“It’s not a fix-up... Okay, it is a fix-up, but Mark says he’s great. Funny, nice guy... I don’t know if he’s hot. Mark is not a great judge of hot. And what, would it kill you to meet him? Just go to the restaurant tonight... Okay, tomorrow. Broad daylight... God, Buffy, he’s not a vampire. Geez... I know you’ve been busy. You’ve been working your ass off since... Just go. Have food. If you don’t like him you never have to see him again... Good... Bill... I don’t know; I haven’t met him. But Mark wouldn’t have even suggested it if he didn’t think you’d hit it off... Okay, I’ll owe you. But you just wait, maybe you’ll be owing me.”
Buffy Summers Smythe-Jones Summers spun the stem of the red rose between her fingers, wondering why she was sitting here. After Ariane’s last disastrous fix-up, you would think she’d have learned. No good could come of the blind date.
And since it was ten minutes after one, and they were supposed to meet at one, it was obvious he wasn’t coming anyway.
She didn’t need a date. Didn’t need a man. Didn’t need Ariane hassling her about it either, so she sat. Just because some Slayers had found a way to make a go of fighting the forces of evil combined with soccer momming, that didn’t mean she was one of them. Just because Ariane and Mark claimed to be deliriously happy (okay, they were) doesn’t mean her happiness lay in the same direction. Besides, men were, to use Dawn’s childhood phrase, poopy-heads.
She looked down at the rose. “Hold a red rose”, Ariane had said. “It will be so romantic,” Ariane had said.
“It will be so lame,” Buffy said, casually peeling off one of the petals.
“Careful, Pet,” said a voice from behind her. “That’s a very pretty bloom you’re destroying there.”
A hand closed around her heart, and squeezed. “Spike,” she whispered.
She turned to look as the man slipped into the seat across from her. “Spike?”
But it wasn’t, couldn’t be him. Spike was dead, and this was a handsome brown-haired man in his forties. With Spike’s eyes.
The impossible man stared at her, finally letting the word out. “Buffy?”
The waiter took that moment to arrive on the patio, asking “Would you care for a drink?”
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“I’ll have a glass of red,” Spike said. “And when the shock wears off, I’m assuming you’re going to throw yours in my face, so I’d appreciating you ordering the white. This is my best tie.”
“I don’t understand. How? You’re human now, aren’t you?”
The waiter raised an eyebrow.
“House white. Whatever.” The waiter nodded and walked away. Buffy didn’t notice. She didn’t notice anything, but the man sitting on the chair on the other side of the table. “You were dead. Twice.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“We had a report from the LA Slayers. Wolfram and Hart self-destructed, and everyone died. Angel. You. Everyone.”
“So you did know I was there. Andrew told you?”
Her face reddened. “I didn’t...”
“You knew I was there and you didn’t contact me. And you wonder why I didn’t come to you?”
“Everyone at Wolfram and Hart was evil. That’s what we thought.”
“That’s what Giles thought.” He took the wine from the now-returned waiter. “Thanks.” Put it on the table without touching it. “That’s what he convinced you. Not true, by the way. Angel was working from the inside, trying to make things better. Didn’t work, but he tried.”
“I know that now. But by then it didn’t matter, because you were both gone.” She held tight to the stem of her goblet without picking it up. “Forgive me.”
Then he did take a mouthful of the wine. “That’s a first.”
“I still don’t understand. How are you here?”
“There was this prophecy about a vampire with a soul regaining his humanity. Everyone thought it was Angel. Turns out it was me. So in the alley that night, rain pouring down, demons everywhere, fighting our last battle, Angel died. And I lived. Really lived. Once he fell, the demons left. And so did I.”
“And that’s it? You stumble out of an alley with a heartbeat, and fifteen years later you’re a cop named Bill working with my friend’s husband, and he sets us up on a blind date. I think we’re missing something.”
“William. Some of the men call me Bill. Don’t much care for it, but I don’t fight it either.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Not so complicated. Near the end of our year at W and H, they decided it would be easier if we had papers. So they provided them. Full sets of ID in brand new names. Liam Fitzgerald and William Marshall. Just in case we needed them. Turns out I did. Needed a job, liked catching the baddies, went to police academy. Fifteen years later, I’m Detective Marshall.” He smiled. “You look great by the way.”
“I look old.”
“Oh, come on. You’re beautiful. What are you, forty now?”
“Please. Thirty-nine.” She smiled. “You look great too. I miss the blond hair, though.”
“Same here.” He put a hand on hers. “Though the brown is quite fetching, now that I’m getting used to it. You look more like Niblet. How is she?”
“She’s good. Teaches college linguistics, married, three kids. She has a good life. I don’t get to see them much, Christmas sometimes mostly.”
“I miss her. Miss you.”
Buffy pulled her hand away. “Come on. Fifteen years. You must have a life. Adriane didn’t tell me much. Nothing, really.”
Spike reached into his jacket and pulled out his wallet. Showed her a picture of a woman and a girl. “That’s my daughter, Angela. And that,” he sighed, “is Monica. My wife.”
“Wife?” Buffy crossed her arms without realizing it. “Ariane didn’t say anything about a...”
“May I take your order?” The darn waiter was back. They both picked up their menus for the first time.
“I’ll have the chicken spinach salad, dressing on the side. And a glass of water.”
“Very good.” He picked up her menu. “And for the gentleman?”
“Lunch-sized steak, medium rare, house salad.” He watched her as the waiter left. “I’m watching my weight. Not a vampire any more.”
“Ditto. Not a kid anymore. You look like you’re not into the donuts.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. You were asking about Monica.”
“Monica. Right. The wife.”
“I’d decided on cops over robbers, and besides, I look fantastic in blue. It was my first year on the job and we were called to a domestic disturbance. When we got there, the wife had been beaten pretty bad, and the daughter had called it in. Step-daughter, actually. Now most of the demons I meet on the job are of the human variety, but this husband was an actual demon, posing in human form. He ran, my partner fired, he fell. And bled green all over the driveway as he morphed into something a little more lizard-like.
You would think in most cases the daughter would lose it, but she didn’t. She just sat and held her mom until the ambulance came. And later we had a long talk about the demon population of LA. One talk led to another.
She was a remarkable woman, Buffy. Brave and smart. And I fell in love with her.”
“I won’t say she didn’t flinch when I told her my life, including my unlife, story. But she struggled to understand. She accepted me. For some reason, she loved me too.
Well, I was human, I had prospects and I loved her. So I married her. And we were happy. First time in my whole life I was truly happy. And then Angela came, and I was happier still.”
“Angela. Is she named...?”
“She’s named for Angel, yeah. In the end, after all the fighting and mortal enemy crap, he was the closest thing I had to a best friend. Not my only friend, mind. There was Charlie, and Fred. Even Wesley, in a way. They’re all gone now. But Angel and I shared something. Something nobody else would ever understand. I may not have really liked him, but I respected him.
‘Sides, when Angela was born her hair stuck up funny.
So, we went on, my little family and me. Monica put up with being a cop’s wife, worrying every time I left the house but never complaining. I could see it in her eyes, though. The fear I might leave one night and never come back.
But there are dangers worse than guns.
She wasn’t feeling well. Felt like she had no energy, she said. At first we chalked it up to her trying to work and be a mom. But that wasn’t it.
The people I’d seen go before went quick. But cancer goes so slow, eating you up a bit at a time.
And then there was just me and Angela.”
Buffy put her hand on his. “I’m so sorry.”
“Imagine me a single dad.”
“You were always good with Dawnie.”
“My girl’s eleven now. I want you to meet her.”
“I’d like that.”
The lunches arrived, and they ate quietly.
Over coffee, he asked, “So, tell me your story. What happened with the Slayer army? And the Scoobies? And you?”
“Hmm,” she said. “That’s a long story.”
“Okay, start with you. What’s gone on in the last fifteen years in Buffyworld?”
“I guess I could start with my husband.”
“Mark said you’d been married,” Spike said. “Let me guess. Tall, dark, broody?”
“Got it in one. Damn my hormones and repetitive behaviour. Unfortunately, he was boring too.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time. I seem to recall a certain soldier-boy...”
“Would you let me tell my story, please? And don’t speak ill of the dead.”
“Sorry.” He looked down into his coffee. “I didn’t know.”
“Demon-hunting in Iraq. He left Sam and three kids.” She sighed a sad sigh. “That was a long time ago. And you wanted to know about Anthony.”
He looked into her eyes. “I want to know everything about you.”
Looking down didn’t hide her blush. “After what happened in Sunnydale, we started to rebuild the Watcher’s Council, but with less stuffiness. Or so we hoped. Anthony was the son of one of the Watchers who was killed in the London explosion. And I don’t want you to get me wrong. He’s a good man. But god, is he stuffy.
The closer we should have been growing, the more I threw myself into my work. Finding Slayers, training them. Then we found out something disturbing. Slayers were going down fighting, as had always been, but no new ones were being called. It was like we’d blown the wad, when Willow activated them all. The youngest Slayers now are in their twenties. Someday there won’t be any at all.
We’re finding other girls, and men too. People good in martial arts with a talent for demon hunting. When the Slayers are all gone, hopefully there will still be people ready to fight the Big Bads.
Anyway, I had a certain stature as the first of the group. The one who’d been Slayer the longest. Anthony was proud at first to be with me, but it didn’t take long before he started to resent it. I tried to make it work, at least I hope I did. But in the end we crashed and burned, and you’re looking at an ex-married lady. I wonder what Mom would have thought. Maybe it’s genetic.”
“Your mother would be proud of you. She’d want you to be happy.”
“I’d like to think so. At least there were no kids to get caught in the middle. I’d probably be a crap mom anyway.”
“That’s not true. I don’t believe that for a second. Bloody hell, if I could be a decent dad, you’d be amazing.”
“That’s what I think.” He picked up the bill the waiter had dropped on the table and pulled his wallet back out. “Do you want to go for a walk? There’s a park near here.”
“I’d like that.”
For the first time, they walked together through a sunny park. Side by side, engrossed in their conversation, they might have seen each other yesterday.
“So, Willow mostly works with the Coven. But she also runs the Council database. Took her forever to set it up again after the crash of 2011.”
“I’m guessing she used a little of her mojo for that one.”
“And Xander worked with us for a while, but now he runs his own construction firm. I’m proud of him.”
“What about Faith?”
“I don’t know. Last I heard she was still with Robin, but that was years ago. We really didn’t keep in touch after what happened. I guess she’s out Slaying on her own.”
“I hated her for what she did to you, you know.”
“Hmm...” Buffy almost brought her thumb and forefinger together. “Me too. Little bit.” Her hand dropped to her side. “Old news.”
Unconsciously her hand was now in his, their fingers entwined. “This park is a lot nicer than the places we used to walk. Not that cemeteries don’t have their charms.”
“My crypt suited me, at the time. It was actually nicer than the hovel I lived in when I was working with Angel.” They squeezed each other’s fingers at the mention of his name.
“We had a service, you know. Once we realized what he was really doing. Not just for him, but for you, and Charles Gunn. And Wesley.”
“He would have liked that. There was a lot of Catholic left in him.”
“You can imagine how surprised I was when his son showed up. He had a grown son. Nice kid, but geez. And his girlfriend.”
“See? Everyone knew more about Angel than I did. I thought we were close, but I guess I imagined it.”
“He always loved you.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t the same. He’d moved on. I tried to, but you were in the process of burning up at the time. So you didn’t believe me. And you never came back.”
They crossed a footbridge over a brook. She leaned against the rail, watching the rivulets of water cascading over the rocks. “That’s really, really pretty.”
“Yes. Yes it is.” But he wasn’t looking at the brook. He embraced her from behind and she spun in his arms, looking up into his eyes. And they were closed and hers were closed and his lips were on hers and it tasted sweet and felt soft and warm but still him. They still fit.
“I have a plan,” she finally said. “I think we should go to my hotel.”
“I’m tempted,” he answered.
She held him even closer. “I can tell.”
Her forehead crinkled in the old familiar way. “Why not?”
“Why not is because I have to go to work soon. That’s the first reason. The second is, and this is the more important one, I’m not getting involved with you again unless it matters. I think it does. I know it does, to me. But it’s not just you and me any more. I need to know if we start something, that Angela is okay with it too. She’s been through enough.”
“And so have you.”
“And so have I. So this is the plan. You’re going to go back to your hotel, call Ariane, and tell her all about me. Which I suspect you would have done anyway. Then,” he pulled out a business card and pen, and wrote on the back, “you’re going to call me at this number, and tomorrow night you’re coming to my house for dinner.”
“I like my plan better.” She tucked the card into her bag. “What if Angela doesn’t approve of me?”
“Are you kidding? She’s a more persistent match-maker than Ariane. She’ll be thrilled.”
“And if dinner’s a hit?”
“Then the ball’s in your court. Because I’m here, and this is where my life is. But I can tell you, Buffy, that I still love you. And if you feel any of that, I think this is the start of something real.”
“Does any of that involve ripping each other’s clothes off?”
She kissed him again. “Personally, I liked my plan better. When did you become Mr. Self-Restraint and Maturity?”
“When I finally grew up.”
“Hmft. So tell me, Mr. Policeman, didn’t you think it was odd when Mark said you were being fixed up with his friend Buffy?”
“He said Buffy Smythe-Jones. I was picturing some prep-school graduate bint.”
“It’s Summers again.”
“Good. I like that much better.”
“Hi, Ariane? It’s Buffy. I owe you. Big time.”