Entirely too much of my time during these days off have been spent trying to get my daughter's new printer/scanner to work with her computer - I've failed dismally, her Windows ME can't cope with one device doing both jobs and connecting through one single USB cable. It keeps allocating the printing to a printer port that doesn't exist and no matter what I try I can't get it to print from the computer (although it scans beautifully and will work as a copier and print from the integral memory card slot). I've given up now, but it's wasted 3 afternoons.
I haven't been completely idle on the fic front. No new "Life in Shadow" chapter, I'm afraid, the muse wasn't in the right place. I haven't started "Lithium" either. I have made a start on the next "Savage Beauty" chapter, but not got far enough with it to be worth posting. I've made a start on the Spuffy "Merry Sport" sequel "The Immigrant Song"; and I've written 10,000 words of a new story unconnected with any of the things I've promised. "Angel of the Morning", a Willow-centric story kicking off from "Dead Things". I wasn't going to post "Angel of the Morning" until it was finished, but I've decided to let you have the first 9,300 words now because of the long gap with no Speaker-to-Customers fiction. It's almost devoid of jokes, it's not Spuffy, and you'll probably hate it.
Angel of the Morning
I woke up too early. I often did, since Tara left. Erratic sleeping patterns. It was hard to get to sleep in that empty bed, and after I woke it was hard to get back to sleep. There was an old song by The Police that said it well; ‘The bed’s too big without you.’
I could fool myself by day, and in the evening in the brightness of artificial light, but not in the cold darkness before the dawn. It was nothing to do with addiction; it was fear and self-doubt. I’d been so scared that Tara would see through me, realize that I really wasn’t loveable after all, that I’d tried to control my lover by any means possible. Even the cruelest way of all, manipulating her mind in a horrible echo of what Glory had done, hurting Tara beyond bearing, and losing her in the process. Losing her because I’d been so scared of losing her. Alanis Morissette eat your heart out; that really was ironic.
There was no point in trying to get back to sleep, I knew; I’d just lie awake, thinking depressing thoughts, until it was nearly time to get up. Then I’d doze off, the alarm clock would wake me, and I’d feel even worse. Better to get up now. Skulking around downstairs, trying to keep quiet so as not to disturb Buffy and Dawn, so not likely to improve my mood either. The only thing that I’d found would charge me up enough to get through the day at class was going out for a pre-dawn jog.
Okay, Sunnydale in the dark hours, not the world’s safest place for joggers, but half past five in the morning was pretty safe. The vampires would all be back in their crypts, ‘cause, pickings too slim for it to be worth their while. Why risk getting delayed, and not making it back to safety before sunrise, on the off chance they might get a paper-boy? Hardly anybody else out there for them to catch, so, not peak time for vamps. Anyway, I was far more capable of looking after myself than the average Sunnydale resident, even though I’d sworn off the magic; I’d clocked plenty of field time. I got up, hit the bathroom, dressed, grabbed a water bottle and a stake, and set off.
- - - - -
In my previous pre-dawn jogs I’d never encountered anything more sinister than a bus driver on his way to work the early shift, and so when I saw the two figures emerging from an alley it threw me right off my stride. One was big, bulky, and with ears that protruded from his head in a distinctly non-human fashion; the other was smaller, slimmer, in a familiar leather coat. Spike.
Seeing Spike didn’t scare me, as such; it had been a long time since he could have bitten me, or have done anything more damaging than delivering uncomfortable truths, and I’d already faced those this morning. The guy, or demon, with him was another matter. They came out into the street where I could see them by the street lights, and I realized that the large figure was dragging Spike along. Spike didn’t seem to be resisting, but he wasn’t walking properly – in fact he seemed to be being kept upright only by his companion’s grasp – and then he raised his head and I saw that his face was battered and swollen almost beyond recognition. Shit. I’m not sure if he could see me, his eyes were pretty shut, but he must have known someone was there ‘cause he called something out. I couldn’t make out his words, but, hey, didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that he was calling for help.
Crap. Spike had lost a fight and was getting dragged off by whatever had beaten him. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. Spike was tough. Okay, Buffy could beat him, but not much else. I’d seen him dust normal vamps without bothering to take the cigarette out of his mouth. Somebody, or something, that could beat Spike up that bad, really not something I wanted to have to deal with. We could be talking Glory level opposition here, Olaf the Troll at least. I wondered whether it would chase me if I ran.
Spike must have seen me, or smelled me, ‘cause he managed to croak out “Red?”
Well, that was it. Running away, not an option any more. I remembered when Tara had burned Spike with sunlight after Glory brain-sucked her, and how nice Spike had been about it; him looking at Buffy’s body, sobbing his heart out, all smashed up but not caring about anything but her; him patrolling with us all that long horrible summer; the way he’d taken care of Dawn for us; yeah, he was part of the team, even though I’d maybe never given him credit for it before, and no way was I going to run away and leave him in the hands of some enemy. If I did, well, living with myself afterwards wouldn’t be pleasant.
I narrowed my eyes and tightened my lips, trying to look mean and tough. “Let him go,” I said with all the menace I could muster. “I’m a witch. Let him go and back off.”
The figure holding Spike raised its face and looked at me, giving me a clear look at him, and, yeah, definitely a demon there. Warty face, skin all wrinkly, ears like bat wings, and a mouth full of jagged teeth. Only, when it spoke it sounded kind of mild-mannered. “But if I let Spike go he’ll fall down,” it said.
I was concentrating too hard on trying to be scary to notice that the demon’s attitude was a bit, well, incongruous. “Let him go,” I repeated. I thought of a spell and raised my hands to throw it, ‘cept I really hoped it wouldn’t come to that ‘cause, hey, trying to stay off the whole magic use wagon. “Take your hands off him and keep them where I can see them.”
“Umm, okay, if you insist,” the demon replied. It sounded nervous. “Spike, can you hang on to my neck? I don’t think hitting the ground would be very good for you.”
“Red,” Spike said again, not very clearly ‘cause he’d obviously been hit in the mouth. “It’s okay. Clem’s a friend. He’s just helping me out here.”
“Oh!” I said. I lowered my hands. “I’m so sorry. I thought you were, like, kidnapping him or something.”
“That’s okay, I understand,” the demon said, with a grin that looked innocent and friendly if I ignored the jagged teeth. “I have to get Spike home before sunrise, or it wouldn’t be too healthy for him.”
I glanced at my watch. Forty minutes ‘till sunrise, and it was quite a way to Spike’s crypt. “Yeah, he’d burn up,” I said. I tried to smile at the demon. “Maybe I’d better give you a hand.” I joined them and helped the demon, Clem, to support Spike. We got him between us, one arm over my shoulders and the other over Clem’s, and held him up. I took hold of Spike’s hand pretty carefully, as I reckoned his knuckles would probably be as messed up as his face after such a big fight. Only, they were completely unmarked.
I could see his face up close now, and it was really bad; maybe even in worse shape than when Glory had beaten him up and tortured him. Yet he didn’t seem to have fought back. That didn’t make any kind of sense to me. I puzzled over it as we helped Spike along. At first just keeping him moving in the right direction needed too much concentration for me to do any talking, but by the time we reached Spike’s home cemetery we’d pretty much gotten the hang of it and I could take time out to talk. “Who did this to you, Spike?” I asked.
“Yeah, Spike, what happened?” Clem joined in. “Was it Teeth’s mob? I thought you and the Slayer had pretty much done for them.”
“Nah, I paid Teeth his kittens,” Spike replied. “Owed him, didn’t I? I’m not a welsher. Just needed a bit more time, and I got that.”
I was expecting him to go on to explain what had happened, but he just said that little bit and then went silent again. “Then who was it, Spike?” I pressed him, and then I came up with an explanation for his undamaged knuckles. “Was it humans?”
Spike sucked in a breath and held it for a long time before he replied. “Yeah. Humans. Couldn’t hit back, could I?”
I winced in sympathy. If humans had done that much damage to a vampire they must have used boots, bottles, maybe baseball bats or tire irons, in a sustained attack. I pictured Spike lying on the ground being repeatedly kicked in the face and unable to do anything to defend himself. I was about to say ‘you poor thing’ but I stopped myself short, ‘cause Spike liked to think of himself as the Big Bad and that would have been really humiliating for him, and so I said ‘Hey, that’s just totally not fair,’ instead.
“Wow, that is a bummer,” Clem agreed.
Spike pursed his swollen lips. “Suppose it serves me right, really. Ate plenty of humans in my time. Only fair they get payback. Nothing good or clean in me, after all. I’m dead inside. Not like I matter.”
That so wasn’t normal for Spike. He sounded sort of defeated, deflated. I felt really sorry for him and I gave his hand a little squeeze. “You’re not evil any more, Spike, and you do matter.”
“Am evil,” Spike mumbled back, but it didn’t sound like his usual boasting. It sounded more like he was admitting something he was ashamed of. “Never be good enough.”
“Hey, Spike, don’t knock yourself,” Clem urged him. “Okay, you’re evil, but you’re a good pal.”
“Yeah, lately I’ve been more evil than you,” I reminded Spike. “Hey, nearly home. We’ll get you cleaned up and patched up and then you’ll feel better, ‘kay?”
“Don’t deserve your help. Don’t have a soul, nothing good or clean in me. But thanks, Red. Thanks, Clem.”
- - - - -
We reached the crypt and sat Spike down on the sarcophagus that he used as a table and, as far as I knew, as a bed. “Will you be okay now, Spike?” Clem asked. “I could do with getting home before there are too many humans out and about.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Spike told him, although he didn’t sound as if he would be fine. “You get on home, Clem. You’re a good mate.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” Clem said. He didn’t sound too convinced about Spike being okay.
“Don’t worry, I’ll look after him,” I assured the floppy-eared demon. Now that I could get a good look at him without Spike in the way I could see that he was bulky, covered in wrinkled skin, and humanoid with a slightly doggy air. Sorta cute, really; he gave the impression he should be wagging a tail.
“Thanks,” Clem grinned. “Hey, I haven’t really introduced myself, have I? Name’s Clem, like Spike said. We’re kitten poker buddies. You’re Red, then?”
“That’s what Spike calls me, but my real name’s Willow,” I told him. He extended his hand; I hesitated for a second before taking it, but hey, I didn’t want to be rude, so I shook his wrinkly hand – or perhaps paw – politely. “Pleased to meet you. Thanks for helping Spike. I’ll take it from here.”
- - - - -
With Clem gone I set about doing first aid on Spike. Don’t know how necessary it was, vampire healing pretty much makes the usual sort of treatments pointless, but I cleaned up his face, and used cold compresses to ease his pain.
I’d had enough experience of injuries to be able to tell that these were hours old. It wasn’t that he’d been attacked shortly before Clem’s arrival; he’d been severely beaten and then had lain helpless in the alley for most of the night. I couldn’t work out how humans could have done so much damage to his face without his hands suffering. Surely he would have put his arms in front of his face? If they’d grabbed him and held his arms, couldn’t he have just pulled free? Spike was several times stronger than any human, and the chip wouldn’t have gone off if he’d just been trying to free himself and not to hurt anybody, would it? It just didn’t make sense.
However, that wasn’t important right now. “Guess you need blood, huh?”
Spike nodded and waved his hand towards his little refrigerator. “Please.”
I found Styrofoam containers of pigs’ blood, and also a couple of sachets of human blood; either they had been disposed of by the hospital as out of date or else they were stolen goods, but this probably wasn’t a good time to press Spike on that issue, and, really, not caring all that much. The human blood would help him heal faster and that was all that mattered. I looked for something to up heat the blood. No microwave. There was a kettle; but putting the blood sachets into boiling water would cook them rather than warm them up. “Can you drink it cold?”
“No problem, love,” Spike said. I snipped the corner off one packet and passed it over, and he gulped it straight down. I gave him the second packet, and he drank that right off as well, and then he lay down on the lid of the sarcophagus. “You’re a treasure, Red. I’ll be fine now. Get yourself off to college.”
“Not yet,” I said. “I’m gonna make sure you’re settled all nice and comfortable before I go, okay? Which saying, that stone lid, not exactly the best place to lie. You got any cushions?”
“Got a proper bed downstairs,” Spike revealed. I’d never known that, only had a vague idea that he even had a lower level.
“Right, let’s get you down there.” There was a hole in the floor and a ladder going down, and I guided Spike to the ladder and went ahead of him to make sure that he didn’t fall. His eyes were swollen pretty much shut, and he definitely needed my help. When we got down there I found that there was a chamber lit by a flickering candle stub. I could make out a double bed, and I led Spike there and set him down, and then I went over to the candle and used that stub to light some more candles that were nearby.
“Didn’t expect to be out this long,” Spike mumbled. “Lucky it was still lit, innit?”
In the brighter light I could see that the room was a passable imitation of a human bedroom. There was a comforter on the bed, a little set of drawers with an electric lamp standing beside it, and there were even rugs on the floor. “Hey,” I said, impressed. “You've gotten this place looking really nice.”
“I’ll take your word for it, love,” Spike said, and a grin flickered briefly across his face.
“No, really.” I crossed to the lamp. “Does this lamp work? Okay if I put it on?”
“Course it’s okay.”
I switched the lamp on and looked around. “You do all this yourself? It looks good.”
“Clem helped me bring the bed in. Apart from that, yeah. Ate a decorator once, maybe something …” His voice trailed off and the smile that was beginning to spread across his face faded away. He looked unhappy and ill.
I went over to the bed and sat down beside him. “I think you could do with another cold compress,” I recommended. “Your face is still swelling up. What about the rest of you? Is your body hurt at all? Your legs?”
“Back’s a bit bruised. Right shoulder too, I think. That’s about it, pet.”
I helped him to remove his T-shirt and examined his torso. His slim yet muscular torso. ‘Compact yet well muscled’, as Xander had described it once. Well worth examining. Okay, gay now, but I could still appreciate the visuals.
‘A bit bruised’ turned out to mean a discolored area the size of a CD on his back, and a smaller counterpart on his shoulder, but no broken bones as far as I could tell. I bathed the bruises with cold water, not sure what else I could do, and then I helped Spike take off his boots and settle down in bed.
“Might as well get yourself off home, Red,” Spike said. “Thanks for everything. Right treasure you are, pet. I’ll not forget it.”
“Hey, it’s no biggy,” I told him. “Like I said, you’re part of the team.”
Spike swallowed hard. “Really? Thanks. That means a lot. Really does.”
“Um, no problem,” I said. He really seemed to think it was a big deal, whereas I didn’t see how I could have done anything else. Had we really been treating Spike so bad that he thought we’d just leave him to suffer? Maybe we had, so, one guilt trip coming up for me. “I’ll come back and check up on you after class, okay?”
“You don’t have to,” Spike mumbled.
“I do so. I want to make sure you’re okay, Spike. Hey, maybe Buffy would be free to come along?”
“No!” Spike snapped, pretty vehemently, and that was a big surprise to me. He shot up to a sitting position and then winced, like he’d hurt something with the sudden movement. He sank back down. “Don’t want the Slayer to see me like this, Red.”
“Okay, if you say so,” I replied. I didn’t understand Spike’s attitude; surely Buffy had seen him in an equally bad state after his torture by Glory? What would be the harm in her seeing him in a beat-up state once again? But hey, it was his decision, and I would respect it. “What about Dawn?”
“Wouldn’t mind seeing the Bit,” Spike smiled, but then his face fell again. “Slayer’s not happy about Nibblet coming to see me. She reckons I’m a bad influence. Anyway, it’d probably upset Dawn, me all bashed up like this.”
“Oh, is that why you haven’t been round? Well, I think that’s just mean of Buffy. She left it to you to take Dawn to the hospital, so she must have been okay about it not long ago. But yeah, you’re probably right about it upsetting Dawn, ‘cause yeah, she’s pretty fond of you. Maybe tomorrow, if you’re feeling better, right? Okay, Spike, bye, see you this afternoon. You get some rest.”
- - - - -
I pushed open the door of the crypt with my foot, walked in, and set a cardboard box down on Spike’s sarcophagus. It hadn’t felt heavy when I started out, but it was feeling pretty darn heavy now, and I was glad to put it down. “Spike, I’m here,” I called, and then I climbed down the ladder.
A single candle was burning again, and I could just make out that Spike was still lying in bed. I found my way to the lamp, but I hesitated before switching it on. “Are you awake?” I asked softly.
“Yeah, Red,” he replied. “Thanks for coming.”
I switched on the lamp. “Hey, I told you I’d come, didn’t I? Let me have a look at you, Spike, gonna check you out.” He raised himself up on his elbows and I peered at his face. The swelling had gone down significantly, but the bruising had turned into a sullen black and purple mottling, pretty nasty looking. I could get a good look at his eyes now and, as I looked closely, I could see that they were red and there were damp streaks on his cheeks. “Spike – have you been crying?”
“No! Me crying? Are you off your trolley?”
“Spike, it’s okay,” I told him softly. “I’ve seen you cry. I know you’re a tough guy, okay? But sometimes, I guess everybody has to cry.”
“Only pathetic wankers cry,” Spike muttered. “Girls, yeah, it’s okay for them. Not blokes.”
“No, really, Spike, it’s okay,” I said. I reached out carefully, put my arm around him, and gave him a little hug. “I don’t think less of you. And, I promise, there will be no telling of Xander.”
“Better bloody not,” Spike said, with more of a sniffle than a snarl. “Hate this. Makes me feel like a useless sodding poofter. But …” he gave me a little hug back, “you’re making me feel better, Red. Thanks. You’re a …” His voice faltered and stopped.
“Friend?” I completed his sentence. “We can be friends if you like, Spike.”
“Thought we were, before,” he said, and I could hear a tinge of bitterness in his tone.
I could feel my cheeks getting a little hot and I lowered my eyes. “Last summer. Yeah. We were, or we should have been, except that I was all with the ‘bring back Buffy’ plan and I didn’t let you in on it. And, yeah, you were right and I was wrong. Since then I’ve been doing one dumb thing after another. Hey, I think maybe not being friends with you is one of the dumb things.”
“Really?” There was a bit of a tremble in Spike’s voice. He lifted a hand to touch my hair and then let it fall. “Dunno if I can trust you. I remember ‘We’ll never be friends’.”
“Hey, no fair, that was Giles, not me,” I reminded him. “And, you know, maybe he might have changed his mind. That was a long time ago, a lot’s happened since then.”
“Yeah, well, ‘I’ll never want your opinion’ wasn’t that long ago,” Spike muttered.
“And a few minutes after that you saved Buffy’s life when we were all just standing there like statues. Hey, a few days later you and him were all big with the father and son act. If he hasn’t changed his mind, well, he totally should have done.” I was getting new insights into Spike. It looked like he really did want to be our friend, probably had done for a while, and we’d been giving him the big brush-off. Spike had been big with not looking like he was caring, so we hadn’t realized, but he wasn’t exactly in any shape to keep up the Big Bad image so he was letting it show now. He must have been getting pretty lonely, I guessed. He couldn’t have many demon friends left since he’d started helping the Slayer; maybe that guy Clem was the only one. I felt sorry for him, and, yeah, guilty about the brush-off thing, and more guilt was something I didn’t need right now. Olive branch time? “Hey, something else Giles said, about ‘we are not your way to Buffy, there is no way to Buffy’. Well, I don’t know if there is or not, but if there is, I won’t stand in it. In your way, that is.”
“There is no way for me to Buffy,” Spike said heavily. “She’ll never be my girl, I know that now. But thanks.”
I frowned. This wasn’t like Spike. He wasn’t one to just accept things. I’d seen him take setback after setback and still come up swinging. Well, yeah, after he was first chipped and was living in Xander’s basement he got so down he was going to dust himself, but that was pretty special circumstances and he cheered right up after he found that he could still hit demons. He’d had years to adjust since then. Okay, yeah, getting beat up by humans and not being able to fight back must have sucked dead rats through a straw, but he didn’t seem angry, just, well, beaten. Defeated. “Uh,” I began, but then I couldn’t quite bring myself to say right out that he wasn’t to give up on getting, well, into Buffy’s pants. I let go of the hug and changed the subject instead. “Hey, you said you hadn’t seen Dawn for a while, right? That’s not fair on either of you. How about we take her to the movies tomorrow night?”
“What, me and you and Dawn?”
“Yeah, why not? I owe her a trip to the movies. Last time I said I’d take her I got sidetracked and, well, there was badness, and broken arms, and you taking her to the hospital. Dawn’s still mad at me over that. I want to make it up to her, but she might not trust me; but if you come too then she’ll come. So, you can help me out and get to see Dawn all at the same time.”
“That’d be right nice, pet,” Spike said, smiling properly for the first time since I’d found him being helped out of the alley. “As long as my face has healed enough so it won’t upset the Bit.”
“So, maybe we should make it the day after tomorrow, give you a bit more chance to heal?”
“Not a bad idea, Red.” He cocked his head. “What’s the movie? Dunno if I could take some soppy chick flick.”
“I thought maybe ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’?”
“That still showing? Thought it’d have gone by now.”
“Nope, it’s still packing them in. So, you up for it? Not too much of a chick flick for you?”
“Suppose I could put up with it,” Spike said, as if he was making a big concession.
I had a feeling that he was more enthusiastic than he was willing to reveal, but I let it pass. “I’ll ask Dawn tonight, then. If she won’t come, we’ll go together.”
“The two of us going to the movies? Xander’d do his sodding nut over that.”
“Whatever a ‘sodding nut’ is, you’re probably right. So we wouldn’t tell him. But hey, can’t see Dawn turning down a movie trip with you. Me, maybe, I let her down last time, but not you.”
“Hope not. I’ve missed seeing Nibblet these past weeks.” Spike shuffled along the bed under the covers and reached for his T-shirt. “Gonna get up and dressed now, Red. I’m getting hungry.”
I stood up. “That reminds me, I’ve gotten you a present. It’s upstairs.”
“Got me some fresh blood, did you? Ta, pet. Now, you’d better get upstairs unless you want a show; I’m starkers under here.”
“Oh. Yeah.” I could feel my cheeks burning. “Right, I’ll, uh, see you upstairs.”
- - - - -
“It’s pretty old. Doesn’t have any fancy settings and it’s not big on the power,” I said. “Is it okay?”
“Bloody marvelous, pet,” Spike beamed. “Just use the defrost and low settings for blood, anyway. Although it’ll be nice being able to heat up buffalo wings and what have you.” He stroked the top of the battered old microwave almost as if caressing it. “Lovely. Thanks a million, Red.”
“It’s no big deal.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I asked around at class, one of the girls was going to throw this out or Freecycle it, she gave it to me for the price of a coffee, that’s all.”
“Still a big deal to me, love. Thought that counts, innit?” He sighed. “Long time since anyone ‘cept Nibblet got me a prezzie.” He positioned the microwave, disconnected the kettle, and plugged in the new gadget in its place.
He was so grateful for such a simple thing. It was sorta sweet, really. “It’s not that big a deal,” I said. “Hey, maybe you can help me out a bit in return.” He looked a bit disappointed, must have been thinking that I was only helping him for what I could get in return, so I went on quickly so that he could see that I wasn’t just doing that. “I’m kinda stuck for what to get Buffy for her birthday. I can only think of really lame things, you know? Maybe you can help me come up with something she’d actually like.”
“Dunno how much help I can be, pet.” He smiled once more. “Day I ever figure out what the Slayer likes there’ll be a bloody parade. Seventy-six trombones, the works. But I’ll do my best. Maybe your ideas might not be so lame, love. You’re a smart girl. What’ve you thought of so far?”
“Well,” I said, “I was thinking maybe, a, perhaps, a, a back massager.” My hands started fluttering around like butterflies.
Spike tilted his head to one side and grinned at me. “You mean a vibrator, pet? Think the Slayer might be a bit frustrated, then?”
I think I probably blushed. “Well, yeah, I guess it is a vibrator. Only, not the sort that’s shaped, well, you know, that’s a bit too obvious.”
“One of those Rabbit ones might go down better,” Spike suggested. “Well, when I say ‘go down’, I don’t mean it like that. It’d knock her teeth out.”
I frowned for a second until the double meaning registered and then burst out laughing. “Hey, if I did get her one of the Rabbit ones she could chase Anya with it.”
“Be the first time Demon Bird ever ran from something that could give her orgasms,” Spike chuckled.
“Yeah,” I agreed, and snickered. “Eek, bunnies! Yay, orgasms!” I dotted my head back and forth between phrases. “Eek, bunnies! Yay, orgasms!” I shared a moment of laughter with Spike and then calmed down. “Anyway, seriously, Spike, do you have any ideas?”
“Something sharp and shiny, maybe?” Spike pursed his lips and was obviously thinking hard. He got out a container of blood and placed it in the microwave. “Tell you what, Red. The Slayer’s a crap cook and that DoubleMeat rubbish does sod all for her. Take her out for a proper restaurant meal, or get her a voucher or what have you for her and Dawn to go.”
“That’s a really good idea,” I praised. “Hey, maybe I could make it for her to go with you.”
“Don’t think that’d go down too well, pet. But thanks for saying it.” He switched on the microwave and watched the blood revolve. “Thanks for everything.”
- - - - -
Watching the movie with Spike and Dawn was fun. I paid for the movie, Spike bought the soda and popcorn, and he behaved himself pretty well. I was a bit worried in case he’d talk through it, but no, he hardly said anything while it was showing, just in the intermission. Big surprise was that he’d read the books, and what he said in the intermission and afterwards was pretty much what I was thinking, only maybe funnier. It had never occurred to me that William the Bloody might have read ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
Afterwards we walked back to Revello Drive together. Dawn was chattering away happily, seemed to have had a really good time, and hey, looked like she’d forgiven me for the last time, when I’d promised her a movie and given her a night stuck in a boring waiting room and then a broken arm. So that was definitely of the good.
I could tell that it was bringing Spike along that had been the big deal to Dawnie. He was sorta like a big brother to her, I guess. I don’t know what Buffy was thinking trying to keep them apart because, hey, not so much Spike a bad influence on Dawn, more Dawn a good influence on Spike. Like he really tried to be a good role model for her.
I’d had a good time. Really. I was feeling kinda warm and glow-y, just from doing normal things and helping Spike out and making up with Dawn. The rush from getting high on magic, yeah that had been good, but the aftermath was definitely of the bad, no warm glowies involved, and this was just so much better. And, making things right with spells? So not as good as this. If I could just keep that in mind then I could beat the, well, I called it ‘addiction’, although I guess it wasn’t really; ‘cept maybe the same way as, like, gambling addiction. Anyway, I could do it. I could be ‘do things the right way’ Willow. Then maybe I could get Tara back.
“We should do this again some time,” I suggested. “The three of us.”
“Yay!” Dawn said, with a great big smile. “We so should.”
“I’m not going to argue with my two favorite ladies,” Spike said. He was smiling at Dawn in a way that I could only describe as ‘fondly’. Evil vampire? I just couldn’t see it any more.
“Two favorite apart from Buffy, you mean,” Dawn corrected him.
“Well, yeah, goes without saying, dunnit?” Spike agreed. His smile had gone. I looked at him sharply. I wasn’t convinced that he was being sincere.
Dawn seemed to be satisfied, however, and she gave him another great big smile. “Coming in for hot chocolate, Spike?”
Spike stopped in his tracks. “I’d love to, Nibs, but your Sis wouldn’t be too keen.”
Dawn stuck out her lower lip. “Buffy can bite my ass. You’re my friend and I want you to come in. Anyway, she’s working late tonight. You have more than an hour.”
“In that case, lead me to the monkey brains,” Spike agreed.
Dawn went ‘Eww!’ at that name for the marshmallows, and they grinned at each other. It was like they’d been the summer before, only happier because of not having that big ‘Buffy is dead’ factor, and, hey, I felt pretty good about it.
I made the hot chocolate and they sat down on the couch and started to argue about what to watch on TV. I kept half an eye on them and noticed Spike slipping something to Dawn, probably not intending me to see, and there was a bit of whispering between them. I didn’t let on that I’d noticed, but I was a bit disappointed. Was Spike up to something not of the good after all? Although, I didn’t want to spoil the evening with a fight, and it might have been something okay. Maybe just him giving her extra pocket money ‘cause things were a bit tight in the Buffy household. Yeah, that was probably it. So I didn’t say anything and just brought in the hot chocolate and joined them on the couch.
Spike began to fidget when it got near the time for Buffy to come home, and he said that he’d have to be going. He told Dawn that hopefully he’d see her next week.
Dawn gave him her eye roll treatment. “You’ll see me at Buffy’s party on Sunday, Spike.”
“Not invited, Bit,” he replied.
“What?” I was pretty surprised. “She hasn’t invited you?”
“Well, no,” Spike said, and he sounded a little bitter about it. “Evil soulless vampire here, not welcome at the Slayer’s party.”
“She said that? That’s just mean after all you’ve done for her.” I wasn’t just surprised, I was annoyed at Buffy.
“Well, she didn’t tell me not to come, she just didn’t invite me,” Spike said.
That was more like it. Buffy probably just hadn’t invited him because she expected him to turn up anyway. “Well, I invite you,” I told him, just to make sure. “You’re part of the team, like I said.”
“Yeah, and I invite you too.” Dawn poked Spike in the shoulder. “I bet Buffy just took it for granted you’d be coming, you big doofus, and she’d be all upset if you didn’t show.”
“Think you’re overrating my importance, Nibblet,” Spike muttered.
“Well, you’re coming anyway, aren’t you?” Dawn demanded.
“I’ve made a poker date with Clem for Sunday,” Spike said, his brow furrowing. “Don’t like to disappoint him after he helped me out the other day. Saved my life, he did, him and Willow.”
“Who’s Clem?” Dawn wanted to know.
“He’s a really nice demon,” I told her.
“Oh,” Dawn said, looking a bit unsure.
“Don’t suppose I could bring him, could I?” Spike suggested. “Slayer’s met him before.”
I hesitated. Demon and Slayer’s birthday, not mixy things; only, Clem was pretty nice, and if Buffy had met him before then maybe it would be okay. The meeting must have gone okay otherwise Spike wouldn’t have wanted to invite Clem. And, hey, gonna be plenty of demons at Xander and Anya’s wedding, after all. I was still thinking about it when Dawn spoke up.
“A friendly demon? Cool. Does he have horns?”
“’Fraid not, Bit. He plays a mean game of Trivial Pursuit, though.”
“Yeah, okay,” I decided. “Bring Clem. But he’ll have to go if Buffy objects, right?”
“Fair enough. Right, then, Nibblet, see you Sunday.”
I followed Spike out as he left. “Spike, what was it you were passing to Dawn while I was making the hot chocolate?” I tried to keep my voice light, didn’t want him to think I was accusing him of anything.
Spike took his cigarettes from his coat pocket and lit one before replying. “Gave her forty bucks towards a prezzie for her Sis. Had an idea I might be a bit short of dosh, want her to be able to get something nice.”
“Oh. That’s – that’s sweet of you, Spike. You’re really good to Dawn.”
“Try to be,” Spike muttered.
“You are. If Buffy thinks you’re a bad influence, well, she’s being a poop-head.”
“The Slayer a poop-head?” A broad grin spread across Spike’s face. “You’re a treasure, Red. Love the things you come up with. Night, then, see you at the party.”
“Goodnight, Spike, thanks for a really nice night. See you.”
- - - - -
“Oh, yeah, of course, Tara should totally be there. It’ll be great,” I said, and I forced myself to smile. It was going to be a strain facing Tara at Buffy’s party, but I could hardly object to Buffy’s choice of guests. I’d just have to make the best of it. Maybe I could hide behind Spike.
The Magic Box bell rang as the door opened and Dawn walked in. She greeted us just by saying ‘Hey’, because, hello, teenager.
“Hey, Dawnie,” I greeted her back. “Buffy out patrolling already?”
“Yeah,” Dawn confirmed, nodding her head.
“So, anything new about Warren and the Nerd Herd?” Xander asked.
“No, just a big monster hunt. Same old same old,” Dawn told him.
“Man, a nerd goes into hiding, he really goes into hiding,” Xander said, and shook his head.
“Does anybody want to come to the mall with me for birthday presents?” Dawn asked us.
“Oh, I would, honey, but I have my group,” I excused myself. “You know, the whole Spellcasters Anonymous thing? We’re still looking for a better name.”
“Oh.” Dawn looked disappointed. “Well, yeah, no, that – that’s good. You should, uh, do that. So, what about you guys?”
Anya didn’t even look up. “Stuck in doing-the-books-ville.”
Xander couldn’t make it either. “Aw, I'd love to go with you, but I gotta finish this new shift schedule for the crew by tomorrow morning.”
Dawn pouted and looked miserable. I felt a pang of sympathy. Also, it struck me that the whole magic abuse thing just hadn’t been an issue while I had been looking after Spike, and then going to the movies with Spike and Dawn, and the Spellcasters Anonymous meeting wasn’t any better at helping me with my problem than that. Probably not as good. “I’ll skip my group thing,” I decided. “Mall here we come, Dawnie.”
When I saw the way her face lit up I knew that I had made the right decision.
- - - - -
I swallowed hard and bit back tears. The meeting with Tara had been, well, pretty awkward, even painful. Tara had seemed almost frightened of me. Maybe she was right to be scared. What I’d done to her was just about as bad as could be, and since then there had been the running wild with Amy and getting into the bad stuff, and if Tara had heard about that then, yeah, the stammering and fleeing off to the kitchen thing was pretty much what I should have expected.
I stood outside the kitchen, half wanting to follow Tara and half terrified of doing so, and then I heard a knock at the back door. Buffy answered it, and then I heard a familiar voice.
“Yeah, Willow mentioned the shindig. Figured we’re all part of the team.”
I plucked up my courage and went into the kitchen to greet Spike. He’d brought Clem along, like he’d said he might, and they’d brought drinks. Buffy didn’t seem all that happy to see them, but at least it didn’t look like she was going to throw them out. Still, she was being a bit cold, and so I thought I’d better make up for that.
“Hey, Spike, glad you could make it.” I gave him a great big smile and a hug. I glanced over at Tara for a second as I did that, and her eyebrows were climbing up to join her hair. “And Clem,” and I gave the wrinkly demon a little hug too. “Good to see you.”
“You too, Willow,” Clem said, grinning at me. “Hey, I brought beer and nachos.”
“That’s great,” I said, and grinned back at him.
Buffy and Tara both looked really surprised, even amazed. Like Buffy’s the only one who can have demon friends. Not any more. Their reactions gave me pretty much of a buzz.
Not that much of the rest of the party was buzz-worthy. Maybe it didn’t suck dead rats through a straw the way some of Buffy’s parties had in the past, but it wasn’t a blast.
Xander and Anya had brought along a guy from his work as a prospective date for Buffy. I didn’t see the point because, hello, Spike was right there and he already loved her and everything. Okay, so this guy Richard had the sunlight tolerance and endothermic metabolism but that was about all he had going for him. Buffy had invited someone she worked with at the DoubleMeat Palace and she was a total nebbish. She was suspicious of all the food, ‘cause she seemed to be allergic to just about every known foodstuff ‘cept maybe plankton. Although, she seemed to get on well with Clem, so not totally of the bad.
Buffy and Spike made snippy little comments at each other most of the night. Spike was sniping away at Xander’s friend Richard too, no surprise there I guess. Tara pretty much ignored me, okay, can’t blame her, but it hurt. Funny thing is, she kept making snippy little comments at Spike too. I couldn’t follow what she was on about but Spike seemed to know, even seemed to be upset by some things she said, which was a bit weird. I wondered if Tara might be jealous ‘cause of me inviting Spike. Hey, that would be a good thing, right?
So, when that guy Richard talked to me, and nodded across at Spike and asked me “Is he your boyfriend?” I thought I might have a little fun.
The first thing that came out of my mouth was “No,” but then I realized that Tara was watching. I would have said ‘I’m gay’, but I had this sudden crazy idea and I said to Richard “Not yet, anyway, we’ve only been out on one date so far.”
Only then Tara choked on her drink and went pale and scuttled off upstairs and I felt really bad. I rushed off after her and caught up with her outside the bathroom.
“Spike and me took Dawn to the movies,” I explained. “That was all. I was just teasing.”
Tara dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “You do what you want. I left you. You’re a free agent.”
“I only want you, sweetie,” I pleaded. “I know you’re not ready to take me back, I don’t deserve you, but I’m still hoping.”
“I can’t trust you,” Tara said, and then gave me a shaky sort of half smile. “Maybe one day. But, Willow, stay away from Spike.”
“He won’t hurt me,” I said, and I frowned at her. “I mean, really he won’t. We’ve gotten to be good friends this last week. We’ve been hanging out a lot, but it’s just friends. I mean, he’s in love with Buffy, so, just friends on his side too.”
Tara sighed; I think it was a sigh of relief. “Just keep that in mind.” She went into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.
I stood looking at the door for a minute but I felt really stupid and hopeless hanging around outside the bathroom waiting for her and so I gave up and went back downstairs. I couldn’t help feeling that I was outside a loop and there was something going on that I didn’t know about. That bothered me. It seemed to involve Spike, and so I thought I’d interrogate him about it. Only, I never really got the chance.
There was the big present-giving and present-opening thing, and there was cake, and board games, and a bit of drinking. Even a bit of dancing.
Xander and Anya gave Buffy a hand-crafted weapons chest that kinda upstaged everybody else. Dawnie seemed to be a bit upset and jealous. Me too, I guess, but I know I just don’t have that kind of skill, and Buffy, well, sweet girl but too fond of shiny pointy things. I knew in advance that my gift certificate for a meal wasn’t going to really ring Buffy’s bell. At least, thanks to Spike, I hadn’t gotten her a dumb vibrator.
Dumb vibrator? That kinda implies there are talky ones and, hey, that might be a good idea. I said that to Spike, and we ended up laughing and coming up with things for a vibrator to say, which was fun but meant that I never get round to asking him about what the thing with him and Buffy and Tara was all about. I danced with Spike, too. Not like Tara was going to dance with me, so why not? No need for Buffy to get sniffy, she wasn’t going to dance with Spike. Maybe she should have done.
All the board games were won by either Anya or Clem. Hey, I’m supposed to be the smart one! Clem knew all the trivia stuff; strange for a demon to be so big on TV shows and things, but I guess he just lives pretty much like a human. Anya, well, I think she’s memorized all the answer cards from ‘Trivial Pursuit’. She just takes winning too seriously. Even when it’s not for cash prizes.
Still, overall I didn’t have that bad a time. Even Buffy seemed to enjoy herself for about half the time. Nobody died, there weren’t any zombie attacks, and for one of Buffy’s parties that’s about as good as it gets.
- - - - -
For somebody who is supposed to be so smart I can be really stupid sometimes. I had nearly all the clues and I was absolutely hopeless at putting them together. I got the final clue that night, well early hours of the morning really, but I still didn’t solve the puzzle there and then.
We were clearing up after the party, Buffy and me, gathering up the dishes and washing the ones that would get all yuck if they were left, and Buffy bitched at me a bit for inviting Spike. Like it would have been much of a party without him and Clem. So I didn’t take much notice of what she was saying, just let it wash over my head, took it that she was just being Buffy. It didn’t really register on me that she kept going on and on about Spike not having a soul. Not right then, anyway.
Tuesday evening I went over to Spike’s crypt. Dawn was doing something with Janice, and Buffy was working, and Xander and Anya were all tied up in each other, and I thought me and Spike could maybe make plans to take Dawn out again. Or maybe just talk. Anyway, he was there, and he was pleased to see me. We talked about going to the movies. ‘Orange County’ was on, and I’d heard it was pretty funny, and Spike grumbled a bit and then gave in. Not like there were any real guy movies showing for him anyway; the only other movie besides ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ showing at our little not-very-Multiplex was ‘Brotherhood of the Wolf’ and I had thought that might be more of a Spike film, but he never mentioned it. Maybe he was being tactful, ‘cause of Oz. Tact never used to be Spike’s thing, but I was getting closer to him than we’d been before and maybe tact is something Spike only shows to friends.
Anyway, we talked a little bit about the party, and I said I was surprised that Buffy hadn’t been more pleased to see him. I asked him, “So, did you and Buffy have a fight, or what?”
He twitched when I said that, and looked away, and took just a little too long before he said “Not any more than usual.”
That was when it all clicked. The way he kept on saying that he was worthless ‘cause he didn’t have a soul, it was just like what Buffy had been saying to me after the party. The denial about having had a fight with Buffy, it was because it hadn’t just been with words the way I’d meant it. Suddenly I could see it in my mind. Buffy hitting him over and over again, telling him he was an evil soulless thing, beating it into his mind. That was why there had been no marks on his hands; he couldn’t have defended himself against her. I felt cold and sick.
“Spike – was it her?”
“Lost you there, pet. Was what who?”
“It was Buffy, wasn’t it? In the alley. She beat you up. Why?”
“Wasn’t Buffy,” he said. He looked down at his hands as he said it.
“Look me in the eyes and tell me it wasn’t Buffy,” I ordered.
He lifted his head and looked me in the face, and for just a second I felt relieved, but he didn’t say anything. Not with words, anyway; his face said it all. He looked sad, and sorry, and ashamed. I knew for sure then. It was Buffy who had beaten up the man, well vampire, who loved her. Beaten him so badly that he still wasn’t fully recovered a week later.
“It was her. Why? How could she do that to you?” Okay, there had been a time when hearing that Buffy had beaten up Spike wouldn’t have been any big deal. Although, even then, doing that to him would have been wrong. Staking him, yeah, but not beating him up and leaving him to die. ‘Cause he would have done, if it hadn’t been for Clem. The sun shines into that alley in the morning. Anyway, those days were long gone. Pretty much from the time he got the chip. A punch on the nose now and then, I guess that was fair enough, ‘cause Spike could be a jerk sometimes; but not what she’d done to him. I just couldn’t understand it.
Spike took his time answering. “Tried to stop her giving herself up to the cops,” he said at last. “Couldn’t persuade her. She wouldn’t listen. Started hitting me. She had a lot of anger in her. Thought if she let it out she might listen. So I told her to put it all on me.” He looked down at the floor. “And she did. Just kept hitting me and shouting at me, and then she walked off and left me there.”
I just stood and stared for a minute. I just couldn’t think of anything to say. I’d missed the whole thing when the Nerd Trio had tricked Buffy into thinking she’d killed Warren’s girlfriend; I’d been out when she went on patrol, and when she’d come back and said goodbye to Dawn I’d already been in bed and asleep. I’d gone out before they got up the next morning, when I got back from seeing to Spike they’d been gone, and the first I’d known about it was when I went over to the Magic Box after visiting Spike and giving him the microwave. The whole thing had been over by then, and everybody was busy trying to work out how the Nerds had rigged it, so I hadn’t realized for a day or two how close Buffy had come to turning herself in. Buffy hadn’t mentioned Spike at all; not even asked about him when I said that he’d been beaten up. She hadn’t even seemed all that interested, and that had bugged me a little at the time, but I put it down to her having other things to think about; well, now I knew how come she hadn’t been curious, she’d already known.
How could Buffy have done that to Spike? I felt like going over to the DoubleMeat Palace and giving her a piece of my mind only, what was I going to do? Start yelling at her in front of the customers and the other staff? Hang around waiting for her to take a break? Not like it would do any good anyway, the damage had already been done.
“Don’t cry, Red,” Spike said. He fumbled in his pockets, looking for a tissue I guess. “I’m okay. I could take it. Vampire here, enhanced healing, and you did a good job of patching me up. I’m fine now.”
I hadn’t realized I was crying, but now he mentioned it I could feel that my cheeks were damp. I took out a tissue and dabbed at them and then blew my nose. “It’s not right,” I said. “Buffy shouldn’t have treated you like that.”
“Not like I matter,” Spike said. He gave me a little smile. “Better me than one of you lot, right? I just heal right up.”
“That’s not the point, Spike. I mean, doing that to you when you were just trying to help, it’s just wrong.”
“Don’t understand right and wrong,” Spike muttered. “Learned that much. Asked the Slayer to explain but she wouldn’t. I haven’t got a soul, just can’t get a handle on it.”
“Look, just shut up about not having a soul, will you?” I told him. “See me not caring. She was wrong. There was no call for her to do that to you, whatever she was going through.”
Buffy had had ‘a lot of anger in her’, Spike had said. It struck me that the anger had been directed at me, for dragging her back from Heaven, and she’d let it out at Spike. So, something else that was my fault. Not that I could really tell him that, but I could try to make it up to him. Maybe help him get some self-respect back; the way he’d been talking since the beating he really seemed to have lost confidence in his own value.
I’d been thinking about maybe getting Spike and Buffy together ‘cause, hey, Anya has a point, everybody likes orgasms, and it might have gotten Buffy out of being all Depresso Girl; only now that didn’t seem like a good idea at all. If she wanted to work out her anger, hello, punching bag? Not somebody who loves her, vampire or not. It was about time Spike got treated like a person. I remembered Spike saying something once about Buffy treating him like a man, made him feel like one, act like one. Seems she’d stopped doing that, so maybe somebody else should do it.
“Get your coat,” I told Spike. He looked at me, head over to one side, and raised his eyebrows. “Long leather thing, sleeves, you keep your cigarettes in the pockets? Put it on. You, me, the movies. Now.”
“What, just us, no Dawn?”
“Well, yeah. Dawn’s at Janice’s for the night. Really, we spoke to Janice’s mom and everything. You and me.”
“You’re not meaning, um, a date?”
“Well, you’re a guy and you love Buffy, I’m gay and I’m in love with Tara, so, well, it’s maybe not so much a date. But if anybody asks, yeah, it’s a date.”
Spike looked down at his chest. “In that case I’ll put a clean shirt on, Red. Give us a minute to get tidied up, okay?” He disappeared down into the lower level and came back up a few minutes later looking pretty smart, for Spike. He grabbed his coat and slipped it on. “This a plan to get Tara jealous, then, pet?”
“Well, I had a little try at the party and it didn’t work out that well,” I told him, “so I’m not holding out any hopes. Maybe it might make Buffy jealous? Mainly I’m just thinking the two of us, done some bad things, not feeling too good, maybe we could use a little fun. Can’t hurt, right?”
“Bloody near anything can hurt in Sunnyhell, love, but I reckon it’s worth a shot. We going to see ‘Orange County’, then, Red? Thought we were seeing that with Dawn.”
“Hey, if it’s good we can see it twice, if it’s not good then we save Dawn the trouble. Or, maybe we should see ‘Brotherhood of the Wolf’.”
So we did.