Someone's burning candles in his crypt. He pauses at the door, listening for life. Used to be he'd find Dawn here, curled up in a chair, asleep or staring at a wall, but she has another, warmer corpse to huddle next to now. More lately it's been Buffy he stumbles in on now and again staring dully into space, face closed, eyes dead as ash. But it won't be her; he's just tailed her safely home from patrol and watched her bedroom window go dark. There's also that Selnak that's had it in for him since he ran its nest-mates through - a side gig, not Scooby stuff. None of their business if he goes about killing a few nasties on his own time.
But there's no scent of blood, human or demon, living or spilt, and no sound but the faintest muffled heartbeat - rat, likely, probably nestled in his cushions somewhere. Home sweet home.
He'll just have to take his chances. He pushes the door in.
The woman wrapped in a serape on the sofa glints her familiar, brittle smile. "Spike."
He's already reaching in his duster pocket for the stake. It's instinct; he's barely grasped who she is. "Darla."
"Aren't you glad to see me?"
"Can't say I am." His fingers tighten around the worn wood.
She catches sight of it and rolls her eyes. "Don't bother with that thing, I'm not here for trouble."
"Aren't you, then. 'Fraid maybe you haven't heard the word. I'm in the staking business now."
She heaves a sigh. "Is Dru here?"
"Haven't seen her in months. Don't know where she is. Now, would you mind getting out of my crypt?"
She closes her eyes, rubs at her temples. "Look, Spike, could you just wait a minute? Please?"
Please. There's a word he wouldn't have thought ever to hear from her, not directed at him or anyone. Nor is she as glamorous and glowy as her usual. Her hair falls in yellow strings and her eyes are shadowed some way that isn't just lack of sleep.
Stake still in hand, he steps just far enough inside his front door to lean against the sarcophagus. Not relaxed, but sitting, after a fashion. "I don't know where Dru is," he repeats.
"She came to get you."
"Yeah, and I didn't want to go. Doesn't look like you stuck around so long yourself."
She snorts. "'The next time I see you, I'll have to kill you.' Seems I was no longer welcome."
"Our Angelus tell you that?"
She glares at him. "I didn't come here to talk about Angelus."
"Yeah, well, I don't know what you did come here for."
She huffs a sigh. "Neither do I." Then she sniffles. A tear rolls down her cheek. Then another. And then she lays her head on the back of the sofa and starts to bawl.
If it's a trick… she would pull that sort of trick, just a moment and she'll turn around and laugh at the look on his face. But she doesn't, and after a bit he goes and finds the tissue box he lifted when Dawn first started coming around.
Darla takes a tissue and rubs it at her eyes. After a moment she's back to a sniffle, and then her eyes are open again, reddened but clear. "It's these damned hormones," she says.
"Ah, love." He doesn't know why he called her that. Darla never had any patience with pet names. "No pulse. No breath. And no hormones."
"Next you'll be telling me we don't get pregnant."
She flings open the serape.
He lifts one careful eyebrow. "Dru didn't mention you'd one in the oven when she turned you." Doesn't seem the sort of thing Dru'd leave out, either, though trying to predict Dru is a fool's game. "Developing quite a flare, our Dru. Gets it from her da." He feels his expression souring.
"No, I got this from her da."
He settles slowly back against the sarcophagus. "Did you now."
"He's my next stop. I figure if anyone can explain this to me, it'll be him and his little band of do-gooders. But I thought maybe Dru, with the sight…"
"Sorry, love." A thought catches at him. " S'got a heartbeat." That was what he heard, standing outside the crypt.
"Does it hurt?" Like it hurt her, he means, the merry buxom girl Angelus turned when she was just weeks from birthing. An experiment, he called her, one of several during that obsession with the scientific method. Risen, the fledgling curled in on herself and screamed until she'd no voice left. She wouldn't move, wouldn't even take blood, and Darla eventually staked her. She said the girl would draw attention, but Spike didn't believe even then that that was why she'd done it, nor that her taste for veal was the only reason she didn't let Angelus try again.
Darla snorts a laugh. "Everything hurts. Back, neck, ankles. Cramps. I threw up blood every morning for six months." But then she shakes her head, and he knows she knows what he meant. "No," she says softly, "It doesn't hurt." She pulls the rough red cloth around her again and he isn't sorry. Even living on a Hellmouth hasn't prepared him for this.
"Is there anything I can do?" he finds himself saying, and then glares at her for surprising it out of him. This isn't a sodding family reunion.
But she's hauling herself - ungainly, unbalanced - to her feet, not even looking at him. "Just need to get to the station before my bus leaves." She glanced up at him, eyebrow cocked. "Am I likely to run into your Slayer?"
Not my Slayer don't I wish what do you mean my Slayer…?
"This place reeks of her." She peers into the shadowed corners of the crypt as though expecting someone to leap from one of them, and then she turns that searching glance on Spike. "It's a bit unusual, don't you think, the Slayer fraternizing with a vampire?"
"You think I bloody well don't know?" A flash of light in her eyes, and he knows he's given himself away. But then, she probably already guessed.
She laughs that low, controlled laugh that betrays no amusement. "Funny how I lose all my men to the same woman, one way or another."
"Never under the impression I was one of yours."
She shrugs the objection away. "Dru's the only pure one anymore, you know that?"
Lesson number one: vampire means impure.
"Angelus with his soul, me with this - thing. And you chasing after that Slayer slut. What's become of us? The scourge of Europe and beyond, and we're the tabloid gossip of our own kind." She starts to tear up again, but she blinks them away. "And now I'm sentimental, and nostalgic - stake me now, Spike."
He's seen that dullness in another's eyes; he knows she isn't kidding, even if she doesn't. He doesn't care to ask why it matters to him. "None of that, now. I take a holiday when family's in town. Let's see you off to the great metropolis, shall we?"
She grabs his arm and pulls him to her - no question of being weak in her delicate condition, no. With a grip like steel she pulls his hand in and lays it on that broad round belly she hasn't any right to. "Do you feel it?"
He'd pull away but she isn't letting go, and after two surreptitious, panicked breaths he relaxes long enough to hear that gentle beating again through his fingertips, and then startle backwards at a jab of movement against his palm. Darla releases him and watches, gaze unreadable, as he stumbles away.
"It's bloody unnatural," he says, shoulders hunched against his own jumpy nerves.
"And your pretty dreams about the Slayer aren't?" She doesn't give him a chance to answer. "We're vampires, Spike - we've always been abominations. No one cares if we're a little bit more unnatural now. Who's checking to see we're good little vampires, following the rules? When did we ever admit that there were rules? When did you?" She looks up at him with the barest hint of a smirk.
He gives her the blue inscrutable, waiting for some sense to fall out of this Socratic engagement. Then - Your pretty dreams about the Slayer? Surely she isn't giving her blessing… "What did you come here for?"
She grimaces. "I told you. Nostalgia, sentiment. It's not pretty." She hefts the duffle sitting at the sofa's end and flashes him a smile with a touch of her old humor - not that those smiles were ever visited much on him. "Be a good boy, William."
And then she's gone. He doesn't follow; it isn't as though she's ever had much need for chivalrous protection.
Bloody obnoxious woman. Served the brooding bastard right - not that he ever seemed to notice what a dreary time he was having. Deserved each other, they did.
Still... Bloody abomination, that's him. Doesn't hurt to have company, he supposes. Even hers.