When she came to help her daughter move out of the dorm at the end of the term, Joyce Summers told Buffy that she’d fallen in love with Sunnydale.
“I found a terrific gallery space right on the main drag. It’s a perfect location. And, well, I’ve been thinking that it would be better for Dawn to be in a smaller community for her teen years. It can be hard to keep a sense of perspective in LA,” she explained.
Buffy wasn’t thrilled about her mom and sister relocating to Sunnydale. For one thing, it was on top of a Hellmouth. Duh. For another, it felt a little claustrophobic after being an independent woman for almost a year. Well, an independent woman who lived on campus, ate in the college cafeteria, took her laundry home at school breaks, and was still on her mom’s dental plan. But still! She was used to keeping her own hours and having entire weeks of nothing to do but school, parties, and slaying. The simple life. She could practically see her curfew-free, dishwashing-free freedom fading away.
So she said, “That’s great, mom! You’ll be so…close!”
Joyce just laughed at her.
“Yes, you can still live on campus, Buffy.”
Buffy kept forgetting how hard it was to hide her feelings from her mom.
“Oh. Well, if it’s okay with you…”
“I haven’t forgotten my college years, honey. You deserve to have your chance.”
“Really. Of course, I hope you’re more responsible than I was.”
Joyce laughed again.
July was a flurry of packing, August a flurry of unpacking, and before she knew it, Buffy was settling into her new dorm room. Her old roommate, Willow, was rooming with her girlfriend Tara this year, and Buffy had scored a coveted single.
Too bad she didn’t have anybody to christen it with. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend Riley was permanently off. She felt a little blue about it, but it was just one of those things that came with dating a military man. He’d been deployed on some hush-hush mission and had told her not to wait. It was all very manly and self-sacrificing, which was annoying, but it saved her from having to break up with him, so she called it a win. He was a great guy, but he didn’t really get the slaying gig, and she could tell that it wasn’t going to work long-term. At not quite 20-years old, she wasn’t really thinking long-term anyway. There was a whole world of hotties out there, and she was planning to browse. Responsibly.
Buffy had to admit that Sunday dinners at Casa Summers were something she could have used last year. Not only did her laundry get done more regularly, but it was comforting to get away from all the collegiate bustle and reconnect with her reliable, warm, loving circle. Even getting stuck with dish duty once a week was soothing in a weird way. It was really nice checking in with her mom and Dawn. She got updates on their lives, and she shared the highlights of hers, with the gore somewhat glossed over. Dawn was a bloodthirsty kid, and always wanted to know more about the slayage, but her mom got real quiet if the stories were too exciting.
After the gym fire incident at Hemery High, her parents had almost had her committed. Her story of centuries old vampires, evil minions, and one girl chosen to stand against them was bonkers, but it happened to be true. Buffy had proved it. It hit them hard, but they’d stood by her and tried to be supportive of her special needs — horrible hours, wardrobe replacement, medieval weaponry. She once tried to reassure them by explaining that it wasn’t that different than if she’d gone into competitive ice skating. Her mom had put down the mace she was fingering and locked herself in her room for an hour.
When the divorce happened, they both told her that it was something between them, and not because of her calling. Buffy even believed them 95% of the time. 98% after she met Hank’s new girlfriend. He’d been great though. He checked in all the time and never missed a date with her, except that one time that wasn’t even his fault. Stupid Watcher’s Council and their stupid “tests”.
Her dad had explained that both he and her mom were proud of her, but like the parents of any kid who went into combat, they worried. A lot. She tried to not make it worse, and that meant the stories with the closest calls were not dinner table material.
One Sunday, Mom mentioned she might invite a neighbor over for Thanksgiving. Buffy had already asked if she could bring Willow and Tara, so it wasn’t going to be just family, and both her mom and Dawn had mentioned this neighbor before. Apparently, he was a bachelor and had been a regular welcome wagon over the last few months. First he came by with a housewarming gift of wine, then provided the name of a local kid, Xander Harris, who was good with household repairs, and finally took Joyce and Dawn to putt-putt golf to celebrate Dawn’s first report card. Joyce confided that he was also great about bringing his friends by the gallery, many of whom were now customers. In short, he sounded way too perfect. Buffy said so. Again, her mom just laughed.
“Oh, honey, he’s really not my type. He’s been very helpful, and he’s certainly handsome. I can appreciate that as much as any woman, but he’s a little, oh…” She searched for the right word. “…edgy for me. He’s got this, I don’t know, rock star vibe, I guess.”
“Just the vibe we want at Thanksgiving,” huffed Buffy, envisioning the Bill Nighy character from Love Actually.
“He told me he hasn’t got any family, Buffy. I won’t invite him if you don’t want me to, but I’d like to think I raised you to be more hospitable than that.”
Game, set, and match. “Fine. Never let it be said that I was unkind to orphans.”
“That’s very charitable of you, darling.”
Buffy was rearranging the gourds in the dining room when the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it!” she called over the sound of the electric mixer. She opened the door to find a man slouching on the porch in the late afternoon sun. His carefully mussed shocking white hair was lit from behind to look like what her art history teacher called a nimbus. He had killer cheekbones, thick eyelashes, and a lean, broad-shouldered body encased in black leather, charcoal wool, and cranberry silk. He looked up and smiled. Definitely NOT Bill Nighy. Not Riley Finn, either. She could practically hear the theme from “A Summer Place” playing in her head.
“Hello, cutie. Your mum in?” After a quick glance at her, he looked over her head as if she wasn’t even there.
The imaginary record screeched to a halt. She stared at him with narrowed eyes. Seriously? So not going to be treated like a kid by this…gorgeous…English accent-having…asshole. She crossed her arms.
“Who wants to know?”
He blinked and looked at her with surprise. He stood straighter.
“Sanger. William Sanger. But call me Spike. Everybody does.”
They stared at each other. A slow, sexy smile spread across his face. He leaned against the doorframe and gave her a blatant once-over. In Buffy’s opinion, this was much more acceptable than the indifference of a minute ago, even though she could feel a blush coming on.
“Gonna ask me in? Don’t want these to get warm, now do we?” He held up some champagne bottles.
Buffy touched her cheeks. Yup. Flaming. Get it together, Buffy.
“Can’t have that. Warm would be…” She gave him a stern look. “…bad. C’mon in.” She moved out of the doorway.
He stepped across the threshold, managing to make it look like a maneuver out of the Kama Sutra. Rock star? More like porn star, thought Buffy. Bad Buffy. Oh, he was talking…
“…must be Buffy. From everything Dawn’s said, thought you’d be taller.”
“You too," she shot back. “I mean, yes. I’m Buffy. Dawn’s much older sister. ”
His eyes sparkled with amusement. “Right. Now that we’re such good friends, you want to help me get these lovelies on ice?” he asked, again holding out the champagne bottles.
“Yep! Icy goodness coming right up!” Glad to have a mission, Buffy led the way to the kitchen.
“Spike!” cried Dawn. She was in the middle of spooning cranberry sauce into a bowl, and had managed to get some smeared across her cheek.
“Alright there, Niblet? Hello, Joyce.” He juggled the bottles into the crook of one arm and reached out to wipe the bright red spot from Dawn’s face. Dawn flapped her hands and danced away from him, squealing.
“Hello, Spike,” said Joyce. “Let me help you with those.” She took the bottles and went to the cupboard that held the ice bucket. She glanced at the labels, then did a double-take before turning to him with wide eyes. “Oh, Spike. This is very generous.”
He looked uncomfortable. “Just something I had lying around. Seemed like the thing for a party.”
Joyce laughed. “I’ll say. I just wish I had a battleship to christen with it.”
“What! And waste all those lovely bubbles? Think we should toast your charming daughters instead. They’ll probably launch a thousand ships any day now. Suspect you’ve put a few hundred in motion yourself, pet.”
Her mom shook her head, smiled, and waved a dismissive hand at him. Buffy was impressed at the way he managed to flatter every female in the room at once. Evil. She should probably keep a close eye on him.
“Can I try some?” asked Dawn, peering around Joyce’s back to look at the bottles.
“Oh, I don’t know, honey…”
“Well…alright. You can have a taste at dinner. But don’t get your hopes up, sweetie. You probably won’t like it.”
The doorbell rang again, and Buffy left the family scene in the kitchen to answer it. Willow and Tara stood there beaming. She ushered them inside. They exclaimed over the wonderful scents filling the house and oohed and aahed over the beautiful table. After a few minutes of pleasantries, they all headed for the kitchen to help out.
Joyce had coaxed Spike into a “Kiss the Cook” apron, and he was doing a creditable job of carving the turkey. Buffy thought the entire tableau was mouth-wateringly yummy.
Introductions were made and tasks appointed. As the other women carried platters, baskets, and bowls to the dining room, Buffy hung back with Spike. She picked up the ice bucket.
“How’d you get roped into doing hard labor?” she asked.
“Might’ve let slip to your mum that I like playing with knives,” said Spike with a wink. He unhooked the apron from around his neck and slowly pulled it away from his body. “Makes me feel all…manly.”
Her mouth went dry. She couldn’t have made an answer to that if the fate of the world depended on it. He hefted up the platter of turkey slices and carried it through the door. Buffy trailed behind hugging the ice bucket to her chest, wondering when it got so hot in there. Maybe he really was a porn star.
“Can see why they call it the groaning board,” said Spike, once all the food was placed on the table. He was back in polite guest mode, Buffy noted. He plucked a champagne bottle out of the ice bucket, popped the cork and handed the bottle to Joyce. She poured a glass for everyone, though just a small amount for Dawn.
“A toast,” Spike said, raising his glass. “To new friends and new beginnings.”
“To new friends,” the others murmured. They all took a deep swallow.
Dawn watched the others carefully and took a mouthful along with them. Her expression changed from cautious to pinched and she struggled to swallow.
“Like it?” asked Spike.
She turned to him with a pained smile and nodded.
“Very convincing. Don’t let anybody bully you, precious. If something tastes like…” Spike paused and glanced at Joyce who raised an eyebrow at him. “…a spade, well, you go ahead and call it a spade. Besides, then there’ll be more for the rest of us.” He smiled conspiratorially at Dawn, who beamed back and reached for the sparkling apple juice instead.
The dinner was a great success. Spike, being English, wanted to know more about this “daft Yank ritual”. Everybody shared stories of their family traditions, and there was enough new material there — what with Willow’s revisionist history, Tara’s devout upbringing, and the Summers’ conventional SoCal take — to carry them through to the after dinner mints. As they relaxed in the living room with a warming beverage — brandy, coffee, or tea — Spike finally veered into dangerous conversational territory, and it wasn’t politics or religion.
“So, Joyce tells me you’re a Slayer.”
“I didn’t think it would do any harm, Buffy. It’s not like Spike doesn’t know about the things that go bump in the night, you know.”
“True. Don’t like to brag, but I’ve met a few Slayers in my time.” He turned to Dawn and whispered loudly, “Kidding, pet. I love to brag.” Dawn giggled.
“But, I’ve been the Slayer for four years already! How many slayers were here before that? Do we all end up in Sunnydale, eventually?”
“Didn’t meet them here, did I? Been all over the world, you know.”
“Oh. Really? I met a wooden dummy once who said he knew a Korean Slayer in the ’30s.”
Tara mouthed, “Dummy?” to Dawn, who nodded sagely.
“That so? Knew a Chinese one, myself.” Spike looked toward the ceiling and made a toasting gesture with his glass before taking another swallow.
Wait a minute. British. Supernaturally aware. Knows Slayers, multiple. She should have seen it before.
“Hey, are you a Watcher or something?”
He choked on his brandy.
“Perish the thought! I am nothing like those poncey buggers. Hiding behind little girls, sending them off to do their dirty work…” He trailed off as he noticed the startled looks of this dinner companions. “Prefer to fight my own battles, is all,” he mumbled.
“Oh. Well. That’s good. I’m sort of not on speaking terms with the Council after their fun little birthday surprise when I turned 18.”
Joyce nodded vigorously. “I don’t like to speak ill of people, but those men are rat bastards!”
Annnnnd, they were off on their favorite subject — Council of Evil Watchers, Ltd. Dawn had heard it all before.
Bored, she began fiddling with the rings on Spike’s fingers. He absently slipped off a chunky silver skull ring and handed it to her. Dawn tried the ring on several of her fingers before settling it on her thumb, where it was still very loose. She held her hand out to judge the effect and shook her head. She handed the ring back to Spike who slipped it back on his hand. She tapped on his pinky ring. He took it off and handed it over. This one was a delicate silver hummingbird skull or something, with the beak stretching along to the second knuckle. The smaller size was working better for her, but it still didn’t make the grade. She sighed and handed it back. Finally she settled on the one he wore on his ring finger: a golden skull overlaying a clear green stone. She tapped it. He glanced down and shook his head. She tapped it again, more forcefully.
“Not that one, Bit.” He said it calmly, but she could tell there was no room for negotiation.
She pouted until it was time for pumpkin pie.
“You like him,” stated Willow with a grin.
“How can I like him? I just met him!”
“I like him,” said Willow. Tara nodded.
“You do? Both of you?” Buffy was confused.
Willow clarified. “For you. He’s interesting. He’s great with Dawn. He’s super nice to your mom.”
“He’s sex on a stick,” added Tara, helpfully. Willow nodded. Buffy goggled at them.
“You guys! You’re not supposed to notice that stuff. Gay, remember?”
Willow and Tara looked at each other, then turned back to Buffy and shrugged in unison.
Buffy groaned. “All right! I do like him. And not because he’s nice to Dawn, either. But I don’t think he likes me.”
“You’re kidding, right? He seemed pretty into you. In a ‘we’ve just met and your mother is sitting right there’ kind of way. He was definitely watching you.”
“You really think so? I mean, he barely spoke to me. But when he did, he was kinda flirty. You don’t think I’m too young for him or anything?”
Tara cleared her throat. “Um, I might be wrong, but I don’t think that ‘too young’ is something that bothers a lot of guys.”
They pondered this. After a moment, all three wrinkled their noses with distaste.
“To a point,” added Tara. “I mean, you’re not exactly a kid.”
“Right,” said Willow, seizing on the main point. “You are a beautiful, accomplished, heroic woman. If he’s the right guy for you, he’ll be able to appreciate all those things.”
Buffy pondered that. It seemed reasonable.
“You guys are right. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. I’m not going to be all obsesso-girl about it. Hey, how do you think he got that scar on his eyebrow?”