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Set Off Like Geese

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She wasn’t doing this on impulse. Joyce knew at least that much about what she was getting into. She didn’t know much about the situation she was inviting into her life, but she was doing it on purpose.

Buying a futon from a grad student’s moving-out sale and not even haggling over the price, that was impulse. The rest of it – thinking it through, grilling Buffy about them, hashing her worries out with Eunice over coffee in the gallery’s kitchenette, getting Eunice’s nephew Samuel to take a break from studying for the California bar to look over the custody agreement wording and reassure her it’d be fine, sitting Dawn down to tell her about the possibility of what could only by the most charitable definition be considered houseguests – those were small steps done deliberately.

When the only impulsive part was the futon, she was doing fairly well.

If either of her daughters had put up some protest – after all her years of motherhood, Joyce knew the difference between pushback and genuine protest – she might have backed down. She’d have seen what she could do to help them that didn’t involve inviting them into her home. But Buffy had been the one who’d explained how much they needed help, and Dawn had been the one who’d listened to her older sister and her mother and said if they had things to share they should.

As long as her daughters weren’t afraid of them.

It was their adolescent-fueled sense of pure justice and same such lack of fear that saw Joyce driving almost to the end of Sunnydale, out to the old factory. She parked three blocks away, hoping that the two of them were in. If they weren’t, she could see about spinning a lie that they’d moved on. They could have by now; she hadn’t seen either of them anywhere in town in almost a week. Not that she’d been looking, but that wasn’t the point. They were homeless, the woman was clearly deranged and the young man was something else completely, both of them stinking, neither of them really present in the world in a way that made them seem like solid choices for potential basement occupants. Both their accents shivered with questions Joyce itched to know the answers to, like how they’d managed to get here – here to America, California, Sunnydale, the factory. What had pulled them to leave where they’d come from, and why this specific place out of everywhere in the world they could have gone. Joyce knew she could ask everything later, when the timing was better. If they said yes to what she had to ask them today.

Joyce stood at the side door, held her hand up, and almost knocked before she just pushed her way inside.

Cool but not cold, and dim but not dark. Sunnydale’s old cannery was earmarked for demolition at some point in the future. It would probably be replaced by a new set of subdivisions or single-family houses, with greenbelts for biking and dog-walking and maybe a new primary school, depending on who’d be sitting on the zoning commission. But at the moment, it stood as a testament to shifts in industrial economy nobody could have guessed at decades ago. Sunnydale had adapted, reinventing itself as a UC town and doing a good job of it, but the factory still stood, patiently waiting for its own demise.

In the meantime, it gave birds a place to nest, teenagers a place to practice their graffiti, and people who didn’t have anywhere else to sleep a roof over their heads. At least until kindly single-parent gallery owners took it upon themselves to open their hearts and homes to them.

She’d heard the vague, half-believable rumors about its current uses – children’s stories, all of them. A few came from Dawn and Buffy; a few more arrived secondhand from other parents. Going from the bottles and cans lying in the far corners, some of them were even true. She didn’t know how much the current residents had contributed to everything, how much of the garbage was evidence of their own habits and behaviors. Buffy had vouched for them, and Joyce still wanted to believe her, but she couldn’t be completely certain about their trustworthiness just yet, especially not with the sharp light from the broken glass. Broken glass, crumpled cans, God knew what else.

But even if they were all theirs, she knew even just extending the olive branch was the least she could do. Even if all the broken glass and – she took a quiet step closer, got a better look, and felt flush even in the cool air. Broken glass and crumpled cans that had lain undisturbed long enough for dust to settle around them. A very long enough, for some of it, judging by the logos on the sides of the bottles and the pull-tab openings on the cans.

She laughed quietly at herself, careful not to disturb all the high quiet around her.

“Hello,” she called out, walking further inside. “It’s Joyce,” she pitched her voice loud enough to carry through to the roof and echo back at her. They could be sleeping or they might be out. It wasn’t as though she could check if their car was in the driveway. “Joyce Summers. Buffy’s mother.”

If they were here, they’d have heard her, and if they weren’t, she’d bought that futon for nothing.

She looked up, and around, and for a moment couldn’t believe the quality of shadows the high windows gave the ceiling. If they had moved on she’d see about renting the place from the city before its inevitable bulldozing. Maybe some large-scale ceramic installations, she could pitch something about urban renewal and –

“We’re coming, we’re coming,” the young man – Spike, which couldn’t be his legal name but was the only one he’d given her – called out from deeper inside. “Give us a minute, Dru’s just getting her boots on.”

“Oh. Sure thing,” Joyce called back, almost embarrassed, but she moved ahead, following the sound of his voice. It was coming from the old supervisor’s office, the door’s frosted glass window somehow still intact. She couldn’t see inside, but could hear them moving, and when things quieted down enough to let her know they were ready to see her, she took a couple of big steps back and turned away to make it seem like she hadn’t been looking until the door opened.

Spike closed the door behind them, stuffing his hands in his duster’s pockets and focusing his gaze on her from across the room, staring almost hard enough to look right through her. Right now, she couldn’t blame him for not wanting to trust her. Drusilla – fifty-fifty chance on that one – stood next to him, hands behind her back as she held her gaze steady and waited patiently for whatever Joyce had to say.

“It’s good to see you,” Joyce said, to try to break the ice. Both of them were dressed in clothes that had seen better days, black jeans and plain black t-shirt for him, blue jeans and a faded green t-shirt that might have been witty or might have been a band for her, the words themselves too far gone for Joyce to tell. Buffy said she’d seen them dumpster-diving on campus; Joyce was willing to believe that.

“Is this about the invitation?” Drusilla asked quietly, skipping over the icebreaker completely. It took Joyce a moment to get her conversational footing back.

“Yes, as it turns out – yes, if you still want to come, then it’s open to you. I don’t know if you have other plans. I wouldn’t want to impose if you do, but if you don’t, then, well, you’re welcome to come and stay for a while.”

“Really?” Drusilla asked.

“Yes,” Joyce said again.

Neither of them tried to hold in their emotions, Drusilla’s hands coming up to her face and Spike with the sort of unfiltered surprise she hadn’t seen much of since Dawn had turned six.

“Thank you, Mrs. Summers, thank you,” he said. “This means more than we can say, but thank you, thank you so much. We’ll be out of here straightaway, ready in no time.”

“It’s a good thing I brought the car,” Joyce said.

Drusilla looked at Spike. “She’ll be taking us on a drive.”

“Just – just to the house,” Joyce clarified. “Wait, you thought you’d walk it? It’s almost four miles.”

Spike shrugged. “Nice sunny day, four miles isn’t much. You haven’t even got any hills. Might take us a couple hours, but we’ve only got one place to be today.”

“And you wouldn’t be afraid of getting lost?”

“No.”

“Right.” Joyce nodded. “I’m parked a couple of blocks away, and I can bring it around. Take twenty minutes, if you need to.”

“Give us fifteen – no, give us ten minutes and we’ll be ready to go, ten minutes do it, pet?” he asked Drusilla.

“Thereabouts and yes,” she whispered between her fingers.

“Ten minutes for us to pack,” he said to Joyce. “Just give us that, we’ll be ready to go.”

They disappeared back into the office and Joyce left to drive up to the factory like she’d promised, preemptively rolling down the windows. It didn’t feel like it’d been ten minutes when they came out, each of them with their own backpack and worn duffel bag, bringing them into the backseat instead of putting them inside the trunk.

“Seatbelts,” she said reflexively when she checked the rearview mirror and saw they weren’t buckled in, then held herself back from saying anything else when Drusilla murmured an apology and both of them buckled in.

It wasn’t a long drive; midmorning traffic was light enough that it barely took twenty minutes. Better than what would have been hours walking in the sun. Joyce left a window barely cracked open for some circulation as she led them around the back, through the kitchen and down into the basement. Getting it ready for them had taken more effort than just getting the futon. There’d been a trip to the SPCA thrift shop across town followed by one to the sister consignment-thrift stores at the east Sunnydale shopping center the same day. She’d breezed through Long’s Drugs with a basket before trading that in for a cart when she realized just how much she had to buy because it was one thing to get towels and sheets gently used and another when came to more personal items. Some things had to come new, like three-packs of plain underwear, and adding two people to the household, even provisionally, meant some things had to start coming in bigger amounts. Like laundry detergent.

Joyce had already set aside the space they’d have to themselves and set up most of what she’d bought for them. The futon, a cheap standing lamp, table and chairs that had been sitting in the basement before Spike and Drusilla had ever come to Sunnydale. A chest of drawers she’d bought back in grad school that hadn’t fit in her new bedroom whose contents had been boxed up and shoved into the back of her closet. All that, and there was still a fair amount of shelf space for them to put what they’d brought with them, which wasn’t much more than the clothes on their backs.

“My and Dawn and Buffy’s bedrooms are on the second floor, plus the main bathroom. There’s a sink and toilet down here, but if you want a shower then you’ll have to get used to taking turns. So, Spike, if you’d –”

“Dru goes first,” Spike said as he finished taking in the basement, the water-stained gray walls and small high windows, the shelves of cleaning supplies and the boxed-up clutter under the stairs, and started inspecting the furniture.

“Sorry?”

“You’ve been kind not to mention anything, but we know we’re rank. It doesn’t matter how much I need a shower because Dru always goes first, no matter what.” He didn’t look up from the chest of drawers, pulling out each one to check the nothing he found there. “I’ll get us unpacked, and she’ll get clean.”

“All right.” She didn’t smell as bad as he did, but it wasn’t worth pressing that issue right now.

Instead, Joyce took Drusilla upstairs while he began unpacking, leaving the basement door open behind them.

“If you need extra towels, they’re here in the closet, and we can get into laundry later. Right now getting you two settled in is…is something wrong?” Drusilla shook her head, fixing Joyce with a clear, focused expression.

“It’s easier for Spike to be the one who’s dirty,” she said. “It’s not good for either of us, like this, but if there’s only time for one bath, we both know if he gets filthy he can hold to himself better than I can if I do. Nothing more than that. If there’s only time for one person to get clean, better me than him, because he’s the one of us who can wait longer.”

“Oh.”

“That’s why I’m having mine first. Because I always take one first.”

“Right.”

“He didn’t mean anything nasty to you by what he said.”

“No, it’s all right. But – when would there be time for just one of you to shower?”

“Plenty sorts of reasons. There might not be enough water in the tank for everyone to have a turn. We might’ve been on our way to leaving, or got caught where we shouldn’t be. Once we got invited into a party, lovely party, and it was someone’s house, so he stood watch while I washed.” She grinned. “Learned our lesson that night. Next time we tried that, we stayed the night through, slept on the couch and both got clean the next morning before we left. Doing that’s a different kind of risk, so be careful if you try it.”

“I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Anyway, the towels are right here.”

“Always need to know where those are, should you want to go traveling through the galaxy.”

When it was Spike’s turn, he left the duster downstairs and held a set of fresh clothes close against his chest, looking around the bathroom before going inside, and Joyce was two steps down the hall when she heard him ask, “Mrs. Summers, if I could…?”

“Yes, Spike?”

“It’s fine that I use the soap that’s out already, right? I didn’t have to bring some from downstairs.”

“It’s fine for you to use what’s out there.”

“Right. Thanks.” Joyce knew the meaning behind that quiver in his tone and didn’t wait long for the follow-up. “How do the taps work?”

She blinked, then very deliberately put on a smile. “Why don’t I show you.”

He kept the fresh clothes hugged to his chest as she showed him how to pull up the stopper to divert the water from bath to shower, which way to turn for hot and which for cold, and for good measure, how to adjust the water pressure on the showerhead. It took him a long time to finish, but every second was worth it if it meant she didn’t have to breathe carefully while standing next to him.

Which he then undid about half the good of by going out onto the back porch to smoke a cigarette, but she was happy to take at least that much.

-

Buffy hadn’t exactly suggested it to Mom. She’d put down hints and possibilities, mostly in the angle of doing something for them directly like money or food, and Mom had definitely picked up something. The idea of basement residency hadn’t been something Buffy had come out and said in so many words. All she’d done was make sure to point out how rare it was for a house in this part of California to have a basement the second time her new weird friends came up in conversation. She’d even waited a few minutes to mention the basement in a completely different context. She’d been careful to not say that the space should be used for them. Just that it was there.

It’d been hard to keep calm when she’d heard Mom’s plans for how to put that space to good use if her friends were willing, but she’d managed. When she locked her bedroom door behind her and thought about what was coming, she didn’t even cry.

The new cigarette reek and ashtray with finished butts on the back porch when she got home from school – since when did Mom even own an ashtray? – told her they’d been plenty willing. She almost expected they’d already gone back out to do whatever they did to fill up their days, and she’d have to wait for whenever they happened to get back to say hi to them. But Spike barely glanced at Buffy when she came down the stairs. Tilting his head to acknowledge her. Saying, “Hello, Buffy.” Going right back to what he was doing, which was making a fairly epic mess of things across the table. Drusilla was sitting on the bed, cradling a doll, and at least she kept looking right at Buffy even if she didn’t say anything or go so far as to actually make an expression.

“Hey there, yourself,” Buffy said, sitting herself down at the table. The washing machine’s rumbles and the dryer’s hums kept the basement from achieving complete silence. “So you made it here okay.”

“Your Mum gave us a ride from the factory. More than nice of her to even think of that. We’d been ready to walk it, but no, she gave us a ride right across town besides everything else she’s gifted us.” As he spoke, he pulled a green drawstring bag out of a backpack. He shook it a couple of times, getting in some good clink-clack sounds, before scattering everything in it across the table. “We can’t thank you enough for offering us all this.” Dru nodded, humming in agreement.

“What’s it you’re up to now?” Buffy asked.

“Inventory,” he said. “We do it every time we settle into someplace new. Take account of everything we’ve got so we know what’s still around and what we need.” The bag was full of jewelry – big heavy rings, thick chains, pendants and funky bracelets, mostly silver, some gems or glass. It was hard to tell in this light. But it was still a pretty impressive collection, especially as Spike spread it all out, sorting it by type and color, piece by piece, as he went.

“Is all this Dru’s?”

“No, it’s mine.” He didn’t look up, his focus on inspecting every item one at a time, not in any hurry, until they were all portioned out to his satisfaction. Then back inside they went, all scooped up, the bag set at the far edge of the table and another, smaller purple-and-gold drawstring one, that clinked in just the same way came out.

“That one’s mine,” Dru said, and even smiled. She got up to collect it, tossed it in the air a couple of times to make it jangle, and spread the contents on the bedspread Buffy recognized from the guest room back home – back in Los Angeles, it’d been long enough and Dad didn’t even live there anymore – without putting down her doll.

Spike took out two books he leafed through and set at the corner of the table, squaring them off with each other. Two big, solid, hardback books that didn’t look like they had any business being lugged around in a backpack but belonged in a fancy library somewhere. Dru’s doll, that Buffy could understand. But she knew from her ongoing stint as a school library assistant – it’d been that or study hall, she’d figured working in the library at least meant doing something, and it’d turned out she liked it enough to stick with it – how fast books got heavy, no matter how much you liked them. If Spike was carrying these around with him, he had to know that too. And still think it was worth it to keep lugging these around with him for however long he’d been doing that.

He pulled out a little notebook, then what looked like a pack of playing cards, and they both went on top of the books. He unrolled a grocery store bag to reveal a couple of toothbrushes which he rolled back away immediately and threw into the trash bin across the room. Then he unzipped and emptied a makeup bag with everything a girl on the streets might need plus a little for the guy besides, eyeliner and lipstick and blush, mascara and foundation and nail polish.

“May I?” Buffy asked, her hand hovering over the table’s new lipstick section. Spike shrugged, which she took as permission to pick up and check that what she was holding was, in fact, from makeup counters and not local West Coast chains’ bargain bins. There wasn’t a lot of color variation, but it was a good set of brands and everything was at least mid-level quality. Stuff you invested a month’s worth of allowances into. Not that they had allowances or much in the way of income. Definitely not the type of reliable income that’d allow for the purchasing of items like this.

Buffy looked at the lipstick again, and very deliberately set it down with its sisters. Pushed back away from the table, got her backpack off the floor. “Well, you’re all fine down here, which is good, so I guess I’ll just be heading up to my room since this math won’t do itself.”

“Enjoy,” Dru called out to her as she climbed up the stairs.

-

When Mom explained what would happen in the basement, Dawn went through the moves of nodding and listening. She didn’t ask any real questions about why it was happening, just if she should get a lock on her door. For personal safety. But they weren’t like that, not according to Buffy, who’d met them in the totally safe place of The Bronze which was apparently as close as Sunnydale got to Los Angeles, even though Dawn had been by in daytime and it completely wasn’t anything like that. The Bronze was a place where her older sister went dancing with her friends and could probably get college guys to buy her drinks and also meet people that needed a place to sleep that wasn’t an abandoned canning factory.

“I’m not sharing any towels with them,” Dawn said.

“We’ll get them new ones,” Mom told her.

Before they’d moved in she’d been able to pretend Mom had turned the basement into a guest room. It was coming home from school and seeing them down there, saying hello with the washing machine humming along and them putting their clothes away on the shelves and in the drawers, that it hit her there were authentically crazy people living in her house.

But they’d been cool. Spike had that awesome coat and weird scar, and Drusilla had the neatest stompy boots. They both wore nail polish. They were from England, which was where all the best music came from. And they’d talked to her just like they’d talked to Mom. Like she was someone they were supposed to take seriously. Maybe because they thought that’s what guests did or maybe they were just that cool to everyone. Either way, she’d liked it.

And now Drusilla was cooking everyone omelets for breakfast, just because.

“What do you want in yours?” She asked Dawn. It was only breakfast but she was already in full makeup, lipstick and everything, way too fancy for just cooking breakfast in jeans and an old t-shirt but also really, really pretty. Grown-up pretty. Her hair was all dark in a sharp braid down her back. “We’ve got cheese, onion, and cheese and onion. Also plain, if you’d like.”

“Onion, please.”

“I’ll take double cheese,” Buffy said.

“Most certainly.” Drusilla had already laid out everything she needed right around her, just like a fancy chef, so she didn’t have to turn around to grab the parsley or the salt. She’d even cut the onions first, which went into the pan before she cracked any eggs.

“This is so great,” Dawn said, leaning forward over the kitchen island on her elbows.

“What is?” Buffy asked.

“That Drusilla knows how to cook omelets. Remember when Mom tried? And she said they were just scrambles?”

“They were good scrambles.”

“I’m not saying they weren’t. I’m just saying if Drusilla knows any tricks, she’d better share them.”

“There’s no tricks to this,” she said, pushing the onions around and making the kitchen smell amazing. “It’s just agreeableness.”

“What?” Dawn asked.

“I’ve nothing else to say on the matter. It’s knowing – no, shush – knowing like I’ve said, that it’s not for questioning, there’s no other sort of circumstance. No.” She shook her head. “Let it come along as it happens.”

“Is something the matter?”

“Dawnie –” Buffy started, and that was just the wrong thing to say, because this wasn’t a good time to pull out a nickname.

“Drusilla?” Dawn asked again, ignoring Buffy completely.

“I thought I said quiet,” Drusilla hissed, staring around the kitchen. “I’d rather we not be unkind right now.”

Buffy put her hand on Dawn’s shoulder and tugged gently. Dawn was about to follow her sister’s suggestion when Dru broke. That was the only word Dawn could think of, that she broke.

“Not in time,” she shouted the last word. “This isn’t, isn’t, isn’t, not time yet, not with anyone in here now, not anyone here, not yet not here, not here not here.” She was breathing hard through her nose, glaring at the air, and then shouted out a big barking noise. Her hands flew up to cover her ears and the wooden spoon hit the floor with a thwock and she started nodding her head up and down with her hands, shaking all over. Dawn leaned away and looked at Buffy, who looked just as freaked out as Dawn felt. “Not,” Drusilla said. “Not, not, not, not, not.”

Then she went quiet. She stayed standing there, shivering all over, breathing hard, the onions cooking away on the stove as she shivered and swayed. Then she turned her head with her hands to look at Dawn. She put her hands down and kept staring.

Then she grabbed the spoon, dropped it in the sink, and started rummaging around in the drawer for a fresh utensil.

“Blast it, I’ve gone and burned them.” She sighed at the onions in the pan and twirled a metal spatula around. “Can’t leave them alone, always keep an eye on them.”

“No! No, it’s fine,” Buffy cut in. “Dawn likes her onions crisp. Dawn. You like them crisp. Right.”

“Yeah. I totally do.”

“Really?” Drusilla asked.

“She likes anchovies on her pizza. Trust me, she’ll like these.”

The worst part was Dawn did like her onions crisped up like that. Drusilla served her a restaurant-perfect omelet, but she almost didn’t want to eat it. Wasn’t there a Miss Manners rule against eating food made by a crazy person? She looked at Buffy again, who nodded at her breakfast. Dawn shook her head, and Buffy nodded at the omelet again, harder.

Dawn pushed it away.

And she knew exactly what Buffy was playing at when she reached out for it, and she played right into Buffy’s hands but no way was she letting her older sister have her breakfast when Buffy didn’t even like onions and it was stupid how good it tasted and she felt bad when she realized she’d hoped it tasted bad so she wouldn’t feel bad about not wanting to finish it. But it was really good. It was stupid how good it tasted.

Drusilla was in the middle of cooking Buffy’s omelet when Dawn heard Spike came up the stairs. “Dru, I thought I heard –” Then he stopped without even letting go of the doorknob.

“Good morning, Spike,” Buffy said, but he didn’t look like he’d heard her. He just looked around, at Drusilla, at her, at Buffy and at everything spread out around the kitchen. Dawn noticed he also had some makeup on – not a lot, just some eyeshadow.

Then he laughed. Like there was something funny about what was going on. “Oh, look at this. Look at this. Dru, you’re cooking breakfast for the sisters again.”

And somehow that made Drusilla smile and straighten up like she’d won something big. “I rather am, aren’t I.”

“You’d best be proud of yourself.”

“I might well be soon enough.” She turned back to the stove, and Spike crossed his arms over his chest.

“But it got loud, didn’t it?”

“Not now, please.”

“I’m only –”

“Not for long. There?” She said, angry like Dad used to get sometimes. Like this wasn’t something to talk about.

“Here,” he said, except not like Mom would when Dad got like that. But the conversation was over. Spike still walked over to Drusilla and put his hand on her back, in between her shoulder blades, and left it there for a moment before he went to get himself some coffee. Neither of them said anything, even though Drusilla tilted her head back and closed her eyes when Spike touched her.

“Is everything okay?” Dawn asked, in case it wasn’t.

“Yeah. It just got loud for Dru for a moment there. But it’s fine now, right, love?” Drusilla nodded, sliding Buffy’s omelet onto a plate. “It just gets loud for Dru sometimes.”

“She hears voices?”

“Dawn!” Buffy hissed through a mouthful of double-cheesy eggs.

“Sometimes,” Drusilla said, ignoring that Dawn hadn’t been talking to her. “Usually only that. It depends. They come around more when it’s cold.”

“What else?” If Drusilla hadn’t answered Dawn wouldn’t have asked another question, but she had. Dawn pushed her plate over and leaned forward on the counter. “Do you get visions and stuff?”

“As it happens to turn out, in fact, sometimes I even…oh, oh goodness,” Drusilla gasped, staring at Dawn. “Oh, I can’t hardly…you, oh, come here.”

“Huh?”

Drusilla waggled her hand in the air, then pointed her first two fingers at her eyes. “Look at me. Dearest darling. Dearest Dawn, look at me. Let me inside, let me belong to you, to me.” She began moving her fingers closer to Dawn’s face, who leaned back but couldn’t look away. “Breaking into you, break into me. Into Dawn, gently. Here now, come here, come, come....” Then she pressed her index finger right onto Dawn’s nose. “Boop.”

“Boop?”

“Boop,” she repeated, grinning. “I’m sick in the head, not psychic.”

“Certified,” Spike said, over a mug of coffee.

“I kinda figured that,” Buffy muttered.

“No, she is,” he said. “Certified, I mean. Not just certifiable. Which we both are. But Dru’s honestly certified.”

“Really?” Dawn asked.

“It’s true. She went and got herself written up all official by someone with a proper title and the right letters at the end of her name. No fooling around there.”

“What about you, then?” Buffy asked. “You got anything I can look up in DMV-SM?”

“Me? You think I’m certified for anything? Oh, no.” He shrugged. “I’m just insane.”