When Jules and Leah came out of the women's locker room, Spike was lurking in the corridor.
Well, hanging around in the corridor. Spike knew he was no good at lurking. When he lurked, he pretty much looked like he was just standing there. However, as compensation for his lack of lurking capability he had a pretty good line in wide-eyed innocence--which for once failed him completely when Leah hit him with the stuffed raccoon.
"This," she announced, smacking him with the disgustingly moth-eaten, furry object, "has gone far enough."
"What?" Spike protested, throwing up his hands to fend her--or rather, it--off. "Why do you keep assuming I'm responsible for your friend?"
Leah clubbed him once more for good measure, although he noticed she was careful to hit him with the furry side and not the wooden base.
"Don't be stupid, Spike. As hazing jokes go, it's ridiculous, harmless, and pretty imaginative. I've talked to Donna on Team Three. She told me about the bagel vest. This has your fine Italian hand all over it."
"Oh, well, I wouldn't believe everything Donna says," Spike said. "She has this little problem with the truth."
"Yeah, she keeps telling it," Jules chipped in. Traitor.
"Right, that's the problem," Spike agreed. "Here, let me get rid of this for you," he added, trying to pry the stuffed raccoon from Leah's grasp.
"Oh, no you don't," Leah growled--literally growled, it was impressive. "I'll deal with it myself."
Which meant he was going to have to stage another raid on the dumpster outside her condo, unless she disposed of the raccoon on her way home. He hoped she wouldn't--okay, it was probably time for the thing to quit appearing in her locker… car… seat in the briefing room… but Leah had to have a birthday sooner or later, and Reginald really should show up. Spike just didn't want to have to ransack every dumpster in Toronto. Not after already searching every pawn shop in southern Ontario to find him in the first place.
It had taken much too long for Team One to welcome their new member with a prank. Ed was usually the one who made sure that tradition was upheld, on the theory it made the new person feel like one of the gang. When Donna filled in while Jules was injured, for instance, Ed had insisted they pull something on her. Fortunately, Ed was more concerned with style than firepower, so he didn't insist that anyone end up in the emergency room. Not every team leader had that much common sense. Spike had been kind of proud of his vest idea--they had replaced Donna's vest with a duplicate lined with cream cheese instead of Kevlar, and then they'd run the obstacle course. The look on Donna's face when she fell over an obstacle and cream cheese shot out of her seams had to be seen to be believed. She really had looked like a bagel.
Spike had actually had qualms about the timing of the prank because they'd pulled it the shift after a really hairy call that had ended with Donna having to shoot someone. Luckily she'd found it funny, and God knew they all needed the laugh. Nobody had even minded ending up with cream cheese in his hair when Donna retaliated.
The team needed the laugh even more now; it was just that for quite a while they hadn’t had the heart to think of a good joke for Leah. It was particularly important that this one be funny rather than mean, because nobody wanted Leah to think they blamed her for being on the team. Not even Spike, although he had to admit he'd had his moments.
Even at his worst, though, he hadn’t wanted to leave the prank up to Wordy, who wasn't what you would call subtle. Spike found that out his first day on the team, when he discovered Wordy had drenched his gear with pepper spray. The sneezing had been hilarious, and the coughing was still pretty funny, but when his eyes started swelling Spike had gotten a little concerned. Just as everything started to get alarmingly blurry he'd heard Lew say, "Uh-oh." The next thing Spike knew he was being hustled into the shower, still in full gear, and Lew was apologizing, telling him to keep his hands away from his face, and holding his head still in the stream until his eyes cleared. For a minute Spike had actually thought that was part of the joke, until he realized Lew was genuinely worried. Lew had apologized for that one for a week--he felt much worse than Wordy, and he hadn't even done anything.
Probably best not to think about that.
Leah herself had presented them with the perfect idea, when she came in one day muttering about the raccoons that upended her trash and rifled through it with their nasty creepy little hands, and peered in her downstairs windows with their nasty beady little eyes. Apparently, Leah was not a fan of urban wildlife.
Spike, Sam, and most of the Scarlatti family had gone on a mission to locate a stuffed raccoon--it had looked like they'd be reduced to using the adorable plush one Spike's mother turned up in the Toronto Zoo's gift shop, until Spike had found Reginald in a pawn shop downtown. He looked like someone's first--and hopefully last--effort at taxidermy and had apparently died of natural causes--at a guess, advanced age and possibly some sort of dermatological condition. Also, whoever stuffed him had apparently tried to fix his mouth into a forbidding snarl, but managed only to give him a goofy grin that made him look like he'd been smoking something illegal. He was so hideously perfect that Spike had felt bad about haggling the pawnshop owner from fifty bucks down to twenty for him--if he hadn't had to tell the rest of the team what he'd paid for Reggie, Spike would have just given the guy fifty despite it being highway robbery. Instead he'd made up for it by buying a bunch of overpriced Fleetwood Mac records, despite the fact he didn't own a turntable.
Anyway, for the last week Reginald had been turning up where Leah least expected him, clutching little signs that said things like, "I have come for your trash," and "Put down the compost and back away slowly." Spike had had second thoughts about the whole thing when it was too late--it hadn't even crossed his mind to think about anything racist--but Leah definitely got that this was an urban-wildlife joke rather than anything ugly. The first time she saw Reginald she'd let out a satisfactorily startled yelp, but by now she didn't sound so much startled as… well, homicidal, which was even funnier. It was getting hard to decoy her, though, and she was armed, so it was probably time to give Reggie a rest.
"Just as well you're here, Spike, we were looking for you," Jules remarked. Leah continued to look like she wanted to give him a raccoon enema, so Spike kept an eye on her as he addressed Jules.
"Yeah." Jules gave him the big-brown-eyes look that generally meant she was up to something. Spike gave her the big brown eyes right back and Jules explained in a rush, "Okay, I was planning to do some yard work this weekend, and Leah said she'd help, but we need an extra pair of hands and we were wondering if you were busy. You know how it is, we're almost never off on the weekend so Ed and Wordy are doing family stuff and…"
Spike didn't ask what Sam was up to--he'd noticed Sam and Jules were no longer the buddies they had been before her injury, but he carefully didn't think about that because he was pretty sure if he thought about it he was going to end up knowing something it was better for the team if he didn't. He and Lew had discussed Jules-and-Sam once, just briefly, and had agreed this was one case where ignorance really was bliss.
Probably best not to think about that, except he couldn't help it because then Jules remarked that she couldn't remember the last time the team had been off for an entire weekend, and as a matter of fact Spike could. He remembered it quite clearly: he and Lew had spent most of the Saturday helping his cousin set up an elaborate video gaming system. Well, Spike had set up the system while Lew handed him stuff like an operating room nurse, and entertained his cousin's kids with tales of Uncle Spike's derring-do. To listen to Lew you'd think Uncle Spike spent his entire working life climbing down the sides of buildings and charging through blown doors.
Spike yanked his mind back to the present as Jules continued her pitch for assistance in replacing the dead chokecherry bushes in her yard with something a little more presentable. He was going to say yes, as soon as she gave him an opening. It wasn't like he had anything more interesting to do, and Jules and Leah's plans had the advantage of sounding like something they were going to do anyway, rather than something thought up to get Spike out of the house so he'd have less time to sit around and brood. Not that he wasn't grateful for his friends' efforts, or at least for the affection he knew motivated them. But it was nice not to be a charity case for once.
It was also nice that Jules and Leah seemed to be pals. He'd always kind of wondered how it was for Jules to be the only woman on the team--hell, for years she'd been the only woman in the entire SRU. He'd never asked because he'd always figured she'd deny any loneliness, and then probably be uneasy around him, but he'd worried about it a little. He was glad that didn't seem to be an issue any longer, because lately he'd gotten to know about loneliness and he wouldn't wish this on anyone.
"I'll feed you," Jules finally offered. Spike looked at her, both of them recognizing the straight line as one Lew would have jumped all over in his quietly fiendish way, and for a second Spike couldn't have said a word if his life had depended on it. Jules looked just as stricken, which for some reason made Spike come unstuck. He looked at Jules sternly--well, for him--and prompted,
"Okay, when you say you'll feed me, what you mean is you'll give me a free hand in your kitchen, right?"
"Um, right," Jules mumbled. Spike nodded, and then, noticing Leah's expression, explained,
"There's a reason we never have team potlucks, and the reason is Jules." He thought about it. "And probably Sam."
"I can't imagine Ed's much of a cook," Leah mused.
"Well no, but Ed's married to a caterer who likes us," Spike explained.
"Copy that," Leah nodded. "Wordy's probably good at chili, right?"
"How did you know that?" Spike demanded.
"He has the look of a guy who makes a mean chili," Leah shrugged, and then shook the battered raccoon at Jules. "So you mean to tell me, if Spike blows us off I'll end up being Groundskeeper Willie all day, and then I get to starve. Is that right?"
Jules wriggled her shoulders and stepped behind Spike. "Well, kinda," she admitted. Leah looked at her, looked at Spike, and then looked at Reginald. The message was pretty clear--he owed her. Even if he hadn't been planning to cave, Spike would have caved.
"Okay," Spike agreed. "I'm in."
"Great," Leah said. "We're taking my truck. I'll pick you up."
"See you in the morning," Spike said.