Chp One: Gathering Clouds
The bedroom mirror showed her nothing new: the same face, tense, strained. Red rimmed eyes from crying. Blonde hair that needed a wash, pulled back too tightly – she’d get split ends.
The house settled for the night. It was never completely quiet even in the early hours of the day – odd creaks and groans as the wooden floors contracted, the rumble of the fridge, a loose window screen rattling in a wayward breeze.
Buffy picked up the phone and watched as her fingers hovered over the numbers. Odd that they were so plain in her memory – when had she learnt them? She didn’t even remember her mom giving her the note with her dad’s new details written on it.
It would be tomorrow in Europe – or the day before yesterday or whenever! Geez, it didn’t matter. She needed to speak to him. Mom was sick and Dad should be here – to – to – well, to cope. That’s what dads did. She couldn’t do it. She was too young. She was a child, a daughter, a little girl…. But she put the phone down without dialling. What would be the point? Men and reliability – not two words she could put in the same sentence.
Hey, she could call Riley! He was reliable. She loved him. He was her boyfriend: a nice, normal guy. He would be sympathetic, a shoulder to cry on. But - she didn’t want to, which was all sorts of wrong, and she’d have to sort out those muddled emotions later. She knew he would tell her not to worry, that everything would be all right and although that’s what she wanted to hear, more than anything else, those words wouldn’t help. She wished – no, that was wrong. She sighed. “And if I don’t call him, he’ll be all hurt feelings guy and get that kicked puppy expression on his face. Why do men have such thin skins?”
Buffy walked to the window and gazed out at the yard. The moon had vanished behind heavy clouds; a storm brewing. That was why she felt this pressure all around her, of course. Just the stupid weather.
Spike had long gone. He’d sat with her for a while on the porch steps, which had been kind of weird seeing as how she’d had the strongest feeling he’d wanted to kill her when he’d appeared through the bushes, stalking across the grass with that long, swaggering lope that annoyed her so much.
What was even weirder was that he hadn’t told her not to worry, hadn’t told her that everything would be all right with her mom. He’d listened without speaking – and she had the feeling that was a first for the vampire – then he’d kicked the hell out of an innocent shrub, silently mashing it into the earth with vicious, thudding boots, his face a mask of unconcealed rage. His actions made her feel a bit better.
Buffy opened her bedroom window and drank in the cool of the night air. She felt so alone she could have been the only person alive in Sunnydale, in California, in the whole world. Even Spike would be tucked up in bed by now with that ditzy Harmony.
She felt the hairs on the back of her neck wriggle; his presence still lingered in the yard. She remembered him sitting eating the chicken wings in the Bronze earlier, swigging beer, being his usual, annoying self. Why did he eat ordinary food? Angel never did. And why exactly was she worrying about it?
She tensed as a subdued noise came from her mom’s bedroom. Joyce was still up, not sleeping. And that, of course, was why Buffy was desperately trying to fill her mind with stupid questions about stupid vamps. She would do anything rather than think about what the next day would bring….
Deep in the shadows of the trees, Spike gazed up at the bedroom window. He could see the pale shape of her face but knew she couldn’t see him. He watched as she opened the window and imagined he could smell the sweet scent of her perfume drift down to him. Which was a load of bollocks, of course. It had been a bloody odd evening all round and wasn’t ending well. Joyce! He’d listened to Buffy’s words and wanted to destroy the world and everything and everyone in it. Why the hell should Joyce fall sick? She was a good person. OK, he didn’t have a lot of time for good people, preferred the evil type, obviously, but Joyce…she was – different. What sodding god would let Joyce be ill?
Buffy had said it was medical, not mystical, but he would still have a good sniff around and if he caught even a wisp of magic or demon or even bloody feng-shui, he’d – he’d - And he groaned as the chip fired in his head at his thoughts alone.
The storm was still grumbling around just out of sight over the horizon throughout the next long day. There had been warnings of power-cuts if it got really bad. Electrical storms often plunged Sunnydale into darkness.
‘Just another reason to love the place,’ Spike thought grimly as he crashed his way through the glass doors across the entrance to the hospital. He’d had another shit day what with soldier boy catching him in Buffy’s bedroom. He vamped into game face as he passed a trolley loaded with bags of blood. The temptation was overwhelming, but he forced himself back into human. This wasn’t the time for snacking.
The door he was looking for was half open, the light out, only the glare from the corridor cutting a bright wedge into the darkness. Spike hesitated; what if she was asleep, sedated. The Slayer would kick him from here to kingdom come if she knew what he was doing. But no one told him anything. And he needed to know.
“You can come in, Spike.” Her voice was soft, weary, but still warm. He gently pushed the door wider and took a couple of slow paces inside. The darkness of the room didn’t worry him. He could see Joyce, lying propped up in bed.
“How did you know it was me?”
Joyce’s voice, tired though it was, could still carry a hint of sarcasm. “Not too many doctors are wearing long black leather coats this year! Of course, you could be the cause of a whole new fashion statement for the medical profession.”
Spike approached the bed and thrust out a soggy brown paper bag. “Grapes!”
Joyce peered at the bag which was dripping juice over the bed covers. It seemed to have come into contact with something very hard and unforgiving. Spike glared at the mess, remembering that he’d been holding it in his hand when he thrust open the glass entrance doors.
“Grapes? Oh. Right. Most people bring flowers or balloons, but thank you, Spike. It’s very kind of you.”
There was a silence, then – “I nicked them from a shop! We always give people grapes in England when they’re in hospital. So what’s wrong with you?” His words were blunt and unadorned. Her reply was the same.
“A small tumour on my brain.”
“Yes, bugger just about sums it up, I think. But I suppose you know all about things sitting on your brain.”
Spike ran a hand over his platinum hair, instinctively searching, as he had every night since it happened, for the place where the chip lay. “Wonder why these places always smell of disinfectant and piss?”
Joyce felt the smile she’d never thought she’d use again flicker across her mouth. “The same thought has crossed my mind. I just want to go home and wait there until the operation.”
“How’s Buffy taking it?”
“Coping, as you can imagine.”
“Dawn? Who’s - Oh, yes, Dawn” Joyce sounded distracted, odd.
Spike’s senses rippled, every hunter instinct in his body telling him that this member of the herd was weak, failing, shouting at him to kill, take, feed. And under that, another memory was telling him, take her, turn her, help her to another life before she dies.
“She’ll be fine. She’s got Buffy.”
“And Buffy’s got - ?”
“Her friends, Giles, that nice boy Riley.” She strained to see his face: with the light from the corridor behind him, it was just a pale blur but she’d been convinced his eyes had turned to molten gold when she’d mentioned Riley.
She wondered - not for the first time - why she liked this vampire. He was an evil, soulless thing, and yet somehow seemed more human that a lot of the men she’d met in her life. There was an inner strength in him she could sense. Rupert Giles had it, too, but it was missing from Hank, missing from Angel and, sadly, missing from Buffy’s new boyfriend, Riley. All three of them saw the world through their own desires, their own pain. It warped them. With Spike - she wished that….
His voice sliced into her thoughts. “When do they – ?”
“Operate? In a few days’ time, I think. Spike – ”
“OK, don’t get your bedsocks in a twist, I’m going. I was just passing and thought I’d check you out. Reckoned there might be some spare blood bags lying around. Evil here, remember?”
Joyce tried not to smile; it hurt her head. “I wish – ” She hesitated, she was about to do something most mothers would die before doing. But then most mothers didn’t have a daughter who was the Slayer. “You don’t hate Buffy, do you, Spike?”
The vampire glared at her in the gloom. “Of course I hate her. She’s the Slayer, isn’t she. Deadly enemies us.”
Joyce waved a hand in denial. “Yes, yes. I can see how much you hate her every time you look at her! ” There was silence for a long minute and the lights flickered as thunder growled insistently in the far distance. “Listen, Spike, I was wondering if you would do me a favour….?”
* * * * *
It was nearly midnight when Buffy wriggled free from Riley’s possessive clasp and swung her legs off the sofa. They’d crashed out in front of the TV and now she felt hot and wrinkled and irritable. Riley rolled over and buried his face in the cushions. He was snoring gently, dead to the world.
A nice hot shower would be great, but that would only wake Dawn and she’d cried herself to sleep earlier. Buffy knew she couldn’t cope with her sister just yet. The next few days were going to be hard on everyone. She stared down at the breadth of Riley’s shoulders – wide, strong, he looked as if he could carry the whole world on them. So why did she feel she was falling free, treading water, drowning in a sea of disbelief with nothing to hold on to? He should be her rock at this time but – not so much.
Buffy opened the back door and stood on the porch, staring out at the sky. She wished the storm would break. Lightning flickered in the distance but there was no rain and the air felt thick and heavy. Was everyone in the world asleep except for her? She hoped her mom was, alone in that wretched hospital, worrying about her operation. Was Glory asleep? Willow? Xander? Suddenly, she tensed, every nerve flaring. Here was one evil creature who certainly wasn’t. “Spike! What the heck are you doing here?”
A small red spark drifted to the ground as he tossed away his cigarette and stepped out of the shadows. “Slayer! Nice greeting! Friendly, like.”
“Spike – I am so not in the mood for you – ”
“Yeah, I can smell Soldier Boy all over you, so I can guess exactly what you are in the mood for! But fascinating as your love life is, Summers, I thought you’d better know that there’s going to be a major fight at the Bronze in a couple of hours. Demon versus demon but it could well escalate and drag in people all over Sunnydale. So unless you want to wake up to find bodies in the streets, you’d better get down there and sort it out right now.”