Home Is Where They Have to Take You In.
“Giles, I’ve been thinking…”
“Never a good sign,” he said with an indulgent smile that belied his words.
“Funny. Not. Okay, here’s the thing… I’m not really needed here except when I’m teaching or we have a meeting, right?”
“That is correct.”
“So, I’m thinking that instead of living here, I should get myself a flat… or maybe even a house… and start being a grownup.”
“I would think you might have had quite enough of that during your last few years in Sunnydale,” he said. “None of us were as helpful as we could have been during those trying times, and I doubt your first venture into home ownership was a very pleasant experience.”
“Well, yeah. But the thing is, I’m old enough to be a grownup now. And I have a good job, that pays me actual money, and I like it here in London where I don’t have to drive a car to get places, and I saw this awesome house the other day and yeah, it’s kinda run down, but it’s for sale and it’s gotta be cheap because it needs paint and stuff and I thought—”
His raised hand brought her babble to a halt. “Does this have anything to do with the research you were doing the other day? About William the Bloody?”
She sighed. “Maybe,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “What of it?”
“And what did you find out?” He ignored her question.
“I found out where Spi—William used to live.” Her expression became even more stubborn. “But that’s got nothing to do with all my reasons for wanting to move out. It’s just a coincidence that the house I want happens to be the one William used to live in before he was turned.”
“Yeah. You know, when one thing seems like it made the other thing happen, but it really didn’t?”
“Giles, I’m going to do this. You can help me, or you can sit on your hands, but don’t try to talk me out of it.”
“I wasn’t planning to. However, I do want to be sure you know what you’re doing. And I would also like to take a look at this house and make sure you are not buying a fire trap.”
“Oh. Okay then. Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome. Why don’t you contact the estate agent and see what you can set up for sometime tomorrow morning?”
“Giles, you’re the best!” Giving him a quick hug, Buffy left his office before he could change his mind.
After calling the agent and setting up an appointment to see the house again, this time with her “uncle”, Buffy couldn’t resist visiting it once more. She stood out front, gazing at the seedy-looking entrance and boarded up windows, trying to picture it as it had been in William’s time. She tried to imagine him going in and out the solid-looking door, maybe with his mother on his arm or even a female friend…
She shook herself, remembering that the only female friend Spike had ever brought home was Drusilla, and shuddered to remember that conversation. With tears in his eyes, recently-souled Spike had tried to tell her why she had to slay him, now that they knew the First was making him kill. He’d described in great detail bringing Dru home with him to meet his mother, and how she’d eaten her way through the few servants they’d still had at that time. And what he’d done to his own mother. What he hadn’t realized, as he talked about that night, was that his love for his mother and his real reason for turning and then killing her had come through loud and clear.
He’d done it for love. Just as so much of his behavior in the following years had been for love of Drusilla, and even, to some extent, Angelus. She really didn’t want to try to understand his love/hate relationship with Angel – especially now that she knew that connection had gotten him killed for a second and undoubtedly final time – but she understood to a greater extent than she’d ever let him know, how hard he’d worked to be the kind of vampire Angelus and Dru had wanted him to be.
As she stared at the house in which William had grown up to become the man he’d been before turning, she smiled at how quickly he’d changed again after he couldn’t kill anymore and after he realized he’d fallen in love with the slayer.
“You were a good man, William,” she murmured to the house. “In spite of yourself, you were a good man.”
Buffy followed behind Giles and the realtor (estate agent she reminded herself), listening with half her brain as they discussed surveys and broken windows and heating systems. When Mrs. Reese turned to include Buffy in her question, she had to repeat it.
“I asked you if you would like me to arrange to have all the old furniture and personal belongings stored up stairs removed? Assuming you decide to take the house, of course.”
“Oh,” Buffy said. “Sorry. I guess I was busy thinking about paint colors and stuff.” She smiled as Giles and Mrs. Reese stared from her to the boarded up windows and battered furniture still remaining on the first floor. “Um, no, the stuff in the attic is fine. I’ll go through it some day and chuck what’s chuckable. If you can just help me line up some cleaners…”
“So, you are determined to live here?” Giles’ voice held just a trace of disapproval and Buffy bristled immediately.
“I just heard you guys say that it’s basically sound, just old and dirty. When those boards come off the windows and we can get some light in here….”
“And, if and when it passes a structural survey,” Giles said. “There is nothing in this house that isn’t very old – including the electrical system. Between that and the plumbing, all added at some point in the last seventy years or so, there are a myriad of things that could make it uninhabitable.”
“Well, we’ll just get them fixed and make it… whatever the opposite of uninhabitable is.”
“That would be ‘habitable’, and you cannot think of moving in until that has been firmly established. Nor should you put down any money until we have been through the house with the surveyor.”
“Xander already said he’d look at it for me,” she grumbled. “Quit trying to smush my excitement.”
Giles sighed and turned back to Mrs. Reese. “We will arrange to have the appropriate surveys done, and we’ll be back in touch once we have spoken with the surveyors. If Mr. Harris is going to be in town at the right time, we will probably want him to be present during the survey.”
Xander stood in the living room, gazing around at the tattered rug and worn furniture. With the boards off the windows, the grime and signs of hard use were even more obvious than they’d been before.
“Wow, I don’t think the last people to live here were… actual people?”
“I think the last time anybody lived here was in the seventies or eighties. Mrs Reese said it was rented out to some group home that turned out to be a bunch of druggies. I guess it’s lucky they didn’t burn it down…”
“Yeah, lucky.” He grimaced and walked over to look at a dust-covered portrait over the fireplace. A blond woman wearing old fashioned clothing and a simple hairdo stared out into the room with bright blue eyes that seemed slightly disappointed in what they were seeing. He cocked his head and stared at the face for a long time, finally turning to Buffy. “Is there a reason she looks so familiar?”
Buffy cleared her throat. “Uh, yeah, you know that thing I said I’d tell you about after you told me if the house was okay?” He nodded and she continued. “Well, see, here’s the thing… that’s… that’s Anne Pratt. She used to own the house, back in the 1800’s. “
“And she looks familiar because…?”
“Because her son’s name was William.” Buffy waited a second, then added, “William Pratt, aka William the Bloody, aka—“
“Spike. That’s Spike’s mother?” He looked around. “This is his house?”
“Well, not anymore. It’s been bouncing around their distant relatives for a long time and the ones that own it now want to get rid of it. Hence the Buffy buying.”
“I’ll be dammed,” he said, gazing around the shabby, but clearly formerly genteel surroundings. “That lying son of a bitch,” he continued. “Told me he’d always been bad. ‘Raised in the slums’ he said.”
“Yeah, he said that a lot. Wasn’t true though. Dawn knows even more than I do about him when he was human. She said he wasn’t anything like what he wanted us all to believe. Everything was fake – the clothes, the accent, the crude manners. He wrote poetry, if you can believe that. Poetry!”
“You think you know somebody….” Xander glanced at her. “You didn’t know any of that stuff? I thought when you and he….”
“We didn’t do a lot of talking,” she said curtly, then sighed and shook her head. “That’s not really true… I knew a little bit. I knew how gentle and sweet he could be – not that I ever let him show that until.... And I knew he was educated. Giles told me that a long time ago.”
“So I’m the only one who didn’t know the Big Bad was a fake?”
“There was nothing fake about the demon he was when we first me him. He was just as big and bad as Dru and Angelus had wanted him to be. Trust me, William was buried way inside him by then. If it hadn’t been for the chip and—”
“And falling in love with you.”
“And that,” she said with a sad smile. “We would never have known anything about him except what a dangerous vamp he was.” Her voice strengthened and got colder. “I’m damn sure Angel wouldn’t have admitted how much he had to do with making Spike what he was.”
Xander nodded. He’d long since learned not to interject his own opinions of either of the vampires in Buffy’s life, although he hadn’t been able to bring himself to utter anything but the barest acceptable condolences when the news of the final battle in LA reached them.
“So,” he said, changing the subject quickly. “What’s the plan? I talked to the inspectors and went around with one of them. The house is really well-built and there’s no dry rot or termite damage or anything like that. Most of this is just cosmetic stuff. A couple of broken windows to fix, some doors that need to be rehung, stuff like that. The electricity isn’t up to modern code; you’re going to have to have the house completely rewired before you’ll be allowed to live in it. But it’s safe enough for now. The gas is going to be connected as soon as they issue a safety certicate, but you’re going to need to buy a new stove. That one isn’t up to modern codes.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I’m going to be shelling out a lot of money for appliances. The estate agent told me that. Even the ones that still work are so old they’re obsolete.”
He nodded. “The plumbing was my big worry, but it’s surprisingly okay. Again, it’ll need some updating, but it’s usable the way it is.” He looked at Buffy’s serene face as he rattled off all the things she was going to need to spend money on. “What aren’t you telling me?” he asked finally.
“What? What do you mean, ‘not telling’ you?”
“Buffy, I know the Council has money, and I know they pay you well enough to keep you in fancy shoes and expensive Italian sweaters, but… never mind what this place must have cost to begin with, we’re talking big bucks to make it livable, and you aren’t even blinking. This is not the same woman who fed Dawn Doublemeat sandwiches all the time because they were free.”
Buffy sighed and sat down on the couch, bouncing up again immediately when a mouse ran out of the cushion.
“Eeek! Did you see that?”
“It was a mouse. A little, bitty, run-of-the-mill mouse. Jeez, Buff, you’d think it was a demon.”
“It could have been a demon-mouse,” she muttered, settling for leaning against an old desk. “You don’t know.”
When he just looked at her and shook his head, she sighed again. “Okay, here’s the thing – and this is not something very many people know, okay?” He nodded his understanding and mimed zipping his lips. “Spike knew he wasn’t going to live through the battle Angel’d gotten them into. And he had some money put away. That’s another thing he lied to us about. He always had money, he just liked to steal things and liked to make us pay him for help.”
“Jerk,” he said, shrugging an apology at Buffy when she glared. “Come on, he was a total fake and he lied to us. What part of that isn’t jerky?”
“He was just protecting himself, Xan. Trying to keep up his image.”
“Right. That all-important image as a thief and a killer and… Sorry. Go on with your story. So, Spike had money?”
“He did. And he made a will, leaving it all to me and Dawn.”
Heedless of any remaining mice, Xander fell into the couch with a thud. “You’re rich?”
“Well, a lot closer to it than I’ve ever been before in my life. I don’t think I’ll be buying a yacht any time soon, but Dawn can go to school pretty much anywhere she wants to, and I can afford to buy a neglected old house and fix it up.”
“I’ll be dammed…” He jumped to his feet. “All right then, let’s get this project rolling.” He grinned at her with genuine delight. “Here I was worrying that you were going to be in debt for the rest of your life and trying to think of ways to save you money… This is going to be fun now!”
“Uh, Xander, did you miss my subtle hint that I’m not a billionaire?”
“Oh yeah, I got it. No yachts. No problem.” He pulled out a note pad and started jotting things down. “Okay, cleaning crews first. Clean it out, get rid of all the old furniture—”
“Giles says a lot of them are antiques.”
“Fine, get an antique dealer in here to identify which ones to keep.” He didn’t even slow down, just made another note. “Strip wall paper, scrub painted walls—”
He interrupted himself. “Better get the outside done up first. Want the neighbors to know you’re fixing up the eyesore.” He made another note. “Clean and paint exterior, check and repair mortar between bricks…” Buffy trailed him around the house as he wrote down the things that required repair or replacement before she could move in. When they’d made it to the third floor and he gestured at a narrow staircase, she shook her head.
“It’s just an attic. There are boxes of clothes and other… stuff up there that belonged to Spike and his mom. I don’t want anybody up there until I’ve had a chance to go through it.”
He shrugged. “Okay. Both inspectors said the roof was sound and the floor up there was okay, so I guess it can wait.”
They made their way downstairs again and he handed her the list. “I’m sorry I can’t stay around to oversee all this, but I’ll check in every time I’m back in London. Maybe the real estate lady can help you line up some good people?”
Buffy nodded and took the list from him. “She said she would. And some of the girls from the school have offered to help. It’s not like I need to pay anybody to do the heavy lifting.”
“You’re good to go, then.” He hesitated. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Buffy… I know it’s hard to let go, but sometimes you just have to move on….”
She smiled, a bit sadly, but with sincerity. “I’m not planning to live here and wallow,” she said. “Spike wouldn’t have wanted that. I needed a place to live, that’s all. It just so happens, I found the house he used to live in and it was available. I’ll be fine. Really.”
Mrs Reese was true to her word, and once all the papers had been signed, and Buffy had turned over a cashier’s check for the asking price, she gave Buffy a list of contractors and cleaning crews to work on making the house a pleasant place to live. Buffy was in and out whenever she wasn’t working at Council Headquarters, checking on the progress and bothering the head contractor for a definite move-in date. Finally, more, she was sure, to get her off his back than to provide good information, he gave her a date of mid-March.
“Not until then?” Buffy’s lip came out in what even the foreman could recognize as the beginning of a major pout.
“Ms Summers, the house is okay to be lived in anytime you want to move in. I’ve just been assuming, since you have somewhere else to live right now, that you’d rather not be trying to live in a house with strangers running in and out at all hours.”
Buffy sighed and nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry. And yeah, I don’t want to have to worry about stepping out of the shower and onto the plumber. Okay. But I’m moving in in March, ready or not.”
By March Buffy was very grateful for her job and paycheck from the Council. Repairing and refreshing the old house had eaten a major hole in her disposable income. Giles had explained, more than once, that her money would make her money if she was patient and left it alone. And she really hadn’t dipped very far into what he called “capital” to get the house in working order. But now, with the rooms all scrubbed, floors polished, and walls painted, it was painfully obvious that she was going to have to put out even more money to furnish it.
“First things first,” she said as she and Dawn entered the furniture store. “We need a bed for you, and living room stuff – a couch, couple of chairs, and… what?”
“Buffy, you don’t need to buy me a bed right away. I won’t be around that much after I start college, and I don’t mind staying at the Slayer school.”
“But… don’t you want to live here… there? With me?”
“Of course I do. But I’m going to be gone a lot once I finally start university, and then I’ll be getting a place of my own when I get a job, and….” She stopped when she noticed the expression on Buffy’s face. “Oh my God. You didn’t do this for me, did you? Did you buy a house instead of a flat because you thought—”
“No, no. Don’t be silly. I bought it because I… well, honestly? I bought it because of who it used to belong to. Don’t tell Giles that, though. I think I’ve got him convinced it was just a coincidence that I decided to buy a house just when this one came on the market. But I did think you’d be sharing it with me….”
“Which I will! For a long time yet. But you remember what it was like when you moved into the dorms. You only came home to do your laundry or for holidays. At least until Mom got sick. And you were younger than I am and going to school in the same city. Who knows where I’ll be?”
“You’ll still need a bed,” Buffy said, her expression brooking no argument. “If and when you don’t need it to come home to, I’ll just call it a guest room.”
“Okay, fine. But why don’t I use some of my own money to buy furniture for my room? Then I’ll already have some stuff when I’m ready to get a place of my own.”
Hours later, when they had sat on twenty or thirty sofas, and almost as many chairs, they sprawled in exhaustion, feet up on a rustic-looking coffee table.
“I like this one,” Dawn said, her eyes shut and her head leaning against the padded back of the couch.
“You’re just saying that cause it’s comfy,” Buffy said, also resting her head. “And cause we’re sitting on it.”
“Comfy. Wouldn’t that be, like, the most important thing?”
Buffy sat up and blinked. “Dawn, that’s brilliant!”
“Good. Can we go home now?”
Waving the saleswoman over, Buffy ignored Dawn to begin negotiations for having the couch in question, or one just like it, covered in the fabric she’d already picked out. Fending off suggestions for end tables and other pieces, Buffy paid for the sofa and matching chair and pulled Dawn to her feet.
“Okay, let’s go. Dinner first, then home. ‘k?”
“Home” for Dawn was still Slayer Central, although Buffy had moved into the house as soon as she’d purchased a new mattress for the four-poster bed she’d found still in good shape in one of the upstairs bedrooms. With the assistance of several equally strong girls, she’d begun moving pieces of furniture around as soon as the interior of the house had been cleaned, repaired and repainted.
Since there seemed no way to move the bed with which Buffy had immediately fallen in love without taking it apart, she had declared the room it sat in as her “master bedroom”. This, in spite of the obviously true master bedroom across the hall, which was much larger and airier. She’d given Dawn a smaller, but still generous room at the end of the hall and really had no plans for the larger bedroom, ending up using it as a holding area for all the pieces of old furniture left in the house that hadn’t been used somewhere else. Good furniture cleaner and polish, as well as slayer elbow grease, had made many of the tables and chests more than usable in the finished rooms of the house.
“So, how’s it going here, Henrietta Homeowner?” Xander smiled and looked around the living room, surprised at how much Buffy had accomplished since his last trip to England.
“Slowly,” she responded with a sigh. “It’s a bigger house than I thought.” She brightened. “But, all the rooms we have to have done right now are okay. The kitchen is all finished and usable, all the bathrooms work, and I have a nice, cozy living room to sit in.”
“It looks nice, Buffy.” Xander nodded as he walked around the newly painted and furnished room, remembering what it had looked like when he first saw it. “Lot of hard work, huh?”
“It was, but it’s kind of fun too. I just wish….” She shook her head and laughed at herself.
“Nothing. I was going to say I wish I had somebody to share it with, but really? I’m pretty happy for the alone time after all those years of living surrounded by other people.”
“Dawn’s not here?”
“Oh yeah. Technically, she lives here. But she spends most of her time at Slayer Central or the Council offices. I think she’s going to be a Watcher. After she goes through some snooty English University that Giles is pushing.”
“So….” He gazed around the room, then fixed his eyes on Buffy. “Pretty big house for one person, isn’t it?”
Buffy shrugged, refusing to meet his eyes. “If I get too lonely, I’ll just rent out a room to one of the slayers or instructors. Right now, I’m really enjoying being by myself. I never have, you know. Always a roommate, a sister, or a bunch of baby slayers. It’s… different, but I think I like it.”
Chapter 2: Two
With the house as livable as it was going to get for the foreseeable future, Buffy was left with more free time in which to get better acquainted with her new home. Inevitably, her feet took her to the foot of the narrow staircase leading to the attic. She stood there for several minutes, broom, mop and bucket in hand, then stepped on the first riser. She set her burdens down a few feet away from the last step and went back down stairs to retrieve her dusting implements and a trash bag.
Go me. If this place has done nothing else, it’s turned me into a first class janitor.
She began her task by washing down the insides of the windows at either end of the large, vaulted room. Cleaning a century’s worth of grime from the glass brought a surprising amount of light into the space, and Buffy stepped back, smiling in satisfaction. As long as she worked on sunny days, there’d be no need to bring the electrician back to install lighting in the long-neglected room. Several small, but functional, oil lamps gave evidence of how the room had been illuminated long ago.
Hours later, when the waning sunlight was no longer brightening the dark corners, Buffy stretched and surveyed her efforts. The floors were now dust free, as were all the other horizontal surfaces in the room. She’d filled two bags with trash – mostly old newspapers and magazines that had crumbled away or been destroyed by mice and insects. And she’d washed down the outsides of the various chests and enclosed shelves against the walls of the attic. She was very proud of herself for the way she’d kept to her tasks and resisted the urge to dig into the chests and books before she’d finished cleaning.
Leaving her cleaning tools by the door, Buffy picked up the bucket of dirty water and made her way down the steep stairs to the floor below. The interior hallway was already growing dark, and she had to resist hitting the light switch on her way to the back stairs, telling herself it would be a waste of electricity and she’d just have to come back up to turn it off. The stairs, which led first to the floor containing the family bedrooms and from there down to the kitchen, were well-lit and, although still narrow, more easily negotiated even when carrying a full bucket of sloshing water.
“I should have stopped and dumped this in the tub,” she muttered as she finally made it to the kitchen, hit the light switch there, and carried the bucket to the back door. She opened the door and stepped out into the growing gloom to empty the bucket over the grass she was encouraging in a small cleared area.
As she stood up, familiar tingles on her neck had her balancing on the balls of her feet, searching for the source of what could only be vampire vibes. She dropped the bucket and picked up a near-by rake, holding it in the middle while she moved out into the yard. Buffy made a mental note to have someone come in and trim the large boxwoods behind which anything could have been hiding. Even as she strode toward the back gate, which she could now see was hanging open, she felt the vibes becoming fainter. By the time she got to the gate, she could no longer sense them and she kicked it in disgust.
She slammed it closed, latching it firmly. Before she re-entered the kitchen, she made a quick circuit of the house, but found nothing amiss and no lurking creatures except a small black and white kitten that meowed and glared at her with great suspicion.
“Hey, don’t yell at me. I live here. What are you doing in my yard?”
The kitten stared at her, then stuck its tail in the air and walked away with great dignity. If it found the sight of a strange human holding a gardening tool intimidating, it refused to admit it. Buffy watched it go, then laughed and put the rake back by the door.
“I don’t know if you’re really brave or really stupid,” she called after the kitten, which had already disappeared into the bushes. “Good thing for you I don’t play poker with demons.”
The small smile that graced her face for several minutes was proof of how far she’d come in the years since the fall of Angel’s LA team. A memory that would have once brought a lump to her throat was now just something to smile about as she remembered the vampire who’d inspired it. She closed and locked the kitchen door before peering into the refrigerator for something to eat.
She took the sandwich she’d fixed and her bottle of water into the living room and made herself comfortable on the couch. She clicked the TV on and settled back to watch while she had her pre-patrol meal.
The vampire stood for several minutes, staring at the freshly-painted exterior of the old house, wincing when the lights began to come on. He was already fading back into the shadows when the kitchen door opened, and had moved well away before anyone had time to come out and find him lurking in the yard.
Cursing his luck, he moved down the street, an obvious limp making him appear even more down on his luck than did the battered leather coat and the disfiguring scars on his thin face and hairless head. His cheekbones stood out sharply below his hollowed eyes—eyes that flared yellow whenever a human walked past and the scent of warm blood hit his senses.
“So, you think there was a vamp in the yard?” Dawn spoke around a mouthful of pizza. “Really?”
“I think I know what a vampire feels like, Dawn,” Buffy said with some annoyance. “I just don’t understand why one was in my yard and then left before I got outside.”
“Maybe he wasn’t hungry?” Dawn reached for another slice of pizza and frowned at it. “Do they put mushrooms in everything in this country?”
“Pretty much,” Buffy said absently, biting into her own slice. “I dunno. It just seemed weird. Maybe he was some old vamp who thought the house was still empty?”
“That makes sense. It i>was empty for a long time, wasn’t it? Maybe long enough for vampires to be able to come in and hole up here. It’s not like there was an owner hanging around to make sure they couldn’t get in.”
“Well, if that’s what it was, he knows now. The lights were on, and even a vampire should be able to tell the difference between a ratty old house and one that’s been fixed up.” She finished her pizza and took a swallow of Diet Coke. “But I’m going to have those boxwoods trimmed, anyway. They’re all taller than I am.”
“Five-year-olds are taller than you are,” Dawn said, not bothering to hide her smirk.
“Very funny, giant girl.” Buffy stood up and stretched. “Let’s watch some ‘telly’ before we go to bed. You’ll like the new flat screen Xander picked out for me.”
“He’s been around a lot lately, hasn’t he?” Dawn followed Buffy into the living room. “Something going on there that I should know about?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s Xander. He’s here a lot because… because he’s Xander. That’s all.”
“Uh huh.” Dawn remained unconvinced. “And where does he stay when he’s here?”
“So not your business,” Buffy said, blushing. “But just so you know, I fixed up the other spare room for him. If and when he needs a place to stay, he stays there. In his own room, Miss nosey-pants.”
“Dawn, it’s Xander. I love him dearly, but he will never be anything but one of my best friends. And I’m sure he doesn’t think of me that way anymore either. He has girlfriends, for God’s sake.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. No Xander-Buffy hanky-panky. How boring.”
“Boring is good. Boring means no yelling, no hurting each other, no crying, no—”
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to tell you something one time, and then we are never going to discuss it again. ‘k?”
Dawn looked intrigued and turned down the volume. “Okay. Spill.”
“I once had the best lover a woman could ever want. He was inventive, unselfish, strong, sexy, an amazing kisser, rough when I needed him to be rough, and gentle when I needed him to be gentle… and he could outlast a slayer.” She paused. “And he loved me with everything he had.” She looked up, her eyes glistening. “I’m not saying I’ll never find anybody else like that,” she said softly. “But I’ve tried often enough to know that I’d rather do without than be disappointed. Someday I’ll meet somebody and fall in love, and then….” She shook herself. “In the meantime, I don’t plan to use my best friend just to scratch an itch that I’m pretty sure he can’t reach.”
“Oh.” Dawn seemed to be rendered genuinely speechless for several seconds. “Oh, Buffy…” At a gesture from her sister, she stopped her intended expression of sympathy and regrouped. “Okay, so, the next time someone asks me why you don’t date more, I can just tell them the guy has to be better in bed than—”
“Do and die.”
The next opportunity Buffy had for some free time, she returned to the attic to indulge her curiosity about the leather-bound books behind the glass-front cabinets and the items in the trunks. An hour after sitting down beside the first trunk and opening it, she was still there, marveling over things like programs from dances, names that meant nothing to her scribbled here and there, a woman’s fan that looked like it had been caressed many times.
Many of the things she took out meant nothing to her modern eyes, but they had clearly been important to Spike’s mother, whose treasures she assumed they were. A guess that was confirmed when she found a small cache of letters tied with a ribbon. The letter on the top made it clear that they had been written back and forth between Spike’s mother and father at some point early in their marriage when James Pratt had been away on business. For some reason, to continue reading the letters seemed to Buffy too much like an invasion of Anne Pratt’s privacy, and she put them back in the trunk along with all the other bits and pieces of a life lived long in the past.
After closing the trunk lid and fastening it down with the clasp, Buffy sighed and looked around the room. Her eyes lit upon the glass-enclosed bookcase and she wandered over to it. The books on the shelves seemed to be mainly books of poetry – some by poets whose names Buffy vaguely remembered from English class, and some not. She smiled at the notations in the margins, and the underlined phrases, guessing immediately who the books had belonged to. When one fell open to the flyleaf and she saw “To William, Wishing you a very happy twentieth birthday, Love, Mother” she sat down, stroking the page.
She glanced through several more books, finding his name in the front of each one, and notes throughout. “Well done!” he’d written beside one underlined stanza by somebody Buffy had never heard of. She shook her head and stood up, clutching the book to her chest. She closed the doors and took the book with her to read later on.
Buffy was lounging in a chair, enjoying the unusually warm, sunny day by pretending she was back in southern California. Sunhat on head, sunglasses on her face, and legs stretched out for tanning, she watched as the man she’d hired to trim the boxwoods worked. He’d had to use a ladder to reach the tops, but had quickly reduced them to a more manageable four feet tall. At Buffy’s gasp when she saw the first butchered shrub, he’d quickly explained that the bushes would fill in before she knew it and be all the healthier for the pruning.
“Trust me, Miss. I know what I’m doin’. Been tending to gardens all over the city for more years that you’ve been alive.” He looked around with approval. “You’ve got the basics of a lovely garden here. Bit overgrown in places, but the bones of it are classical. It could be a showcase.”
Buffy smiled, but recognized the sales pitch for what it was. “I’ll settle for just not having to hack my way through it with a machete,” she said. “Anything else will have to wait until I have more time and money.”
He’d accepted the rejection with good grace and gone back to his vigorous pruning, while Buffy settled down with her book of poems that had, at one time, been important to Spike. She smiled as she read, noting how often his favorite lines seemed to be about love and women. “Some things don’t change that much, do they?” she whispered to herself, remembering Spike’s hundred-year devotion to Drusilla, and his willingness to endure torture or death for Dawn and Buffy.
“That’s odd!” Buffy looked up at the surprised tone in the gardener’s voice. He was staring at the old potting shed near the rear of the large yard.
“What is?” Buffy stood up and walked to where she could see where he was looking.
“Nothing, I suppose. I just would have sworn I’d left that door open until I finished the job and put the tools away.”
Buffy shrugged. The idea of danger appearing in broad daylight was still foreign to her, in spite of knowing that humans were as capable of evil as any demon or vampire. “Maybe the wind blew it shut,” she said, turning away.
“Maybe,” he agreed with more agreement than belief in his voice. “Not that there is any wind today….”
“Well, we’ve both been here all afternoon, so it’s not like anybody could have snuck in,” Buffy said. “So, either you forgot you closed it, or there was a gust of wind.”
“Right you are, Miss. I’m sure that’s the case.” He turned away and began raking up all the boughs of boxwood. “I’ll just finish tidying up here and be on my way, then.”
Buffy nodded and went into the house to get the check she’d already written out for him. She watched from the window as he gathered up all the trimmed off branches and piled them in a deep cart which he used to transport them to the gate. His small truck was parked outside the gate, and it took only a few minutes for him to transfer the debris from cart to truck bed. He put his pruning tools in behind them and returned to the garden.
Buffy came outside, check in hand, and pointed at the few tools he’d used that belonged to her. “Don’t worry about that stuff,” she said. “I’ll put them away myself. You’ve worked hard enough for one day.” She smiled and handed him the check, watching as he got back in the truck and drove off – after offering her many assurances that anytime she needed more work done, he was “her man”. She latched the gate behind him and turned toward the equipment waiting to be put away.
Picking up the few tools she owned that the gardener had deemed “passable” for his tasks, she carried them to the shed, holding them awkwardly in one hand while she opened the door and let in a wide shaft of sunlight. The sound of something scuttling away inside the otherwise dark shed caused her to yelp and drop the tools.
Get over yourself, Buffy! You slay demons, for cripe’s sake. You need to stop flinching at mice and other small creatures.
Picking up the rake, she ventured into the interior, waving it around as she said, “Whatever you are, I’m not afraid of you, but you can’t live in my shed. So get out!” She poked the handle of the rake into a box in the corner, muffling a small shriek when a rat ran out and paused to stare at her. When a voice rasped out, “What the bloody hell were you screaming about if you’re not afraid?” she gulped and stared back at the rat.
“You can talk? You’re a talking rat?” Her eyes narrowed. “Amy? Is that you?”
Without replying, the rat decided that a frightened woman holding a rake was more than he cared to deal with; he ran between her legs and out into the bushes.
“I think its name is Roscoe, not Amy,” said the oddly rough and breathy voice whose owner seemed to be having trouble getting enough air for speaking. Buffy started again, then realized that the voice had been coming, not from the rat, but from the very back of the shed behind a sheet of plywood Xander had left there. She hefted the rake into a more weapon-like position and fixed her best Slayer glare on the plywood.
“Ok, so it’s not a four-legged rat. Come out here where I can see you. Now.”
“Or what? You’ll bludgeon me with a bamboo garden tool?” She could hear the gasps of air before each little burst of word, but the scoffing tone and obvious intent to ignore her command brought a growl from her as she tossed the rake aside and picked up a small axe.
“How about I bludgeon you with an axe?” Buffy inquired sweetly. “Or, you know, maybe just chop your head off with it?”
“Bloodthirsty bint, aren’t you? And not a very hospitable one.” Something about the scratchy voice was beginning to nag at Buffy, but she smothered the urge to think about it. It had taken her several years to learn to live in England without flinching every time someone called her “luv” or “pet”, or used an accent similar to the one that still made her heart ache just a tiny bit.
“Come out here. Now,” she ordered. “I want to see who you are.”
“Excuse me? Can’t? You mean won’t. Do you think I won’t use the axe on you?”
“Oh, I’m beginning to suspect you probably would.” The voice held just a trace of what might have been admiration. “But if I come out right now, you won’t need to use it.”
“Why no—” Buffy glanced from the shadowed corner, protected by the plywood sheet, to the brightly lit sunny area right in front of it. Her eyes narrowed as she acknowledged the tingles on the back of her neck and wondered how she’d failed to notice them until just then. “What would happen to you if you came out now? Like, right here. In front of me. In the nice sunshine?” She looked around the shed and grabbed a broom, using the axe to hack off a foot-long piece of wooden handle. With the axe in one hand and the make-shift stake in the other, she raised her eyebrows at the innocent looking piece of wood.
“Ah, now, there’s no need to be getting belligerent.” The breathy voice sounded mildly aggrieved. “Wasn’t threatening you, was I? Just not jumping high enough when you said ‘frog’. Give us another hour or two and I’ll be out of your hair… so to speak.”
“You’re a vamp,” she said flatly. “There’s a freakin’ vampire living in my garden shed. What is wrong with you? Don’t you know what I am?”
“What’s wrong with me? I’m not the one threatening a total stranger with decapitation or staking. For all you know, I’m one of the fairy-folk. A brownie, maybe. Or a sprite of some sort.”
“I don’t believe in fairies.”
“But you believe in vampires.” The voice was sounding more and more like its owner was laughing at her, or would have been had he been getting enough air into his lungs.
“Why am I talking to you? I should just drag you out into the light and watch you go up in flames.” She made as if to approach.
“Hey now! Have I caused you any harm? So I get my forty-winks in the back of a garden shed. How is that hurting you? I’ll be gone as soon as it’s dusky enough.”
“You’re a vampire! Buffy said, rolling her eyes at his refusal to accept the wrongness of his existence. “I’m a vampire slayer. Are you getting the sense that you might have chosen the wrong garden shed to hide in? What’s wrong with a nice empty crypt? London is lousy with cemeteries. Why my shed?”
“Don’t know,” he said, his voice suddenly softer and less confident. “Woke up nearby and something drew me here. Thought it might be the house, but I couldn’t get in.”
“Something ‘drew’ you here? To a slayer’s home? I think they call that a death wish.”
“Didn’t know it was your home,” he said, still sounding more petulant than dangerous. “Didn’t even know what I was, for sure. Just knew I needed to be someplace dark when the sun was up, and that I couldn’t be around people. For some reason, I knew my way to this house.”
“What do you mean, you couldn’t be around people?”
“Have terrible urges,” he whispered. “Want to do terrible things to them. It’s why I wanted to hide here. Have to take myself where there aren’t any people to tempt me.”
“Tempt you to do what?”
“You tell me, Slayer. You seem to know more about me than I do.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but it isn’t going to work. You’re a vampire. I slay vampires. End of story.”
In spite of her words, Buffy’s posture had relaxed and she dropped her arms to her sides. Standing safely within the pool of sunlight, she cocked her head at her invisible companion. With a big sigh, she backed toward the door and out into the yard. “I’ll give you till sunset,” she said. “Then I want you out of my shed and off my property. Got it?”
“Got it,” was the short reply. As Buffy pushed the door closed, reducing the amount of sunlight entering the small building, she just barely heard, “Thank you, Slayer.”
“My name’s Buffy,” she said as she walked away.
If there was a reply, she couldn’t hear it, and she went into the house, putting the axe and the broom handle on the kitchen table.
A phone call from Giles reminded Buffy that she was scheduled to take out a group of student slayers that evening for a final assessment of their fitness to be assigned their own areas. Somewhat reluctantly, she dressed for patrol and left the house before the sun had gone down far enough for her mysterious vampire to safely leave the shed. Although she carefully locked all the doors, and even the first floor windows, she didn’t bother going out to check the back gate again. If her guest was going to leave, she wanted to make it easy for him.
Chapter 3: Three
The test went well at first, all things considered. The girls managed to find and stake two fledglings in the first cemetery, and were high-fiving each other and celebrating when Buffy’s vamp radar went off.
“Knock it off, ladies. Am I the only one who can tell there’s still a vamp in the area?”
The suitably chastised girls quieted down and stretched their less well-honed senses until Rose finally shouted, “Got him! This way!” The girls ran in the direction she’d pointed, whooping and daring each other to be first. Buffy followed at a more leisurely pace, confident that there was nothing lurking in the cemetery that could threaten a whole squad of slayers.
By the time Buffy reached them, the anticipatory whoops and giggles had turned to started exclamations and curses. Rose was on the ground, cradling her injured right hand with her left. As Buffy watched, Gill came flying through the air to land next to Rose, shaking her head and blinking away stars. With an annoyed frown, Buffy ran toward the bushes she could see shaking. The air was filled with the sounds of growls and snarls and muttered British curses as two more girls rolled out, wrestling each other until they noticed who they were fighting and stopped to join their friends in regrouping. Just as Buffy plunged into the shrubbery, searching for the source of the noise and violence, it went quiet. The only sounds were the outraged yells from the defeated slayers.
Buffy’s radar told her that the vampire was long gone. Even if it had not just trashed a full squad of trained slayers, the speed with which it had disappeared told her this was no ordinary fledgling vampire. There was no argument from the girls when she counted noses and began to lead them out of the cemetery. Except for Rose, whose hand was broken, no one had suffered anything more than bruises and momentary unconsciousness, in spite of having done their best to plunge their stakes into some part of the vampire’s anatomy.
“I think I got him once,” Gill said. “Look, there’s blood on my stake.”
“Blood, not dust?”
Gill shrugged with embarrassment. “I was just trying to hurt him enough to get a good shot in. I don’t know where I stabbed him, but it wasn’t the heart.”
“Okay. Well, let’s get you guys back and patched up. We’ll go looking for him tomorrow.” She paused. “It was a ‘him’ wasn’t it?”
“Oh yeah. It was a guy-vamp. I could tell that, even in the dark.” There were giggles from the other girls, and Buffy rolled her eyes.
“I don’t even want to know…” she said, memories of fighting against Spike and other male vampires making her more than aware of how they probably knew he was male.
When she returned home well after midnight, she stood in the kitchen frowning in the direction of the shed, now invisible in the gloom. She debated with herself, then gave in and, taking a flashlight and a stake, she went into the garden. She sent out her senses, but there was no trace of a vampire anywhere in the large garden, including the shed, which stood alone, its door hanging open as if to verify that the vampire had left as he’d promised. Telling herself it was a job well-done, she went back inside and directly to bed. She had a full day of work at the school scheduled for the next day and wasted no more time worrying about one random, possibly harmless vampire.
The vampire studied the dark house for several minutes, searching for any sign that Buffy was still awake or lying in wait for him. When he was satisfied that the garden was empty of deadly women holding weapons, he limped to the shed on trembling legs, pausing frequently to gather what little strength he had left. Pulling the door shut behind him, he settled himself back onto the bed he’d made under the plywood shelter. Although he suspected Buffy would be angry at him for not staying away, the house and garden continued to feel like sanctuary to his weakened body and he’d obeyed the urge to return there to wait out the rapidly approaching day. Telling himself he should have eaten the rat when he had a chance, he curled his thin frame up into a surprisingly small ball and closed his eyes.
Buffy overslept in the morning and had no time to check her backyard before rushing off to work, but she was confident the mysterious vampire would have had enough sense to stay away, now that he knew what lived in the house he claimed to have been drawn to.
“Drawn to, my ass,” she grumbled as she dressed. “Somebody must have told him it was empty and he thought he’d use it for a lair. How stupid does he think I am?” In her mind, she could hear that voice responding, I’m guessin’ probably not as stupid as you look, Slayer. But you never know… She almost snapped an answer at him before remembering that it was an imaginary voice in her head, not an actual vampire speaking to her.
She had a quick lunch with Dawn, who said she was planning to come home that night as her roommate had “plans”. It took Buffy several minutes to realize what Dawn meant, and several more minutes to calm herself down and remember that Dawn was over eighteen now and old enough to have a roommate who might need privacy sometimes.
“Okay, just…” Buffy paused, not sure what she wanted to say or how she wanted to say it.
“Just what? Don’t tell me you have ‘plans’ too?” Dawn broke into a happy grin at the thought.
“No. No, of course not. It’s just… there was this vampire yesterday. In the garden shed. And he… I… I’m sure he won’t be back, but….”
“You didn’t stake him?”
“Well, not as such, no…”
“ ‘Not as such’? What the hell does that mean?”
“He sounded… harmless, okay? So I let him stay there, and he left after it got dark and I’m sure he won’t be back, and… Just don’t go out there without me, okay?”
“You let a vamp stay in your shed for the day? And then you let him walk? Who are you, and what have you done with Buffy?”
“Very funny. I like to think that I’ve matured and learned that the world isn’t all black and white anymore. He didn’t sound dangerous, and I felt sorry for him.”
“Sorry. For a vampire. A vampire that isn’t Spike or Angel.” Dawn made a show of looking around in a panic. “The world is ending, isn’t it? And you’re just afraid to tell me.”
“Very funny. Ha, ha.”
Dawn smiled, very pleased with her own humor. “If you’re so sure you scared him off, why do you want me to be careful?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly make him promise to stay away… I mean, Slayer here, telling you to get lost, it should be a given, right? But, I dunno. He said something drew him to my house, and he didn’t sound like somebody who follows orders very well, so… just in case.”
Buffy hurried outside as soon as she got home, noticing immediately that the shed door was closed. Cursing herself for not having checked it in the morning, she decided to assume the vampire had returned to close it after leaving the previous night. She was able to hold that assumption until she opened the door and felt the telltale tingles on her neck.
“I thought I told you to get lost!” she said, slamming the door shut behind her.
“Didn’t tell me to stay lost,” came the hoarse rasp from the corner.
“I thought that was understood. Leave and don’t come back. What was hard to understand about that?”
“Had no place else to go.” His voice was so soft, Buffy could barely hear him. His words were distorted, not in the way they would have been by fangs, but he was clearly having trouble speaking.
Not my problem. Not my problem. Not my problem…
“No place else to go. In a city the size of London, you couldn’t find another shed to hide in?”
“Bloody cemeteries are full of ill-tempered little girls,” he growled, anger making his voice somewhat stronger for a few seconds. “Had to fight my way out of a herd of ‘em last night just to make it back here. Wasn’t really in any shape to go house-hunting after that.” In spite of the irritation she could hear in his voice, there was also an undercurrent of pain and exhaustion that stayed her instinctive urge to retaliate.
She froze. Coincidence! Coincidence! Aloud, she said, “You mean you’ve met some other slayers?”
“I guess that’s what the bloodthirsty little bitches were.” He stopped to gasp for air, and Buffy had to fight an urge to ask him what was wrong. “Tried to stab me with pieces of wood. Was hard work getting out of there without hurting any of ‘em too bad.” There was a long pause, then, “I don’t think I hurt anyone. I tried to be careful. Thought you wouldn’t like it if I hurt anybody.”
Buffy sank down on an upturned crate. “That was you?” There was silence for a few seconds while the vampire grasped the implications of her question.
“Maybe? Are you angry with me?”
Buffy laughed sourly and waved her hand in the air. “Why would I be mad at you? You move into my backyard, beat up a squad of slayers who were supposed to be ready to graduate, and then come back to live in my shed again. What about that could possibly make me mad?” Her voice had risen as she talked, and when she realized she was yelling, she stopped and glared in his direction.
“In my defense, they were trying to kill me,” he said in a small, weak voice. “Came damn close to it, now that I think on it…”
“They were supposed to kill you. I can’t graduate a bunch of girls who can’t take care of one vampire when the odds are six to one! That shouldn’t even be possible.”
“Really?” For a moment he sounded more like the defiant vampire she’d first talked to. “Most vampires couldn’t have done that?”
Buffy bit her lip. “I can only think of one… maybe two… probably just one.” She shook herself. “So beside the point!” She groaned and put her head in her hands, oblivious to the fact that the sun was sinking and her safe space was shrinking as the gloom increased in the small building. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Prob’ly not the issue you think it is,” he said, sounding tired again. “Didn’t get a chance to catch anything to eat last night, lost a lot of blood from where one of those girls nailed me, and today I’m so weak, I couldn’t even catch Roscoe when he paid a visit.”
“Oh. Yeah. Roscoe. Wait, what? You were going to eat a rat?”
“It’s not like I’m strong enough to go hunting lions, is it? What little energy I had left, those girls took right out of me.”
“You kicked their asses. How do you figure you’re too weak to hunt… something?”
“That was fear – sheer terror – and being smarter and faster than they were. I got lucky. Probably couldn’t do it again if I had to. I was on my way to try to find some other place to sleep when they jumped me. By the time I got away from them, it was all I could do to drag myself back here before the sun came up. I may not know all there is to know about being a vampire, but I can feel m’ body shutting down. Another couple of nights without food, and…”
“You expect me to just leave you here to starve to death? It’d be kinder to stake you.”
“Well, bloody well can’t expect you to feed me, can I?” he growled, then coughed and moaned softly. “Just go away, Slayer. Let me die in peace, yeah?”
“Buffy. My name is Buffy.” She paused, then took a deep breath. “What’s yours?”
“Got no bloody idea. Pick one you like.” He sounded exhausted and uninterested. There was another rustling sound as he shifted positions, reminding her that he was injured as well as hungry.
“You don’t know your name? Not even from before you were turned?”
“Don’t know much of anything before a few days ago. Woke up outside your garden gate—hungry, hurt, and with a bad sun allergy. Didn’t know for sure what I was till you told me. Suspected, but didn’t know.”
Buffy stood up. “Stay here,” she ordered, turning and walking out before he could respond.
“Did you just buy blood?” Dawn stared at Buffy’s defiant face and rolled her eyes. “Ohmygod. You’re adopting this vamp, aren’t you?”
“He’s starving. And he doesn’t eat people for some reason, so I just… I just got him some blood. So he can get better. And leave. That’s all.”
Dawn cocked her head at Buffy. “Does he remind you of Spike or Angel or something? Is that why you’re feeding him instead of killing him? Because he looks like one of them?”
“I don’t know what he looks like,” Buffy admitted. “He’s always behind the wood if it’s daytime, and I didn’t get to see him last night.”
“Last night? You’re feeding the vamp that beat up your squad?” Dawn rolled her eyes dramatically. “I’m living in bizarro world, aren’t I?” As Buffy started out of the kitchen, Dawn fell into step behind her. “What?” she said to Buffy’s startled look. “I want to meet your new vampire.”
“He’s not my ‘new vampire’, Buffy snapped. “I’m just helping him get strong enough to go live somewhere else.”
The shed door was still open, as Buffy had left it, but without the sun shining into the building, the interior was all shadows and darkness.
“Damn! I should have remembered the flashlight.”
“What?” Buffy answered Dawn in a distracted fashion, as she moved slowly into the shed, watching the shadows for one that might be animate.
“It’s a torch. That’s what they call them here. You need to learn the lingo.”
“I was born and raised in California. It’s a damn flashlight, and that’s what I’m going to call it.”
“Whatever. Do you want me to go get it?”
“Yes, please. It’s sitting on the kitchen table with the… you know. The stuff.”
Muttering to herself about people who were willing to buy blood for vampires, but not to use the word in front of them, Dawn followed the stone path back toward the kitchen door. She glanced up when the back gate creaked open and several shadows slid into the garden.
“Buffy?” Dawn’s voice had a tone that she only used on rare occasions – usually when she was in need of rescue. “Are you sure he doesn’t have friends?” She looked around frantically for some kind of a weapon, backing up toward the shed where Buffy was just peering out the door to see what was going on. With one leap, Buffy was out the door and in front of Dawn, pushing her back and ordering, “Hand me the broomstick and grab the rake.”
The shadows moved closer, revealing themselves to be a small group of newly turned vampires, grave dirt still clinging to their clothes. In the faint illumination coming from the kitchen windows, Buffy could just make out their fangs.
“I’m guessing you guys are kinda new around here, huh?” Buffy put her hand behind her for the broken broom handle Dawn was just placing there.
The vamp in the front looked confused. “Shouldn’t she be screaming?” he asked, looking to his companions for confirmation.
“I’d think so,” one replied. “We’re bloody frightening, if you ask me.”
“You’re ugly,” Buffy agreed. “You got that right.”
She moved away from the shed so that she would have more room to move, knowing Dawn would warn her if any of them tried to get behind her. At a silent signal, they all rushed the woman they’d planned to have for dinner, only to discover that she was no longer there. Having flipped over their heads, Buffy took advantage of the temporary distraction to drive the broomstick into two backs so quickly the first one was still dusting when she plunged it into his companion.
A sound from Dawn momentarily drew her gaze away, and two of the remaining vampires leapt at her, carrying her to the ground with their combined weight. A third was wrestling with Dawn as she flailed at him with the rake and tried to close the shed door. Buffy landed with the piece of broom handle facing out, impaling and dusting one of the two opponents still in the fight. The sound of snarling and scuffling from the shed had her throwing the remaining vampire off and staking him before he’d even hit the ground.
She whirled to go to Dawn’s rescue to find nothing but the rake and a pile of dust in the doorway. Dawn was breathing hard and clutching her neck, but seemed to be fine. On the ground beside her was what appeared to be a bundle of dark clothing.
“I don’t know. One minute I was trying to get the door shut or stake him with the rake, and then something pushed past me and held him until I could get a good angle on his heart.” She glanced down at the dark bundle at her feet. “I’m guessing this is your vampire project?”
Buffy dropped to her knees beside the inert object. She ran her hands over it, confirming only that there was a vaguely human form under the tattered leather coat. She picked up one thin wrist to feel for a pulse, then shook her head at her own stupidity.
She stood, picking up the limp body and placing it in the garden cart.
“Let’s get him to the house, so I can see what’s wrong,” she said, moving forward as she did so. “And for God’s sake, remind me tomorrow to get a lock for that damn gate!”
“Maybe you could just post a sign, ‘Slayer lives here’,” Dawn said. “That should cut down on the demon visits, don’t you think?”
“Assuming idiots like that can read….”
While Dawn held the door, Buffy lifted the vampire’s unnaturally light body out of the cart and easily carried it into the kitchen, muttering a probably unnecessary “come in” as she did so. She stood inside the door, frowning uncertainly.
“Oh, just put him on the table. We can clean it off later.”
Depositing her burden carefully, Buffy turned him onto his back and gasped when she saw his face. In addition to the expected wrinkled brow and fangs, his face was a mass of angry scars and sores that could only have come from burns. His lips were barely visible, going a long way to explaining why he was sometimes hard to understand. His head was just as covered with scars and burns as his face.
“Oh my God!” Dawn’s voice was a combination of horror and disgust.
Biting her lip, Buffy pulled the coat away from his body and couldn’t smother another gasp. The torso she exposed was barely covered in a shredded tee-shirt that couldn’t hid the emaciated corpse under it. Every bone was visible, his stomach so sunken in that Buffy wasn’t sure he actually had internal organs. Every inch of bare skin bore more of the horrific burns that made his face so hard to look at. Some of them were already ridged scar tissue, and others seemed to be new and raw. In some cases, the flesh was blackened, making Buffy afraid to touch it for fear it would crumble to ash. An open gash along his left side was proof that Gill’s stake had, indeed, almost found its mark. Glancing down his body, Buffy and Dawn could see that his jeans were almost as destroyed as his shirt. Through a gaping hole in one leg, they could see an oozing sore that went all the way to the bone. There was no blood visible in or around either wound, something Buffy took to be a very bad sign.
“Oh my God,” Dawn said again, in a whisper this time. “What happened to him?”
“Those are burns,” Buffy said. “I don’t know where or how he got them, but I can understand why he might not want to remember it.” She stared at the motionless body on her kitchen table. “I should just put him out of his misery,” she whispered. “He’s got be half crazy from the pain.”
“He saved me, Buffy.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Buffy turned away and struggled with her conscience. “I know he saved you. And look what it did to him.”
Chapter 4: Four
The two girls stared at the inert body on the table. It looked like nothing so much as the corpse of someone who’d been cremated, but pulled from the oven too soon.
“He’s not dust,” Dawn said finally. “As long as he’s not dust, he can recover, right?”
“Recover and do what? Spend the next… however long it would take… suffering from burns over most of his body?”
Even as she argued with Dawn that the kindest thing to do would be to stake the creature while he was unconscious, Buffy was opening one of the containers of pig blood she’d bought. Without warming it up, she dipped one finger in and smoothed it over the ragged lips. There was no sign of life from the vampire; the blood just sat on his lips and gradually soaked into the mangled flesh.
“Huh. Do you think that could help?”
“Putting it on the wounds. Maybe it doesn’t matter how it gets into his body, just so it gets in there.”
Dawn looked dubious. “Don’t you think Spike might have mentioned that one of the times he got beat up or tortured? All he ever wanted to do with blood was drink it, not bathe in it.”
Buffy sighed. “I suppose you’re right… it just looked like it soaked into…” She stopped and put another finger’s worth of blood on the ravaged lips. While waiting to see where it went, she dipped her finger again and let a few drops of blood drip onto the cut in the vampire’s side. She frowned, moving her gaze from his torso to his face and back. “I think it’s sinking in,” she said. “I’m going to keep trying.”
Suiting actions to words, Buffy began to apply the blood all around the oblivious vampire’s mouth, afraid to rub it in for fear of damaging the burned lips ever more, but making sure there was plenty coating them. She stood back and surveyed her work. Except that he now looked like he’d been feeding, with the blood on his lips and a small trickle running down his cheek, there was no change.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, here! Give it to me.” Dawn grabbed the container away from Buffy and inserted a small spoon. She took the spoonful of blood and stuck it in his mouth, holding it there long enough to make sure it was pooling inside and not running back out. She waited, then tried it again.
She’d put four teaspoons full of blood into the vamps mouth before Buffy gasped and squealed. “He swallowed! I saw his throat move!” Encouraged, she pulled the spoon away from Dawn, saying, “Let me!”
“Fine! It’s your pet vampire. You feed him.” Dawn turned away in disgust, washing her hands and watching as she leaned against the sink. Buffy filled his mouth again, waiting impatiently for some sign that he was swallowing. When a low snarl accompanied a slight opening of his mouth, she shouted in triumph and offered more blood.
It was soon evident that, although his body was responding to whatever was placed in his mouth, the vampire was still unconscious and unaware of anything going on around him. Not until his eyes opened and an amber glare fixated on Buffy’s throat did it occur to her that a starving vampire might not be in full control of himself.
“Down, boy,” she said. “Don’t make me have to hurt you… any more than you already are.” Ignoring the steady growls coming from his throat, she began spooning more blood into him, smiling as the growls tapered off to more appreciative sounds. There was only half a container left when he snapped his mouth shut and closed his eyes.
“I think he’s probably full,” Dawn said when Buffy frowned and looked as if she was planning to force more blood down his throat. “If he’s really been starving, he probably can’t hold very much at one time.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense…” Buffy put down the blood and spoon with a resigned sigh. “But that wasn’t enough to make him better,” she complained.
“Come on, Buffy. You know how long it took Spike to get over what the First did to him – and that’s with you sneaking him your blood when you thought nobody would notice….” She giggled when Buffy stared at her with wide eyes.
“How did you…?”
“I’m not as dumb as you think I am,” she said with a smug smile. “Plus, there was no way, as weak as he was, that he got back on his feet that fast on a diet of pig blood.”
At Buffy’s raised eyebrow, Dawn looked uncomfortable for a moment and then said, “When you were… gone. Spike would get drunk and go looking for fights. Sometimes he lost. I got pretty good at knowing how long it was going to take him to heal up enough to want to go out and do it again.”
Buffy nodded and gestured to the vampire on the table that was watching them with eyes that showed no trace of recognition. “So, how long do you think before he can have more to eat, Dr. Summers?”
Dawn shrugged. “Beats me. Spike got pretty thin, but he never starved himself. I could always get him to eat. He knew he wouldn’t be much use to anybody if he was too weak to fight.”
“But it was okay for him to go out and get himself mangled?”
“That didn’t happen every time,” Dawn said, defending Spike’s honor. “And he’d always be really sorry that he couldn’t be there to protect me, or to patrol with everybody. He just couldn’t help himself sometimes. It was the only way he could deal….”
A whisper of sound from the table brought their attention back to the injured vampire lying there. The eyes were still those of a demon, and they focused on Buffy with an intensity that was almost frightening. Until she noticed that they were actually looking past her to the blood and spoon she’d set down.
“Guess he’s ready for more,” Dawn said.
Buffy nodded and grabbed the spoon and container of blood. As the vampire opened his mouth far enough for Buffy to see that the inside was also badly damaged, she began spooning in more blood. “It’s like feeding a baby bird,” she said as she waited for him to swallow and open again. The eyes flickered to hers, holding mingled shame and need. “Sorry,” she whispered. “Just drink up, ‘k?”
There was only one spoonful left in the container when he once again shut his mouth and refused to take any more. Buffy tried to coax him to finish it off, but his eyes were closed and he’d become completely immobile again. She straightened up and sighed. “Guess I’d better not push it. I don’t want him throwing up blood all over the kitchen.”
“Ewwwwww. And on that disgusting note, I’m going to my room to watch the telly. Hopefully I can find something funny to wipe that little picture from my brain.”
“Hey, you’re the one who’s used to blood and slimy demon guts and stuff like that. I have more delicate sensibilities.”
“This from somebody who used to try to make milkshakes with day old pizza….”
“I’m a creative cook,” Dawn said as she flounced from the room. “See you in the morning, if your vampire hasn’t recovered enough to try to eat you before then.”
“Hah,” Buffy muttered, staring at the still corpse-like body. “I could break him in half with one hand right now.” The vampire opened one golden eye far enough to make sure she could see him glaring at her, then shut it again and went back to being dead.
She puttered around the kitchen, dumping out the already-congealing blood left in the container and rinsing off the spoon. She glanced at the filthy and ragged boots dangling off the table and shook her head. With a quick glance to see if he was going to object, she snapped the laces and pulled the first one off. A groan from the owner of the foot made her slow down enough to see that there was burnt flesh inside the boots too. With a quiet, “I’m sorry,” she worked it off and found that the burns coincided with the holes in the boot. When working on the other boot, she was able to guess where the painful spots were likely to be and she got that one off without getting any noticeable reaction from her patient.
Holding them away from her body, she carried them to the door and set them outside. She eyed the trashcan wistfully, but resisted the urge to throw them away.
When she returned to the table, she tried to tell herself that she was seeing some improvement in the still-inert body. Her optimism was rewarded when she saw his fingers twitch as he attempted to raise his hand.
“Do you want something? Are you still hungry? I have more blood.”
His mouth opened, but all that came out was an exhausted sigh. She watched curiously as he obviously tried to speak, then gave it up. Buffy took his fingers in hers, trying not cringe away from the fragile skin there. “Don’t try to talk. Just squeeze my fingers – once for yes, twice for no. Can you do that?”
A barely noticeable squeeze led her to ask, “Do you want more blood? I don’t want to make you sick, but you look like you haven’t eaten in…. Well, you look pretty skinny. So, more blood?” He squeezed her fingers again, more strongly this time, twice in rapid succession.
“Okay, so not hungry yet. What do you wan—” She stopped herself, remembering why they were using fingers to communicate. She blew out a frustrated breath. “I don’t know what else to do for you. I’m more used to hurting vamps than I am trying to help them.”
He made a small sound that might have been a bark of laughter, then winced and was still. His fingers went limp in hers, causing a brief moment of panic before she realized that he’d just lost consciousness again. She dropped his hand and leaned over him, trying not to cringe at the mess that was his face.
“Listen, I’m going to go upstairs for a little while and shower and change, okay? I’ll be right back. Don’t try to go… I guess that’s not gonna happen, but just wait for me ‘k?”
There was no response, but she told herself he’d probably heard her and went up to her room. She took a quick shower and changed into sweatpants and a loose shirt, putting warm socks on her feet in case the kitchen floor got cold. As she went back down, she checked the doors and turned off most of the lights, leaving just one at the foot of the stairs and the bright overhead light in the kitchen.
When she got back to the table, she saw that he had turned his head to one side and was squinting. Quickly turning off the too-bright light, she lit the softer ones beneath the cabinets. “Is that better? I didn’t think about the light maybe hurting your eyes.”
He made a sound that she chose to interpret as “thanks” and turned his head to stare at her. “Why?” he croaked.
“I don’t know.” Buffy avoided his gaze, studying the floor intently. “I just thought… and then you saved Dawn and….” She glared at him. “Just take what you get and don’t make me think about what I’m doing,” she said.
He gave another one of those almost laughs, then moved one hand and gestured toward himself.
“You want more? Okay, give me a sec.” She took the other container out of the refrigerator and debated with herself before pouring some into a big mug. She put the mug into the microwave and let it warm while she returned the blood container to the fridge. She got the spoon from the dish drainer and carried it and the mug to the table.
“Open wide,” she said, dipping the spoon into the warm blood. When the body temperature blood hit his tongue, the vampire made a sound that Buffy almost blushed at. “Good, huh?” She coughed to cover her embarrassment. “That’s how Spi—nevermind. Here, open up again.”
By time he’d finished the mug of blood – a tedious process, one spoonful at a time – his face, while still scarred and oozing, was noticeably less gaunt. He shook his head lightly when Buffy asked if he wanted her to warm up another mugful.
“Thank you,” he rasped while she was rinsing the spoon and mug off in the sink.
Buffy glanced over her shoulder to see him watching her, his golden eyes softening into a dark blue as she looked at him. The wrinkles smoothed out just enough for her to see how badly damaged his human face was. The scars were hard ridges across his cheeks and nose, and the open sores still looked raw and painful.
“I wasn’t sure I was doing something you’d thank me for,” she admitted. “It… you… the burns—they look very painful.”
He nodded his agreement, but grimaced in what she took to be an attempt to smile. “Hurts like a bastard,” he said. “I’m wearing my fangs more often than not. Seems easier to handle the pain when the demon’s in charge.”
“Then why…?” She gestured at his almost equally distorted human face.
“Thought if might be easier for you… getting that close to me. That you’d be more comfortable if—”
“I’ll be fine,” she said, smiling to counteract the terseness of her reply. “It’s not the first time I’ve been that close to a feeding vampire.”
He blinked a couple of times, then sighed in relief and faded back into his vampire mien. “Right then. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She cocked her head and studied him. “You look like you’re getting stronger.”
“A bit,” he said. “Don’t want to appear rude, but I think I’m going to take a little nap….” His voice trailed off as his eyes shut and he stilled.
“Great. He naps and I get to hang out waiting for him to wake up and want more food.”
Movement near her head caused Buffy to stir and raise it from where it had been resting on her arm. She sat up, embarrassed to have been caught napping by the wide awake vampire lying only a few inches away from where her head had fallen.
“Sorry,” she said. “I guess I dozed off. Are you ready for more blood?”
“If you don’t mind, Slayer. I thought about trying to get it myself, but….”
“But you’d have fallen on your face and made a mess in my kitchen,” she said, giving him a wry smile. “Waking me up was definitely a better choice.”
She walked to the refrigerator and took out the last container of blood. “Guess I’d better hit the butcher shop again when it gets light,” she said, more to herself than him. She poured blood into the mug and put it in the microwave to warm, turned around to find him looking at her with an expression that seemed very out of place on the face of a demon. “What?”
He shook his head and said, “Nothing. Nothing at all.” He struggled to sit up, then surrendered to his body and settled for rolling onto his side. “Don’t know why you’re doin’ this for me, but I appreciate it more than I can say. As soon as I can hold myself upright, I’ll get out of your hair.”
Buffy approached the table holding onto the mug of blood. “Don’t think I’m going to let you leave here until I know you can take care of yourself,” she scolded. “I’m not sending you out there to undo—I didn’t give up a whole night’s sleep just so you can throw all my efforts away.”
He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know much about being a vampire, or about what Slayers are, for that matter, but I’m pretty sure that most people who do would think there was something very wrong with this.”
“I got over worrying about what ‘most people’ think when I was fifteen and had to set fire to my high school gym to get rid of a nest of vamps.” She looked from the cup to him, asking, “Do you think, if I hold you up, you can swallow this by yourself? It’ll go faster if I can just pour it in there.”
“Give it a try,” he said, but there was an undercurrent of doubt.
“You don’t think you can? Why not?”
“Hurts,” he said shortly. “Think I’m burned on the inside too.”
“Oh my God, I never thought about that. I mean, I could see that your tongue, and your voice is… I’ve just been hurting you more with every swallow, haven’t I? I should have staked you, I’m just making things worse.”
“No. Don’t think that. You’re doing what you think is right, and I….” His voice trailed off as he struggled to get enough air to continue speaking.
“Shut up,” Buffy ordered in her best I-am-the-slayer-and-you-aren’t voice.
She slid her hand under his back, trying not to notice the way the damaged flesh gave under her fingers. As soon as she felt she could do so without pulling his skin off, she lifted his still-too-light torso until he was almost sitting upright. Setting the mug to his lips with her other hand, she watched anxiously as he obediently opened his mouth and allowed her to slowly pour the contents of the mug into his throat. When he’d swallowed almost two thirds of the contents, something about the way he was so rigid against her arm told her the pain was becoming too much, even for the demon. She took pity on him and pulled the cup away.
“Are you okay?”
He rolled one golden eye at her, not bothering to waste any energy commenting on the obvious not-okayness of his condition, but managing to get the message across anyway.
“All right. Not okay, but is this working? If it’s too painful, say so, and we’ll go back to the spoon.”
“I’ll be alright,” he rasped out. “Just need to take a little break.” Now that he wasn’t fighting the pain of swallowing, his body trembled with the effort to remain upright.
“Relax,” she said. “I’ve got you.”
He nodded and slumped against the strong arm holding him up.
“Ready to try again? Before it gets all cold and yucky… and I cannot believe I’ve just suggested that warm blood isn’t yucky.”
He huffed one of his laughs and nodded again. When she held the mug against his lips, she accidentally bumped them against his fangs, drawing a pained gasp from the vampire.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m not used to vamps being so fragile. Even when they’re hurt.”
He quickly swallowed the rest of the contents, sighing when she took the mug away and lowered him to the table.
“Taken care of a lot of hurt vamps, have you?” he gasped.
“Stop talking. And yes. Well, no. Only one. But he was always getting himself beat up or tortured, so…”
“Sounds like a right idiot,” he said, his voice a bit stronger, if still distorted.
“No,” she said, sending him a fierce look. “He wasn’t an idiot. He was a… a hero. A champion.”
Chapter 5: Five
By the time Buffy had fed the vampire the last of the blood, the sun was beginning to lighten the sky outside the windows and he was looking nervous.
“Need to get out of here,” he said. “This room has too many windows for me, and no handy sheets of wood to hide behind.” He pushed himself up to a sitting position and looked around the room. “Where are my boots?”
“Those disgusting things? They’re outside, where they belong. They aren’t even in one piece, anyway. You should just let me throw them away.”
“They’re all I have,” he said quietly, sending a bolt of shame through her for not having considered that.
“Well, you can’t go out to get them now,” she said, gesturing to the shaft of sunlight coming through the glass in the kitchen door.
“I can’t stay here, either,” he pointed out. “Just get them for me… please?”
“Why? So you can walk outside and go up in flames? It looks like you already tried that once—“ Her voice broke off. “Is that what happened to you? Did you try to walk into the sun?”
He shook his head. “Got no bloody idea what happened to me. Told you, I can’t remember anything before a week or so ago.” He looked down at his torn clothes and the hole in his leg. “Prob’ly just as well,” he muttered. “Doesn’t look like I was having much fun.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Buffy moved back to his side, her voice more sympathetic than before. “You can stay in the basement. Just till you’re well,” she blurted when he gaped at her. “It’ll be more comfortable than the shed, and you can get your own blood if I’m not home.”
“You’re either daft, or so bloody cocky—”
“Don’t follow that thought,” she snapped. “If you weren’t so weak, and if I didn’t think I could sort of… maybe… trust you, I wouldn’t even consider it. But I can’t get you back to the shed now, and I can’t leave you on my kitchen table, so the basement it is.” She put her hands on her hips. “Can you get up by yourself?”
He nodded and slid to the end of the table, his pale bare feet looking incongruous with the jeans and coat. He sat there for a moment, then dropped to the floor, swaying with the effort. Before he could fall, Buffy was beside him, her shoulder under his, her arm around his waist. “I’ve got you. Come on, I’ll help you get downstairs.”
Moving very slowly, but with better balance with each step, they got to the door at the top of the basement stairs. “Be careful, it’s gonna be dark until I find the light switch… Oh, yeah,” she said with an embarrassed laugh as she remembered what was leaning on her. “Guess that’s not as big a deal for you as it is for me.”
“It’s over there, Slayer,” he said, gesturing with one hand. “An’ yeah, I don’t need it, but don’t want you to go tumbling down, do I?”
“Not if you don’t want to go back to being hungry,” she said, reaching for the switch. When the stairs had been illuminated, they began the painful process of getting him down them without falling. It took a while, and a few hissed intakes of breath that told Buffy she’d held on too hard, but in time they were safely at the bottom. She left him holding on to the bannister while she looked around for the best place to put him.
The cellar was not someplace she had been to very often; with her washer and dryer in a room off the kitchen, and Xander’s frequent visits to make sure everything was working as it should, she’d not had much reason to visit the dark, dank area under the house. She prowled around until she found a stack of old furniture pushed up against one wall. Along with some tables she’d been unwilling to discard, were the old mattresses that they’d taken off the upstairs beds. Deciding that a starving, injured vampire wasn’t in a position to complain if mold had already begun growing on them, Buffy pulled the first two away from the wall, dragged them out, and put them into the cavity under the stairs, one on top of the other.
Once you’ve had a house full of girls sleeping everywhere, you know better than to throw away mattresses. Although I probably should move them out of here one of these days. Maybe they can go upstairs somewhere on the third floor. It’s not like I’m using it for anything.
“I guess that’s about as comfy as I can make it,” she said, frowning at the lumpy and not terribly clean surface. “I’ll be right back with some sheets and—”
“Slayer—Buffy… Not that I don’t appreciate this, luv, but I’ve been sleeping with a rat on the dirt floor of a garden shed. I’ll be more than fine. You go do whatever it is you do during the day, and I’ll just catch some more kip here, yeah?”
“Kip? Oh yeah, sleep. Wish I could do that, but I think I have to go to work today – at least for a little while. I need to talk to Giles about those girls and whether or not we should graduate them.” She stared at him again, taking in his barely average height, the painfully thin body, the exhaustion caused just from getting down a flight of stairs. She shook her head. “I just really don’t know how you did what you did. You should have been dust within seconds.”
He shrugged. “Came at me in a bunch,” he said. “Got in each other’s way so much that I was able to keep them fighting each other more than me. Wasn’t until I started pushing them away that they had room to swing their stakes without hurting each other.” He turned away as if ashamed. “I’m sorry about the one with the broken hand. I didn’t mean to do that to her, but she was trying to kill me.”
“It’s okay,” Buffy soothed. “You were defending yourself. I’m not mad at you – I’m mad at me. I should have taught them better.” She paused and bit her lip. “So, if they’d come at you one at a time, or maybe two…?”
“You’d have a much cleaner kitchen table, and no bags under those pretty eyes.”
Ignoring the compliment and the uncomfortable feeling it gave her, Buffy focused on what she’d learned about the team’s ability to fight as a group. “That’s actually very helpful. Thank you, … “ She sighed. “I’ve got to call you something. I wish you knew what your name was.”
“Wouldn’t mind knowing a bit more about it myself,” he agreed. “But I don’t. Anytime I try to remember anything, jus’ gives me a headache and makes my burns start hurting more.”
“Well, I’m just going to name you then… something Englishy maybe? Nigel?” She giggled at the growl he forced out. “Percy? Rupert? No, Giles already has that one. Let’s see, Basil? Reginald?” Her giggles increased along with the growls that accompanied each attempt to come up with something suitably annoying. When the last growl choked off into a coughing fit, she realized what she was doing and apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… How about ‘Bob’?”
He staggered to the mattresses and sank down upon them, drawing shallow breaths that obviously pained him almost as much as the growling and coughing had. Buffy bit her lip and reached a tentative hand toward him, dropping it when he glared at her.
“I am sorry,” she said. “I guess that was only funny to me… you know, the one without the burned lungs, who’s missing her common sense.” She looked so genuinely distressed that he waved a forgiving hand at her.
“It’s alright, Slayer. As much as you’ve done for me, got a right to call me whatever you want. ‘Bob’ is fine.”
“Okay, Bob. I’m going to go get dressed and check in at the school. I’ll pick up some more blood on the way home.”
He didn’t reply, just lowered himself to the bed and closed his eyes, once again seeming to be nothing but the corpse of someone who’d died a very painful death. Buffy watched him for a few seconds, but when there was no movement, she went back upstairs, turning off the light and shutting the door behind her.
She was just putting coffee into a travel mug to take into work with her when Dawn came down and snatched the pot away. While she poured out her own cup, she looked around the empty kitchen.
“So, where is he?”
“Basement. Stay out of it, ‘k?”
“Sure. No problem. If he’s getting better, I plan to let the one with the super strength take care of the injured vampire.” She set her cup down and reached for the sugar bowl. “He is better, I take it?”
“Yeah. He’s stronger. He’ll be even better when I get some more blood into him. Still looks like somebody tried to barbeque him, but at least he can stand up and growl at me when I say something stupid.”
“Growl? We’re feeding him, and he’s growling?” She tossed her head. “Damned ungrateful, if you ask me.”
“He’s hurting, Dawn. He’s hurt, confused, and, I think, scared. I shouldn’t have been teasing him.”
“Note to self: Don’t provoke an injured vampire. Maybe you should put that in that Slayer Handbook you and Giles are working on.”
Buffy snorted. “Maybe so. On the plus side, he did tell me why he was able to get away from six slayers with only a gash across his ribs, so that’s good to know. I can work with those girls today and maybe get them ready to graduate after all.”
“Could be handy, having a pet vampire around,” Dawn said. “I remember how you and Spike used to work with the potentials…”
Buffy smiled. “Yeah. That was pretty awesome. They were so used to him being the quiet guy in the basement, they didn’t know what to do with themselves whenever he went into game face or beat something up in front of them… It was good training for them too – having to spar with Spike – even when he couldn’t hit them.” She shook herself. “But, that was Spike and I knew I could trust him. ‘Bob’ is just a random vamp that for some reason won’t feed on people.”
“What? It’s a perfectly good name. And easier than calling him ‘the vampire’.” Buffy walked to the door, preparing to leave. “Maybe I should ask Willow to take a look at him and see if he’s got a soul? That would go a long way to explaining why he’s so weird.”
“So, what do you think?” Buffy stared at Giles expectantly. Without going into great detail, she’d filled him in on the vampire in her shed and what he’d shared about his experience with the slayer squad.
He shook his head. “I don’t know what to think. Certainly, we should have Willow or one of the other coven members take a look at him to see if he has somehow kept or acquired his soul. I don’t want you bringing him around the school, though. Not unless they can vouch for his souled state. And I’m not very happy that you’ve kept him on your property…”
Buffy had not shared with Giles that the vampire in question was now residing in her basement and sharing the house with Dawn. She just said, “He’s so weak right now, you could beat him up, Giles.” She grinned at his glare and continued, “Don’t worry. I’m not planning to adopt him. But he did save Dawn from a bad bite, and almost dusted himself doing it, so….”
Giles nodded. “Well, I do agree that the information he shared about how he managed to avoid becoming dust when he had a full squad of slayers after him, is something you can use in a training session. Perhaps he can be of some use to us, if it turns out he is genuinely harmless.”
“You’ve come a long way, Giles,” Buffy said as she stood up. “Remember when the only good vampire was a dead one?”
“I don’t believe I said ‘good’, I said ‘useful’ and ‘harmless’. I am still of the opinion that the only way you can trust a vampire is if he has been ensouled somehow. Preferably permanently…”
“Or, if he wants to be good badly enough that he goes and earns his soul back,” Buffy said, her steady gaze telling him they were still poles apart when it came to how they chose to remember Spike.
“Quite so,” he said with a sigh. “But that was a very unique situation, and Spike was strongly influenced by his feelings for you. I sincerely doubt that it was a desire to be good that sent him seeking that soul.” As Buffy’s face clouded, he hastened to add, “But it was an admirable thing to do, never the less, and I will always believe so.”
Somewhat mollified, she stood up, saying, “I’m going to work with that squad today and see if I can get them to figure out what they did wrong the other night. If they can’t, then I’ll have to tell them what it was, and that means they’re going to need more training before we send them out on their own.”
“All right, ladies.” Buffy, hands on hips, stared at the girls grouped in front of her. “Who can tell me what went wrong the other night?”
There was a lot of shuffling of feet and exchanging of sidelong looks before Rose raised her bandaged hand.
“It was dark. And he was really fast, and—”
“Un huh. Because it will never be dark when you’re fighting other vampires, will it? And God knows, they aren’t as fast as we are….”
Rose glared at a girl who dared to snicker at her, and dropped her hand. “Well, you try fighting one vamp when your friends keep getting in your way,” she muttered.
Six pairs of eyes blinked at her beneath puzzled frowns. Buffy could see when the wheels began turning and things began to fall into place. Gill gave a triumphant shout. “That’s it! We got in each other’s way. That’s why I missed his heart; I couldn’t get a good angle on it because there was always somebody too close by.”
There were murmurs of agreement as everyone realized that their eagerness to be the one to stake the vampire had resulted in his escape.
“Who was supposed to be running the squad that night?” Buffy’s voice brought their attention back to her. There was some throat-clearing and eye-shifting, but no one volunteered a name. “That, ladies, was a rhetorical question.” Buffy focused her gaze on a tall girl trying very hard to hide behind Gill.
“Ildeka, whose job was it to organize that attack?”
“Mine,” she mumbled, just a trace of her Hungarian accept still present. “I should have told them what to do.”
Buffy nodded. “When you’re the squad leader, you have to let your team know who is expected to do what. That way, we don’t end up stabbing our own people, or missing a chance to take down the bad guys. A vamp like that, alone, weak, and surrounded by slayers, should have been assigned to one girl. Two at the most, if backup was available. Everybody else should have stayed out of the way.” She ran her eyes over the group. “Who knows why – aside from what we already know about what happens when you have too many cooks?”
Ildeka frowned, the old saying meaning nothing to her, but the other girls thought hard. Rose raised her hand, more timidly than she had the first time.
“The ones who weren’t fighting could have been watching out for other vamps – in case he wasn’t alone.”
“Exactly. Not only did you all get in each other’s way, but no one was watching for trouble. That kind of carelessness could get you all killed.” Buffy sighed as she watched the girls’ expressions flicker from ashamed to angry and back to ashamed. “Okay. Here’s the deal. We’re going to do another patrol in a few days. We’ll head for somewhere that we know has a vamp problem and hope we get the chance to solve it for them. If I like the way it goes, you’ll all graduate on time.”
“And if you don’t?”
Buffy just stared at them until they had all dropped their eyes. She started to walk away, trying not to hear the muttering behind her. When “bitch” drifted to her ears, she stopped and sighed before turning around.
“Look at this from my point of view, girls. If I send you out on your own without knowing for sure that you’ve been well-prepared, then anything bad that happens to you is on me. I didn’t prepare you for something like what happened the other night. That’s my fault. From now on, every group of trainees will practice attacking in large groups. But since it didn’t end successfully, I’m giving us all another chance to show that we know what we’re doing—you, as students, and me as your instructor.”
Buffy was almost to the gate out of the compound when Gill approached her. “Ms Summers… Buffy? Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, Gill. What is it?”
“Why did you say the vampire was weak?”
Gill gazed at Buffy with genuine curiosity, becoming more curious by the second as Buffy stumbled for an answer, finally settling on, “I just know he was. I’m hoping I’ll be able to explain how I know that eventually, but for right now, just trust me. He wasn’t even close to full-strength… and he wasn’t trying to kill you. Think about that the next time you’re feeling cocky about how good you are.”
Without continuing the conversation, Buffy left quickly. She was anxious to get home and make sure Dawn and ‘Bob’ hadn’t tried to kill each other; but she did remember to stop at a butcher shop and clean out the man’s supply of pig blood. After assuring him that she would be a steady customer for a while, she hurried home with a shopping bag full of chilled blood.
Chapter 6: Six
I hope I'm not setting up unrealistic expectations by posting so often, but I'm on a roll, and Just_Sue (beta extraordinary) is getting the chapters back to me almost as fast I send them to her, so....
Buffy let herself into the house, taking the blood to the kitchen and putting all but one container of it away. Faint tingles on the back of her neck told her that the vampire she’d left in the cellar was not dust and still in the house, so she poured a large mug full of blood and put it in the microwave. While it spun around, she found the note Dawn had left and read it quickly.
Hi – Bob was very quiet. I didn’t check, so I don’t know if that means he’s sleeping or dust. I’ll be staying at the school tonight, so don’t worry about dinner for me. TTS, Dawn.
Setting the note down, Buffy took the cup from the oven and walked over to the door to the basement. She opened the door, hit the light switch, and started down the stairs, thanking her slayer coordination for her ability to carry the very full mug without slopping blood all over her hand.
She walked around the corner and found Bob lying on his side and staring at the cup in her hand with hungry yellow eyes.
“Hey,” she said softly. “Can you hold this yourself yet?”
“Tired of coddling the old vamp?” he rasped, struggling to a sitting position.
“I just thought maybe you’d rather be in charge of pouring it down your throat.”
“Sorry, pet,” he said, holding out one shaking hand. “Seems like being hungry makes me cranky in a way that starving never did.”
Buffy handed him the cup, not letting go until she was sure he had a good grip on it. When it appeared as if he wasn’t going to be able to lift to his mouth, she sat down beside him and put her hand around it.
“Here, let me, she said, allowing him to guide the cup, but using her own strength to lift it. As it reached his lips, she noticed that they seemed marginally fuller and less raw than before. With Buffy’s help, he drained the cup in one go and sighed in relief.
“More?” she asked, taking the cup and edging away from him.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” he said. “The more I eat, the faster I’ll be out of your hair.”
“I think…” She thought better of telling him about Giles’s idea of using him to help train slayers, and changed to, “It’s not a problem. You can stay until we both know you’re well enough to take care of yourself. I don’t want to go into the shed three weeks from now and find you curled up with Roscoe again.”
“Wouldn’t do that to you, luv. Once I’m gone, I promise you’ll never see me again.”
“I’m not finding that as reassuring as you probably meant it to be,” she said, standing up. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
He was already lying down, eyes closed and face relaxed. “Be right here,” he mumbled.
Three mugs of blood later, he shook his head when she asked if he wanted more. “Want, yes. Be able to hold onto? I doubt it. Just let me absorb this good old Hampshire hog’s gift of life for a while.”
Buffy nodded and cocked her head at him. “You look… okay, you don’t actually look better, ‘cause…” She waved her hand at his burns and scars. “But you seem to be stronger. How do you feel?”
“Like a kind, beautiful woman has been spending way too much of her time taking care of something so far beneath her she ought to be wiping it off her shoes.”
Buffy stared at him, mouth open and face turning red. At a loss for a reply, she just ran upstairs and began washing the cup out in the sink. As she put it on the drainer to dry, she shook her head at herself. “Get a grip, Buffy. He’s grateful. Deal with it.” Pushing away memories of another vampire who had thought she was beautiful and better than him, she marched back down the stairs and around the corner. She found him sitting on the edge of the bed, hands dangling between his knees, as if contemplating standing up.
“You better not be thinking what I think you’re thinking,” she said, hands on hips and belligerent glare on her face.
“I embarrassed you. I’m sorry,” he said, ignoring her words.
Buffy sighed. “You didn’t embarrass me. You just reminded me of some… somebody else. I should have been able to deal with it better than that.”
He turned his head to the side and looked up at her. “Before I leave here, you’re going to have to tell me about that other vampire you used to take care of.”
Buffy made a non-committal sound and walked closer. “It’s ancient history,” she said. “Really nothing to tell.”
“Uh huh.” His ragged voice dripped skepticism. There was silence for few seconds, then, suddenly, “Is that why you’re helping me? Do I remind you of him?”
“Oh, God no! I mean, yeah, you’re all with the English accent and stuff, but no, you’re nothing like him.” She stared at him. “At least, I don’t think you are,” she admitted. “It’s kind of hard to tell with you being all skinny and scarred up… But, no. I’m not doing this because you remind me of Spike, I’m doing it because… I… because… I don’t know why I’m doing it. Why don’t you just quit asking me?”
“Because I don’t understand. The more I think about what I am—what I’m capable of—you should have dragged me out into the sun as soon as you found me.”
“You really don’t want me having second thoughts about this,” she said, the warning in her voice very clear. “If I were you, I’d shut up.”
Ignoring her, he continued. “I don’t know why you believed me when I told you I was staying away from people. You didn’t know me, had no reason to think a vampire could have that kind of control…”
“Look.” Buffy threw her arms up and began to pace. “It was stupid, okay? But it’s not like I was in any danger – trust me, even healthy, you aren’t going to take me on and win – you wouldn’t have been able to get in the house anyway; and you didn’t sound… you didn’t sound like the average vamp. And the city’s full of student slayers just looking for something to practice on. Letting you get away didn’t seem like anything to worry about. And it kinda seems like maybe I was right – so quit trying to make a big deal out of it.”
“Don’t suppose you have any idea why I’m like this?” He sounded genuinely curious, and Buffy accepted how frustrating it must be for him not to remember anything about who he was... or who he had been before he was turned.
“Actually…” She studied him for a second, then shrugged. “I do. Or at least I have a possibility in mind. Would you be willing to meet with a friend of mine?”
He shrugged. “Assuming she’d be willing to get anywhere near me. Is she another slayer?”
“No. She’s a witch. I want her to read your aura. To see if you have a… a soul.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Again, genuine lack of understanding was all she could read in his voice and eyes.
“Because you’re a vampire, remember? Vamps are demons. They don’t have souls. The soul leaves when the demon takes over.”
“Huh.” He seemed unsure what to make of that, mulling it over for a while. “So, what makes you think I have one?”
“The whole not-eating people thing, trying not to hurt the slayers, saving Dawn from that definitely not-souled vamp even though you were half dead yourself… stop me when I get to something that sounds remotely demonic or evil.”
He cocked his head at her. “This vampire that’s ancient history, did he have a soul?”
“Eventually, he did.”
“But not all the time? When you knew him, he didn’t have a soul, but he was still a hero?”
“He… it was complicated. He was evil at first, and then he couldn’t…and he started helping, and after that he…” She glared at him. “He got his soul so he could be a better… better man.” She paused and took a deep breath.
“Why did he want to be better? Wasn’t he happy being a vampire?”
Buffy bit her lip and tried to come up with a way out of the trap she’d set for herself. Me. He did it for me. “He just wanted to be better. And this is soooo none of your business!”
“So, he was able to do good things without the soul?” He gave no sign that he’d noticed her panicked reaction to his questioning.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. As soon as you’re strong enough, I’ll get Willow over here and we’ll find out what’s up with you.”
“Whenever you want, Slayer,” he said, sudden exhaustion overtaking him. Buffy gave a guilty flinch when she realized how long he’d been talking.
“You should have shut up when I told you to – now look what you’ve done!” She watched him stretch out on the mattress, closing his eyes and going limp.
“I’ll be fine, Slayer. Just need to rest a bit. Go on back upstairs into the light.” He spoke without opening his eyes, and without the usual gasping for enough air to speak.
“I’ll come down and check on you before I go to bed, ‘k?”
There was no response from the inert body on the bed, so Buffy turned around and left the damp basement. She fixed herself a salad for dinner, putting tuna fish on it for protein, and rewarding herself with ice cream for dessert. She called Willow’s number and left a message about setting up a time to read Bob, then watched TV for an hour or so.
Bored with the television, and too sleepy to go out and patrol, she went to the kitchen and fixed another mug of blood. She made her way downstairs and found Bob sitting up again and examining his wounds. He’d taken off the few tattered pieces of tee-shirt he’d been wearing and was feeling the scars and burns on his ribs when she came around the corner.
“Oh! Sorry,” she stuttered. “I didn’t think about knocking.”
He shrugged one bare shoulder. “Don’t need to knock, luv, it’s your house. And I heard you comin’ anyway. Just didn’t feature putting my rags back on to spare your dainty eyes.”
Buffy narrowed said eyes at him. “I think I liked you better when you thought they were pretty eyes,” she said. “What flew up your butt and bit you?”
He sighed. “Nothing. Everything. I’m sorry, Slayer. Guess I must be getting better; I’m starting to care about things like torn clothing and scars on my body.” He looked up at her, fading out of his fangs and wrinkles. “What do I look like?” he asked, feeling his face and tracing the scars with his fingers. When she didn’t reply, only stared, clearly unsure of what to say, he nodded. “Not so pretty, huh?”
“You’ll heal,” she said. “You’re a vampire. Vamps don’t usually have scars. Even if it takes a long time, they go away eventually. Usually.”
Buffy looked uncomfortable. “Spike had one. But he got it from a slayer with a magical sword. Nothing else that ever happened to him left permanent scars.”
He nodded. “Guess I’d better hope whatever did this to me didn’t have any slayer magic then, yeah?”
“Yeah,” she responded. “Here. Take this. I’m going to bed. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“You didn’t get any sleep last night. And that’s my fault.” He took the mug and inhaled the scent of the warm blood. “Go on, Slayer. This’ll do me just fine till tomorrow. I’ve already had more to eat in the past twenty-four hours than I can remember ever having before.”
“You sound a lot stronger,” she said. “But you still look like crap – no offense.”
“None taken,” he said with a short laugh. “My insides feel better. Doesn’t hurt so much to swallow or breath. My tongue is working better. Guess the vocal cords are healing too, although I still sound like somebody’s grandfather.”
“Spike told me one time that vampires heal from the inside out. Sometimes he’d still have bruises and scabs long after I would have expected them to be gone, but when I asked him why he wasn’t healing, he told me his insides were fine. The blood or energy or whatever, went there first.” Now that she’d said Spike’s name, Buffy couldn’t think of any good reason not to use it in front of Bob. She’d already admitted to having known him well and for a long time; there was no sense pretending that he hadn’t been the source of much of her information about vampires.
“Sounds about right,” he agreed, sliding back to rest against the wall while he drank the blood. He looked at her over the rim of the cup, his blue, human eyes peering at her with a warmth that made her uncomfortable. “Go, Slayer. Get some sleep.”
She nodded. “Okay. Good night, Bob.”
By the time Willow arrived the following afternoon, Bob was sitting up and even attempting to stand from time to time. Only the pain of his not yet healing burns kept him from trying to walk around the cellar.
Buffy had run out that morning to the nearest discount store and bought a few soft tee shirts and a cheap buttoned shirt, hoping that one or the other of them might be soft enough to not irritate the raw skin on Bob’s torso. She’d also bought an inexpensive pair of sweat pants that she was sure would be less irritating to his legs than the stiff, blood-encrusted jeans he was still wearing. The relief on his face at no longer having the tee-shirt rubbing against his skin hadn’t gone unnoticed, and she could only imagine what it must feel like to have denim sliding past the open wounds on his legs.
She presented him with her purchases when she got home, only to find him reluctant to take them.
“I appreciate the thought, Buffy. But I don’t want you spendin’ your money on me.”
“You need clothes. These were cheap. You can owe me, if it makes you feel better.”
He nodded and took the package, peering in and then back at her. “Tell me, Slayer,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “is this really for me, or is it just to keep you from ogling my tight little body?”
Buffy gaped at him, then noticed the humor behind his comment. “You wish,” she said, tossing her hair. “If you could see yourself in a mirror, you’d know how dumb that question was.”
The humor vanished from his eyes as he said, “So, it’s to cover up the things you don’t want to look at, then?” He glanced down at his scarred and burnt torso. “Can’t say I really blame you.”
“I didn’t… I don’t….” She rolled her eyes. “That’s not it either. Are you always this irritating?”
“You trying to tell me you like looking at this mess?” He gestured with one hand, encompassing himself from head to toe. “And how the bloody hell would I know what I’m always like?”
“No. I’m not saying that. But I’m not trying to cover it up so I don’t have to look at it either. It is what it is. I can deal. But Willow’s coming over this afternoon and I just thought…. You know what? Do whatever you want. If you want to meet her covered in rags and oozing sores, knock yourself out. She’ll deal too. And Dawn’s already seen you, so she won’t care either.”
Buffy turned and flounced up the stairs, muttering to herself the whole time. “I should have staked him when he laughed at me for being afraid of a rat. Stupid vampire.”
Willow had arrived accompanied by Dawn, who admitted to being curious about their guest now that he was conscious and talking, Buffy fixed another mug of blood and led them to what she was now silently thinking of as “Bob’s room”.
When he met them in front of his little alcove, standing up, one hand on the wall in barely noticeable support, he was wearing the sweat pants and one of the tee shirts. Buffy had purchased fairly large sizes in hopes that the extra fabric would mean less rubbing on the wounds, so she frowned when she noticed that blood or some other fluid had leaked through the pants leg over his wounded thigh.
Following her gaze, Bob shook his head. “No worries, Slayer. The flesh is growing over the bone and there are blood vessels leaking. I’m sorry it stained my new clothes, but—”
“No, it’s okay. I should have expected….” She shook her head. “I don’t know why I didn’t think to bandage you. I’m stupid.”
He shrugged, then gave up pretending he was more recovered than he actually was and sat down. “Pretty hard to put bandages on stuff like this,” he said. “Wouldn’t expect it of you, anyway.”
“I probably wouldn’t have expected it of me either,” she sighed. “Good thing I never went into nursing, I guess.”
Willow and Dawn cleared their throats and Buffy hastened to move aside so they could see the vampire.
“Bob, this is Dawn – my sister – she’s the one you saved the other night. And this is Willow. She’s my friend, and an awesome witch.”
He raised his eyes to the strangers, the color flickering back and forth between blue and yellow. “Ladies,” he said in a voice that Buffy was pleased to find sounded more and more like he wasn’t forcing the words out through shards of glass.
“Hi.” Willow waved, her eyes running over him from the still-burned and bald head to his bare feet. They paused briefly at the stained area on his leg, then went up to meet his eyes. “Wow,” she said. “And, owie!”
He twisted his mouth into some semblance of a grin, and nodded. “Very owie,” he agreed.
Dawn moved toward him, seemingly unafraid about getting too close to a potentially dangerous vampire. She held out her hand and waited for the surprised vamp to take it. “Thank you,” she said, squeezing it just enough to be sincere, but not so much as to hurt him. “For saving me, I mean.”
“You’re welcome, pet. Don’t know that I remember much about it, but if you say I saved you, well, good on me, I guess.”
“You did. So good for you.”
She dropped his hand and stepped out of the way as Willow and Buffy moved closer. Willow placed a small bowl of herbs on the floor and lit them. As she inhaled the fumes, she reached for the hand Dawn had just released and held it over the smoke. Bob flinched as his hand neared the small fire and Buffy stepped to his side, saying, “She isn’t going to hurt you. I promise.”
Willow shot Buffy an irritated glance, then sighed. “She’s right. I’m not going to hurt you, but I need for your hand to be with mine inside the smoke. Is that okay? We’re not going to touch the flames, I swear.”
Buffy rested a comforting hand on his shoulder and he nodded, relaxing his arm and allowing Willow to hold it where she wanted it. She closed her eyes and chanted a few soft words, holding his hand lightly and trying not to rub the still burned flesh there. She finished her chant, dropped her head to her chest for a second, then gasped. Her eyes flew to him, then to Buffy, then back to Bob.
Chapter 7: Seven
“What?” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“Willow?” Buffy’s voice echoed his. “What’s wrong? Doesn’t he have a soul?”
“Oh yeah,” Willow said, letting Bob take his hand back and blowing out the fire. “He’s got one all right, but….”
“What’s wrong with it?” he demanded.
“No…nothing’s wrong exactly. It’s just that I think it might be… used.”
“I mean, it… it may have been used before. By somebody else.” She looked back and forth again between the frowning vampire and Buffy. “I need to… I need to consult with the coven. I might want to bring someone else back to… I just need to learn more about recycled souls.”
“Recycled? You mean reincarnation?”
“Well, yeah. Sort of. Except that I can’t imagine anybody being reincarnated as a vampire.”
“Willow, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing. I mean, I’ve got nothing to tell you. Nothing that you… Nothing. Big nothing. Unless I find out… and then it might be a something… But, you know, probably not? I’ll be back as soon as I know if it’s a something or a nothing.”
“You’re babbling,” Dawn said, crossing her arms. “That’s never a good sign.”
“Is there something wrong with me?” Bob’s voice broke through the round of staring and frowning going on between the three women. There was the faintest rumbling coming from his chest, causing Dawn and Willow to step back and Buffy to put her hand back on his shoulder. It was a gentle touch, but there was no question that she was restraining him. He sighed and slumped down. “Sorry,” he mumbled, looking up at Willow and Dawn from under stubby lashes that were just beginning to grow back.
“It’s okay,” Willow said. “I was babbling as if I’d found something wrong. I didn’t, though. You do have a soul, so that’s why you’re not trying to kill everybody, and that’s why it’s okay for Buffy to have you in the house. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, I was just… surprised for a minute. That’s all. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this.”
“For what?” Buffy’s voice was growing more impatient.
Willow drew herself up and took a deep breath. “Probably for nothing. And that’s all I’m telling you for right now. He has a soul. That’s what you wanted to know, isn’t it? Now you know why he hasn’t been feeding, and why he tried not to hurt the slayers. I’ll tell Giles and he can stop worrying about you.”
Dawn accompanied Willow up the stairs and walked her to the door. “What aren’t you telling us?” she asked, fixing her old friend with the Dawn Summers version of ‘resolve face’. Willow put on her own face and said, “I’m not telling you something that you don’t need to hear if it turns out to be nothing.”
They exchanged stubborn stares, then burst into giggles.
“Fine,” Dawn said, unfolding her arms. “Keep your secrets. See if I care.”
“It’s not a secret, Dawnie. It’s just something I’d rather keep to myself for right now. I swear.”
“Uh huh.” Dawn watched Willow walk away, then closed the door and went to join Buffy, who was now in the kitchen putting together what seemed to be the world’s largest first aid kit.
“What are you doing?”
“What I should have done when he was out like a light and couldn’t feel anything – cleaning those wounds and putting bandages on them so his clothes don’t rub against them while they heal.”
Buffy scooped up the bag of supplies and heading downstairs again “I’ll fix dinner when I get back up here,” she yelled over her shoulder.
“I’ll cook tonight,” Dawn volunteered, laughing when Buffy groaned. “It’s the least I can do.”
“She’s got that right,” Buffy muttered as she came around the corner. Bob was just setting his empty mug on the floor, and glanced at her.
“What’ve you got there, Slayer?”
“Stuff.” She set the bag down and began taking things out, arranging them neatly on the floor. “Pain killers,” she said, handing him two pills and a small bottle of water. “Take one. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it sooner. Tomorrow I’ll ask Willow for some herbal pain relievers to put on the burns, but for right now, this old OxyContin ought to do the trick. I doubt it’s going to hurt a vampire.”
While Bob obediently swallowed one of the pills, she continued to unpack. “Wound cleaning stuff, salve, and bandages. You’ll be a lot more comfortable when I’m done.”
He was silent, staring dubiously at the collection of medical supplies in front of them. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought, Buffy, but getting out of my old clothes and into these wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. Not really looking forward to shucking these so that you can play Florence Nightingale.” When she didn’t say anything, but got a stubborn expression on her face, he added, “Not to mention, if you wanted me naked, all you had to do was ask…”
“Not funny, Bob.” She bit her lip as she accepted the reality of his words, finally sighing and saying, “All right. I’m not really interested in making you hurt more than you already do. But if I wrap the ones that are still open—”
“Was only half-kidding about getting naked, Slayer. Put the clothes on because your friend was coming over, but I’d have rather stayed out of them for a while. If I just had something to cover myself with when you have to come down, I’d be better off without clothes until all the oozing things have stopped… oozing.”
Buffy studied him, seeing no sign of anything but an honest desire to please her without causing himself additional pain. He was unconsciously pulling fabric away from the wound on his leg, grimacing when it seemed to stick for a second.
“That actually makes an odd kind of sense,” she said finally. “Okay, if you can stand to pull your clothes off one more time, I’ll go get you a sheet or something for when you have visitors, and you can just be all nature boy down here until they’ve scarred over.”
When she returned, a soft cotton sheet in her hand, as well as a light blanket and a pillow, he was holding the sweatpants in front of his body and still wearing the shirt. Buffy handed him the sheet, turning her back while he dropped the sweats and wrapped the sheet loosely around his hips. A soft groan brought her back around to find him struggling to pull the tee-shirt over his head. With a sigh of relief, he dropped it to the floor, letting his arms dangle at his sides.
Buffy studied him with a clinical eye. With the sheet draped precariously around his slender hips, there was nothing remotely sexual or attractive about the body in front of her. Although it had filled out a little after two days of steady meals, it was still painfully thin and lacking any muscle definition. Clearly, Bob’s ability to fight his way out of the slayer attack had been based, as he’d said, on adrenaline-fueled speed and a lack of coordination on the part of his attackers.
With his scrawny body, coupled with the sores and scars that covered him from head to toe, and his inability or unwillingness to feed on humans, there was little to envy in the miserable being in front of her. Once again, Buffy had to wonder if it wouldn’t have been a kindness to have staked him while he was unconscious. Something of her thoughts must have shown on her face, as Bob pulled the sheet up higher on his body and shrank back into the alcove.
“I’m doing better, Slayer. I promise you.” The fear in his voice snapped her out of the dark place her thoughts had wandered, and she flinched in sympathy. The very fact that he now wanted to live, versus his “Just leave me alone to die in peace” of less than two days ago, was proof that he was speaking the truth.
“I can see that,” Buffy said. “I didn’t mean to look at you like you were—”
“Something the cat dragged in?”
Buffy sighed and picked up his shirt and pants. “I’ll just put these in the next load of laundry,” she said, avoiding a response to his question. “That way, they’ll be all ready to wear when you think you’ve healed enough to wear clothes again.”
She eyed the dirty mattress upon which he was about to lie down. “I should have brought two sheets,” she muttered. “I’ll be right back.”
She was back with a few minutes, asking him somewhat apologetically if he would get up for a minute so that she could put a bottom sheet over the mattress. Wearing the awed expression that was making her more and more uncomfortable every time she saw it, he got up without comment, clutching his sheet around his body and standing patiently until she had covered the stained mattress.
“That’s better,” she said with satisfaction. “It might not be as fun as cuddling with Roscoe, but it sure looks more comfy.”
“Roscoe’s appeal is highly over-rated,” he replied, grimacing as he lowered himself back onto the bed. “I’ll take clean sheets and solitude any day.”
“And on that cheery note, I’m going to go get you some more blood and then force myself to eat whatever Dawn has conjured up for our dinner.” She bit her lip. “It’s possible it will be less disgusting than your dinner, but I’m not counting on it.”
The sound of genuine laughter followed her up the stairs and she emerged from the basement smiling to herself. At Dawn’s quizzical look, she shrugged and said, “I think he’s feeling better. I’m going to take him some more blood before we eat.” She peered into the pan on the stove. “What are we eating, exactly?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Slayer here. Not a big fan of surprises.”
“Don’t be such a coward. Just throw some more blood at your pet vamp and get back up here.” She continued stirring while Buffy ran back down with another mug of blood and quickly returned.
“Okay. I’m braced for it. What are we having?”
“Chicken soup. From a can, you big sissy.” Buffy sigh of relief was only slightly exaggerated, and caused Dawn to flick soup off her spoon into her sister’s face.
A couple of hours later, when Buffy, carrying another mug of warm blood, made her final trip of the night, she was pleased to find Bob sitting up and looking around the cellar with eyes that were at once curious and oddly content. Twisting his scarred mouth into as close as it could get to a smile, he thanked her and took the cup. For the first time since he’d begun feeding himself, he didn’t throw the contents down his throat as soon as he got them. Instead, he took a deep draught, then set it down and savored the feeling as it went through his body, repairing damage and soothing pain.
“I see you’re enjoying your drugs,” Buffy said, giggling at the blissed out expression in his eyes.
He nodded. “Hadn’t realized how depressing it was to be in that much pain until it wasn’t so bad anymore.” He managed to look both pleased and ashamed at the same time. “I took the other pill… might have been unnecessary….” He gave what, on a less disfigured face, would probably have been a goofy smile. “But it’s doing a bloody good job.”
Buffy stopped giggling. “I’m sorry I didn’t think of giving you something for the pain before. I could have crushed them up in your blood or something. I’m just not in the habit of worrying about vampires and pain….”
“Wouldn’t expect you to be, luv,” he said. “Stop apologizin’ to me. It’s… unnatural, is what it is.” He seemed quite proud of himself for coming to that conclusion.
“How would you know what’s ‘natural’ or not for me? Or for vampires, for that matter.”
He gave one of his one-shouldered shrugs, causing Buffy to look more closely at his bare shoulders and see that the right one had both an abundance of scar tissue and a newer wound that was just scabbing over. No wonder he groaned when he was taking that shirt off.
“Dunno,” he said. “Just doesn’t seem right, somehow.”
“Well, I wouldn’t get too used to it. I’m sure it’s going to wear off pretty soon.”
He snorted a laugh and nodded. “I’ll be looking for it, then.”
Buffy studied him for a few moments, smiling at the spaced out expressions that crossed his face every once in a while. She shifted her gaze to the heavily scarred torso visible above the sheet. “Do they hurt too?” she asked abruptly. “The scars, I mean. They look… painful.”
He looked down at his body, then tried to lift one arm, wincing when he did so. “Yeah,” he said. “They don’t have any give like normal skin would. Actually split a couple of them open when I was tryin’ to get away from your little vampire killer students.”
“Slayers. We’re slayers, not killers. And oww.”
He gave another one-shouldered shrug. “If you’re right, I guess they’ll go away some day.” He looked up at her. “You’re the expert on vampire healing.”
“I think Dawn might know more about that than I do, actually. Except for… I’ve always been more into causing vamps injury than worrying about how fast their boo-boos were going to get better.”
“You think these are boo-boos?” He stood up, holding his sheet over his crotch, but allowing the rest of his body to be visible in the dim light from the stairs. Buffy bit her lip, but couldn’t prevent her eyes from running over him. Her flinch and accompanying shudder were unconscious and instinctive as she shut her eyes. He gave a small snort of disgust and sat down, keeping his privates covered with the sheet.
“Look,” she said, her rigid posture not giving away if she was angry or just embarrassed, “I’m not all with the warm, fuzzy stuff, okay? You’re not dust, I didn’t cause any of those wounds, and I’m feeding you. I know you’ve got no idea where that puts you on the scale of ‘Buffy and her treatment of vampires’, but right now? You’re so far ahead of the one who’d actually done something to deserve to be treated better….” She stopped and took a deep breath, opened her mouth to speak again, thought better of it and just sighed.
“I’m going to bed. I’ll bring you another pill in the morning before I go to work.” She gave him a glare that promised serious retribution if he disobeyed. “Don’t do anything stupid just because the pills are making you feel better. They haven’t healed anything.”
He nodded, leaning back on one elbow. “’m not a complete fool, Slayer. And I do appreciate what you’re doing for me. It’s more than I deserve, I’ve no doubt. Whatever I can do to pay you back, you’ve got it. I’ll be in your debt for the rest of our lives.”
Embarrassed by the emotion in his gaze, she mumbled, “Just don’t do anything to make me sorry I didn’t stake you,” and went upstairs without her usual “good-night”.
Bob settled back on his pillow and watched dust motes floating around in the wake of Buffy’s swift exit, a blissful expression in his eyes and as close to a smile as he could manage on his face.
When Buffy brought his blood down in the morning, she was shocked to find him waiting at the bottom of the stairs, sheet wrapped firmly around his body and eyes bright and alert.
“Whoa! Somebody’s feeling perky.”
“Feel like a bloody new man,” he agreed, staring at her hands. “Did you bring me more magic pills?”
“I brought you one magic pill,” she said with a stern glare. “I didn’t save you so that I could turn you into an addict.”
“Can vampires even become addicts?” he pondered as he moved out of her way.
“Let’s not find out, huh?” She softened her expression and smiled as she handed him his blood and the small pill. “But it’s nice to know you’re feeling better.”
“Not just feeling,” he said. “Look.” Setting the blood and pill down, he pointed at his shoulders and waited for her to notice that they no longer had any open wounds. He sounded like an excited little boy as he said, “I’m like that all over… well, ‘cept for that hole in my leg and the souvenir from the other night. They’re still open, but everything else has either scabbed over or…. here, look!” He dropped the sheet lower so that Buffy could see his whole torso. As he’d said, except for the wound from Gill’s stake, everything else was covered in scabs or shiny newly scarred flesh.
Buffy broke into a broad smile. “You’re healing!” she said. “It’s about time!”
His face fell at her words and he turned away, pulling the sheet back up and taking the mug off the step where he’d placed it. “Yeah, I should be out of your hair in no time, now.” He kept his back to her while he swallowed the pill and drained the mug of blood. Handing the empty cup back to her, but keeping his eyes cast down, he said, “Thanks, Slayer.”
“Okaaaaay, from yippee to offended in record time. What did I say?”
“Nothing. You were glad I’m healing. As you should be.” He kept his eyes down as he turned away, missing the frustrated look on her face. “Should be out of your hair within another day or two.”
“Are all souled vampires idiots?” Buffy asked of no one in particular.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You. Spike. Angel. Idiots, all of you.” She waved her hands around for emphasis as she warmed to her subject. “Why are you always so sure you know what I need or want? I think I should be the one to decide if I want to be left ‘for my own good’ or if I wouldn’t care if somebody I loved came back from the dead. Or if it’s okay to be happy that somebody I’ve been taking care of for two freakin’ days is finally starting to get better. Who died and appointed you ‘the reader of Buffy’s mind’? Who, huh?”
Bob stared at her, his mouth open. “Have you gone daft?” he asked, not having understood half of what she was saying.
Ignoring his question, Buffy answered the one he hadn’t asked. “I just meant, I was happy to see that you’re getting better. Did I say anything about leaving? No, I did not!” She blew right past his attempt to speak. “You can’t go out looking like that, even at night. You’ll scare small children… and their parents, probably. And you don’t know how or where to get blood, you’ve got no money….” She wound down. “Did you think that’s what I was saying? That I was glad you’d be able to leave soon?”
“Aren’t you? Glad, I mean.”
“Beside the point. I didn’t say it, you just decided that’s how you wanted to take what I did say. And, no, actually, I’m not glad. Not that you could leave, anyway.” She stopped and blew out an explosive breath. “I’m not saying I won’t be happy to know that I don’t have to wait on you hand and foot anymore, cause, all things considered? Not my thing. But, I don’t want you to go running off as soon as you think you’re healthy enough.”
“Why not?” Those piercing blue eyes that could make her so uncomfortable stared into hers, demanding she give him a believable answer.
With a sigh, she sat down on one of the lower steps and tried to explain.
“Okay, here‘s the thing. Back in the day, Spike used to help me train. Even when he couldn’t hurt me, we could spar and it helped like whoa! It made me faster, smarter, and more…. what’s that word that means surprisey ….”
“Yeah, those things. It really helped me. And when we were working with the potentials, trying to help them learn how to fight vampires, it was a big help for them to have to go up against a real vamp. It was a real eye-opener for them. Plus, he knew stuff, and he could show them things… I know it probably saved at least a couple of lives just because the girls had some experience against the real thing.”
“Am I going to like where this is going?” He had backed into his corner, clutching his sheet around him and eyeing her warily. “Don’t fancy being a punching bag for girls with a grudge against me.”
“Not expecting you to. But, once you’re healed enough to move freely, you could be a big help to me when I’m training them. And since you don’t have any money, and you’ll have to buy blood…”
“You’re going to pay me to be a punching bag?”
Buffy stamped her foot, causing him to flinch back against the wall. “You aren’t going to be a punching bag,” she insisted. “You’ll be able to fight back. I expect you to fight back, just, you know, without hurting anybody too badly. And it wouldn’t be me paying you; you’d be a Council employee. Just like me, and Willow and Giles…”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Unless your soul has made you so wimpy you won’t even fight when it’s not your life on the line. Spike always liked to fight; I guess I just thought… You don’t like it?”
“Got no bloody idea what I like, Slayer,” he said. “Don’t know that anymore than I know….” He got a faraway look in his eyes for a second, then frowned. “Would have sworn something was niggling at the back of my brain, but it’s gone now.”
“Maybe….” She trailed off.
“Maybe what?” He moved out into the room again, still clutching his sheet.
“Nothing. Let me run it by Willow or somebody else really smart first. Then I’ll tell you what I was thinking. Okay?”
He nodded and walked to his bed, his limp much less pronounced than it had been. Buffy watched him, then changed the subject abruptly.
“Do you feel stronger?”
He nodded again, giving her a wary look when she smiled.
“Think you can make it upstairs? If I help?”
“I can probably make it on my own,” he said. “Will take me a while, these scars still keep me from moving as easy as I’d like – at least, I’m guessing they do. Don’t know what I was like before I got them, but I can’t believe that normal vamp skin doesn’t have more give than these scars do.”
Buffy walked over to him, raising an eyebrow to ask permission before touching his shoulder. Keeping one hand on the shoulder, she used her other hand to raise the arm, watching his face for a sign that she should stop. She was able to raise the arm almost half way over his head before a gasp told her it was as far as he could go. She could feel the unnaturally ridged scars under her hand as they tightened, preventing the arm from going all the way up.
“Yep. That arm is definitely not as flexible as it should be.” She let go and watched him lower it by himself, wincing a little.
“That’s higher than I’ve been able to get it,” he said, demonstrating by raising it himself to just past shoulder height.
“Hmmm. Well, I don’t want to try too much while all that skin is so new, but maybe when you’ve had another day or two of steady meals….”
He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her, which, she was pleased to see was actually noticeable.
“I’m just thinking… Okay. Maybe not. A trained physical therapist, I’m not. But, if somebody who knew what they were doing could just stretch you every day…”
“I’ll work on it myself, Slayer,” he said, moving away as if her proximity was making him uncomfortable.
“Yeah, okay. Good idea.” At the same time, Buffy became more aware that she had been putting her hands on a male vampire who was essentially naked. She flushed and moved a few steps away.
There was an uncomfortable silence for several seconds before they both spoke at once:
“Bob, I thin—”
They laughed. “Ladies first, Slayer.”
“I’m not sure I qualify,” she said, making a face. “In spite of my mother’s best efforts. But anyway, I was just going to say that you should probably try moving everything at least once a day. Not hard enough to tear that new skin, but just so those scars don’t permanently restrict your movement.”
“Way ahead of you, luv. Gonna start by walking up those stairs to get my own blood…” He stood, then stopped and looked down at himself. “Guess I should put my kit on before I go wandering around where the real people live.”
Buffy snorted. “There’s nobody here but me, and I’m leaving to go to work in a little bit. But you can’t go up there now anyway. The stairs go right into the kitchen and it’s full of sunshine at this time of the morning. Give it a few hours, and it will probably be safe enough. The blood is in the fridge – you do know what a refrigerator is, don’t you?” At his nod, she continued. “It’s in there, your mug will be in the sink, and the microwave…”
“I think I know how to use a microwave oven. Couldn’t tell you how I know that, but I think I do.”
“Okay, then. Just… be careful going up the stairs. Don’t fall down and undo all my hard work.”
Without answering her, he just sat back down on the bed and stared until she flushed and, with a “See you later”, ran up the stairs. He laid back and listened to the sounds of Buffy getting ready to leave for the day, waiting until he heard the front door close behind her before he shut his eyes.
Chapter 8: Eight
“So, that’s the deal, Giles. He has a soul – although Willow won’t tell me why she overreacted the way she did, so I don’t know what’s up with that – and he’s probably going to be willing to work with me… us… to train the girls.” She shook her head, letting her frustration show. “Assuming he has anything to offer. He doesn’t seem very fighty for a vamp. I think he’s pretty much a wimp.”
“A wimp that managed to fight his way out of a squad of trained slayers,” he reminded her. “And who put himself between Dawn and a much healthier demon.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. But he says he was just terrified of the girls and that gave him strength, and I don’t know what the deal was with the vamp in my yard, but Dawn staked it. He just held it still for her.”
“Be that as it may, I suspect just facing something that fast and strong will be enough for our newest recruits. It will cut down on the surprise factor the first time they have to face the real thing.” He leaned back in his chair. “When do you think he’ll be ready to be of use to us?”
Buffy shrugged, not quite sure why she found so distasteful the idea that her “pet vampire”, as Dawn insisted on calling him, was only going to be tolerated because he could be useful.
“It’s gonna be a while. In the first place, even if he could fight now, most of these girls would throw up when they saw him. Multiple burn scars equals really not pretty. But he can’t. The scars are all tight and stiff. He doesn’t have much range of motion anywhere. He’s not going to be very good in a fight until they start to go away.”
She stood up. “I’m off to talk to Willow about whatever it was that freaked her out yesterday, and then I’ve got a full afternoon of training.”
“Don’t forget about the squad you need to take out before graduation. I’m sure they’ll be fine, but it wouldn’t hurt to make them prove it first.”
“Crap! I forgot all about that. Okay, I’ll try to find someplace to take them tonight.”
“So, what’s the deal, Wills?”
Willow smiled at Buffy. “Hi to you too,” she said, ignoring the question. “Buffy, this is Katrina. She’s a good healer, and she’s also something of an expert on souls. I’d like to bring her over to meet Bob.”
“Sure. That’d be great. I gave him some drugs yesterday and he was a lot more comfortable, and he healed a lot, too, which is kinda weird cause I wouldn’t have expected the OxyContin to—”
Katrina broke in. “There could be a couple of things going on there,” she said with a small cough of apology as she interrupted. “Severe pain is very debilitating – I would think just as much for demons as for humans, even though I’m sure they can take more of it. When you eased his pain, it gave his body the relief it needed to start healing itself. Then too, you have been feeding him regularly for a few days now. Do you know how long he’s been injured and unable to eat?”
Buffy shook her head. “Only the gash that Gill’s stake made. No idea how long he’s had all that other stuff. And neither does he. He can’t remember anything before he ended up living in my shed. You’d think his brain got burned too.” Buffy snorted a laugh, then realized Katrina wasn’t joining her, but was frowning and muttering to herself. “What?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just… that may well be what happened,” she said. “If whatever caused the burns also burned his internal organs, it’s possibly it could have destroyed brain cells as well as the other, more visible, damage. I’m a little surprised he isn’t blind, actually.”
“Terrific. So I have a brain-damaged vamp in my basement?”
“Well, if that’s the case, and it’s not something else – amnesia as a retreat from remembering whatever happened to him, or a spell of some sort – then, it may get better as the rest of his body heals. I just don’t know.” She smiled another apology at Buffy. “I’ve really never studied injured vampires or demons,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who has… other than, I guess, demon healers, if there are such things.”
“So, he’s getting better faster because he’s not hurting as much?”
“That, and/or the regular meals. If he had been without blood for a long period of time, even if he did catch the occasional small animal, there’s no way his body could have done much healing. I doubt that’s any different in vampires than it would be for anyone else. Good nutrition means good health and healing; starvation means….”
“Yeah. I think I get it. He’s only getting pig blood, too. I’m sure his system would be a lot happier with some O neg in the mix.”
“Buffy… you aren’t planning to…”
“What? No. No, I’m not going to go looking for human blood to give him. He doesn’t even know what it tastes like. No sense dangling it in front of him.”
“Doesn’t know, or doesn’t remember?” Willow looked dubious.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, does it? If he can’t remember it, he can’t miss it. And if it takes him a little longer to fatten up on pig blood, well… He’ll just have to deal.”
Bob slept in blissful, pain-free comfort until well into the afternoon. He awoke from a dream that was gone as soon as he opened his eyes, causing him to snarl in frustration. Without being able to remember anything about it, he knew that he’d been dreaming of things from before he lost his memory. He threw the sheet off and stood up, planning to pace around the room to wear off his anger, but changing his mind when the injured leg went out from under him. He sat on floor, snarling and swearing until he’d exhausted himself.
“Useless prat,” he muttered. “Can’t even work up a good tantrum without falling down.” Pushing himself to his feet, he checked for damage, but, except for a scab he’d knocked off one elbow, he seemed to be in no worse shape than he’d been before. He studied the bad leg, happy to see that the muscle and tissue were still filling in, and the hole was growing smaller. Holding his sheet in case the kitchen wasn’t as empty as he thought, he stood and looked at the stairs. To his eyes, they looked like the Matterhorn, but he took a deep breath and forced himself to start up.
Advancing one step at a time and dragging his injured leg, he managed to reach the kitchen and peer in to make sure the sun was no longer filling the room with lethal rays. With more confidence, he stepped out and went directly to the refrigerator, opening it and pulling out the first container of blood he saw. Not bothering to heat it up, he tilted the plastic carton into his mouth and began to gulp the life-giving fluid. When he’d finished, the container was empty and his stomach was noticeably fuller.
“Not exactly six-pack abs,” he muttered, patting the little bulge in front of him. “But just what the doctor ordered.”
Dropping the container on the kitchen table, he picked up his sheet and limped out of the kitchen. Avoiding any windows that were admitting sunbeams, he prowled around the lower floor of the house, pausing in the living room to stare at the old-fashioned painting over the fireplace. He frowned so hard at it that he made his face hurt, the scars on his brow not being ready for that much crunching, but he couldn’t have said why it fascinated him so.
Finally turning away and allowing his face to relax, he looked at the TV, holding the remote and growling as he tried to remember what it was. When he accidentally pushed the “power” button, the set came on and he broke into a twisted grin.
“Bugger if I know what I did, but this looks like fun.”
He settled himself on the couch, which, he noted, smelled like Buffy. It wasn’t until he’d stopped inhaling her scent so hungrily that he realized what it meant that he could tell she’d been sitting there. Until then, he’d only been able to smell warm blood and anyone in his immediate area. His body had been ignoring any other scents not directly related to protecting or feeding it. Satisfied that he really was beginning to recover, he stretched out his legs, draped the sheet over his crotch, and watched the football game going on in front of him.
When Buffy came home, the first thing she heard was yelling from the living room. She approached carefully, the knife she kept concealed in her boot held in her hand. She paused at the entrance to the room, her eyes going from the television, which was now showing some kind of horror movie – complete with blood and screaming – to the sound-asleep vampire sprawled on the sofa.
“If he’s getting blood and oozy stuff on my new furniture…” Putting the knife away, she walked into the room, stopping when she saw that Bob was clearly caught in some sort of nightmare. Muffled snarls and whimpers were coming from his throat, and his limbs were twitching as if trying to respond to an attack of some sort. Buffy’s gasp when his thrashing around caused his sheet to slide off to the floor brought his golden eyes open, glaring around while he leapt to his feet and fell into a fighting stance.
They were frozen in place for several seconds while Bob recovered his wits and Buffy realized she was staring. With a mumbled apology, she whirled to put her back to him. Babbling his own apologies, he bit his lip and reached for the sheet, draping it over his shoulders and holding it shut so that he’d covered everything but his face and hands. Buffy remained facing away from him, face flaming, as he shuffled his feet and waited for her to respond to his “I’m decent, Slayer”. When she finally turned around again, peeking quickly to be sure he was telling the truth, her face was still bright red. It wasn’t until she realized that he was fully expecting her to stake him, that she relaxed enough to say, “It’s okay. I’m a big girl. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
“Shouldn’t have to worry about being surprised by a naked man in your own living room,” he mumbled. “I’m sorry. Never meant to fall asleep here. Thought I’d be back downstairs before you got home.”
“Yeah. Well. I’m tricky that way. Coming home without announcing it ahead of time.”
“Said I was sorry,” he growled, pulling his sheet tighter.
Buffy picked up the remote and clicked the TV off. “I see you remember how to work a television set.”
“Didn’t, actually. Turned it on by accident and started watching the footie.”
“Not an exciting game, I take it?” she said, gesturing for him to follow her into the kitchen.
“Dunno. I think I was rooting for the men in red, but I don’t know why. One minute I was watching the match, and the next I was…” He looked at her from lowered eyes that had gone back to blue. “Have I mentioned how sorry I am?”
“Yeah, yeah. Relax. I’m over it. Are you hungry?” She opened the refrigerator and took out another carton of blood. Staring pointedly at the dirty plastic container he’d left on the counter, she said, “I’ll just warm this up while you clean up your mess.”
“Sorry,” he said again, grabbing the container and putting it in the kitchen trash. He swiped ineffectually at the table top with a corner of the sheet, stopping when she glared and threw a wet sponge at him. “What the bloody hell do I do with this?” he said, snatching the sponge out of the air with his left hand and almost dropping the sheet again.
Buffy pointed at the table, then turned back to the microwave. When she was facing him again, mug of warmed blood in her hand, he was scrubbing at the tabletop as if his life depended upon it, and clutching the sheet under his chin with his free hand. Smothering a giggle, she watched for a few seconds, then said, “That’ll do it. Here, sit down and have some dinner.”
While Bob sat at the table, nursing his mug of blood and trying to pretend he was used to having dinner with a woman while wearing nothing but a wrinkled sheet, Buffy fixed herself a salad and sat down across from him.
“Maybe we need some house rules,” she said finally.
He just stared at her, waiting to hear that he was banished to the shed again.
“Okay, here’s the deal: if you come upstairs, you wear clothes, got it? Should be okay now, anyway. Most of you is healed, right? We’ll just bandage that leg and chest, and you won’t have to worry about bleeding through.”
“You’re not throwin’ me out?”
Buffy sighed. “No. I’m not throwing you out. It’s not your fault you fell asleep, or that you had a nightmare, or that… Just try not to be naked again, ‘k? I might have had Dawn or Willow or some of the younger girls with me.”
He cocked his head at her in a way that sent a twinge through her chest. “You’re one hell of a woman, Buffy. You know that?”
“So I’ve been told,” she whispered, shaking off the déjà vu. “Okay. Let’s get you bandaged up and dressed. I have to go back out again shortly.”
“I can do my own leg,” he said. “Can probably do the other too. There’s no need for you to be putting your hands on me if you don’t want to.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say I want to, but I’m not some delicate flower who’s going to faint away either. If I was, I’d be lying on the living room floor right now calling for my smelling salts.”
She grinned at him and he chuckled along with her. Buffy put her dish in the sink and stretched. “Okay, I’m going to get dressed for patrol. I’m taking those girls you beat up out again to see if they learned anything. Can you get downstairs by yourself?”
He nodded, carrying his mug to the sink and, after studying the faucets for a second, rinsing it out. “I think so. I’m feeling stronger every time I wake up. If I could just get rid of all this scar tissue…”
“Oh! I almost forgot – what with the nakedness and everything – I met a healer today. She’s going to come over tomorrow to see what she can do for you. But anyway, she said that your brain might have been burned too, and that as your other body parts heal, it might get better too. Your memories might come back, some of them, at least.”
He nodded. “Makes sense, I guess. I think when I sleep now, I’m remembering stuff from before, but when I wake up, it’s gone.”
When Buffy came back down, now dressed for a cool night of patrolling and evaluating, she found Bob back in front of the television, wearing his sweat pants and struggling to tie off a bandage around his chest.
“Here. Let me.” In coldly efficient fashion, Buffy pulled the bandage tighter around his ribs and tied it off, tucking the ends in. She pushed on the padded section to make sure it was covering his wound, nodding in satisfaction. “Did you do the leg?”
He nodded. “I’d offer to show you but…”
“But I’ve seen all I need to see of that part of your anatomy,” she agreed quickly. “I should buy you some underwear, I guess.”
“I’m not sure I wear underwear,” he said quite seriously. “Didn’t have any on before.”
“And I’m pretty sure I don’t care if you usually wear it or not,” she came back. “As long as you’re living here, I think it would be a good idea. You can go back to going commando if and when you’re living somewhere else.”
“Yes ma’am,” said meekly. Buffy shot him a suspicious glare, but he just blinked at her innocently and she let it go.
“Okay. I’m off. Don’t leave the house, ‘k?”
“Got it. Go. Have fun. Kill things.”
With the advent of darkness, Bob found himself wide-awake and he took advantage of Buffy’s absence to explore the rest of the house. He found that if he moved carefully, and didn’t put too much weight on his bad leg, he could get around quite well without tiring himself out. Having explored the first floor that afternoon, he made his way up the front staircase to the second floor where he quickly identified Buffy’s room. He looked around curiously, but didn’t touch anything.
He was able to identify one of the other bedrooms as belonging to Dawn. Although he’d only met her the once that he could remember, she smelled enough like Buffy for him to find her room. When he pushed open the door to another room, one that smelled like a man and that made his chest rumble, he paused, confused.
She’s never mentioned a man. I wonder who… not my business, I guess. I’d almost say I know that scent, but can’t be possible. Maybe he was here while I was unconscious? Dare I ask her?
He easily recognized the stairway at the end of the hall as being a continuation of the one that led from the basement to the kitchen, and up from there. He’d stopped questioning why he knew some things and not others, just accepting that he knew the narrower back stair was for servants to access the different floors of the house. He followed it up to what was clearly the floor where the servants who’d lived in had had their sparse rooms. They were mostly empty, or filled with boxes of things Buffy had yet to put away or throw out, and he quickly lost interest.
He was on his way to the attic when his leg finally began to remind him that he was only getting around courtesy of an artificial lack of pain and he sat down on the step to take some deep breaths. When his vision had cleared and he felt he could handle it, he retreated to the floor below and made his way down the back stairs to the kitchen. He was fumbling around in drawers and cupboards trying to find the pain pills when Buffy came in through the back door. He gave a guilty start, but she just shrugged out of her jacket as if coming home to find damaged vampires rooting through her kitchen was a common occurrence.
“What are you looking for?”
“Nothing. Not really anything,” he said, unable to keep himself from flashing back and forth between human and demon face. Buffy narrowed her eyes and walked closer, unheeding of the fangs now visible.
“This what you’re looking for?” she asked, holding up the bottle of OxyContin that had been in her pocket. He hung his head, seeming ashamed at having been caught.
“Might have been,” he mumbled, edging away from her.
“You were fine when I left, what happened?” As she spoke, she was opening the bottle and shaking out one pill.
“Think I may have overdone it a mite,” he said, staring hungrily at the pill in her hand.
“When I warned you about that, you told me you weren’t stupid,” she reminded him as he handed him the pill and a glass of water.
“It’s possible that was stretching the truth some…” He grabbed the pill and swallowed it dry, using the water to help wash it down all the way.
Buffy shook her head and began walking toward the living room. “Come on in here and sit down till that kicks in. I’ll tell you all about how your first students did tonight.”
By the time Buffy’d finished recounting how the girls had taken out a big nest, and how they’d organized themselves so as to do maximum damage with minimal effort, Bob’s rigid body posture had relaxed and he seemed to be better. He was able to hold his human face and listen to her story, making the occasional comment to indicate he was paying attention.
“So, the bloodthirsty little bints are going to graduate on time then?”
“Yep. Hey, you want to come to graduation?” She held a straight face while he gaped and stuttered, only losing her poise when he finally exploded, “Hell no! I don’t want to go anywhere near them!” She’d been laughing for several seconds before he realized she hadn’t been serious.
“Ha, bloody, ha, Slayer,” he said sourly. “Laugh it up at the poor old weak vampire’s expense.”
She stopped laughing as quickly as she’d started, staring at him with wide eyes.
“What did you say?”
“Laugha it up at—”
“No! the first part. Ha, ha. Say it again.”
“Ha, bloody, ha?”
She squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered.
“Slayer? Buffy? What’s wrong? What did I do?”
“Nothing,” she said softly. “It’s just… every once in a while, you say something that reminds me… I’m sorry. It’s nothing. I thought I’d gotten over that years ago.”
“Over what?” His eyes were full of concern, and a complete lack of understanding.”
“Over… over-reacting whenever somebody says something Spike used to say.” She took a shaky breath and blew it out. “I used to go to pieces if somebody called me “pet” or “luv”. It took me a long time to realize that England is full of people who talk like that and that I had to get used to it. ‘Ha, bloody, ha’ just isn’t… I never heard anybody else say that before. That’s all.”
“Remember how I said you were going to have to tell me about this vampire that was ‘ancient history’? Think now might be a good time?”
“No. No, it really isn’t a good time. In fact, it’s a very bad time. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. I don’t even talk about… stuff… with people I’m close to. Telling a random vampire that I don’t even really know about Spike? Not happening.”
She stood up. “Where’s the remote? Isn’t there something on TV tonight?”
“Alright. None of my business, I guess. I’m just sorry if anything I do causes you pain.”
“It’s not pain… not really. Like I told you, it’s ancient history. I grieved, I missed, I was lonely, and thens I got better. It just… it just rattled my cage a little, that’s all. Don’t worry about it.”
After an uncomfortable half hour watching a show neither one of them paid any attention to, Buffy stood up and said she was going to bed. Bob immediately got to his feet, the effects of the pain pill obvious in the relaxed way he held himself. She looked at him and bit her lip.
“You know… right now, while you aren’t hurting too much, might be a good time for you to take a shower. Just in case Katrina needs to… it would be a good idea,” she repeated.
“Trying to tell me I smell bad, Slayer?”
“Maybe? Sorta?” She sighed. “Yes. That is what I’m trying to tell you. You need to take a shower. The sooner the better.”
He nodded. “What bathroom do you want me to use?”
Buffy shrugged. “I don’t care, as long as you leave it clean and don’t drop wet towels all over the floor. You’ll have to go upstairs, though. There’s nothing on this floor but a little powder room off the kitchen.”
“Alright. I’ll do it now.”
Buffy watched him walk toward the stairs, then said, “Wait. You may as well be comfortable tonight. She ran to the laundry room and grabbed a clean sheet. “Here. Put this on when you get out and give me the sweats. I’ll wash them before I go to bed. I’ll get you some underwear tomorrow.”
“I don’t want any,” he said as he started up the stairs, using the bannister to keep weight off his bad leg.
“I don’t care!” she yelled after him. She watched and listened to his progress, frowning when he seemed to walk, without hesitation, right to the bathroom. She recalled how he’d gone directly to the main stairway and frowned again. I guess now I know how he overdid it. Nosy vampire. I wonder where else he went?
Buffy went around the house, checking door locks and turning out lights. She decided the glow from the refrigerator door was sufficient for a vampire, and turned off everything else except the basement stairs. She left one lamp on in the hallway at the base of the stairs she was about to ascend and reached the second floor just as Bob emerged from the bathroom, sheet wrapped around him like a toga and dirty sweatpants in hand.
“Yes, thank you. Do I smell better?”
“From here you do.” Buffy stepped closer and sniffed. “I think you’ll do. Katrina will thank you for it, I promise.”
“Should have said something before, Buffy.” He stared at the floor, clearly embarrassed.
“Why? It’s not like you could have done anything about it until you could walk. Or like I was going to give you a sponge bath or something.”
“No playing ‘naughty nursey’ for the Slayer, I guess.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Why is it that you can think of things like ‘naughty nursey’ – which I so don’t know anything about anyway – but you didn’t know how to work the remote?”
“Dunno. Just do. Sometimes something just pops into my head and I know it’s something I know. And then I’ll try to remember something and hit a blank wall.” He shrugged. “I think I’m getting some memories back – bit at a time – but I can’t swear to it. Since I don’t even know what I should know, it’s hard to say if I’m remembering stuff or just learning it as I go.”
“Maybe Katrina will have some answers tomorrow,” she said as she went around him to get to her room. “Goodnight, Bob. Be careful going downstairs.”
“Got that covered,” he said, sitting down on the top step. “Takes a while, but I can do it.” He began to lower himself down the staircase, one step at a time, half sliding, half using his arms to support his body. “Goodnight, Buffy.”
Bob remained in his nice, safe, dark corner of the cellar until his senses told him that it would be okay to go into the kitchen. He fixed himself a mug of warm blood, drained it, then made another and carried it into the living room where he turned on the telly and settled down to watch it. Buffy hadn’t said when she expected Willow and Katrina to come by, and he wasn’t sure if she was planning to be there or not, so he’d dressed and stayed where he could hear if anyone knocked.
Which turned out not to have been necessary, as Buffy came home shortly after he’d gotten comfortable, bringing Willow and Katrina with her. Hearing the TV, Buffy steered them into the living room where Bob was just getting to his feet.
“Don’t get up,” Katrina said quickly, only her professionalism preventing her reaction to his appearance to show on her face.
“’S alright,” he said. “Think my mum may have taught me manners at some point. Always rise when a lady enters the room. Anyway, took one of Buffy’s magic pills this morning, and I’m feelin’ pretty good.”
Katrina nodded. “Uh huh. She’s already told me about what happened yesterday when you were on the drugs. Sit down.”
Startled, he sat, looking at Buffy for confirmation that he’d done the right thing. She smiled and nodded. “Bob, this is Katrina. She’s the healer I told you about. She has some questions for you, and she might want to take a closer look at your burns, okay?”
Katrina turned to Buffy and Willow and smiled apologetically. “Do you mind if we have some privacy? In case I need to examine the wound in his leg?”
Biting back to urge to say she’d already seen everything he had, Buffy nodded. “Okay, just holler if you need us.”
“You’re not afraid to be here without the Slayer?” Bob asked.
Katrina smiled. “Is there any reason why I should be?”
“There you go, then. I’m not afraid because there’s no reason to be.”
He seemed to be pouting. “Just once, I’d like to meet somebody who actually thinks vampires are dangerous.”
She gave a small giggle. “Oh, we all know how dangerous most vamps are, believe me. The whole school is devoted to training slayers to keep the vampire population down. But the only other souled vampires that we know about were on our side… most of the time… so I trust you.”
“Bloody stupid, if you ask me,” he grumbled. “Maybe I’m nothing like those other vampires with souls. You don’t know.”
“Actually, I do. I’ve been reading your aura while we’ve been talking, and it’s very clear. Hate to disappoint you, but you’re definitely one of the good guys.”
“Oh. Well. Good on me, then.”
“Exactly. Now, let’s see what we can do to help you get better a little faster. May I see your arm?”
By the time Bob had taken his shirt off for her so that she could examine the healing wound from Gill’s stake, and he’d pulled up the leg of his pants so that she could look at that, more worrisome injury, she was nodding to herself and reaching into her bag.
“So, Doctor Witch, what’s the verdict? Am I going to stay dead?”
“You are. For a good long time, I suspect. If you survived whatever did this to you, I can’t imagine what it would take to actually kill –er, dust – you.”
“I think a pointy piece of wood would do the job just fine,” Buffy said as she followed Willow into the room. “Are you finished with him yet?”
Katrina looked up with a smile. “Yes. I’m just getting out some salve that he should rub on those scars twice a day to soften them up. It has some ingredients that should make them less… well, not less noticeable, because I’m afraid it’s going to be a long time before they disappear – if they ever do—” She stopped and glanced into Bob’s stricken eyes. “I’m sorry. I just don’t know enough about vampire physiology to say. A human would be scarred for life. Buffy says vampires don’t keep scars forever, so… But I don’t know. I’m just giving you my opinion.”
“’S alright, luv. I don’t mind them, as long as they won’t keep me from being useful. Jus’ feel bad for anybody who has to look at me.”
“The salve should help a lot. Twice a day. Every day.” Katrina glanced up at Buffy. “He might need help with his back. It’s going to be a while before they loosen up enough for him to reach everywhere.”
“I can do it,” Buffy said, not meeting Bob’s eyes. “About the other thing…”
Katrina looked at Willow and then back to Buffy. “Willow was worried that he had somehow been given a soul that had belonged to someone you knew. But he’s got his own soul. I can tell that for sure. So, it may seem like one she’s seen before, but it isn’t. It’s all his.”
Willow frowned but bowed to Katrina’s greater knowledge and experience. Buffy just shrugged and said, “So, it really was nothing then, huh, Wills?”
“Yep. Just like I told you. It was nothing. Just a little glitch in the spell probably. It’s not like reading souls is my specialty, and I probably wasn’t as good at it when I… Yep. Not a problem.” She smiled, but her eyes were clouded with doubt.
After listening to Bob’s thanks several times, Buffy saw Willow and Katrina to the door, assuring them that she would call if there was anything new to report. She closed the door behind them and rested her head against it for a moment.
She raised her head and gave Bob a forced smile. “Let’s get that salve on you, huh? The sooner we start, the sooner it works.”
“How about you let me see what I can do for myself, then you can catch all those hard-to-reach places…” He gave what in a less disfigured face would have passed for a leer, but even Buffy wasn’t so oblivious that she couldn’t tell he was just trying to jolly her out of what seemed to be a moment of melancholy.
“Ha, bloody, ha, Bob,” she threw back at him, smiling in recognition of his attempt to cheer her up. “You wish. Call me when you’re done with what you can reach.” She flounced out to the kitchen, where she acknowledged both her temporary disappointment that the soul wasn’t Spike’s (something she’d almost immediately figured out was what Willow was trying to hide from her), and the way Bob had been able to brighten her mood so easily. Her reverie was interrupted by Bob’s plaintive, “I need you, Slayer,” and she rose to her feet.
“I’m coming,” she called back. “But you’d better have your pants on…”
After a couple of days, the routine had been established. Buffy got up, showered, got dressed and ate her cereal. While she was drinking her coffee, Bob would get up and rub the salve over all the parts of his body he could reach, then call her to come do his back. She would go downstairs, take the jar of salve, and rub it on all the scars he couldn’t reach – which were all on his back.
In the evening, they would repeat the ritual, with Bob having brought the jar upstairs at some point during the day so that Buffy could do his back as close to twelve hours from the last time as could fit into her schedule. By the second day, the wound on his rib had healed over and it was added to the flesh to be covered in salve. Bob could reach all of it but the part that went around his side, which was added to Buffy’s territory.
They were several days into the routine when Buffy noticed that not only were the scars diminishing somewhat, but the flesh beneath them had filled out and there were now visible muscles across his back.
“Hey! I’ve finally fattened you up. Yay!”
“Fat? I’m getting fat?” He whirled in a circle, trying to see his own back.
“And they think women are vain…” She stopped him and held him still. “I just meant that you aren’t skin and bones anymore, you doofus.” She blushed and dropped her hands. “It looks good.”
“Oh. Well, that’s alright, then.” He relaxed and looked at his torso. “Yeah. I guess I am filling out some. It’s hard to tell with all the….”
“They’re getting better too,” Buffy said with more sympathy than she usually showed him. “I can see the difference, even if you can’t. Trust me, they’re getting better.”
“I’m an ungrateful, self-centered git,” he said. “You’ve saved my life, healed my boo boos…” He smiled when she flinched at hearing her own words. “… and I’m worrying that I’m not going to be pretty. I’m sorry, pet.”
He dropped his head as she bent to put the salve away. When she stood up, she patted him on his salve-covered head. “Whoa! I think your hair’s growing back!” She rubbed her hand over the stubble she could just feel, laughing when he made a humming sound in his throat.
“Like that, huh? It made you purr.”
“I did not purr!”
“Hate to break it to you, macho man, but vamps purr when they’re happy or content. And you purred.”
With a giggle, she waved goodbye and ran up the stairs to leave for work, leaving him staring after her with a wistful smile on his face.
Don’t even think about it, you git. You’re ugly as sin, and you probably will be from now on. Count your blessings that she hasn’t thrown you out yet, and don’t be dreaming things you’ve got no right to dream.
When Buffy got home in the afternoon, he was once again asleep in front of the TV and a soap opera. She watched as he began to dream again, flinching when he began to struggle and whimper. A scream ripped from his throat as he sat up, panting for air and looking around wildly. Buffy approached, but waited until his fangs went away before resting a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Just another…”
“Flashback,” he said tersely. “I think they’re flashbacks.”
“What happened in this one?”
He shook his head. “I start to forget ‘soon’s I wake up. I think there was a dragon…” He glanced up at her. “Don’t suppose you’ve ever seen a dragon?”
“I have, actually. Nasty thing. But it wasn’t from this dimension. I don’t think we have any dragons here.”
“Well, wherever I was, there was one there. And he breathed fire. At me. And I was… I don’t know now, but it seems like I couldn’t get away. Must have been chained up or something.”
“This is great!” He stared at her dubiously. “No, really. Think about it. You’re starting to remember – at least when you’re asleep. Your brain must be healing too.” She stared at him, chewing her lip. “It’s too bad there isn’t some way to get the salve in there…”
“Uh uh, Slayer. We won’t be doing brain surgery on me so that you can rub salve on my brain cells. It’s bad enough you tried to make me eat it to help clear up the scars on my vocal cords.”
“Hey, that could have worked! You just kept swallowing it too fast.”
He stood up and stretched, his arms now much more flexible and able to reach all the way up. “So what’s the plan for tonight, Buffy? More telly?”
“No, I just came home to do your back. I’ve got to go out again. There’s some kind of demon outbreak going on all over the city.”
He frowned. “Demon outbreak? That sounds dangerous.”
She blinked at him. “Uh, Bob? My job? Dangerous is kinda the default mode.” When his frown deepened, making the scars still across his face crinkle up, she sighed. “I’ll be fine. I promise. And if I’m not… I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“I should be helping,” he said abruptly. “I could help.”
“And you will,” she soothed. “As soon as you’ve got full range of motion and I’m sure you can take care of yourself.”
“Was taking care of myself long before I met you, Slayer,” he snarled, then recoiled, just as surprised as she was by his anger.
“And you were doing a bang-up job of it!” she snapped back. “Or have you forgotten why you were lurking in my shed, Mr. I-can’t-catch-anything-to-eat!”
“I’m sorry, Buffy.” His anger vanished as quickly as it had come. “I guess I’m still testy from dreaming about being dragon shish-ka-bob – pun not intended.”
Her shoulders slumped as she relaxed. “It’s fine. I know you’re getting antsy, being here all day by yourself. But there’s nothing I can do about it. We’ve got stuff going on right now, and I have to do my job.”
“Know that, Slayer. I said I was sorry.”
“Okay then, let’s get that salve on your back so I can get out of here.”
He obediently followed her downstairs, stripping off his tee-shirt as he did so. With clinical detachment, Buffy grabbed the salve and began to rub it in to the scars still only too visible on his back. As she rubbed, she could feel the much smaller ridges and new skin. “I think these are getting a lot better,” she said. “I can still see them, but it’s starting to feel more like real skin.”
“Know what vamp skin should feel like, do you?” he asked.
He sighed, accepting her warning. In spite of his occasional questions, she still refused to talk about Spike with him, telling him it was none of his business. She also refused to tell him that it was because she didn’t want to be reminded of what she’d lost, now that she’d spent years accepting it; and he was beginning to understand her well enough to realize he was awakening painful memories every time he asked her to talk about Spike.
She put the jar down and headed for the stairs. “I don’t know what time I’ll be back. There’s more blood in the fridge and you can set the clock on the stove to remind you when to get to the rest of those scars.” Without further conversation, she ran up the stairs, leaving him to stare after her.
It wasn’t long before boredom took over and Bob wandered upstairs to find something to do. He ignored the TV, going up the stairs that were becoming more and more familiar now that he could shower every day or so. He still needed the banister to get up, but he was able to come down on his feet with just help from the wall and the railing.
As had become his habit, he went first into Buffy’s room and lay down on her bed, inhaling her scent and indulging in a few moments of sheer pleasure. He resolutely kept his hand off his cock, refusing to sully his relationship with her by having a wank in her bed, regardless of how badly he wanted to. His body’s reaction to her was becoming more and more difficult to hide as the loose sweatpants had a tendency to tent in front him every time she touched him or got too close.
“Pathetic wanker, that’s what I am,” he muttered, rolling his head over and catching a glimpse of the old books on her nightstand. Curious, he sat up and opened the first book. His hand began to shake as he read the dedication. “To William, on your twentieth birthday, Love Mother.” Visions flashed through his mind – too fast for him to study or sort them out – but causing a physical reaction that he couldn’t understand or control. He trembled all over, his nerves and muscles jumping under his skin.
He dropped the book and grabbed one of the others, opening it to find it was a journal of some sort. As he read, he could feel the reaction spreading to his brain; awareness growing, he could feel the neurons connecting in his head, until he dropped the journal and fell to the floor. “Bloody hell,” he whispered just before he passed out.
He woke up just in time to hear Buffy and Dawn entering the house. He scuttled to the door, gaining his feet when he got to the hallway, and dashed across the hall to the bathroom, huddling in the shower and trying to gain control of himself. As he wrapped his arms around his body, he rocked back and forth, memory after memory crashing into his consciousness. The fight in the alley; the dragon; Angel’s flaming death as he brought the dragon down with him; his own capture and subsequent interminable torment by the angry minions in the hell dimension he’d been carried to. He remembered Illyria, fighting her way through a horde of demons until she could free him and drag him back through a portal with her. His memory was still blank from that time until he came to himself only yards from Buffy’s back gate, but he remembered every second of his waking time since then, including Buffy’s kindness and care. He reached one hand to his face, feeling the still-visible scars there and the newly softened skin.
As he heard the girls coming up the stairs, he stood up, took a deep breath, rinsed his face off in the sink, and opened the door just as they got to the top.
“Oh, there you are. I wondered.” Buffy looked tired and bruised, and a bit bloody if his nose was telling him the truth. It wasn’t a conscious decision not to tell her who he was, but an instinctive need to conceal it, that had him choking out, “Sorry, Slayer. Was just… Are you hurt?”
Buffy blinked at the change of subject, but answered him. “Just a little. It’s been a rough night. She flexed one arm and winced. “I might have to dip into your pain pill stash, though, if this isn’t better by tomorrow.”
Dawn took a shocked look at Bob, and he remembered that she’d been gone from the house much of the past few days when he’d been healing.
“You look a lot better,” she said. “Almost… well, not human, cause… but, you know… better.” She headed for her room. “I’m just going to go crash in my bed now. If I never see another demon, it’ll be too soon.”
Bob/Spike looked at Buffy and stepped closer. “What’s goin’ on out there?”
She shrugged. “We don’t know. Bunch of ugly demon-things that aren’t even from this dimension, as far as we can tell. They’re searching for something. We don’t know what it is, but they don’t care who or what they kill to find it; hence the rough night.” She yawned. “I lost track of how many we killed. All I know is, I need some rest before I go back out there. I hope to hell none of them followed me home.”
“Go on,” he said. “Get some sleep. I’ll stay up and keep watch for you.”
She raised an eyebrow in surprise, but was too tired to argue. “Okay. Thanks, Bob. I appreciate it. Not that I think they’re likely to come looking in the Slayer’s house for whatever it is, but…” She missed the way his face went still at her words, and the way his hands clenched at his sides. Dawn, however, had turned around to say ‘goodnight’ and had not missed it; she frowned at the vampire, her eyes narrowing with suspicion.
“You wouldn’t have any idea what they’re looking for, would you, Bob?” she asked, emphasizing “you”.
Before he could respond, Buffy said, “Don’t be silly, Dawn. What would he know about it? He never leaves the house.”
“I’ll be downstairs, keeping watch,” he said, moving to the stairs and descending before anyone could ask anything else. As he retreated, he could hear Dawn argue, “But Buffy, we don’t know what happened to him before, or where it happened. What if they’re here for him?”
“Then they’ll find out they can’t have him. Don’t worry about it. Just go to bed.”
“You know I’m not going to be the only one who thinks of that,” Dawn warned as she went back to her room. “Giles is going to be all over it. And Bob’s not stupid,” she added as she closed the door.
Buffy stared from her comfy-looking bed to the stairs, then groaned and followed Bob downstairs. She found him prowling around the house, checking doors and windows, a mug of blood in hand.
“Thought you were going to bed,” he said, keeping his head turned away. Even though he’d been in close proximity to Buffy for almost a week, now that he knew who he really was, he was afraid to meet her eyes, sure that his would give him away.
Buffy sighed. “If they’re here for you, we’ll deal with it. Don’t do anything noble or stupid while I’m asleep, okay?”
“Meaning I don’t want to wake up and find you’ve gone away to hide somewhere because you’re trying to protect us. I’m going to put Dawn back inside the Slayer compound until this is over, so she’ll be safe.”
“And I’m going to be kicking demon butt until they decide their own dimension is a good place to be. Promise me. Now.”
“If it’s me, I’m putting you in danger,” he said with a stubborn glare. When her hard stare began to turn into a confused frown, he looked away quickly. “I don’t want to do that. You’ve done enough for me.”
“It’s my job, Bob. It’s who I am. The demons are here. Doesn’t matter what brought them here, it’s up to me to get rid of them. If you go out there and hide somewhere else, it isn’t going to stop them from looking; it’s just going to distract me while I worry about you. Now promise me, so I can get some sleep.”
“Alright, Slayer. I promise. When you wake up in the morning, I’ll still be here. But we’re going to talk about this again.”
Buffy stumbled up the stairs and to her bed, shedding clothes as she went, and falling face down on it, was asleep before her eyes were even shut.
Chapter 10: Ten
When Dawn came down to make coffee the next morning, she was surprised to find Bob sitting in the kitchen and the pot already perking. He looked tired, but he glanced up and smiled at her. It occurred to her that his face had recovered to the point that it was now possible tell what kind of expression he was wearing under the scars.
“Morning, Dawn,” he said.
“Good morning. I didn’t really think you’d be here when we got up.” Her face reflected both relief and disappointment.
“Your sis had a good point to make. If they’re here for me, they aren’t going to stop looking just because I’m not in this house. And can’t say I fancy going back with them, so I’m not particularly interested in throwing myself on their mercy…”
Dawn narrowed her eyes at him. “You know they’re here for you, don’t you? You remember.”
He sighed and nodded. “Remember enough to know I’m putting you all in danger. Was never my intent to… Don’t know what Blue was thinking, bringing me to Buffy’s doorstep.”
“Whatever a ‘blue’ is, it probably figured the Slayer was the best one to protect you.” Dawn shrugged. “It’s what she does best – protect people.”
“That she does,” he said softly. Along with all his other soft tissues, his vocal chords had also been recovering, and something in his voice brought Dawn’s eyes flying up to his. He looked away, trying to avoid her suspicious glare while she studied his disfigured visage with suddenly sharper eyes. Nodding to herself, she turned away, saying with deliberate casualness, “Well, you need to get back in shape soon, Spike. Buffy needs you.”
“Know that, Nib—” He bit off his response a split-second too late.
There was an ominous silence as Dawn froze with her back to him. She turned around slowly, a spatula in her hand. “It is you! You. Lying. Piece. Of. Shit.” she ground out as she advanced on him, spatula raised. He winced, but didn’t try to duck or move away as she hit him several times, opening new cuts on his barely healed head and getting blood in the short brown stubble there.
The blood startled her out of her grief-driven rage, and she dropped her arms. “So, is this going be your MO from now on? Die, come back, don’t bother to tell the people who love you, die again, let them grieve again, then die again… Tell me, Bob ” when were you planning to tell us? To tell Buffy? Or were you just going to let her take care of you until you got healthy enough to leave again?”
“It’s not like that, Dawn. I swear. I just came to myself last night – didn’t know what to do, what to say, and wanted time to think on it.”
“And now that you’ve thought?” She crossed her arms, tapping one foot and clutching the spatula tightly.
“I still don’t know,” he whispered. “I’m still trying to figure things out. She can’t tell it’s me – all she sees are the scars and—and now that I know I’ve brought danger to her doorstep…”
“Spike, you cannot seriously be thinking about keeping this from her. Not again.” He winced, but stood his ground.
“Think about it, Bit. If these things are here for me – and I’m sure they are – who’s Buffy more likely to risk her life for? Me, or some random vamp she pulled out of a garden shed? If it comes right down to it, she’s safer not knowing.” He stood up and flexed his still-recovering arms and shoulders. “Not until we’ve sent them back to the hell they came from.”
“We?” Buffy’s voice preceded her into the room. She raised her eyebrows at the two panicked faces in front of her. “What did I miss? And when did you join this fight?” She turned her gaze on Spike, not a trace of recognition in her eyes. He gave an audible sigh of relief, and flashed Dawn a pleading look. Her mouth set in a tight line, she turned her back and threw the spatula into the sink.
“What happened to your head?” Buffy tore her attention away from her sister’s obvious temper tantrum and back to Spike. “Did she hit you? Dawn! What the hell?”
“It was an accident,” Dawn said through clenched teeth as she left the room. “Could’ve happened to anybody.” She ran upstairs and slammed the door to her room.
“Wow, she hasn’t done that in years.” Buffy frowned at Spike, who was refusing to meet her eyes and trying not to speak. He just shrugged and grabbed a paper towel, wetting it down and patting the small cuts Dawn had given him. In more normal vampire fashion than what Buffy had yet seen, they stopped bleeding very quickly and appeared to be closing up. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
He shook his head, struggling to make his voice sound as rough as it had been the night before. “It’s no big thing. Made her mad. She had a right.”
Buffy glared at him, but he refused to meet her eyes and didn’t volunteer anything else.
“What did you mean by ‘until we send them back to hell’?”
Roughening his voice again, he said, “Come on, Slayer. We both know they’re here for me. Do you expect me to hide in your cellar while you go out and risk your life for me?”
“We’ve already had this conversation. They’re here. It doesn’t matter why they came, or what they’re looking for. We—the other slayers and I—are going to have to fight them anyway.” She cast a critical eye on his body. “You’re not even close to being up for that yet.”
“You could let them have me,” he said softly. “Let them take me back.”
“Back. To wherever they were starving you and letting a dragon use you for target practice? Are you nuts?”
“Not saying I want to go. I’m just putting it out there as an option. Don’t want a lot of people getting killed on my account.”
“It’s not an option,” she said with great finality. “Just keep getting better. If we’re still fighting them in a couple of days… we’ll see then.”
She poured herself some coffee and sat down. “I guess buying you underwear is going to have to wait,” she said. “I’m going to be spending most of the day at the school, planning strategy with Giles and the coven. There might be some magical way to close the portal they came through — if we can find it. Then all that will be left is cleaning up the demons that get stuck on this side.”
Spike got up and went to the stairs. “I’ll just go slather myself up then and work on getting stronger.” He stopped and stared at her over his shoulder, only turning away when she began to frown and he could see the confusion growing in her eyes.
“Did you know some demons have tentacles?” she asked, watching him through eyes that were troubled and doubtful.
“Yes,” he said and disappeared into the basement.
“Giles, what do we know?” Willow gazed at him expectantly.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” he said with a wry smile. “What has the coven learned?”
“Demons—big and ugly. Other dimension probably kinda unpleasant. Whatever they’re looking for is something alive and they want it back.”
“I see. So nothing that is of any use to the Slayers?”
She sighed. “Not so you’d notice, no. Except, if they could find what the demons want and give it to them…”
“And what are the chances that they are looking for the crippled vampire in Buffy’s basement?”
Willow sighed again. “Pretty good, I think. Katrina said he looked like he’d been systematically tortured over a long period of time. She said she wasn’t surprised that he couldn’t or wouldn’t remember; she thought most people would have gone insane from being hurt that much.”
“Vampires are not people.”
“No. I suppose not. Although with the soul…”
“Ah yes, the soul. And what was it about the soul that bothered you?”
“Well, when I read it, it looked like the soul of somebody who’s dead… like dead and gone, you know? So I thought maybe his soul had been given to this vamp, and that’s why Buffy didn’t stake him and why he ended up at her house. But Katrina says the soul is with its rightful owner, so I guess I was wrong. It can’t be his.”
“No! Goddess, no. Spike’s. It felt like Spike to me. But, you know, I only looked at Spike’s that one time while he was crazy – just to see if he really did have one. It was a long time ago, and things were kind of… busy. So I guess I was wrong. Either that, or he is Spike and just doesn’t know it.”
“Surely Buffy would have recognized Spike?” Giles stared at her in clear disbelief.
“You’d think so, but this vamp… he’s such a mess, Giles… no hair, scars everywhere, burned eyelids, burned vocal chords and other internal organs… I dunno. I don’t think even Buffy could tell who he is unless he told her. And he doesn’t know who he is either, so, there you go.”
“But Katrina doesn’t think it is Spike?”
“She doesn’t know. She just knows that the soul belongs to the man – er, vamp – that has it. She never met Spike, so…”
“Have you shared any of this with Buffy?”
Willow shook her head. “No. I didn’t want to say anything unless I knew for sure – and then Katrina said it wasn’t his soul… And then the demons started showing up and we got too busy. She doesn’t need to know that’s what I thought. Not if I’m wrong.”
Spike was sitting on his bed, alternately flexing and stretching his arms when he heard tentative footsteps. He stood up and moved to the bottom of the stairs to find Dawn making her way down, cup in hand. She handed it to him, frowning when he sniffed it and recoiled.
“What the bloody hell?”
“Look. I know you. And I know Buffy. She’s not going to give you up – even if she doesn’t know you’re you. And you aren’t going to sit here letting her fight without you, so you need to speed up that healing. And pig blood isn’t going to do get the job done fast enough.”
They glared at each other, the year of estrangement and the lengthy gap in their relationship disappearing as they argued.
“This is your blood!”
“What? Is my blood not good enough for you? My blood is awesome. I’m made from Buffy, right? Plus, gazillion-year-old Key here. It’s gonna be like Slayer-blood plus.”
“You’ve lost your mind.”
She sniffed. “Just drink it. I’d try to get you some other regular human blood today, but I’m going to be stuck at the school compound until this is over.”
“I thought you were mad at me,” he said as he raised the cup to his lips.
“I can be mad at you and still… lo—care about you,” she said, dropping her gaze. “Just like Buffy can. You really, really need to tell her, Spike. Really.”
He sighed. “I know, Bit. It’s just….”
“There’s no ‘it’s just.’ It’s what needs to happen. You do it, or I will. I’ll give you the rest of today but if you haven’t told her by tomorrow, I’m going to. She has a right to know.”
“You’re right, luv. I know that. Already feel like a bloody wanker for not telling her this morning, I just… Got nothing to offer her right now, do I? Can’t fight, the sight of me makes her cringe… How am I making anything better by letting her know I’m me?”
“It’s the right thing to do.” Dawn turned away and went up the stairs, her voice drifting back to him. “And I know you still know how to do right.”
It had been two more nights of street-to-street fighting between squads of slayers and the invading demons, and they were no closer to finding the portal through which the seemingly unending stream of demonic creatures was escaping. Buffy came home just before dawn, nursing a deep wound from a dirty claw, and a bruised back from having been thrown against a building.
There was no sign of Bob, so she continued through the kitchen and up to her own bathroom, to shower off the sweat, blood and inevitable gore that came with fighting things that bled disgusting colors and odors. She had just dried off and was laying out gauze and ointment for a bandage, when she heard a soft knock on her door.
“Yeah, Slayer. Just wanted to know how you are. I smelled blood.”
“Hold on. Let me get some clothes on…” She grabbed her pajamas and pulled them on quickly. Walking to the door, she opened it and looked up into worried eyes that were suddenly only too familiar. In spite of Dawn’s threat, there had not yet been an opportunity for her to tell Buffy about Spike; but two more days of daily salve applications, as well as the constant gain of weight and muscle now going on, had made too many changes in Spike’s appearance for him to keep up the charade. With Buffy standing in front of him, bleeding because of him, he didn’t even try, saying softly, “Hello, Buffy.”
“Oh my God,” Buffy whispered, falling back into the room, her hand to her mouth. “Oh my God…” As he entered, tentatively, but with determination, she continued to back up, her eyes huge in her face. “Is it… are you really…” Moving too fast even for vampire vision, she grabbed his arm and squeezed. “Not the First, then.”
“No, love. Not the first. And not ‘Bob’ anymore. Know who I am now, and why I’m here.” He risked raising one hand to cup her cheek. “I’m so sorry I brought this on you. If I’d had any idea—”
“Dawn knew!” Buffy focused on the only thing she could be coherent about. “She knew. That’s why she was hitting you.” Her eyes narrowed. “I’m going to kill her.” She flinched back from his hand. “How long have you two been keeping this from me? Did she know right away? Is that why you saved her? Because it was Dawn?”
“Ah, no, no, love.” He dropped his hand when she recoiled from it. “I swear to you, Buffy. It only happened the night the demons came. I didn’t know what to do, was still confused about what’s real and what’s not… Dawn figured it out before you got downstairs that morning; didn’t give me a chance to explain before she went off on me. I asked her to let me tell you in my own time, but you’ve been so…” He stepped back and hung his head. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I’m as big a coward as ever when it comes to you. Should have told you straight away.” He turned away, head down, shoulders slumped, and began to walk toward the stairs.
“Where are you going?” Her voice rose to a shriek as he disappeared from her line of sight. She ran to the door and turned to follow, only to crash into him as he hastened back. His hands automatically went to her shoulders to steady her when she rocked back from the collision. Buffy leaned forward, resting her head on his chest, her arms going around his waist and holding on so tightly that his only-recently-healed side began to throb. He ignored the pain, dropping his head to hers and burying his face in her hair while his arms went around her back.
“I’m sorry, love. I’m so, so sorry. I’m sorry I was such an insecure bastard all those years ago, sorry I let myself get taken without having told you how much I still love you, sorry I brought all this destruction to your doorstep—”
“Shut up,” she mumbled into his tee-shirt. “Just shut up and hold me.”
They remained like that, standing together with their arms around each other until Spike felt Buffy’s tears soaking his shirt. “Ah, love. Don’t. Not worth it, am I? Shhh, Buffy.” His own tears were now wetting her hair as he tried to quell the emotions rippling through him in response.
Eventually, her prior exhaustion returned and Buffy sniffled her way into some semblance of control. She leaned back and stared into the face she could now recognize, even under the still-disfiguring scars. “How did I not know?” she marveled, running her fingers lightly over his brow and cheeks. “How did I not know?”
“You didn’t know, because I didn’t know,” he said, kissing the fingers now feeling his mostly healed lips. “How could you? Can’t see it in a mirror, but I’ve got some idea what I look like. Can only imagine how much worse it was when you found me.”
“You’ve got no idea how close you came to being staked…” She shuddered. “I could have killed you, and I would have never known... Oh God!” Her eyes welled up again, but she blinked the tears away. “Okay. Get a grip, Buffy. I didn’t do it, so—”
“Almost wish you had, love,” he said, brushing his fingers against the cut on her arm. “Don’t want you anywhere near this hell-spawn.”
“Don’t say that!” she said fiercely. “Don’t ever say that!”
“Buffy, you don’t know what… “ He shook his head and took a deep breath. “Alright, then. They’re here. What can I do to help?”
Taking him at his word, she pulled away from him and backed into her room, falling into a fighting stance. “Show me what you’ve got,” she ordered.
He blinked at her, then broke into a grin. “Ready when you are, Slayer.”
“Just don’t break my furniture,” she said, snapping two quick punches at his face. He slid to the side and retaliated with a leg sweep, which threw him off balance when his bad leg didn’t respond the way he’d hoped. He recovered before Buffy, whose back was still hurting, could take advantage. They exchanged blows, neither one really trying to do injury, until Buffy held up her hand for a break. The cut on her arm was beginning to bleed again, and Spike was favoring his injured leg.
“This would be a lot more fun if we weren’t both hurt,” she said, yawning. “I need some rest, and you need….” She looked at his anxious face and said, more gently, “And you need a couple more days. You’re good,” she said quickly when his eyes flashed yellow and he began to snarl. “But you’re not what you should be.”
“I’m good enough,” he said. “And I’ll be even better tomorrow. Not sending you back out there alone.” Two sets of equally stubborn eyes battled for supremacy, until finally Buffy sighed and turned away.
“Let’s get some sleep,” she said. “We can fight about it again in the morning.”
“We’re not fighting. We’re having a disagreement.”
She just rolled her eyes, then dropped them, looking embarrassed. “I… do you wan—” She blew out her breath. “I’m exhausted and hurt, but now that I know who you are…” She glanced up. “I don’t want you to go back to the basement. Can… will you stay here? With me?”
“Wasn’t planning to go anywhere else. Not unless you made me.”
Buffy looked at her bleeding arm and back at Spike. Holding his gaze, she held it out. “No sense wasting this. Clean it up for me.”
She watched his face as his craving for what she offered fought with his desire to refuse. When it began to look like his sense of what he had no right to might win, she walked over and held it up to his face. “Come on. This is no different than when you were hurt so badly by the First. I’m going to need you sooner or later, and I know you aren’t going to stay out of it anyway, so I want you as close to healthy as I can get you.”
“Only because it’ll help make me whole,” he insisted, ignoring her rolling eyes and lowering his mouth to her arm. He licked off the blood that had trickled down to her hand, then moved to the wound itself and began to suck gently. He glanced up at her to see if she was all right with the sucking and she nodded.
“For all I know, there’s poison on those claws. Either way, they were filthy. Suck away.”
In spite of her words, he kept his mouth fastened on her wound only long enough to be sure that there was no dirt or poison in it, then he stopped sucking and just licked until it had stopped bleeding.
Buffy tilted her head toward the bathroom and he walked in and picked up the supplies she had already set up. She stared hard as he walked to and from the small room, visibly trying not to limp. She held out her arm and, without comment, he smeared antibiotic cream on it, covered it with a gauze pad held in place with an elastic bandage. When he’d tucked the ends in, he sighed and looked at her.
“My turn, yeah? To take care of you, I mean,” he hastened to add.
She just shook her head and turned out the light, climbing into the big bed and holding the covers up for him. Moving hesitantly, as if expecting her to change her mind any second, he got in beside her and settled on his back, extending one arm out. As if the years since they’d last shared a bed had never elapsed, Buffy settled against him, her head on his chest and one arm across his body. She started to throw one leg over his, pulling it back when he flinched.
“Sorry,” she said. “I forgot…”
“Slayer… Buffy… if you had any idea how often I’ve dreamed of holding you like this again….” He sighed. “You’d know how unnecessary that apology is.”
She nodded against his chest, saying, “You’d probably be surprised to know how well I get that…. I just don’t want to hurt you.” When he squeezed her a little too tightly, she hissed, “Speaking of hurting…” He relaxed his arm immediately.
“You’re hurt somewhere else? What’s wrong?”
“Got slammed into a wall by something that looked like an octopus on steroids. My back is bruised. It’ll probably be fine by tomorrow, but right now…”
He started to let her go and shifted away. “Maybe we need to leave the happy reunion cuddling until we’re both uninjured.”
“No!” She tightened her grip on his torso, but kept her leg away from his. “We can cuddle. We just have to be… gentle.”
“I can do that, love,” he said resting his arms lightly around her again. “I can do gentle.”
“You probably do it better than I do,” she mumbled, her voice trailing off as her eyes shut and she fell asleep.
Spike was able to remain awake, enjoying her presence, for only a few more minutes before his own eyes shut and fell into a restorative sleep while slayer blood worked its way through his body.
It was well after noon before the diffused light in the room awakened them. Buffy found herself on her side, with Spike spooning her from behind. “Morning, love,” he said, brushing his lips over her hair.
“Seriously?” she said as she pushed back against the object poking her in the rear. “I’ve got a bad back, and this is all you can think about?”
He gave a soft laugh and hugged her before rolling over onto his back and away from her body. “It’s just morning wood, love. It’ll go away all by itself if I get it away from your luscious arse. Nothing for you to worry about.”
“I wasn’t worried… just… we haven’t seen each other in so long, and there are demons, and—”
“And I look like a nightmare. It’s alright, Buffy. Not expecting—”
“It has nothing to do with how you look! How can you think that?” She sat up and stared at him, her expression flickering between anger and pain. “Is that what you think of me? That I wouldn’t want you with a few scars? That I wouldn’t still….”
“I’ve seen you flinch, love. Seen the disgust on your face. It’s alright. I’m—”
“You’re an idiot!” she snapped. “If you’ve seen me flinch, it was because of the pain I knew caused those scars. And if you saw disgust, it was probably because I was disgusted with myself for letting you see my reaction. And that was when I thought you were just some random vampire. Do you really think I can’t look past a few scars to the man I….”
She threw her hands in the air and got out of bed. “I’m hurt. You’re hurt. We have demons to fight later tonight. And we need to get to know each other again. Last night was… nice. It felt right. But being us again is going to take more than just being happy to see each other.” She glared at him. “And we don’t have the time for it now!”
He cocked his head at her and smiled. Buffy blinked in surprise. “Why are you smiling? I’m yelling at you!”
“I know,” he said, standing up and walking around the bed to push a stray hair away from her mouth. “And you don’t know how much I’ve missed it. Now it feels like I’m really home.”
She tried to continue glaring, but finally gave in to the way her mouth kept twitching. She smiled and shook her head. “You are really home,” she said, “in case you haven’t noticed. And you’re twisted.”
He just raised one eyebrow at her and laughed. “Always have been, love. You used to like that.”
Buffy flushed, turning away. “Then we’re both weird.”
“So, what’s the plan for the day, Slayer?”
“Wake up, eat food, go to the school and see if we know anything more about where these guys are coming from.” She looked up at him. “I don’t suppose you could help us out there?”
He shook his head. “Wish I could, love, but got no idea where I was or how I got there. Took Blue all this time to find me and get me out.”
His face clouded. “You remember that sweet little girl that worked with Angel’s crew? Fred?” Buffy frowned and nodded. “I think so. I think we met her when we stopped there after… I think Willow knows her.”
“Not anymore she doesn’t,” he said with a growl. “Wouldn’t come to help – or wasn’t told we needed it. Not clear on that; all I know is Angel asked for some assistance when that Old One started taking over Fred’s body, and he was told to stuff it.”
“I don’t… why didn’t I hear about that? No one told me Angel called. Or that he needed help.” She glared at him. “Of course, no one told me you were there, either…”
“I can grovel about that for the rest of our lives, Buffy. Point is, things between the Council and LA weren’t good that last year; and Fred paid the price. Blue is what I call the Old One that took her place. Real name’s Illyria. She’s not Fred, but she did manage to become a part of the group. Hell of a fighter, even if we did have to take away a lot of her power to keep her from exploding and taking LA with her…”
“So that’s how you got out? This… Blue… or Illyria did it? How? And where can we find her?”
“Dunno, love.” He tried not to stare as Buffy began pulling clothes from drawers and seemed to be about to change right in front of him. “Remember her showing up and breaking me out – I think that dragon got his wings clipped pretty good… but I don’t remember anything about her bringing me here.” He stopped and swallowed hard. “Uh, Buffy? That morning wood? If you don’t want to be looking at it all day,” he gestured at the tent in front of his sweatpants, “I’d probably best take myself out of here before you start changing clothes.”
She blushed and let go of the pajama top she’d been about to strip off over her head. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking about….”
“I’ll just go,” he said, turning to leave. “Get the coffee started, or something...”
When the sound of his footsteps had faded, Buffy quickly changed into something suitable for a day of researching that could easily segue into a night of fighting. She went down to the kitchen to find that he’d been as good as his word and the coffee pot was already perking away.
“How are you this morning?” she asked as she fixed a bowl of cereal.
He stood up and hopped on his bad leg, stumbling into the counter after the third hop. “Better,” he growled, “but not 100% yet.” When Buffy looked disappointed, he added, “Haven’t eaten yet, and I’ve got the rest of the afternoon. I’ll be ready by tonight. I promise you.”
She sighed. “I know you want to help, Spike. But think about this from my point of view: right now we’re just fighting random demons as we find them. If you show up, they’re going to swarm us trying to get to you.” Her eyes flew to his. “I’m not letting you go back there.” He met and held her steady gaze, understanding clearly what she was leaving unsaid.
“If it comes to that, love, I wouldn’t expect any less of you.”
“Don’t make me do it,” she said, dropping her eyes to hide the sudden moisture there. “Don’t make me have to do it.”
“Not planning to, Slayer. You tell where and when you want me. I promise not to do anything stupid.”
“Ha! We both know that’s a lie,” she said, giving him a shaky smile.
“If that weren’t so true, I’d prob’ly be offended.”
Buffy stood up, draining her cup and putting it in the sink. “Okay, I’m off to see what’s what. I’ll try to find time to bring you something else to wear, ‘k?”
He looked down at his baggy sweatpants and bare feet. “I’d appreciate that, pet. Not exactly dressed for fighting, am I?”
“You’re not dressed for appearing in public,” she said, pointing to the front of his pants. “Not unless you’re going to put that thing away.”
He laughed. “It’ll go away when you do. Or, if it doesn’t, I’ll just go up in your bed and have a good wank.”
She looked horrified. “Is that what you’ve been doing every day while I’m not here?”
“Relax, Slayer. Get that ‘you’re going to be dust any second’ look off your face. I was just joshing you. I admit, I’ve spent some time laying there, just smelling the sheets, but old Bob had too much respect for you to do anything like that in your bed, and I…”
“And you what?”
“And I was too busy marveling over the fact that you were living in my house and sleeping in my bed to even think about it. Had enough to do wondering how I was going to tell you that I’m me.”
“That’s your bed?”
“Was. Well over 130 years ago, mind, but yes. For much of my life as a human, that was my bed. And my bedroom,” he added.
“Huh. Well, you let me know if you want it back.”
“It’s yours, love. All bought and paid for. All I want is to be allowed to share it from time to time.” When she glared at him, he hastened to add, “But that’s a talk for another day. We’ve got demons to kill today. Grrrr, argh!”
“Nice save,” she muttered. “I’ve got to get out of here or the whole day is—”
They both heard the key in the look and turned to stare at the kitchen door. Which opened to admit a tall man carrying a large duffle bag.
“Honey, I’m home!”
Suddenly Spike remembered the familiar scent from the other upstairs bedroom and began to growl. Buffy put a restraining hand on his arm, saying, “Hi, Xander. I wasn’t expecting you till next week.”
Keeping his gaze on the growling vampire and trying to hide his initial reaction to Spike’s appearance, Xander said, “I heard you had a problem, so I hurried it up a little. Relax, Fangface. It was just a little I’m-back-in-London humor.”
“You know who he is?” Buffy’s expression said she was seriously rethinking her ability to identify people.
“Went by the compound before I came here,” he said. “Talked to Dawn. She warned me.” He walked up to Spike and looked into his face. “Bald is a nice look for you,” he said, grinning. He waited for Spike to acknowledge the male bonding ritual, then stuck out his hand. “Welcome back to the land of the living… so to speak.”
Not to be outdone, Spike replied, “Thought they’d sent you off to the wilds of Africa where you couldn’t be a pain in anyone’s arse?” He shook Xander’s hand. They cleared their throats and backed away, manly amenities dispensed with.
“I suppose this means it’s safe for me to leave. You two aren’t going to try to kill each other or something?”
They each muttered something that sounded like agreement and she left through the same door Xander had entered, saying that she’d be back before dark.
When the door had closed behind her, Spike indicated the coffee pot.
“It’s two o’clock in the afternoon!”
“Well, we just got up. It’s morning for us.” Spike took some blood from the refrigerator and poured it into a mug, adding enough coffee to warm it up.
“We just got up?” Xander’s eyebrows were meeting his hairline.
“It’s not like that. Just… was a rough night. Slayer was hurt, didn’t get home till almost dawn, and then had to deal with finding out the stray vamp she’s been sheltering is both somebody she… knows… and the reason the demons are here.”
“So you and she… you’re not… “
“Don’t know what we are,” Spike said, taking his mug from the microwave and putting it to his lips. “We’re not going to worry about it until we get rid of the hell hounds.” He raised a scarred eyebrow at Xander. “What about you? How long have you been living here?”
“I don’t live here. It’s just a place to stay when I’m in town that isn’t full of hormonal teenage girls with more strength than is good for them. I have my own room upstairs – down the hall from Dawn and Buffy’s.” They drank in silence for a few minutes, then, “So, where do you live?”
Spike nodded his head toward the basement stairs. “My usual place. Back to being the cellar-dweller.”
“Works for me.” At the rumble Spike couldn’t contain, Xander laughed. “Chill out, Spike. I got over thinking I had any place in Buffy’s life other than old friend and handyman a long time ago. It worried the hell out of me at first when she bought this place. I was afraid she was just going to stay here and wallow, but she didn’t. She hasn’t exactly moved on, but she hasn’t spent her time reliving the past, either. After all,” he said with a sly glance at Spike’s face, “Angel’s been dead for years. There’s no reason for her to—”
“Ha, bloody, ha,” Spike snarled. “Not funny, Harris.”
“Yes, it was. You should have seen your face.”
“I’m glad I can’t see my face,” Spike said, standing up and taking his cup to the sink. “Just wish Buffy didn’t have to look at it. I’ll be downstairs. Make yourself at home.”
Xander stared after him. “I think Buffy’s made of tougher stuff than you think she is,” he whispered to the door Spike had shut behind him.
Buffy walked into Giles’s office, unannounced, saying, “When this is over, we’re going to have a long talk about people asking us for help and being told they’re on their own.” He looked up from where he’d been looking at something with Willow and frowned. “I don’t… ah, so your vampire has recovered his memories then?”
“Yes,” Buffy said shortly. “It’s Spike…” She looked at Willow. “That’s what you thought you saw, isn’t it? Spike’s soul?” Willow nodded. “It’s Spike. Those things have been torturing him since it all went south in LA. This Illyria, whatever she is, rescued him and apparently dumped him on my doorstep. Would have been nice if she’d attached a note or something to tell me who he was.”
She took a deep breath. “I’m not even sure who I’m maddest at. You, for keeping things from me, Spike and Angel for also keeping things from me – even when they needed my help, or the Senior Partners for unleashing these things and letting them take Spike back to their dimension. Anyway, what do we know?”
“We found the portal,” Willow said eagerly. “It’s not too far from the city, so, if we’re in place tonight when it opens again, maybe we can keep them from coming through.”
“And by ‘we’ you mean the slayers?”
“Well, yeah. But with backup from the Coven. We’re going to try some spells to see if we can close it up and keep it closed.”
“Sounds like a plan. Where and when?” As soon as Willow had told her where they needed to be, Buffy nodded and left the room without saying another word to Giles.
“Is she saying that Angel asked for help, and you didn’t tell anybody? Why did he need help? With what?” She thought for a second, then remembered what had happened to her friend. “Illyria? He called you when the Old One was trying to kill Fred, and you didn’t tell anybody?”
“He was working for the ultimate in evil, Willow.” Giles rubbed his forehead. “I made the best decision I could make at the time. We didn’t trust him. Buffy didn’t trust him. There seemed no reason to tell anyone he had called.”
“Uh huh. I’ve got to go. Witches to round up and spells to practice…”
Willow left the office, leaving an aging watcher to contemplate the ways in which he’d let down the people who depended upon him.
Chapter 12: Twelve
Once Buffy had spoken to her squad leaders and made sure they knew where to be when, she hurried home, stopping only to buy a cheap pair of black jeans. She chose some made with stretchy fabric, knowing Spike would be incensed, but that anything that didn’t impede his motion – the way stiff, new denim would – couldn’t be anything but a plus. On an impulse, she grabbed a pair of work shoes with reinforced toes, socks and a leather coat that was on sale. Forgoing the amusement that bringing home unwanted underwear would have provided, she hastened out of the store and down the street, casting an eye at the already darkening sky.
She entered the kitchen to find Spike and Xander arm-wrestling on the table. As soon as he saw her, Spike pinned Xander and stood up expectantly.
“Did you see that, Buffy? Told you I’d be fine by tonight.”
“Want to try that with me instead of a very strong, but perfectly normal human?”
“Spoil sport,” he muttered, eyeing the bags. “What’ve you got there?”
Buffy tossed the bags to him. “Jeans that will allow you to move – so I don’t want to hear any complaining about how ‘poncy’ they are – socks and shoes, and a coat to deflect fire or claws or whatever. Go get dressed.”
While Spike disappeared downstairs, Buffy rooted through the refrigerator for something to eat, settling on yogurt and left over pizza.
“Did he eat today?” she asked around mouthfuls of cold pizza. She shoved the box toward Xander.
“Yeah. He chugged his piggy blood like a good little vampire. So what’s the deal, Buffy? Is he moving in?”
“Not going to worry about that until we know he isn’t going to be carried off back to wherever they did this to him. Nothing’s changed from when we didn’t know who he was, except that now we know. I wasn’t kicking him out then, and I’m not going to do it now.”
Xander nodded. “Well, you’ll let me know if I’m in the way. I can stay somewhere else.”
“That is so… understanding… and completely unnecessary. Even if we—which we so aren’t! —you’d still be welcome to stay here when you need to.”
Xander nodded and changed the subject. “So, what did you learn today? Do we have a spectacular new demon-fighting weapon?”
“I wish! Kinda wondering why we didn’t bring that rocket launcher with us when we left Sunnydale… But, we do know where the portal is going to open, and the Coven’s going to help us try to keep them from coming through.” She looked up as Spike, now wearing his new jeans, a tee-shirt and shoes for the first time since Buffy’d removed his battered boots, came into the room.
“Not one word,” he warned as Xander eyed the very tight-fitting and obviously very stretchy jeans.
“Oh come on. Be fair. Not even one?”
“Not unless you want me to feed you your own liver,” Spike growled, going to the refrigerator for more blood.
Buffy glared her own warning at Xander, who sighed and nodded. “Fine. No commenting on the vampire’s jeggings….” Even as she sputtered, “Xander!” Buffy couldn’t prevent her own giggle. She shrugged apologetically when Spike – who understood the meaning, if not the terminology – gave her a lethal stare that promised imminent retribution. She got up and walked over to where he was growling at the microwave.
Resting one hand on his back, she went up on her toes and whispered, “They make your butt look awesome. He’s just jealous, that’s all.” The growl turned into a snort, but Spike’s tense posture relaxed.
Without lowering his own voice, he said, “He just doesn’t want to admit that he’s staring at my arse. “ Satisfied with the unusual purple color Xander was turning, he carried his mug back to the table and sat down in the chair next to Buffy’s.
“So, what’s the plan, Slayer?”
“You heard me tell Xander about the portal, right?” He nodded, and she went on. “We’re going to set up two slayer fronts – one right in front of the portal, and one to protect the Coven’s spell casters.”
“Where do you want me?” When Buffy hesitated, he began to growl again, his eyes flashing to yellow and back to blue. “I’m not going to hide, Slayer! I won’t be pushed behind some wall of little girls like something too weak or special to—”
“You are special,” she murmured. “To me, anyway. And apparently to them. If you’re where they can see you and get to you, they might be able to grab you before I—we—can do anything about it.” She stared into his eyes. “Don’t ask me to watch you sacrifice yourself again.”
“Could say the same thing, love,” he answered, his demon banished as he basked in her unconcealed concern and affection. “You can’t expect me to stand by and watch you risk your life for me.” He ran one hand down her cheek, smiling when she leaned into it and turned her head to kiss his palm.
“Okay. Enough of this stuff – I just ate, you know.” Xander stood up, pizza in hand and waved at them. “I’m going to collect some manly weapons. Please be ready to go kill things by the time I get back.” He ignored the faces Buffy and Spike were making at him as he left the room and went to the weapon chest in the living room.
“Xander, bring my scythe back with you, please,” Buffy said. “I’ve got a feeling I might need it tonight.”
As they approached the deserted industrial park where the Coven had determined the portal was going to open, Buffy looked up to where Willow and her chosen group of witches were standing on the open deck of a parking garage. Buffy pointed to them, instructing Xander, “Why don’t you join the slayers up there?” She gestured to the various shotguns and other weapons he had strapped around his body. “It looks like a good spot for you to pick off anything trying to come through the portal. The fewer that make it out, the less fighting we’ll have to do.”
“Makes sense to me.” He nodded and veered off, pausing when Buffy went to talk to the squad leaders lining up around the cul-de-sac. He walked back to Spike. “Whenever you start feeling stupid, remember what it will do to her if she has to watch you die again. Or – probably worse from her point of view – if she can’t keep you from getting carried back to where you’ve been having such a good time these past few years….”
“I know, I know. Gonna do my best to be smart about it.”
“Well, that’s already got failure written all over it… “
“Go on, Harris. Find a nice safe spot to shoot things from. I’m not going to do anything to hurt her.”
“Yeah, says the guy who keeps dying and disappearing….” He gestured from his eye to Spike’s. “I’ll be watching you, buddy.”
There was no response as Spike turned to watch Buffy walk back to him. His hands were in his pockets, and he looked more uncomfortable by the second.
“Nothing. Jus’ don’t know what to do, do I? Want to be near you, watching your back, but if I do that, it might draw more trouble to you. If I’m far away, back here, I won’t be able to help—”
“Let’s just play it by ear, ‘k?” she said softly, touching his face and running her thumb over one of the scars. “If they don’t see you, it’s better for the rest of us. If they do spot you, then we’ll probably need the help.” She held out her hand in which she held a sword. “Here. The girls thought this would be a good one for you.”
He glanced over to the squad of girls watching them while pretending not to. “Are those the little bints that wanted to off me so badly they ended up tripping each other?”
“Yeah. I think I finally convinced them that running in to you was one of the best things that could have happened to them. Now that they know who you are, they finally believe me.” She laughed as she watched him move the sword around, testing it. “Now they’re going around bragging how they fought William the Bloody and survived it.”
“Does that mean I can say I fought six slayers at one time and kicked their arses?” He was saluting the girls when he caught Gill’s eye. He rubbed his ribs and gave her a thumbs up, laughing when she blushed and looked away.
“Okay, enough with distracting the teenyboppers. Looks like it’s showtime…”
They both watched as the small bright spot in the air began to pulse and grow. The slayers spread themselves into a line and faced the space, weapons in hand. It was almost anticlimactic when the first demon came through, as he exploded almost as soon as he appeared, victim of a well-thrown hand grenade.
“Bringing the slayers’ weapons into the 20th century, aren’t you?” Spike said. “Got any plans to move past World War II armaments?”
“Watch and learn,” she said, beginning to walk toward the line of slayers. “From here. Please,” she added when he moved as if to follow her. “Just do this for me. Don’t put yourself out there unless we have no choice.”
“I’ll be back,” she said, whirling and running back to him. She reached up, grabbed the back of his neck and kissed him until he relented and began to return the kiss, holding her against his body and growling as he felt her melting against him. Sounds of battle from behind Buffy made her wrench herself away. “I’ll be back,” she repeated as she turned and ran toward the portal. “I’ll be back. You be here!”
He stood, leaning on the sword while the slayers battled at the edge of the portal, trying to keep the demons from coming through. Their small supply of hand grenades had been exhausted, and they were back to fighting in the usual way against the new demons climbing over the body parts at the portal entrance.
Spike could hear the witches up on the parking garage roof, chanting and filling the air with magic. In spite of their best efforts, it didn’t seem to be having much of an effect on the portal. It remained open, if too small for more than a few demons at a time to emerge. Keeping it small seemed to be the best they could do, and the fight continued to be confined mostly to the area right in front of the portal. Occasionally a small group of demons would work together to burst through and overwhelm the slayers immediately in front of them. They rarely made it more than a short distance away as the well-trained slayers split into a front line and a rear guard, catching up to the escaping creatures and attacking them from behind. But the need to pursue them did begin to isolate the slayers from their companions, and the portal became less well-guarded.
With the apparently unending numbers of disposable demons being sent through the portal, the gradual spread of fighting was inevitable and self-renewing. The more slayers who were drawn away from the portal, the more of the demon soldiers could come through at one time. Slowly, but surely, their numbers continued to increase, in spite of the certain death awaiting them from the slayers that greeted their arrival.
Spike was so busy trying to keep track of Buffy as she laid waste with her scythe and admiring the discipline of the slayers under her command that he almost missed the seven feet of scaled death that had made its way to the isolated spot he’d chosen to stand in. His instincts, however, had not deserted him, and he was sheltered on two sides, forcing the demon to approach in a way that allowed Spike to catch him from the corner of his eye.
The demon stopped, studying the scarred vampire now facing him, sword at the ready. Instead of attacking, he turned and shouted something in a garbled demon tongue that Spike recognized as something he’d heard too much of in the past several years. One leap into the air and a swipe of the sword removed the demon’s head, and for a few blissful seconds Spike thought maybe he had been in time.
The way the entire focus of the battle shifted told him it was a vain hope, and he braced himself for the coming onslaught. He was too busy fighting off creatures more interested in capturing him than killing him to notice what else was going on, until he found himself pinned between two more of the tall, scaly demons. He was just beginning to worry when the one on the left was gone, lying in two pieces on the ground, and Buffy was using her scythe to hack off the legs of the one holding his right arm. Spike brought his sword across and removed demon’s head, dropping it at Buffy’s feet. She grinned at him and turned back to the fray.
Spike threw himself back into the fight with a delight totally inappropriate for the situation, but impossible to deny now that he was on Buffy’s left as she used her scythe to hold back the hordes trying to reach them. They fought with a joy and ferocity that kept their area clear and allowed the other slayers to attack the single-minded demons from the rear, causing large amounts of damage and systematically whittling down the number of attackers. Although obviously dangerously lethal, the attacking demon soldiers did not seem to be very bright as they focused entirely on reaching Spike, paying no attention to the slayers decimating their ranks.
The loud clap of thunder as the portal popped open all the way caught everyone – including the demons – by surprise. They threw themselves on the ground, murmuring in their language and prostrating themselves in front of the creature looming in the portal.
“Oh shit,” Buffy said, hefting the scythe. “That’s the thing that tried to break my back.” Even the slayers, now that their opponents were busy bowing down to the new arrival, stopped and stared. The creature in the opening, twenty-five feet tall if it was an inch, was made of pulsing, green slime and sharp spines. It had several short tentacles near its head, and three very long, powerful ones coming from its torso. A fourth tentacle ended in a stump some distance from the body. It stood on relatively short, but extremely thick legs that ended in feet with taloned toes. Its eyes were the size of dinner plates, and they took only a few seconds to locate Spike.
“Incoming, love,” he said. “Which side do you want?”
“If he gets this far, I’m going to remove the other three tentacles,” she said. “But watch first… ”
Buffy waved to the girls on the garage, trying not to worry about the dazed witches she could see lying around them. The girls ran to the other side, coming back with a catapult.
“A trebuchet? You’re going to fight Godzilla with a bloody medieval war machine?”
Buffy ignored him and watched intently as Xander and a small group of girls placed a large, round object on the machine. Without wasted effort or speech, it was launched directly into the portal, hitting the demon in its mid-section. There was a split second of silence, then the world filled with a roar and bits of demon-parts. When the air cleared, the slayers sent up a cheer and began to high-five each other.
“Didn’t teach them not to gloat, did you, pet?” Spike said, as he fended off the first of the smaller demons to recover and renew the attack.
“Left that for you,” she grunted, slicing her way through another attacker. “Guess I shouldn’t have waited.”
Worried about hitting a slayer now that the opened portal was allowing through far larger numbers of demons and escalating the furious hand-to-hand combat, Xander had stopped trying to shoot from his perch above the battleground. After assuring himself that Willow and her fellow witches had only been stunned by the magic blast that blew open the portal, he had set himself in front of them and stayed busy picking off any stray demons that made it past the small squad of slayers left on guard. The rest of the garage roof slayers had long since joined their sisters on the ground in the battle going on there.
Buffy slipped and slid in the gore now coating a rather large and growing area, as the battle became even more fierce than before—the original combatants, outraged over the destruction of their overlord, still eager to recapture Spike. When Spike’s bad leg buckled and he went down under a pile of triumphant scaly enemies, Buffy’s scream was barely audible over the uproar of multitudes of individual battles.
She was doing her best to fight her way to him, fearful of swinging the scythe into the pile of struggling bodies, when suddenly the pile became noticeably smaller. She glanced up as a large body was rather effortlessly thrown back through the portal and saw a strange woman with blue hair and body armor.
“They may not have him back,” the woman replied, her tone clearly implying that Buffy was not doing her job properly. “He should not be here.”
“I tried to tell him that,” Buffy snapped, pulling the last demon off and removing its head in almost the same motion.
“He can be very disobedient,” Illyria said, yanking Spike to his feet and shaking him.
“It’s good to see you, too, your godship,” Spike gasped, holding his side and trying to hide it at the same time. “Don’t think I’ve had time to thank you for—”
Whatever he was going to say was drowned out by another loud pop. Everyone, demons and slayers, looked up to find three more of the giant demonic creatures emerging from the portal; several more appeared to be waiting behind them.
Once again, the few lesser demons still standing threw themselves on the ground in obeisance, whereupon the slayers quickly decapitated them before retreating in the face of the frightening beings stalking through them. The new arrivals brushed the slayers aside at first, pausing to fling one away only if she actually inflicted an injury that caught the creature’s attention. Not until they realized the small warriors were trying to keep them from their goal did they attempt to engage them in serious combat.
Buffy had only seconds to admire the discipline and creativity the slayers were showing as they used their smaller size and quickness to dart in and out, inflicting what damage they could. She soon had to turn her attention to the leader now making its way directly for them. It paid no attention to the two women standing between it and Spike until Illyria gave a snarl and leapt, grabbing one tentacle and hurling it to the ground. She stood triumphantly on its torso for only a second; just long enough for the creature to use one of its powerful tentacles to pluck her off and throw her against the side of the garage, where she remained still, lying on the pavement below the dent her body had made in the concrete.
“Blue!” Spike started toward her, halting when Buffy yanked him back. She pointed at the large demon, now on its feet and striding toward them.
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve already been thrown against a wall. I’d just as soon not go there again.” Darting forward, Buffy managed to slice off one of the long tentacles before she slipped and fell right in front of a large, taloned foot. The demon gave a booming laugh and raised its leg, only to find Spike running to the opposite side, hacking at its legs with his sword and screaming, “Look here, you piece of green shit! Is this what you want? Come and get it!”
He backed away, luring the demon from Buffy’s body. The other two creatures immediately stopped their assault on the slayers and began striding toward the sword-waving vampire.
“That’s right, you bleeding piles of hell-spawn. Here’s what you want.”
Buffy sat up, shaking her head, and watching in horror as Spike stood his ground, waiting for the demons to reach him.
She scrabbled in place, trying to get to her feet and find her scythe. She was just staggering in the direction of what was undoubtedly going to be a very short battle, when Illyria flew past her.
“Wait here,” she said. “I tire of this.”
Buffy ignored her orders, arriving just in time to see Illyria morph into the slender, brown-haired girl Buffy had a vague memory of meeting years ago. The girl looked at Spike, saying, “It’s past time for me to leave this place. Take care of yourself, Spike.” She leaned in and gave him a brief hug before reverting to her familiar form.
“What are you—don’t, pet. Even you can’t handle—”
“I am finished here,” Illyria said. “I require you to move away now.” She began to shimmer and quiver, causing Buffy to grab Spike’s arm.
Dragging an unwilling Spike, Buffy moved away from where the slender blue figure was facing off against three huge creatures that were gnashing their teeth and waving their powerful tentacles around. Even as they watched, her body began to swell and change. There was a moment of confusing motion, then Illyria was gone and in her place was a creature more than twice the size of those facing her, with a much larger mouth, more tentacles and a voice that shook the nearby buildings.
“You are done here!” she roared, picking up the first demon and throwing him bodily through the portal. “We are all done with this world.” She advanced upon the remaining two demons that were gaping at her in disbelief. “You will worship me as I deserve, inferior beings. Let us begin now.”
She knocked them to their knees, put a tentacle on each one’s head and forced it to the ground. “That is better. We will practice.” Without so much as a final glance at Spike, Illyria threw her two new minions through the portal, stepped in and pulled it shut behind her.
For those of you who think I'm (or Buffy is) being a tease... *shrugs* It's been a long time, she's glad he's alive, she's happy he's there, she's got a semi-apocalypse going on, and he's still injured. If we don't assume they had sex just before Sunnydale collapsed around him, then it wasn't a part of their relationship the last time they saw each other. I think some clinging and tentative steps in that direction would be quite likely, but I don't know that I think they would be ripping each other's clothes off (metaphorically speaking) right away. So, for those readers anxiously awaiting the sex (which, in case no one's noticed, I don't write as often or as graphically as I did at one time), all I can say is, I don't think it's time yet.
On the other hand, it's not like they aren't thinking about it, is it? Especially Spike, LOL
Which brings me to the next AN: Chapter Fourteen, as it stands now, is just short of 5000 words - and it isn't quite completed. Although, unless they decide to have more sex while we watch, it's pretty close to complete. Is that too much for one chapter? Even if it does pretty much wrap up the story to this point? (And, yes, I know. I've created one of those future worlds where there could be more fics - perhaps featuring other characters with S/B in the background or whatever - but let's not go there just now). Thoughts? Ideas? I've consistently written long chapters for this story, but I don't know if 5000 + words might be too many for some readers. Personally, I'd rather read long, meaty chapters than a bunch of short choppy ones, but I know not everyone enjoys the same things I do when it comes to reading, so I'm open to suggestions. Making no promises I'll do what you suggest, but opinions are welcome and will be given due consideration.
Okay, enough with the "look at me, I'm the author" stuff. Here's the next-to or next-to-the-next to last chapter.
The silence left behind lasted only as long as it took for the slayers to snap out of their shock and start babbling. In front of their eyes, the dead demons and the gore and ichor began to dissolve into liquid that then turned to smoke and wafted away. While everyone looked on with open mouths, they were soon standing in an area that showed no signs of the recent activities except a rudely-constructed trebuchet on the roof of the garage, some ruined landscaping, and dented concrete on one of the lower walls.
“Let’s go!” Buffy shouted as the sound of approaching sirens reached them. The uninjured slayers began to fade away into the shadows, moving with super speed to get as far away as they could before the emergency vehicles arrived. Willow and the other witches jumped into one of the two vans carrying injured or dead slayers, throwing temporary glamours around them. With Xander and a watcher driving, both vans were safely away, having passed only one police car as they hurried back to the Council compound.
Spike and Buffy watched from the roof of one of the buildings. They’d easily dodged the night watchman, who was now busy waving his arms around and telling the police about bright lights, monsters, screams, and disappearing holes in the air. “I’d feel sorry for him if this wasn’t so funny,” Spike said, leaning heavily on the sword, using it as a crutch.
In spite of trying for a disapproving look, Buffy had to giggle. “Yeah. He’s going to be regretting that phone call for a long time.”
By unspoken agreement, they had waited, hidden on the roof, just to be sure nothing scaly and deadly had survived the slayers and missed the trip back through the portal. Spike was leaning on the sword, trying not to look as exhausted and beat up as he really was. Buffy, although in better shape than the vampire she was watching carefully when she thought he wouldn’t notice, was also tired and bruised. She was very grateful when she saw that not only were there no demons visible anywhere, but that at least one of the police vehicles contained armed men.
“Okay,” she said after they’d watched for several minutes. “I think they’ll be fine without us hovering. Let’s go.”
They quickly went down the fire stairs and out the door Spike had opened while the watchman was distracted, wondering where all the bodies had gone and how he was going to justify his frantic emergency call. Buffy tried to watch Spike’s limping progress without letting on she was monitoring it. They spotted one lesser demon, making its way back to the vicinity of the portal, nodding when the distant sound of gunshots indicated it was not likely to be a problem any more.
“Awww. Now the watchman won’t be fired for dreaming it all up,” Buffy said. She’d taken her eyes off Spike to stop and listen to the reception the stray demon got. “He’ll just have to explain how one dissolving monster did all the stuff he was describing.”
“Buffy?” Spike’s voice was much softer than she expected and she whirled to find him swaying on his feet. “I think I might need to sit for a bit….” Her arm was under his shoulder before he could hit the ground, and she lowered him gently. “Sorry, love. I’d tell you you were right and I wasn’t ready, but then you’d be trying to tell me what to do all the bloody time.”
She snorted. “And we both know how well that works.” She sighed and sat down beside him. “I’m not all that gung ho about carrying you all the way home. We should have thought of this before and stashed a car somewhere.” She pulled out her phone and dialed the Council offices, surprised when Giles answered the phone himself.
“Where are you?” he said. “The girls are back, Willow’s back, but no one seems to know what happened to the two of you.”
“We hung out for a while just in case, but it looks like I might have overestimated our stamina. Any chance you can send somebody to pick us up? I think we’re near…” She looked around. “Some kind of stadium.”
“Check your phone.” Xander’s voice came on the line. “It’ll tell you exactly where you are.”
“Oh yeah, hold on.” Buffy checked her location, rattled off the nearest streets and hung up after being assured someone would be there soon. She sank back against the wall Spike was leaning on and put her head on his shoulder.
“Your friend, Illyria, is pretty interesting…” she said. “Was that her real body?”
“Got no idea, love. May have been. Her world or time was a pretty nasty place, as I understand it – and she was one of the head nasties. Should be right up her alley – lots of violence, ugly things to worship her. I hope she’s happy there.”
“Is she a she?” Buffy lifted her head and glanced at his profile, watching him frown in thought.
“Buggered if I know. I don’t know if the Old Ones had sexes. They just are. But since she was wearing Fred’s body, we just called her ‘she’ all the time. Can’t say she ever complained about it.”
“I think she had a little thing for you,” Buffy said, bumping his shoulder. “Should I be jealous?”
He snorted and bumped her back. “Can’t help it if I’m irresistible, Slayer. But you know I’m a one-woman man. Always have been.”
“Good thing for you,” she said, putting her head back on his shoulder.
“Not stupid, love. Know when I’ve got it good, don’t I?”
They waited in comfortable silence until one of the Council’s vans pulled up. Buffy pushed herself to her feet and extended a hand to Spike who willingly allowed her to help him up. He continued to lean on the sword as he walked to the car under her watchful eye, but without assistance. Once they were in, she said, “I could have helped, you know.”
“Could have. Didn’t need to. You’re about as tired and beat up as I am, Slayer. Admit it.”
“I’ll admit I could use a hot bath and about two days’ of sleep,” she said. “That’s all I’m admitting to.”
“Forgot you had someone with you who can smell blood and sense weakness?”
“Ewwww! Thanks for that reminder, Spike.”
She shook her head at him and leaned forward to thank the driver who had delivered them to her front door. The short walk from the street was a contest to see who could appear the least injured – a contest which Buffy won as she was able to navigate without relying on her weapon for support. Putting her key into the lock, she opened it, waited for Spike to limp in, and locked it behind them.
By mutual agreement, they went only as far as the couch before collapsing together in a heap of exhausted supernatural strength. In the dim glow coming from the kitchen, they were soon asleep while their bodies began the mending and recovery process.
Hours later, Buffy awoke, temporarily disoriented at finding herself in the living room with a man wrapped around her. It took only a few seconds for memory to return and she snuggled into Spike, preparing to doze for a while longer.
“Are you awake?”
“Trying not to be,” she mumbled, keeping her head buried against his chest. She felt it shake with laughter and resigned herself to being up for at least long enough to go to bed. “But I am.”
“As nice as this is, just lying here with you in my arms, I think we’d both be better off if we did something to repair the damage.”
“I guess you’re right,” she sighed, poking him when he pretended to be surprised. “Let’s get you some more blood, and I’m going to get into a hot bath.”
“You need to eat too,” he said. “Don’t think I don’t know you did all that tonight on yogurt and leftover pizza.”
“Pizza is the new super food,” she said, sitting up and stretching. “But you need blood, and I really need that bath.” She got up and held out her hand for him.
“Stop tryin’ to help me,” he grumbled, even as he allowed her to pull him to his feet. They were both glad he had when his bad leg buckled under him. Buffy was able to keep him from falling, and she put his arm around her shoulders.
“Let’s go. As soon as you’ve got some blood, I’m going to get something for you.”
They made their way to the kitchen and Buffy led him to a stool. “Just stay there,” she said as she went to the refrigerator and pulled out the last container of blood. “Guess I need to go shopping again. This is the last of it.”
“This isn’t right,” he muttered. “Should be taking care of myself, or taking care of you, not letting you keep me.”
“You can owe me,” she said as she watched the microwave. “I’ll start running a tab.”
“Gonna hold you to that, Slayer.”
“Uh huh. You do that.” She set the cup in front of him and said, “Drink up. I’ll be right back.”
She ran out of the room before he could ask where she was going, so he shrugged and began sipping his blood, trying to make it last. He could hear her footsteps as she ran up to the next floor, frowning when they continued on to the third floor, and then to the attic. He could hear her rustling around up there, then her footsteps as she made her way back down, using the back stairs this time and popping out into the kitchen.
“Here, I knew I remember seeing this.” She proudly held out an old wooden cane that, cleaned up and polished, would probably have been worth a lot of money. Spike just stared at it for several minutes, then held out a trembling hand.
“This was my father’s,” he said, awe in his voice. “I knew my mum kept it for a long time, but had no idea it was still around. Just assumed it was long gone along with everything else.”
Buffy shook her head. “There’s a bunch of stuff up in the attic. I guess your relatives didn’t want to be bothered going through it, and none of the renters were willing to walk all the way up there.”
Spike turned the cane over in his hands, thumping it on the floor and smiling. He reached back and pulled a dishtowel off the sink, beginning to rub the wood until a beautiful warm color emerged. He glanced up at Buffy, smiling at the pleased expression on her face. He took her hand and pulled her closer.
“Have I mentioned lately that you are one hell of a woman?” he murmured into her neck.
“I think Bob might have said something about it,” she responded, arching her neck and making sounds of approval even as she tried to push herself away.
“Smart man, Bob was,” he said, nipping at her neck before letting her go. “Go take your bath, love. I’ll just finish up my midnight snack and….” His voice trailed off, as he suddenly realized he hadn’t been invited to join her upstairs. “…and just clean out my cup before I tuck myself in,” he finished, not meeting her incredulous eyes.
Buffy stared at him, comprehension coming to her slowly. She stepped back to the stool and turned his chin so he was looking at her. She gazed into his eyes until she could read the happy understanding growing in them. “I expect to find you ‘tucked in’ when I get out of the tub. Unless I find myself in need of some help scrubbing my back…” She moved away before he could turn the moment into something more than verbal foreplay, flipping her hand at him as she left the kitchen by way of the back stairs.
Spike sat on the stool, a silly grin on his face as he finished the blood and listened to her moving around upstairs. He heard the tub begin to fill and imagined Buffy stripping out of her clothes, dropping them on the floor as she did so. In spite of his depleted strength and the long evening, he could feel his cock pressing against the fabric of his pants. The elastic in the material and the tightness of the jeans made it almost as visible as it had been when he wore sweatpants.
“Down, boy,” he said, addressing his unheeding body part. “The poor chit’s had a rough night and she’s hurt and tired. We’re not gonna be asking for anything she doesn’t want to give.” His cock continued to ignore him, remaining firmly convinced that he needed to get upstairs before Buffy could emerge from the tub and get dressed again. With a sigh, he put his cup in the sink and turned out the lights. He grabbed his cane, using it to support his bad leg as he followed Buffy’s scent up the stairs.
He limped into Buffy’s bedroom to find a trail of clothing leading from just inside the room to the slightly ajar bathroom door. Relying more heavily on the cane than he cared to admit to, he made his way across the room and leaned against the doorjamb. Buffy was lying in the tub, bubbles up to her chin, her eyes shut and a blissful expression on her face. Without opening her eyes, she said, “Are you going to just stand there, or are you going to join me?”
“Wasn’t sure you really wanted that, love,” he said. “As much as some parts of me are eager to be allowed out.”
She opened one eye and zeroed in on the unmistakable bulge in his pants. “That thing has no conscience,” she said, her voice not holding any real note of complaint. “Or you have no sense.”
“Bit of both, I s’pect,” he chuckled. “I can wait for you out here.” He turned to go back into the bedroom.
“No. Come on, get in with me. Trust me, it feels really good in here.”
“My memory’s not that bad,” he said as he began pulling off his shoes and socks. “Know exactly how good it feels in there.”
Buffy blushed and sputtered. “I meant, doofus, that the hot water feels really good on sore muscles and… stuff.”
She looked up at him, frowning when he wouldn’t meet her eyes. Unlike the Spike she remembered, who had been just as comfortable naked as he was wearing clothes, this one seemed ashamed to be seen. He didn’t go so far as to try to cover himself, but his entire posture said he didn’t want her seeing his scarred and battered body.
“Hey,” she said softly. “I won’t look if you don’t want me to, but trust me when I tell you that you looked a lot worse when we found you. Come on,” she added when he didn’t move, “get in with me.”
Still without looking at her, he stepped into the deep tub and slid down behind her when she scooted forward. He couldn’t control his sigh when his tired, aching body was immersed in the hot water. He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the tub, putting his arms around Buffy as she leaned back against him.
“See? Didn’t I tell you it would feel good?”
“It’s brilliant,” he murmured. “I may never leave here.”
“Is that a promise?” she said, twisting her head until she could look up at his face. “’Cause, never leaving really works for me.”
He opened his eyes and looked down at her. Even with the scars, it was easy to see the emotions flickering across his face. His eyes were full of wonder and the unconditional love she’d not realized how much she depended upon until she no longer had it. Their eyes held a silent conversation in which they each pledged things their voices were afraid to say.
“Alright then,” he finally breathed into her hair. “Alright then.”
Satisfied, Buffy closed her eyes again and relaxed against him, savoring both the therapeutic effects of the hot water and the strange/familiar sensation of the arms wrapped around her. She almost dozed off, only moving when the cooling water no longer encased her in warm comfort.
“Hey,” she said, touching Spike on one leg. “Are you ready to get out?”
“Whenever you are, pet.”
“I’m ready. I feel a lot better, but now I want to sleep for a week.”
He snorted. “You do that, and the Watcher’ll be sure I’ve done you in.”
To his surprise, Buffy didn’t defend Giles, just stood up and stepped out on the bath mat. She took a towel off the bar, handing it to him when he stepped out behind her before taking her own towel off the lid of the toilet.
“You always keep two towels in here?” he asked, then sniffed the one she’d handed him. “Or did you get the one I’ve been using out of the other bath?”
“You can tell it’s yours. Don’t pretend you can’t. And yes, I brought it in here. So what?” She gave him a glare that dared him to say she’d been too sure of herself, but her expression softened immediately when he just smiled, saying, “So nothing, Buffy. I’m just chuffed you wanted it in here with yours.” He kept smiling as she wrapped herself in a towel which covered her from knees to shoulders.
“Well, don’t get any ideas,” she said with a sniff. “Just because we got naked together doesn’t mean you can bring that thing back out.” She pointed at his now flaccid cock. “We still have some getting to know each other to do… and some healing.”
“You want it to stay like that, you’d best take your pretty little eyes off it,” he said, draping his towel around his waist. “And find me something to wear to bed.”
“I knew I should have bought that underwear,” she muttered. “Wait here.” She went into the bedroom, grabbed her pajama bottoms and pulled them on under the towel, then dropped it to pull on the top. She pulled it over her head and glanced up to find Spike staring at her from the bathroom doorway, his face wearing a look that was both familiar and warming. “I’ll be right back,” she said, blushing at the unabashed admiration on his face.
She ran downstairs, all the way to the basement, where she snatched his sweatpants and a tee shirt off the makeshift bed. She turned to leave, then stopped and grabbed the jar of salve. She looked around, but could see nothing else that Spike was likely to want or need.
When she got back to her room, she found Spike standing where she’d left him, towel still around his waist. It took her a second to notice that his attempt to be casual about leaning against the doorjamb was actually an effort to remain upright. Without commenting, she dropped his clothes on the bed and walked past him, picking his cane up from where he’d left it in the bathroom and handing it to him. Still without speaking, she began to brush her teeth, keeping one eye on Spike as he hobbled over to the bed and sat down heavily.
By the time she finished her nightly ritual and returned to the bedroom, he’d pulled on the sweat pants and was lying on his back staring at the ceiling. She turned off the light and made her way to the bed, sitting down beside him and touching him lightly on his chest.
“Did you re-injure that stake wound?” she asked, moving her hand to his ribs, flinching when he hissed.
“A bit. Got pulled some. It didn’t open, but hurts like a bastard. I’ll be fine by tomorrow,” he added hastily. “You ought to see the other guy.”
She gave a silent huff of laughter and leaned down to press her mouth to the scar. “Maybe I can make it better,” she said, brushing her lips over it and leaving light kisses all along the length of it.
He groaned and put one hand on her head, stroking her hair. “Could make me forget all about it; that’s for bloody sure,” he said. “Thought you wanted to take things slow, see how we get along, get all healed and healthy?”
“I do. I just…” She sat up and climbed over him to get into the bed. She squirmed around until she was lying under the covers, facing him in the dark. “Does this mean I can’t touch you unless I want to have sex?”
“You know it doesn’t. Just means, when you put your mouth on me, certain things are gonna happen that I’ve got no control over. You need to tell me where we stand, love. I don’t want to push you, but if you don’t tell me what you want, I won’t know if it’s pushing when I follow my dick over to your side of the bed.”
Buffy nodded, knowing he could see it. Before she could respond, her mouth opened in a yawn she couldn’t hide. They both laughed and Spike put his arm around her. “Think that’s my answer,” he murmured, pulling her back against his chest and spooning her. “You’re hurt and tired. I’m hurt and tired. Got the rest of our lives to make love all night if that’s what we want. Tonight’s for resting and healing.”
“There’s always the morning,” Buffy said through another yawn. She was already asleep by the time Spike said, “And I’ll be right here….”
In Buffy’s dream she and Spike were walking through one of Sunnydale’s graveyards, enjoying the cool, moonlit night and holding hands in a way they never had in reality. It was comfortable, and if a tiny voice was telling her it was also a fantasy, she blissfully ignored it. When they reached his crypt and entered, falling into each other and shedding clothing in a way that was much more familiar, the voice gave a smug “aha!” and fell silent.
Her face was soon pressing against something soft, Spike’s weight holding her there while his cock sought to work its way between her thighs. For some reason her dream included the sound of a phone ringing – which she was beginning to find very distracting as Spike was now kissing her neck and his hands were under her body, working their way into her pajamas to tease her legs into opening for him. She did her best to ignore the annoying sound that had no place in Spike’s crypt, murmuring in approval when his fingers found what they’d been looking for.
Eventually the distracting phone won out over the sensations Spike was creating, and she realized she was face down on her bed with Spike lying on top of her, whispering urgently that she should “ignore the bloody phone”.
With a sigh, she elbowed him into moving off her body. He growled, but quickly removed his wandering hand and flopped onto his back. “What the hell, Slayer? I thought we were having a moment there…”
“You took advantage of me while I was sleeping,” she said, doing her best to sound as if she had not been an enthusiastic participant. “I thought I was dreaming that we—never mind. You cheated.”
“Hey! It’s not like I planned it. Thought I was dreaming that we were back in my crypt, and when I woke up and you weren’t objecting….”
“I thought it was a dream!” she said.
“Well, if you were dreaming about it, and I was dreaming about it, I’ve only got one thing to say ….”
“Great minds think alike,” he said with a grin that she couldn’t resist responding to. He reached for her, pulling her against his body and brushing his lips across hers. “Don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’m not tired anymore…” He was interrupted by the phone, which had stopped for a minute, but was now ringing again. When, with a sigh, Buffy pulled away to look for the source of the interruptions, he got out of bed and picked up her jeans. The phone fell out when he tried to hand them to her and he grabbed it before she could, flipping it open and snarling, “If the soddin’ world isn’t ending, I’m going to—”
Snatching the phone from him, a blushing Buffy pushed him away while she held the phone to her ear. “Not that I condone Spike’s rude phone manners, but there better be a damn good reason for waking me up—oh. Really? Well, yeah, that’s… that’s….” She looked at Spike, whose expression alternated between glowering and begging. Buffy ran her eyes over him, the bare chest, the powerful arms, the flat belly barely covered by the pants hanging off his hips, and the protrusion tenting the front of those pants. She barely noticed the scars with which she was now so familiar, but had no trouble admiring the body that, while she had been busy worrying about the scars, had somehow restored itself to the lean, well-muscled one she knew so well.
“…that’s something that can wait,” she said, turning the phone off and dropping it onto the floor. She smiled at him and scooted back on the bed.
“That’s my girl,” he said, his grin returning as he followed her beckoning finger. He knelt on the edge of the bed and moved toward her on his hands and knees. As he reached her face, Buffy fell backwards, forcing him to crawl up her body until he was suspended over her, their hips just barely touching. He slowly lowered his upper body until he was close enough to feel her breasts brush his chest with every rapid breath she was taking. “Tell me this isn’t another bloody dream,” he said, staring into her eyes.
“Not unless I’m having the same dream,” she whispered. She raised one hand to cup his cheek. “You’re really here. I didn’t think I’d ever… you’re really here.”
“I am, love. Think I’d have been here someway, somehow, even if I’d dusted. This is my home. You are my home,” he quickly amended as he remembered where they were.
“Welcome home, Spike,” Buffy said, pulling him down into a kiss that lasted until they were both panting and he was pressed against her writhing body. Her legs had come up around his waist, and they both groaned at the fabric separating them. By mutual agreement, they broke apart long enough for Spike to push his sweat pants to the floor and Buffy to shed her pajama top. When she reached for the waistband of the bottoms, Spike stopped her with a soft, “Let me.”
He brushed his lips across hers before kissing his way down her body, giving loving attention to her pulsing throat, pausing to suck on each nipple until they were standing erect in bright red peaks. He nuzzled her navel and licked the skin on her abdomen. When he got to the top of her pajamas, he took the elastic waistband in his teeth and began to slowly pull it down her body, pausing when he’d exposed her neatly trimmed mons and sniffing in appreciation, burying his nose briefly while never letting go of the fabric in his mouth. Buffy’s canted hips reminded him that he had farther to go, and he quickly yanked the pants the rest of the way down her thighs, leaving it to Buffy to kick them all the way off.
He returned to the scent that had distracted him, pausing to run his tongue through her folds and pressing it against her clit while she involuntarily moved her hips to increase the pressure. Surprising herself and him, Buffy pulled him up from where he had been about to remind her of one of the reasons she loved him. “Later,” she whispered. “Right now I what to feel you… all over.”
Matching sighs when they were molded together, skin to skin from head to toe, quickly turned to urgent panting and whimpers as the needs they’d been putting off for two nights became overwhelming. Her legs once again around his hips, Buffy silently urged him to obey the demands from his eager cock. Only when he’d slid into her and was fully seated did the urgency abate enough for them to savor being so intimately connected once again.
Buffy’s moans of satisfaction and appreciation as she clenched around him were echoed by his own groaned words.
“So good. Feels so good. Never thought I’d… Could dust now…”
“No dusting. Not now. Not ever,” she gasped as he began to move. “I missed this… missed you… so much. Never leave me again.”
“Never,” he vowed, ignoring the pain in his side from the way her arms were gripping his body. “Never leave you. Never leave this…”
Years of unfulfilled yearning and days of postponed desire made short work of their first love-making since well before Sunnydale’s collapse. Buffy’s “Oh God! Oh God!” was echoed by Spike’s shouted “Buffy!” as they brought each other to orgasm almost too quickly. Without pausing any longer than to take a deep breath and begin to kiss her, Spike’s hips were moving again, accompanied by his muttered, “Too fast, too bloody fast.”
“I don’t mind,” she gasped, arching up to meet him. “We can just keep doing it until we can slow down.”
His chuckle was smothered by another gasp from Buffy as she flexed and flipped them over. She pushed her body up, her hands planted on his chest and her hips churning as she rode him to another swift release. She collapsed on his chest, smiling at the vibration under her cheek.
“You’re purring again.”
“I expect I’ll be purring for the next several years,” he said, squeezing her tightly and then running his hands up and down the skin on her back. When he reached her lower back, he continued until he was cupping her ass cheeks and pulling her against his already recovering cock. “You know, love, I’ve never purred like that with anyone else. Didn’t even know I could until that blasted spell of Red’s.”
“All those years with Drusilla? You never purred?” Buffy couldn’t keep the note of satisfaction from her voice, and he responded by increasing the volume.
“No. It never happened to me until I spent an evening with a lapful of Buffy. From then on I was always having to watch myself that I didn’t get that happy where anyone could hear me. Really didn’t fancy explaining why there were happy noises coming from me every time you got close enough to smell.” He nuzzled her neck and sucked on it gently. “Especially to you. You’d have known what I was thinkin’ and I’m pretty sure I’d’ve been dust long before…”
“That’s probably true,” she admitted. “If I’d had any idea then that you were thinking about…” She wriggled against him. “But then I learned how to really make you purr….” She squeezed his softened cock, bringing the purring to a new level and gaining a moan from him.
“That you did, love. That you did.”
Buffy giggled and sighed as she felt him swelling within her. “Ahh,” she breathed, stretching out on top of him and falling into one of their favorite games from their short-lived physical affair so many years ago. As Spike went into game face and his cock adapted by becoming thicker and more curved, he began to twitch it, judging his success at hitting the right spot by the sounds she was making. Buffy’s response was to use her stronger-than-normal muscles to squeeze him until his eyes rolled back in his head.
An outside observer might have thought they were just resting, being unaware of the steadily increasing internal battle going on between the two bodies lying so still. Only when Buffy’s breathing became erratic, and her soft sighs turned to shorter, louder “oh!”s, did Spike begin to murmur to her and move his hands to pull her more tightly against him. Buffy’s final convulsive “yes!” and the resulting pressure on his cock sent Spike’s demon snarling his release as he fastened his mouth harmlessly on her neck. He sucked the soft skin there for several minutes while Buffy recovered herself.
When she finally gave a groan and tried to roll off, he released the skin with a gentle kiss and let her go. They rested together, arms and legs touching, hands lightly clasped between them.
“I won,” he said finally.
“You so did not! It was a tie!”
“Best two out of three?” he asked, turning his head to smile at her. She smiled back and reached over to brush the fingers of her free hand across his chest.
“You’re on, cheater,” she said, then dropped her hand. “But not right this second. Even slayers need rest.” He narrowed his eyes at her, grateful for the respite, but wondering how much of her need to rest was real, and how much was based on her seeing the flinch he hadn’t been able to hide when she touched his wound.
“Well, alright, pet. I wouldn’t want to wear you out too much.”
“Exactly.” She felt her neck. “Did you just give me a hickey?”
“Maybe?” When she glared at him, the self-satisfied grin on his face was quickly replaced by an inquisitive look and a change of subject. “So, what’s the plan for the day? Was the phone call really important, or did someone just want to make sure we weren’t doing anything they wouldn’t approve of?”
Buffy gave a guilty start. “It was important. I probably shouldn’t have blown it off.” She sat up and stretched, smiling when his eyes went to her breasts. “One of the girls who was badly injured wanted to know if you were okay. She got knocked out before Illyria showed up, and the last time she saw you, I guess you were being swarmed by ugly, scaly things.” She cocked her head at him. “I think it would be nice if you went with me to see her. She got hurt for you, in a way.”
“Nothing ‘in a way’ about it,” he said, sitting up quickly. “If Blue hadn’t dropped me on your doorstep, those things wouldn’t have come here looking for me, and none of those girls would have had to get hurt. I owe them all.”
Buffy shook her head. “Come on, Spike. They’re slayers. Things are always going to be trying to hurt them. Yes, this time, they were here for you, but the next time… probably next spring… it’ll be something else. If anyone is responsible for putting them in harm’s way, it’s me… and maybe Willow, since she did the spell.”
“You had a world to save, love,” he said quickly. “You made the best decision you could make at the time. If you hadn’t, they still would have died or been hurt… and it would have happened years ago when they had no ability to fight back.”
Buffy stood up. “I know that… but still…” She gave herself a little shake before heading to the bathroom. Spike’s voice followed her in as she closed the door.
“But still, nothing, Slayer. You saved the world for them so they could grow into the super-powered little bints they are. They should be grateful to you.”
“Some are, some aren’t….”
He could just hear her over the sound of the toilet flushing, but wasn’t sure she’d meant for him to. When he heard the shower come on, he got up and, leaning on his cane, walked to the bathroom, opening the door and pulling the shower curtain back to peek in.
“Room for one more?”
When they’d dressed, eaten, and Buffy had called the school back to say they were coming in if a safe method of transportation could be provided for Spike, they sat in the kitchen while Buffy drank more coffee.
“I guess I need to get you more clothes,” she said, eyeing the tight jeans he’d reluctantly put on again. Besides the blood and other stains on them, she did have to admit that they weren’t the manliest things he’d ever worn.
“Don’t want you spending all your money on me,” he grumbled. “You’d best be keeping that tab.”
She set her cup down and stared at him. With a sweep of her arm, she gestured around the kitchen. “You do know this is all actually yours, don’t you? The only reason I’m living here is because you left all that money to me… and Dawn. And since you’re not really dead – or deader than usual – I don’t know if it’s legally even ours anymore.”
“Of course it’s yours. Gave it to you, didn’t I?” He seemed shocked that she would even consider that it wasn’t.
“But that’s when you thought you were going to be dust. You’re not dust, you’re here, and I’m living in your house that I bought with your money.”
“Can’t think of a better use for it, love,” he said, putting his hand over hers. “It was always going to be yours, or the Bit’s. Way back before… well, let’s just say a long, long time ago, I made sure that whatever I had left to leave was going to go to a Summers woman. Would have preferred to be seeing it split three ways, but….”
“You made that will while Mom was still alive?” Buffy stared at him with her mouth open. He looked embarrassed, but said, “Had no one else, and your mum was always nice to me – except for that whole thing with the axe, and could hardly blame her for that, could I? And the Bit – my memories go back just as far as everyone else’s. Remember her when she was just a bitty thing, peeking at me through the stair railing. She never was afraid of me for some reason.”
“You are one strange vampire, Spike,” Buffy said, turning her hand over and linking their fingers.
A honk from outside told them someone had come to pick them up, and Buffy hurried to the front door to wave at their driver. Spike covered his head with the blanket Buffy provided, holding it with one hand, his cane in the other, and hobbled to the small van; he dove in through the open side door and settled against the side while Buffy slipped into the passenger seat. She smiled at Xander.
“Hey! I didn’t know we were getting a personal escort.”
“Well, somebody’s got to keep an eye on you two,” he said. “So, where to? I’m your designated driver for the day.”
“The Council compound, I guess. I need to visit all the injured slayers and Spike wants to thank them. Do you think we could stop somewhere to buy him real jeans first, though?”
Xander sighed. “We could… but then I’d miss all the fun of watching the girls trying not laugh at him when he shows up in tights….” Spike’s snarl was almost perfunctory, although he did manage to get another dig in about Xander just wanting to watch “my tight, little arse”.
Once Spike – wearing more normal, if too stiff, jeans – had personally thanked all the injured slayers for their help in keeping him safe, and had shown Gill the scar left by her stake, they followed Xander up to the office level. Buffy watched carefully, but not a single girl recoiled from the close up look at Spike’s scarred visage, and she smiled to see the relief on his face. “If you’d left the tight jeans on, they wouldn’t even be looking at your face,” she whispered, patting him on his butt. “But you can see it’s not as bad as you think it is.”
“They’re slayers. Made of tough stuff,” he said, but she saw a trace of his former cockiness return to his carriage. Although he was relying heavily on the cane, he somehow managed to make it look more like an accessory than a necessary support. They took the elevator to the upper floors where Giles’s office and the meeting rooms were.
“Are you up for this?” she asked as Spike stared at the open door to the Council’s primary meeting room. “You’re not going to go all fangy on me, are you?”
“Never faulted the man for trying to protect you,” he said. “And I never will, no matter how stupid he may be to think I’d ever do anything to harm you… But, I’ll admit to havin’ some pretty strong feelings about sending a little prick like Andrew to pick up Dana… and about not telling you or Willow we needed help to save Fred. Could be there was nothing to be done at that point, but we’ll never know, will we?”
“In all fairness, we didn’t know you were there, and I really didn’t trust Angel when he took over Wolfram and Hart. If you’d called me….”
“I know that, love. Accept my part in everything that happened. I was a bloody coward… and I always thought I’d have time. Could figure out what I wanted to say, how to say it… By the time I knew we weren’t going to make it, I was a mite too busy to ring you and say, “I’m alive and I love you. Sorry I didn’t call. The poof and I could use a bit of help.” He put a hand on her arm, turning her towards him. “That’s the only reason you won’t see fang. I know it might have changed things if I’d called you right away. I have to accept that.”
“Okay, then. Let’s get this over with.”
She pushed the door the rest of the way open and they walked into the room, pausing before they got to the table to make eye contact with everyone there. Willow jumped to her feet and ran to them, arms up for a hug that took Spike completely by surprise. He gave Buffy a panicky look as he put his arms awkwardly around the witch. When he realized that Willow’s hug was a genuine expression of her delight in seeing him again, he relaxed and picked her up. When he set her down, she stepped back and smiled at him.
“You look great!” she said, adding quickly, “Well, I mean you look great compared to what you looked like a few days ago, not compared to what you really look like when you aren’t all scarry and have hair and… I’m going to stop babbling now.”
“It’s alright, Red. I appreciate what you’ve done… checking for the soul, and bringin’ the healer to see me. Babble away. I know what I look like.”
Still looking dismayed, Willow went back to her place at the table and sat down next to Xander who was shaking his head at her. Before Giles could get to his feet and say anything, the door burst open and Dawn came in. She walked up to Spike and stared at him, then smiled and nodded.
“Okay. I guess I don’t have to beat you with the spatula anymore.” She glanced at Buffy. “Is it safe for me to come home, or are you two still celebrating the reunion in loud and inappropriately public ways?”
“It’s your house too, Bit,” Spike said, unable to hide a smirk at Buffy’s angry blush.
“Nah, it’s Buffy’s house. She wouldn’t let me use any of my money to buy it—” She broke off. “Is it still my money? I mean with you being not dust and all….”
“It’s yours. I think trying to reclaim it – even if I wanted to, which I don’t – would be a bit too complicated. Explaining how I was dead, but not, and then dead again, but turns out not, and then in another dimension… Yeah. All things considered, I think we’ll just leave things as they are.”
“It’s not like he doesn’t have a place to live,” Buffy said into the silence. “Or access to his money if he needs it for anything.” She moved closer to him and took his hand, in case anyone wasn’t getting the entire message. Giles sighed and sat back down.
“So, you expect him to be a permanent fixture in your life?” His face gave no indication of his feelings about that state of affairs, but when Spike began to growl under his breath and Buffy’s eyes took on a cold determination, he held up a hand quickly. “I am not objecting to that. Not in any way. I just wanted to be clear about it before I make my offer.”
“Of employment. When we discussed the vampire in your home before we knew who he was, we were planning to use him for training purposes.” Before the growing anger in Buffy’s eyes could explode, he hastened on. “Now that we know he is an expert fighter, with experience training potential slayers, I am prepared to offer him full employment with the Council. Both as an instructor, and as a member of your team when needed for emergencies.” He waited, watching the vampire’s eyes for any sign of rejection.
Spike, however, was totally focused on Buffy. “Your call, love. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to do whatever you want. You don’t owe us anything.”
“I want to be where you are. Doing what I can to make your life easier.”
“Then I guess it’ll help if we work in the same place, won’t it?” She smiled at him, unconsciously moving closer until they were standing facing each other, oblivious to the other people in the room. Only the clearing of throats all around the room brought their attention back to the table.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Giles said with a wry smile. “Welcome to the Slayers’ Council, Spike.”
“Slayers Council, yeah? I like that.”
Giles interrupted Dawn’s intended correction. “Yes, it is technically the Slayers and Watchers Council, but I doubt very seriously if William the Bloody would have much interest in working for the Watchers Council.”
“You got that right,” Spike snorted. “So, when do I go to work?”
Before anyone else could answer, Buffy said, “When you can spar with me without falling down.” At his glower, she added, “You’re entitled to some rest before you start work. And I think I need a vacation….” She went up on her toes and whispered in his ear, bringing a smile to his face.
He nodded. “Alright then, love. Two weeks from now, it is.” He looked directly at Giles for the first time. “Is that alright with you, Watcher? Two weeks from now when the Slayer and I—” Buffy’s elbow to his ribs cut him off.
“That will be fine. Assuming that there is not some apocalypse lurking that we are unaware of….”
“You don’t think a demon invasion from another dimension counts as an apocalypse?” Buffy was indignant on behalf of her injured slayers.
“Well, since we know of nothing else looming, I think we can assume so, but just in case….”
“Just in case, you’ll know where to find us,” Buffy said, taking Spike’s hand and leading him toward the door. “We’re going home now. Don’t bother us unless the world is ending.” She paused as she remembered how they’d arrived. “Xander? Do you mind?”
He rose to his feet, gesturing to Dawn. “Let’s go Dawnie. We’re going to want to pack some clothes and stuff.”
“Are we going somewhere?”
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to stay in the same house with these two while they get reacquainted. They might be all lovey-dovey now, but sooner or later there’s going to be violence. Trust me.”
“True,” she said as she followed him out the door. “Not to mention all the sex we’d have to listen to when they weren’t fighting…”
Buffy looked up at Spike as they all crowded into the elevator. “Should we be offended?”
“I think we should be bloody grateful,” he said, nibbling on her ear and ignoring the gagging sounds from Dawn. “We’ll have the house all to ourselves. Can shag anywhere we want to… kitchen table, living room floor, Dawn’s bed….”
The ride home and subsequent packing by Dawn and Xander lasted well into the afternoon and evening. The four people were sitting around the kitchen table, Spike drinking his blood while Buffy, Dawn and Xander argued the virtues of coffee and tea in the afternoon. The lackadaisical argument had dwindled off when Xander brought up the subject they’d all been avoiding.
“So, I notice that neither one of you are, even insincerely, trying to talk us out of staying somewhere else for a while. What’s up with that?”
Buffy and Spike exchanged looks, but offered no explanation.
“Because neither one of them wants us around, obviously,” Dawn said with a surprising lack of anger. “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Spike interrupted Buffy’s attempt to deny that they wanted to be alone. “Yes, it is.” He met Dawn’s gaze with affection but firm conviction. “Your sis and I haven’t seen each other in too bloody many years to count. And we’ve only had a few very busy days to get to know each other again.” He took Buffy’s hand and brought it to his lips. “Know I love her. Know she loves me.” He gave Buffy’s hand a squeeze. “But neither one of us knows where we’re going from here. Need some time without distractions to just… be.”
“Oh, bullshit,” Dawn said, waving her hand at him. “You just want to have lots of sex and you don’t want to worry about being quiet or having privacy.”
Spike shrugged and grinned at her. “An’ there’s that.”
“On that disgusting note…” Xander stood up and picked up their bags. “Let’s go, Dawn. If you’re nice to me, I might spring for dinner somewhere before we move into our bunks at the slayer compound.”
Buffy and Spike stood in the kitchen doorway, his arm draped across her shoulders, the cane dangling from his hand. They watched Dawn and Xander let themselves out the gate to where he’d left the car.
“Take her to dinner, huh?” Spike mused. “Am I going to need to have a talk with that boy?”
“’That boy’ is almost older than you were when you were turned, and Dawn is a young woman. Leave them alone. It’s probably just a big brother/sister thing, anyway.”
He sighed and squeezed her shoulder before turning to walk back to his chair. “I’ve got a lot to catch up on and get used to, don’t I?”
Buffy followed him to the table and leaned over his back, wrapping her arms around him and resting her head next to his. “That’s why we’re taking these two weeks of vacation. We have a lot of talking to do.”
He turned his head and met her waiting lips with his. “I hope you don’t mind if we do our talking naked and horizontal. ‘Cause that’s pretty much what I have in mind for the next two weeks.”
“I think I can talk naked,” she said, giggling when he pulled her down in his lap and slid a hand under her shirt. “I was kinda hoping your leg would get well enough that horizontal wasn’t going to be our only position, though….” She turned to straddle him, putting her arms on his shoulders and leaning in for another kiss.
Spike’s attempt to stand up while holding her didn’t work, as his uncooperative leg refused to hold their combined weights and he fell back into the chair, swearing in several languages.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” she said. “I didn’t mean right this minute. We’ve got the rest of our lives for that leg to get strong again.” She stared at his frozen face and stroked it softly. “Horizontal is going to work just fine for now.”
“Think I’ve kind of lost the urge,” he said, lifting her off his lap and setting her on the floor. “Maybe later, pet.”
Buffy stared at him in dismay, easily reading the embarrassment and frustration that were making him lie. “Bullshit,” she said, putting her hand on the hard cock still visible in his jeans. He gaped at her with indignation when she squeezed it. “The important thing to me is that it’s you making love to me. I don’t much care how you do it. It’s been a long damn time, and if you think you’re going to use that leg as an excuse to leave me—mmmph!”
As intended, the suggestion that he might be leaving her unfulfilled brought Spike’s demon roaring out. He threw her to the floor, landing heavily on top of her as he growled and pressed his hips into hers. Buffy suppressed her satisfied giggle as she reached in between them and pulled down his zipper. The skirt she’d worn that morning was already rucked up and she easily pulled aside her thong so that he could push into her.
As Buffy wrapped her legs around him, holding him fast while he pounded into her, his urgency faded along with his demon and he had soon slowed down and was gazing at her from bright blue eyes.
“Think you’re smart, don’t you?” He tried to growl, but it came out as more of a rumbling purr.
“I think I know you,” she said, smirking at him and stroking his brow.
“I guess you do,” he agreed, beginning to move again, more slowly this time.
As Buffy began to move with him and murmur her appreciation, she gasped, “So, we can take the kitchen floor off the list now.”
A soft chuckle was the only response as he rolled them over to let his own back take the brunt of the hard floor.
Chapter 15: Fifteen
Many thanks to both my betas (Always_jbj and Just_sue) who have worked to keep me as error-free as my carelessness and incessant tinkering will allow. And many thanks to all the readers who have left kudos and comments on this story. :)
Two weeks to the day later, Spike and Buffy walked into the Council complex hand in hand. The difference in Spike was amazing. Students and staff stared at the man walking beside Buffy – his head covered in short brown hair, his face strikingly handsome, even with the few scars still remaining. Visible once again were sharp cheekbones and full lips. His blue eyes were shadowed by long thick lashes and his eyebrows were almost completely grown in, the scar from a Slayer’s sword now clearly visible.
Although he walked without a trace of a limp, Spike still carried the cane, twirling it occasionally and pointing it at the few girls he recognized. He had no difficulty keeping up with Buffy as she showed him around the large complex, set in a former school campus now owned by the Council. When they’d finished the tour, pausing to visit with Willow and to tell Dawn they’d meet her for lunch, they ended up back in front of Giles’s office.
They studied the closed door, but before they could knock, it opened and Giles came out to greet them.
“Two weeks, exactly. Very punctual,” he said, smiling at Buffy. He moved his gaze to Spike. “You look remarkably recovered,” he said stiffly. “From what I’ve heard from Dawn and Willow, you were completely unrecognizable when Buffy found you.”
“I think he found me,” Buffy said. “Or we found each other.”
“Yes. Well, however it happened, I suppose we can all be grateful….” His voice trailed off when Spike raised a skeptical eyebrow, and he sighed deeply before backing up and gesturing them into his office. He waited until they were sitting down together on a couch while he sat in a nearby chair.
“I understand that I may have some fence-mending to do, Spike. As far as my collaboration with Robin Wood was concerned… I have no excuse other than I thought you were a distraction and a danger to my slayer. That I turned out to be wrong does nothing to change the situation as I perceived it at the time. However, I obviously owe you an apology, which I humbly offer now. I was wrong, and Buffy was right about your value to her.”
He paused, but Spike just stared at him. Only when Buffy poked him did he nod. “Apology accepted, Watcher. Never faulted you for trying to protect her.”
“As far as the events immediately preceding your unfortunate capture and subsequent imprisonment….”
Spike held up his hand. “Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to make that right. I know you didn’t know I was there, and that’s my fault. And I know that no one trusted Angel – didn’t trust him much myself for a while there – but I also suspect that you wouldn’t have trusted me even if you had known.” He paused and frowned. “That’s all assuming that Andrew didn’t tell you that he saw me when he picked up the slayer that cut my hands off….”
Buffy gave a sharp inhalation. It had never occurred to her that while Andrew may have kept his promise to Spike not to tell her of his return, he could well have shared that information with Giles. Her eyes flew to his, waiting for him to respond, to tell her he would never have kept that information from her.
There was a tense silence, during which Buffy’s eyes filled, and Spike nodded, his face hard and cold. “So he did then, and you still didn’t trust me enough. Some things never change…” He stood up. “Thing was… you didn’t trust Buffy or Willow either. They had a right to make their own decisions. I took that away from Buffy by not letting her know I was alive. I have to live with that. But you… She’s earned that from you – many times over. That’s what I’ll never forgive you for.”
Spike held out his hand to Buffy, who was also on her feet by then, her face a mixture of anger and sadness.
“Wait, please.” Giles took off his glasses and set them down. It was a sign of how distressed he was that he didn’t waste time polishing them. He gave a deep sigh and nodded. “You are quite right. I have no excuses that would matter to anyone but myself. And I would certainly understand if our relations remained strained. However, please believe” – he turned his pleading eyes to Buffy – “that nothing I did, no decisions I made were for any reason but to spare you more grief. In hindsight, they were not good decisions, and perhaps did not allow for your growth as a woman and as a slayer. But they were made with… with love and concern for your wellbeing. I would never make a similar decision now.”
“I think you’re going to have to prove that,” Buffy said softly, blinking back tears. “I love you, Giles, but I don’t think I like you very much right now.” She walked toward the door. “Come on Spike, let’s get to work.”
It was half a year and several mini-apocalypses later before the tense relations between the Head of the Watchers Council and the Head Slayer and her constant companion began to ease back into something resembling normal. Six months after they walked out of Giles’s office, Xander – now a steady presence in their lives as he and Dawn admitted to having developed a relationship that had them wanting to spend more time living in the same city – finally sat Buffy down and talked to her.
“Trust me, Buffster, I understand why you’re mad at the G-man. But I’ve got to tell you, I think he’s been punished enough. Have you looked at him lately?”
Buffy shook her head no, although her mind went immediately to how aged Giles had seemed at the last general meeting. “He looks old,” she finally admitted.
“He looks like somebody who gets drunk every night,” Xander contradicted. “You may not remember it, but I was there after you… died. He looked like this for the first two months or more. Him and Spike both, actually. Between the two of them, I’m pretty sure Sunnydale’s supply of hard liquor had a hard time keeping up with demand for a while. Except this time, he hasn’t slowed down or stopped.” Xander shook his head. “He’s drinking himself into an early grave… and it’s because he thinks you hate him.”
“She doesn’t hate him.” Spike’s voice preceded him into the room. “She told him that straight away. Told him she loved him, she just didn’t like him very much.”
Xander glanced up at the vampire as he walked in on their conversation. Spike was almost completely back to normal, the only difference being the lack of bleaching of his hair and the smaller amount of gel used to hold it in place. Buffy had admitted that she loved his curls, and the dark roots he’d had when he first came back with the soul, so Spike had never gone back to the blond helmet he’d worn for much of his time in Sunnydale.
“Well, she’s cut him out of her life so much that he thinks she hates him. And he thinks you’re responsible for it.”
“Gonna send somebody to stake me then, is he? Again?”
“No! Don’t be stupid. He’d never do that to Buffy. But I wouldn’t expect tears if something happened to you during the next apocalypse.”
“Wouldn’t expect them anyway,” Spike muttered before sitting down beside Buffy. “Harris is right, though, love. Haven’t seen the Watcher look this destroyed since....”
Buffy looked at Spike. “I didn’t mean to shut him out completely. I was just so mad… and then we got busy with the slayers and that whole vampire castle thing in Scotland…” She sighed. “So, how do we—I fix this?”
“You could start by inviting him to the engagement party you’re throwing for Dawn and me.”
“I thought we were keeping that small? Just close friends and fami— Oh.”
“Yeah. Oh.” Xander stood up and stretched. “Just think about it, Buffy. That’s all I’m saying.”
Buffy’s timid attempt to include Giles in the small gathering planned for the following weekend didn’t go well at first. She tried for breezy, “Hey, Giles, don’t forget to mark your calendar for next Saturday,” but when he just stared at her through eyes that were focused, if bloodshot, she faltered. “I mean… if you don’t already have plans… or something.”
“Well…” He paused and gathered himself. “As it happens I—”
Spike leaned over his shoulder and growled, “Don’t be a bloody git. Girl’s offering an olive branch – grab it. We both know you don’t have anything more important than a date with a bottle.”
“I don’t need advice from—”
Spike had already moved away, back to Buffy’s side. “Besides,” he said with a grin. “If you don’t come to this engagement party, you won’t be invited to ours.”
Spike carefully avoided looking at Buffy’s astonished face as he threw out that casual piece of information. His grin never wavered, but his eyes told Giles that passing up this chance to let Buffy back into his life would earn him Spike’s undying animosity. Giles nodded slowly and glanced at his desk calendar.
“I should be delighted,” he said. “What time do you want me there, and may I bring something?”
“Just your cheery self,” Spike responded for Buffy who was still trying to decipher what he’d meant by “ours”. She followed him from the office, sputtering “Our… what?”
Spike stopped when they were standing alone on a balcony overlooking the dining hall. He took both her hands and said, “Really had planned something a lot more romantic and less public for this, but…” He led her to a bench against the wall, and continuing to hold her hands in one of his, reached into his pocket to bring out a faded velvet-covered box. “Found this upstairs in my mum’s stuff. I guess the hordes of country cousins overlooked it.” He held it out and waited for Buffy to pull her hands away and take it. She looked up at him with eyes that never wavered as she opened the box and exposed the delicate ring lying within.
“Are you asking me to marry you?”
“I’m asking you to take this ring. It’s my pledge that I will love you and cherish you forever — or, considering our line of work, till death do us part. You can take it and hide it in a drawer; you can take it, and a decent amount of time after the Bit’s wedding, start wearing it; you can take it and just keep it as a trinket to wear when you feel like dressing up…” He dropped onto one knee in a scene eerily reminiscent of one they’d played out many years ago. “Or, you could say ‘yes’ you’ll marry me someday, and make me the happiest man in the world. No pressure,” he added when she continued to look back and forth from the ring to his face.
“No pressure,” she echoed. “You’re giving me your mother’s ring and you’re saying there’s ‘no pressure’.”
“I’m giving you the ring because I want you to have it. The marrying me part didn’t occur to me until just a few minutes ago, to tell you the truth. The words just kind of fell out of my mouth before I could stop ‘em.”
“So, you just happened to have the ring in your pocket when you threatened Giles with not being invited to our… engagement party?”
He shrugged. “Stupid git was about to blow it. I had to say something. The ring’s been at a jeweler, being cleaned. I just picked it up last night and it was still in my pocket.”
“This is not the most romantic wedding proposal I’ve ever had,” she said, pressing her lips together primly.
“How many of the bloody things have you had?”
“Well… just one other, but—”
“Who was it?” he snarled.
“You. You idiot!” She studied the ring. “The ring’s a lot prettier this time, though.”
He got off the floor and sat beside her. “I can try it again later,” he offered. “Bring home some wine, light some candles….”
Buffy shrugged. “I think we have a group of girls to take out for a graduation patrol tonight.” She slid her eyes to the side and looked at him through her lashes. “If this is as good as it’s going to get, I guess I better say ‘yes’ now.”
His face lit up in the delighted smile she was sure no one but her ever got to see. “Do you mean that?”
“Of course I mean it. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it!”
He leapt to his feet, picked her up and swung her around, his head thrown back and rich laughter ringing out. Only when he realized that everyone in the dining hall was staring up at them, did he stop laughing and twirling her around. He set her down, gave a wave to the girls staring up at them, and pulled her away down the hall to the elevator.
How much Giles had missed of Buffy’s life became more and more obvious as the engagement party went on. Spike and Xander bantered and snarked at each other with a level of comfort that was more reminiscent of brothers than former enemies. How much of that was due to Dawn’s unique relationship with the souled vampire was anyone’s guess, but the end result was clearly the establishment of a small family.
Willow and Katrina, some of Dawn’s fellow Watchers-in-Training, a few of the older slayers, and the random boyfriends accompanying them were all the outsiders present at the small celebration. At Dawn’s request, there were no formal speeches, just a general happy atmosphere as wedding plans and dates were discussed and ideas shared. The cutting of a cake Buffy had purchased broke the party up into smaller groups as everyone searched for a place to sit and eat.
Giles was just getting to his feet when Buffy appeared at his side, holding out a plate with a generous slice of cake.
“Sugary goodness?” she asked, her nervousness apparent in her posture and voice.
“Yes, thank you. I… it looks quite delicious.”
“Well, since neither Dawn or I had anything to do with making it, I’m kinda hoping that’s gonna be the case.” She smiled, relaxing a little when it seemed he was as nervous as she was.
“So,” she continued, sitting down next to him and digging into her own large piece of cake. “Dawn and Xander. Who’d a thunk it, huh?”
Giles smiled briefly then nodded. “Actually, when one considers the rather unusual upbringing Dawn has had and the rather unique circumstances of her – for want of a better word – arrival in this world, one can easily see why she would be drawn to someone as immersed in that world as she. My own personal dating experiences many years ago, have led me to believe that relationships between people in our… situation… and outsiders rarely go well.”
“Good point. I know my attempts to date ‘normal’ guys usually ended in having to save them from some monster… or standing them up so often they just gave up on me. I mean, how do you explain that you weren’t home because you were busy fighting off a bunch of rejects from a Monty Python movie? Or that your last boyfriend isn’t around because you stabbed him and sent him to Hell? That’s a real conversation stopper, let me tell you.”
Giles gave a weak smile. “Yes, I quite imagine it would be.” He didn’t bother to mention that most slayers didn’t live long enough for potential spinsterhood to become an issue. “I used to think that all the interbreeding among watcher families was an attempt to keep the ranks closed, but now that I’m older, I understand that it was more likely just a need to cling to those who are like you and who know what you know. Not a deliberate choice at all.”
Buffy nodded. “Kinda like, if you’re super-strong, and kill things for a living, you might be the most comfortable with somebody else who’s super-strong and likes to kill things?” She spoke casually, but she was watching Giles from the corner of her eyes. She saw him squeeze his eyes shut, then sigh.
“Yes. Like that, I would imagine.” He paused, then continued, “Buffy, I… I don’t know how to apologize for keeping the knowledge of Spike’s return from you. I presume I just thought the… relationship… you’d had with Spike had run its course and that there was no reason to reopen old wounds. I had no right to keep that from you. It should have been your choice what to do about it – not mine.”
“Yeah,” she said softly. “It should have.” She patted him on the hand. “But you know, I might not have done the right thing about it anyway. Who knows? Maybe it was best this way.”
“I doubt very seriously if Spike would agree with you – not after the horrific years he spent suffering for Angel’s challenge to the Senior Partners.”
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “No. I would never have wished that on him… or on anybody. But it happened. He survived and he’s home again now.”
“Home.” Giles looked around the house Buffy had transformed from a decrepit relic of another time into a warm, light-filled home.
“I don’t mean the house, Giles. I mean with me. Spike belongs with me.”
In spite of not having spent much time in their company, Giles had been well aware of the way Buffy and Spike had been refining the slayer training, and of the way they led by example when situations occurred that required the presence of experienced slayers. While Buffy continued to be the best solitary fighter among the slayers, and Spike had shown clearly that he was a formidable opponent for any one of them – including Buffy – together they formed an almost unstoppable team. A force so powerful, working in such complete accord, that Giles was fairly sure their very presence at an evil event was enough to sway the entire battle before they ever joined it.
“I believe that to be quite true, Buffy,” he said, smiling when her eyes widened in shock. “It has taken me many years to see it… years in which I was apparently avoiding seeing what was in front of my face… but I must agree. Whatever force it is that has kept you both alive all these years and brought you back together, I must bow before its wisdom.”
“Huh.” Buffy seemed lost for words, but was rescued by Spike’s arrival. He rested a hand on her shoulder and said, “A word, love?”
Smiling her apology at Giles, Buffy followed Spike into the kitchen where he spun her around and kissed her thoroughly. She leaned back in his arms and smiled up at him.
“That’s your word?”
“Could be. Did you like it?”
“Let me see….” She went up on her toes and kissed him back, smiling when biting his lip brought a happy growl from him. “Yep,” she said, letting go. “I think I like it. Good word.”
“So, how did your conversation go?” He released her and began putting used cake plates in the sink.
“Do you seriously think I don’t know you could probably hear every word?” She put her hands on her hips and glared at him, laughing when he tried to look innocent.
“Just wanted to hear you say it again,” he mumbled, eyes on the floor. “You know, the part about how I belong with you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know how one vampire can go from wildly egotistical to wildly insecure so fast.” She bumped him away from the sink with her hip, saying, “Go on back in there and make your own peace. Or go annoy Xander or something. I’ll put this stuff in the dishwasher.”
“Let it be duly noted that I was willing to stay here and help,” he said, leaning down to kiss her on the neck.
“Duly noted. Go. Act like a host or something.”
Spike strolled through the other rooms, picking up discarded cake plates and glasses as he found them, working his way, in between trips to the kitchen, back to where Giles was sitting and speaking with Dawn. The old watcher’s face was animated and cheerful for the first time in months, and Xander came up beside Spike to watch.
“Looks like fences are mended, huh?” he said, indicating Giles with his head.
“Think so. Here,” he handed his latest collection of dishes to Xander. “Make yourself useful.”
“Hey! Just because you’re all whipped and domesticated—”
“Finish that sentence, and I’ll feed you your liver. And then I’ll tell Dawn what you said.”
Xander shuddered. “Dirty pool, deadman.”
“All’s fair,” Spike said smugly.
As Dawn got up to follow Xander into the kitchen, Spike walked over to where Giles was standing, seeming confused about whether he should be leaving, as others were beginning to, or whether he should go into the kitchen. When Buffy came out and began to see her other guests out the front door, he moved in that direction. Only to be stopped by Spike’s hand on his arm.
“Heard what you said. ‘Bout the Slayer and me belonging together. I’m glad you told her. Should put her mind at ease a bit more.”
“I meant it, Spike,” Giles said. “When I look back, there was always something there. The two of you fought well together even when you didn’t think you were on the same side. There has to be a reason why neither of you could or would kill the other. And why you always came back to Sunnydale and Buffy. I just didn’t see it until recently. You do belong together.” He took a deep breath. “I’m very glad she has you in her life, sharing her home.”
Spike cocked his head and studied Giles’s face for a few seconds, then smiled and put out his hand. “Thank you for that, Rupert. I appreciate it.”
Buffy and Spike stood in the doorway, waving good-bye to the last guests and leaning against each other. When the door was shut, and the lights had been turned off, they wandered back to the kitchen and stared at the remaining pile of glasses and dishes.
“I don’t know about you, but I feel like killing something.”
“Right there with you, pet. My fangs are itchy.”
“Just hold that thought,” Buffy said as she ran up the nearest stairs to change.
At Spike’s urging, they had moved into the much larger master bedroom across the hall from the room Buffy had been using. She now had the use of a couple of armoires and a built-in closet, making finding things much easier. In no time, she was changed into her patrolling clothes and boots, clattering down the stairs to join her partner.
“All ready!” she said, taking the stakes he’d already set out for her and putting them in the pocket of her hoody.
In spite of the unused stakes Buffy’d brought with her, and Spike’s need to bite something, neither of them were surprised that the night ended uneventfully. Locating Slayer Central in a suburb of London had gone a long way to whittle down the vampires and occasional demons that tried to live in and around the old city. It was rare for a patrol to turn up more than the occasional bewildered fledgling trying to make its way back to familiar territory.
“Rats!” Buffy muttered. “It’s dead out here tonight… and not in a fun way.”
Spike laughed. “Gonna have to find another way to wear off that energy, Slayer.”
“Well, it sure as hell isn’t going to be doing dishes.”
He put his arms around her, pulling her into his open coat and pressing against her back while his hands slid under her sweatshirt. One hand toyed with the waistband on her jeans while the other wandered up to cup one breast and roll the nipple back and forth between its fingers.
“There’s always that,” she gasped, glancing around to see if there was anyone watching and pulling his long coat closed around them.
“No one near, love. I checked first,” he whispered in her ear, tickling it with his tongue. “Can’t hear any heartbeats but yours.”
His nimble fingers had quickly unfastened her jeans, allowing his hand to slide down into the moisture already dampening in her underwear. While one hand worked as much of both breasts as he could reach, the other began playing with her clit, flicking it back and forth and bringing muffled cries from Buffy. Using one hand to hold the coat closed, just in case, she put the other one behind her back and found his cock, squeezing it though his jeans.
A happy moan told her how much he appreciated it, and he rewarded her by sucking on her neck while he rubbed her clit until she shuddered against him. He continued his assault on the skin of her throat until her breathing had gone back to normal. As soon as it had, Buffy turned around to face him, instructing, “Hold the coat closed.”
Doing as he was told with one hand, he moaned again when she quickly unzipped him and dropped to her knees, taking him in her mouth.
“Oh, Buffy, love, you know I… but I don’t have anything to lean on and I might….”
Ignoring his plea to let him find something to hold himself upright, she used everything he’d ever taught her to bring him to a panting, growling release that she swallowed until there was nothing left but one little drop, which she licked off the tip of his cock before kissing it and tucking it away.
He dropped to his knees, joining her on the ground and pressing their foreheads together. “I love you so bloody much I don’t think I can stand it.”
“Right back at you,” she whispered. They remained kneeling together for several minutes until Spike’s ears heard footsteps approaching. With a sigh, he stood up, holding out his hand and pulling her to her feet.
“Time to go, love.”
“I’ll race you home,” she said, suiting actions to words and sprinting away, leaving him staring after her and smiling.
“Home,” he repeated as he took off at top vampire speed. “We’re racing home.”