Joyce was propped up in the front, Buffy sitting in the back but hanging over her mother's seat as Spike pushed hard on the accelerator. After an agonizing delay in the emergency room, Joyce was finally admitted, and Spike and Buffy were led to the waiting room on the same floor. She slumped down on the love-seat, knowing that someone else had - temporarily - taken responsibility for her mother, and that she didn't have to be strong for the moment. She couldn't relax, however, and she suddenly bolted upright. "Oh, damn it! Spike, do you have any change? I need to call home and leave a message for Dawn that we're here, and my money is in the pants that I changed out of for training."
"Easy, love, don't fret," he soothed softly, recognizing her stream of words as a return to panicked babbling. "I've got a quarter." She charged out of her seat towards the pay phone and left a completely unintelligible message on the machine.
She returned and sat stiffly next to Spike. After a moment he ran a cool hand over her hair, murmuring, "Come on, pet, relax. There's nothing for you to fight at the moment. Take advantage of the lull, and be able to show your mum a cheerful face when she walks out of that room." She nodded, and her adrenaline seemed to bleed right out of her; she sagged against his left side, and he put a cautious arm around her, shifting so that she was more comfortable.
She was so still that he thought she'd fallen asleep, but then she spoke. "Thank you, Spike," she whispered, her lips directly above his heart.
"You're more than welcome, love. Now rest."
She nodded sleepily, but continued talking. "I'm glad Dawn didn't have to deal with this. I don't know what she would have done."
"Oh, she's a big girl. She'd have come through, right enough. She knows how to get things done," he said, unaware of how much affection was betrayed by his voice.
Buffy heard it, and tilted her head and pushed back a bit until she could catch his eyes without straining her neck. "You seem awfully fond of Dawn. What's the deal? And what's with all those nicknames you have for her?"
"Not to worry, Slayer, Little Bite-Size is not on my grocery list. I just like her, is all." As Buffy still didn't look satisfied, he sighed and admitted, "And she reminds me of my sister."
"What?!? I didn't know that you had a sister! Spill, Spike. What was she like, what was her name, is she a vamp too, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." Her curiosity was winning out over the dread for her mother, and he decided to indulge her.
"No, she's not a vampire. She died not long before I did. We were almost-twins, two children born the same year, ten months apart; I was the younger one. We might as well have been twins, though; we looked so much alike when we were little. She had long brown hair and wide blue eyes, just like Dawn, but a totally different facial structure. Dawn's face is rounder, a little softer of feature. But the Niblet reminds me of her anyway - they have the same spirit, the same determination."
"So what was her name?" He shifted a little, not sure why he was holding that back. It wasn't as though her name - or the memory of his family - was some sort of talisman to be held onto in the harsh light of day, in the hopes that the happiness he had known with them would return . . . was it? "Spike . . ." Buffy prodded, waiting not very patiently.
"Her name was Stella," he finally answered.
"It's a pretty name," she mused.
"I used to call her mica mica parva stella," he continued - in for a penny, in for a pound.
"That's . . . not so pretty," Buffy teased gently, waiting for the explanation to continue.
"'Stella' means star, Slayer, and 'mica mica parva stella' is the first line of Latin my da ever taught me: 'twinkle twinkle little star.'"
"Oh, so you had a whole family tree? Tell me about them," she said, shifting so that her back was pressed against one of the armrests, drawing her right leg up to lie flat on the cushion, leaving her left leg dangling in front of the couch. Spike moved to mirror her, and their shins pressed against each other.
He met her eyes, trying to read her thoughts. "It's not that exciting, Slayer, I assure you," he started, pausing when he saw only interest in her eyes, and perhaps a touch of compassion as well. Nothing on earth would make him deliver his treasure - his memory of his dead family - to someone who wouldn't understand that it was something precious. But her eyes were saying all the right things, and he loved her. "Are you sure? It's a long story."
"No, I want to know," she said, surprising herself with her sincerity, "and, you know, we have plenty of time before we hear anything about my mom," she added, her forced smile hinting at sadness.
"My father's name was Robert Marlowe . . ." he broke off to smile at her, as he could practically see the wheels in her head turn as she filed away his last name for future reference, ". . . and he had a fairly normal childhood, I suppose. Not aristocracy, of course, but sort of gentry, raised to work but also to have a gentleman's tastes. The only work he ever wanted to do was to be a scholar, so he went off to Oxford and took a First in classics."
"So, he was, like, Giles-y?"
"No," he denied quickly, but then considered and recanted. "Yes, I suppose. But . . ." he trailed off, suddenly unsure of what he wanted to say. "In any case, he had his degree, and no idea what use he could make of it. He had just enough money not to work, but he loved what he had studied. He finally heard that positions as private tutors were available in London, so he set off for the city. He stayed at his uncle's house, and it turned out he was just in time for their twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. All sorts of relations showed up, including my mum. Elizabeth Dashwood. She was a niece on the other side; my parents had a cousin in common. Every time he told this story, Da used to swear that as soon as he saw her everyone else seemed to fade. It wasn't just her looks; it was the way she carried herself, the way she unwittingly made every social blunder in the book, the way she had of saying what she thought. And she couldn't flirt worth a damn. She was terrible at it. He said that's why he went over to her, to save her from making a complete fool of herself with one of his cousin's friends. But by the time he reached her side, she'd clearly put her foot in it, saying something that would have been treason coming from a man."
"What? Wait, Spike, hang on. What did she say? What do you mean, treason?"
"Well, saying Indians ought to be allowed to govern themselves. She was born there. Her father worked for the East India Company. He got married to a proper girl, but neglected to tell her that's where they would be living. She was none too pleased. She had a child - my mum - within a year of arriving in Bombay, and took to her bed after that. A lot of women did that in those days, but I don't know how many took it to the extreme that she did. She simply refused to hear about anything that had to do with the world outside of her bedroom door. My mum grew up with pretty much no supervision, playing with the servants' children, learning Indian games and songs and stories and dances. Her father was too involved in his work, and her mum was of no bloody use, and she had no governess, so she grew up on her own. She wasn't even properly educated, but she loved to read, and during monsoon season she sat and read all day long. Her parents died when she was eighteen, of a fever that swept through the city; she nursed them both but lost them in the end. Her mother's older sister wrote and offered her a home, and she sailed for England. She wasn't exactly what anyone was expecting." He smiled, picturing her young, independent, alone. "She horrified them."
"What did she do?" Buffy wanted to know, unable to narrow down the list of what would have elicited horror from proper Victorian ladies.
"Well, she was dark-skinned, Slayer."
"Living in India, staying out in the sun, had darkened her skin and lightened her hair. Her aunt said she looked like a perfect heathen, and started pressing powder onto her immediately. But she was just too dark; it must have looked awful on her. Anyhow, she was instant scandal. Humming Indian songs, dancing along, all of that. But the dam burst when she said she thought the stories in the Bible were nice, but not as exciting as the tales of Krishna and the other gods." A smile began to form on his lips. "She told us that all you could hear for a moment was thud after thud as her aunt and cousins fainted left and right." He looked like he wanted to burst with laughter too.
"It all ended up with Da marrying her. He called her his golden girl on account of her complexion, and he said she made all the society beauties, painted holding white roses next to their skin to show off their own pallor, look dead. He loved her."
"So it was happily ever after?" Buffy asked, surprised, not knowing if her surprise was caused by the idea that a Victorian marriage could be happy, or the knowledge that Spike was a child of love.
"Well, not the way you're thinkin', Slayer. He loved her, and she loved him, but like friends, like the way you an' Red love each other. They were more best friends than melodramatic lovers. They were comfortable with each other. My da had never expected to meet a woman he could talk to - about books, ideas, anything - the way he'd talk to another man, and my mum had thought no man would understand how much the freedom of her old life had meant to her. They just fit together. They were happy." She smiled, letting him know with her face that she understood. He gleamed in appreciation at her, and she curled up against him once more, ready at last to relax.
"Sir? Sir?" a voice repeated insistently. Spike, lost in thought, smoothing back the slayer's hair, snapped into awareness, trying hard to ignore the pliant warmth of Buffy as she leaned against him in sleep. He turned to locate the voice. "Sir, we're going to be keeping Mrs. Summers here overnight. Why don't you and the young lady go home, and we'll give you a call when she's ready to be picked up," the voice said softly, trying to be soothing but sounding only impatient and overtired.
"Yes, all right," he replied finally, trying furiously to decode the words, needing to know if there was bad news hidden under the calming tones. He turned to wake Buffy but couldn't bring himself to do it. He scooped her up easily and minutes later he was tucking her into her own bed. He made his way back downstairs and into the kitchen, noting the answering machine blinking. He pushed play. All he heard at first was Buffy's garbled, hysterical voice. The machine cut her off, and Dawn's voice came on.
"Mom? Wendy wants to know if I can sleep over. It's Friday, so please, can I? I told Wendy's mom that you'd call to say yes . . . or no. Love you. Bye." Spike sighed a little in relief, thankful that the Niblet was being spared what Buffy was going through. As big a girl as he knew she was, she was still pretty young. //Buffy's not much older, and look at all she deals with// an inner voice piped up. Nothing could change the fact that she was the slayer. //Poor girl. But I guess that's destiny.//
Buffy slept for hours, awakening only when her internal alarm informed her it was time to patrol. She stretched lazily, like a kitten in sunshine, before springing out of bed and nearly tripping over Spike. He was sitting in the hallway outside her room, back against the wall, phone an inch from his hand. His eyes were closed, but they slid open at her less than graceful approach.
"Spike?" she questioned. "Why are we at home?"
"Your mum's staying in hospital overnight. They told us to go home and wait for a phone call," he replied as gently as he knew how.
Her face fell immediately; she'd imagined that her mother was safe and sound in her own room, sleeping off whatever medicine she'd been given. "Oh."
"And the little one's at a friend's house and wants to spend the night. There's a message from 'er."
"Okay, you call and say it's okay. I'm going to shower and then to patrol. I really need to hit something right now . . . preferably with a stake." He nodded, not seeing a threat to his own well-being in her menacing words; at first she was surprised, but as she headed for the bathroom, she realized she really hadn't meant him at all.
The phone rang at ten the next morning. Buffy hurled herself at the ringing instrument, nearly colliding with Spike, who was sleepily shuffling over to get it. "Hello? Hello?" But it was only a telemarketer, interested in switching the Summers women's long-distance carrier. Spike saw Buffy's face cloud over in confusion; she couldn't understand what the words "AT&T" had to do with her mother's condition.
He snatched the phone from her hand, listened for a moment, then barked into the receiver, "Stop tying up the bloody line! If and when she needs you and sodding AT&T, she'll give you a call!" He slammed the phone down, only to have it ring again. It was the hospital; he handed the phone to Buffy immediately and took a step back. She turned to face him and took hold of the sleeve of his black t-shirt.
He paused, and she nodded up at him, but he had no idea what that was supposed to mean. She hung up, her expression uncertain, and informed him, "They're ready to release her, but they want to talk to us." He nodded and grabbed his car keys off the coffee table, thoughts shamefully alternating between concern for Joyce's well-being and a little whisper of joy that Buffy had said "us."
Buffy maintained physical contact with Spike throughout the drive and even once inside the hospital. She didn't seem to be aware that she was doing it, and the state of her nerves was worrying him. Right now she had a finger threaded through one of his belt loops as if she had been told that the buddy system was the only way she'd make it out of the hospital alive.
As they approached the nurses' station, he drew her hand away from his waistband and held it loosely in his own. "We're here to pick up Joyce Summers. The doctor wanted to talk to us," he informed the pretty, slender nurse on duty. She nodded briskly, competently, and led them down the hall to Joyce's room. Joyce lay on the bed, looking startlingly fragile and drawn, her eyes tired.
He tugged at Buffy's hand to bring her to his side and then pushed her gently ahead of him, releasing her. But she clutched blindly at him, and so he stepped into the room as well, instead of waiting out in the hallway as he'd intended. Her grip on him was bruising, but her voice was light as she faced her mother. "So, Mom? Ready to go?"
"Almost, honey. The doctor says there's something we should know. He should be here any minute. Where's Dawn? Hi, Spike."
"Dawn spent the night at Wendy's. Don't worry about that - we'll pick her up on our way home. How are you? Are you feeling better?" Again, the ease of her voice belied the pressure of her fingers on his forearm, and he understood that his flesh was all she could grasp of reality.
Dr. Isaacs came in and closed the door behind him, gesturing for Buffy to sit down in the hard plastic chair in the corner. She shook her head briefly and faced him straight on. He talked for a few minutes, his voice low and concerned, but all she could hear was "brain tumor." She hoped Spike was paying attention, because she couldn't. The two words echoed in her head, growing frustratingly louder each time, and time seemed to drag to a near-halt. She saw motes of dust as they fell onto her mother's blanket, she heard the rasp of one of her mother's labored breaths, she felt Spike's arm, cool and malleable under her fingers. She looked at the doctor with wide, uncomprehending eyes. He had shifted his gaze to Spike and was continuing his diagnosis, his list of danger signs, of symptoms, of what needed to be done to care for her mother. Spike was memorizing every word.
Buffy watched her mother change out of the hospital gown, feeling off-balance without Spike's arm for support. She tried to shake herself out of her fogginess. She smiled at her mother, and was relieved beyond measure when she smiled back. "Honey? It's going to be fine. Didn't you hear what he said? It's operable - they caught it early. Thanks to you. You insisted that I come down here." She paused, noting Buffy's uneasy silence, and teased, "You get a gold star." Buffy smiled wanly at the familiar joke, put an arm around her mother's waist, and they left the room together.
Spike was pacing in tight figure eights in the hallway; he stopped abruptly when he saw them. His body was tense, and he stood perfectly straight, almost at attention, as Joyce came down the hall. Buffy looked down at his arm and could see four purplish smudges on it where her fingers had dug into his flesh, marring the pale expanse of skin. He looked taut, coiled to spring, muscles bunched but ready to ripple smoothly. He started toward Joyce, holding out his arm in an oddly formal gesture. She took it, smiling slightly, and he handed Buffy the car keys so she could run ahead and have her mother's door open. Just before they stepped outside, he murmured to Joyce, "Now, it's bloody hot outside. Might make you feel a bit dizzy. You just take your time and hold on to me. We'll get you home." She wrapped a weak arm around his cool waist, and let him guide her to the car and to Buffy.
Buffy was taking inventory of the people in the house. She had a feeling she'd be doing that a lot from now on, if only to calm herself down. Dawn was upstairs in her room, probably writing about the hospital visit and the sleepover in her diary, her mother was in the shower, and Spike was sitting at the kitchen table, writing earnestly on a yellow legal pad. He didn't notice her approach until she spoke. "Spike? What are you doing?" His handwriting was incongruously beautiful, even upside down. She remembered that he'd been educated in the nineteenth century; penmanship probably counted for a lot.
"I'm writin' down everything the doc said, so that you don't need to keep running to the crypt. I wasn't sure how much you . . ." he trailed off, not wanting to make her feel under any obligation to him.
"Heard? Understood?" she asked bitterly. "Not much. I was too busy freaking out."
"Easy, Slayer. It's hard to hear when it's your own mum that's bein' discussed. You were there when she needed you."
"So were you," she responded quickly, knowing she probably wouldn't say the words later. He looked surprised, then shrugged, as if he were just a worker doing the job he'd been paid for.
"Now," he said as he stood up to go, "I'll drive you to hospital, should your mum need it, day or night. Just come get me."
"No," she said, "I'll call you," and handed him her cell phone. He met her eyes as he eased into his duster and slipped the phone into its pocket. He looked down at the pad and back up at her, signaling her to read what he'd written. She bent her head to read, and saw a neat list of all the things that Dr. Isaacs had said. At the bottom, underlined twice, were the words "Doc says she'll be fine." She looked up to thank him, but he'd already slipped out of the house.
Buffy did a quick daytime patrol with Willow and Xander, since the clouds hadn't budged and no sunlight filtered through. She lagged behind in the conversation, her face and voice displaying none of the animation of her two best friends. "Buffy? What's wrong? You haven't said a word since we got out here," Willow asked anxiously.
"Nothing," she replied pensively, the memory of her mother's overtired face filling her mind to the exclusion of nearly everything else. //I need to reread Spike's list. How am I supposed to take care of her and be on constant patrol too?// She said nothing, not wanting to talk about it until she straightened it all out in her head.
Xander smiled, thinking he understood her absent-mindedness. "Isn't Riley coming home tonight? Are you planning something special?"
"What? No, not really. I guess maybe the Bronze . . ." she broke off, her nerves tingling, and spun around. Two lumbering vampires were heading for them, believing they were an easy kill. Buffy's impatience at the vamps' slowness abruptly got the better of her. She threw a stake with a flick of her wrist and the smaller of the two was transformed into a pile of dust. //That was too quick// some hurting part of her mind said. //Better make this other one count.// Before Willow or Xander could utter a rebuke or warning, she had launched herself at the larger, darkerhaired vampire, the heel of her hand cracking sharply on his jaw, making his head snap up. She kicked at his gut while he was disoriented, breaking his nose with one hand. She was moving with nearly blinding speed, weakening the vamp, letting out some of her pain and frustration on his bruised and battered form. Just as tears started to rise in her eyes, she pulled out a stake and plunged it into his heart. She swayed a little on her feet, emotions and adrenaline doing battle inside her even as the oppressive heat clouded the air around her. She pulled herself together with a monumental effort and turned to face her friends. "I don't think we'll be seeing any more vamps for awhile, do you?"
They both shook their heads, looking worried. "I could really use some air-conditioning. Let's go to the shop," Buffy suggested.
Willow immediately looked better, and Xander's face brightened at the thought of seeing Anya, flushed and happy because Giles had left her in charge for the weekend. //What have I done?// she asked herself silently as they headed for the shop, barely listening to Xander and Willow chatting. //I've never tortured a vamp before. Killed them, yes. Made bad jokes, yes. But hurt one when I could have easily staked it? This thing with Mom is really getting to me// she realized grimly. //At least there's a phone in the shop. I'll be able to call home.//
"Oh good it's you," Dawn said when she heard Buffy's voice over the phone. "I'm on the other line with the hospital. They said that if we bring Mom in today, at six, they can do some of the other tests."
"Why, is she feeling bad again?" Buffy asked, guilt flooding her body. //Oh God, I shouldn't have left the house. Xander and Willow could have handled patrol. Now this is going to be my fault . . .//
"No, I don't think so. She's up, she looks fine. The hospital just said that the machines for these tests are usually booked, but they had a cancellation, so they can take Mom today," Dawn answered.
"Cancellation? As in someone died?" Buffy asked sharply, her voice rising in panic.
"Oh my God, I . . . I don't know. They didn't say." Dawn's voice began to shake as Buffy's words forced her to realize her sister's worst fear.
"Never mind. That was a dumb question," Buffy hastened to respond. "Just get back on the line with them and tell them we'll be there at six. I'll be home soon."
She stood outside Spike's crypt; her feet, having taken her this far, refused to walk the final few steps that would bring her to him. She looked around, feeling a bit dazed by the events of the weekend. She smiled a bit when she saw that he'd hung house numbers on the front door of the crypt, in a bizarre domestic fit: 666. She saw a few scattered cigarette butts on the ground. She could see a slightly worn patch of grass, trod everyday by the heavy boots he wore. She took a step forward and heard fragments of a melody. She lifted her foot to kick open the door and then stopped. She was here as a friend; or rather, he had offered her friendship, and she ought to live up to it. She knocked instead. He was wearing a carefully bored expression as he opened the door, and it vanished as soon as he recognized her. "Is it your mum?" he asked, reading her downcast face.
"Sort of," she said, trying in vain to produce a smile. "Can I come in?" Wordlessly, he stepped back, holding the door wide open, and she ducked beneath his outstretched arm. As he pushed it shut, the music began again.
He saw her looking at the record player and went over and turned the volume down. "I didn't hear the phone ring, pet, I'm sorry. I thought vamp hearing would be enough . . ." he trailed off when he realized she wasn't moving, that there was no urgency in her, just a slow, dull ache.
"That's really nice," she said, pointing toward the record player with her chin in a gesture that brought Joyce sharply back into his mind. She looked up at him, her face completely blank, offering no clue about her muddled thoughts.
"It's Bach," he said, to break the silence growing larger and larger between them. "Cello Suites
She nodded once, as if to indicate that the information was being filed away in the appropriate place. "So . . . what's the situation with your mum? Do you need me to take you to hospital?"
"Later. At six tonight. They're going to run some test. Can you . . . ?"
"Six is fine," he soothed her. He'd have time to catch a nap, have a bag of blood, and then go over to Revello Drive. He saw her shoulders sag briefly as if some great weight had been lifted from them, and he started to smile at her, to reassure her that she wasn't alone. He stopped when she bowed her head again, looking for all the world as if she'd just been beaten. //There's something else - something besides her mum - eating at her// he finally realized. He waited for her to speak, frowning when she simply stood in front of him, looking miserable.
Just as he opened his mouth to ask what else was wrong, she looked up, said "Thanks, Spike," and turned on her heel. He closed his mouth only when the door of the crypt clicked shut.
She walked into the house and saw her mother's smiling face. "Hi, sweetie. Are you in the mood for Chinese? I had promised Dawn a take-out night in front of the TV, before the hospital called. We decided that we'd just make it a late lunch. I sent her to get it; I think she needed to get out of the house for a bit," Joyce said, reading the anxiety in Buffy's eyes. "Don't worry, I feel fine. I'm sure this test is just a formality - Dr. Isaacs said it was to gauge when my operation should be."
"Spike's going to take us over for the appointment," Buffy said, proud that her voice remained steady. "He'll be by probably around five."
Joyce just smiled again. "I'd invite him over to share the food, but something tells me he wouldn't really enjoy it. I'm just going to eat and then take a nap. You look like you could probably use one too."
Buffy relaxed at her mother's joke, and felt the tiredness wash over her in waves. "I think you're right, Mom. As a matter of fact, if Dawn doesn't get here soon, I'm going to fall asleep right here. You'd better catch me." She sat next to her mother on the couch, leaning her head against that comforting, warm shoulder, feeling her mother's deep, even breaths reverberate through her head. They stayed that way until Dawn walked in holding yellow plastic bags filled with white cartons of food.
Dawn protested, tears in her eyes. "But why can't I come with you, Mom? I want to be there at the hospital for you!"
"Sweetie, I just don't think it's necessary. I feel bad enough making Buffy come. I'd like to think that one
of my daughters is not ruining her Saturday night plans. Just go do whatever it was you were going to do. Just - no sleepovers, and no staying out past ten. Deal?"
Dawn looked to Buffy for help, but Buffy simply nodded at her in a way that meant to give up and just listen to their mother. "Fine," she muttered, then relented and caught her mother in a tight embrace. "I was just going to have Wendy and Heather over anyway."
"That's my girl," Joyce smiled down at her, smoothing back Dawn's hair, frizzy from the humidity. "And no using my name to rent a dirty movie."
"I never!" Dawn began indignantly, then smiled sheepishly as she recognized the joke as her mother's way of easing her mind. "Don't worry, Mom, the triple-X video store is too far to walk to, especially in this heat," she smirked prettily.
Spike and Buffy were sitting on the same damn couch, waiting for the test to be over. Spike at least was more relaxed than he had been the last time, having seen Joyce's clear and untroubled face, knowing there was no pain for her at the moment. He watched Buffy fidget restlessly, her nimble fingers picking at the ancient fabric of the couch, pulling it apart in frustration.
"Talk to me, Spike," she finally asked, not caring how pathetic she sounded; she needed a warm and caring voice in her ear, even if it were only spouting inanities.
"What do you want to hear?" he asked, forcing her to think about something, anything other than her mother and the newfound vulnerability she represented.
"Um . . . I don't know." She looked down and saw the bruises on his arm, saw where she had marked him with her pain. Something in the back of her mind clicked. //He said he was a geeky poet when he was turned. But what kind of poet has muscles like he's got? It's not like he could suddenly go the vampire gym and bulk up - you stay the way you are when you're turned.// "Tell me about your life life - I mean what you were like, and what you did, before you were turned."
"I thought we covered this already," he said, suddenly wary; he'd seen the wrinkling of the nose that usually accompanied deep thought on her part, and he knew she would no longer be satisfied with the bad-poet story he'd given her.
"Come on, Spike," she said, rolling her eyes, "I am taking a poetry class. No way was Keats in the kind of shape you're in. What were you really doing?"
He sighed, resigning himself to spilling the truth. "My mum insisted that we - Stella and I, both - do something with ourselves. She didn't want us to just sit around, wait for the proper match, grow old, and die. Not that Stella would have been the proper maiden in any case - she was a right hellion." He grinned at the memories. "But me - I don't know. Perhaps I would have been ordinary, the sort of quiet scholar my da had been, but my mum wouldn't hear of it. She was all for book-learning, but she said nothing would change if all the smart people stayed home and read all day. Anyhow, Stella got involved in hospital reform, and when she came home from the meetings at hospital, stories would just pour out of her, about all the suffering she'd seen. It was like she was dying from the pain, but she was more alive too, because she was useful, she was making a difference. She came home one day covered in filth, smelling like a sewer. She said that a little boy had come to hospital, frantic because his mum was dying, and he just grabbed Stella's skirt and tugged. She went with him, and he took her to his room in the slums. There were twenty people all sharing the one room, and the boy's mother was lying in one corner. Stella said the air was stale and thick with illness; all she could do for the woman was hold her hand as she died. She covered the woman's face and asked what should be done, but no one answered her. She said no matter how many times she asked, no one wanted to answer her questions. But she came home so angry at the way those people had to live . . ." his voice trailed off, picturing the ugly scene her words had painted for him so long ago. "I was at university, and I knew some of the boys that fancied themselves revolutionaries. I went to one of their meetings and said something about what Stella had seen, but they didn't want to hear it. They said certain things weren't meant to be changed, that the poor were poor for a reason, and that I was starting to sound like the crackpots who wrote for that radical newspaper The Fortunates
. So of course that was my next stop. I began to write for them, do the kind of work they were doing. We did what you'd now call investigative journalism, doin' our best to expose the evils that society turned a blind eye to, that sort of thing. My first project was to discover more about the people Stella had seen. I wanted to know what kind of landlord would permit such squalor, such a breeding-ground for disease; I didn't realize how common such a situation was. It took me weeks, followin' people, talkin' to servants, but I finally was able to trace the ownership of the building to one of the richest, most well-respected men in London, Jerome Whitely. It made me sick; here he was, eating off fine china and dressed in silk, when he took all the money these people had and gave them one corner of a dirty, unventilated room. I'd never felt anything like the rage that coursed through me as I wrote my story. I came home with a copy of the paper and read it for my mum and Stella. They were so proud of me; Mum started to cry as she said Da would have been too. So it was the three of us against the world, fighting for things we believed in. We used to come home every night and share stories about Stella's hospital, my latest piece, or Mum's experiences as a suffragette. We had it good for a few years." He swallowed, remembering the feeling of camaraderie they'd shared . . . and how deeply he'd betrayed it.
"What, Spike? What happened next?" Buffy asked softly, surprised by the pain on his face. There was a long silence. Finally, he spoke.
"My mum died," he said harshly. "She was sick, and she just kept getting weaker and weaker. None of the doctors could figure out what was wrong with her. It was scary, seein' her look pale for the first time, seein' her just sitting there instead of doing something. But she held out for longer than anybody thought she could; she was that strong. After she died, my work seemed unimportant. It was Stella who kept me going; she said that we had each other, that we'd be honoring Mum's memory only if we continued our work. She said she'd never leave me. But then three months later, she was dead too." He drew his breath in sharply, surprised at how much it hurt to be telling this story, telling it for the first time. "She was coming back from hospital. She was crossing Union Street, when a horse took fright at something and trampled her. She was dead before I got to see her. And it was just me. Alone." He sat back, his eyes closed tightly against the pain.
She couldn't just sit there, ignoring his grief, but patting him on the shoulder or arm was hardly adequate. She reached over and pulled him half onto her; his forehead was pressed against her collarbone and his arm was draped loosely around her waist. She made soothing noises and stroked his hair until she felt him relax. He rolled recklessly away from her, flinging aside the arm that had encircled her, and resumed his story without opening his eyes. "I stopped working completely. I just wanted to get away from anything that brought my mum and Stella back to mind. And then I met her. Cecily. She seemed so fragile, so untouchable. She was as different from my mum and sister as it was possible to be; to me, that simply meant that she wouldn't die and leave me. I pursued her, writing her bad poetry, wanting to court her properly. But I wasn't important enough for her. The night she finally, openly rejected me, I met Dru. And she was so easy to love . . ."
Buffy tensed beside him, willing herself to keep quiet, but her mutinous mouth disobeyed the SHUT UP order her brain was handing down. "What?!? How could she be 'easy to love'? She's crazy, Spike, remember? She has tea parties with a damn doll! And she left you, for Angel, even after you'd taken care of her!" Buffy cried out desperately, not understanding why she was so worked up. Yes, Dru had taken Angelus back into her bed, but Buffy had already lost him at that point, at the moment he'd lost his soul.
Spike's face hardened. "Yeah, Slayer, Dru was crazy, but it was your precious Angel who made her that way. By the time he got through with her, she was lost. But there were moments when she found her way again, and those moments made everything else worthwhile. And the rest of the time, she was like a child, hurt but still trusting. How could anyone with any feeling at all not love her?" He quieted, then added, as if it were an afterthought, "And she loved me too."
"But how can you say that if she went back to Angel?" Buffy was almost pleading.
His face was grim. "I know she loved me, Slayer. Me. But she was . . . helpless . . . before Angel. He had a sort of thrall thing over her; it's something that most vamps can only do with a childe."
"So how do you know that you loved her - really loved her? Maybe you were just under her thrall."
Spike sort of smiled. "No, you see, I didn't really have a sire. She knew that Angelus would destroy any childe of hers; he didn't want anybody taking her attention away from him. So she drained me, but then pretended to collapse just as it was my turn to drink from her. Angelus was spying on her and he saw her fall. My neck had the marks of her turning-bite - it was different from a killing-bite - so he couldn't just let me die. I was turned by her drinking me and me drinking the blood in his veins. So I was caught between two sires, neither bond strong enough for the thrall. And Dru knew that, having half-sired me, Angelus would feel bound to keep me. So he mostly left me alone, aside from forcing himself on me a few times, instead of torturing me as much as he'd've liked. And Dru and I had all the time in the world to fall in love." There was something in his eyes that made her breath catch in her throat. "We were happy, Slayer. We had each other for more than a century."
Buffy could tell that he meant it. He had been secure in Dru's love. She swallowed back tears; Spike's words had made her consider who Dru really was, and she saw with awful clarity how monstrously cruel Angelus had been. She wanted to let him know she understood. She smiled faintly at him and asked, "So . . . did you two have a song?"
He rolled his eyes at her, glad to be back on less emotionally charged ground. "We were together for more than a hundred years, love. We had lots of songs."
"Yeah, but wasn't there one that seemed more right than the others? Which one was your favorite?"
He took his time, considering. "Well, there was one . . . but it's more about her than about us."
"What was it?" she asked with surprising eagerness.
"'And She Was' - Talking Heads," he replied.
"Hey!" she protested.
"Now what, Slayer?"
"I like that song! That can't be Dru's song!"
"Too bloody bad. The first time I heard it, I knew it fit her - beautiful, crazy, intuitive. And there was one part" - he grinned salaciously - "that we made fit after we heard it." He sang a little of the song, softly, reliving good memories: "And she was drifting through the backyard, and she was takin' off her dress, and she was moving very slowly, rising up above the earth."
Buffy found herself blushing faintly at his suggestive tone, but she forced herself to look unaffected as he turned his eyes her way once more.
She didn't really want to dispel his newfound contentment, but her curiosity was overpowering. "So what happened with you guys, Spike? Why aren't you still with her?"
His smile faded, and she inwardly cursed her runaway tongue. "It just got to be too much for me, Slayer. I mean, I knew she loved me, that the Angelus fixation wasn't really her, but it hurt too bloody much to see her with him, mooning over him, blocked from even thinking about me. I couldn't be second best - not with her, the one girl I'd really loved. I got her away from him, but I couldn't make myself feel the same towards her, especially since the thrall hadn't been broken. She kept crying out for him . . ." he choked a little over the words, "and all I could do was take care of her. That's as close as she let me come to her. And after that it didn't matter what her song was," he finished, something lonely and sad creeping into his eyes.
Buffy was shocked to find herself wanting to comfort him once more, to hold him tenderly and reassure him he wasn't alone. She found herself wanting to rationalize the fact that he was a vampire, a killer. "Is that when you started killing just to kill, not just to feed?" she asked, offering him an out, already nodding in silent agreement with her own theory.
"What? No. Buffy," he said firmly, once he got over his surprise, "I started killing as soon as I was turned. It was the first time I'd felt power - real power. For all the stories I wrote, nothing much really changed. But once I was turned, I made things change. I killed Jerome Whitely that night. I only attacked people callous to the suffering of others. That kept me busy for quite some time."
Beside him, Buffy relaxed a bit. //Sure, it would have been great if he hadn't killed anybody in cold blood. But I guess the next best thing is this, him being the Robin Hood of vampires.//
He saw her relief and pushed on, unwilling to lie to her, to trick her into loving him. He forced himself to enunciate, every word, as clear and vibrant as the tone of a church-bell, dropping into the space between them. "But somewhere along the way, Buffy, I discovered I liked killing, and soon it stopped mattering who was on the receiving end of my bite."
She was clearly shaken, but she lifted her chin and launched into her best junior-Watcher lecture. "The demon inside you was what wanted to kill, Spike. Not you. You . . ."
"No," he cut her off without compunction. "It was me. The demon just made it easier for me to kill, but I was the one that wanted to do it."
She felt lost, like she was drowning, and there wasn't a lifeline in sight. It felt like he was pushing her head further underwater when he said, "You need to know, Buffy." He hesitated. "You need to know what I really am," he was saying when suddenly his eyes softened at something over her shoulder and he stood up, smiling slightly. Buffy turned to see her mother being wheeled down the hall toward them.
Buffy helped her mother up the stairs and into bed, glad that the house was quiet. Dawn had left a note saying that she'd gone out for iced coffee with her friends, and that she'd be back, alone, by nine. Buffy stalked into the den and sat on the couch, shoulders tense, as she thought through everything Spike had said as they waited for her mother's test to be over. She tried to sort it all out in her head, but she couldn't concentrate. Once she had the carton of ice cream that Willow had brought over in her hand, however, she found she was able to think a bit more rationally. Much of what he'd said sounded startlingly familiar to her - he'd had a mother and sister that he loved beyond measure, he'd dedicated much of his life and unlife to fighting the good fight. //Where, then, do we differ? Obviously, I've never been a vampire. And I certainly haven't been able to have a long-term relationship, like he has.// She smiled bitterly at the thought. //And I've never killed out of the joy of killing.// But she knew even as she thought this last bit that she was lying. //When I was patrolling with Will and Xander, I relished that last kill. I wanted to keep hurting that vamp. Spike was right - it was him, not the demon. I know, because I've done it too.// Hot tears flowed down her cheeks and into the ice cream, and the admission seemed to break the tightness in her chest that had been crushing her for so long.
She stopped crying only when she heard Dawn's key being pushed into the lock on the front door. She hastily wiped her eyes, tossed the ice cream carton in the trash, and went to the door. Dawn was cursing the lock under her breath when Buffy pulled the door open. "I forgot to lock it when I came in. That's why your key wouldn't turn," Buffy explained as her sister walked in.
"She's fine. We'll have to go back at some point to hear the results, but right now she seems okay. She's even planning on going into the gallery tomorrow, at least for a little while."
Dawn smiled, reassured, not noticing in the dim hall light the redness of Buffy's eyes. "Good. Do you think she's asleep? Or can I go talk to her?" Dawn asked.
"Why don't you go on up and see. I'm going out to patrol. I'll be back in a few hours." She armed herself and stepped out into the humid air.
She was efficient but not brutal on patrol, dusting vamps left and right. //The more of them I stake at night, the fewer Will and Xander have to deal with during the day.// She moved like a well-oiled machine, and with about the same level of enthusiasm; there was no banter tonight as she did her job methodically. She had finished her rounds when she spotted Willow in the distance - there was no mistaking that red hair. "Will!" she called and jogged in her direction, suddenly wanting to let everything that had happened that weekend spill out of her. She pulled up short when she saw another girl with Willow, and automatically concealed the stake she was carrying.
"Buffy! Hi! This is Tara, from my Wicca group. Tara, this is Buffy. She's my best friend." Buffy smiled and gave Tara a friendly nod, inwardly screaming in frustration that Willow hadn't been alone. Willow could see that Buffy was tense, not with the anticipatory tightness she got when she was patrolling, but in a bad way. Pulling Buffy aside, the witch asked "Is everything okay? Where have you been all day?"
Buffy softened a bit at her friend's evident concern, but only responded, "Nothing urgent. We'll talk tomorrow. Go have fun with your friend. I'll see you at the shop after you and Xander do a daytime sweep, okay?"
She turned away, and was surprised when Willow caught her arm a minute later. "Tara said you looked really upset, and that she'd take a rain check on our . . . plans. Why don't we talk now?" Buffy nodded in relief, and Willow steered them both to her room. "So . . ." Willow began, and was interrupted by a rush of words from Buffy.
"It's my mom. She's sick. I mean really sick. She's got a brain tumor, can you believe it? And we've been in the hospital all weekend, just waiting for her to come out of the room. And Giles said that the weather is being magically manipulated, which means there are vamps running around 24/7 now. The only good part has been Spike, and even that is weirding me out. I mean, there I was, relying on him, trusting him, and he was living up to it, and then suddenly - wham! - he says I shouldn't forget that he's a killer at heart. What am I supposed to do?" Willow sat beside Buffy on the bed, and put her arms around her, but Buffy was too confused to even cry. They sat together in silence, cheek-to-cheek.Continue: Part 3/15