Joyce didn’t smell right.
Not that she smelled bad, like hadn’t showered in a week bad, or anything like that. No, it was her base scent, the kind that every person had that was uniquely theirs. Spike had paid enough attention to her over the last couple of years that he could tell something was wrong.
She was also suffering some pretty severe mood swings, at least according to Dawn. Not that Herself had noticed. Nah, the Slayer was too wrapped up in Captain Cornfed and the College Experience to pay much attention to her mother and the Nibblet.
Well fine. It was up to him then to make sure Joyce was taken care of. She’d been right good to him since he came back to Sunnyhell and he’d do right by her if he could.
Spike knocked on the kitchen door and smiled a little when Joyce turned away from the sink to see who it was. She smiled back at him and waved him in. Part of him was humbled that the Slayer’s mum hadn’t let the witch perform the un-invite spell. It made him feel…good to know that she trusted him, and had even before he’d been chipped. She’d given him some good advice about Drusilla, even though it hadn’t worked. He chalked that more up to Dru being completely barmy than anything.
He had told her she was safe with him and she’d believed him. He hadn’t even been lying at the time. There was just something very soothing about Joyce Summers that made him want to be around her. He was pleased that she seemed to like his company just as much.
“Good evening, Spike,” Joyce said as she turned back to the dishes she was rinsing. “I wasn’t expecting you tonight. Dawn’s at Janice’s for a sleepover. Is there something wrong?”
Spike took off his coat, laying over the back of one of the kitchen chairs, and joined her at the sink. He nudged her over a little and started drying the clean dishes so he could put them away. He’d bathe in holy water before he’d let any of the bloody White Hats see him being so domestic, but he was happy to help Joyce.
“Nothing unusual out in the world, as far as I know,” he replied. “I just wanted to check on you. You’ve seemed tired lately.”
“I am,” she said softly.
Joyce didn’t say anything else, so Spike let it lie for now. They finished with the dishes and Joyce dirtied some more to make them their customary mugs of hot cocoa with the little marshmallows. They sat at the kitchen table and slowly sipped their drinks in companionable silence. When Joyce set her mug down, Spike did the same. He shifted his chair around so he was next to Joyce then took her hands in his. She looked at him in bemusement, but didn’t pull away.
Spike chewed his lip for a moment, unsure how to approach what he wanted to talk about. Finally, he gave a mental shrug and just went for it. “I think you need to go see a doctor, luv.”
Joyce blinked at him for a moment then laughed uneasily, but she still didn’t pull her hands away. “I’m just feeling a little run down, Spike. With the gallery, and the house, and Dawn’s extracurricular activities, and worrying about Buffy, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for me to rest. I’ll be fine. There’s no reason to worry.”
Spike turned their hands so that he was cradling hers. He ran his thumbs over the inside of her wrists and could feel how jumpy her pulse was. He looked at her intently. “You know I have better senses than most, right?” Joyce nodded and he continued. “Well, I can use those senses to tell things about people; whether they’re happy, sad, scared, stoned, drunk…or if they’re sick.”
Joyce blinked at him again. “What?” she queried faintly.
He tightened his grip on her hands. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, luv. I just know that something’s not right and you need to get looked at. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I don’t think you should let it go too long.” He looked down for a moment then met her eyes again. “You should prolly see someone in LA. I’m not sure I’d trust any of the doctors here. The hellmouth can play merry hell with the damnedest things.”
Joyce just stared at him for a while, but not really seeing him, and Spike let her. He had nothing but time. Eventually she shook herself back to the here and now and looked at him uncertainly. “You’re that worried?”
He nodded firmly. “I am. You’re one of the few good things I’ve got in this godforsaken town. I’d rather keep you around, if it’s alright with you.”
She gave him a watery smile. “You know, most women don’t really appreciate being referred to as a thing.”
He let go of her hands and pressed his right one over his heart. “I meant it in the best way possible.” More seriously, he said, “You are a classy bird and you’re my friend. I like to take care of my friends when I can. I don’t have so many as I can just lose one to a whim.”
Joyce’s lower lip wobbled and her eyes filled up with tears. “Oh, Spike.”
He maybe panicked a little. “Oi! No tears. No reason for that, luv. We’ll get you checked out and fixed up in no time. You’ll be right as rain soon enough.” He grabbed his coat and rummaged through the pockets, finally managing to pull out a relatively clean bandana. He handed it to her and she dabbed at her eyes. When she seemed calmer, he said, “Better?”
Joyce nodded and looked at the table, running the bandana fretfully through her fingers. “I-“ her voice cracked and she cleared her throat then tried again. “I knew something wasn’t right. I don’t feel right, but I didn’t want to think about it.” She shrugged. “This place breeds denial, I guess.”
Spike’s mouth twisted. “That it does, luv. That it does.” He tilted her head up with the edge of his hand and gave her a reassuring smile. “But you’re out of that river now and we’ll nip whatever it is in the bud. Yeah?”
She smiled back at him. “You should let the others see this side of you, William.”
Spike blinked at the use of his given name then scowled at her. “Oh bloody hell, no. They’d take it as a sign of the Apocalypse and stake me in an effort to avoid it.” Then he looked down at the table and said softly, “’sides, why should I be nice to them when they’re never nice to me.”
“Oh Spike,” Joyce murmured before she shifted her chair around and wrapped her arms around him. Spike stiffened in surprise for a moment then just kind of melted into her embrace. He returned the hug and they just sat there for a long moment, taking comfort in each other.
When they finally let each other go, Spike cupped Joyce’s cheek and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. Hers parted in surprise and their tongues met just the tiniest bit, but he didn’t try to deepen it any more than that. Now wasn’t the time, and he honestly wasn’t sure if either of them actually wanted that kind of intimacy or not. He’d have to ponder that for a while. He let her go and watched her blink a couple of times.
“Oh my,” she breathed out. Then her face scrunched up and she looked at him with a curl to her lip. “You taste like a chocolate ashtray, Spike.”
He barked out a surprised laugh. “Licked many ashtrays lately, have you?”
She stuck her tongue out at him and reached for her lukewarm cocoa. After she took a cleansing sip, she said, “If you plan to kiss me again you better brush first.”
He definitely had some thinking to do.
“I will keep that in mind.”
Joyce blushed prettily and they lapsed into another comfortable silence as they finished their cocoa. The clock in the hallway struck midnight and Spike decided he should probably go. She needed to get some sleep. Without a word, he stood and gathered their mugs and took them to the sink. He washed the saucepan she’d used along with the spoon and mugs and set them in the drainer. When he turned around, Joyce was leaning on the island, studiously looking at the countertop.
“When,” she started hesitantly then took a deep breath and looked up at him. “When I get that appointment, would you go with me?”
“Of course, Joyce,” he said immediately. She looked a little surprised that he’d used her given name, but this was serious business. He linked their fingers together and she squeezed them tightly. “Whatever I can do, I will. I’ll be there for you. Never doubt that.”
She exhaled shakily and laid her head on his shoulder. He rubbed his free hand up and down her back comfortingly.
“Stay with me tonight,” she whispered.
Spike blinked and went completely still. “Um.” He felt her shaking and maybe panicked a little again. “Oh, please don’t cry. Of course I’ll stay! Whatever you need, luv.”
Joyce straightened and he scowled at her when he saw she was laughing silently. She put her hand over her mouth, but a little giggle-snort escaped and then she was full-out laughing. He scowled at her, but his lips twitched and he finally shook his head at her and smiled.
When she calmed she patted his cheek and said, “I didn’t mean it like that. I just don’t want to sleep alone tonight.”
And that he could understand completely. “I’d be happy to, luv. I’ll be on my best behavior, promise.”
She smiled at him. “I never thought otherwise.”
Her smile faltered and he could see the worry creeping back into her eyes. He pulled her into another hug and said gently, “Come on. Let’s get you to bed. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow, yeah?”
They locked up the house together and made sure all the blinds and curtains were shut for in the morning. Joyce handed him a new toothbrush and he rolled his eyes even as he grinned at her.
Once they were settled in bed and Spike was holding her, Joyce said sleepily, “Thank you, Spike, for watching over me.”
He kissed her forehead and gave her a gentle squeeze. “Anytime, luv. Anytime.”
He had no idea what the doctors would find, but that was a worry for the morning. Right now he would just hold his friend and sing her to sleep.
And if it was the best night’s sleep either had had since moving to Sunnydale, well, no one else ever had to know.