There were advantages and disadvantages to vampire slaying in San Francisco. There were no active cemeteries, for one thing. Sure, there were the tourist spots — like the 220-year-old graveyard at Mission Dolores, or the honest-to-god pet cemetery on the Presidio grounds — but all new human burials had long since moved a couple of towns to the south. Specifically to Colma, the “City of Souls”, with 1,600 living residents and 1.5 million deceased ones. Public transit being what it was, Buffy limited the boneyard patrols to nights when she wanted the girls to have a long hike home. The result was that she came across very few newbies in town. Which: hooray for the lack of ground-in grave dirt on her slaying outfits. The downside was that the vamps she ran into tended to have a bit more going on in the way of skills. Maybe that was an upside? She liked a challenge as much as, if not more than, the next slayer, but she was worried that perhaps some of the more wily vamps were managing to evade her and her team.
Due to the lack of centralized risings, she mostly rotated patrols between the nightclub districts and the parks. In diametric opposition to Sunnydale, there were far more bars than churches in the city, and there were a lot of churches. She was sometimes nostalgic for the days when she could check in at the Bronze, the Fish Tank, and the Alibi Room, and still have most of her evening free for a leisurely stroll through the peace and quiet of one of the many resting places, alone and able to hear herself think.
It was possible that her memories were a bit selective.
Tonight her squad was mustering on the grounds of the Columbarium in preparation for a patrol of the Richmond district hotspots. Only cremated remains were interred at the Columbarium, but it was pretty, and helped get the girls into the right frame of mind for the evening’s activities.
“Once again, ladies: it only looks like we’re bar-hopping. The goal tonight, and every night, is saving lives. Split into pairs: the two with the best fake IDs will do a quick sweep of the interior. Keep together! The other pair sweeps the outside perimeter. Seven minutes, tops, per establishment, unless you get a positive. You will purchase absolutely no beverages while on patrol, nor accept any that are purchased for you. We’ll rendezvous at Quickly at Clement and 23rd for bubble tea at twenty-three hundred. Understood?”
While Yeji and Celeste high-fived at the prospect of a late-night treat, Pilar explained to Ashley, once again, that Buffy meant 11 o’clock. “I don’t know why she doesn’t just say so,” muttered Ashley. Pilar shrugged.
Buffy asked for a show of stakes and handed out water bottles before sending them on their way. They chattered happily as they moved off, which made her a little melancholy. Mostly she was happy that they still got to be girls, hanging out with their friends while saving the oblivious populace. She liked to think the adorable charms and stickers with which they customized their stakes were evidence of light hearts and age-appropriate responses to their responsibilities. But she missed having her old gang to make her own patrol fun. Though, given the direction she and Spike had taken her nightly duties — age appropriate for approximately nobody — maybe she was better off being relegated to chaperone.
She’d give them a five-minute head start, and then do rooftop surveillance. Clambering up and down buildings kept her from getting too antsy in her supervisory role. Plus, when a bad guy did appear, she got to swoop down in an intimidating manner. It’s the little things.
She slung her backpack across one shoulder and considered starting her evening with an invigorating shimmy up the Columbarium dome. There was a nice view from the top, and why bother living here if you weren’t going to take full advantage of the stunning vistas? Besides, she was feeling sort of twitchy; it would be good to work out a few kinks early on to keep the unease from setting the tone tonight. She headed for the low buttress on the west side, the best spot to start the climb. Almost immediately, her vamp sense began chiming more insistently than it had since Sunnydale. She considered calling the girls back to unite against the as yet unseen threat, but a peek around the corner of the building settled the matter. This was not a training exercise. This was seriously bad news.
Twirling in the moonlight, rending her fingertips on each rosebush she passed along the twisting path, was Drusilla.
If Buffy didn’t know better, she’d say her blood turned to ice in her veins. A vision of Kendra, lying in a wide pool of blood, hung in cinemascope before her, no less affecting than the day it etched itself onto her retinas. The first Slayer she’d failed to save had been an especially bitter blow, one she still avoided thinking about. It was an experience she vowed on the spot not to repeat with any of her new girls, and certainly not with this crazy Princess of the Damned Goth Chicks. It was way past time to put her out of Buffy’s misery.
Mentally cursing the lack of crossbow — those never seemed to go unnoticed on the streets of San Francisco — she slid the backpack off, strapped on a few more stakes, stuffed a few bottles of holy water in her pockets, and then just went for it.
She dove into the rose garden without warning. She came up out of her roll, stake in one hand, holy water in the other, less than 10 feet from the still twirling Dru. She drew her arm back to let the holy water fly when she heard a shout from off to her left.
She spun to face the new threat, and was immediately tackled by a blur of black and silver. She lost the grip on the bottle in her hand, but she brought the stake down into the shoulder of her assailant, where the point skittered off at an angle when it hit something harder than vamp flesh. Her wrist twisted uncomfortably. She wrenched free from her attacker, and took up a defensive position facing both Drusilla and…Spike.
Drusilla had downgraded her spinning to swaying, looking with interest between Buffy and Spike. He rubbed his shoulder, no doubt bruised, alternating between shooting sideways looks at Buffy and staring at the ground. Was he shuffling? While she probably ought to have been speechless at the long-delayed sight of him, she found it ridiculously easy to talk.
“What the hell, Spike?!”
“Sorry ‘bout that,” he replied. “Didn’t expect you to find us. Thought we’d get a chance to explain, first.”
We? She tapped the stake against her thigh, drawing his eyes. He swallowed, visibly.
“Explain what? Hurry it up, I’ve got a Slayers’ Most Wanted waiting.” She gestured at Dru, who indeed looked like she was waiting. Patiently. Her hands were even clasped behind her back in the most provoking way.
“Can’t kill her at present, love.”
“Oh, I think I can,” retorted Buffy. “Let’s see.” She moved toward Dru, only to find Spike standing between them. She gave a sigh of exasperation. He looked directly into her eyes, and dropped the bomb.
“She’s got a soul now.”
Buffy felt as if every moment when she’d uttered that phrase — it’s different…has a soul now — was being stuffed back down her throat. She was sure she was going to choke on its echo. With sudden clarity, she understood how ridiculous it must’ve sounded to every person she’d ever said it to. All the rolled eyes, carefully blank looks, and disbelieving “uh huhs” she’d steamrolled over were rising up to mock her now. She could only stand, slack-jawed, as she tried to work out where to begin with the obvious wrongness of those words. She was startled out of her disorientation by the sound of nervous throat clearing.
“Hullo, Buffy,” said Spike, looking up at her from behind lowered lashes. She wondered, not for the first time, how he managed to make her name sound like “goddess” after it had been dipped in chocolate. Dark chocolate. The good kind. He transmuted awe and sensuality into sound waves — just a few syllables with the power to liquify her bones. It felt like he was drawing a warm blanket of attention and intimacy around her.
How dare he? How dare he say her name like that after all this time and in front of Skankzilla? It was private.
She tossed her hair and glared at him, not really knowing how else to respond. He shrugged and turned with a sigh to check Drusilla over for injuries, tsking at the drops of blood dotting her fingers. He pulled a hanky out of one of the leather duster’s deep pockets and dabbed at her hands. Drusilla hummed and gazed up at the dome, allowing him to fuss, but not taking any notice.
“You want to be more careful, pet,” he said, letting her hands drop when he was done.
“My hands must weep too, Spike.”
“’Spose so,” he sighed. “Still, you’ve mussed up your pretty frock. Thought you wanted to make a good impression, yeah?”
She made a little moue, and her eyes got even more enormous. In Buffy’s opinion, she looked like some sort of unattractive, bug-eyed thing. A pug or an amphibian. Apparently Spike did not see it that way.
“Never mind, lamb. You’re doing fine,” he soothed. He turned to Buffy. “Dru wanted to come, Slayer. Wants to be of use.”
Buffy slowly blinked and shook her head in a way that was reminiscent of Joyce when she’d been hit with too much information at once. “Okay, that’s it! I cannot believe you! Where’ve you been the past few years? Squiring Looney Tunes around Africa or something?”
He looked uncomfortable. Good. “That’s not how—“
So not interested in his excuses. She interrupted. “And, yeah, I could’ve used a souled vampire on the team. Plenty of times. But hey, it looks like they’re just not very dependable. So, no. Not hiring. You can leave your resume with my secretary on your way out.”
She whirled around to stomp off, but he caught her arm, stopping her mid-whirl. She glared up into his face, surprised to see that his annoyance was just as plain as her fury.
“Would you just listen, for once in your life? She could be of real help with what’s coming.”
Buffy pointedly shifted her gaze to where he gripped her bicep. After a long moment, he released her and held his hands up in surrender.
“Fine. Have it your way. We’ll be seeing you.”
“Not if I see you first,” she muttered, and continued her rudely interrupted storming off.
It’s not like she hadn’t known that Spike wasn’t actually dead. Eventually, it had come out. Harmony had been at some parley — personal assistant to a demon mucky-muck — where both Andrew and Willow represented the Council of Slayers. She’d said something to Andrew that pinged with Willow, and she’d thoroughly “debriefed” Andrew afterward, followed by an extensive internet search. When she was sure, she’d come to Buffy, armed with reams of news stories, YouTube videos, and other things that she claimed were incontrovertible proof — Buffy suspected a piece of Andrew’s hide was among the unmentionables — of the continued existence and heroic undertakings of one William the Bloody.
That was fully 15 months after the Sinkhole of Sunnydale, and Buffy just hadn’t known what to do with the info. She’d had a story that she told herself, that Spike had sacrificed himself heroically to save the world and, not incidentally, her. He hadn’t chosen to leave her, the first man who hadn’t. Suddenly, that story was just a story, and not a very believable one.
Willow had of course wanted to saddle up, track him down, and fix everything. Buffy knew there were some things that couldn’t be fixed. It was a little worrisome how Willow still failed to grasp that.
“Look, Will. I know you’re trying to help, but the best thing we can do for Spike is let him do what he wants. He’s earned that much.”
“But Buffy, he wants you! He loves you! It’s just cruel to leave him out there all by himself. You still love him, right?”
Buffy and love: so not in the cards.
“Love isn’t always enough. Sure, he loved me. And I took advantage of that, big time. You don’t know how it was; I hurt him a lot. So much that he’s probably relieved to be free of me. Now that he’s had some time away… Well, if he needs me, he’ll find me when he’s ready.”
“He tried to! Andrew said he went all the way to Rome to find you. That’s gotta count for something, right?”
At Buffy confused look, Willow reminded her about the Council’s security protocol for senior members. Doubles in high profile places. Right. Buffy wondered why she never got the Tour of Europe option. North Beach was nice enough, but she doubted it compared with Italy. Not that it changed the matter at hand.
“Okay, maybe he wanted to talk. But you know how Spike is. If he’s determined, he keeps after a thing. Otherwise: oooh shiny! I’m not going to stalk him based on one visit to a place I’ve never even been.”
She could tell that Willow wanted to say more, to reassure her about her loveableness, so she changed the subject to what they could do to punish Andrew. That was always good for an afternoon’s entertainment.
Now, it appeared that Spike was finally ready to face her. She wished she could say the same.
Spike and Dru watched the end of Buffy’s ponytail bobbing brightly in the darkness until it disappeared around a building.
“She’s glorious, Spike. All fire and tiger spittle.”
“Yeah.” He closed his eyes and tasted the air, ensuring he had the latest version of the Slayer’s scent. It was largely unchanged, though there was perhaps a little less candy-sweetness and more of the savory about her. She was years past her fruity lip gloss phase, then. He again fingered the shoulder of his Kevlar vest, trying to see if she’d put a dent in it. It seemed undamaged. “Got claws, too. Remember that, Dru.
“You’ll find the streak of butter in her. She’ll run round and round you, never noticing ’til you’re licking her off your fingers.”
He shook himself at that. Best remember he was on a job. “Right. We’ve time to kill before we get you home. Want to see the bison or the sea lions?”
She clapped her hands with glee and they set off for nearby Fisherman’s Wharf. As they walked, he tried to understand why things had gone so wrong.
He hadn’t been in Buffy’s presence for 30 seconds before they’d come to…not blows, not exactly — but near enough. He’d told himself that he’d never, not ever — yet there he was, tackling her to the ground rather than saying, “Hello.” After everything, every precaution, he was still the same: a bad, brutal man. He couldn’t seem to be anything else. This was going to go badly, and it was going to be his fault.
The stench as they neared the place was dreadful, but it didn’t seem to bother Dru. She smiled widely at the sight of all the wriggling warm bodies laid out on the floating pallets and hummed happily along with the raucous din the animals made. She led the way through the unguarded barricade to the lower level, a scant distance above the high tide line, winding her way among the pilings to the edge nearest the creatures. Spike lit a cigarette, partly to mask the overwhelming scent, fading back to let Dru do her thing unimpeded.
She stood at the edge of the pier, her body swaying, her upper arms held tight to her sides, hands waving gracefully at waist height. A few of the sea lions twisted around to look directly at her. A handful bobbed their heads in her direction, a gesture she returned. Two of the largest ones slipped into the water making for the place where Dru now waited on her knees. He noticed that a significant number of the medium sized animals shuffled nervously away, moving as far from the vampires as possible.
The two large sea lions were bobbing before Dru, noses stretched up to meet her as she leaned down toward them. After a lengthy period of what he could only call communing, her hands darted out to grasp one, hauling it out of the water and clasping it to her breast. Spike tensed. It was so large that most of its tail remained in the water, yet Drusilla handled it with ease. She bent to nuzzle its neck as would a lover — or a vampire. Its head lolled to the side, in seeming invitation. The bones in her face shifted, and she struck, taking a few quick draughts of warm, live blood. She stopped almost before she had begun, leaned her temple against that of the sea lion, kissed it gently, and lowered it into the water. She stared into its black eyes until it blinked and ducked under the waves.
While the other followed the one that had been bitten, herding it slowly back toward their berth, Spike moved to check on Dru. She knelt on the decking, her body rocking in a slow circle. Her eyes were shut tight as she licked her lips.
“The sea is so vast, Spike. The blood of the earth, beating away against the shores. So full of life, and of death. I feel the chill fingers creep, creep, creeping ever closer. It wants to poke, and pull, and rend, and crush. The water will run red, though not yet. The living things may yet have defenders, even among the dead.”
Her eyes sprang open and she clutched his arm. “We must be ready.”
Behind her, he noticed a commotion among the animals, a series of searching cries. He scanned the water and saw a small dot heading their way, its wake barely noticeable in the gloom. Dru’s head snapped around and she scrambled back when she saw a pup swimming toward them.
“I mustn’t, I mustn’t, I mustn’t,” she muttered. “No lambs, no tiny chicks, not a drop or a drib. The small things are so easily broken. I’m a bad mummy, Spike. Bind my evil hands and black out my eyes!”
He gathered her shaking body into his arms, and tried to soothe her. “Never mind, pet. You’re on the straight and narrow, now. Helping, that’s you. There’s a good girl.”
She trembled all over and finally broke from his grasp with a wail and fled up the stairs and away from the water. Spike followed her, never noticing the thick coils of fog that slowly rose out of the bay water, causing saplings on the frontage promenade to quiver as they were engulfed in heavy mist.
Buffy managed to get through the patrol and the snack stop without killing anything resembling a civilian or a Slayer. She thought she should get points for that, if anybody was giving them out. Maybe they could introduce that as an incentive program for the girls. Dust 25 vamps, get a new charm for your stake! It had possibilities.
She decided to stop by The Buena Vista Café for a nightcap after sending the squad home. She nursed her single Irish Coffee, and found herself not just remembering, but dwelling, on the thing she most wished not to think about. Spike. No, Dru. No, Spike. God! Having to deal with both of them at once was going to make her head explode.
She tried to remember if she’d ever faced them as a fully functioning duo before. Dru had been sick when Spike was at his strongest, when they first met. Then Dru got better just in time to welcome Angelus back into the family, but Spike hadn’t seemed to be much of a threat while those two had their fun. Spike first teamed up with Buffy in order to spirit Dru out of town, and she hadn’t seen her again until they were both chained up for an action-packed half hour listening to Spike’s declarations in his Bizarro Basement of Woo. After that, Dru hadn’t been a factor.
She’d successfully forgotten all about her. To see her again, Spike doting on her just as he had back in the beginning — it hurt. More than she could have guessed. As a result, her secretly anticipated “reunion” with Spike had come off just about as badly as she could have imagined when she was going over worst-case scenarios. Not that she did that. Much.
Those few minutes in his presence had her spun. He hadn’t changed, of course, but everything was different. For one thing, he’d had a chance to do what he wanted, and what he wanted was Drusilla, not her. It made some sort of twisted sense. They’d been through a lot together. They’d done the whole Bonnie and Clyde thing, then the Sid and Nancy thing, and now they were doing the Liz and Dick thing. Vampire superstars who couldn’t stay out of each other’s orbit. With souls, now. Whoopee.
She knew she hadn’t made it easy for him back in Sunnydale. She couldn’t really see how she could have done things much differently, though. It would have been swell if she’d been able to just relax into being with him, give him more than whatever scant moments were left over after every necessary thing had been dealt with. She’d thought he understood that, but clearly the bare minimum hadn’t been enough. He hadn’t known how she felt, not really. She just wasn’t enough, like always. She was too prickly, too distant, too devoted to her duty to be a sound romantic choice. In addition to everything, she was now forced to face the fact that she, Buffy, was more high maintenance than Batshit Bessie.
She slipped off her barstool, waving goodnight to Kevin the bartender. She bundled up against the late night fog and headed for home. The fog was weird and more swirly than usual. She thought she felt some vamp tinglies, but visibility was awful and they soon faded away. After a five-minute walk, she was entirely out of the fog bank, but the chill was still fierce. She hurried her steps and within minutes was letting herself into her nice, radiator-heated apartment. She rushed through her nightly routine, put on her thickest flannel jammies, and sank with relief into bed. This night couldn’t be over soon enough.
If she dreamed about way too familiar vampires wrestling with giant slugs and grinning at each other with bloody fangs, well, was it any surprise?
They’d had a comfortable bolt-hole in the Haight ever since the summer of love, when Dru had inspired the seemingly never-ending devotion of a Paxulis demon, name of Gordon, who owned a 20-room pile right on Buena Vista Park. He’d set aside some of the tower rooms for her then and there, and they were always available and freshly made-up every time they blew into town during the following four decades.
Paxulis were of the same class of demon as Clem, and were generally not aggressive, being mostly interested in low-impact good times. There was little drama in a Paxulis household, and Spike was having a hard time remembering why they hadn’t been here more often. Oh, right. Because he’d been a jealous ninny who didn’t like the way Gordon looked at Drusilla: all adoration and eagerness to serve. It was uncomfortably like looking at himself. He was a little surprised that he hadn’t killed him early on in their acquaintance. That could probably be put down to the very distracting drugs of excellent quality that Gordon always seemed to keep around. Made a fellow forget what he was so wound up about.
After the night he’d had, a dip into Gordon’s stash was a mighty tempting prospect. Instead, he snagged a beer from the icebox, taking it out back where he flopped onto a deck chair and let his head fall against the headrest with a solid thunk.
He supposed the meeting with Buffy could have gone worse. He and Dru could have been piles of dust, after all. It was his crap luck that she’d run into them before he’d had a chance to explain the situation. He knew very well that she didn’t like surprises. Honestly, nobody liked the feeling that they were the last to know, least of all those supposedly in charge. It was no wonder she’d reacted badly.
They’d been in town for a couple of days already, and he’d dithered the whole time about how to approach her. He’d wanted to break the news about Drusilla gentle-like. In person, for preference. Wasn’t going to text her the news, was he? Even he wasn’t that big a coward. Perhaps he should have taken her to dinner, like old friends do, and let it drop casually… He banged his head against the chair back twice more. He was an idiot and worse, a self-deluded idiot. One, he’d never taken Buffy out to dinner, not once, in all the time he’d known her. They weren’t dinner-going friends. It was completely ridiculous to think they’d ever have something so normal between them. Second, he didn’t think there was any way to tell her about the soul business that would result in calm acceptance. He snorted and raised his bottle in silent salute to Buffy’s pugnacious side. It was one of the things that had first attracted him to her.
He decided he’d had enough of a brood for one night. He drained his beer in one go, stood and stretched. He was still undead, Dru was tucked snugly into bed, and Buffy was a gorgeous bitch who was going to make his existence a glorious torment. All was right with the world, so he toddled off to bed just as the birds began to wake and twitter in the pre-dawn darkness.
If he dreamed of a golden goddess rising from a roiling sea, well, it was hardly surprising.