When even Harmony wouldn’t shelter him, Spike realized that there was no quarter coming from demonkind.
His options were fewer than few. He couldn’t fight, or bite, or kill, which meant he couldn’t eat. Even self-defense was off the menu. He was a bit discombobulated from the drugs he’d received in that bright, white hellhole. Drugs which unfortunately weren’t the fun kind. His fuzzy tongue and eyeballs, and the unpleasant tingling in his finger and toe nailbeds didn’t scream “dance all night”, for one thing. More like, “dig a hole in the dirt with your bare hands and lay in the dark, shivering all day.” If he’d thought being cast off by Dru for a fungus demon was the lowest point of his unlife, he’d been sorely mistaken.
He could run, which would at least get him out of range of the hideous labs, but the basic fact remained that whatever they had done to him made it impossible to survive for long anywhere. He’d have to gather intel about just what had been done, and find some way of undoing it. Which meant sticking around.
He needed a bolt-hole that would keep him out of the sun, but safe from other vamps. It hadn’t occurred to Harmony — the ditz — but if word got around about his little handicap, there were plenty of vamps that would line up to take him out, just for the bump to their rep. Dusting William the Bloody was something a vamp could dine out on for decades, and in his present condition even a fledge could conceivably do the job. It wasn’t bloody right.
He racked his brain, trying to think of any possible allies that wouldn’t sell him out. Maybe Willie? Nah, the guy was the very definition of “sell-out”. His sire? Heh. Even if he hadn’t had him stuck with hot pokers recently, Angel would sooner dust him than look at him. There would be no help from that direction. At least Spike had the memories of Angel suffering — for once — to keep him warm.
Thinking of Angel gave Spike an immediate solution to his little dietary restriction problem. It sounded disgusting, but bagging it certainly beat the alternative, which was nada. He crawled out of the deserted building he’d stopped in, and taking careful note of his surroundings, headed for the hospital. He’d stock up on some nosh, and then figure out where to lay his weary head.
There were some lady demons with soft hearts and brains larger than walnuts that might’ve offered Spike a hot and a cot, but they weren’t in the vicinity. When he’d been here two years back, he’d spent half the time tending to Drusilla and the other half in a wheelchair, so he hadn’t the chance to cultivate the locals like he normally would. Too bad things weren’t more like the Depression, when hobos marked the fences of kind-hearted women to let you know where to find the soft touch (and hadn’t that backfired in his favor a time or two?). A system like that would be right helpful about now.
He stealthily broke into the blood storage area of the hospital, and filled his pockets with packets, drinking two pints down while he stood there in the cold storage. Filthy stuff, full of anti-coagulants, but in his condition it might as well be slayer blood. Just thinking about slayer blood helped get the wretched swill down. Thinking of the Slayer suddenly reminded him of a kindly cup of cocoa connected to a sympathetic ear over a kitchen island. He hardly dared to examine the idea. Getting within range of the Slayer in his present condition was suicidal, clearly. But there was a chance …
He was about to toss the empties on the floor, when it occurred to him that it might be best to leave no trace, in case he needed to use this source of food again. It wouldn’t do to put the staff on notice if he could help it. He hated the streak of caution his problem was dredging up. What was the point of being a vampire, if you’re going to tiptoe around all the time? Still, he stuffed the empty bags in a biohazard container on the way out, cursing under his breath the entire time.
He headed directly for Revello Drive. He halted in the shadows of the tree in the yard, and tried to suss out what was going on inside. Joyce was home, listening to some dreadful cool jazz, occasionally turning the pages of a book. He moved closer. He could smell her all over the house and the porch, the ordinary scent of habitation. What he didn’t smell was any recent sign of the Slayer. Looked like he might get lucky. Once off to college, she wasn’t visiting home often. Hmmm. Joyce might be lonely. He smiled for the first time in days.
He knocked. She opened the door. Hadn’t the Slayer taught this woman the first thing about home defense?
“Spike!” said Joyce.
“Hullo, Joyce. Mind if I come in?”
“Well, I don’t…” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “You know, I can’t keep track. Are you evil?”
“Of course I’m evil. It’s what I do. Except when I’m not actually ‘doing it’ as it were.” He attempted one of his shy, flirty expressions. “You’re in no danger from me, though.”
“I doubt that. I suspect you’re a scoundrel when you want to be. The charming ones always are.” She gave him a penetrating look, one he recognized from the arsenal of mothers everywhere. “You don’t look so good, Spike. What’s going on?”
“Yeah. See, I’ve had a run of bad luck lately.” He thought of something. “I’m off the sauce entirely, now. I’ve brought my own.” He fished out a bag of blood and showed it to her. She didn’t look impressed. He started to worry. “I know you’ve got no reason to trust me, but I just need a little help.”
She looked hard at him, and he fought the urge to shuffle his feet like a schoolboy in the headmistress’ office.
“You’ve never been taken off the guest list,” she said, finally.
Now, that was interesting.
She stepped back from the doorway, and brandished the cordless phone at him. “But I’ve got Buffy on speed-dial.”
He stepped across the threshold with relief, closing the door behind him.
They looked at each other. Suddenly, he didn’t have the energy to put up a front. “Noted. You won’t need it, though.” He sighed. She relaxed.
“Can I get you anything? I was thinking of having a drink, but if you’d prefer hot chocolate…”
“I’ll have whatever you’re having, so long as it’s scotch, neat. Thanks.”
She smiled and busied herself with fixing their drinks. “Funny you should stop by tonight. I was just reading a vampire romance novel that a co-worker recommended, and it was putting me to sleep. I kept thinking about Buffy’s experiences, and how much more exciting real life is than fiction.”
“Oh, I doubt that the Slayer’s vampire romance was all that exciting,” he muttered.
“Oh ho. Not a fan of the great and powerful Angelus, are you?” he asked.
Joyce waved her hand airily and handed him a glass. She picked up her own and went to settle on the couch. He followed and sat in the wicker armchair. Seemed to be his spot.
“Done is done,” she said. “Buffy’s better off knowing early if he’s the type to cut and run. I won’t miss him.” She took a sip of her drink. “I ran him off, you know.”
“Did you, now? Knew I liked you.”
“Oddly enough, I like you too, Spike. Why don’t you tell me what sort of help you need.”
He told her. He didn’t leave out the part about not being able to bite Willow, though he knew it didn’t make him look like an ideal houseguest. Sometimes the truth was a good bit of camouflage, and she’d find out anyway.
She mostly made sympathetic noises, though not about Willow. That bit had her giving him a very disappointed look. It gave him the oddest sensation. How did she manage that?
It turned out that she was leaving to visit her sister for the holidays, and would be gone most of a week.
“It’s fine if you stay here while I’m away, Spike, but I’ve got to let Buffy know. Anything to do with you she’d automatically think was Slayer business. I know she’ll want to know about the demon experiments. Maybe she can even help.”
“When I woke up in there, my first thought was that she’d got some funding, that the Council had decided to crawl out of the 19th century. That they’d got serious, and taken a page out of Himmler’s book about final solutions.”
“I know you’ve worked with her before, so you probably think you’ve got her all figured out. But Buffy is not the kind of girl that would be involved with torturing harmless demons. She’s no Nazi. And she certainly hasn’t got any ‘funding’, from the Council or anyone else, as my bank balance will attest.”
“’M sorry, Joyce. I know that. I’m just not used to anything but the Slayer getting the best of me. I wish you didn’t have to bring her in on this, but I know you do. I’ll take my lumps.’’
He stowed his blood in the fridge. Joyce got him settled in the basement. “It’s not the Ritz,” she apologized.
“Suits me fine. Anything that keeps the sun and unfriendly vampires at bay looks mighty cozy right now. I’m much obliged.”
“I’ll probably be gone when you wake up tomorrow. I’ll try to smooth things with Buffy, but, well, you know all the exits, I suppose.”
“Thanks, Joyce. You’re a hell of a woman.”
She laughed and went upstairs to pack.
At twilight, he woke to the cellar door being thrown open. The Slayer herself barged in and stopped halfway down the wooden stairs.
“Oh, hell, Slayer. Can’t we get through this without sarcasm?”
“Says the King of Sarcasm. I’m thinking probably no, but stranger things have happened. I’ll start. Why are you in my mom’s basement, Spike?”
“Well, see, your mum’s a nice lady, and she took pity on a defenseless creature. You probably wouldn’t understand.”
“I knew you couldn’t do it.” She stood and stalked down the stairs. He slowly sat up, and made a show of arranging the blanket around his waist. She halted.
“Are you naked in my mother’s basement?”
“No,” he said, reaching for his tee shirt on the floor next to the cot, and shrugging into it.
“Ugh. Next question. Since when are you a ‘defenseless creature’?”
“Since the soldier boys tasered me and took me on a little trip to the vet. Haven’t been able to feed for over a week.”
She flipped on the overhead light.
“You look like crap.”
“See? You say you don’t like sarcasm, but that’s a big lie. What else are you lying about? To my mother?!” She came closer, her hands opening and closing. The itch to apply fists to face must be powerful. She finally crossed her arms and waited.
“Nothing. I’ve been nothing but honest with Joyce.” He held up his hand and began to tick off each item on his fingers. “I was attacked. Woke up in an underground holding cell. My head hurt. Some fellows with lab coats came to fetch me, I broke out and was chased by a lot of burly types in fatigues carrying big guns. Tried to bite your little witch friend, and it nearly killed me. Can’t even throw a punch without having my brain blasted to bits.”
“Gee, that’s too bad.”
He lowered all his fingers but two. The gesture was lost on her. He gave up.
“Fine. Sarcasm all around, then. Just imagine if it happened to you, Miss One Girl In All The World. If you weren’t able to murder so much as a hamburger, maybe you’d have a little sympathy for the afflicted.”
“Really don’t, though.” She gave him her sunniest smile. God, he hated her.
The smile vanished in an instant. She shot him another baleful glare and sighed. “Giles wants me to get info on the soldiers who attacked you. We don’t know much, but enough to know that they might be poaching on my territory.”
“Is that right?” It was his turn to smile. He’d been dealt a card. It might be a deuce, but it was the only card he held at present. Aside from the queen that was Joyce’s sufferance. “What does the Watcher want to know, then? I’m more than willing to cooperate, of course. I’ll just need a few guarantees, is all. Maybe some creature comforts…”
“What you’ll get for your ‘cooperation’ is not staked. God! How can Mom put up with you for more than five minutes?”
“It’s my old world charm, sweetheart. Something you kids just don’t appreciate anymore.” He reclined languidly and let his knees fall lewdly apart beneath the blanket. Her eyes widened.
“You are so gross, Spike!” He smirked at her.
“Anyway, I don’t have time to dance around with you tonight. I’m meeting Willow to shop for Thanksgiving stuff. I’ll be back in a couple of days, and you’re going to tell me everything you remember. Got it?”
“Ja wohl, mein Slayer.”
“Arrgh!” She stomped up the stairs and out of the house, but closed the front door with care. Well brought up girl, most days.
He rose from the cot, tossing the blanket aside. His feet were bare, but he wore his jeans. As if he’d sleep in the nude with all the possible things that could necessitate a quick escape. It was ridiculous. The girl had a very dirty mind.
He wandered upstairs to experiment with heating up the packaged blood.
He had the place all to himself for a couple of days. He dirtied every pot in the house before hitting upon the solution of coffee mugs in the microwave. It took a few tries to get the time right, and there was still the occasional spatter of blood on the ceiling of the thing, but the boilovers were a thing of the past. It gave him a sense of accomplishment completely out of proportion to the barely edible results of his trials. He moved on to adding various spices to small quantities, until he ran out of cups and glasses and the cayenne was almost gone.
He found Joyce’s backlog of Passions videos, and that had killed a couple of afternoons, evenings, and early mornings. He read the Slayer’s diaries — twice — and tucked away a couple of embarrassing early-teen photos for future use as bargaining chips. There were very few books in the house, but loads of magazines. Artweek just didn’t do it for him, though. He thought he might try the vampire romance, just for a laugh, but Joyce’d taken it with her, apparently. He ran out of smokes.
It was four full days before Buffy finally returned. When he heard the key in the lock, he was so excited by the prospect of something new that he almost forgot his loathing. He carefully sprawled so as to take up the largest amount of couch space possible and made sure to rest the remote in a way guaranteed to draw the Slayer’s eye. He’d love to get a rise out of her. He was so depressed he wasn’t even getting a rise out of himself, lord knew.
She paused at the opening to the living room, looked at him without interest, and trudged on to the kitchen. Well, fuck. That was completely unacceptable. Then he heard a shriek. That was more like it.
He turned up the volume on the telly.
She thundered back to stand in front of him. “You’d better not be planning to leave that mess for Mom to see!”
“Course not.” He’d left it for Buffy to see, naturally.
“Go clean it up.” He ignored her. “Now!”
He was tumbled off the couch before he even registered her movement. Her speed was truly admirable when she was steamed. She hauled him to his feet and encouraged him toward the kitchen with a none-too-gentle boot to the backside. He felt the stirring he always felt when facing a worthy opponent, and whirled to engage in the fight. As he drew back his arm for the blow, the warning buzz in his head reminded him almost in time that winning would mean losing. His fist went wide and crashed into the mantle instead. A picture frame tumbled, as if in slow motion, to crash on the hearth. Buffy and Joyce smiled up from the shattered glass, and Buffy burst into tears.
He crouched on the floor holding his aching head and tried to make sense of things. He’d seen her laid low by Angelus and that ridiculous puppy of a college boy, but she’d never lost it like this. Certainly not in front of him. Not that he didn’t enjoy seeing the Slayer in pain, mind, but she didn’t seem the type to be thrown by a bit of broken glass.
“Stop looking at me, Spike! Go clean up the kitchen and just…leave me alone.”
She knelt to pick up the photo and he reluctantly did as she asked. Rather, he left her alone. He stood in the kitchen surveying the damage. When he thought about what Joyce would see, it did take on a different complexion. Not that he cared, obviously. He picked up a pan and tried to figure out what to do with it. If he just chucked it all out in the yard…
He heard Buffy dialing the phone in the dining room.
“Hey Willow. Yeah, I just got back. It was weird. So, situation normal, I guess. Listen, I know we had a girls’ night planned, but I stopped by the house and Spike has totally trashed the place.”
Now, that was an extreme exaggeration. What was she on about?
“Mom’s coming back tomorrow, so I’m going to have to stay over here for a few hours until it’s fixed up. It’ll probably be late. I’m sorry. We’ll make it up tomorrow, okay? Well, then how about Thursday? Great! Sorry, Will! See ya!”
She marched into the kitchen and began filling the sink with sudsy water.
“Avoiding the witch, are you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“There’s barely a pillow out of place around here. Your mum wouldn’t be fussed.”
“You don’t know Mom very well, Spike. She’ll be very, very ‘fussed’.” She began loudly piling pots into the suds. Ah, that was the other option to chucking everything, he supposed.
“Even so, you’re avoiding your roomie.” He looked around for something to make him look busy.
“Which is your business how exactly?” She opened the door to the dishwasher, which was completely empty. Oh.
“Just making conversation. Don’t mean to trod on the toes of my betters. Oh wait, they’re not here.”
He picked up a mug and watched as she swiftly inserted a dozen glasses into the top tray of the machine. He added his mug. She automatically flipped it the other way down. Bitch.
“Keep it up, Spike. I’m already this close to ripping off the head of the next vampire that looks at me funny.”
He tilted his head to take in her flushed cheeks, wet eyes, and reddened nose.
“Well, you do look a bit funny, even for you.”
Instead of ripping his head off, she looked at the ceiling. “Why did I tell Mom I wouldn’t kill you?”
“No idea.” It did seem odd.
She shook herself and finished loading the dishwasher. She started it up, and turned just as he fell to one knee before her. He stared up into her beautiful face and took her little hand in his.
“Please Buffy, I’m begging you to marry me.”
End Act One.