November 2014, Oakland CA
Only the tabloids called it vampirism. To the politicians and the healthcare providers it was known as Photosensitive Haematomania, or PHM. The internet was divided on which was the appropriate term to use, since many vampires seemed happy to self-identify that way and no one could decide whether ‘haemo’ was a slur or not, even as the most popular noun to describe a PHM sufferer. No one was either quite sure whether it meant anything to include the A.
PHM was a recognised condition, with psychological treatment programmes and awareness campaigns, but no actual cure. Buffy could never remember when and by whom it had been officially ‘diagnosed’, but it was all shifty anyway. Bullshit and rumour. Called on, no one was quite sure how it was spread, so everyone assumed sex or drug use and a few more wholesome things in-between. It came with a system of legal regulation, which mostly seemed to boil down to a guarantee of the death sentence whenever it could be applied. Which happened often; haemos couldn’t serve jury duty.
But it wasn’t just haemos dying. And so they were the ones people blamed for the turn back of the law to harsher punishments. More than that, haemos were the reason why you couldn’t eat a decent steak anymore without getting funny looks. Haemos were to blame for the cult of ageless youth plaguing the entertainment and beauty industries.
The sad fact was, as far as Buffy and the Watchers’ Council could measure, they were all living in a better world. Fatalities were down – way down – and vampires for the most part kept to themselves and their sympathisers, whom they collectively treated relatively well. In the last year Dawn had even made the move to reclassify vampires in the annals from Class I demons (evil by nature) to Class II (evil by choice; aggressive). The vote hadn’t passed, but it still marked a sea change.
It was a world Buffy could never have seen coming, any more than she’d have figured some people would actually go for Google Glass. The thing was, as much as it was better, Buffy wasn’t sure it was all that nice.
“Fifty bucks?” Faith spat from Buffy’s side. “Are you fucking kidding me? For a gallon of pig you probably scraped off the slaughterhouse floor?”
Somewhere along the way, it had stopped being weird that Faith was a vampire. It had stopped being weird that they lived together, originally so Buffy could keep an eye on her one-time co-Slayer, now-time friend; these days so they could save on cash. Because some stuff was expensive.
“I’ve been around a long time,” the man behind the counter spat right back, taking Buffy in his glare as well. This was the bay area, but apparently even that couldn’t buy you tolerance in this life. “I know what you haemos really are... The price is forty-nine eighty.”
Butchers really did have it kind of bad. People had gone a little squeamish about meat, at least in California, so times were tough. Still, as Faith’s anger was apparently close enough to the surface to make Buffy’s own tingly hackles rise, she didn’t have that much sympathy. “We’ll take it,” she said shortly, pulling up her purse. “But you can keep the attitude.”
Habit meant that she paid for the blood in cash. Everybody did, though Buffy wasn’t quite sure why. Some of the more paranoid vamps Buffy knew down Club Sanguine, the local vamp bar – they thought the government was trying to track vamp communities, so when the time came they could wipe them out. Buffy wasn’t sure what to think. Technically she had a given calling to do just that, but mostly she thought Bart made a mean pineappletini and the soulless gang could be kind of hilarious.
She was a lot more chill these days. Likely that was because most of the vamps she met had never killed anyone and she didn’t have too many other friends. The Council wasn’t really her home anymore and the teachers at the school where she worked didn’t think she did a real job, listening to students angst about their problems. So she was officially a Mina, as people called the vamp groupies. Even if it was five years too late.
“Have a nice night,” the butcher told them sarcastically once he’d finished bagging up four particularly sad-looking quarts.
Faith took them from him, holding the bag to her denim jacket. “You should be glad I don’t kill people,” she said before they left the store. The butcher muttered something behind them, but Buffy couldn’t be bothered to listen.
“I think it’s getting worse,” Buffy commented as they headed back to the car. She didn’t understand why it should be. It sort of made sense, of course, that since vampires weren’t really like any other minority they couldn’t expect to be accepted so easily. The majority of them were, for real, not very nice people. And there was shady stuff that happened – people knew about the mirrors and the invites and the lack of heartbeats, but they didn’t know what to do with it, how it made sense. PHM was meant to be a psychological epidemic as much as anything, so the invites and aversion to crosses and stuff were extreme psychosomatic responses which played into learned tropes about vampires, but no one knew how that could work or how it could be catching. A few religious types came out and said they were actually demons, which it seemed like people didn’t quite believe, but it set them on edge all the same.
It was hard to work out whether this mass delusion was healthier than the one that said vampires didn’t exist at all, but it seemed like a step in the right direction – even if demons themselves still snuck under the radar. What Buffy couldn’t work out was whether vampires really were that much nastier than the general population, not now that they didn’t kill or steal, on the whole. The strength thing didn’t make much difference when they kept to themselves – and the new state of affairs didn’t show the human population in the best light, most of the time.
“It’s human nature,” Faith said, sounding unperturbed as she broke into Buffy’s thoughts. “At the heart of every Joe Normal there’s something that gets off on the hate.” It had been three years now she’d been turned, so Buffy supposed she was used to the looks. They got some coming out of the butcher’s, from a woman holding a children close in a way, ten years ago, Buffy would have told her was pretty darn sensible. It was just kind of a shame that ten years ago she probably wouldn’t have thought to. “It got a little hairy there for a while,” Faith added as they back towards their car, heavy traffic filling out the silences. “You know, with gay marriage and Obama and whatever – but now they’ve got us all to hate on, so everything’s OK. And we don’t give a shit – ‘cause we know they’re just us.”
Buffy rolled her eyes, because she knew that last sentence wasn’t entirely true. Either part of it. Vamps could be sensitive and a lot of them were, Faith included, in a way that seemed to go right along with the callous bitch persona. Also, “People aren’t vamps.” This was the one truism, maybe the only one, that had stuck with her all this time. “People make vamps, but something definitely happens when the demon goes in. People get scared and lash out at the unfamiliar; vamps get angry and figure it out through sadism. Unless…”
Turning her head, Faith stared at her, kind of shrewd, kind of offended, kind of challenging. The age difference between them was getting noticeable now – Buffy in her mid-thirties; Faith not long past. It made sense, though, because Faith had always been younger. Buffy just wondered if it would have got weird yet with…
“Don’t get back thinking on them, B,” Faith interrupted her thoughts, apparently more than able to realise which group of exceptions she held Faith with. “You know it’s not worth it.”
They were almost at the car now, but for a moment Buffy didn’t want to go home. It was always way too empty. “It’s only been five years,” she said, repeating what she’d thought a million times before. “They could still be out there. They could come back.” The world had changed in the last five years and Buffy couldn’t believe that Spike and Angel hadn’t been around to see it. She couldn’t believe Spike would vanish from her life right at the moment when the world would have accepted him in it. Most of the time she could get by without thinking about it, but sometimes it just chafed. It was too unfair.
At her side Faith rolled her eyes, completely out of empathy. It was probably better that way. “You’ve gotta accept they’re gone. If they’re out there then they don’t wanna be in touch. It’s over. You blew it. Not sure what you did to piss Angel off as well, but, hey, maybe they ran away together…”
At that moment, however, Buffy caught sight of something that had to be an hallucination. Maybe the reason they’d come to mind in the first place. “Faith,” she said, trying to pull herself out of whatever fantasy she’d let herself fall into. “Faith,” she said again, since it seemed the other woman was lost in a daydream of her own. “Faith! Who is that leaning against your car?”
Finally Faith looked where Buffy was looking. There was a figure standing on the sidewalk, arms stretched out over the top of the roof and its head hung between them, looking into the backseat window. Buffy couldn’t make out its head, and it was wearing a khaki jacket that looked three sizes too big, but the way he stood – if it was a he – he called up a dozen hundred memories, every single one that Buffy had held onto way too long.
“No idea,” Faith commented uselessly, apparently not seeing what Buffy was seeing. That was OK, though; they’d never really spent that much time in each other’s company, had they? “But I’ve gotta say,” Faith continued. “If he scratches that paint he’s a dead man.”
“I think he already is,” was all Buffy could say, before her feet were taking her rushing over to the figure’s side. She touched his arm, and when he looked round it could have been any moment from any time that they’d known each other. His face was gaunt, way thinner than it should have been, and his hair was grown right out to a sandy blond-brown he’d still managed to get slicked back somehow – but he looked at her with the same affectionate mockery, the same knowingness and the same little stab of bitterness that he’d had even before he’d loved her. “Spike…” she said, and she knew she sounded like some stupid romance heroine.
“You kept my blanket,” he said, sounding bewildered. It took her a moment to realise what he was talking about, but then she remembered the old fleece Faith kept in the back of the car, in case of the need to dash through the sun. It was Buffy’s; neon green and navy blue Fair Isle fleece. She’d bought it years ago, definitely not for Spike even if he was the only one who’d ever used it. Under duress for it being so ugly. The same way Faith did, though that was really because Faith was too cheap and too proud to buy herself another one. They didn’t play the same games – like Spike was playing now, asking her, “Why on earth would you…?”
And then, quite suddenly, he was collapsing into coughs, sinking into her arms. “God, Spike; what happened to you?” Buffy asked, clutching his carcass close to her, brain shorting with shock. She’d never felt him this bony, and he’d got pretty light the year she’d come back from the dead. Then at least he’d had muscle tone. She reached around him, trying to open the backdoor, her scrabbling hand useless with nerves and the heady dopamine shot of elation. This couldn’t be true; it couldn’t be happening. She asked again, “Where have you been?”
“Around,” Spike coughed as the door came open Faith managed to shove them both inside, passing Buffy the blood. That was – that was actually a really good idea. Spike let out a loopy sort of snigger before adding, “Got caught up for a while.”
“Caught up…?” Buffy asked, rummaging through paper. She wasn’t sure how to even start thinking about what he was saying. “You weren’t…”
Spike only snarled in response, cutting her off as he grabbed at the plastic quart bag and dragged it roughly to his mouth, fangs already drawn. His hands were clasped around Buffy’s and she shuddered as she felt the pressure of the bag opening, the force as he held it closer and swallowed.
Shivering, she tried to centre herself. There would be time for questions later. There would be time. He needed to feed, and they could talk. She could find out…
“Well I guess you win, B,” Faith said as she came in the driver’s door. The door slam made Buffy jump. “Looks like he must have escaped from somewhere.”
Maybe a pint down, Spike sniggered again, all bloody fangs and yellow eyes in a way that left Buffy speechless. “Oh, it’s much worse than that,” he filled the silence, tongue swiping around his canines before he took the bag from Buffy’s hand and tilted it up to get the rest. “They let us go.”
As Faith pulled out from the curb, Buffy felt a single, lonely shiver run up her spine. She wasn’t sure way, but she knew something was very wrong – and she couldn’t tell whether it was with Spike or with the situation. It made her nervous.
But then Spike’s eyes were sliding to hers and he was taking hold of her hand again; her mind shut down. All she could think about was the last time she’d seen him, the last time they’d spoken.
December 2009, Cleveland OH
“So, do you and Angel have any plans for New Year’s?”
Unintentionally naked again, it was the only thing Buffy could think of to say. Her apartment was a mess, partly because it was too small for her stuff and partly because she lived like pig, but mostly because she’d pulled Spike out of the taxi and proceeded to hump him in pretty much any space that was available or else rudely occupied by furniture.
Finally, however, they were in bed, because in one moment of mutual dopiness Spike had led her there by the hand and she’d snuggled with him under the covers. There had been more kissing, but that had eventually resolved into breathing rather than the other thing, her curled up against his chest as the winter cold seeped into her back.
“Doubt it,” Spike answered her question, nuzzling the top of her head. “Just work bollocks. Nothing special.”
Buffy bit her lip, holding back the urge to ask him to stay with her. It was a weakness she had when they were like this, completely related to the weakness she had for kissing him and taking off his clothes, though she always managed to be strong enough for the very last hurdle.
Because she knew, she always knew that as much as she wanted it, it couldn’t work. Teaching and slaying with the Council meant that she had barely any time for a boyfriend as it was, and she’d grown used to living on her own. The bank found her finances already suspicious enough, just like her landlord, so it was going to raise a lot of questions if she suddenly introduced an undocumented foreign national into the proceedings. They’d get bored of each other in two weeks. And well-adjusted modern women simply did not take up with men who could not be introduced at any daytime events. They got a cat or something instead. Or else only caught up with their vampire once every three or four months, never officialised anything and generally pretended for the rest of the time that nothing was going to happen.
How actually sad was it she’d been living in the same holding pattern for almost five years now? That was what she wanted to know.
In an attempt to distract herself, Buffy asked the other question on her mind. “Did you see there was another news report – about the vamp disease?” She couldn’t quite believe it, that people were actually starting to think about vampires as real. It was the single chink in her argument against Spike’s presence in her life, not that she’d ever told him that. Every time it got mentioned, her resolve weakened. “What d’you think it’s gonna mean?” She doodled her finger over Spike’s chest, trying to tell him without words all the stuff she was thinking about. “Would you wanna be reclassified? Do the psych tests? I can’t think any of it’s gonna come out good, but…”
“Buffy,” Spike said seriously, like he was changing the topic. “How long are we going to keep doing this?”
She pulled back in his arms, apprehensive. Somehow he seemed too willing to let her go, limned by the grainy halogen she’d dimmered for the romance. And he hadn’t picked up her hint. “What d’you mean?” she asked, even though she could more than figure it out.
“I mean this,” Spike replied, searching her eyes for something Buffy really hoped he could see. “I mean not hearing anything from you for months at a time then getting called up on false pretences for what always ends up as nothing more than a protracted fucking booty call.”
She winced. “Please don’t call it that.” It sounded really weird when he said it, the ‘boo’ all round and un-casual. And he put too much emphasis on the T. Plus it wasn’t, even. “Besides, it’s the same when you invite me to LA.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t plan for it to…” Spike trailed off, looking away. Presumably he realised that she could have said exactly the same thing. “Look, is there something I should be doing on my end?” he came back with, a little hopeless, a little guarded. Like he already knew what was coming. “Where do you want this to go?”
“Don’t make me say it,” she asked him softly, really hating where the conversation was going. Their encounters always ended with something like this and she hated it. Especially because she hadn’t worked it out; it was too early to really think it through and he was always pushing her. And when he wasn’t pushing her he was telling her it was him, that there was stuff to figure out and get done. He always forgot it later, but he ran hot and cold just as fast as she did and it made her nervous.
Like now – he seemed to think he’d found courage, but that couldn’t make her forget all the time he’d spent hiding away from her. “I think you should say it,” he hold her, raising his chin. But she knew he’d only hear one answer. “I think you should tell me. I think we should both finally suss out what we mean and do something about it, not just muddle on forever. Because we could have something, yeah? Something real.”
The certainty in his voice made her eyes tear up. It didn’t help that she was full of sex. “Spike, I love you. You know I do.” She said it to try and convince herself, because, actually, looking at his face, she could never be sure he did. Which was why she had to be the bitch and continue, “I love you, but we can’t… I don’t know how it could ever work between us. For now we might be OK but what about in ten, fifteen years’ time? It hurts enough as it is… I can’t get into something heavier that’s doomed to fall apart.”
Oh hell, Buffy realised, as a feeling of déjà vu passed over her, as Spike got his mulish, hurt expression on his face. She’d said the same thing to Riley, hadn’t she? She remembered precisely using the word ‘doomed’, could hear it in her head.
The thing was, that relationship had been doomed – but not for the reasons she’d thought it had been. But the fact that she was thinking it again, saying it again… But it seemed so clear to her that that was how things were. It couldn’t be just how she saw stuff. It couldn’t be like, oh, what was his name psych-vamp Spike had sired when he was crazy… She wasn’t that un-objective, surely?
Spike was looking at her like she’d broken his heart. “I used to know how to take risks,” he choked out, smoothing circles over her forearms with his thumbs. “I did. But then I got this soul and I… I wish I could tell you we’re a sure bet, but I can’t – but I don’t know why that means…” Suddenly then he seemed to force his mouth closed, shaking his head like he didn’t trust what was going to come out of him.
Buffy wished she could work out what to say. She’d run out of romantic courage a hell of a long time ago. “We could at least keep in touch more, right?” she asked, taking a hand to the nape of his neck and wondering how the heck she was ever going to give this up. If she realistically ever would. “Be better friends?” Spike inhaled once with his eyes closed, like he was determined to recover himself. She promised him, “We don’t have to just Romeo and Juliet it up the whole time…”
“All right,” Spike then said after a moment’s silence. He looked drained and she could feel his pain like it was her own. “But can we go to sleep now? Not sure I’m up for more of this tonight.”
For a moment she thought about resisting, but then she decided that she had to give him this. “Sure,” she agreed, the tears not gone from her eyes as she rolled over to switch out the light. His arms didn’t seem quite so yielding when she curled back in.
The next morning he was gone.
November 2014, Oakland CA
The combination of the moving car and a bellyful of blood seemed to be enough to send Spike to sleep quicker than a baby. By the time they made it back home he was slumped on Buffy’s shoulder with his hands resting across her thighs, out for the count. If he’d been awake it wouldn’t have been too unwelcome a come-on; as it was, Buffy could only be grateful that he wasn’t repulsed by her and her memory.
Easing his body out of the car, she and Faith steadily heaved Spike up into the house and ultimately to Buffy’s bed, because it seemed like the most sensible place to put him. He half woke up on the way, dragging his feet groggily up the stairs, but with a stroke of his hair and the admonition to get some rest he was out like a light again the moment his head touched the pillow. His hand remained in a feeble hold around Buffy’s fingers; she sat by his side, dipping the mattress.
“What do you think happened to him?” she asked Faith. The shock hadn’t quite worked its way through her system, but her voice was steadier now. She figured it wouldn’t wake Spike up, and it would be good to have some answers before he woke up. “He can’t have been starving five years; he’d be gone by now… But this –” Yet again she glanced over the lines of his body, where it lay under the heather and moss pinstriped duvet. There was absolutely nothing to him. “– this takes a long time.”
“I dunno, B.” Faith was lurking in the doorway, just like she always did if she had to get Buffy from here. Apparently all the crosses under the bed and in Buffy’s jewellery box gave her the heebie-jeebies. Buffy had had no idea vamps could tell if it wasn’t a church. “He was somewhere and they let him, go right? What about that time he got taken before?”
“You mean with the Initiative?” Buffy asked, frowning. Faith shrugged, one arm crossed over in front of her. “You don’t think they’re actually capturing vamps, do you?” There were conspiracy theories – everyone in vampire circles knew the conspiracy theories – but barely anybody believed them. It just wouldn’t make sense to piss off the vampire population back into being as murderous as they’d been before. “It doesn’t make sense.” She looked back to Spike, fidgeting and shuddering slightly into the covers. “Not to mention – why would they let him go?”
“Not a clue,” Faith replied, sounding much more together than Buffy was. “D’you want me to ask around at the Council? I was meant to be going in anyway.” Despite her tone, though, Buffy sometimes got the impression that she cared.
Which was why Buffy had got into the habit of trusting her, pretty much like old times. Or maybe more than that, which was weird. “That’d be great, if you could.” And she even remembered to add, “Thanks,” shooting a smile back towards the door.
“Don’t sweat it,” Faith replied, a little enigmatically. “Least I could do for the guy who made you give me a chance… But I’ll see you when I get back.”
She was gone, then, before Buffy had a chance to think of a reply. The room fell quiet and Buffy glanced around, not soothed by the wheezing edge to Spike’s breathing. Her place these days was exactly how she’d always wished he could have seen it – décor that actually existed, sturdy furniture she thankfully didn’t often need to use as a weapon. She had the rug on the floor that she’d picked up travelling, an occasional chair with a couple of cushions she’d liked at a craft sale. For the first time since Sunnydale, she felt like she had a home, and she just hoped this time she could convince him – and herself – that there was a place for him in it.
“Oh god,” Buffy whispered to herself, eyes squeezed shut. Spike’s fingers twitched around hers. What was she going to do? She didn’t know what she was going to do at all.