’t know----“
“I feel some
sympathy for Angel now.”
“I’m not saying I don’t
understand your feelings, Buffy. But life is full of ambiguities now.”
thought. Yeah, like I don’t know what that is.
“So…What should I
“Buffy, I think you
should----“ She heard him sigh. “I think you should sit down one day, and try
and think about that yourself. What do you
want to do?”
“I don’t know!”
“Then it’s time you
started to think about that.”
“It used to be that
there was only one Slayer, Buffy, and many Watchers. Now the reverse is true.
We need Watchers. Perhaps you could be one of them?”
“Think about it,
“Me? A Watcher?”
“Hm,” Giles said,
pleased. “That was rather a surprise, wasn’t it?”
“YOU BET IT WAS!”
“Buffy, really.” He
sighed again. “Oh, would you look at that! Someone’s misfiled the journals
again! I have to go. Another fire to put out. Shall I call you or you---“
“No, I’ll call you.
Once I recover from the shock.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Buffy.
Her throat closed
up, and she could barely choke out a farewell. She stared at the phone for
several minutes after she hung up, looking at it.
Training Slayers, being at one remove from the danger. Research. She wrinkled her nose. This is a whole new world. She curled up on the couch, clutching a
pillow protectively. “A whole new world,” she said tentatively. “But---“ She
closed her eyes, and he was curled up behind her. “I want the old one.”
The pit was so huge that climbing down into it was not
an option. From western rim to eastern, it measured five miles, and no one was
sure what was under the debris, or how stable it was. The first rescuers
The foreman was a huge Australian named Lamont Neville,
almost seven feet tall, and the size of the pit awed even him. He glided to a
stop on an upended chunk of concrete amidst tumbled houses and roofs, and
pulled his helmet strap loose. Sun beams streaked the sky over him, but the pit
itself was deep in shadow. He flipped on the light on his helmet, and saw other
lights slashing through the shadows cast by looming debris. A thumb switch
activated the walk talkie. “Neville here. Everyone okay? Check in.”
He licked his lips as the rest of the team checked in,
till all thirty were accounted for. Surveying the ground around him, he was
reminded by contrast of the bitter, dashed hopes of New York City. There were
recognizable pieces of debris around him, things that hinted as to what had
happened here. A telephone lay at his feet. A man’s shoe—only one---lay on top
of half of desk, spilling out layers of paper. All around him, the debris rose
and fell in peaks and heaps, with the walls of the pit circling everything, the
lightening sky like the lid of a pot. Houses clung here and there to the edges,
and heaped on the slopes. “Stay in contact, everyone, but be alert. We’re
looking for survivors.” Despite the surroundings, he felt an absurd leap of
hope. There was so much debris that there had to be people locked inside it. Dust,
he thought. That’s all that was left on that last job. Here there were whole
buildings. Inside some of them, there could be people.
Hope was a distraction in his business, and he shoved it
away, like a piece of disused equipment. He eyed the ground beneath his perch.
A weird selection of items lay scattered beneath him, like items spilling from
some giant’s pocket. A cantaloupe. A record turntable. A woman’s purse.
Photographs. A toaster. The corner of a street sign poked out of a sheaf of
papers. He lowered himself to the next slab and looked around again. He was at
the very lowest level, and smashed buildings crowded around him. He pulled
himself over more heaped slabs of sidewalk and found himself at an impasse. A
house that looked like it had been squeezed in a giant’s hand loomed over him,
with three others piled up against it. There was no real way around them. He
tossed his hook at the nearest windowsill, and pulled himself up the sloping
cement toward the building. Furniture was tossed around inside in a crazy pile
and he turned and looked for another way.
There was no way around it; he was going to have to
backtrack. Turning away, he slid back down, then maneuvered to the top of the
cement slab again. “Good job, butthead. Good job.” The sun was now hitting just
below the rim of the pit, but the contrast made it more difficult to see, not
less. Neville tossed the grappling hook yet again, and wrapped the line around
the chimney of the nearest house. He yanked a few times, but the line held.
Finally he got the line clipped to his harness and rappelled up the side of the
house and onto the room. The structures were jammed so tight together that they
held each other up. He clambered to the peak of the first roof and braced his
feet, but nothing shifted. After getting his bearings, he unhooked the rope
from the chimney and tossed it to the next roof, where it snagged on a crumpled
satellite dish. That line got him to the second roof, where he sat down on the
chimney itself to figure out his next destination . A parking lot and a
splintered building lay before him on the other side of the house. He unhooked
his line once again, tossed it to the next roof, and snagged it on the roof
itself. He looked down, looking for something that would be both easy to hook
to, and easy to unhook from. Finally, he hitched it to a window frame and
started his descent. The windows he slid past were crammed full of furniture,
and rags---but no glass. That glittered on the ground beneath him, and he hit
the cement with a crunch.
The sun was slowly working its way down the far wall
of the pit, but he was on the wrong side to take advantage of the growing
light. Biting the finger of one glove, he pulled it off and wiped his forehead,
then rubbed his hand on his thigh. Usually, one would see lots of cars in a
collapse like this, because they were comparatively light, and tended to squirt
up through the wreckage of buildings. Or maybe everyone got away. He
looked around, choosing his footing carefully. He couldn’t see a single car.
This provoked only a shrug. Don’t get your hopes up. The pit was scatted
with heaped ruins of houses, like entrees across a plate, and he knew he wasn’t
seeing everything. Don’t get your hopes up.
He checked his watch. The whole process of moving
approximately two hundred feet had taken him almost a half an hour. Time to
check in. He keyed the walkie talkie and and cleared his throat. “Neville,
here, Team sound off.”
The heaps of ruins swallowed the voices, and when he
pulled the earpiece from his ear he couldn’t hear so much as an echo. He could
see rising dust, but no flames. Another concern was flooding. He could see
puddles here and there from broken water mains. The state had shut off the
pipes before the pit flooded, but if there was a fire, they’d be out of luck
without water pressure.
Everyone was still alive, at least till the next check
in. He concentrated on picking his route through the rubble.
Funny. It was obviously a parking lot. The lines
that he could see were bright and newly painted. The building had been a sleek
behemoth, judging by what was left---all straight lines and cantilevered layers.
The double doors had been blown out by the ground collapsing, and one of them
made a bridge for him between two hummocks of concrete. Reaching the vestibule
made his heart trip faster, as he saw the banner laying under the other door. “
dale High Sc---“
“Oh, shi---“ he hissed, keying his mike. “I found a
school! I repeat, I found a school! Rally point is now my location. I say
again, I found a school!”
Calm now, he thought, but his heart was hammering
with anticipation. He ducked under the slanted doorframe, broken glass
crackling under his feet. Dust whirled in the beam of his head lamp, and he
pulled up the mask dangling around his throat. The dust swirled as he waved a
hand through it. It was different from concrete dust, too, which was heavy and
tended to settle. This was light, ethereal, and danced around almost like it
Shouts echoed thinly outside, and lights bounced at the
“In here. Keep it down.”
“Damn.” It was Gibbs, repeating his motion, and pulling
his mask up. “What is this stuff?”
“Science lab? It’s not from the concrete.”
“No, it’s not.” He cast a worried eye at what was visible
of the ceiling. “Asbestos?”
“Building’s too new.” Neville frowned. “Stand still for a
Gibbs obeyed, and they stood for a few moments, hands
jammed in pockets. The air in the ruins was motionless, but the dust danced and
bobbed around him. Gibbs looked left and right, then met Neville’s eyes. “This
is weird shit.”
“We’ll have to get it analyzed.”
They proceeded onward, glass rustling beneath their
feet. They found the first casualty at about the halfway point. She lay beneath
a stair that had been torn from its moorings and now lay upside down on top of
a heap of collapsed walls. Streaks poked through the holes in the roof, making
dust swim before them. The girl’s bright hair was choked with dust, and nothing
of her body was visible beneath her shoulders.
Neville searched for a pulse, but there was nothing.
Something glinted through the dust, and he frowned at what looked like a sword
hilt. Drama club? He thought. There was no time for pity, not while
other people might be lying injured.
Slowly, tentatively, they worked their way downward, as
the hallway began to pitch down. The high ceilings had collapsed at the end of
the hallway, and the walls had tented against each other, but it was
structurally sound. The dust was heavier, however, and his eyes stung.
“Down here!” He waved at the dust around his face, but it
didn’t accomplish anything productive. “This way!”
Footsteps clomped down the hallway. The dust turned
brighter, then a sharp point of light pierced the curtain of particles, and
Butterfield appeared, like he was surfacing out of murky water. “What is this
“I don’t know,” Neville said thoughtfully. “I’ve never
seen anything like it.”
“Governor’s coming to see the site.”
“Good for him. Maybe the bugger can do something more
with that stupid gold shovel than plant cornerstones. Come on.”
They moved forward, passing more stairways torn from
their moorings, before then stopping in confusion as the masonry ended and they
found themselves standing on bare earth. They’d moved steadily downward at a
very gradual angel, but when Neville turned and looked back at the hallway, he
realized they’d probably moved a good thirty feet below their entry point. Gibbs
met his eye. “Building fell into its own basement, did it?”
“Looks like it. I wonder what---“
“Another one,” Butterfield said quietly. Tumbled boulders
crammed together appeared at the far edge of their lamps’ range, and beneath
those lay one small hand. “Didn’t even have time to run---“He checked the
pulse, but the when he tried to work his fingers around the wrist, he
overbalanced on his haunches and sat down abruptly. The hand came with him. He
looked at it miserably, biting his lip, then shudderingly put it down. “Did
they run down here when they felt it?”
“Dunno.” Neville climbed on top of the highest rock, and
looked over it. “I’ve got fresh air here.”
“Yeah. I think we got ourselves the cause right here.” He
hoisted himself higher, and the rocks shifted ominously. Butterfield leaped
back, but Neville got tossed forward as the boulders shifted like piled
marbles. He rolled with it, bouncing from rock to rock till he wound up flat on
his back at the bottom of a long slope. His gloves disappeared as he grabbed at
anything that would slow his falls. Pebbles and tiny pieces of debris pattered
down around him, but he finally landed in a pile of dust that gave like a plump
pillow when he flopped down on top of it. It felt like pieces of glass were
poking into his back. He let his head sag onto the ground, his headlamp dancing
over the rock walls. Up the slope he could see the bobbing lights of the men as
they scrambled over the rocks to get to him.
“Good one, dude.” Wong said. “Anything broken?”
“Yeah, I wanna see somebody put your hairy ass in a
sling. Come on.” Wong offered him a hand, and Neville lurched to his feet with
a groan. He yanked his hand away as soon as he could, waving it painfully in
the air. Wong handed him his battered radio, ripped off his belt by the fall,
and one glove. His hands were raw and speckled with little cuts and scratches.
“I’m too old for this crap.”
“So retire and give young whippersnappers like me a
“You haven’t even made it to whippersnapper yet, you’re
still an ankle---Oh, God,” he muttered, his jaw dropping.
It was a cavern. He stared at it, awestruck, thinking
only that if he’d fallen ten more feet, he’d have gone over the edge. His light
didn’t have enough range to hit the bottom. He tossed a rock over the edge and
waited, rubbing his scraped hands as he counted off the seconds. It took six
seconds for the rock to hit the bottom.
“Damn,” Wong said. “How big?”
“I don’t know,” Neville said quietly. “That thing is
huge. Frickin’ huge. But the vault’s intact, and this isn’t Carlsbad.”
“Could it have been…?” They looked at each other, the
same thought on their minds.
“I dunno,” he said. He’d seen cases of undiscovered cave
systems getting discovered when some foolhardy construction project had pierced
the roof of a vault and brought it all down. If that was the case here, then
there had been two vaults stacked on top of one another. “If there was another
one, it should have brought this one down, too.”
“Think it could go, too?”
“It’s possible. Anything’s possible.” He checked his
radio, but either there was no reception this deep or he’d finally broken it. “Head
up and give the word, okay? We’re going to need some talent down here.”
“Kay, boss.” Wong turned and began the long scramble up
the slope. Neville turned back and looked at the dust he’d landed in. Every
surface was coated with it, and there were piles of it everywhere. It looked
like people had been systematically emptying huge ashtrays down here. He kicked
one of them experimentally and it almost seemed like the dust flinched from his
boot. Trick of the light.
The other searchers hung back, awed by the sheer size of
the cavern. He waved a couple of them back up to the surface, but Gibbs he
beckoned over to him.
They were standing on something like a balcony at the
very edge of the cavern, and he could see beneath them another rock formation
like the one they were standing on. More dust. Something else---something pale.
Something that wasn’t grey. In the dim light, it took him a moment to realize
what he was seeing. More bodies. More young girls. There was no easy way to
get there, though, and he wondered how they’d gotten there. Fallen? Carefully,
he played his light over them, noting splashes of blood. Or pushed? They
hadn’t seen a male victim yet. He nudged Gibbs. “Look at that.”
“More bodies.” Gibbs looked closer. “Don’t look like it
was the collapse that got them, do they?”
“What do you think?”
“Give it your best shot.”
“That’s definitely a stab wound, there.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Neville braced himself on the rock, then flinched back,
hissing. “Great time to take a tumble. Glass everywhere, and me losing my
frickin’ gloves.” He backed away from the edge and examined the palms of his
hand. Sure enough, they were crusted with bits of rock and glass, and blood
welled thickly as he pulled the splinters of glass from his hands. He turned to
Gibbs. “We’ll have to rope this off. I think we got a crime scene here.” He
shook one hand viciously in the air as the pain from the scrapes flared. “I
hate splinters. Feckin’ things. Don’t see my first aid kit, do you?”
“Nope, boss, I think that went the way of your other
“Great, just great. Just what I need. Gotta rope this off
as a crime scene, and some rocket scientist is gonna find my glove and tell me
I did it.”
“Here.” Gibbs unclipped his own first aid kit from his
harness and handed it over, but Neville shook his head at it.
“I’m going to have to get these taken out and cleaned.
Bugger. All right, let’s go up. Don’t want to contaminate this scene. Did those
two have both their hands?” He pulled another splinter from his palm with two
fingertips and held it up for Gibbs to see. It was a long, vicious thing, fully
a quarter of an inch long.
“Looked like it.”
“The one upstairs sure did. So we’ve got at least four
victims.” He stretched his hands out and winced, ignoring the drops of blood
that dripped from his fingers. “Gotta get the feds in here. Let’s go. We need
some serious linkage to go any further. We’re clearing out till we get this
lifted off this pit.”
They headed back up the unstable slope, Neville wincing
as he had to use the wall for support. “Splinters, man---give me a broken leg.
Like they give you a medal for a splinter. Hurts like hell, but the damned
thing is so small, nobody respects that! Ouch, bloody thing…”
The light faded as they worked their way up the rubble
to the circle of light at the top. Behind them, the dust danced in the breeze
that came sweeping in from the cavern, weighted down only by the few drops of
blood that had fallen to the ground.
The blood glittered for a moment before sinking into
the dust. Like flour, it clumped around the liquid, and then, the lumps began
to grow and move. The pile of dust shifted and solidified, spreading across the
floor. Long tendrils formed limbs and arms, fingers and toes. The rough texture
became smooth, and the skin flushed with color. A tentative pulse sounded, then
leveled off into a rhythm.
Unconscious, the form curled onto its side, cradling a
burned right hand to its bare chest. The only sound in the cave was its soft
“Your feet are
remember?” He poked her in the stomach so unexpectedly that she snorted
ungraciously. He laughed—very softly---into the back of her neck.
“So the secret
weapon that you’re going to unleash on the First is the awesome power
of---noogies?!” She finished incredulously. She coughed to keep from making
“Oh, no. I’m going
to give them Indian rope burns.” He leaned over her shoulder to demonstrate on
her left arm. She looked at him as if he’d suddenly been transformed into
Geekboy, the Superhero of Nerds the World Over, before her very eyes.
“Where did you get
He shrugged, stretching
out on his side behind her again. “Dawn.”
“Not exactly,” he
said softly. “She was doing it to Andrew.” His tone lightened, with an effort.
“I took notes.”
“Don’t worry. Once
this is over, I’ll lock you two in a room together and you can work it out.”
“It’s not bad.”
“That’s not good
“She’s not a puppy
you can house break, Buff.”
“And you’re not a
vampire who should get anything less than---“
said dryly, “You’re going to have to lock me and Angel into a room, too. You’ll
need a schedule for all this locking and unlocking.”
“Well, I don’t
think that’ll happen.” Buffy said comfortably. “God, you two. You’re like me
and Dawn, fighting over the bathroom! I’m so glad there’s no reflections
involved, otherwise it would get really ugly.”
“I’m not the one
with that---hair.” She should feel him give a mock shudder.
“Yeah, you don’t
have hair issues at all.” She leaned
against him for leverage and patted his hair. “I like it better without that
stuff.” He stiffened, then pulled her hand away.
“I like that
stuff,” he muttered defensively. Then, he cleared his throat, and asked, very
casually: “You do?”
“Yeah. You knew
“No, I didn’t. You
never told me.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did!” She
wriggled over till she was on her back. “Did too.”
“Vampires have very
good memories, Buff, and I don’t----“ She leaned into him, then, and kissed
him, her hand falling comfortably on his chest.
“That’s how I told
you,” She said firmly.
She flounced back over on her side, but he spoiled her mock irritation by
pulling her back against him, and locking his arm around her waist. Without
even being aware of it, her hand began to stroke up and down his forearm, back
and forth, back and forth. “I didn’t mean you, by the way.”
“Oh, of course
They lay silently
for several minutes, the hum of some mysterious piece of machinery soothing
them with its monotony. “Should have done this earlier,” Buffy muttered
“Make up for it
“All the time,”
she whispered. “Just like this.”
“Hm,” Spike sighed
into her neck, and then he was asleep.
breathed, something he’d never given up. In the silence, she sleepily stroked
his arm, and listened to the noises of the Potentials settling down to sleep.
His body relaxed against hers, and her eyelids started to feel heavy. Some
small bit of tension remained, though, something nagging at her. Her eyes
snapped open and she studied the darkness. The phone was ringing, and she knew
it was the First, trying to discomfit her in her sleep. She couldn’t sit up,
though, because that would wake Spike up and he’d earned his rest. After all,
he’d sacrificed himself----
Her eyes snapped
not the dim shadows of a basement, made her squint. The phone was ringing with
angry persistence, and she sighed with irritation. It’s always the good dreams
that get interrupted, she thought resentfully.
“What am I?” Dawn
demanded grumpily, stalking toward the phone. “The hired help? Why are you on
the couch, anyway? Hello!” She rolled her eyes and held the receiver up like it
was something greasy. “It’s Angel,”
she said with revolting sincerity.
“Wow, you are so not a morning person,” Buffy grumbled,
but Dawn tossed a look over her shoulder that would have boiled steel and
staggered back to her room.
“You know, if you
stayed here, you’d have a chance of avoiding her,” Angel said dryly. Buffy
curled into a sitting position and tucked her feet beneath her. Her eyes were dry
and felt swollen from heavy sleep, and she rubbed her eyes with her fists.
“There’s a lot of rooms to hide in.”
“The thought had
occurred to me.” She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. “I was so not like that when I was her age.” Thump! Buffy thought, as Angel hesitated for
a moment. She could almost hear him biting his tongue, and she wondered if
she’d done it deliberately. At Dawn’s
age, she’d already died once, had sex for the first time with her boyfriend—namely,
Angel---and thereby set his evil alter ego loose to try and destroy the world.
She’d also run away from home. Dawn had…shoplifted.
It caused Angel some discomfort, she was certain, but she wasn’t sure precisely
how much. Nor did she know if she was doing it deliberately. Spike would have
snorted and nailed her for it. Angel, however, sighed and stepped around it.
“Well….” He said
cautiously. “She sure got the tall genes.”
“Oh, yeah? Bite
me,” Buffy said perkily.
“So I guess the
concept of irony has pretty much been erased from your brain, huh?”
“At seven o’clock? Oh yeah it has. So what’s up?”
Once again, he bit
his tongue. “Giles called. Said he was worried about you.”
“Did he? He offered
me a job.”
“You’re already a
“There’s lots of
Slayers now. They really don’t need many more of them.”
“So…what was it?”
“Oh, don’t worry
Angel. No flipping burgers for me---in LA. He thinks, ah, I could be a
Watcher.” She waited for him to say something skeptical, and her tension caused
her another one of those uncomfortable little moments. His opinion mattered to
her, somehow, some way, and his disapproval hurt. Ever since they’d arrived in
LA, she’d felt nervous around him, but she really couldn’t point her finger at
any specific reason.
be…interesting,” Angel said cautiously. “Giles would like that.”
“I don’t know. I
think it might or it might not be interesting. And Giles? He’s got some idea
he’s not telling me. I could see him
becoming sort of manic over it, you know? “
“Well, what do you
“I never thought
I’d say this, but---Slaying is boring now. Watching would be…different.”
“You’d have to
have a chapter in the history books,” Angel said. “All by yourself.”
“I don’t care about
that.” I just want to do the stuff that gets
you into the history books, not read them or anything, she thought. I want to do something again. “You know,
it’s just….I tried to have a life when I was a Slayer, but it never really
worked. And now I can have a life, and I just don’t care. What’s living?
Shopping? Shoes? That’s like---like decorating the tree isn’t Christmas. It’s
like Valentine’s Day isn’t love. I don’t
know what to do. I feel like I’m going through delayed puberty.”
“I don’t know,
Buffy.” Angel said quietly. “It’s been so long for me…But I don’t think trying
to go jumping into something is a good idea. It’s only been---what?”
“A few weeks,”
“You act like
someone’s got a gun to your head, demanding that you make a big huge decision.”
“It just feels like
I can, all of a sudden,” Buffy said quietly. “And I don’t know how to do it.
Unless there’s pointy sticks and danger, I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s not,
you know, good and evil any more. Unless Dawn is listening to Britney Spears or
“Do you really want
danger?” Angel asked reasonably. “It wasn’t fun for you, before. You just got
used to it. Maybe you think you miss it, but that’s just because it was all you
had. You didn’t really have anybody who could….really take on as much as you could.
Who could back you up.”
“There’s all the
Slayers now,” Buffy said softly. She heard Angel sigh loudly. Then she
gulped---That wasn’t what he’d meant, was
it? “And that’s a good, good thing. Really. But…now what?”
“It almost sounds
like you want to be the only Slayer again.”
observation, Buffy,” Angel said. “Now you know what it’s like, getting turned.
Your world’s gone. You can’t just…adjust to it, suddenly.”
“Okay, I know,
“But you can’t run
away from it, either.”
No, Buffy thought, that’s your job.
There was a
commotion in the background, and then she heard a rhythmic electronic beeping.
“Xander!” Angel shouted. He gave an immense sigh. “Xander’s cooking.”
“I’ll let you go,”
Buffy said gratefully.
Buffy.” Angel said quietly. “You’ve got all the time in the world.”
She hung up the
phone and stared at the blank TV set. The screen was dusty, testament to its
infrequent use. LA’s morning shows were nausea-inducing in their perkiness, but
she’d whipped through her library books again, and there was something nagging
at her about her conversation with Angel. She tried to recapture the dream his
phone call had interrupted, but it had vanished, leaving her clutching at wisps
of comfort---Spike’s chest against her back, his breath against her neck. She
pointed the remote at the TV set, muted the volume, and shuffled to the kitchen
to make tea. Damn Giles, she thought
grimly. I’m even drinking tea now.
While the water boiled, she looked around the
neat little kitchen, and then finally caught herself looking at the palm trees
outside the window. Palm trees, so Californian. Maybe that was the problem.
Maybe going to England
would be just what she needed, to get away from all the memories. She was stuck
halfway between her old world and her new world, with nothing to bind her to
the past but her own reluctance. Leave the shreds of what was left behind her,
and she could move on.
The phone rang,
and she jumped. She turned down the water so it wouldn’t boil over, and then
skidded into the living room to grab the phone before it could ring again.
“No, this is her
clone. Hey, Xander.” Then she realized her perkiness was misplaced. He took a
deep, shaky breath. “Xander, what is it?”
“They, uh----“ He
couldn’t go on for a second. “They found Anya, Buffy. I have to go identify
her. It looks like they found some of the Potentials, too.”
“Oh, God, Xander,
I’m so sorry.”
I’m----I was hoping for this to happen, you know? I can give her a decent
send-off now. I’m going to get a really fancy headstone, with all sorts of---“
He sniffled miserably, and then regrouped. “I still have the rings, you know?
She’d want those with her. It’s the least I can do.”
“She’d like that,
Xander.” She sank into the sofa, and clicked off the silent TV without glancing
at it. “Do you want…company?”
“Could you, Buff?
I’d really appreciate the backup.”
“Like you have to
ask. Should I come over there?”
“Yeah, Wes would
“Sure. I’ll just
shower and all that.”
“What for? Best
friends, Scoobies and all that. Hey!
Maybe we should get tattoos.”
“We could do that.
We could make all the new Slayers do that, too.”
“That would be
cool. In a biker kind of way.” She
paused, looking around the sunny room. “Just wait for me. Don’t you worry about
anything. I’ll be right over.”
“I’m not going
anywhere,” Xander said with a sniff. “Don’t think I can.”
She hung up the
phone gently, then went to tell Dawn.
Xander was fine until they pulled up into the parking lot and saw
the words carved into the lintel over the entrance: Medical Examiner’s Office.
He froze for a second. Then he made a big show of turning the engine off,
checking the glove box, fiddling with buttons. Buffy got out first, stared up
at the carving, and wiped her hands on her jeans. Xander was still slumped
inside the car, and Buffy looked at him with sudden sympathy. “Xander?”
“Hm? Oh, just a
sec, I’m, uh, I’m just---“
“Why don’t I go
in?” She said. “You can, you know, find what you were looking for in the glove
compartment. And, then, you know, you could---“
“It’s not that. I,
um, I have to do this thing, here, before I can lock the car and---“
“I know.” Buffy
crossed around the front of the dusty car, and leaned over his open door. He
had one foot outside the door, and his hands dangled limply on his thighs.
“What are friends for?”
Xander blinked up
at her, then laid one hand near hers on the window frame. She moved hers to
cover his, and he turned away and licked his lips. “Thanks.”
“Don’t know what
you’re talking about, Xander.” She waited for him to meet her eyes, but he was
staring downward again, and she tactfully turned away.
The empty lobby
could have been mistaken for a doctor’s office except for the bullet-proof
glass window. Something was wrong about the office, wrong in a good way, and it
took her a moment to pinpoint it. Nobody was waiting. Nobody except her, and
the friend she’d left in the parking lot. She stepped up to the glass, and
tapped on it. A head popped up behind a counter in the back of the office, and
a slender young black woman strode briskly up to the air holes and smiled
encouragingly at her. There was something kind about the woman’s face, and
Buffy found herself relaxing. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m here to
“Oh, yes. Which
So much for optimism, Buffy thought. How many more are there? “A friend of
mine. I think she would have been at the school?”
“Friend. Her ex is,
The young woman
looked at her steadily for a moment, and Buffy dropped her eyes to the nametag
on her blouse. CORA, it said. “That was very kind of you,” the other woman
said, and then waited a minute, as if to let the sentiment sink in. A buzzer sounded, and Buffy jumped. “Come on
It was a
perfectly ordinary office, except for the metal door at the far end of the
cubicles. This, too, required a buzzer, and Cora stepped aside and let Buffy go
through first. She found herself in a wide cool hallway with fluorescent lights
and scarred green linoleum. Empty mental gurneys lined the right side of the
hallway, and the smell of antiseptic was strong. A double-width exit door with
a lighted sign over it stood at one end of the hallway, and an elevator at the
other end. It was to this that Cora led her, guiding her inside and pushing the
buttons. When they stepped out, the change in temperature from the stuff office
was enough to make her shiver. Cora gently laid a hand on her back. “Have you
ever done this before?”
“Well, what did
your friend look like?”
struck Buffy and she turned to look at her curiously. “How many people were
“You said she
would have been at the school? The high school, right?”
“We’ve found four
dead girls there so far, and one survivor. I’m sorry.”
“Four,” Buffy said
softly. “I might know them, too.”
“Why were they at
would have been uncomfortable lying, but this time, the untruth sprang easily
to her lips. “We also had a plan that we would get together at the school, in
case of an emergency.” She licked her lips nervously. “Were they---?”
Cora seemed to read her thought. “They’re not
in bad shape. I’m sorry---what’s your name?”
“I’ll have to get
some information from you. There’s an investigation going on, you realize?”
“All of the girls
had defensive wounds, and one of them was stabbed to death. It looks sort of
“I’ll let the
police fill you in. If they’re your friends, you can really help us out by
filling in the blanks.”
Cora gave her a
compassionate smile. “I’ll give them a call, okay? That way you can get all
this stuff over with.” She licked her lips. “Are you ready?”
squeezed her arm comfortingly, but Buffy didn’t smile.
waiting room with a video monitor in it. They’ve been cleaned up and you’ll
only see their faces. Can you handle that?”
slowly. The expression on Angel’s face
after she’d stabbed him, and this woman was asking her if she could handle the
sight of---? She shook it off and
nodded again. Cora guided her down the hallway and through a door labeled Viewing Room. Couches lined three of the
walls, and a TV monitor sat in the center of the fourth. She stepped right up
to it, but Cora hung back, and whispered instructions into an intercom. Then
she switched it on, and Buffy held her breath as the image appeared.
Anya’s hair had
been washed, and a sheet covered her from the neck down. She could have been
sleeping, except for her pallor. “That’s Anya,” She said quietly. Cora stepped
back and issued more instructions through the intercom. Anya was moved out of the way, and another
sheet-shrouded form was wheeled into sight. Hands pulled the sheet back from
the head. “Yes, that’s Rona,” Buffy
said in the same numb voice. The process was repeated until she had identified Molly,
and Chao-Ahn as well.
“That’s it,” Cora
“I, uh, promised,
her ex-fiancée that I’d check, and then he could—“
“Okay,” Cora said.
“Let’s go back to the office. There’s some paperwork we have to do.”
“I’ll go get him,
“Do you have phone
numbers for the next of kin for the others?”
That stopped Buffy
in her tracks. “Uh---uh---you know, I might have to make some phone calls.”
okay.” Cora said. “That’s okay. At least their families will know what happened
to them now. At least they can bury them.”
Try catching dust, Buffy thought. Try finding it and burying it. Cora buzzed her out into the lobby, and
she stood in the air conditioning for a moment, bewildered. “I’ll be right
“I’ll be here,”
Cora assured her.
bright sunlight made her blink, and she couldn’t remember for a moment where
she was. The sight of Xander’s car restored her bearings, and she took a deep
breath. Better get it over with, she
thought. Start now. She watched her
shoes kick dust as they found their way to the driver’s side of his car. “You
can go in now, Xander.”
He looked up at
her blankly for a moment, and she wondered if they both had the same look on
their faces. “Was---?”
“It wasn’t bad,”
She said quietly. “Except for, you know---“
springs squeaked as he stood up stiffly, and the seat was warm with his body
heat when she slid into it. She rested her forehead on the steering wheel for a
moment, trying to recapture the feeling of the dream she’d had the previous
night, but the conversation with Angel seemed to have obliterated it. The sun
was very hot on the parts of her that it could reach. She maneuvered into the
back seat, which didn’t have the sun beating into it, at least.
Watcher Buffy Summers, she thought. Miss Summers. Away from California? Away from memories? Away from all her
moorings, which now lay in the bottom of a pit called Sunnydale. Part of her loved the sunshine, but part of
her knew that from now on she would associate it with this sickening hot
parking lot, this slow tick of minutes. She couldn’t do anything for Xander,
not without a time machine to take him years away from his loss. She laid her
head back on the head rest, and laid her arm on the open window frame.
She might have
dozed a little in the heat, jerking awake as car doors opened close by.
Blearily, she lifted her head and tried to focus. All she could see was a dark
vehicle parked several spaces away, and the torsos of the two men who’d gotten
out of it. She watched them move to the sidewalk in front of the building steps
without changing her position, and knew they were cops even before they got to
the first step. Cops, she thought
wearily, and dozed off again. Cicadas buzzed all around her, a sound that was
almost soothing in its familiarity.
exclaimed. She stared at the roof of the car. With some effort, she lifted her
head and looked around with blurry eyes. There were men standing beside the
car, and neither one of them looked like Xander, although all she could really
see was their belt buckles. Well, that’s
not Xander’s belt buckle, she thought, looking at a metal representation of
a bucking bronco. “Who’s there?” She
pulled herself stiffly over to the window and looked up. Both men took a step
back, and then crouched so she could see their faces. “Who are you?”
“I’m Harry Jordon
from the Lawrencia PD, and this is Leo Tate from the Sunnydale force. We’re
investigating what happened at Sunnydale High.”
She was instantly,
sharply awake. “What did happen at
“We were hoping
you could tell us that.” Jordon said. “Here we’ve got a natural disaster, and
we wind up with what looks like four murder victims, and some guy in a coma.
You knew them, evidently.”
Buffy stared at
him, then turned to look at the other one. “Murder victims? What?”
“Cora said you’d
identified all four women---or girls, really. We’ve already run their prints,
and nothing. And we’ve got this guy in the same area, but he’s naked, got no
priors, and he’s out for the count.” Some
guy? Buffy thought. Tate held up a Poloroid, and she slapped it
out of his hand in her eagerness to grab at it. All she accomplished was
knocking it to the ground. She scrabbled for the door handle, and practically
fell out of the car, while the two detectives exchanged looks and backed away a
couple of steps.
The photo lay
face down in the dust, and her hands shook as she picked it up. Her own
heartbeat resonated in her ears, and if the detectives said anything to her,
she didn’t hear it.
It could have been
a morgue photograph---the body was covered to the shoulders with a sheet, the
eyes were closed, and what was visible of the surroundings indicated sterility.
There was one big difference, though. Death blanched the skin of its victims.
This man, in this photograph, had pale skin, but it was flushed with life, even
though his face was slack in unconsciousness.
huge eyes to the two men in front of her, holding the photograph up as if they
weren’t familiar with it. “What? Is? What?”
“We were hoping
you could tell us that, Ma’am.”
“Can I see him?”
“You know him?”
“I think so,”
Buffy whispered. “I think I do.”
Once again, the
two exchanged looks. “Yeah, let’s go,” Tate said. “You stay here with the guy.”
He turned to her and casually held out his hand for the photograph. Buffy
jerked it back out of his reach, and crossed her arms on her chest, with it
still in one hand. Her lips were so tight they looked as if somebody had pulled
them shut with a drawstring. “Okay----boyfriend of yours?”
“Can you identify
passed between the two men. “So you know this guy and the girls,” Jordon said.
“You can identify the girls, but not the guy.”
“It’s sort of
“I’ll say,” Tate
said. “Well, let’s get going, okay?” He eyed her sardonically. “Oh, by the way?
You can keep the picture.”
The hospital in
Lawrencia was surprisingly calm, but most of the residents of Sunnydale had
fled before the collapse, so there hadn’t been a lot of casualties. This ought
to have registered more on Buffy than it did, but four of those casualties had
been people she knew. Tate talked tentatively about the search and rescue
operation, but it only gradually dawned on Buffy that there was something off
about his choice of topics. The third time he mentioned something that sounded
like ‘defensive wounds’ she turned around and stared at him. “What are you
Tate said. There was a certain edge to his tone that made her look closely at
him. “They were killed by falling debris, but all of them had defensive wounds.
Your friend Anya was stabbed in the back, and so was at least one of the
others. We find this guy there naked. He’s got some bad burns on one hand. This
is one of the worst natural disasters we’ve ever had here, and, frankly, it
looks like someone took it as an opportunity to even some scores. What are we
supposed to think?” He pulled into the
hospital parking lot, turned off the car, and gave her his undivided attention.
“I’ll be frank with you, Miss Summers. I don’t know what to think, really. But
those girls died fighting for their lives.”
They both got out
the car, and Buffy took the opportunity to look at him over the roof for a
moment. It got his attention. “I don’t care what you think, Detective. Just
so long as it’s thinking, and not jumping to conclusions.” She ducked ahead of
him and hit the entrance first, then stopped in her tracks, flustered. Where on
earth was he? She couldn’t very well ask for him by name, unless the cops had
christened him like a ship. A mental image of the cops swinging a bottle of
champagne at Spike’s head popped into her head, but it made her jaw drop. Bad, very bad, she thought. Losing it bad. The detective came up behind her and pointed down the hallway.
“John Doe’s down here.”
It was on the tip
of her tongue to snap at him that he wasn’t dealing with some John Doe, but she
thought better of it. She didn’t know what happened, and she didn’t know what
she was dealing with. Her pace slowed as she realized something else: if it was
Spike, she didn’t even know what to call him.
At the end of the
hallway, a bored-looking cop sat slumped in a hard plastic chair, chin in his
palms. At the sight of Tate he leaped to his feet, but Tate waved him off and
straight-armed through the door. Buffy, one step behind him, slammed into his
back as he came to an abrupt stop three steps into the room. Cautiously, she
peered around his side, and let out her breath. The detective might as well
have evaporated into air molecules for all the notice she gave him. The photograph
fluttered from her hand as she tiptoed forward.
She stood at the
side of the bed for several minutes, staring, then reached out a hand. It
hovered over his chest for a moment, while behind her the detective hissed in a
sharp breath between his teeth. “Relax,” she muttered. And then she laid her
hand on his chest.
It was warm, and
his heart beat within. His arms lay motionless on the sheet, and his right hand
was bandaged to the wrist. She looked at the knuckles of his other hand, but
they were undamaged. At least he didn’t have to dig his way out of his own
coffin, she thought. Slowly her hand relaxed against his skin, and she exhaled
the breath she’d been holding. Without looking up, she tossed over her
shoulder, “Go away.”
“Go away. I’m not
going any where. I’ll give you my phone number, my address, my ATM password.
Just leave me alone.” She paused. “Leave us alone.”
There was a snort
behind her, and a long enough hesitation to indicate to anyone watching that no
detective was going to be pushed around by a slip of a girl who didn’t even
look at him. Then he left, and he might as well have never existed.
She pulled up a
chair next to the bed, and folded her arms on the mattress next to him, laying
her chin on top of them. She knew she had to plot and strategize. She just
didn’t care. Was this how it had felt for him, when she’d come back? She winced
at the thought. What if he was as screwed up as she’d been? What if he’d been
pulled from heaven, too? A vampire in
heaven? She thought. I’ll never be
able to explain that to Angel.
And I don’t especially care, either.
Xander hovered in the doorway, unwilling to wake her
up. Spike was breathing so softly that it was inaudible, but he looked alive.
There was color to him, and while his face was relaxed, it had that intangible
look of life that Anya’s had lacked.
“She’s been like that for an hour,” the cop said.
“Yeah, so?” Xander said, looking back. He closed the door on the scene and
eyed the patrolman sitting slumped beside the door. His chair was some
fluorescent Sixties’ monstrosity, molded out of hard plastic, and murder on the
spine. “Why are you here?”
The cop looked up and down the empty hallway before
answering, and Xander tried not to sigh with exasperation. Damn, dude,
you’re a patrolmen guarding someone who’s especially harmless now that he’s human.
The uniform patch says Sunnydale PD, which means you’re out of job, because
your job is located at the bottom of a mile-deep pit. You’ll never fight evil
in your lifetime; you’ll fight mediocrity and you’ll probably lose.
“All those dead girls?”
“In Sunnydale?” Xander gasped, but the patrolman had the
earnest look so common to the intrepid members of the Sunnydale force. “That’s
“They all had defensive wounds.”
Defensive wounds, Xander thought. This is my
“They were dead before the area collapsed,” the cop said
eagerly. “There wasn’t any dust in their lungs at all.”
“What about his lungs?” Xander asked dryly.
“Oh.” The patrolman looked blank. “I don’t know.”
“Might want to find out, big guy,” Xander said. “What if
he wakes up and sues?”
“Oh.” Xander was satisfied to see some color draining from
the guy’s face. After all, when the assets of your department consisted of
several polyester uniforms and a stunning selection of twisted wreckage, the
thought of paying a multi-million dollar judgment could only summon up the
thought of Sisyphusian hours of overtime. With some satisfaction, he headed for
the vending machines. The nice thing about hospitals was the coolness of the
vending machines. It was like a coin-operated miniature supermarket. Food was
definitely better than medication on days like this. They even had an ice cream
machine. He still had his Anya reflex---the urge to turn around and poke her,
make her look at something that interested him---but when he turned around to
point out the miracle of ice cream on demand, he was all alone. He looked at
the doorway where she should have been standing, an exasperated look on her
face, and lost his appetite. If he couldn’t share it with her, what was the
point? He stuffed his hands back in his pockets. Have to save that change for
the funeral. Maybe when Anya was taken care of appropriately, he could move on.
“Hey,” Buffy said quietly from the doorway.
“Hey, Buff.” He waved at the machines. “Look! Cholesterol
“Except you just put your money back in your pockets.”
“Kind of lost my appetite. Nobody to bitch at me about
“Nah, Buff, don’t worry. It’s not like I can’t stand to
trim off a few pounds. Maybe I could give them to Spike, you know? Looks like
he needs the padding.”
“Oh,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry I ran off like---“
“Nope, no worries,” he brushed her apology aside. “You
think I wouldn’t do the same thing?”
“If you found out Spike was alive? I’m sure he’d be
touched to wake up and find you at your---“
“Yeah, Buff, you wish.” Xander looked down at the floor.
Getting the Oscar for his performance as Mature Xander hung on him selling his
next few comments. “How is he?”
Buffy shook her head at the floor, then stepped forward
quickly and wrapped her arms around him. “You’re so sweet, Xander.”
“Hey! Hey, watch my reputation here, Buff. I am not
sweet. No guy is sweet. Never. Especially never in relation to
comments----totally neutral comments, I feel compelled to point out, by the
way-----made about a former pain in the butt other guy, uh----crap,” he
trailed. “Damned compound sentences.”
“You slept through that block in English.”
She looked up. “You okay?”
Xander considered it. “I’m in limbo, basically. I want to
get Anya taken care of. I want to---“ He sighed. “Does this sound bad? I want
to lay her to rest.”
“It’s not bad, Xander.”
“Just don’t tell anyone I said that.”
“So how are you?”
She shrugged. “Need to talk to Giles, now.”
“Not to mention the whole buying stock in the phone
“Next on my list,” she assured him. “You all set?”
Her hands were sweating. She rubbed them on her thighs,
then positioned her soda a bit more precisely on the coaster. She cracked her
knuckles over the phone, and took a deep breath. Three previous attempts had
not seen the number successfully dialed, and her hopes weren’t too high for
this one, either. Telling Giles meant telling everyone---Angel, Wes, and Dawn.
Telling them meant putting something into words when she couldn’t even work her
own mind around it. As Spike’s face rose in her mind’s eye, yet again, her hand
dropped to her lap again.
Alive. Breathing. Not exactly in a coma, according to
the doctor---but in a deep sleep, as if he’d been exhausted beyond endurance,
and his body didn’t have the energy to wake itself up.
Her earlier thought returned to her. What if coming back
to life left him as screwed up as it had her? Poetic justice, indeed. I’m
not calling just now. I can’t. She made a fist, released, then
another-- and dialed the number, fast and with shaking hands. The number was
practically engraved on her nerve endings now, and even though she was in a
daze, her fingers knew the way.
Ring. Ring. What time was it in London?
“Mmrrph.” There was a deep groan, and Buffy wondered what
she’d interrupted. Great. Another Freudian moment.
“Buffy?“ There was the sort of mutter she associated
with grumpy Giles, then a fumble, and an exasperated snort as he tried, no
doubt, to find his glasses. “What is it?”
“Do you have your glasses on?”
“Well---now I do, yes.”
“Okay. Good news and bad news.”
“Urgent good news or..bad news? Why should I be surprised?
How bad is the---bad news? Is it those dreams, again?”
More like a dream come true, she thought. “No,
Giles, this is---real. This really happened.”
“It’s real,” Giles said. “Buffy---Right, then.” He
hesitated, and when he spoke again, his voice was considerably sharper. “Right.
Just tell me. Who’s been hurt? And--how badly?”
“Well, it’s sort of----tied up with the good news,
Buffy took a deep breath. Saying it would make it real.
Words and dreams colliding. Her words would expose her dreams. “They found
Bedsprings squeaked. Giles coughed, and yawned. “I beg
your pardon, Buffy, but I thought you said ---“
No use wasting time, Buffy thought. Not at
three bucks a minute. “Some SWAT guys or whatever found him. Spike. They
found him, Giles. In the wreckage. He’s human. He’s sort of comatose, but it’s
him. Pulse and everything.”
“He was dusted, though, you said. He---“
“Well, I guess Christmas came early. Or something.”
“Are you sure?”
She closed her eyes, thinking---I know every inch of
that body. “I’m sure.”
“You’re sure?” Giles repeated stupidly, and she wondered
whether she might just as well have waited till his daytime hours.
“Giles, it’s him.”
The minutes ticked by, mute moment by moment. She clung to
the phone and tried to read the thoughts of a man ten thousand miles away.
“He’s back, Giles. He’s human.”
“Good Lord. I’ve never heard of that.”
“Never? What about me?”
Giles hesitated, and she felt it then---his affection.
She clutched the phone tighter, strangled it with her hands. “You’ve always
been unique, Buffy, you know that.” With some asperity, he continued: “Spike’s
place in the Chronicles, however, has always been due to his bloody-minded
She caught her breath, and found her refuge in sarcasm.
“Funny how I’m unique when it’s, oh, about two years later and ten thousand
miles away. And when it’s Spike.”
“The two of you together---“ Bedsprings squeaked again,
and Buffy found herself wondering exactly what he was sleeping on. It certainly
couldn’t be comfortable if sitting up or lying down made it shriek like that. She
hoped that was the reason he sounded so…strange.
“Aren’t you sort of, you know, jumping ahead a bit? He’s
sort of not-conscious now.”
“Well, Buffy, what do you expect?” Giles said
reasonably. “If the Council hadn’t, well, disappeared, I’m sure Travers would
have me up for censure for being the worst Watcher----“ He sighed deeply. “I’ll
be damned if I know why this would be such a bad thing.”
“You’re not a bad Watcher. You were the best
She could almost hear him smiling. “Waited till I was ten
thousand miles away to tell me that, didn’t you?”
“That was my plan,” Buffy said with a sniff.
“If Spike is human---Buffy,” he said quietly. “He hasn’t
spoken, has he? He’s unconscious?”
“What if he’s----“ he took a deep breath. “You must consider
the possibility that, he might not be---“
“What if he just looks like Spike? The Powers That Be can
be very capricious.”
“Oh,” Buffy said faintly. “I never even thought about
that. But---“ she rallied. “Aren’t there rules about this kind of thing? I
mean, aren’t there---there---prophecies? And things?” She added weakly.
“Oh, there’s vampire fairy tales, a prophecy here and there, but I don’t
think it’s ever happened----oh, my Lord. I’ll have to consult Hitchens in the
archives---well, what’s left of them, at any rate----and maybe he can---I’m
sorry, Buffy, but this is extraordinary. Maybe I can get a hold of Volkov in Moscow---he
hasn’t retired yet, I don’t think---Ah, yes. I do have a reason for researching
this, Buffy. The Powers that Be might very well think that rewarding Spike is
best accomplished by relieving him of the memory of what he did as Spike.”
“It’s only a possibility, Buffy. But of course, I can
think of instances of cruelty by TPTB---“
She bit her lip, almost amused. As soon as Spike became
a research opportunity, Giles woke up. That at least, hadn’t changed. “The
thing is, Giles, there is something else. I was thinking----it’s not the worst
thing that he’s kind of in a coma. The Sunnydale Police kind of think he might
have killed the Potentials who died. They’re very eager to call that murder.”
“Murder?” Giles dragged his attention back to the
conversation with her, and away from the one he was evidently having with his
inner librarian. “But---but---he was---he saved----“
“I know that, Giles, and you know that. But
we need proof in order for the authorities to know that. For starters, it would
be very nice if Spike had some kind of real identity.”
“That would enable them to get some sort of case going,
though, Buffy. Once they have a name, they feel compelled to do something with
it.” He was silent for a moment. “Is that why you’re asking me? For British
“That thought did cross my mind. I know that I’m
assuming he’ll wake up, but I have to plan ahead. What if they’re serious about
“Of course the Sunnydale police department would in fact
ignore all the vampire attacks in order to find a human suspect. Good Lord. You
want to bring him to—England?”
“I thought about it. And, then, you know, you and I could
discuss the whole Watcher thing again.”
“Ah,” Giles said. He chuckled. “In order to get you as a
Watcher I have to endure Spike as a house guest yet again, is it?”
“Well, not exactly, Giles.” But his response was so
genial that she started to feel more than a little optimistic. “I
mean----But---“ She licked her lips. “Can you do it? Just in case?”
“I don’t think that’ll be too difficult, actually. Look
for an express package from me in the next couple of days, will you? I’ll, ah,
include some information about Watching, as well. There’s more to it than you
“Oh, I can imagine,” Buffy said dryly. “For instance,
it’s starting to sound an awful lot like parents wanting grandchildren.”
“Actually, I think the desire there is to watch the
grandchildren put the children through much worse trials than the parents
themselves had to endure.”
“I’m reasonably sure of it.”
“You’re going to get up right now and scurry over to the
library as fast as you can, aren’t you?”
“Buffy,” he said acidly. “I do not scurry.” He
paused, evidently considering an offensive mental image. “I walk, briskly.”
“So---how briskly are you going to walk to the library?
Are they even open there at this hour?”
“It’s my library. It’s open all the time,” Giles said
loftily. There was another squeak from the bedsprings. “Keep me current on
what’s going on, Buffy, if you don’t mind.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing happening,” he said
softly. “Well, one’s heard of prophecies, but---never that such a thing
actually came true. My word. Buffy, you’ll need your own shelf.”
“Good night, Giles,” Buffy said, smiling in spite of
herself. Immortality to Giles would of course be measured by the number of
books devoted to one. For him, it was sort of like the ostentatious house, the
flashy car, the buildings built, the conspicuous consumption, all rolled into
She sat by the phone for a while, watching the sun fade,
thinking. It would be nice to measure one’s success in terms of books rather
than vamps staked. Saving lives was wonderful---but living a life seemed like a
possible coda now, too. Maybe he was right.
Only if Spike is okay, she thought. Only if
he’s not the sacrifice for my life.
The twilight called to her just as surely as if she were
a vampire herself, especially now, with tension that needed to be alleviated.
She still had various people to tell, and she had to prepare for it. She could
not even begin to imagine how she would tell Angel. She’d think about it after
she slayed a little.
She wandered through the graveyards for an hour before
she found a vamp, but it was a fledgling and it was disappointing. Two punches,
one from each side, and he was flat on his stomach, so unexpectedly that she
was left without a counter to absorb the force of the punch. She stumbled and
practically fell on top of him, staking him with more force than she intended,
and wound up with a splinter buried deep in her palm. Walking home, pulling it
from her hand, she saw people going arm in arm down the streets, paired off.
She pressed her hand over the puncture in her hand and watched them. Not a
single vamp anywhere in the vicinity, and her reward for being the cause of
that was a wooden splinter in her palm.
A couple of phone calls and a bus ride and she found
herself at the hospital, not for her hand but for her heart. The patrolman at
Spike’s door, no less a naïf that his predecessor had been, knew enough to read
the look on her face and step aside, but she heard him calling his supervisor
on the radio as she closed the door between them.
She considered Spike’s face as she stood over him, her
hand on his chest, feeling his heart beat. If he woke up without his memory of
her, that pleasure would be taken from her, and she intended to savor it while
it was hers. All the moments she’d wasted seemed to crowd around her, then, and
she wondered if it was possible to make amends for tossing them aside them. She
traced his lips with her fingertips, her hand molding his face, forgetting
about the puncture on her hand. And then the door to the room opened, and she
found herself looking at one of the detectives. Jordan? Tate? She
thought. Who cared, at this point?
“Miss Summers, visiting hours are over.”
“Thanks, I knew that.”
“Well, let’s put it this way, okay? You haven’t exactly
been forthcoming. Visiting hours are over for you.”
There was something disturbing about arguing about Spike
as if he weren’t there, so she gave his face one final stroke with a fingertip
before adjusting his sheet and stepping out into the hallway. She left a
perfect round drop of her blood on the immaculate sheet, and one on his face.
If she hadn’t been so suddenly, happily, furious, she might have noticed.
“So you think you’re really going to make a case for
“Oh, you’re the one from Sunnydale, aren’t you? Why am I
not surprised?” She clasped her hands behind her hand to make them behave and
walked a short distance down the hallway with the detective. “How long have you
been on the force, Detective?”
“Yes, it is relevant. You know why? Because Sunnydale had the stupidest
police department ever. What did you guys do all day? Play cards? What?
Sunnydale had the highest murder rate per capita in the whole country. Who did
you arrest for Jenny Calendar’s death, Detective?”
“We will identify this man, Miss Summers. And your
boyfriend will go to jail for---“
“Oh, please,” she brushed him off contemptuously. “Try it.
Just try it. Maybe his clothes caught fire and he burnt his hand tearing them
off. Maybe he just fell into the pit. Whatever. Why doesn’t he have any wounds
if he killed all those girls? But whatever happens, Detective---and I lived in
Sunnydale, and watched people die----if you try and arrest him for something he
didn’t do, I will make sure your department pays the price for pretending to be
a real police department.” She crossed her arms and tried to look like someone
who could actually feel the floor beneath her feet.
“Yeah, well, that’s a brave speech, Miss Summers. It’s
especially brave for someone with your record. And a boyfriend who evidently
kills teenage girls. You don’t have a lot of leverage there, you know.”
“Don’t I?” She said grimly. “I know he didn’t kill those
“How, exactly, do you know that?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to leap into the breech,
to raise her voice and take up the gauntlet this fool had tossed at her. Not
just yet, a small cautious voice said. Not just yet.
“That’s your job to find out, isn’t it? You’re the
detective. Go detect something.”
The apartment was dark except for the light on top of
the stove. She stepped inside carefully, holding the door so it wouldn’t
squeak, but the apartment felt, to her Slayer sense, empty. No one was holding
their breath somewhere in the closet or the bedroom, waiting for her to relax,
whether it was a vampire or a guilty younger sister. Good. Maybe
there’s some chocolate chip cookies left. Some peace and quiet would
certainly help. Somuch for boredom. Yeah, good one. Boredom. She
flopped down on the couch, kicked off her shoes, and tossed the pillow onto the
floor, preferring to stretch out her neck and spine. Her back thrummed with
relief. For the first time in weeks, she found it possible to clear her mind,
and not worry. The jacket joined the shoes after a bit of a wriggle, and she
stretched her arms over her head.
Giles was researching in England, running the Council of
Watchers the way he’d always felt it should be. The world was full of Slayers.
She didn’t have to work until and if she wanted to, really. Willow was doing
more research, and happily ensconced with the coven that had helped her before.
Kennedy was no doubt irritating English people instead of Americans. Dawn was
probably playing poker with Lorne and God only knew who or what else. Xander
was…She frowned a little. At least Xander had found Anya. The way the collapse
of Sunnydale had destroyed every physical sign of all their lives bothered her.
It was weird to think of Xander as being lucky because he was facing a funeral.
And Spike, she thought. Her mind was like a car
that kept trying to start and couldn’t turn over. Spike, she thought,
and that was it. This, she thought, is what he must have felt when I
So what if he didn’t want to come back? She rolled
over on her side, bringing one leg over to twist out her spine. He’s human
now. So much for immortality. And if he wakes up, he’ll have Giles pestering
him every step of the way for details. Her eyelids were getting very heavy
and sandy, and she snagged a pillow from the floor. What if he
doesn’t---what if going through all that---whatever that is----changed him?
He’d been a vampire longer than he’d been a man.
Most of his formative experiences had been as a vampire. Being a vampire had
been his salvation, his ticket out of a lifetime of mediocrity and painful
embarrassment. Should have asked Giles about that. He’d told her some
things, bit by bit, as they lay together, those times when they’d worn each
other out, when she’d been so exhausted she’d let him into something other than
just her body. Now she wondered if he’d even have those memories. Who would he
be? Spike or William? Or both?
Something else occurred to her and made her actually sit
up. Did this happen because he wanted it to? What if he hadn’t wanted it? What
if it was unwilling and unwitting? Giles’ remarks about the capriciousness of
the Powers That Be came back to her. What if he wasn’t even Spike? She hadn’t
even thought of this possibility in any detail because it was hard to imagine
the cruelty of it. She thought of him lying in his hospital bed, and
something twisted inside her. What if he doesn’t wake up? She’d read
that coma patients sometimes had dreams—and nightmares. What if this wasn’t a
reward---but a punishment?
Her mind was running around in circles now, faster and
faster, until she was dizzy from it, and tired. She fell asleep.
“So what do you think?”
“It tickles a little.” Spike was looking down at the
EKG stickers taped to his chest. Buffy patted them to make sure they were
affixed properly, and he grabbed her hand and held it against his chest. “But
not in a bad way.” She tensed for a moment, but the thump of his heart lulled
her with its rhythm. Seen in the sunlight, his eyes were a startling clear
blue, and she stared into them as if she’d never seen them before, raising her
hand to touch his cheek. But he winced when he did it, and she shrank back.
He was lying at her feet in the darkness, and the
music from the Bronze pounded in her head like blood. “You only hurt the one
“I didn’t mean to.”
“You came back wrong,” Spike said, lying at her feet,
bruises covering his face. “But so did I. So did all of us.”
“Me, too.” Anya said from the doorway. She didn’t look
that bad, considering she was dead. Her face was gray, and her hair was limp,
but she didn’t look frightening or anything. “Lasted more than a thousand years
as a demon---only a couple of decades as a human. Well, both times as a human.
How long do you think he’s going to last? It’s not like he’s the Slayer or
anything. No super strength. No special powers. Just a man.”
“I don’t care,” Buffy said defensively. “I’m just
glad he’s here.”
“Will it be enough when he’s gone, though?”
“Don’t stop,” Spike said. His skin was soft under her
hands, the sheet pooling around his hips. He guided her hand lower and lower,
till it touched his erection.
“Careful. There’s somebody outside the door.”
“The policeman? He can take notes. Might learn
The sheet slipped as she maneuvered onto his lap, and
he winced as she zigged when she should have zagged. But his hand found her
breast, then her buttons. His hands were agreeably warm on her, and she found
herself feeling feverish with desire. It had been so long for both of them, and
now it was going to be different. She was stronger now, and she had to be more
careful than ever before.
His kiss felt unfamiliar to her—his lips as warm as
her own, his heart thudding in counterpoint to her. Then his skin was against
hers, and her breasts were against his chest, her hands clutching his hair. Her
heart was going so fast, faster than when she slayed, faster than when she ran.
She had to pause, to slow down, to savor it, feeling his skin slippery beneath
her fingers, getting used to the taste of his mouth again. The EKG machine was
beeping madly with his heart beat…
“Ack! Sorry!” Dawn snapped off the microwave as soon as
she saw Buffy stir on the couch. “Why are you sleeping there anyway?” She
pulled an eggroll from inside and lifted it to her mouth with her fingtertips.
One bite, and it was flipped back onto the plate. “Ouch.”
“Try using a fork,” Buffy said, amused. “And this as far
as I got.”
“Oh,” Dawn said. She rooted in the fridge for something
to drink and pulled out a pitcher full of a fluorescent-colored liquid. Also
a good diversionary tactic, she thought. Just don’t want to know why
Buffy goes back to Sunnydale every day. “We’re almost out of Kool-Aid.”
“That’s Kool-Aid? It looks like---“
“Don’t say it,” Dawn warned. “That is not working any
“You mean like when I compared Kentucky Friend Chicken to
Clem’s rash?” Buffy asked maliciously. “I’m perfectly entitled to make
“Well, I can do that, too. And besides, how would you
know this stuff looked like a Fungus Demon’s pregnancy test? Did you work in
the Fungus Demon hospital or something? That only worked when I was, like, ten.“
“Hah. It’s working now.”
“Is not.” Dawn wrinkled her nose and gulped down her Kool
aid on her way to her room.
Buffy hesitated for a second, then said, “Dawn?”
“What? Oh, shoot, sorry.” She scuttled back to the
kitchen and put the pitcher back in the fridge. “Better now?”
“It’s not,” Buffy said. “I have some news.”
“Oh.” Dawn took a deep breath. “It’s cool. I heard about
Anya. I knew that already.” I didn’t know you liked Anya that much, but…She
headed back down the hallway, no doubt to splash Kool Aid all over her
nightstand and add to her burgeoning ant collection.
“It’s not about Anya.”
“Could you sit down for a second?”
Dawn bit her lip for a minute, then sat down in the
chair Spike had sat in during her dream. Buffy saw again, his hands, dangling
between his knees, dusty and scraped, and lifted her eyes to Dawn’s face with a
When she closed her eyes for a second, she saw Spike
sitting in that chair. “Dawn… what was it like…when I came back?”
Dawn cocked her head at her. “What was it like?” She
thought about it for a second. “Why?” Then her face paled. “Oh, my God---what’s
going on?” She looked around wildly, as if she expected to be overheard. “Is Willow
back? Is she evil again? Is she going to try that—that---thing---with Anya?”
“I thought—“ Buffy tried not to sound hurt, but she
didn’t entirely succeed. “I thought you were glad I was back.”
“I was, I totally was, Buffy, but---“ Dawn didn’t so much
lean forward as lunge forward. “But I don’t want her doing that again. I don’t
want her doing that to anyone. You---Do you know what I mean? I mean, it
was---“She sighed in a huge way, and then got up to flop down on the couch next
to Buffy. “You know? I wanted you back, I wanted Mom back, but that—what if Mom
had come back? What if I had managed to---?”
“Dawn, it’s okay. I understand,” Buffy said firmly. But
her heart was hammering again. I can’t tell her just yet. In a way she
was relieved. She didn’t know how she was going to tell Angel, and Angel had
the perspective that one could get from two centuries. Dawn hadn’t even
graduated high school yet.
“So what’s up then?”
“Oh, nothing. Just---I just had a really weird dream, and
then I woke up and it was gone. Made me think.”
Buffy hesitated, then said, “Spike.”
Buffy studied her curiously. “Just—oh?”
“Yeah,” Dawn said. “For now---Just, oh.” She got up and
scooted around the coffee table, heading in the direction of her room.
“I’m going to bed, Buffy. Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Buffy said faintly. But Dawn’s door was already
She slept lightly, but none of the dreams stayed with
her when she woke up. She’d set her alarm so she could talk to Angel before he
went to bed, but she’d actually woken up before it went off because she never
fell deeply asleep. Showering just relaxed her enough to want to go back to
bed, and she faced the impending conversation with Angel with something like
Two cups of coffee gave her some liquid optimism, and
she was almost conscious when she got to the Hyperion. She could have had an
entire pot of coffee, however, and she still wouldn’t have been prepared for
the sight that greeted her in the lobby of the hotel.
“Harmony?!” She gasped.
“Buffy!” Harmony exclaimed, jumping to her feet. A
National Enquirer that had been propped up against a mug of blood slowly sagged
toward the edge of the table. She looked like she’d just seen a
long-long---long-eaten-----sorority sister, and Buffy stared at her as if she’d
lost her mind. Or I have, she thought. “It’s so---!” She was halfway
across the floor before Buffy remembered the stake in her waistband and yanked
“Awful?” Buffy asked. “Awful to see you? Was that what
you were going to say?”
“Oh, that’s so mean! Why can’t you forget about that? Why
can’t you just leave me alone about that stuff? I haven’t done anything to
“Today,” Buffy specified.
“Oh, that---who cares about that kind of thing?” Harmony
hovered indecisively halfway across the lobby, and Buffy was suddenly, awfully
certain that Harmony was going to try and hug her.
“You mean, threatening to kill me, and Dawn, and---“
“Oh, that,” Harmony sulked, with the air of someone being
criticized over minutiae. She brightened, however. “Well, that was a long time
ago. Besides, it was kind of friendly, wasn’t it? You know, in an equals
fighting kind of way.” She smiled brightly. “I hear you let some bygones be
Buffy took one fast step and found herself facing a wall.
She looked up. “Angel.”
“Buffy. Nice to see you.” He tossed a glance over his
shoulder. “Harmony. It would be nice not to see you.”
“You don’t have to be like that,” Harmony complained, but
when Angel stepped out of Buffy’s way, Harmony had disappeared.
“What’s she doing here?”
“Serving as my penance, I guess,” Angel said wearily. He
looked down at his watch. “Why didn’t you just call?”
“I didn’t want to take the chance of Dawn hearing. You
have a minute?”
“Sure.” He led her into his office and she sank into a
chair while Angel slowly maneuvered around to the big leather chair on the
opposite side of the desk. “What’s up?”
Buffy rubbed her eyes. “Oh, hell. Just when my life gets
kind of normal it gets weird again.”
Angel sat down and raised both eyebrows at her. “That
doesn’t make sense.”
“Well to me it does.” She drew circles on the surface of
his desk, avoiding his eyes. “So—Can I ask you a question?”
“It’s not going to be a good question if you have to
ask, is it?”
“Yeah, actually,” Buffy admitted.
“Now I’m curious. So?”
“Do you remember when you came back?”
“From Vegas? From Sunnydale? Or from Hell?” Angel
specified dryly. “That was kind of--- kind of difficult to forget, Buffy.”
“What---was it like?”
“Why are you asking?”
Buffy sighed, and let her head fall back on the head
rest. Her head was pounding the same way her heart had, in her dream. “It’s
about the only solid place I’ve got to start. I’ve got to know what it’s like,
what the Powers That Be are like.”
“Why?” Angel stared at her for several long seconds, and
she found herself looking away from that steady gaze. “I heard about that spell
that brought you back, Buffy. Is someone thinking of trying that again? It’s
“I don’t think anyone is. That’s not why I’m asking.”
“Okay?” He spread his arms wide.
Another long, inscrutable stare followed that, and Buffy
found herself unable to decide which tack to take with him. “I didn’t realize
you felt that strongly about him,” Angel said finally.
“That’s not the point, Angel.”
“It’s not? Why?”
“He’s already back. And, uh---“ Buffy took a deep breath.
“He’s human?” Angel said softly. “Spike is human.” He
stared down at the surface of his desk. All expression had been wiped from his
face, and if Buffy hadn’t known better, she would have thought he was stunned. He
seemed to be weighing several things at once, then dismissing them, avoiding
her eyes the whole time. Finally, he seemed to remember her presence. “Human,”
he repeated. His voice was lifeless.
“Human,” Buffy confirmed. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Angel said distantly. “I really don’t
know. I won’t know till I taught to Wes.”
“That’s it? That’s all?”
“Afraid so, Buffy.”
“Oh,” she said crossly. “I was hoping for more than
“Weren’t we all, Buffy,” Angel said. “Weren’t we all?”
The police officer on duty was another one Buffy hadn’t
seen before, even though she gleaned this information from his back as she
snuck past him to the room. He was leaning over the receptionist’s desk,
flirting in a rather heavy-handed way with a nurse whose facial expression
indicated that she was getting her toenails pulled out with pliers. The butt of
his service weapon jutted out temptingly from the holster on his hip, and she
rolled her eyes. The nurse’s eyes met Buffy’s as she crept past, and they
exchanged a look of complete sympathy.
It didn’t occur to her to knock at the hospital room
door, and later she would wish she had.
Spike was sitting up in bed, his bare back turned to
her, the pajama bottoms bunched low around his waist. She froze. I didn’t
plan for this. I should have had a speech. Some flowers…A card! I should have
gotten a card! New, from Hallmark: So glad you’re not a vampire any more!
Except you liked being a vampire, and might not want to be human! And then
“Sorry! I pushed the wrong button---“ And then he
turned, and saw her. His face changed, and it seemed that there was nothing in
the room visible to her but his eyes. She could hear perfectly the squeaking of
the nurses’ shoes going by in the hallway. Somewhere, an intercom beeped, but
her eyes never wavered from his. The room seemed to be roaring around her, but
she heard a man laugh out in the hallway. She was afraid to take her eyes off
him. If I look away, he might vanish. He swallowed, hard, as if there
was something in his throat. “Buffy.” Not a question, but a statement.
She nodded, as if her identity had been in question
somehow, and his next demand would be for ID. She wondered, insanely, if her ID
was in her pocket. Behind her, beyond the hospital room door, voices chattered
and other peoples’ lives went on. Hers seemed to be frozen here, immobilized
forever in one crystalline moment. The utter impossibility of saying anything
adequate came to her again. Why, yes, it’s me. How’s the living thing
working out for you? How are you? What are you?
He slid off the bed slowly, as if he wasn’t entirely sure
there’d be a floor there. Carefully, like a man walking across ice shards, he
made his way around the foot of the bed. He was bare-chested, hair loose around
his head. Her fingers curled with the desire to touch him. “Did you do --this?”
He had both hands on his chest in the same tentative way he’d stood up, as if
he wasn’t entirely certain that there would be anything of substance greeting
Buffy shook her head mutely, her hands rising, echoing
his gesture. “Are you okay?” she whispered.
Frozen, his eyes bright, he shook his head. Then he
nodded. “I don’t know.” He shook his head again. “Can’t talk at all, that’s for
“Is your throat sore or something?” Buffy blurted out.
Spike shook his head again. He spread his hands
helplessly, then laid his hand over his heart. “Not my throat,” he
whispered. Her own throat felt like it had been sandpapered. “What happened to
She had to open and close her mouth a few times before
words and brain worked at the same time. “I don’t know.”
“But I’m here.”
“You’re here,” Buffy whispered.
Spike shook his head again, his eyes wide. “But not there.”
He tried to smile, but he looked too shaken to manage it. He nodded at where
she stood, across the room from him, and she blinked as it hit her. She seemed
to have forgotten how to walk, because it felt like she was doing something
else, something that didn’t involve muscles or floors or stupid things like
reality. “No,” she breathed. “Not there any more.”
Rush and stop, run and freeze. She was in such a hurry,
she was moving through quicksand. His skin was so warm that she could only
touch him with her fingertips, familiar and alien all at once. Her touch made
his jaw drop, and she had to hesitate for a moment, her fingertips skimming his
face, his lips, his throat. He sagged against the wall, but reached out for her
so she came with him, his hands seeking her curves as if it were for the first
time. There were moments of clarity in the rush, in the sloth, moments where
she could see, moments where she was almost blinded. Everything about him was
fresh, but haunting. His hair clutched in her hands as she buried her face in
his neck. That sensation was old, but the shiver that came with it was brand
new. She looked for something old, found something new instead. Oh, the back
of his neck beneath her hand. She leaned into him, melting and changing, trying
to brace her weight off of him, and then giving up that struggle with a sigh.
She sagged against him, forearms against the wall on either side of his head,
lips brushing his as they moved. Too much. One more twist, one more
turn, and then they were sliding down the wall together, mouths coming together
at the bottom with a shock.
Oh. Oh. His mouth was new to her, everything
changed subtly so that she had to explore. He was panting between kisses, much
more intensely than he had as a vampire, and it was exciting, this evidence of
his eagerness. She had to pull back now and then, her fingers laced through his
hair, startled. There were too many new impulses to experience all at once, and
she retreated, stared at him, her eyes huge.
A tap at the door signaled reality, and she jumped to
her feet, yanking Spike with her. He stumbled, and she automatically steadied
him, reluctant not to be touching him. Skin. Warm, soft skin. Spike blew
hair out of his eyes and she stared at him, realizing it was a gesture she’d
never seen before. “Okay,” she called.
“How are you doing?” It was a doctor, a rumpled professorial-looking
man with wildly curly gray hair. He had a neatly-trimmed beard and mustache,
but the hair on his head appeared to be rebelling. “Much better, I see. Ready
to go home?”
“The police---?” Spike asked. “And---clothes?”
Good thing one of us can think, Buffy said. She
had to cross her arms on her chest to keep make her hands behave.
The doctor shrugged off the questions. “They’re
Sunnydale police. I’ve already told them what I think. I’ll tell them again if
necessary.” He rolled his eyes, as if to indicate that he believed this was
unfortunately likely. “They know perfectly well I’ll be the one treating
whatever no doubt self-inflicted wounds they might endure. All I have to do is
let them know that I control whether or not they get anesthetic. And clothes? The
nurse can get you some sweats. If you have any other questions---?” His tone,
while acerbic, was kind, but hinted that the very idea that there were problems
he couldn’t solve was almost amusingly presumptuous.
Buffy meekly raised her hand. “The officer out there?”
The doctor glanced at the ceiling, as if beseeching some
deity for patience. “That department thinks they have the power to put an
officer in my hospital. It was just free extra security.” He made a note on his
clipboard, then looked up. “I’ll take care of that personally. Anything else?”
Silence. Hospital, Buffy thought. Reality. Reality
She turned to him. “That’s it? What did you tell them?”
“The truth,” he said slowly. “Part of it.”
She had to smile. “Which part? The whole vampire thing?”
He leaned against her, studying her face, biting his lip.
“Left that part out.” Her hands were shaking, and something seemed to have
changed with the doctor’s interruption. Just another girl with her
boyfriend, Buffy thought. Except that’s not me. That’s not us.
We’re---what? The way he was looking at her, she found it hard to care,
harder still not to flush. It was like being a virgin again, she was so
nervous. He touched her nose with his, eyes drifting down, hands cupping her
face. She could see his chest moving faster as his breath got tighter, and she
smiled a little breathlessly herself. She wriggled backward, up on the bed,
pulling him between her legs by the string of his pajamas. This loosened the
knot, and she shivered suddenly, as the fabric slid down far enough to reveal
the dark edge of his pubic hair. He planted his hands on the bed beside her
hips and his mouth on hers, and kissed her so thoroughly that she gave serious
thought to whether or not the door was lockable.
This question was answered in the negative when another
knock came, just seconds before the door squeaked open.
Buffy straightened, and bonked her forehead into his,
but it at least gave him a moment to pull his pants up. He took a deep breath
and stepped decisively to the door, where a nurse bearing a pile of folded-up
gray material was eyeing Buffy curiously---a little too curiously,
Buffy thought. “Thanks, that’s very nice of you.”
She glanced from Buffy to Spike and back again, then
smiled. “You might not feel that grateful when you see how much they charged
you for them.”
“Thanks,” Spike said tightly, putting one hand on the
door. She smirked at him, then backed out. She ought to have one of those
beeping things that trucks have for when she does that, Buffy thought, the
memory of the nurse’s expression smarting beyond reason.
“So what did you tell her?” Buffy asked dryly.
Spike leaned against the door, frazzled by the
interruption, then caught her words. He looked as if the possibility of
jealousy had never occurred to him before. It only took a moment to sink in, and
then he stared at her, a look of frank amazement on his face. “Are you jealous?
Really?” He looked as if he wanted to write it down somewhere.
“No, I’m not,” Buffy said. “Because---“ And then it hit
her. Human meant all sorts of things---huge things. But little things as well.
Spike’s love for her had made him special amongst vampires. Among humans, it
was normal, and apt to change. Her jaw dropped with the thought. She could have
gotten him back again, only to lose him to someone else. What was there to keep
him from falling prey to all those human emotions?
“I didn’t mean it,” Spike said quietly. “I was just
teasing.” He fumbled with the sweats, turning his back to her, and dropping the
bottoms to the floor.
“I didn’t---I was just startled---“ Buffy said. “I’m
still kind of in shock here, you know---I guess less than you.” She was too
bowled over to appreciate the site of his naked body, where minutes before it
had left her breathless. Something about saying these things across a room struck
her as wrong, and she swiftly stepped in front of him, grabbing his hands and
tossing the clothing aside. “It’s a shock, okay? I thought it would be easier
for me than it would be for you. I don’t think that’s true any more.” She
kissed him deliberately then, pressing him against the door, bringing his hands
firmly to her breasts. He stiffened for a second, then pushed her backward, and
for a second she thought he was pushing her away. The second bed in the room
was behind her and she understood only she bumped down onto it. In a second, he
was on top of her, and she pulled him, wrapping her legs around him to get him
as close as she could, seeking out his mouth for a gasping, back-clawing kiss.
The intercom sounded outside, and they stopped, staring at
each other’s flushed faces. Regretfully, Buffy sat up, thinking, that didn’t
change. A glance revealed an erection that the sweats only accentuated. Neither
did that. Another glance revealed that Spike looked chagrined at the fact
that he had less control of this body than the old one. Buffy reached out and
touched his arm. “Some things don’t change.”
Spike pulled the sweatshirt on. “That’s not comforting.”
She pulled him closer, intending to soothe his ruffled feathers, and was rather
startled—shocked, even,---when he shook off her arm. “I can’t go out like
this,” he muttered. He eyed her with a little of his old humor in his eyes.
“And you’re not helping.”
“Oh, I’m not?” She reached out and cupped his penis
through the soft fabric, catching her breath as he jumped at her touch. “I’d
“What, here?” he whispered, and he sounded almost
dismayed. She tightened her grip, and realized he was shaking.
“Yes, here,” she said precisely. She kissed him, slow and
wet, and knew then that she wasn’t exaggerating to make him feel better, even
if she’d intended to. There was something going on with him, and, she thought,
why wouldn’t there be? It had to be a tremendous shock. She wasn’t good
with putting things into words like he was, but she knew how to show her
feelings at least. “Anywhere---for you. Any time. You think it was the Big Bad
I wanted, don’t you?” She kissed him again, but he pulled away to look at her,
to see her eyes. “It was always you. Still is. What do you want me to do?”
“It’s not---“ she slid her hand beneath the fabric and
touched the soft skin of his erection. He shuddered as if she’d shocked him.
“God. I’m not---I’m not just ordinary now. There’s rules. Before, I was---I was
a rebel for loving a Slayer. Now I’m just another---“
“No, you’re not.” She traced his contours with a
fingertip, her own pulse jumping. Oh, my, he was close. “You’re
you.” Another kiss, her hand moving faster, and then he stepped back.
“Buffy,” he said, and then shook his head. “It just
feels different now.”
“Oh,” she muttered. “Worse?”
“No---God, no.” He glanced down, lips twitching as he
beheld the wreckage. “Why do you think I was so glad to be a vampire?”
“I have no idea. You said you were such a—a git when you
were human, but guys are so stupid about stuff like that.”
He looked at her, startled. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, why did you think you were a git? You seem perfectly
okay to me.”
“It’s been an hour. Part of that we spent kissing.”
“Something wrong with kissing?”
“Are we talking about our relationship?” Buffy asked.
“I don’t know.”
“That means yes, doesn’t it?”
“It means, I don’t know.” He looked at her as she’d hit
him over the head. “See? That thing you did just right there. That girlfriend
“What girlfriend thing?”
“That girlfriend thing. That thing where you said ‘that
means yes’, girlfriends do that all the time. That is so---human.
Vampires don’t do that. Why waste time on that?”
“When there’s killing to be done, I guess.” Buffy hopped
down off the bed, more than a little annoyed. “So---what?” She stared at him,
trying to get her thoughts in order, all of which were pretty unpleasant.
“Before, you were the Slayer and I was a vampire. It
“You---Are you breaking up with me or something?”
“No! No, I’m not, but---it’s weird.”
“Spike, our whole lives are weird.”
“Especially the part where I didn’t have a life. I had
“But that’s good? And even then, I died twice. Really,
there’s weird and then there’s--“
“I think I overtook you in the weirdness sweepstakes,
“I think we’re even.” She leaned against the bathroom
door. “You’re not a git.”
“Thank you,” he said sarcastically.
“Even if you were, it wouldn’t matter to me.”
“I’ll remember that when people start---“
“What are they going to do, Spike? Laugh at you? Did it
ever occur to you that maybe, just maybe, all the people who thought that about
you---and told you, too, I guess---were just complete and utter assholes? The
Nineteenth Century version of the Cordettes?”
“The what?” He shook his head as there was something
blocking his ears.
“Cordelia’s fellow….people. Things. Mean people.”
“I wrote awful poetry.”
“You told me. I don’t care. You stayed with my sister
after I died.”
That drew him up short and he stopped for a minute. “I,
uh---had awful hair.”
“You’re lying,” Buffy said flatly. “I love your hair.” She
stopped for a minute. New, improved, potty mouth Buffy coming up, she
Oh, she thought, he turns colors now, and
the knowledge that she had to rediscover him all over again made her knees
weak. “You weren’t there,” he shot back.
“Well, you’re not there now, and I am---I mean, here,
that is--- and I really, really want you, so---? Unless you don’t want me.”
“Buff, that’s never going to be a problem. You know
“Okay, so why is it a problem now, then? Huh?”
“I’m not sure,” he said tiredly.
“Oh, wait, is this just because you’re human?”
“Buffy, I love you, but where have you been this whole!
“I’ve been listening, but no, I mean---did the
sarcasm come from the demon? Or what?”
“No, the sarcasm came from the sheer exasperation of----“
“Oh, okay, that sounds like you.”
“No, it doesn’t,” he said sulkily. “I don’t even sound
like myself. I don’t even---“
“Well, whoever you are, whoever you think you are, or
aren’t, or---whatever, you’re still you,” Buffy snapped. “And you’re confusing
me, which ought to be comforting, because that’s what you did before.”
“Both of us can’t be confused.”
“Oh, yes we can.” Buffy stepped forward and grabbed his
hand, yanking him into the bathroom. She snapped on the light, and guided him
in front of the mirror. “That’s you. I want to sit and look at you forever,
because I thought I’d lost you.” She stroked his hair, brushed his lips with
one finger tip. “You know, it’s harder being human. I’ll give you that much.
And I expect a lot---because of what you’ve already done. What you’ve done for
me.” And to me, added Potty!Mouth Buffy, but Buffy bit her lip and
forged ahead. “It’s harder being human,” she repeated. “Less weapons to work
with. And you think—even though you’re wrong---that you weren’t that great when
you were human. I wish I’d been alive back then.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” Spike said dryly. “They’d have
tossed you out on your bum first time you---“
“First time I did what?” Oh, my, look at the lock on
that door. “First time I did this?” She shoved both hands into his sweats
and was terribly gratified when he jumped. “Or this?” She dropped to her knees
before him, pressing him to the door. To lock it she had to take one hand off
him, but it did give her a chance to push his sweats down. That done, she took
him into her mouth, swirling her tongue and finding all sorts of new flavors to
explore. Spike froze for a second, then gasped as she sucked as hard as she
could, his hips twitching once as he went rigid with shock. Then he reacted.
She let his penis slip out of her mouth, horrified at
the look of utter misery on his face. “What?! You—I---“ She backed away,
hitting the edge of the bathtub and sitting down on its edge numbly. “You don’t
Spike laughed weakly, pulling his pants up. “Evidence to
the contrary, pet.”
“Oh, God,” he sank down next to her, put his head in his
hands and laughed. “When I woke up, the first thought I had was that I’d lost
you, that I’d failed. And then my second thought was…” He waved at all the
mauve porcelain. “How do I tell you….certain things?”
“Hah,” Buffy scoffed. “Try making me care about
“I want you to care,” Spike said quietly, and she flinched
“Spike---Don’t get me wrong, please, but---Don’t you think
it’s kind of an insult that you’d think I’d care that you were a dork? You
tried to kill me all those times, but you changed, and I got over it. Killing
is a lot more serious than being a dork. And I haven’t seen any evidence of
inherent dorkhood.” You’re sweet, she wanted to add, but she knew
enough about male sexuality to know she might as well tie a pink ribbon around
his penis and call it something like a ‘pretty little thing’ if she wanted to
offend him more successfully.
He looked at her seriously for a moment, and she could
see him gathering his nerve. The idea that he would do this in front of her
gave her some hope. He still trusts me, whether or not I deserve it. “Well,” he
said quietly. “How about virginity, then?”
It took her a moment to realize what he meant, and that
gave her a moment to think. “You mean..you?”
“Right. Go ahead.”
“Go ahead…what? I was going ahead,” she said
sarcastically, “and then you stopped me.”
“In a hospital bathroom,” Spike pointed out.
“Oh? Oh! Oh,” She muttered finally. “God, now I feel like
a dirty old woman.”
She looked at him closely. “No, you’re not.”
“Sort of,” he shrugged.
She took a deep breath. “Is it me?”
He looked around, and gave a disgusted snort. “What do
“Well, I feel like the Whore of Babylon now, so---“
“I just---“ he shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s a bathroom.
I don’t want---“
Something in her heart turned over. Her feelings for him
were composed of many different elements, but she’d never felt this bewildering
touch of compassion before. She’d hated him, found him irritating, alluring,
mysterious, scarily intoxicating, but that admission for the first time gave
her a glimpse at the real individual beneath all the layers of his history. And
she was startled to find that she liked this person, very much. He started when
she kissed him on the cheek. “You’re going to hate me, and you’re going to get
all guy like about this, but you’re sweet.”
He winced, and she felt that twinge of pure affection
again. “Thanks. I’ll go kill myself now with something pink.” He looked
thoughtful for a moment. “I think there might be frills involved.”
“No, you won’t. Let’s go home.” She leaned closer to
his ear, suspecting that might make him more comfortable. “And guess what’s
going to happen then?”
He gave her a narrow-eyes Spike sneer, and she had to
laugh out loud. “Monopoly? Charades?”
“Charades?” She got to her feet and he followed. “How
“Have some respect for your elders.”
“Just wait,” Buffy said gleefully. “Talk about respect,
old man. We’ll see.”
Buffy unlocked the door and poked her head in. “Dawn?”
There was no answer. This didn’t necessarily prove
anything, pro or con, but it was hopeful. She stepped into the apartment and
looked around. Spike followed after her. “I just have to make a phone call.”
“Okay,” Spike said. He wandered into the living room and
looked around, but there wasn’t much to catch his eye; the apartment had come
pre-furnished, and nothing had yet been salvaged from the wreckage to give the
place any individuality. He kicked off his flip flops and padded down the
hallway in his bare feet. Two bedrooms, with one large bath between them. He
could just see Buffy in that bathtub, and he swallowed and closed his
eyes. She could see his emotions now, the same way he could see hers, and it
wasn’t as if he’d been that good at concealing them as a vampire. The thought
left him feeling sick. It wasn’t that bothersome when it was just Buffy. He
didn’t want anybody else seeing what a twit he was capable of being.
Buffy seemed to regard his new humanity as a gift, but
he wasn’t so sure. No more super strength; no more Spike. He’d taunted Riley
with it once, but that had been before all the deaths that had changed her so
much. Being one of just many Slayers appeared to have been the right decision
in more ways than one. About himself, he simply wasn’t so sure.
He didn’t hear her till she was right behind him. Something
else lost, he thought. “Hey.” She slid her arms around his waist, and it
went straight through him. He turned, and they were kissing by the next breath.
He pulled back and looked down at her. “God, you’re beautiful.”
“So are you,” she whispered. She rubbed her face on the
front of his sweatshirt. “Even in this.”
The sexual encounter at the hospital hung over them,
leaving both tongue-tied with possibilities and inertia. His vision was back
to being William-bad, but his skin seemed extra sensitive, picking up the
sensation of her erect nipples pressed against him---and her ribs. A hundred
years with an insane woman made him bite his tongue about her thinness, but he
plotted a feast sometime in her future. He tried to find his snark, but it
evaporated, looking down at her face. “God, I missed looking at you. You’ve got
a face like water,” he breathed. “Did I ever tell you that? It’s like
quicksilver….” He traced the curve of her face with his fingertips, as if more
contact would burn him.
“You didn’t tell me that,” she whispered. “You did tell
me you were a bad poet, though. Obviously a big lie.” She buried her face in
his chest again. “I missed sleeping with you. We never did that except for the
last two nights.” She looked up at him. “I thought of all the time I wasted,
when we could have been like that. I woke up and I…looked at you,” and then she
had to kiss him. “And touch you.” Another kiss, deepening into open-mouthed
exploration, sent his blood rushing through his veins and made him rethink the
whole human body thing. “It was nice.”
“Not as nice as this,” he muttered. He turned and pressed
her into the wall, as much exploring his new body as hers. The sensations were
so different that it might have been the first time entirely, and he conceded
fuzzily that this wasn’t all bad. He got his thigh between her legs, and she
shifted eagerly, arching her throat back for him to kiss, even while she hitched
against him. With a gasp, she found exactly the right angle, and he
instinctively grabbed her thigh and thrust against her.
He’d always loved watching her face as they had sex,
even though she still tried to stay in control then, too. A lot of the time it
had simply been too much for her, and he’d cherished those moments, when
pleasure or something else had made her drop her barriers, and he could imagine
that she was looking as deep into him as he was into her. Sometimes she’d be
limp and pliable afterward, silent but relaxed, and he’d seen glimpses, then,
of what it could be like with her. Only glimpses, stolen snippets, flashes. Now
she looked right into his eyes and let herself go, grabbing the nape of his
neck, pressing her forehead to his, so that he could take her gasps into his
mouth, into his body. He was so close himself that he shook with it, and when
she kissed him, she felt him shaking, her lips curving into a smile as she nibbled
at his mouth.
She was rubbery-legged when he let her go, bones turned
to noodles as she backed into the room, leading him with her hands and her
kisses. He doffed the sweatshirt as they went, and she sat down abruptly on the
bed, staring. “What?”
“I’ve never seen you in sunlight,” she said simply.
The reality of it washed over him along with the
sunlight, and they just looked at each other for a long, long time. Then he
went to the window and pulled the curtains open, yanking the blinds up. It
didn’t matter that the sight that greeted him was the freeway; what mattered
was that she was staring at him, and he wanted to really see her. He turned his
back to the window and dropped the sweats. “I saw you before, in daylight.”
“With the Gem of--?”
“No, other times. I’d find the right place, the right
angle, and I could see you and be safe. Golden girl, that’s what you were.”
“Now you can join me,” she said, but her tone was
He spread his hands in the light, and she found herself
looking at him, golden in the light from the room. His hair was growing out,
and the roots glowed golden. Even his pubic hair had a shimmer to it. “It was
really hard, though.”
“Doing that. Watching. Taking the opportunity. Not a
lot of chances. Had to avoid certain people----“
She stood up and tossed her top off, but he grabbed her
hands. He unhooked her bra, throwing it aside, smoothing his hands over her
back and then her breasts before sliding to her jeans. She steadied herself by
holding onto his shoulders as he unbuttoned them and slid them down, but had to
smile when he realized he’d forgotten to take off her shoes first. “Oh,
This produced another, larger smile. On another woman,
he’d have labeled it an outright grin, but he hadn’t seen his Slayer smile like
that, big and happy and giddy, in years. She sat down on the bed, and stuck
one foot up in the air at him, and he yanked off the shoe, sighing. Bare-footed,
she tickled his stomach, then paused, looking at him, hooking her foot to his
hip, pulling him closer. “God, I never really looked at you, that whole time.”
He picked up her other foot, forcing her lie back. “I
noticed.” He pulled the shoe off, looking down at her foot, then leaned over, pulling
her jeans down her legs. “Sometimes you did, though. Accidentally.” Triumphantly,
he discarded the jeans, and swallowed hard. Time was, as a proper young man,
he’d have killed to see a girl like this---clad only in her knickers, hair all
mussed up, lips swollen, and pretty pink nipples. Now, reality and unreality
seemed to be hitting him with alternate blows. No need to hide, not from her
friends, not from the sun. No need to keep certain hours, certain limitations.
For that, he’d traded immortality and strength. Buffy chose that moment to
stroke his burgeoning erection with the tips of her toes, and he thought, Not
a bad trade at all.
“How could you love somebody that---that---“ Spike
crawled onto the bed next to her and propped himself up on one elbow, making
encouraging motions with his other hand. “You’re not going to stop me, are
He dropped his head to her shoulder and her hands were
drawn, as always, to his hair. “Not a chance,” he drawled. But her touch ended
any thinking he was capable of doing. She pulled him closer and he eased onto
her body, his blood flaring with awareness. She reached up for a kiss and he
stretched into it, wanting to dive into her, pulse pounding suddenly
everywhere. His hands were urgent, trying to touch her everywhere at once, and
she responded with little noises and motions, her own hands sliding all over
him, too busy to keep track of. That was fast. She was pulling and
tugging at him, and he wriggled agreeably, not even aware of the way they were
shifting and moving, not until he felt fabric and pulled back from her mouth.
He dropped his forehead to hers, shuddering with the force of his own blood. Buffy
tipped an impudent look at him, and gave him a siren’s smile, then reached down
for his cock, already hard, almost painful. “Oh, God, don’t do that,” he
“You don’t--? I’ll---Oh, God,” he muttered. She wriggled
under him, pulling her panties off, and suddenly he was rubbing against not
fabric—which in his condition might just as well have been sandpaper----but
against her smooth flesh, wet and inviting. His heart stopped, and then he
sagged over onto his back, his erection bobbing, and Buffy stared at him in
shock. One moment he’s here, the next minute…what happened?
“Spike…” Her thumb naturally found the ridge around
the head of his cock and his eyes simply went blank at the sensation of her
hand closing around him.
“Stop. I can’t take that.”
He grabbed her wrist, and she frowned at him. “You seem
to think you shouldn’t,” she said dryly. “That’s kind of what I have the
“I won’t last, I know it, I’ll---“
“That’s fine,” she said impatiently. “You think it’s
“I don’t want to be,” Oh, God, he thought, I
can’t even talk like myself any more, listen to me wibbling, “the
sort of git who goes off at the drop of a hat and---“
She bit her lip, but she was smiling. “You told me you
were a virgin.”
“My point exactly.”
“My point exactly.”
“It won’t be any good.”
Now she was the one propped up on her side next to him.
“It’s not about that, Spike.” She glanced down, her lower lip trembling just
the tiniest bit. “You know, even before? It wasn’t about that.” She laid her
head on his chest, her hand smoothing over his taut stomach, but staying clear
of any erogenous zones. “It was this,” she whispered. “Even then. Not, you
know—orgasms. That was just…what I told myself. But it was this…I almost convinced
myself, too. But---no. That’s just a---“she smiled suddenly. “Side effect.”
He reached up for her face. “Not even the slightest
“If it were sex, it would be. That’s different. This
The kiss was tentative, as was his smile. “Are we
“Everything is,” she said. “Everything is.”
There was that sensation again, the weird contrast
between the old world, experienced afresh. Why did her hands on his cock make
him shake so bad, when all that had changed were a few revved-up internal
organs? So his heart beat now, so his blood was his own. He felt like he’d
never seen her before, the way she bit her lip as he slid on top on her, the
way it was entirely new and electrifying, the way the head of his cock just
found itself pressing into her pussy.
What was new, too, was the effort. His heart was
pounding so loud he could hear it, but it seemed to stop as he pushed inside
her and she seemed to clutch all around him. It wasn’t just tight, it was like
being gripped in a wet, hot fist, and he could feel pinpricks of sweat break out
all over himself. Breathing became something he’d read about somewhere. He
shoved forward again, and he was as far inside her as he could get, but none of
that mattered because her hands were pulling him closer and harder against her.
. And then her hips lifted and every molecule on his cock screamed and he was
pressing his forehead to hers, his own hips pulling back, his back arching with
pleasure. He remembered to breathe, then, finally, but that wasn’t important,
because it interfered with kissing, and kissing was crucial to his existence. Oh,
God, the rhythm of it all, the way she moved with him and against him and
around him, her mouth meeting his with a groan at the top of every stroke,
kissing and sucking at his throat as he receded with an arch.
He managed to find a tempo, slowing down to a pace that
made the bed creak in waves beneath them, but she spoiled it, smiling at him
between little gasps and little kisses. “You--liar.”
“Bad—poet—and—I’m---never---ah,” she breathed, but he
was laughing, and it was making his body hit all kinds of new places. “Oh…” Caught
between humor and shock, pure instinct took over, and she clutched at him. Whether
it was to make him stop or make him keep him going he wasn’t sure, but she bit
his shoulder as everything tightened inside her and then shattered. She was
convulsing all around him, and he surrendered to what seemed like a tidal wave.
It went on forever, rolling from the tips of his toes to the top of his head,
and he came back to find himself slowly blinking away the white spots in front
of his eyes while his heart pounded in his own ears. She was blinking up at
him, her lips parted, and he felt like someone had wrung out his spine like a
dishrag. Aftershocks kept his hips moving, slowing bit by bit, and she cupped
his bum in her hands, feeling the muscles flex and relax as the impulses faded
away. Slowly, slowly, he crumpled on top of her, breath and heart returning to
normal. There was no force to their kisses, they were so soft, brushing and
breathing, trying to paint each other face’s with kisses, flushed, sweaty,
His brain cells began to work, and he realized it
couldn’t be pleasant for her, with his dead weight on top of him. Shifting
required slowly separating himself from her body, and he was oddly reluctant to
do that. So was she, clutching at his arms as he pulled away. He felt like he’d
just participated in some masochistic athletic event. She moved with him as he
slid to her side, turning so she could wrap one leg around his waist, wriggling
close. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and she was evidently having the same
problem, till finally the smile on her face became wider than was polite and
she rolled over on her back, flung her arms out on the bed, and sighed out
“What?” He demanded.
“What did I say?”
“Uh…What did you say, pet?”
This got him a sideaways glance. “I don’t remember
either.” She rubbed her face with both hands. “But it was something about you
being insecure or something---and, you know, you were wrong, did you
notice?----and, oh, well, I was right. About whatever it was that I was making
a point about.”
“I wish I could remember exactly, too. It was---“ She
shoved him onto his back and dragged herself over him with an
unselfconsciousness that startled him. “It was pretty good.”
There was something hypnotic about her skin, he
noticed. Funny, the way it was striking him now. All the things he’d been
denied before. He traced a path up and down her arm with his free hand, not
sure how the other hand wound up laced through her hair, except that it seemed
to belong there. She nuzzled his chest, trying to burrow into his skn, and he
wondered if all the other barriers that waited for them could be conquered with
good humor and her faith in him. Her fingers circled a monotonous track on his
chest, and he found that he simply didn’t care. “This is pretty good,” he
“Better than good. What did I tell you?”
“I’m going to have to take notes from now on, aren’t I?”
She sighed, and she was asleep. Drifting away on a tide
of even breathing and warm skin, he suddenly saw a future so full of moments
and minutes like the one he was in that he wouldn’t have to hoard them. He’d
have full days and nights of her, and he’d have to pick and choose the moments
he savored, because there’d be so many. Not for him the lonely shadows, not any
more. Just the thought was exhausting. He fell asleep with his lips pressed
against her forehead.
Buffy paused in
the door way of the bathroom and shook her head. The sun slanted across the
room, and across Spike’s form, lying face down on the bed. One foot dangled off
the edge of the bed, and there were a few scratches on his back. She wasn’t
sure if she was shaking her head at herself or at him. She tiptoed over to the
bed and eased herself behind him, stroking one hand down his side. His ribs
were entirely too prominent, but that might be because whatever body fat he had
was in his behind. She smothered her smile into his neck, along with a twinge
of unreality. The sun was warm, but it made her feel dislocated. Spike.
Me. Sunlight. Wait. Re-adjust. It’s just new, that’s all.
He sighed, and then
reached back, sliding his hand down her thigh with one hand as she wriggled
closer. “What time is it?” he murmured.
This was greeted
with a yawn. “Is there anything going on?”
“The agenda for today
is napping. And for a change of pace, later on, there will be napping.”
She could tell he
was hesitating about something, and she counted the breaths till he finally
said something. “What about Dawn?”
Spike was silent for
several moments too long, then said cautiously, “This is good?”
“I think it is,”
she said quietly. “It used to be different. She used to really give him a hard
time.” With that, he eased onto his back, his expression guarded. What’s this? She thought nervously.
“How does she give
him a hard time?”
“You’re not going
to find out from me.” She studied him for a second, then dropped her head to
“Oh, that’s just
fine,” he said. “I’ll wait for my
“Thanks for the
warning,” she said dryly. “I’m sure your big chance will come during one of
those poker nights they have.”
“You sound…” She
lifted her head to get a better look at his expression. “How do you sound? You don’t sound mad, I
“Maybe it’s pity,”
he said. “She’s playing poker with Angel?” He grimaced. “Pity, luv. Definitely
pity. That’s…just….wonderful. How is she going to learn anything from him? He’ll go on
and on about the art of it, but he won’t show her how to slip that card up
her---“ He hastily changed tacks at the sight of Buffy’s skeptically-narrowed
eyes. “Oh, right,” he muttered. “Vampire with a soul and all that rot. Can’t
see his hand in the mirror, can she? Never know he’s cheating, will she? And he
does, too. But he even cheats in a boring way.”
something scary there, Spike.”
that poker is…fun. It’s not something
I associate with Angel. Not bloody something I should have to. Vampire with a
soul, blah blah blah. Dawn told me that…you used to cry a lot when you and he
were…together.“ He had the facial expression of someone who’d bitten into a
lemon expecting an orange.
“Oh, boy, she told
everybody that. And when exactly was this?”
Buffy sighed. “I’m tempted to read her diary.” Then she blinked. “Oh, my God,
she doesn’t have a diary, does she? It’s somewhere in Sunnydale.” She shifted
herself off him till she was face down on the blanket. It took some getting
used to, the new temperature of his body.
“Can’t even think of stuff like that any more----it’s all down at the
bottom of that pit. I can’t even think about basic things, because everything, everything is down there. It’s all
“Well…. I was lost,
too,” Spike said. He picked at the blanket, dropping his eyes. “Not for the
“I’d blame the
Watcher’s Council,” Buffy said quietly. “If they were around, really. Or the
Initiative.” There was something
uncomfortable waiting to be discussed, lurking in their conversation, and she
tried to detour around it. “So…when did you and Dawn do all this talking? What did you say to the cops, anyway?”
were---gone,” Spike said. “Did a lot of talking then. And the cops?
Ah, I just looked pitiful and confused---did my Andrew impersonation.”
Buffy snorted. “And the doc was a right bastard about those cops, too---I
should’ve taken notes. He’s wasting himself as a human.”
“And you think a
better career choice would be---?”
“Oh, he’d make a
good demon. Not quite certain what was going on there, really. But that was his
bloody hospital, you know.”
“He owned it?”
“Oh, no, not like
that,” Spike said dryly. “He was the king there.” He looked wistful. “Know the
feeling.” He dragged himself back to his subject with a visible effort, not
noticing how Buffy’s face froze for a second as he looked off into the
distance. “Started to get worried that
he thought that the patients in the hospital were his, too.”
“Well, at least it
“It did.” He stroked
her hair, softly, then touched her cheek. “You found me, didn’t you?” Then he
cocked his head. “How did you find
“The police asked me
to identify the---the---girls.” She swallowed. “And then they just sort of
mentioned you, not by name, you know---What name did you give them?”
“Oh, Smith,” he
said dryly. “Figured Doe would be pushing it.”
“Well, you know….”
She bit her lip for a minute, then gingerly continued. “Why didn’t you say
something a bit more….unique?”
“Not enough time to
think about it, with them hoverin’ over me like---bugs. Big, glaring,
irritating bugs.” Spike shrugged. “Cops were pissed already that you’d snuck in
there the once. Think they were expectin’ just to sign off on that case, long
as I was out of it, and now…Don’t know what
they thought you were doing. It’s not as if you banged a gong under my ear,
is it? I think that’s what got the doc
“What? At me? The
police? O the doctor?”
“Bit of everything.
Police because they do like to blame
stuff on whoever’s closest.” He shook his head. “The doc because you weren’t
really supposed to be in there. His hospital, remember?”
“He was nice to
“The police didn’t
like you. So that tipped the balance, even if you did sneak into my room.”
“Next thing you
know, they’ll be blaming you for the
“Wouldn’t be the
first time,” she said dryly. A glance at the closet door revealed the shapes of
all her new clothes, and she shivered suddenly and laid her face on the blanket,
shifting away from him.
rules now, are there? Before----it was breaking the rules.” She shivered again,
as if something cold had walked across her back. Before, she thought, it was
fight and have sex, and know that he was a vampire and I was a Slayer.
Looking at him, she realized that it had actually been sort of comforting.
She’d never had a relationship with a normal person before, assuming normal
could be said of a former vampire. Unless
he joins the CIA, she thought, he’s
more normal than I’m used to. A flash of sheer terror made her swallow
suddenly. I do not know how to do this. I
do not know how to do this. Then she thought: successfully, that is.
“What?” Spike said again. “You have this
“Oh, I was just
thinking about---Dawn’s diary.”
“We can just get her another diary.” He grinned
cheekily at her. “And then you can read it, while I deny all knowledge of how
the lock got picked, and play good cop to your bad Slayer.” She smiled weakly,
thinking, are you going to steal one like
you used to? Nobody cares when you’re a vampire. But every little thing is important when you’re human.
“Oh, thanks.” She
rested her chin on her fists and looked him in the eye for several long
minutes. “Do you feel weird?”
Spike looked back, mouth opening and
closing. “I’ve been feeling so odd for so long that it almost feel normal. Is
that what you mean?”
“I don’t know.”
exactly narrow it down, luv.”
“I know,” Buffy
muttered. “But that’s what I’ve got.”
“Been hard for you,
“I thought I was
“That’s when you
should be worried.”
“Oh, thanks,” Buffy
said dryly. She sat up and stretched, sighing, and then looked around the room
. It was all so ordinary, lying in bed on a sunny afternoon with her boyfriend.
There was no battle of good and evil going on here, no great love story between
a star-crossed Slayer and her demon lover. Something inside her seemed to
shrink. This small
apartment, this small life.
Who is this? She gave him a rather watery smile and headed unsteadily
toward the bathroom.
Spike looked at her
departing form for a moment, puzzled. Then he got up and went to the bathroom
door, hesitating for a second. Handcuffs,
he thought. Hot candle wax, sex on breaks, sex in alleys, sex on floors.
But knocking at the bathroom door seemed suddenly so…intimate. So common and
yet so momentous. The shower started, and he hovered still in the doorway, even
though she’d left it partially open. “Buffy?”
stepped inside, and he realized he’d barely raised his voice. She had her hands
braced on the wall of the shower, the stream of water pouring full onto her
face. When she didn’t acknowledge his presence, he swallowed again. Probably just the water, he thought. That’s right, it’s the water. He pulled
open the shower door behind her and she lifted her face from the water and
looked at him over her shoulder. A dozen quips rose in his mind and evaporated
on his tongue like cotton candy. He slid his arms around her, turning his own
face into the spray, the bandage on his right hand getting soggy.
Buffy stiffened for
a second, then slowly eased into the embrace, her whole body seeming to sigh
with familiarity. She’d always liked that about Spike, how they were close
enough in size that he didn’t loom over her, and now the warmth of his skin was
a pleasant counterpoint to that of the water. Freak, she told herself. No
matter what’s going on, you’re going to find some way to be confused? It is confusing, she thought. Even Giles said so. She turned around in
his arms, but he had to breathe and the water kept getting in the way. She
giggled, just a breath, and turned, leaning against the wall, and he leaned
against her for a moment before kissing her. Her tension was seeping away.
Once, they had taken every opportunity for surreptitious sex, rushing and
hiding, but now she realized that they didn’t have to hurry. It was sort of
oddly comforting. Human Spike had
limitations Vampire Spike had lacked, however.
Letting herself relax into the kiss, though, letting herself get used to
the newness of it all, she found that she liked the idea of just kissing, just
feeling the muscles move in his body against her, finally getting a chance to
touch all that skin that she’d grasped at so frantically during sex. She still
wasn’t used to his temperature, the way it changed the taste of his mouth, made
his kisses seem more vivid. It was startling the way something so simple
changed everything. She found herself
oddly tentative, kissing and retreating, pulling back just a bit. No hurry
here, no rush to a climax, just slow and thorough, and finally she realized
that her nerves had calmed. She pressed her forehead to his, touching his face
with her fingers. “Ignore me. I’m just being weird.”
“I’m used to it.”
“No you’re not.”
“That sounds like a
“Right, then,” he
said agreeably. Reluctantly, she slid away, getting her hair wet enough to
shampoo. Spike grumbled a little, but stopped when she got the soap and began
swirling it over his chest. Her hands were unsteady. Somewhat uncertainly, he
lathered her hair for her, and she stepped away only when it was time to rinse.
The bandage on his hand was soaked, and he took it off, tossing it toward the
little garbage pail across the room, and missing. They switched places, slipping past one
another in the narrow space, and only when his back was to her did she allow
her face to relax. That strange feeling that had departed when he kissed her
returned with a vengeance. Taking a shower, lathering each other’s hair---these
were the things she’d always avoided with him. They were so normal, so
confusing. She stepped closer and
suddenly slid her arms around him, dropping her chin to his shoulder. Spike jumped
a little, then stilled.
muttered. Holding him was what worked, then; she felt better somehow. I’ll have
to remember that, she thought. “Just general weirdness.”
“This can’t be new
Yes it is, she thought. Oh, yes it is.
After a bit, she released
him, her face flaming, and scrubbed at his hair. Clean, it was curly and boyish
in a way she couldn’t define, and something tiny twisted in her heart. No more
bleach, she thought, and another one of those odd little twinges sliced through
her. He rinsed, ducking under the water, and she quickly stepped out of the
shower. By the time he turned the water off, she’d wrapped herself in a towel,
and picked up the discarded bandage with fingertips to toss in the garbage.
When he got out of the shower, he looked sheepish. “Sorry.”
He nodded at the
garbage. “I missed.”
“It’s okay.” She
managed a cheerful expression. “This gives me hope that there might be somebody
who plays basketball worse than me.”
“I would if I could
find somebody really, really short---and really, really clumsy,” Buffy said
cheerfully. “Okay---not my best joke.”
“No,” Spike said
dryly. He ducked beneath a towel to scrub vigorously at his hair, and when he
surfaced, she’d gone. He blinked around the steamy bathroom, eyes distant. A
little monster, he thought sickly, as if he was hearing someone else’s words.
He patted dry with
one hand, after examining the round red scar on his hand. Anyone who’d seen the
original medallion would know what it was, and he wondered how many people or
things could do precisely that. He wrapped himself in a towel and padded into
the empty bedroom, hot now with the afternoon sun. The sound of traffic
attracted his attention, and he followed it to the living room, where a small
balcony faced the hills, on the other side from the bedroom. He stared,
entranced, stepping to the rail in his towel.
That was where
Buffy found him, leaning against the railing, head tipped back, eyes closed,
motionless except for his chest, as if he were breathing in sunlight, instead
of air. Hearing her, he blinked and looked at her, blue eyes swimming. He
stared a long moment. “You did this.”
whispered. “You did. You did it all on your own, Spike.”
“You were always
“I was bad for
you,” she said, but her voice cracked. “You did something really good, Spike.”
He shook his head,
dazed. “You weren’t yourself.”
“But you were.” She
took a deep breath.
“I don’t know if I
know who that is anymore.”
She led him to the
sofa, and made him sit down, where the sunlight drenched him, and turned his
hair to spun gold. She sat next to him with her feet curled up under her, and
ran her fingers through his hair while he stared at her as if trying to
remember who she was. He took a deep breath, and dropped his head to her
shoulder, and she slowly sagged down on the couch, till they were lying
entwined, side by side and wrapped together. He couldn’t talk, and she didn’t
know what to say. Well, Buffy thought.
At least that’s something.
Sunlight. The sunlight was all wrong.
Buffy blinked, slowly lifting her head from the cushion.
Spike muttered behind her, and she realized they were still on the couch. His
hand tightened on her side, and she glanced down. Her fat fuzzy robe had fallen
slightly open in sleep, but his towel was completely off, and the sunlight painted
the light hairs on his skin with gold. His hand dangled on her waist, and she
studied the fingers as if she’d never seen them before. Well, not so clearly,
she thought. He had such long graceful fingers. The novelty of sunlight and
Spike struck her again, and she could only glance around the room with some
distaste. The contrast of the mundane little room and the enormity of what had
happened to Spike made her dizzy. She half expected to find his flesh turned to
air, but he was solid when she traced her thumb over his hand.
She twisted and looked up at him as he squeezed his eyes
shut hard. With a yawn, he rubbed them. Settling onto her back enabled her to
see his whole body, and it took her a moment to realize he’d opened his eyes
and was watching her. Somewhat guiltily, she looked up. He shook his head a
little, but he looked a bit amused. “Better?” she asked.
“Well, it’s got to be stressful,” Buffy said. “When
I—came back---that was part of it. Exhaustion. Maybe you’re exhausted.”
He remembered sliding inside her, the sensation
as vivid as if he’d never experienced it before. It’s you, Spike
thought. He looked around the small living room, and sighed. My new world.
His new world had been furnished by someone who was evidently a big fan of
“I should get dressed,” Buffy said. That was something he
had always objected to, but now he was studying her face. “I have to tell
Dawn about you, and I don’t think I should do it over the phone.”
“How, erm…” She watched Spike turn pink around the edges,
and then he did something that puzzled her. He shifted and pulled the towel
around him so that he was covered again. A gap in her own robe exposed one of
her breasts and she had to stifle the urge to pull it closed. She flushed just
a bit. Even lying with him calmed that weird fluttery feeling in her stomach,
but she wondered what it was doing to him if his impulse was to cover up. She
sat up, rebelliously letting her robe sag still further open.
“How are you going to tell her?” Spike propped his head
up on his palm behind her.
“Good question. I’m hoping the Inspiration Fairy will
make a visit.” She rubbed her eyes. “I have to say, talking to her about sex
would be a joy after this.” When she leaned back a little, she found, she could
touch his stomach, and seemingly without thought he slipped his hand around her
waist. Her pesky nerves instantly relaxed. Aaahhhhh….
“You haven’t talked to her about sex yet?” Dawn. Sex,
Spike thought, and cringed. Oh, God, don’t make me go to PTA meetings.
“No, and I hope I never will. She’s so different from
me, and I don’t want her doing some of the same things I did when I was
her----Oh, my God, I’m Mom, all of a sudden.” She flopped back on the couch and
stared up at the ceiling. “I’m middle-aged.”
“No, you’re not.”
“I just quoted from the Mom rule book.”
“I can get you a cane if you like. How old are you again?
Twenty-one?” They hadn’t even bothered with a birthday party that year, he
realized. The year of the First Evil. And then there was…the two of them, all
over again. All those cautious overtures, the wary compassion, the emotional
foreplay for things they’d already done.What a backward pair they were. He
rubbed his eyes again. Headaches, he thought. Nobody reminded me
about headaches. “Or Twenty two?”
“Not if you count my age in Slayer years,” Buffy said
dryly. “I’m hundreds of years old. I’m like—Methuza---Methu--that really old
guy in the Bible.” She looked at him curiously. “How old do you feel?”
The question left him shaking his head. Physically?
Mentally? Emotionally, he was at sea. Her face, her eyes---those were the
things anchoring him. Physically, nothing hurt. Mentally, he had no idea.
“Dunno, love. How’m I supposed to know? Feel like a schoolboy sitting out in
the hall while the headmaster goes on about what to do with me. Don’t know
what’s happened, what’s going to happen.” He did not mention that in this
little scene, the headmaster looked a great deal like Giles. He suddenly
realized that Giles was taller than him.
“Does anything hurt?”
He had a very sappy desire to indicate his chest, which
had started aching again, but what with the loss of the vampire strength, he
wasn’t too happy about admitting to other reductions as well. “Bloody odd,” he
said finally. “Everything feels---strange. New, in a way, but familiar and-----“
And less, he added mentally. On the one hand, the way the sunlight felt
on his skin—and the way it looked on her---was beyond the powers of his
vocabulary. On the other, there were so many little things grating on him. I
bet even Xander is taller than me. I don’t get to be cynical about other
people, he thought suddenly. They get to be cynical about me.
Buffy watched a frown take shape on his face, and reached
out to touch his face. Whiskers prickled her fingers. Bodily function,
she thought, and then blinked. Bodily functions, why did that make her stomach
flip flop all of a sudden?
She sat up abruptly, so fast that Spike had to press
himself back against the sofa cushions to avoid getting head-butted. “Oh,
shit,” she muttered. The tie of the robe was hopeless tangled somewhere underneath
her, and rather than wrestle with it, she abandoned the robe and left it behind
to head for the bathroom. Spike eyed her retreating form with a mixture of
curiosity and bewilderment. Then he looked down at his towel with the same
expression. Why was he clutching his towel and why was Buffy the one wandering
around naked? He wasn’t William any more. He didn’t precisely know what or who
he was, but he was not going to relive that life. Then something
occurred to him. What if this wasn’t a reward? What if it was a punishment?
Where had that little tid bit been in the fairy tale? Vampire
turns human and never thought to check the fine print.
Even before she got to the bathroom, Buffy knew it was a
futile gesture. Water under the bridge, and all that stuff. Sex with a
vampire is a lot easier than sex with humans. Good one, Buffy. Well, hell,
she thought resentfully, the facts of life in Slayerville are---or were---a
little bit different. Now that he had a body instead of just being
one, there were all sorts of little things that needed to be taken care
of---millions of them, as a matter of fact. Just have to use birth control,
she thought. That had always been Riley’s job. She wondered how Spike would
feel about that. This is too---real, she thought dismally. It wasn’t
as if reality and sex had ever mixed for her before.
It’s so much less complicated to have sex with
vampires, she thought, then glanced around guiltily to see if someone was
reading her mind. Humans are complicated, and----she sat down, glad that
Spike couldn’t see the glum look on her face. All those complications,
she thought, but no drama, no significance, no earth-shattering
rule-breaking. No sonnets. Nothing going in the history book here. My new life.
She sighed and flopped backward on the bed. “No complications, my ass,” she
grumbled. “Just leave that to me.”
Spike tapped at the door frame, and Buffy winced. Knocking?
She thought. He’s knocking? Spike doesn’t knock, he’s---- She pulled
herself up on her elbows, noticing the way his towel was slung precariously
around his hips. All those times he’d wandered naked around his crypt while she
tried to avoid thinking about what they were doing, and now he was wearing a
towel. He was shaking his head very slightly as he looked at her, as if denying
that she was actually lying there naked in front of him, like an offering. She
flushed a bit, wondering if he was remembering the way she’d clutched at sheets
and rugs and jackets, never exposing herself to him. Well of course I did,
she thought suddenly. I had to---what? The sensation returned to her as
if she just had to turn her head to be back in Spike’s crypt. All those times
she’d avoided his eyes, acknowledging what they were doing. It was more vivid
that more recent events.
“You’re going to get Dawn?” Spike said. He looked like he
“Yeah. You want to come with?”
“Uh….” He glanced around, and his eye fell on his
discarded sweats, huddled in a pile on the floor, on top of his flip flops. Clothes.
The simplest thing in the world. He did not have any of his own. Nor, he
thought, did he have any means of getting any. He was now in the position of
having to ask someone to get him some. The thought of saying anything about it
practically choked him. Then someone else would know he didn’t even have any
clothes of his own. He looked around for escape. Couldn’t very well rob
people, now, could he? Vamps never went to prison, but petty criminals
certainly did. Bloody fuck. “When----when-----“ He banged his head
lightly against the door frame, trying to get thoughts moving. He thought of
the moment in the sun, the plan to spoil Buffy with lavish feasts, and wondered
what he could do. Buffy chose that moment to say something unfortunate.
“Giles said he’d get paperwork for you.”
Spike looked at her for a moment as if trying to
understand what language she was speaking. “What?”
“You know---ID, stuff like that….”
Identification. Just somebody else in the database.
That had been her worry. “Well, it could help, it could
hurt…But it’s good to have.”
Being William Smith had been just a dodge. It was the
last thing that set him apart, and he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to get
shoved in amongst everyone else who had a name.
“Well, he didn’t exactly offer it to do it out of the
depth of his feelings for you but he did concede after a while that he’d do
“How long did he say it would take?”
“A few days. They’ll be coming from England.”
“It’s up to you,” She added the second sentence after
something dark formed in his eyes, and she couldn’t identify the expression.
“I don’t know where to start,” he muttered. Clothes,
he thought. The means to get them. He glanced at Buffy. Rather doubtful
she’d approve if he got the money the old-fashioned way—by stealing it. That
meant…. He stared out the window as an appalling vision of his existence formed
in his head. A job. Employment. He’d be well and truly ordinary if he
went that route. When one was a vampire, laying about one’s crypt all day wasn’t
the same as being unemployed----it was a sign of the very rebellion of one’s
existence. Take that, laws of God and man! Observe the vampire watching the
telly in defiance of science, good taste, and labor laws!
He’d last had a job a hundred twenty odd years ago. It
had been utter hell. Trying it again at this stage would be beyond hell. His
education was out of date, he hated working---at least what he’d done
before----and he suspected that being around humans without the ability to
scare them would drive him nuts. He suddenly felt very old.
“So don’t start,” Buffy said reasonably. “Not just yet.”
She propped herself up on her elbows, which made her breasts bob enticingly.
“I have to at least think about it.”
“A job,” he muttered.
“Jesus,” he sat down next to her and sagged onto his
back. “I don’t know how to do anything but lay about and be useless.” And
cut a dashing figure while doing it, he added mentally, but this was not an
“You’re not useless.”
“I’m not useful.”
“Not yet,” she specified in a purposeful tone that made
him dizzy with visions of doing KP dancing in his head. “Jeez, Spike, get a
grip, it’s not like you’ve been hanging around for a year or something.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“Because it’s true.”
“Bugger. Was it this irritating when you were depressed,
and I was the one with all the energy?”
Buffy considered it. “Pretty close.”
“So…are you irritated?”
Buffy considered it. “No,” she said. “Concerned, that’s
what I am.”
He eyed her. “Concerned?” Concerned for much of the
previous year had meant, platonic. He leaned closer. “How concerned?”
Oh, boy, Buffy thought. I have to talk
to Dawn about sex and Spike about birth control. On the plus side, however,
as he kissed her, she managed to divest him of the towel. She made a mental
note to make sure that all the towels in their bathroom---Dawn had her own
bath---got replaced with towels that were big enough to dry off with, but not
big enough to wear.
“I saw that,” Spike said.
“What?” He settled himself more comfortably into her
skin, and she helped, sliding her hands up his back. “Oh, that, well---“
“Nice wrist action there, as you flicked it away.”
“All those years with stakes.”
“Good to know it’s got other uses…” And he kissed her
again, and she sighed happily, wriggling with anticipation. This got her a
throaty chuckle in response, and her hands became more urgent. Talk later, she
thought. A nice, non-weird talk…
Somebody knocked on the apartment door, and Spike lifted
his head with a groan. “Bloody hell.” He kissed her again, and she murmured
appreciatively. But when the knocking started again, she started abruptly.
“Oh, crap,” she muttered. “They’re not going away. What
if it’s that stuff from Giles…?”
Spike waved a hand wearily. Obviously sex during the day
had some drawbacks. He flopped over on his back to catch a glimpse of her
leaving the room to get her bathrobe.
First chance he got, that robe was going in the trash. What
did she need a robe for, anyway? She could walk straight from her bathroom
right into the bedroom.
With something considerably less than good grace, Buffy
grabbed her robe from the couch, jerked it on, and tied it shut with sharp
motions. She counted to ten at the door, half-hoping the interloper was gone,
half-hoping they were still there so she could yell at them.
The first thing she saw was Leo Tate’s Sunnydale PD
badge, right at her eye level. He glanced at her bathrobe, then around her.
“Well, hello there, Miss Summers. I took your advice.”
“I took your advice. I went out and I detected something.
May I come in?”
“May I come in?”
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
“I’d like a pony,”
she snapped again. He took a step back. “Guess which one of us is likely to get
“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
“Get rid of the
detective, and make a satisfyingly loud noise.”
“One out of one,
“I’m injured, and
because you kicked a door.”
“You should have kicked him,” he said dryly.
“Well, thank you.”
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.”
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
learn to say, “Nothing,” when they’re really pissed off?”
“There’s a memo.”
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.”
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
“Three. And an
An older brother, Buffy thought. That explains a lot.
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.”
Definitely the sort to go on down the pub every evening.”
“Your dad, too?”
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.
fashion boy, go right ahead.” She headed back to the bedroom. “It could be
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
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.
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.
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
“Is someone going
to bet here?” He demanded.
Wes sighed. Gunn rolled his eyes, and Lorne grimaced. “This is hopeless.”
“Your hand?” Dawn
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.”
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?”
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
“You want a scale?”
“Yeah, give me a
number,” Dawn said. “That would be good.”
a….”Buffy stopped, flummoxed. “It’s a seven, I think.”
“Bad weird or good
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.
glanced up appreciatively at the mild sky and took a deep breath, bracing
“Is it Anya?”
“No, it’s not.
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
“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.”
or bad?” Buffy started walking again,
aware that people were watching them.
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,” 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
“Spike came back
said. “Here. Spike is here.”
“Yes.” Question and answer, Buffy thought. This is good. I can handle this.
“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.”
demanded. “Something bad? What?”
That did it.
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
“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
“Does this mean he Shansued?”
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---“
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
“What does that
“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
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.
about Spike, aren’t you?”
“Uh, sorta. Look, Dawn, be nice to him about the
outfit, okay? He’s feeling really….”
“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.”
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.
“Would you stop
fidgeting?” Buffy held up her keys to separate the one for the apartment.
“Why do you still
have the keys to the house on your key chain?”
looked around for an excuse. All she saw was the hallway plus all the apartment
doors. “Did you throw yours away?”
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
“It doesn’t. I
just haven’t had the chance to throw them away yet.”
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.
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
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
“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.”
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,
“Well….There were a
lot of---changes….You did----Are you crazy?”
“No. No, I don’t
“So you’re not
going to be weird?”
“That was a while
ago, pet. You know that.”
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.
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
“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---“
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
“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
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
“Later I might
“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
“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?”
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
“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
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
“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.
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
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.
“I must have
interrupted you doing something.”
“No, no, not at
“I’m required to
ask this question, by the way. How is Spike?”
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
“And when you
“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.”
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?”
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, 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?
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.
in time to see him sag back onto the bed. “Tough day at the office?”
“The boss hates
“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
“No, what you
said…You’re bang on about it. This, that, back and forth, always running about,
changing my mind or my----“
“Had nothing to do
“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
Dreams had always
been her enemies. She’d had happy dreams as a child, but of course Slaying had
changed all that. The best dreams she’d had since being Chosen had been the
ones that had just been regretful. She’d dreamed of Spike, curled up with him
on his cot before his death. Her dreams of Angel had been numberless, all
involving bittersweet happiness, then terror. There had been one of her mother,
leaving her bereft when she awoke, but it had not been repeated. Her mother was
gone, and she hoped safe. Her friends and loved ones were still vulnerable
because they were alive. Dreams of real, living people made her think of
present danger and impending loss.
She tossed and
turned, never quite waking, never quite swimming up to the surface. Sometimes,
there was warmth at her back, sometimes beneath her cheek. Sometimes there were
arms around her, or she felt hers around someone else. A heart beneath hers,
and then she felt someone else’s cheek against hers. None of it was enough to
wake her. The sun did that.
She’d had a
restless night, and blinked blearily around the little room. Sunlight. Spike. Spike? Oh, shit! Vampire! Sunlight! Where was she? It wasn’t
her room at home….She blinked again, her brain slowly waking up. Spike, a beam of light suffusing his body.
Sunnydale collapsing into the ground, the yellow school bus, the scythe…
completely unconscious, sprawled out on the bed like a beached starfish. No
wonder she’d had a restless light----he was spread out like a smug tomcat. Must get bigger bed, she thought. She glanced doubtfully around the little
room, which had been acceptable as a single-person room. Her bed was a
full-size. A king-size bed would leave a little teeny space around the edge of
the bed, and provide all-too-visible evidence of her priorities.
With a sigh, she
sat up and stretched. She glanced around for her robe, but it didn’t look like
it was where she’d dropped it. Stifling mutters about men who picked
up---somebody had done it, and she doubted it was the Easter Bunny---she got up
and assessed the damage. What had he done, gotten up in the middle of the night
to abscond with her bathrobe?
hamper was full, and the toilet seat was up. Her bathrobe was in the very
bottom of the hamper. She shook it out, shaking her head disapprovingly at the
toilet seat. Vampires, humans, centuries
of tragedy, star-crossed lovers, Heaven, Hell---and he still leaves the toilet
seat up. It had to be part of the male DNA. Never had to worry about the toilet seat when he was a vampire, she
thought. It was so odd being able to be annoyed about something that wasn’t
life-threatening that she stopped brushing her teeth and thought about it. Good? Bad?
Life, she thought. Wow. Life had been a hobby, and Slaying her job. Now it was the
other way around.
She tiptoed past
the bed on her way to the living room, but she could have stomped past, blowing
on a trombone and it didn’t look like he’d wake up. The sunlight gilded his
cheekbones and mussed hair and made him into Adonis. Not fair, she thought. In the morning, she looked and felt like
Raccoon Woman, the somewhat-less-than super superhero. He had longer eyelashes and a smaller behind
than she did. Damn the man.
She sank down on
the couch with a small smile on her face. Man.
Like her, he was mortal. And somehow, it seemed like that had removed whatever
barrier there had been between them. With it went the feeling that they had no
time. It just made no sense at all.
sense. There was just no explanation for what was going on, and she wasn’t sure
she wanted one. Wasn’t it possible to just relax for a while?
Of course, the
answer to that was a brisk No.
My long distance bills are going to be
murder, she thought, but her fingers were already dialing. For a moment,
she paused. It doesn’t have to be about
advice, she thought. This is just a
friendly call about fake IDs and new identities. Yeah, that’s it. On the
other end, someone picked up the phone on the second ring. “Well, hello,
“Caller ID is a
scourge,” she grumbled. “I never get to pretend to be the pizza person
“Were you really
going to try that?”
“I’m not saying
anything,” she muttered. “Your batteries on that thing might run out.”
“Ah. It’s nice
that you have time for hobbies.”
She could practically
hear him rolling his eyes. It was comfortingly familiar---a little too
familiar, actually. The last time he’d
gotten precisely that dry tone in his voice it had been provoked by a miniskirt
that was both short and colorful. She reminisced fondly. Ah, the good old days,
when breaking a rule meant facing fashion ostracism. Those
were the days. She missed his disapproval, she realized suddenly. It gave
her a boundary of sorts, marking the far edge of possibility. When she tried to
set her own, it felt like she had to build them with sand, where Giles’ seemed
made out of granite.
To set those
limits, Giles drew on an impressive selection of gestures, phrases, and the
dreaded dry tone of voice. He had such an extensive repertoire of dry tones that
they almost seemed to require some sort of Olympic commentary. “Jim, would you look at that? An eyeroll
with amazing rotation and a clean shoulder shrug. He’s going to knock the
German team right out of the top spot. I’d give it a perfect six oh.”
With some difficulty, she dragged her
attention away from the imaginary Giles in her head, who was glaring down a
panel of Olympic judges. Unaware that
Buffy’s brain had put a number around his neck as he stood before the judging
panel---Buffy noted that the East German judge was wearing the most God-awful
Pucci-inspired muumuu---- he had continued to talk, and she scrambled for
indications as to what about. “I’d call
more often, Buffy, really I would, but I’m so busy here that---“
“Want some help?”
The fact that her offer came with the non-negotiable presence of Spike---and
removed him from the police sights----was just a bonus. Helpfully, the vision
of Giles competing in the sarcasm event at the Olympics faded away.
“Oh, I’d love a
visit, Buffy, really I would, but the fact is that I don’t even have anyone
here to whom I could delegate anything.” He paused, and she heard a cautious
intake of breath. “I’ve no doubt you’ve been too busy to consider your next
“Actually, I have been considering it,” Buffy said.
“My next move. What you said. About the whole Watching thing.”
“Ah.” He sighed and
she heard noises. There was the crackle of paper, the snap of something, and
she realized he’d been switching the phone from one ear to the other so he
could write something. Giles,
multi-tasking again. “And?”
“Well, I didn’t reject it,” she said
cautiously. “It’s just that….Giles, I don’t know if I could do the job the way
you do it.”
She counted the
seconds to gauge exactly what his silence meant. Two seconds he was just
waiting to say something sarcastic. Three meant he was torn between sarcasm and
seriousness. Four meant he was going to say something both serious and
sarcastic. Five meant he’d taken what she’d said and run with it, and
enthusiastic hypotheses awaited her—doubtful in this case. If he got as far as ten seconds, she knew
he’d either thought of a reason the whole idea was screwed up but salvageable
or else was completely untenable and didn’t know how to break it to her.
Fifteen seconds meant dire news.
At two and a half
seconds, he took a deep breath and sniffed. “Does this mean you’re actually
considering the idea and want to try it or have reconsidered entirely, and want
to back out gracefully?”
“It means I don’t
know if I could be as good a Watcher as you are, and I don’t want to be like
those awful football players who go on to coach and never win a game and get
fired and then sell cars and become bitter and drink beer all the time.”
The silence that
time stretched to seventeen seconds, and she held her breath the whole time.
whiskey, actually,” Giles said finally.
“I said I’d
recommend whiskey, not beer. At least not American beer.”
“In your rather
impressive assessment of the condition of American athletics, you specified
“So I did. And?”
“Well, Buffy, it’s
just that you’re free to forge your own model now. No other Slayer has ever
been in a position to retire. If you choose to perform your obligations wearing
a spangled pink tutu, there’s no one who can gainsay you because you’re the
first. Of course, generations of Slayers-turned-Watchers will curse you for
instituting a reign of pink-tutu-wearing----“
“I’m honestly at a
loss as to whether this means you’re thinking about it and tending to regard it
seriously, or whether you’re just looking for an escape.”
“A little of both.”
“How dangerous is
Slaying now? With all of us? Can we back each other up effectively, or is still
liable to result in tactful death certificates and unpublicized funerals
Giles took a deep
breath suddenly, and she realized what he had to be thinking of. She’d never
asked about her own funeral or how the details had been handled.
“How did you know
about that?” He asked quietly.
“I didn’t.” It was
impossible not to shrug as she said it. Death, even her own, was part of the
job. “Lucky guess. Dawn couldn’t have handled it, and Dad wasn’t around, was
“Ah.” That level of
bluntness required spectacle-rubbing, she was sure. “Well, no, not immediately,
“It’s okay, Giles.
But that was then. This is now. Is that what I’d face, being a
She heard a soft
intake of breath. “It’s never going to be---“
“Yes,” he said.
“It’s never going to be safe. But it’s not as dangerous.”
Buffy said dryly. “It’s a many-splendored thing.”
“What is it that
you want me to say?”
She sat in the
comfy little living room and looked around. Yes, it was comfy, but that was
principally because it was kind of boring. Nothing threateningly original stuck
out and made you wonder about the person that rented the apartment. No, there
was nothing unique about it. No weapons chest from Xander sat in the corner,
and the furniture was new and unscarred by demon attacks or vampire boyfriends.
No demon mask that raised the dead----or just looked like they could. No stakes
lurked under the couch, discarded during make out sessions with the vampire
boyfriend. It could have been anyone’s apartment, and she could have been
anyone’s girlfriend. “I want you to say that….I won’t lose anyone else.”
Giles stayed silent
a full twenty seconds, or about two dollars’ worth, Buffy calculated. “I can’t guarantee that,” he said finally.
“I can’t guarantee anything.”
Well, isn’t that a wonderful change of pace,
Buffy thought glumly. She tried to think of something else, and it just wasn’t
coming. “What can you guarantee? Anything?” That came out more bitter than she
“I can only
guarantee you the best training that I can provide, and my eternal support. We
could find you a flat in London,
make sure all your paperwork’s in order, and from there on, you will have to
forge your own way. It’s up to you to decide how to eventually relate to the
Slayers who you would guide. But if it’s any consolation, you will have a
unique understanding of what they’re going through, and they’ll be able to
count on you far more than you could count on me.”
tightened. “You know that’s not true. I counted on you.”
“I should have
quit with the Council a great deal sooner than I did. I’ll always regret that.”
The question is, Buffy thought, why are you regretting this now? Will that
be me, with every mistake I make? Is it all about regrets?
exclaimed. This conveniently enabled her to avoid a sniffle. “But then there
was all that back pay.”
“Minus taxes,” he
“You mean, you
haven’t, uh--given yourself a bonus since then?”
“That would be
“Never mind,” Buffy
said. “Don’t incriminate yourself or anything.”
The silence this
time was comfortable. “You do have to take credit for this, Buffy,” he said
quietly. “Slayers can now consider retiring and becoming Watchers. They could
pass on their training to their daughters.”
“Oh, boy.” This
brought up an entirely unforeseen vision of herself at sixteen or so, arguing
with her mother about how her mother’s teenage pastimes held no allure for
Buffy. Dawn had been cloned or created from Buffy’s own blood, and her interest
in Slaying was minimal.
Blood, she thought. Blood, why is that important? Slaying, splinters--the last blood she’d
spilled had been her own. She
snapped back to the conversation with a tiny head shake at her own
distraction. “Uh, Giles, not to change
“Which of course
means you’re going to do precisely that.”
“Yes, I am. The
police came back.”
“I beg your
“The police came
back. The Sunnydale police. They think that Spike killed some of the
extraordinarily stupid, Buffy. Of course he didn’t.”
“Well, you know that, and I know that, but getting them
to know that is going to take a two by four and some extra brain cells.” She
picked at the sofa cushions. “Did you send the ID stuff for Spike?”
This time it was
Giles’ turn to fidget. She could practically hear him twitch, and it was
bittersweet. Funny how that had slipped her mind. She’d forgotten that already,
what with the weeks of separation. He fidgeted when he felt bad. This was
entirely different from the way he fidgeted when he was impatient, irritated,
or just plain exasperated. “Well, no, actually, Buffy, I hadn’t. I asked him
about his real name, and he wasn’t….cooperative.”
Many interesting synonyms were enclosed in that curiously-stressed word. “As it
happens, it’s probably to his advantage not to provide me with his real name.”
“Well, you can’t
look up his old yearbook pictures,” Buffy said thoughtfully.
said acidly. “They didn’t have yearbooks back then.” She knew perfectly well
that whatever they were called, Giles had intended to find Spike’s and no doubt
whip out the pictures at the most embarrassing moment possible. “But after
thinking it over, it really does make it easier. I can find any name, provide it to Spike, and once he’s back
in England, simply give him another and guarantee that he vanish from the
“Er…how long will
“Hm,” Giles said.
“A day to find a name---the Council was
good about aliases---and perhaps three days after that to express it to you.
Can you hold the police off till then?”
“Can they arrest
him, do you think?” She did not mention that she’d hoped he’d already been
looking for a name. She felt rather jealous of this Council business that had
usurped her from her position in his priorities.
“I shouldn’t think
so,” Giles said. He sounded startled at the thought. “Spike didn’t do anything, so there’s no evidence that
he did do anything---“
“Except saving the
world,” Buffy said quietly.
“Well, that’s not
something the Sunnydale Police department would know anything about, would
they?” He cleared his throat and managed to sound irritated while doing it.
Only Giles, Buffy reflected, could manage to pack even the most ordinary of
gestures with annoyed significance. It
must be something they taught in Watcher School, she thought. Instantly her mind conjured up something like
Hogwarts, and she recoiled at the notion of long horizontally-striped scarves. They make your hips look so big.
expertise lies in arresting the nearest person,” Buffy said dryly.
“Well, if they’re
pursuing him like this, one has to wonder why they’re so persistent.”
“They always used to give up when somebody stood up to them,” she said. And I was always the one they were after,
she thought. You were always the one that
stood up. “I did tell the one guy to go away, thought,” she said. “It was
“Well, I always
used to get into trouble, and you always used to push the police around.”
that’s at least the second time you’ve indicated that my methods were less than
“Oh, you were
professional,” Buffy said. “I’m just not sure which profession, though.”
Giles’ voice was
so dry it was positively arid. “Thank
“You’re welcome.” I’m just keeping in practice. What if
there’s nobody there to snark at him the way I used to?
“Hold them off a
bit longer, and we’ll be fine.”
“One big happy
“Well, I shudder
to think what that makes me.”
“What did you say
that one time? Something about an uncle?”
“Ah, yes, a rakish
uncle. I think I might have mentioned debonair.”
Buffy smiled to
herself. “Rakish uncle, it is. Just, uh---could you fax that stuff, do you
“Oh, good Lord,”
Giles said. “And I’m looking right at the bloody thing, too. A day then, Buffy.
Just hold them off for a day or so.”
“I’ll try,” Buffy
said doubtfully. “Not like I might have much choice.”
“You don’t,” Giles
“I try to be. Must
go now, Buffy.”
“Bye,” she said
Why did that sound so pessimistic? She
thought. She stared at the phone for a moment, wondering if perhaps they should
check into a hotel room to get away from the police. Then there was the novel
concept of getting a lawyer. It might be worth it just to see the look on
Angel’s face when she asked him for professional assistance.
huh?” Dawn said behind her, and Buffy jumped slightly.
“That’s me, the
psychic sister.” Dawn set her cereal bowl down on the coffee table and blew on
her cup of tea. “So what’s going on?”
“We need to get
Spike a name and a lawyer, although I’m not sure in which order.”
“Can I be around
when you ask Angel for the lawyer?”
“I’m not sure I,
ah, want to ask Angel to use one of his---er-----“ Minions was the word that kept coming to mind. “---lawyers,” she
finished. “I don’t know if I want to do that.”
Dawn stirred her
cereal vigorously and maneuvered the maximum number of raisins into one
spoonful. “Why? Because they’re evil lawyers?”
“Isn’t that kind
“Maybe. Angel sure
hasn’t offered the family-and-friends tour though, has he?”
Damn, Buffy thought. Leave it to Dawn to
make her think about something she’d been happily avoiding. “I just don’t want
to be one of those exes who keeps asking for favors, though.”
“Who cares? As long as they’re not
sexual favors because then---ew.”
Buffy made a face.
It seemed depressingly elderly to realize that the thought of sex with Angel
now made her think of leftovers long past their prime. “I sort of thought you
and Angel were---weren’t----“
“Well, weren’t you
and Angel sort of getting along?”
“What?” Dawn was shoveling
cereal into her mouth like a Teamster who’d been on a hunger strike. “I don’t
hate him, if that’s what you mean. But I don’t trust him, either. And if I
don’t trust him, I can’t exactly like him, can I?”
Buffy looked down
at the sofa cushion. “Do you trust me?”
“Really? You do?”
doofus. You’re my sister. If you screw up, I can just yell at you. If I yelled
at Angel, he’d either disappear or turn evil.”
Well, that was an interesting take on
redemption, Buffy thought. “What about Spike?”
“I don’t know,”
Dawn shrugged. “I don’t know whether it’s good or bad that I might be able to
beat him up now. Because then anybody
“I wouldn’t let him
hear you say that.”
“Which part? The
part about I-don’t-know or the part about me-being-able-to-maybe-beat-him-up?
“All of the
“Oh. Well, how
about this? He’d like this.” Buffy braced herself. “ I’m going to blackmail
Buffy grimaced at
her. “Did you not get spanked enough when you were a little glowy
I’m bored. Besides, it’s a guaranteed job. Why bother looking for work when I
“-----live off the
proceeds of your career as an extortionist?”
“I just want a
job.” Dawn poked dubiously at the now-empty bottom of her cereal bowl. She
lifted the bowl to her lips as if it were a tea cup and slurped the remaining
milk down. “But who wants to look for one?”
“God, Dawn, were
you born in a barn?”
“I don’t know,
really. I mean, do we really know
where I was born?”
However, still not getting the whole blackmail/extortion thing.”
“I was just
thinking, you know----I need a job. And Angel just won’t say anything about,
you know, his big promotion. Or demotion,” she added thoughtfully. “Whatever it
was. But he sure has enough time to play poker when he should be working.”
keeping, uh---vampire’s hours,” Buffy said.
“Maybe. But he just
won’t talk about it.”
“Maybe,” Buffy said
tactfully. “Maybe it’s none of our business.”
Cordelia then? Isn’t she a friend?”
“She was,” Buffy
said. Well, okay, in a
‘you’re-in-another-city’ so I’ll let go of all the stuff you did to me in high
school kind-of-way, at least till the re-union. She deflated slightly as
the thought suddenly occurred to her: What
if there’s no re-union for Cordelia?
“Well, why wouldn’t
it be our business? Fighting evil and stuff.
Besides, I want to see the look on his face if I show him a Polaroid of
Spike without a shirt or something.”
Buffy just stared
at her, shaking her head. “You what? Of what? Of who?”
Dawn stirred her
tea. “I figure he’ll either want to see more, because then he can brood more,
or else he’ll offer anything to make it stop. So, either way----employment.”
“I always knew
little sisters were demons,” Buffy remarked. “Now it’s been proven.”
“Come on, you mean
you haven’t wondered?”
“What Angel’s reaction
to Spike would be?” Buffy asked, then answered her own question. “He kind of
sort of knows. But it’s not an issue I really want to press, you know? Sleeping
dogs. Exes. Same diff.”
“Yeah, says the
girl who had to get a doctor’s note so she couldn’t dissect a frog.”
“Hey, at least I
didn’t flunk it like somebody I
“Hey, Apocalypse, remember?”
“That was your
excuse for everything in high
school!” Dawn exclaimed. “So not fair.”
world-saving, sorry about that.”
“So what are you
going to use for an excuse now?” Dawn asked curiously.
“Oh, boy,” Buffy
gulped. “I have to think up all new-excuses.” She thought about it for a
minute, and the reality of it hit her completely. I don’t have any excuses anymore. There was no justification for
not being normal, not now, not any longer. Oh,
Watching, she thought. “Dawn,” she said
cautiously. “What do you think about England?”
Dawn sipped her tea
and then stuck out her tongue and flapped her hands at the heat. “Ow. Why?
Merry Olde? Cool accents. Bad teeth. Austin Powers. Er—Princess Diana. Um…King
Arthur. Is there going to a be a quiz or something?”
“No, I’m just
thinking of home-schooling you.”
“I wish. I could
study in my pajamas and read books about demons all day. Are the demons and
stuff in England
really cool and old, or are they just the kind we’ve got here?”
“I,uh, don’t really
know.” Buffy took a deep breath. I’m not
that lucky. “What would you think about going to England
and doing just that? You know, studying with Giles, stuff like that?”
“With Giles? Is he
running a school now or ----Oh, wait. You want me to b a Watcher? Or something?
What? This is confusing.”
that I could be a Watcher. You could ask him about you being a Watcher, too. I,
uh, never really thought about it.”
“You could have
asked, you know,” Dawn said coolly.
“I could have
asked if you wanted to be a rodeo clown, too, but----“
okay---Wait, you just don’t want me to be an extortionist. Hah!”
altruistic. I just don’t want Angel to be the first vampire in history to have
around, thinking about it. England----very interesting. Well, okay, anything would be more
interesting than LA, which she hadn’t liked the first time around. Being the
sister of the girl who tried to down Hemery High had not been good.
Goofing off, she thought. Maybe boys with English accents. Castles?
Touristy stuff. “Er---is this like a big significant moment right now,
where I have to decide?”
“No,” Buffy said.
Dawn raised her
eyebrows and gestured for Buffy to spit it out. These gestures involved
Buffy took a deep
breath. “Tomorrow is.”
shopping expedition almost didn’t get off the ground. Well, Buffy’ shopping
expedition, that is. Spike’s never achieved liftoff. He fussed with the sweats and tee shirt, then
spent a half hour poking and prodding at his hair in the mirror before flopping
on the bed in exasperation. This was so new that she wasn’t sure whether to
comfort him or act like a drill sergeant. Eighteen months ago, Buffy would have been so
wrung out and torn apart that she wouldn’t have tolerated it. Now she filed it
away with Potential Boyfriend Blackmail Opportunities, and reconsidered Dawn’s
ambitions with a new attitude. She
refused to consider seriously the notion that human Spike was going to keep
having these whiplash-like mood swings. It didn’t occur to her that maybe he
should be allowed to have them for a while, much like a toddler working its way
through its developmental temper tantrums.
“I am going to
take a picture of you like that,” Buffy said.
cares? It doesn’t matter to me what you wear.”
Spike exhaled in
the manner of a man trying to count to ten. “It does to me.”
Here we go again, Buffy again, but she
had to feel for the guy. It almost seemed like divine retribution for all the
times she’d experienced the whole ‘I-have-nothing-to-wear’ panic attack. Now,
frankly, she didn’t care what she wore, and by extension, what he wore, either.
How did she get that across?
It would be very, very, ironic if I suddenly
became fashion-optional and Spike became the couture-whore, she thought. “Look,
all we have to do is get you one outfit to shop in, okay?”
“Not like this.”
Another thing to
avoid considering was how miserable he looked. She wouldn’t be doing him any
favors by indulging his bad moods the way he had once tolerated hers. That did
not mean, however, that she couldn’t promise herself an opportunity to cheer
him up later. Some instinct inside her warned her neither pamper him too much
nor be too harsh with him. With something like pleasure, she recognized the Mom
gene awakening. There was a twinge that Joyce had not lived to see it in
action. She’d have been proud.
she sang at the door. “You’re leaving yourself at my mercy.”
All she got for
her gloating was a very disgusted-sounding snort from the bedroom. She jingled
the keys in her hand as one final warning, but all she got was another snort in
She locked the
door behind her and headed out. In an odd, guilt-inducing way, being on her own
was kind of nice, although if she had actually arranged this little pocket of
solitude deliberately she’d probably have to resort to self-flagellation to get
over the indulgence. She had Xander to check on. She had Dawn to supervise. If
she failed to do the latter correctly, she had to pick between visiting her in
California Youth Authority, or dealing with the icky Angel issues which would
result from using his law firm to get Dawn’s record expunged—if she tried
blackmailing him. Wasn’t that a conflict of interest?
Now there’s a dilemma, she thought. Dawn
thought it would be fun to blackmail Angel about his weird law-firm deal. She
herself had been quite happy just drifting since the Hellmouth had been
destroyed, but now she felt like she’d been dozing and it was time to wake up.
It was oddly pleasant. It was also rather uncomfortably vivid.
Clothes. For Spike, she thought. It was
very important to make sure she brought something that he could go out in.
Clothes shopping for the guy had Mom-like connotations that were not at all the
good ones of taking care of the people she loved.
Out of the
corner of her eye, she saw the tall buildings of downtown LA, and she turned
and looked for the towers of Wolfram and Hart. I wonder if Angel’ll want a shingle too, now? Oh, to be the publicity
firm that takes that account.
Somewhere, Xander was trying to make funeral arrangements for Anya, and
at least two police detectives were trying to figure out if a skinny unnamed
Brit could be nailed for several homicides that weren’t, actually, homicides.
Unlike all the victims that the police had allowed to fall, unprotected and
sometimes unmarked, the Potentials who had died fighting the First deserved a
better soubriquet. What did you call someone who’d died a good death, in
battle, on behalf of others? She
wondered for a moment if that was a good enough question to use as an excuse
for another Giles phone call, then realized she was pushing her luck.
was plotting blackmail, and Angel was probably dealing with it. Maybe there
were teams of demonic lawyers involved. Somewhere, too, there had to be someone who
could help her deal with the various issues that permeated the whole
That thought made
her sit down on a bus bench. Should she just buy Spike jeans, a tee shirt, and
Doc Martens, and then haul his butt out to do his own shopping? Such an outfit
might be interpreted as her longing for the old Spike. However, not buying such
an outfit could be interpreted as rejection of his whole vampire-phase. What
about a suit? She coughed suddenly, trying to hold back a giggle that she felt
would be unseemly. What, are we grown-ups
now? Then she stared off into space for a moment, flushing at the memory of
the impulse in the hospital bathroom, that rush of mortality and possibility.
How did you sum that up in fabric and cut and stitch? She put her head in her hands.
She couldn’t remind him of his past self, but couldn’t reject it, either. She
couldn’t buy anything that might be interpreted as imposing her wishes on his
personality. More than that, she remembered that little moment again, where
Spike’s exasperation had taken such a suddenly charming turn. Who would he be
now? If you had that opportunity to start over again, leaving all your baggage
behind, what would it be like?
She stared at the
skyline again, awed by the immensity of it all. Mom, why can’t you be here?
It was with something like pride that she recognized the new strength that
prevented her from indulging in what had been a constant refrain the previous
year. Come back. Come back. I miss you. Help me. The loss would always be
there. Now there were other things that balanced it.
She looked around,
oddly proud of herself for disliking the whole concept of shopping. Where on
earth could you go when you suddenly realized you had no interest in shopping? What
could you do? She turned to the west, and there it was.
If nothing else
brought it home to her that she had changed, wandering disconsolately in her
old shopping stomping grounds certainly did the trick. It was the season of
frou-frou, and she wandered amidst ruffles and lace and wondered how on earth
she’d manage to take out vamps in those things. She could certainly
afford---professionally---to buy stuff like that, if she wanted to: once she’d
resented every vampire-incurred wardrobe loss. With a mutter of nostalgia, she
wondered how long the vamps would last. There
were so many Slayers now. An even
worse jolt made her look around with her jaw dropped. Was it possible that vampires could be eradicated?
Not for a while, she thought. Not for a long, long time.
There were hundreds
of Slayers, though. She couldn’t even begin to consider how many vamps she
might have killed in her lifetime. If
they didn’t reproduce faster than they were killed…..
Okay, that’s definitely a question for
held in mind, she should have felt better.
It’s a good excuse, too, she thought defensively, but now she was vaguely
nervous. There’s got to be another shoe
somewhere, she thought. It’s got to
drop some time or other.
Her weapon had
always been wood, and it seemed obscurely comforting that knocking on wood was
supposed to guarantee good luck. She hoped fiberboard was a good enough
substitute, and she knocked on the cash register’s counter.
Buffy snapped back
as a cashier all but leaped up from behind the counter, Jack-in-the-Box style,
larger than life and grin fixed in place. After a second, she took another step
back, her senses tingling. It had been so long since she’d been around a
vampire that she wondered if her vamp-dar was off. Her spidey sense was
definitely tingling, but she couldn’t tell in what direction. I’m all rusty. My compass is off. Maybe it
was just the lure of the almighty commission sale that made the woman look
rather maniacal, but she’d seen the horror movies about clowns---courtesy of
Xander----and the woman’s Kabuki-like makeup brought back some very bad
movie-night memories. “Uh…Hi.”
“Can I help you?
Was there something you were looking for?”
exit, she almost said. Got any
sunlight? was another request she stifled. They were so deep in the building that she couldn’t remember the last
time she’d seen windows. Another tingle, and her spidey sense pointed out that
all the big department stores in LA were like that---windowless boxes once you
got away from the doors. “Men’s
“Oh, here, I’ll
show you. You’re on the wrong side of the building.” That wide, fixed smile
never varied as she stepped out from behind the counter. The clothes didn’t do
a great deal to alter the impression of clownishness, either. The woman was
dressed in bright primary colors with strong stripes and angles that seemed all
too consistent with the sort of psycho that would laugh maniacally and clutch a
knife behind her back. Her hair was the only real thing about her, soft and
dark and unemphatic. By all rights, she should have been wearing a fright wig.
said uncomfortably, then stepped aside to let the other woman precede her. Watch your back, came Giles’ dry voice
in her head, and she obeyed it. The wide grin faltered just a notch, and Buffy
wondered if she was being rude or….obvious. To
someone or something that knew what I was doing, that is, she thought. Another question for Giles. Yay.
“You’ll have to
forgive my enthusiasm,” the woman said. “I just moved down here and got this
job, and I’m just very happy.”
Information, Buffy thought. “Oh, really?
Where are you from?”
Buffy stopped as if
an invisible wall and slammed down in front of her face. It took the woman
several paces before she realized that Buffy wasn’t following her. Buffy stood
where she stopped and stared at the woman. The freakish smile dimmed, the eyes
darkening beneath the layers of paint. If anything, the sight of things moving
beneath that…enamel….was even worse. Buffy was reminded of ominous things
stirring beneath the surface of nightmare lakes, predators lurking near the
bottom, brushing up against unwary toes and feet amongst the weeds. “I’m sorry,
dear, are you all right? You’re very pale.”
“I’m sorry, did you say, Sunnydale?” Buffy
did,” the woman said with a sigh. The sigh was exasperated, in the manner of
someone discussing something mundane rather than tragic. “Why?” The smile began widening again, the
eyes starting to sparkle with glee. “I
feel very lucky to have gotten away.”
Buffy took another step back. Xander’s parents---and Anya----were dead, and
he’d lived. Almost everyone had lost their homes, their memories, their background.
CNN had said that almost half the city’s population had lost at least one
family member or friend. Even those who had not knew someone who had, and their
relief at their own safety was tempered by the knowledge of their friends’
losses. It was beyond Buffy’s comprehension that this woman could treat the
event like a simple relocation, and she spoke more sharply than she intended.
“To a city with a
big huge fault line?”
“Well, it sure
doesn’t have a big huge he---“
A boisterous family
of four crossed the aisle abruptly behind the sales clerk and she whipped
around to watch their progress.
Hellmouth, Buffy thought. She’s going to say Hellmouth. She backed up still further, and watched
the woman’s eyes gleam. She knows about
Hellmouths. How? What if we didn’t actually close it? What if we just plugged it a bit after
blowing it wide open?
“I’m sorry,” she
prodded. “What were you saying?”
“Oh, what was I
saying? I’ve been through so much…. Sunnydale. Just awful. I lost a lot of
….”She paused, then, the Kabuki mask relaxing into something that seemed to
gloat just a little. “Well, I didn’t exactly know them, but there are lots of people there who made it possible
for me to have my new existence here in sunny
Los Angeles. People who lost their
lives. How could I thank them?”
Myrtle said the nametag on the woman’s
bright, bright, chest. It didn’t seem to fit in at Bullock’s Wilshire.
Shouldn’t she have some higher class name? Wasn’t that a job requirement for
the sales girls here? All the other ones seemed to be named for tragic queens
and ballerinas: Natalia, Isabella, Elizabeth, Eugenia, Caroline, Maria, Katherine.
Myrt’s was the first name she’d seen that had lacked grandeur and that
all-important third syllable. Myrtle was what you expected to find in
that trailer park at the west end of Sunnydale, right near St. Stephen’s
cemetery, one of the oldest ones in Sunnydale. It was an old-sounding name,
too, and this woman didn’t look old at all. Forty, tops. So why the thick,
thick makeup? She’d plastered it on way past the jaw line, Buffy noticed, too.
People who lost their lives, Buffy
thought. How did that work? How did they
help her? “So what happened?”
complicated,” Myrtle said. The grin widened. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t be
grateful.” My, my, my, Buffy thought.
What sharp, sharp teeth you have. Just really intensive incisors, she told herself. That’s
all. She’s just got white-trash teeth and white trash makeup. She came down here and goosed her resume, and
nobody’s going to be the wiser. Just relax, Nancy Drew. “I wish I could
thank them, but they’re gone.” One hand made a flapping motion. Is that makeup? Buffy thought. Is she wearing make up on her hands?
inquired weakly. “Did they rescue you?”
The grin got even
wider. The resemblance to some sinister mask was no longer accidental; it was
deliberate. She thinks she’s scaring me,
Buffy thought. A flash of heat whipped through her and made her draw herself up
to her full height. She doesn’t know she’s out of her league. “Not exactly, “Myrtle said coyly, “but that’s
a very apt description.”
apparel,” she said gaily, waving an arm at the department before them. “You
have fun, now.” Slippery fast, she dodged back around Buffy and when Buffy
feinted away to turn with her she found herself facing empty space.
A shirt sleeve on
a mannequin fluttered as if a breeze had brushed against it, then stilled.
she’d left the apartment without a single stake and glanced around. Not a vampire, she thought. Just
some really weird woman who got a job in a real ritzy store despite not being
ritzy or glamorous herself. Maybe she just knew the right people to get the
The nerves on the
back of her neck were tingling in earnest now. I’m out of shape, she thought. That’s
all there is to it. I’m not used to this.
Just a coincidence.
I have to find out what made Spike come back,
she thought. What if he’s not the only
one? If something could make a vampire human, what could it do to humans?
She found Spike leaning out over the balcony when she
came back, turning toward her silently when she came in the room. After a
moment, he shrugged a little and looked off to the hills, where the harsh sun
was slashing black shapes across the slopes. He wasn’t pouting, she saw: he
was just very, very lost. She dropped the bags and kicked off her sandals as
she came over to him. Even now, something of the old Buffy allowed her only to
touch his back first, tentatively, as if seeking confirmation. With a glance at
her from sober blue eyes, he granted it, and she wrapped herself around him
like a ribbon. There was a comfortable silence as she found the perfect place
in his shoulder for her chin, as he laced his hands with hers. His heart
beneath her hand, and she wondered how she’d managed to spend a few hours away.
The sulk was gone. So was the opportunity for teasing.
He was serious now, almost---this was another Joyce thought-----like a kid
who’d worn himself out with his tantrum. She shrank away from the memory of how
she’d found it humorous. “No,” she said. “You weren’t with me. Ergo,no fun was
“Were you convinced?”
“Polite or honest, pet?”
“Can you be both?”
“Never thought you bothered much for the one if it got
in the way of the other.”
There was something rather complimentary about his
vision of her, and she gave him one of the smiles that few other people saw,
because too often they missed them. It was a small thing, really, that
smile----only the slightest lifting of the corners of her mouth, but her eyes
glowed with warmth, and the room vanished away.
“So my absence was felt?”
And your mood, she thought, but left that
statement for later. He studied her for a moment, then continued on as if she’d
“And how do we fix that?” He asked, picking the topic.
She aimed for girlfriend-like flirtatiousness, but she’d gotten out of shape at
“When’s your birthday?”
He cocked his head at her, brow furrowing with
“Well, I have a present for you, and I need an excuse to
make it legitimate, so---“
“Oh, God, pet, there’s no such thing as a bad present.”
He was amused for a moment, then his eyes widened. “Unless it’s a studio
portrait of Angel or something.” Her reaction was carefully neutral, and he
dropped his chin at her----the better to show off his cheekbones, my
dear----and studied her with the aplomb of a man who knew his girlfriend’s
limits, if not his own.
Buffy, grabbing one of the bags, rolled her eyes but
didn’t let it affect her stride.
The first thing to tumble out of the bag was Buffy’s
present to herself: little red high heels with polka dots. The look on Spike’s
face was worth the pang she’d gotten when the cost was reckoned at the cash
register. Didn’t a girl need something medicinal to help her get over a nasty
little you’re-not-as-retired-as-you-think-you-are jolt?
“Those are not for you,” she said loftily, snatching
them up, face flushing as she bent and scooped and tossed. The look on his face
rather indicated otherwise, as he raised one eyebrow---the scarred one, she
saw-----and blinked at her skeptically. Damn the man, he could probably
indicate sarcasm at the molecular level or something. She could just tell he
was picturing her in those---and little else.
Dawn needs to make lots more friends so she can
have sleep-overs, Buffy thought. And soon. Like tonight. Like this
afternoon. Like this minute. “And besides,” she added, as if he’d
made some statement that needed rebutting, they’re not your size.” She blew
loose wisps of hair out of her eyes and stalked back to the bags in the hall,
snapping them up with decisive grabs and dumping them at his feet.
He crouched down to poke cautiously into one, blue
denim tempting him. She’d figured the basics would serve till he could be lured
out of his hole to make up his own mind about who he was going to be now. She’d
gotten jeans---not black-----and tee shirts---not black---and some shirts----not
red. He had very nice forearms. She’d been seized, in the store, with the
sudden mental image of what his arms might look like if he just rolled up his
sleeves a bit---just past the wrist bones----so she could watch the tendons
move and flick, and have an excuse to demand that he check his watch
frequently. She’d even bought the watch.
Other bags held shoes---she’d gotten Nikes, despite a suspicion
he’d turn up his nose at looking like a frat rat---and boots. Cowboy boots
would probably make him roll his eyes, and Doc Martens were something he’d
probably want to, well---steal---himself. She’d gotten work boots, figuring
they were masculine enough to make a statement, but not so much that they
ventured into parody. The fact that she’d formed that justification in her mind
disturbed her a bit. Clothing wasn’t just clothing to Spike: it was shield and
trophy and identity, all at once. When had it ever been just covering the
naughty bits to him? She had to think for a second. “How did you get your
Spike had sunk down onto the floor, looking at the
things in the bags and shaking his head in bemusement. “Nicked ‘em,” he said,
not even thinking. “Souvenirs, you know.” He caught himself only after he
couldn’t take the words back, and glanced up at her carefully.
Once she’d have flinched: now that was behind her. “How
do you….” She probed for a word that wouldn’t hurt like someone feeling for a
new cavity with their tongue. “…How do you feel about…this? Just buying them?”
“Ask me tomorrow, luv, maybe I’ll know then.” Now she
knew what she’d seen in his posture, staring out over the balcony. Sadness.
“Could I get a preview of what I’ll face tomorrow,
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” His voice was soft. He studied
her, his eyes lifting to hers. “Do you?”
Giles faxing that paperwork would be nice, she
thought. Even nicer than those detectives getting eaten by Myrtle, the sales
clerk who could bring a new whole meaning to the phrase, “sins of commission.” If
there is such a phrase, Buffy’s mind added. It was a very Giles-like
addendum, and she wondered for a moment where it had come from. She reached out
and touched his face, wondering. It still didn’t seem real; it seemed like
something that might have come from the same place as Marley’s ghost, something
brought into existence from loneliness and boredom and loss. He turned his face
into her hand, holding it there with his own. She studied him, wondering if it
was possible to go through existence like that, always touching, always
connected, like some emotional Siamese twin. There was something lost about it,
the inability to put it into words. She didn’t have the words for it. When she
touched him, it was as if the compass she carried inside herself suddenly righted
itself. Is this what love is? She thought suddenly. He was her true
north, the unmoving pillar of her existence. It was frightening to realize that
she had long been his fixed point of reference, the pole around which he
revolved. The idea that he might be feeling the same fear about her went
straight to the pit of her stomach.
Not this, she thought. This is too scary.
“How do you feel?” She asked curiously.
Spike considered it seriously, sticking out his lower
lip and devoting some serious thought to it. “Itchy,” he said finally. “It
feels a bit like having indigestion.”
“Being human gives you an upset stomach?”
“More like an upset soul. Bad enough being a vampire
with a soul, but a human with a soul----“
“You had one before, didn’t you?”
“That was a century ago, luv.” He shook his head at
himself. “Not as if I did much with it, did I? What a prat.”
“What would you do with a soul, anyway? Take it out for
walks? Teach it card tricks?”
Spike leaned back against the couch and rubbed his eyes.
When he looked at her again, his eyes were serious. The notion that she had
left the old Spike behind clutched at her heart again. All the new aspects to
explore did not make up for the ache at the thought of all the little losses.
“I was weak,” he said. “A---A---prat. A ninny. I was----God, Buffy, you should
have seen me.” He snorted. “Angel certainly did.” And refuses to forget it,
too, added a voice, but he ignored it.
She scooted over next to him and nudged up next to him so
their shoulders touched. “Is that why you …..”She tried to find the right
words. Changed your personality? Went through a total mental and moral
makeover? Became a demon? “So…different?”
Spike looked down at all the bundles and packages spread
around them. “Maybe,” he said simply.
“Is that where you think you are now? Back where you
“Is that what you think?” he countered.
His voice was very, very thin when he asked that, Buffy
noticed. Was it that simple? Men, she thought. “I just wanted you back,”
she said finally. “As long as you’re you….”
“Not a vampire any more, luv,” he said. “Not sure how
much you need another responsibility.”
She thought back to Myrtle, that weird sensation of
having her spidey sense tingling in some way that was hard to identify. What
was the problem there? Maybe she’d actually suffered from indigestion, and
labeled it as something else. She thought back to the woman’s pointed teeth,
her thick makeup, the sensation at the back of her spine, the pit of her
stomach. “A responsibility?” She scoffed. “You’re not a responsibility.
You’re…..You’re….what I want,” she finished lamely. “I was worried I was going
to be your responsibility.”
“Because that’s the way it used to be,” she said. “That’s
what it felt like, that year.” The year that I came back. The year that I’d
like to erase. “I didn’t want to be nice, I didn’t want to be reminded of
it. I especially didn’t want to be reminded of it by a vampire.”
“And what do I remind you of now? Just another human
boyfriend in jeans and---“ He picked up one of the tennis shoes and flicked at
it contemptuously. “Trainers?---I could be anyone.”
“No, you couldn’t be,” she said firmly. “You’ll always be
Spike to me.” God, this was the time for delicate tact, and she just didn’t
have it. “You’re not a vampire, but I bet there’s lots of people you could
“Don’t patronize me.”
“There’s physical fear,” Buffy said. “But there’s other
fears, too.” I’m sure you could terrify meter maids and airheads very
effectively, she thought, and mad giggles tried to escape. Stop. Must
stop. Want to take on Myrtle for me?
“Have to appreciate the effort, luv, but promise me
you’ll never take up poker as an occupation. You haven’t got the face for it.”
“Do you want to be a vampire again?”
Spike looked down at his lap, at the sweats. “That’s the
thing, luv, I don’t think I do. I just don’t want to be….like this.”
“What do you want to be?”
“Anything but this,” he said contemptuously, and Buffy’s
heart panged just a little bit.
“It’ll take time, Spike.”
“Time’s up,” he said shortly. “I have to do something.
I’m going mad already.”
Buffy stood up and brushed herself off. “Okay. How about
Buffy was certain that the detectives were lurking
somewhere outside, waiting to pounce once they stepped out of the building, so
while Spike dressed she slipped outside and did a quick sweep. She looked for
short hair, large biceps, a certain swagger, and came up empty. When she got
back to the apartment, she found herself confronted with Spike, glaring at
himself in the hall mirror. Short hair, biceps, and a recent lack of
swagger, she thought. Clad in jeans, one of the plain white tee shirts, and
a loose white shirt, he could have been any ordinary office worker on a day
off, trying to avoid cleaning out the garage and mowing the lawn. He jammed
his hands in his pockets and stared at himself unabashedly, unaware that she
His hair seemed to grow in fits and starts, ranging
from dark-colored roots to platinum streaks to the honey color that seemed to
be his natural shade. Where was he when it was growing like that?
Buffy thought, and shuddered. The same place that Angel went? Or better? She
remember the glowing fire, the way their linked hands had flamed without pain.
She doubted that wherever he went had been where she’d gone. It depressed her
for a moment. How many places are there to go?
Spike abruptly noticed her and whirled, flushing slightly.
She was struck, once again, with the idea that they had everything to
rediscover, everything to rebuild. Now it seemed a little daunting. In his
uncertainty, he did not remind her of Spike at all. Then he rallied. As she
watched, he scratched the back of his neck and shrugged off her gaze. “What’re
you looking at, pet?”
“Is that a trick question?” She reached forward and
grabbed his hand. “C’mon, let’s go.”
Outside on the front step, Spike hesitated. The trip home
had been in a taxi cab, and he hadn’t been out in the sun at all. “Afraid of
freckles?” She teased.
“Afraid of sunburn,” he answered dryly. “You would be,
too, if you were---“he hesitated----“English.” With that, she maneuvered them
beneath a palm tree. The shadows on the sidewalk were sharp and black, the sun
shining almost horizontally as it approached setting. Spike’s gaze flashed
everywhere, and she was uncomfortably reminded of one of the detectives, eyeing
everything without even being aware of it, taking in every last detail without
missing a molecule. Spike clutched her hand tight, but barely looked at her, mouth
hanging open, eyes wide. A girl in a bikini whipped by on roller blades and he
raised one eyebrow, shaking his head.
He shrugged. “Put little wheels on boots and then wrap
one’s bits in scraps of spandex in the hot sun?”
“You must have seen that before.”
“On the telly. Not at night in Sunnydale.”
“What did you think it was?”
“The tragic result of designer drugs?”
“You drank a lot of beer.”
“Beer doesn’t make you do that.”
“Was that a hint?”
“Beer’s a constant,” Spike said dryly. Then he leaned
closer. “And the spandex would just get in the way, wouldn’t it?”
“Which explains why I’m not doing either.”
“Beer or wheelie things?”
“Either.” She looked closer at him. They were moving very
slowly along the shady side of the street, protected from the glare. “So?”
“So?” He cocked an eyebrow, but his eyes were still
trying to take everything in. She shook his hand a little. The first time
they’d ever held hands in public, and he didn’t even seem to be aware of it. But
everything’s new, she thought. It’s a lot to adjust to.
He looked around. Beautiful people moved up and down the
street, all of them a shade too pretty and none with any rough edges. They
looked like they’d been sanded till they were free of imperfections. He looked
more relaxed than she’d ever seen him, eyes as wide as a schoolboy’s, but more
than that, he looked somehow more real than the pretty people. There was
something deliberate about the way all the actor/model/waiters moved around
them, as if they had studied the art of walking and being noticed. All of them
had perfect posture, perfect hair, perfect makeup, and perfect clothes. Spike’s
jeans were stiff and new-looking, his shirt wrinkled, his hair oddly-colored.
The pretty people stared straight ahead and tried to give convincing
performances of people who didn’t want or care to be noticed. Spike stared
around, trying to take it all in, and unabashedly gaped. For some reason, it
reminded her of him as a vampire. Even Angel, she thought sadly, had
not stood out that much.
“I’d be better with beer.”
They wandered along till they found a small café that
didn’t look too ‘twee’ as Spike put it, and after some careful scrutiny, the
waitress served them. Buffy took one sip and grimaced. Spike, however, swigged
like a pro and then leaned back in his chair and crossed one ankle over his
knee. Buffy eyed him thoughtfully. “So does beer make you cocky or something?”
“Beer does a lot of things, pet, but most of all it
improves things on its own.” He took another swig, eyeing her bottle with a
hint of his old mischief. Shades of arguments past, she thought, and
grabbed the bottle possessively. He grinned at her, then took another healthy
He leaned across the table, reaching out and taking her
hand. With it laid across his palms he studied it, his thumb rubbing the rough
spot that was all that was left of the place where she’d had a splinter. Too
many things flashed across his mind to capture just one and put it into words. More
than that, it was too enormous to put into words. All he could do was sip his
beer, and leave the things alone. Sometime soon, they’d have to be reckoned
with, and he wanted to avoid so much as thinking about that. Why not enjoy this
small moment like any ordinary man, having an ordinary beer in an ordinary café
with an ordinary girl?
Except she wasn’t that. He leaned back and studied her,
turning sideways in his chair to brace himself against the back. Capable of
fighting vampires for hours, passionate, brave and just too pissy to defeat,
Buffy looked more than a little uncomfortable out of her element and away from
her weapons. He signaled over the waitress. “White wine?”
The waitress automatically eyed Buffy, then turned back
to Spike. “Leave her beer?”
“She has a name,” Buffy said dryly. “And I’m sure
he can drink it when he’s done with that one.” She waited till the woman
was gone. “Are you laughing at me or something?”
“Buff, it’s nothing, it’s----“ So Californian, he
finished, but knew that would have good results.
She attempted another swallow of beer, but the face she
made would have been more appropriate glimpsed over the edge of a glass of
castor oil. Spike was grinning openly now. “You’re such a lightweight, I wonder
how you bested me all those times.”
“Oh, come on, your heart wasn’t it.”
“Was too!” Avoiding her eyes, he leaned back. “Well, at
least the first few times it was.”
“Bloody right it was,” he muttered. “Who’s this little
thing, thinks she can---Er.” He collected himself with some effort and went on
the attack. “What about you?” he countered. “You could have dusted me just
about any time you wanted. Why didn’t you?”
It was Buffy’s turn to look everywhere but him. “I don’t
know what you’re talking about. You just had really good luck for a long time.”
“You could have killed me in that church, easy.”
“Too much debris.” She eyed her nails.
“Oh, yeah? Why didn’t you come after me later on? You
had to have heard that I was laid up in that bloody chair.”
Buffy struggled to remember. “I don’t think-----I was
too weirded out by Angel.”
Spike had no reply to that, and she cringed, wondering
if she’d just set up an outburst. He took a thoughtful swallow of beer, and
stared at her for a long minute. “I’d forgotten all that, you know,” he said
quietly. “Hadn’t thought of that in ages, really.” He traced circles on the
table top with one long index finger, a curl falling over his forehead. “I
don’t wonder, pet. I don’t at all.”
The back of her neck was prickling. “What---what do you
A glass of Chablis thumped to the table in front of
Buffy and they both looked up, startled, at the smirking face of the waitress.
At Spike’s glare, the smirk disappeared as if slapped off and she whirled and
fled. Buffy took a fortifying sip and found that it was much better than the
beer, which looked like a urine sample and made her wonder if there had been
some serious errors at the bottling plant. “What?” She squeaked. “What were you
saying? About Angel?”
It wasn’t about Angel, he saw then. It was about her
fears. This, then, was worse than the friends’ fear, than the one about being
left or shut out. The way Angel had talked about her had done something to him,
something he hadn’t admitted then, not even to himself. It had summed up
Angelus for him perfectly. The Big Bad, undone by a girl, and reduced to
graceless boasting afterward, mocking her naïvte, her inexperience. He should
have expected it: God knows, long after Dru had first taken him he’d had to
endure the knowing smirks of Darla and Angel. He cringed at the thought of the
way he’d tossed that stupid puppy Abrams in her face. Just like Angel,
he thought, except in order to keep people from talking about him behind his
back, Angel would have no doubt killed them.
“You ever notice, pet, how some people think they’re
talking about other people, but what they’re really doing is giving you a good
long look at themselves? That’s what Angelus was like, that year.”
“What did he say?”
There was no way to win this, he thought, and more than
that, there was the chance she simply wouldn’t believe him. Open mouth, insert
foot, he thought. Bloody marvelous. “He should be the one to break that ice,
luv, not me.”
“Oh, fine,” she said, and he realized he was
probably going to be spending the night on the couch. He’d heard that word from
various females of various species in various countries, and it never boded
well. Both feet, he thought. That was both feet.
Buffy took a healthy gulp of her wine and leaned over
the table, careless of the puddles of moisture from his sweating beer bottle.
“Oh, like I didn’t know you had something for me, early on. I could tell, you
“You couldn’t know because it wasn’t there. Early.” I’ll
probably be sleeping out in the hallway at this rate, he thought.
“Oh, yeah, it was. You were always Mr. Flirty, all the
time, with the way you walked and made those remarks----“
“Since when is, “I’m going to kill you” considered
“Hey, vampire, Slayer, opposites attract----It worked
She tossed back another gulp and hoped it was the
alcohol that made her brain go blank. Who, exactly, had it ever worked for? The
moments ticked by. Not a single name surfaced in her brain.
“We’re not opposites,” Spike finally said. “We have a
lot in common.”
“Yes, we do.” Buffy eyed him hopefully. “Such as?”
They stared at each other across the table. “I’m
drunk,” Buffy said slowly. “That’s why I can’t----“
Spike stared. “There’s lots of examples.”
“Sure there are. I just can’t think of any.”
“It’s been a while since I had beer.”
“And it’s been forever since I drank. Drunk. Er…”
“You don’t drink, period.”
“You’re a bad influence,” Buffy said, then cringed. “In
a----good way,” she added desperately.
“That’s me,” Spike sighed, feeling suddenly neutered.
Buffy gulped own what remained of the wine, then hiccupped slightly. “Next
thing you know, I’ll need a cardigan.”
“It’s not that cold out.”
“Never mind, luv.”
And then it dawned on Buffy that she had to pay because
as yet Spike had no money of his own. Flushing at embarrassing him, she tossed
a bill on the table, then grabbed his hand. Only after a moment did she
realized that she was overcompensating, clutching at him like he was a
life-preserver. She flushed again, and relinquished his hand, only to realize
belatedly that that must look like he had something on his hands.
Spike was eyeing her as if someone had replaced Buffy
with the bot after pouring the leftover beer onto the motherboard. This was
such a relief that once they were outside the restaurant, she leaned up for a
kiss, only to find him looking down at her with a puzzled look on his face.
“Slayer? Promise me you will stick to Shirley Temples from now on.”
“Because you panic faster when you’re drunk.” He softened
the remark with a kiss on the tip of her nose, and she smiled up at him.
“I’m not panicked.” Buffy started walking again, then
stopped in her tracks and considered the dilemma for a moment. “Am I?”
Mellowed by the beer, and the freedom, Spike was more
laid-back than she’d ever seen him. “No, but you got sort of entertaining there
for a while.”
“Why are you so okay right now?”
Spike faced her from three feet away, hands jammed in
his back pockets. “Maybe it’s just that it’s me standing here with you.” The
sun had faded to the point of being a mellow ball of orange in the sky. How
many second chances do vampires get? He thought. How many second chances
do Slayers get? He was feeling better than he’d felt at any point since
waking up, and while it might not last, it was beyond anything he’d had in
recent memory. It was worth experiencing fully. The fact that that was all the
power he seemed to have at the moment made it all the more sweet. Then, too, he
was human----and Angel was not.
Buffy wrapped her arm around his waist, and thoughts of
the couch receded from his immediate future. “I thought I’d lost you,” she
“So did I. I mean, I thought you had. That I had. That
“Oh, shut up already.” Head on his shoulder, arm around
him, she managed to kiss him and walk at the same time, at least for a few
steps. She stumbled over a crack in the paving, and pulled back with a smile.
“Race you home.”
“No fair. Slayer speed and all that.”
“Make it up to you,” she said quietly, and suddenly his
blood was going so fast he felt like he could beat Olympians. She dashed off
into the twilight, and he followed.
It felt odd to be running, breathing heavy, sweating.
He couldn’t recall ever having done that as a human, and vampires didn’t of
course breathe of sweat. His muscles seemed more evident as a human than they
had while he’d been a vampire, when by comparison he’d been a machine. He found
himself getting out of breath because he kept forgetting to breathe. It was
very odd. The sweat was another factor. He decided that showering would be
first on the agenda once they got back to the apartment.
He found Buffy by running into her because she was rooted
to a spot outside the apartment door. He peered around her, panting.
Detective Tate gave them the smile of a shark with blood
in the water. “Well, hello, Miss Summers, Mr.----what was it again?”
“You’ll have to tell me, mate,” Spike said. “Amnesia,
“Oh, I imagine we’ll find out. Just like we found out
the identities of those girls.” The detective’s grin grew even wider. “Would
you like to come down to the station?”
Spike blinked at him, then at the other police officer. They looked so much alike that it took several go-rounds for the few variations between them to register on him. Dark hair on one; darkish hair on the other. Medium length on one, short but almost medium on the other. “Didn’t we go over this already?”
“Just for our records.”
Spike eyed the video camera skeptically---and cautiously. “Can I get a copy of that when we’re done?”
Yeah, said the cop’s glance. Sure you can. After about forty years. Neither looked away, and Buffy’s head swiveled from one to the other several times before she heaved an enormous sigh and broke the spell. The detective cleared his throat. As if there hadn’t been a staring match, he shrugged and looked down at his blank page. “So….Name?”
Scratch scratch scratch. The detective looked up expectantly. What the bloody fuck is he waiting for? Spike thought. Name, rank, and serial number, mate-----Then he blinked as the full dimensions of his predicament became apparent. Somehow, it was much easier to see how much trouble he was in while he was in this depressing, gray little room. Desperate as it had been, the amnesia angle didn’t leave him a lot of wiggle room after the first go-round. It worked for that short period, and that period was up. It had kept him from being looked at too closely, but it also kept him from disentangling himself as well. He had a mental image of smacking himself in the forehead. Well, Officer, I don’t remember much but I sure remember I didn’t kill those girls!
The silence was too revealing, he saw. He cleared his throat in order to enunciate better. This produced a satisfying croak. “William.”
“Got that already.”
But he noticed the detective wrote that down again. Funny how some blokes get all obsessive-compulsive when they can’t be that effective, Spike thought. “Tell.“ He craned his neck to get another gander at the pad and watched as the detective crooked an arm around it to hide it. “William Tell.”
Detective Jordan managed to write that down, too----at least until Buffy cleared her throat loudly and rolled her eyes. She finished it up with a an amazed and disgusted grimace that expressed clearly the concept of, You inept twit. You’re a Sunnydale cop and now you’re out in the real world without a babysitter. The Olympic sarcasm judges in her head were pointing out the Gilesian influence and reminiscing about how she looked like a promising contender to take up his torch should he retire.
“You said Smith at the hospital,” the detective said accusingly.
“I don’t remember,” Spike said with a shrug. “I could have said Bush for all I bloody know, couldn’t I? I do have amnesia, you know.”
“Seems to come and go, doesn’t it?”
“I dunno,” Spike said slowly. Then he grinned. “Does it now?”
“Been to a doctor for it?”
“I don’t remember,” he repeated. “ What if,” and here he paused dramatically. “What if I never remember who I am? Do you think I’d have a new personality?”
“The new one isn’t going to let you get away with murdering those girls.”
“How do you know they were murdered?” Buffy snapped.
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Come on, Detective. You said it was just a friendly chat. If it’s not going to be friendly, I’ll just call his lawyer----” Or make a virgin sacrifice to his lawyer, she amended----”and we’ll just drop the pretense, okay?” It was depressing to realize that the retainers for human lawyers and for demon lawyers probably weren’t that different when you got right down for it. Some painful fees were going to have to be paid. Either she found a way to sacrifice the Olson twins---in the case of one of Angel’s subordinates----or she coughed up pretty much all the insurance money that she had earmarked for her and Dawn’s future, only to have Angel nobly reject it. Either way, she was going to do some squirming.
“You know, you’re right, Miss Summers. It could very well be that those girls---and Anya Jenkins---somehow fell on their swords and bled out in one location before winding up somewhere---” With a visible effort, he bit back the rest of that sentence. “But I don’t think that’s what I’d call really likely.”
Buffy’s ferocity faltered for a moment. “Bled out? What do you mean, bled out?”
Pleased by this reaction, it was the detective’s turn to lean back and smirk. “All their blood. Bled out. It was gone. It spilled somewhere else, unless maybe it was invisible blood or something. We just found some small stains at the site.”
Buffy bit her lower lip so hard it disappeared entirely. “Yeah, so? That doesn’t mean Sp----that he had anything to do with it.” It’s not like the Sunnydale PD ever placed much emphasis on catching the right criminal for the right crime, she thought. Then the Giles voice popped up in her brain and ordered her to remain calm. Easy for you to say, she responded. “No blood? There was no blood? At all?”
“Not much, no,” Tate said softly. . “And that’s as much as I’m going to tell you.”
“If there was no blood, then why don’t you think Sp---William----was one of the victims?”
Spike shook his head at Buffy’s moxie, then recovered his own. “Yeah, mate, why’s that?”
Tate cleared his throat and looked down at his files, obviously relishing his Big Moment. “Those girls were murdered. Our pal here had just one wound, that weird burn on his hand. Which, interestingly enough, you share, Miss Summers.” Her hand twitched. The detective pretended not to notice, but he had to take his time, sipping his coffee, keeping his eyes down. Seconds ticked by. Buffy could practically see the man counting in his head, waiting for the tension to mount, trying to distract her from a little thought that was nagging at the corner of her mind. When the moment was right, he lifted his gaze to hers. “It might not be just him that we’re looking at. Not by a longshot.”
He’d prepared for a lot of reactions. The one that he’d never imagined was an amused half smile that might have been charming had it lightened the expression in her eyes. That never changed, though; she looked like a woman who could twist him in half without breaking a sweat. She shook her head at him, and this time her eyes did warm as she looked from him to Spike. “You’re funny,“ she said. With a start, the detective realized something had changed. She was no longer curious about what was going on: she’d made up her mind, somehow.
“You’re from Sunnydale, right?” Buffy asked.
“The Sunnydale Police Department, right? Just to make it absolutely clear?”
“Yes,” he said stiffly.
“Well, the fact that you’re so sure William has done it ought to be the biggest sign that he’s innocent that it’s possible to have. I mean, how many murders did your department actually solve? Per decade? Because if I asked you if you solved any for , say, some years, it might be kind of bad. I mean, how many murders is a town like Sunnydale supposed to have in a year? One? No,” she corrected herself. “Not even that. Really, that’s high. It should be one every five years or something. Maybe ten years, right?”
Startled, he nodded before he could stop himself. “But----every town is different. And this is California.”
“Yeah, it’s California all right,” Buffy sighed. She chewed her lower lip a bit as a sneaky idea came to her. She turned it over in her head, as if it were a Rubik’s cube and she were trying to find that tricky pattern. It‘s risky, she thought. It‘s really risky. But it could prove Spike was innocent, it could get him off the hook, and nobody could ever prove she‘d ever said anything like what she was about to say. It was the perfect defense, too-----everyone knew that vampires didn’t exist. Of course, she thought, sizing up the detective, that depended on how stupid he was. She studied him coolly. He didn‘t look unpleasant or pleasant, just sort of…acceptable. At least monsters, she thought, you can spot coming. With mediocre people, there‘s just no warning till they open their mouths. “That could be it. Or, you know, it could be all the vampires.” She watched with some satisfaction as he twitched in his seat. The detective aimed for a sneer, but achieved only a tight lip-pursing maneuver that made him look like he was stifling a burp. “Oh, wait, I’m sorry. Did you not notice them?” She imitated him clearing his throat.
“Vampires,” Jordan said. His voice sounded rather thin. “Really---vampires.” He nodded at Spike. “I suppose your friend is a vampire. And you, too, no doubt.” He leaned back and tried to look relaxed, but a muscle was twitching near the corner of his mouth all of a sudden.
Buffy weighed her options. For some reason, her brain seemed unusually cooperative, and instead of conjuring up, say, the feel of Spike’s hair in her hands, it presented her with a vivid mental image of her holding a set of brass scales. In one scale sat the Sarcasm Option, which consisted of plunging forward gleefully, leaving devastation behind her. On the other hand, there was the ever-present Giles option, consisting of Sarcasm Lite, which was less filling and tasted great. She went instead with the default option, bringing up the rear----the truth. “Oh, I’m not a vampire,” she said helpfully, deciding that if Spike wanted to come out as a former vampire that was his business. “I’m th---a---vampire slayer.”
“A….vampire….slayer?” Jordan’s smile looked a bit more firm now, and it made her nervous. His confidence was increasing----there was no reason for it----and hers wavered. “Is that like the Beastmaster or something?”
Wow, Buffy thought. Somebody can’t afford the good cable package, can they? “Well, the Beastmaster is fictional, you know.”
“And the…what did you call it?”
“Vampire Slayer,” Buffy said helpfully.
“And the Vampire Slayer---Vampire Slayer---isn‘t fictional.” he repeated thoughtfully. “So I take it that you kill vampires, don’t you?” His smile inched wider, and Buffy noticed what an unlovely smile it was. She noticed things about his face that she hadn’t seen before; the way the crow’s feet at the edge of his eyes deepened till he seemed to be staring at her from inside a cavern, the way his laugh lines were particularly harsh and exaggerated. He looked like one of those trick drawings where a twist of perspective was all it took to change a pleasant picture of a lady at her vanity into a grinning skull.
Well, he’s distracted at least, Buffy thought. Of course, he was probably distracted with the notion of blaming her for Sunnydale’s ridiculous murder rate, but still, she’d be willing to bet that Spike had receded in his mind.
“I can’t believe I lived in Sunnydale for all those years and you never noticed.”
“Oh, we noticed, Miss Summers. We just never had enough evidence to do anything about it. About you.”
Good save, she thought, except for it being, like, not good.
“What did you do before I got there? Attend funerals?”
He winced slightly, and she moved in. “And you didn’t notice as many funerals after that, did you?” Class Protector, she thought, and the loss of that one tiny moment of recognition stung anew. Honor Society certificates couldn’t compare with her little Class Protector parasol.
“What I noticed…..”
“What I don’t understand is why, mate,” Spike said quietly. “Town that size, the cops just ignored all the open graves, all the missing persons. I never could figure out what you lot did with your time.” It being California and health-conscious, he’d never seen cops in the all-night donut shops or the bars. Too fattening. He’d never seen them at the Bronze, at Buffy’s house, or any time they actually were needed. He’d heard stories of cops mistreating and pushing around the weaker vampires, the ones who got vamped thinking it’d change them from high school losers into Lestat. They wound up as minions, bullied by humans and vampires alike, never able to learn the skills to move up the ladder, till some cop dusted one with a sharpened stake concealed as a billy club. The cops who grasped something of what went on in Sunnydale---and reacted to it------were almost as bad as the vampires. The walking superstitions that existed in the town seemed to prove that different laws applied, and at least some of the cops had believed, very definitely, in different laws. At least the average Sunnydale cop still believed in some laws, however ineptly they applied them. The other cops believed in making their own.
Spike leaned forward, studying the other man. He was wearing a shirt and tie, he noticed. What was under that collar? It was California and all the other detectives they’d seen in the building had been wearing open-necked shirts without ties. Then, too, with the spotty air-conditioning at Parker Center, ties would be torture. Why would a man wear a tie when everyone else was in shirt sleeves because of the heat?
Riley, he remembered, had taken to keeping his sleeves down once he’d embarked on his own brand of unfaithfulness. He couldn’t handle reality and then he couldn’t handle Buffy, and he’d blamed her for it----more than that, he’d done the one thing that couldn’t have hurt Buffy more. He’d always believed in a sunny world where logic was the ultimate weapon, only to find out that the night was a lot more frightening than he’d ever imagined. And he’d embraced it rather than her.
Riley and this guy, he thought.
Some cops turned bad and went on the take. With Sunnydale cops, it was worse, somehow---the way they went after the minions and the more harmless demons. After all, vampires were demons, and beneath them, the lower orders of demons included things like the Schedkather Gardening Demon, a furry little creature from a dimension afflicted with monster weeds. They were compelled to re-arrange garden furniture when accidentally transplanted to California and when in particularly foul moods they would re-arrange recycling and eat all edible garbage. They were three feet tall, afflicted with toadstool-like acne, and so nearsighted that they had to feel their way around the turf. Some Sunnydale cops had dealt with a recent infestation of them by rounding up the little creatures and using them for target practice.
Must be getting’ soft in my old age, he thought, if this stuff is bugging me.
Vampire, human, he thought. It used to be so simple.
He’d be willing to bet that the guy’s neck looked like Riley‘s arm. Looked like Buffy‘s neck. . Worse than Buffy’s. The voice that heckled his brain sounded rather a bit like Drusilla’s, giving him something of a pang.
Buffy’d had reasons for what she’d done----or allowed others to do. He wasn’t sure what the Master’s bite counted as. But Angel and Dracula had occupied opposite ends of the scale, and he was willing to bet that this guy wasn’t anywhere near to understanding why someone would want to save some vampires even while fighting against others.
And sometimes do both with the same vampire, he thought. He wanted very badly to touch her right then, just to know that she was there. He also knew that the detective would probably interpret such a gesture in the worst way possible.
He cleared his throat, studying the other man, letting the silence tick by, letting the other man become aware of the way he was looking at his throat.
“Maybe I do know,” he said softly. “Do you always wear shirts and ties? Doesn’t it get hot, covering up those scars?”
Jordan’s eyes moved, although his body froze. He stared at Spike. “I---er---don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Spike heard what he wanted to hear, then----the hesitation. He wasn’t like Riley, then, he thought----not enough self-righteousness to carry off blaming someone else. It must bug him at nights, then. “I think we’re done with you, Detective. Somebody’s been walking on the wild side, haven’t they? Gotten bored with all those vampires? I bet you about pissed yourself when you saw all those dead girls. CNN and all being there, what were you going to do.“ The vampire story had another advantage, too-----it was too bizarre to be satisfying to the mainstream news, especially if some enterprising soul named Giles just happened to fax the population figures to various news agencies. “What do you do with ‘em when you’re done? Dust ‘em?” I bet he’s thinking what a shame it is human bodies don’t dust, he thought suddenly.
Buffy might just as well not have existed. The two men measured each other across the table, and she wasn’t a factor at all. Spike saw it in the detective’s eyes: the realization that Spike knew, that the jig was up. More than that, Tate knew that Spike was watching.
“This would be funny,” Tate said finally, “if you didn’t really believe this stuff.”
Buffy cleared her throat suddenly to cover up a laugh. Let’s get Angel in here and see if he believes in the Tooth Fairy.
“Well,” she said. “The thing is, you don‘t know what to believe, do you?” She looked over at Spike. “And it’s really hard to get people to believe stuff if you don’t believe it yourself, isn’t it?” After all those years of unnatural deaths, how do you sell a real murder? she thought. It’s not like the Sunnydale PD even knew how to act like real cops, anyway. He had to nail somebody for those deaths. Once they were solved, Sunnydale and all its secrets could be forgotten. The deaths of the girls had aroused too much attention. “You believe it,” She said quietly. “But nobody else will, so you’re just screwed all the way around.” She leaned really close. “I could tell you right now what happened, but it wouldn’t do you any good, because Sunnydale is gone, isn’t it? The old rules don’t work any more, and you’re in the real world.” He was probably having as much trouble as Spike was, adapting to the changes. They weren’t the only ones hiding something, she realized. He had his secrets too. And he wasn’t smart enough to figure out that if they were forced to reveal theirs, they’d drag him out into the sunlight with them.
She looked at Spike. “You wanna go?”
“Yeah, I’m done, pet.” He rose and glanced down at the detective, bracing his hands on the table. “Next time remember this thing they call evidence in the real world. It can come in handy.”
The door to the interrogation room was still locked. Buffy gave it a contemptuous glance, then matched it with her disdainful look back over her shoulder at the detective. Making sure he was watching, she twisted the metal handle off, and tossed it over her shoulder. Spike jammed his hands in his pockets and grinned at the other man before he sauntered after her. Oh, my God, he thought. We are so bloody fucked now.
In his bare feet, Lamont Neville stood six feet eight inches tall and in his work boots and hard hat he was an inch shy of seven feet, so fear was not exactly a concept he was familiar with. There just weren't a lot of things big enough to scare him. He associated big with scary. For most of his life, that had made sense.
But the ruins of Sunnydale scared him. The tumble into the vestibule of the vault had not scared him, splinters be damned. Returning to the site as the dead started to decompose had not scared him. Even being the lucky winner to find the remains of one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries had not scared him. But this---this was seriously freaky. He was starting to think it was going to turn out to be a splinter that started it all, too.
They went back to the vaulted chamber a day after the bodies of the girls were removed. It wasn't like there was anyone else who could climb down in and get the bodies out. He'd started to wonder if he was getting old. Bad enough that they'd found some comatose guy there after he'd left; where had he come from? Then there was the fact that the crime scenes looked so much different when they got the girls back up to the rim. He remembered the scene quite clearly; there'd been a lot more blood. He was also sure he hadn't hit his head. His hand was scraped six ways to Sunday and he'd probably left a blood trail all the way down to where he'd landed on his ass, but he didn't like to think that he was losing his cool. More to the point, he didn't want to think that his bosses thought so, either. A few comments about the crime scenes looking 'different' and he shut up smartly. Missing a victim? Stumbling like a debutante in high heels? Reporting a bloody crime scene only to look at the photos and see that the victims looked like they'd died in bed? Maybe he had hit his head. It wasn't as if Sunnydale was on a par with Bosnia, so why was it starting to weigh on him?
He'd done lots sites that had been a whole lot worse, and he'd seen things that inspired emotions he didn't think English had words for. He'd once had to rappel into another cavern that had been used as a body dump site somewhere in what used to be Yugoslavia. At the bottom he had found himself confronted with a child's hand amidst all the adult bodies. That kept him awake for weeks afterward, because they simply never found the child it belonged to. It had been a neat cut, too----whoever had done it had not done so by accident. It was the kind of wound that could cause someone to bleed to death, but a tourniquet, properly applied, could prevent that more or less simply and instantly. And so he wondered for a long time afterward: where was the child? It had probably been a little girl, though it was hard to tell with a kid that age; there seemed to be flecks of pink nail polish on the pinky, but who knew? Had someone found her in time? Had they saved her life? Or had she simply tumbled down into the depths to bleed to death somewhere on a ledge in the dark caverns of an unmapped cave?
The best case scenario in that case was that she been wounded and left to die all by herself somewhere in the woods. At least then in his dreams, in his sweaty awakenings after nightmares, he could imagine what passed for a happy ending. Someone found her. Someone rescued her. Maimed for life in a war zone, orphaned, but still alive.
That was not the world of his dreams, though. Did she cry for her mother? Could she still be out there? Did she even have a mother left? Children that age always thought their mothers could protect them from anything, and no kid should have to have that theory proven wrong.
It was like a fairy tale in reverse: it was what actually happened when the storyteller turned the lights off and the luck ran out. The only huntsmen that he knew of in the woods of Bosnia were the ones Little Red Riding Hood should run away from.
Sunnydale's victims were all long dead. Until about two days after they found those girls, that is.
They found a lot of strange things in the wreckage. There were lots of swords, lots of axes, and lots of what looked like wooden tent pegs. Then there were the crucifixes---and the Stars of David. There crystal balls and crescents, Bibles and Talmuds and Korans. To sift through Sunnydale's ruins was to find one's self in the midst of a full scale religious revival. And wherever one went, one found those weird little wooden tent pegs.
It could have been another wacko California town----there were sure enough cemeteries to hint that something wasn't right----but other things countered the religious symbols. There were more than the usual number of bars and strip clubs. The guys managed to salvage the inventory from both types of establishments, and their trailers featured the best beer and the widest selection of g-strings in California. There had also been, to judge by the wreckage, at least one X-rated bookstore and not one but two big chain bookstores somewhere in town. In the end, they wound up crumpled together with a church and a mosque at the eastern end of the pit.
He wondered more and more about what had been going on in the strange little town, what life had been like there before the earth opened up and took them all into the pit. He wondered that even before the rescue workers started dying.
The day they found the dead girls and he took his tumble, he was sure there was no other body down there. The guys stayed around after they hauled his clumsy ass back up to Medical, and no one tripped over a comatose guy, especially a naked one. And why was the guy naked? None of the girls were.
The other strange thing was the dust. It was part dust and part ash, sometimes feathery and light, sometimes gritty and coarse. There were piles of it and it seemed almost like it was made of some kind of glass; there were tiny chips in it. That was where those infernal splinters had come from. His hand had been full of them and by the time the medic pulled them all out his hand booked like it been bitten by hundreds of gnats. Not big enough to bandage, but big enough to scratch, and he did so much of that that finally his hand turned angry and red-looking. He wrapped it up in an ace bandage and stuffed it inside one of his new pair of gloves.
They went back the next morning, him with those stiff new gloves that felt clumsy, and found that the piles of ashes had disappeared. The cavern was too steep at their end for anyone to feel comfortable going down into it, especially with the debris of the town perched precariously on the vault, so they headed back up to find another entranceway into it, but not before he noticed one thing that made his skin prickle.
There'd been piles of dust before. Piles and piles of it. Little mounds of it, actually, each in a neat heap, as if someone had started many little fires and swept the ashes to dispose of before getting distracted. .It glittered in its piles and if kicked danced in the midair, stinging against faces and hands. He began to wonder what would happen if he breathed it in. It felt like bitter snow against his face, sharp and cutting.
But now a lot of those piles were gone.
Each place where one of the bodies had lain had been marked. They'd been so young, and that always made an impression. He was sure there'd been some blood stains. It was the sort of thing he was supposed to notice, after all.
Within twenty four hours, those were gone.
The coroner, he thought. Or those cops. Evidence, that's what it was. They took evidence with them.
They clambered around to where they estimated the other end of the cavern was, and started poking around. That was where he started to feel the hairs on the back on his head start to take a permanently upright stance, even before Gibbs died. It was also where three of Sunnydale's cemeteries had tumbled. He'd looked at maps before going to the site, of course, and he couldn't recall that three of the cemeteries had been located so close together. When the earth collapsed, though, they wound up all jumbled together. It had been kind of amusing to find a strip club piled on top of a house of worship. Finding three bone yards together was not fun at all.
In order to find a way into the cavern they had to pick their way through splintered coffins and remains covered with orange FEMA sheets. Sometimes all there was was a little flag with a number on it. That marked a place where a part of a body had been recovered.
They poked and prodded and measured, got one of the geologists to do whatever it was geologists did, and but finally it Neville himself who located fresh air coming from a ditch. He took a deep breath and smelled sulfur. Worse yet, he had a sudden vision of the drop off at the other end of the cavern, where it had taken six seconds for a rock to hit something. He signaled without looking back, and before long they'd passed the hand spotlight up to him. Gibbs was the one who called it the Batsignal; it was the sort of thing that could be seen for ten or twenty miles on a clear night.
Shining through a hole at the end of what looked like nothing more than a drainage ditch, it revealed merely a prosaic chamber with dirt walls and rough shards of stone as a ceiling. A dark shadow off to one side looked promising. They broke open a larger space for the rest of them, then squeezed into the chamber expectantly. Neville tied off a guide rope to the ditch's iron grate almost without being aware of it, so automatic was the response. It was somehow comforting, having a good stout rope around.
The air was coming from that dark little corner, and when he poked the spotlight through it, he found himself staring at a cavern that must have stretched the length of the pit. Stalactites the size of redwoods held up the roof here and there, but beams of sunlight showed clearly where something or somethings had broken through the vault. The floor was white and shimmery with that dust, and the air seemed to sparkle the way it did with the first snowfall. It was weird and awful and exhilarating all at once.
A gentle slope led down from their perch to the floor and Gibbs was the one who was skinny enough to go through the hole first, the rope rippling behind him. The sunbeams and the reflections blinded them all, so at first the sheer size of the cavern was not apparent. It took an hour to carefully move down the slope, which had to have been a half mile deep. The Batsignal was more of a hindrance in those conditions than a help, and Gibbs laid it on the ground at the bottom, both to rid himself of its weight, and to mark the spot where they'd make their ascent.
From the floor of the of the cavern, the light changed their perspective so abruptly that the sunlight became blinding, and the shadows became voids. The headlamps didn't help at all against that heavy darkness; they just made the dust dance.
They had to get right up on it to realize that one of the shadows they were looking at on the floor was a body. Then they had to get within a few yards of him to realize that he wasn't one of the bodies from one of the cemeteries, either. There was just too much damage to the head--and it was fresh. A closer look compounded the mystery. There were pink stains around the body. Pink, not red. Where was the blood?
The body was wearing the dark blue uniform of a firefighter or a paramedic, lying just outside of a beam of light. The uniform at least was dark with blood, the patches as dark as the uniform fabric. The darkness was such that his legs were only dimly visible in the shadows. Neville glanced up automatically at the hole in the vault above him before checking for a pulse in the throat. The throat felt all wrong so he turned on the lamp on top of his hard hat and found himself confronted with what a ten-story fall can do to the human skull. After another minute or so, he realized something else; the back of the guy's uniform had been shredded. There were dozens of little holes and rips in it. There were no piles of that dust near him or under him that he could have fallen into. And no blood. Neville looked around carefully. A body falling from such a height had a tendency to bounce upon impact, but this guy had landed on what seemed to be the only area on the floor that was clear of those little piles of dust. He'd fallen, been fatally injured in the process, had been cut very badly and in a lot of places, and had bled out. Somewhere. Just not here.
Neville rose slowly from the body, looking around slowly. "Guys! Don't touch anything! Be careful where you step!"
That was his Crew Boss voice, and it had kept them alive in every type of cave and cavern there was. They froze instantly. He was suddenly grateful for the stiff new gloves. He'd always hated replacing just one glove, so he'd gotten a whole new pair to replace the one he'd lost in his fall. They were so thick and hard that the shards of whatever it was in the ash and dust just kept sort of slid off without pricking.
Instinct prodded him to turn the body over again and pull at the shredded uniform on the corpse's backside. There were only a few small bloodstains here and there on the material, enough to make the patches blend with the uniform, nothing more. After the fall and the bounce he'd obviously crumpled flat on his back. There was no lividity that Neville could see. The blood had not had time to settle before it had….had done what, exactly?
He looked around, gently laying the body back down on its back. The sun coming in was viciously bright in his eyes, and he stepped further back to get out of the glare. Seen from down here, the pillars of light were blinding against the void of the cavern. There were too many of them to allow the eyes to adjust, so that he had to squint and peer to make out the dull shapes of his crew.
There was no signal on the radios, so that meant they'd have to clamber back out and notify the officials. It was standard operating procedure, something they'd seen and done a hundred times before, like tying off a guide rope.
There was no reason for Gibbs, the skinny one, to be the one who broke the rope and fell, no reason for him to fall backward down that slippery, treacherous slope. He had old, tough, comfortable gloves, the sort that stuck to the rope like skin to skin. He was light and skinny and quick and usually led them up, but he had the Batsignal to carry.
There was no reason for the rope to snap like that. Neville replayed it in his head a hundred times that night, over and over again, reversing it and slowing it down, finding the moment when the rope suddenly went loose in his hand, when Gibbs' hand slid out of his as he started to tumble backwards.
It was the thing that he tried to put out of his mind that joined him in the dark vaults of his dreams that night. It was the feeling of Gibbs' hand jerking out of his as he grabbed for him one last time. It was the sensation of sudden force, reaching up out of the darkness to grab him and yank him back down into the pit.
The rope didn't break. Something yanked on it with such force that it jerked apart with a snap, one end slashing across his face like a whip.
And it took Gibbs with it.
The next day at evening roll call another firefighter was missing. And Neville found his way to the huge vault beneath the cemeteries, and found her lying in a section of floor that looked like it had been swept clear of dust. Only a few pink stains lay around her to mark her death.
While the cops processed these crime scene, he felt something under his boot and looked down. It was a small green book, and in picking it up he realized it had to come from one of the religious places. On its cover was a crescent. Beneath it in the grass lay a Star of David.
All those graveyards, he thought. All those churches. He understood, and it scared him.
He looked at the police, accompanying the body out through a double line of firefighters, saw their faces. They had guns, computers, and the sort of power that his muscle and size did not give him.
They were scared, too.
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
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
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
"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
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
"Try life crisis. And even that's boring. I'm not sure I'm not
"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
"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
"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,
Spike hissed as she drew one finger across his lips. "I hope it's a small,
"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."
"Lock the door," Spike said.
"She did that," Buffy answered. She turned around in the living room and
looked at him. "I need to take a rain check."
"Rain check?" He said. He blinked. They both looked rather startled---had she
ever turned him down before?
Once, she thought.
Once, he thought.
They both found other things to look at. "Why?" he asked.
"There's something I need to check out, and I don't know if your former
vampiness might set it off. So until I'm sure, I have to go by myself."
"God, I should have snagged Niblet," Spike said. "Could have taught her how
to cheat at poker at least." He sat down disgustedly. He couldn't say what he
really thought, which was even more annoying: I'm a liability now, aren't I?
It gave off a distinct whiff of self-pity, and that was Angel's forte, not
his----at least, not while sober. He rather doubted she had booze in the house.
"Spike?" Buffy said. "Remember the part where I said get over it? Now
would be a good time to start."
Spike stared at her for a second. "Who died and made you relevant again?"
"I did," she said, not affected in the slightest. "And so did you. Could you
remember that more often?"
"But you came back with your party tricks intact. I didn't."
"Are we going to compare? Because we can do that later."
Spike winced. "Why not now? I'll ask my personal assistant what's on my
schedule for today."
"Spike, can you stop? Something's going on and I don't know what it is and
until I do I will tie you up in this apartment to keep you safe if I have to,
Spike raised both hands in a placating gesture but compromised the gesture by
raising one eyebrow. The degree of sarcasm inherent in the latter gesture made
Buffy shake her head. How does he do that? It's just an eyebrow!
"Well………….." he said thoughtfully. "You could just tie me up, you know. That
Buffy whipped around at the door. "What?"
"I said, you could just tie me up."
Buffy stared at him. Tying him up. Oh, my. How was she going to
concentrate? Bastard. "You did that deliberately," she said slowly.
He shrugged, raising his hands in mock surrender, but then he shifted,
nonchalantly shrugging his hands behind his head and crossing them. "Maybe," he
said. "But if I have to be babysat like a bleedin' plant, you can just believe
I'm going to give you something to think about."
"What if you make me get distracted and---"
"Buffy," he said disgustedly. "You never get distracted." After a moment's
pause, he smiled. "Or do you?"
"I'll show you distracted," she threatened, but the door remained closed.
"Just wait, Mr. Smug."
"Go," he said dryly. "You have to go and then get home before Dawn does."
"Relax," she said. "Blackmail and extortion are time-consuming. She won't be
home before dinner."
"Well, I was hoping you would be, too."
She looked down at him, at a disadvantage but unsure of how to regain her
footing. Damn the man. Him and his small butt and his blue eyes and that
infuriating ability to make weaken knees.
"Leather or rope?" she asked pertly.
"Surprise me," he said lazily, lazily studying her. "Lady's choice."
"I'm going to get your for that," she said.
"I hope so."
The door slam didn't sound very victorious after that.
She walked for a while and then caught a cab back to Beverly Hills, wondering
if it were possible for her to accomplish her mission and somehow have the
crashingly bad luck to run into either her dad or her dad's new wife. That would
just make the dysfunction fest complete. She found a nice little Thai café
across from the department store, took a table near the window, ordered some
coffee, pulled out her cellphone, and laid it on the table. After a few sips,
she had enough courage and caffeine to dial the number. As it rang, she tried to
think of something intelligent and compassionate to say, but when he finally
picked up her mind was blank.
"Hey, Buff," Xander said. His voice had a peculiar quality to it: something
measured and deliberate, as if only certain words were allowed. "How are
"That's what I want to know about you," Buffy said quietly.
"Well…" Xander said. There was a long thin pause during which he seemed to
hold his breath. "I'm glad you called. I wanted to bury something from the store
with her. I think she'd like that."
"That's a wonderful idea, Xander." She sipped her coffee. "What were you
"I don't know," he said despairingly. "I can't find the store." He held his
breath again. "I, uh, drove up there. They're still not letting people down. Too
many----bodies." Strange how this was so different from all the bodies they had
seen, all of strangers and monsters. This was different. Mom, Buffy
thought, and her throat ached.
She gulped. Coffee's too hot, she thought. That's it, and I'm clinging
desperately to my first rationalization of the day. "I'm sure---there's got
to be something around. Um…" she searched for a change of topic. "We could go up
there, you know. It is your property now."
"You, uh, want to go with me.?"
"Sure," Buffy said, pausing. Carefully, she mustered her enthusiasm. "Sure I
will." They sat in silence for a while, and they each thought of a morgue
building, and a dry hot parking lot.. "So---any other news?"
"They haven't found my folks yet, if that's what you mean."
"Yeah, I guess they haven't gotten as far as excavating Lucky's Saloon," he
said. "If they do, I'm wondering how I'm going to fit Mom and Dad's favorite
barstools in their coffins."
Buffy smiled into the phone but her throat ached suddenly. "You could always
use them as headstones, you know."
"Yeah, it'd be cheaper than stone. Plus, you know, Lucky was too cheap to
spring for metal, so in case anybody needed slaying, they could just break them
off and---you know." They both fell silent, then. The world was different now.
There were many Slayers now, many little groups of friends congregating in the
graveyards. The days of the vampire were numbered.
"You need any---other help?" Buffy asked.
"With the funeral?" She wondered where he was, and mentally kicked herself
for having stayed away----out of respect. How stupid, she thought.
"Yeah, I don't know what I'm doing. If I did it the way An would want it,
she'd have a send off with kazoos so as to not spend the money, and her dress
would be made out of dollar bills."
Buffy winced, but Xander kept going. "I've thought about it, but I don't know
if people would understand that. She was like a kid with marbles. You can't do
much with 'em but collect 'em, but money's different. It was a toy for her, you
know? I want to make sure she's got some with her. It'd, um," his voice bobbled.
"It'd make her feel safe because I can't----I can't---go with her. And I wasn't
with her, either, and I think if I could just kind of make that up to her----"
He sniffed and Buffy pressed her hand over the mouthpiece to keep her sniff from
reaching his ears.
"Xander, don't do that. I will come over there and I will---I will---do
something to you, I swear."
"Would you?" he asked. "I've got some videos. I'd like---not to be a grownup
for a while."
"I can do that," Buffy said gently. "When?"
"Right now too soon?" he said gamely. "Yeah, I know, there's the lack of
Willow, but you could bring the kid sis along."
She noticed he'd omitted mention of Spike. "Dawn is blackmailing Angel."
"Dawn is---Oh, wow." He sucked in his breath. "On second thought, can we just
go down there and watch?"
"I'm trying to keep the phrase 'plausible deniability' in mind," Buffy said.
"What is she doing to him?"
"Not sure. If I don't find out, I can avoid all the nasty overtones of
revenge and sisterly vengeance, stuff like that."
"How are she and Spike getting along?"
"It's sort of a truce---I guess," she added. "They used to be such good
"Yeah," Xander said. "Funny how that happens." Buffy waited for the
inevitable reference to that thing, but it didn't come. She puffed out
her breath. That alone told her how down he was: he could never resist taking
shots at Spike, even though his own hands weren't exactly spotless, either.
When he's this decent about Spike, I worry, she thought, then felt
"So---You want to do videos or something stupid?"
"Well…I kind of can't do it today."
"Oh," he said.
"There's something going on, Xander."
"Yes," she said simply.
"Need some backup? Just like old times, huh? Oh, wait, where's my cane, I
sounded like Giles for a minute there….."
"It's just that…." Buffy squirmed, and the server, who looked about fourteen,
hurried over with more coffee. "It's just that I don't know what it is yet, and
I want to find out before I expose anyone."
"Jeez, Buff, what is it?"
"It's weird, whatever it is. Not good weird. This is weird where I seriously
hope I just need medication weird."
"What kind of medication?"
"I'm thinking either that anti-depressant stuff, or something that'll take
the paranoia away."
"That bad, huh?"
"No," Buffy said firmly. "Totally not that bad. That I know of. It's just not
knowing that's weird."
"Yeah, it's the stuff that you don't know that bugs you," he mused. "Or the
stuff that doesn't end."
"It'll end, Xander," she said quietly. "It does get better."
"I hope you're right, Buff. Because this is worse than one of those
And to that she had no answer. She settled in for a long watch, for the woman
that should not have set off her radar that way.
Spike had kept his crypt rather neat but something about picking up bits and
pieces in the flat just bugged the hell out of him. It was one thing to pick up
after one's self, but what was he now? A maid? He was halfway dressed before he
realized he didn't even have a key to get back in the place. Effectively he was
He showered, laid on the bed for a while then paced. He clicked through
channels on the TV restlessly. Another good thing about being a vamp---you slept
through all the crap daytime TV. Had TV gotten worse? He squinted disgustedly at
some awful show that seemed to involve very large women tossing pieces of
furniture at one another while two men smirked from opposite sides of the stage.
One man looked like a tenth-rate pimp; he was both scrawny and flabby, with a
mustache that failed to cover the sores that came from serious drug use. The
other one was smoothly surgically-preserved, with a brightly-colored suit and an
unctuous manner, rather like a game show host moonlighting as a funeral
director. Spike turned the TV off in disgust and tossed the remote aside as if
it were unclean.
That left food.
He padded out into the kitchen. The fridge was full of green things, nothing
that you could really zap in a microwave and eat with your fingers. Everything
looked depressingly healthy. It would have to be chopped and diced and measured
and combined with other healthy things. That was entirely too many steps. He was
hungry, dammit. He just wanted a snack, not a gourmet meal. Why did it have to
be so bloody complicated? He stared into the fridge sourly. Good old days,
indeed. Why, when you were hungry, you just found a likely-looking neck and you
didn't even has to press any buttons. No muss, no f-----
Someone knocked at the front door, and Spike's heart fell to his bare feet.
The police. They had come to arrest him. He glanced around wildly for a
hiding place, then caught himself and banged his head against the freezer door.
William the Bloody looking to hide, he thought.
Think, he thought. Think, think, think. They couldn't break
down the door, although the one probably would do it if he thought he could get
away with it. Even so, not likely. You're safe. Nothing to worry about .
But when he eased cautiously toward the door, he grabbed a butcher knife to take
The door had a spy hole and after a moment, he raised up and looked through
it. What he saw was so startling, he dropped the knife and nearly skewered his
Angel stood outside in the hallway.
Spike bent over and picked up the dropped knife and wiped it off on his
thigh. Then he looked up. "Granddad," he said dryly. "How's tricks?"
"I wouldn't know, William," Angel said. "I was never into that kind of
Spike rolled his eyes so hard that it felt like he had pulled a muscle. Then
it occurred to him that there was a reason Angel hadn't shoved his way into the
flat yet, coat flapping just so: He hadn't been invited. Buffy would certainly
do so in the name of maturity, I'm-over-him and general things like that, but
the fact that Angel himself had not yet been by the place in all the time she'd
been here was unintentionally illustrative.
So was the way he turned his back on her after he dumped her, Spike
thought. It was possible to forgive Angel for some of the shit he did---he
wasn't the best brick in the load by any means, but bricks couldn't aspire to
much----but what he'd done or avoided doing for Buffy made him wish, just for a
few seconds, for some of the tasteful wooden implements Joyce had had in her
kitchen. A nice teak spatula would do just fine. A wooden spoon would be even
better---so undignified when sticking out of the chest. Then there was the
ever-popular wooden pencil. Angel didn't deserve a stake. He deserved
death with mundane, common things that would provoke more comment than the pile
of dust they in which they would be found.
"I'd ask why you didn't invite me in," Angel said dryly, "except I know it's
because you can't." He leaned against the wall.
Only someone in the household could so, though it was murky how one became a
member of a household---blood relative? Marriage? Whatever was the definition,
he wasn't about to test it and get humiliated in front of The Hulk. "Shame you
didn't come see Buffy earlier, then, isn't it? I mean, when you had the chance."
Spike leaned in the doorway likewise. In a battle of attitudes, never let it be
said that he was an also-ran. "Was there some reason you wanted to avoid----er,
I mean, talk to her about?"
"Nothing that somebody who's not family should hear," Angel said calmly. "I
usually don't want to confide in babysitters."
"It must be difficult talking about something you don't know anything about,
huh?" Spike drawled maliciously. "I have to give you a hand for trying---well,
except for Buffy's family, that is. Nice touch. Then again, Dawn didn't care
much for you, though, did she?"
"Apparently she does now," Angel said. There was an ominous tone in his voice
that perked Spike right up.
"Dawn likes blackmail, too," Spike said thoughtfully. "She'd be frightening
as a vampire."
"Only you would think that, Spike."
"No, only I would have balls enough to think it and say it, Grandpa," Spike
said. "Tempting as it is to lean here and exchange insults all morning, is there
any particular reason you decided to come over poke a stick through the
human's cage?" Just good enough, he thought, to keep Angel
guessing: the dig at Angel's continued vampish existence by pointing out his
own upgrade, the petty bonus point for calling an end to the festivities, and
the implied takeover of the flat, even if he was squatting. From the look on
Angel's face, he'd recognized an imminent defeat in the battle of wits.
"I've picked up one or two things Buffy should hear," Angel said finally.
That last piqued Spike's interest: didn't have the Watcher on speed dial,
did he? Burning bridges or just letting them rot? The latter was definitely
his style. "I'll tell her."
"Want a pencil?" Angel asked. "Every good secretary should have one."
Spike grabbed the door to shut it, denying Angel the satisfaction of pissing
him off---visibly. "A wooden pencil? Just what I'd love to give you." He shut
the door and leaned his forehead against it.
God, what he needed was to get out of the bloody flat and into something.
Something violent, something he shouldn't want to do, something that would
break chairs and lamps and heads. Just once, that was all he asked. Once a
week, he amended, just like an old fart's sex life. That would do him
Stupid humans. He tossed the knife in the sink and then flopped down on the
couch. No key to the flat: once he left, he'd be stuck. He couldn't wander about
with the Keystone Kops after him, but staying put was going to kill him.
Death by day time telly, he thought. Here lies Spike, AKA William the
Bloody, killed by a Jerry Springer-induced stroke when his brain imploded.
Nice thing about being a vamp; no blood pressure to worry about.
The flat was full of various girlie rags, magazines which he wouldn't light
his cigarettes with, but there were few books he hadn't either read or would
deign to tolerate. So trash it was. He flicked on the TV with a flick of his
wrist, turned it up, and settled into reading Cosmo's Sex Tips. This is all
Angel's fault, he thought. He didn't know how, exactly, but it was.
Buffy studiously avoided the department where she'd seen Myrtle and cruised
up to Juniors. Why not combine business with pleasure?
But she wandered disconsolately amongst the racks for fifteen minutes while
her disquiet notched up. It wasn't just the fashion, although the Seventies
hadn't looked good the first time around; there was something else going on.
Usually this department was staffed with girls who were encouraged to wear the
wardrobe and advertise, yet suddenly, the staff appeared to have experienced a
turnover. The girls like herself had disappeared; suddenly the staff was older
and more….well, more made up. They looked like a group of grandmas who had given
their granddaughters the day off and taken over the registers.
Edith, she read off someone's name tag. Amelia. Emily. Nice
names, all of them. And rather old-fashioned, too. She wandered further
and further afield, encountering both more horrifying fashions and more scary
geriatric makeup. It was so nice that the store was hiring older cashiers and
workers, really. How bad could that be? Is there such a thing as Take Your
Grandpa To Work Day? She felt more guilty than intrigued now.
So many of them, she thought. All at once.
Myrtle's words prickled at the back of her neck and seemed to impell her
downstairs, but once there, she paused in consternation. It was the reverse of
upstairs; here there were lots of slender young girls, working amongst the men's
wear and womens' sections. She looked around cautiously. The makeup alone should
have stuck out, but she didn't see any clown like slashes of rouge or eyeshadow.
Maybe she got dusted, Buffy thought, oddly disappointed. Maybe
she got fired for makeup abuse.
She noticed a spot on her blouse suddenly when she passed by the make up
counter and grimaced. While she was wiping at it with a Kleenex and checking her
progress in the mirror, she froze suddenly. Behind her was a young girl putting
things away behind the cash register. Nimbly, her hair swinging in a bright red
curtain, she bent and dipped, reached and twisted. She was moving so fast it
took Buffy a while to catch sight of the plastic tag on her chest. On her name
tag in fancy script, it said, eltryM.