Buffy would have strenuously, if unconvincingly, denied that she was hanging around the house and missing two early lectures, just to wait for the mail to be delivered. But she was. When the mailman walked straight past her house without pausing, she slumped her shoulders, and then put on her brave little soldier face.
As she walked down the garden path on her belated way to college, she noticed that the lawn was torn up in several places, one area looking almost charred, another covered with a nasty black residue. What had been going on last night? Frowning, she carried on, flipping open the mailbox, just in case something had been hand delivered. There was a crumpled, stained flyer inside, advertising a shoe sale, and she pulled it out. It was covered with flowing, copperplate writing on the back and she rolled her eyes as she scanned down and saw the signature. No valentines, a letter from Spike and it was still only 10.30. The day could only get better but it probably wouldn’t.
“Slayer,” it began tersely. Buffy’s lips tightened as she walked over to the garden seat and sat down, but curiosity kept her reading. “Just happened to be in the neighborhood last night and was walking past your place when –”
Spike stood patiently, his back to the large oak tree outside Buffy’s house. He was watching, he was waiting. He had all the time in the world.
Like any predator he could blend into his surroundings. His fair hair might have been a patch of moonlight against the rough bark, his leather coat a deep shadow. The burning end of his cigarette mimicked a firefly as it moved up to his mouth and bobbed about, before returning to his side.
He was waiting for Buffy’s light to dim; he was prepared to wait all night. He had an errand to run and he would see it done before he slept. Unconsciously his hand fingered the stiff rectangle within his pocket and his face was filled with a puzzled, almost resentful yearning, as Buffy’s silhouette flashed briefly across her window.
She was in pajamas. It couldn’t be long, surely, before she went to sleep. She had had a busy night. He knew - he had trailed her, killing as many vampires as he could, competing with her for his own amusement, but failing to match her score. She fought well; he had to give her that, even though that skill had foiled so many of his plans.
The light finally went out and he waited a few moments more, just in case. Hurrying never helped. His nanny used to say that to him as she puttered about the nursery, her stiff white apron rustling, her capable hands moving slowly about her daily tasks.
Finally he began to move towards the mailbox, his footsteps muffled by the thick grass of the lawn. He had gone only a few yards when he hissed, turned and grabbed. “And just what do we have here?” he said in a silky tone of pure menace. His eyes flicked up and down the wriggling figure in front of him. A bit of a kid, sixteen at most, all spots and hormones. Contemptuously he released his hold on the boy’s coat, secretly grateful that his chip hadn’t triggered. Though by the look on the lad’s face, he’d done some mental damage. Boy looked terrified. Good. He hadn’t quite lost his touch then.
“I just, I didn’t mean – wh-who are you?” the boy stammered, his face pale in the light of the moon.
“A friend of Buffy’s that’s who,” said Spike sharply, twisting the truth slightly by the neck, without a twinge of guilt. “And I don’t take kindly to pathetic gits like you hanging around her house.”
The boy straightened up, his eyes shining. “No, you don’t understand,” he said earnestly. “I’m her friend too, at least, well, she doesn’t know me, except, well, she’s seen me, of course she has, but I don’t suppose she remembers –” He gave a foolish laugh and then flinched as Spike looked, if possible, even more dangerous.
“Last chance,” Spike said almost gently, tossing his cigarette down and grinding it out with the toe of his boot. “Three words or less; what are you up to?”
The boy’s eyes looked hunted now and he began to blush. “Delivering a card,” he said finally, nervously producing one from his pocket, his hand trembling slightly. “You probably don’t realise it, but she’s a wonderful person. Well, you said you were her friend so you must know that.”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Spike, his thoughts on a less lofty plane. “Her hair – the way it glints and sort of bounces. Not to mention her bouncing –”
The boy looked scandalised by the introduction of such personal details. “She saved my life from three muggers!” he announced, his chest swelling, his hand going to a fading bruise on his face. “A tiny, sweet little girl like that and she just did this punchy, kicky sort of thing and well, I didn’t see all of it, but when I got out –”
“’Out’? Out of where?”
“The dumpster. She sort of, well, threw me in. But I don’t blame her or anything,” he added hastily. “And when I came out, they’d gone somewhere, just vanished, and she was standing there, in this pool of light, like an angel –”
“Don’t use that word,” said Spike gloomily. “It’s nothing like her and it brings back bad memories.”
“Huh? Anyway, it was amazing. She wouldn’t let me thank her; that’s the kind of girl she is, but I, well, I followed her home once or twice trying to get up the nerve to say something but, well, she walks fast, you know, and well, with tomorrow being such a special day I decided to come back and, well –”
“If you say, ‘well’ one more bloody time –” said Spike through gritted teeth as the babbling began to grate on him unbearably. He moodily chalked up another benefit of being chipless. In the old days he killed them before they had chance to bore him. Ah, happy times!
“What did you say?”
“Nothing,” Spike sighed, wondering what it took to dam this river of repetition.
“Well, that’s about it. S-so if it’s all the same to you, I’ll just put this in her mailbox and well – why does your face look different?”
Spike growled at him, game face on, and watched with satisfaction as he screamed high and long before scurrying off on wobbly legs, the card fluttering to the ground, forgotten. “Told him not to use that word,” he thought virtuously, bending to pick it up. He glanced at Buffy’s window and saw her appear for an instant, drawn by the scream. He faded back into the darkness until she finished scanning the street, now silent once more.
Moving into the moonlight, he studied the card from the youngster, tearing open the envelope with scant regard for etiquette. He frowned. The card was nothing special, all roses and kittens, but what was written inside made his fangs ache with the urge to bite. The predictably fervent outpouring of frenzied devotion was rendered still more hideous by being in verse. That was bad enough but the last lines read, “We were meant to be lovers but fate dealt me a blow/ Cursed me so cruelly, more than you’ll ever know/So to make you be mine, my darling Valentine/ I’ll bite you when next the full moon doth shine.”
Spike winced at the limping scansion. Once a poet, always a critic. So Buffy had rescued a werewolf looking for some company had she? Explained his chip not triggering too. He made a mental note to track the boy down and take care of him before he went all hairy in a few days and came after his rescuer. Shouldn’t be too hard. He hadn’t signed the card but he had stuck an address label on the back of the envelope. Plonker.
“After I saw off Mr Furry, I was going to push off, because, as I said, I was just passing by for no particular reason. Wasn’t like I had a card or anything. Huh. That’d be a laugh, right? I didn’t get far, though –”
Spike turned towards the mailbox and paused. More rustling in the bushes? What the hell was this? How many more grateful, lovelorn, homicidal teenagers were going to need thwarting?
A figure emerged from the shrubbery and Spike’s eyes widened as his gaze moved up – and up. No skinny youth, but a seven foot Graklar demon, ivory tusks sharp, clawed hands deadly.
“What’s up, mate?” he said smoothly, sliding into game face again in a bid for demon solidarity.
The demon growled at him automatically but didn’t attack, all his limited attention focused on the house in front of him. “Slayer lives here?” he demanded.
“Yes, but –” Spike began.
“She killed my mate last night.”
“Ah. Sorry to hear that. Sounds just like her though. Got a mean streak if you ask me. Should see the way she punches me for no good reason -”
“We were to have bonded tomorrow. I would have eaten her shortly after, of course, but that’s not really the point, is it?”
“Does tend to muck up the natural order of things if they die first,” Spike agreed, edging round to the demon’s side.
“So I will kill the Slayer in memory of my beloved. And because she looked rather tasty I will stretch a point and eat her instead, even though she is human and they tend to repeat on me.”
“Good plan. Worth the indigestion. Need a hand? I can point you to her room.”
The demon looked down at the vampire and nodded. “That would be kind, yes.”
He took three steps before it occurred to him that a guide should be in front of him, not behind, and he began to turn around, suspicion flaring in his blood red eyes.
It was too late. Spike leaped up and buried a stake in his only vulnerable spot; the third eye, low on his thick neck. The demon fell to the floor, thrashed around for a mercifully brief time, and died, slain by Cupid’s arrow in a rather more literal way than usual.
“If you remember, that would be about the time you decided to give me a refreshing drink after all my hard work. Much appreciated. Nice to see there’s still some gratitude and good manners left in the world. I’m being sarcastic here, pet, but I suppose you got that, didn’t you. Sorry if the ink’s smudged. I’m still a little bloody damp. Do you know how long it takes leather to dry?”
Spike dusted his hands off, starting to feel a little exasperated. It was turning out to be more of an epic quest than a simple errand. Buffy’s window slammed up suddenly, startling him, and she leaned out looking annoyed and tired. “What’s going on down there?” she hissed. “I’m trying to get some sleep here, people. Spike, is that you?”
Spike swaggered forward, tempted to quote from the equally immortal Bard, but wisely restraining the words that trembled on his lips about light softly breaking and all that. “Hello, Slayer,” he said easily. “Just tidying up a bit down here. Seems you’ve had some unwelcome visitors. A stalker who’ll turn into a werewolf in a couple of days and a demon with a grudge. I sorted them out of course. Glad to be able to help out.”
The thick silence that poured down as Buffy processed this was one thing. The jug of water she emptied on him a minute later was quite another. Cursing and spitting, he backed away, looking up in disbelief.
“If you think stalker demons don’t go with the landscape, I suggest you go home,” she hissed unkindly, shutting the window with a decisive bang.
Spike stared up at her window, mouth open with amazement. “Women,” he said with deep, if transient, loathing. Shoving his Valentine into the gaping jaws of the demon, already beginning to dissolve into oily mush, he started to move away, squelching slightly. He got a few yards before the bushes rustled again. Sighing, he turned around…
“Slayer, got to go now as it’s nearly sunrise and I’m bloody knackered. After the werewolf and the Graklar demon there was a steady stream of vampires, demons and even a couple of zombies. You really don’t want to know what they’d brought you as a Valentine gift. I killed them, naturally. Got a few bruises but not to worry, a good time was had by all. Well, I had fun, anyway. Around five, there was a bit of a lull, and I finally spotted the demonic love charm nailed to the gate and realised why the sudden interest in you, which, to be honest, I found strange, as demons tend to stick to their own kind. Those compulsion spells never work well. Attract all sorts of nutters. Hate to tell you, but I think that’s down to the witch you pissed off last week. You know; the one who wanted to dig up that grave so she could get the bone of a murdered child for her spell, but you wouldn’t let her. Her way of saying ‘thank you’ I suppose. Don’t mess with a witch, that’s my advice. For what it’s worth. Not that you ever listen to me. After all, I’m just the one who – oh, sod it. I’m off home.
P.S. I took the charm down. Tempted to stick it up over at Harris’ basement but knew you’d get all unreasonable if I did. Ever thought of getting a sense of humour? Or would it clash with your -”
The writing tailed off because Spike had run out of paper. Buffy stared around the garden in disbelief. She had heard some scuffling after she’d poured the water over him, but if Spike’s account was correct it had been a war zone here last night. Pushing the letter into her bag, she set off for college, deciding to call Xander and warn him to look for the charm, in case Spike had changed his mind.
“And I do so have a sense of humour,” she muttered as she walked down the road. “What about my puns and witty word play as I slay? That vampire was giggling when I staked him last week!”
“So, did you get any Valentines?” Willow asked a few hours later, fingering a hand embroidered cushion that looked new, with an oddly tender smile on her face.
Buffy glanced over at the table where Riley’s roses stood stiffly in a vase, tight buds with no scent that would fade before they unfurled. She thought back to a crumpled piece of paper, marked with water and stained with blood.
“I think I got two,” she said, rolling her eyes. Then she smiled.