She walked up the stairs to the second floor, still pondering the extraordinary level of trust that he'd revealed. She looked into Dawn's empty room, realizing belatedly that Spike must have taken her to school after dropping their mother off at home. She moved along the hallway and heard rustling sounds coming from the spare bedroom. She saw her mother, flushed with exertion, surrounded by piles of clothes.
"Mom, what are you doing?" she asked, unsure if she should be concerned.
"Oh, hi, honey. I'm turning this room back into a bedroom. We've all got enough dresser and closet space not to use this room as a walk-in closet."
"Should you be doing all of this?" Buffy asked. "I mean, shouldn't you be resting?"
"I'm fine. Really. The doctors said I'd have good days and bad. This is one of the really good ones. And I'm almost done in any case."
"Why are you doing this anyway? Are we having company over?"
"Not 'company' exactly . . ."
"It's not Dad, is it?" Buffy blurted out. She didn't think she could deal with him right now, even if it was nice for Dawn to have him around.
"No, Sweetie. I wouldn't ask your father back into the house without asking you and Dawn first." Joyce pulled the last shirt out of its dresser drawer and folded it as she spoke. "The room is for Spike."
"What?" Buffy was taken aback.
"I told him I wanted to do something for him, but he wouldn't let me before." Joyce smiled to herself.
"Ooookay," Buffy said slowly. "I get it. But why didn't you just fix up the basement?"
"He's not a pet, Buffy!" Joyce said sharply.
"I know that! I just meant, you know, the less sunlight, the better."
"I know what you meant," Joyce replied quietly. "But I want to show him that he's an equal here, that he's family. He's not just something handy we keep around, he's somebody we want with us because of who he is." She gathered up a large stack of folded shirts and said, "Besides, this room's only got one window. He'll be fine."
Buffy had just emerged from a steam-filled bathroom, showered and dressed, when Dawn came home from school, escorted by Giles. Buffy could hear her watcher speaking patiently to her sister. "I'll be happy to take you to the hospital to see Buffy, Dawn; let's just check on your mother first."
"No need," Buffy called out as she made her way down the stairs. "We're both fine." The happy surprise on their faces when they saw her was sweet to see, and Buffy realized that it was that kind of acceptance and intimacy that her mother wanted for Spike. "Giles," she said, "do you have your car here? Could you drive me to Spike's? Mom wants him to move in here."
Dawn's mind went into overdrive as it processed what Buffy had said. //Spike! Here! In my house! That means I can see him whenever I want. That means . . . he'll see me with bedhead, he'll see me in my jammies. He'll see me like a little sister.// She gave up the dream with a sigh. //That's all he'd ever see me as anyway. It's so obvious he's into Buffy.//
Giles, meanwhile, was more calmly pondering Joyce. //It's so very like her. In the midst of her own problems to be helping another. That's where Buffy gets her heart, her compassion. It's not part of the Slayer package; it comes from family.// "Certainly I'll drive you there, but then I really must get back to the shop. I imagine that if Spike's moving in here, he'll be bringing his car, so you won't have any problem transporting his belongings?"
"Guess not. Thanks, Giles." Watcher and Slayer turned as one and headed out the front door.
"I never thought I'd say this, but the constant kills are getting boring." Forrest was back to his usual chatty self, now that Riley had committed himself wholeheartedly to the Initiative once more. "You know? I mean at first, daytime HSTs were kind of a thrill, but these things aren't even putting up a fight. Let's find a real challenge."
"Yes, let's," Riley agreed, adrenaline beginning to flow through him. "And I know just where to find one."
"Remember, this is a capture, not a kill," Riley said to his squad. "Finesse, not force. Got it?" He eased open the door of Spike's crypt and crept stealthily inside, his weapon at the ready as he checked and cleared every dark corner. His shoulders slumped in disappointment when he saw his target sound asleep on top of the tomb. Motioning for the others to follow, he walked over to where Spike lay and looked down at him, noting the tracks of tears still evident on the vampire's face. //You'll soon have much more to cry about. It's back to the lab with you, Hostile 17.// They surrounded the tomb, three of them ready with a net made of an Initiative-developed alloy, four others finding fingerholds on the other side of the tomb. At Riley's signal, the four lifted the lid of the tomb just enough to roll Spike into the net.
"What the fuck!" Spike roared as the net was closed behind him. Taking in his situation, he forced himself to calm down and think. He stood, the net settling back around him when he stopped moving. "Oh. It's you, is it then, Phineas?" he said almost conversationally to Riley, his brain desperately engaged in trying to formulate an escape plan. "You needed all this weaponry and seven of your wanker chums to collect one chipped vampire? Doesn't say a lot for you, now, does it?" He continued talking when Riley betrayed no response. "But then, you're probably just following orders. Very much the proper soldier. Programmed just so. Makes you wonder if I'm the only one in this room with a chip in my head." He smiled mock-genially as Riley came closer. "Doesn't it?" The only response he got was Riley's fist in his face. And then he lost consciousness as bursts of electricity from eight tasers flowed into him.
They were driving along the road that circumscribed Spike's cemetery, heading towards the main gate. The cemetery was bounded by a high wrought iron fence and ringed with evergreen bushes. At the gap in the greenery, Buffy turned her head automatically to scope out any graveyard activity. What she saw made her yell "Stop!" at Giles and run up to the fence to get a better view. She saw Riley and several of his men carrying a net-bound creature. She gasped when she saw the familiar platinum-topped head. She leapt back into Giles's passenger seat, giving terse orders through clenched teeth. "Turn the car around and duck down. When the Initiative van comes out, follow it without being obvious. They've got Spike again. Who knows what they're planning on doing to him this time."
Spike came around to find himself lying on the floor of a moving van, still trapped inside the net. Riley was watching him with an expression of chilling eagerness. The Initiative had operated on the assumption that vampires and other HSTs were mere animals, incapable of organized thought; as a result, all the experimentation had been only physical, never psychological. The chip had been their first foray into mental manipulation. Riley was all set to begin round two.
He allowed his team to rough the vampire up a little as they transferred him from the van to an operating theater inside the building complex. He watched in satisfaction as Spike's bare chest, wrists, and ankles were bound to the metal table, but held up a curt hand when they would have strapped down his head as well. Riley remembered the sardonic look Spike had worn whenever he saw the uneven interaction between him and Buffy. //He's seen too much.// He motioned for his men to discard their weapons and gather around the table near him, knowing Spike would be more humiliated at being held by unarmed men than by a team with weapons in their hands. He leaned in and saw Spike clench his teeth in a concerted effort not to provide the soldiers any amusement by ineffectually vamping out. Riley had just opened his mouth to taunt the vampire, to begin the mind-games, when the heavy double doors at the top of the amphitheater opened. Riley spun around to see a pretty Asian doctor making her way down the steps, an armed guard at the door watching her hesitant movements.
Riley turned on his men and demanded in a low, tight voice, "Who called her in? Who?!"
"I did, sir," the youngest responded, standing stiffly at attention. "While you and the others were containing the Hostile in the mobile unit, I followed 'capture' protocol and radioed ahead for a doctor."
Riley was furious, but there was nothing he could do now without losing face, so he nodded brusquely at the boy. Spike closed his eyes, relief that Riley wasn't going to have his way with him warring with dread at the medical tortures he'd shortly be enduring. His nostrils flared when a familiar, enticing scent made itself known to his fear-heightened senses.
Buffy knocked out the guard at the theater door, deftly catching his weapon as it fell out of his unresponsive hands. She made her way to the side door and silently slid it open, moving stealthily until she was between Riley's men and their weapons. She trained her gun on Riley's chest and cleared her throat. The deliberately casual sound caused the squad to jump, Dr. Ng to shriek in fear, and Spike to smile. "Hi guys," she said. "Remember me?" Forrest snarled at her and Riley affected not to recognize her. She moved a step closer. "I've got an idea. Why don't you guys go into that little soundproof room over there?" she said brightly.
"Or else what?" Forrest demanded.
Buffy pulled a disbelieving face. "Hello, I've got a gun aimed at your fearless leader, here."
Riley spoke to his men, his eyes never leaving Buffy's face. "She's bluffing, men. The Slayer is sworn to protect humans - all humans."
Buffy's eyes snapped up to meet his. "The thing is, I've always been a little different than the average slayer. Didn't keep the secret identity secret, didn't jump when the Council said to, didn't even stay dead. But that's not the point. The point is that all rules go out the window when my family is hurt. So I've got no problem pulling this trigger."
Spike's eyes flew open when he heard what she was saying. Riley was scoffing as he moved to stand at ease, his legs slightly apart, hands clasped at the small of his back. "Spike? He's your family? What is he, the long-lost albino second cousin?"
Buffy had had it. "I mean in my heart. He's family. And that means no one touches him. So are you going to do what I asked or are you going to get shot?" When they didn't move, Buffy fired at the space between Riley's legs. "Move it. I'm not going to ask again." She herded them into the small, dark room and bolted the door behind them, sealing them in indefinitely.
She turned to face Spike and saw the doctor, paralyzed by fear, still clutching a clipboard and leaning weakly against the back wall. "Hi, Doc," she said, an idea coming to her. "Do you want to do me a favor?" Seeing that the woman could barely breathe due to fright, Buffy unloaded her weapon of ammunition and tossed it aside. She walked towards the doctor, her bare hands clearly visible. She spoke in soft, soothing tones. "You're a doctor, right?"
"You've worked here for how long?"
"Have you ever performed any of the operations?"
"So you can do one more, okay? I'd like you to remove his chip."
"No," Dr. Ng shook her head, sounding horrified. "I can't do that."
"Yes, you can," Buffy urged, keeping her tone friendly. "He's not a threat. I would never let a dangerous vampire loose." She saw that this line of reasoning was getting her exactly nowhere. "Look," she started over, "do you have a family?"
The doctor nodded involuntarily, fear evident in her eyes. "A brother. My little brother," she said. "Please don't hurt him. I'll do what you . . ."
"I'm not threatening your family!" Buffy cut in, stung. "I'm explaining to you that this vampire here is the one who helps me keep people in this town - people like your little brother - safe. Now please help him."
"I'll do it," Dr. Ng said in a soft voice. "I want Nelson safe."
As Dr. Ng went to the sink to begin washing up, Buffy crossed the room and stood by Spike's side. She was just reaching out a hand to undo his restraints when he looked at her and spoke. "Don't do this, Slayer." It was half-plea, half-command. Her hand fell to her side in bewilderment. He turned his head away from her before he spoke again. "Don't send me away."
Buffy was more confused than she had ever been in her life. "Spike, I'm just getting the chip out. I'm not banishing you from the kingdom."
"Damn it, Buffy!" he shouted. "Didn't you understand what I said earlier? What I said about Dru? I can't trust myself to know - or do - what's best, what's right. If you take my chip, how can I be sure I won't hurt you or one of your mates? It's been so long since I've fed . . ."
Buffy turned his head back to face her and was startled by the tears in his eyes. She let go of his chin and ran her thumb over his cheekbone. "Didn't you understand what I said just now? You're family to me, Spike. I trust you. The chip is irrelevant to me, to us, but not to you. It's not fair to you. Once it's out, you'll see I'm right." She squeezed his hand and smiled at him as Dr. Ng approached them, ready to begin.
//Bloody technology.// Giles was sitting in his car, parked just outside the area monitored by Initiative surveillance, worrying about his slayer. She'd been inside the building complex for quite some time, and Giles was starting to sweat. He knew his logic was slipping, but he couldn't stop himself from thinking //stupid cell phones. If I had one I could call Willow, get her over here to do a sensing spell to make sure Buffy's alright. If they didn't make those phones, I'd have no way to call Willow, and I wouldn't be worrying so much.// He cursed himself again for disdaining the advances of the twentieth century. He was actually wringing his hands when he saw Buffy and Spike, running hand-in-hand towards him. He turned the key and the engine turned over smoothly. Giles grinned in appreciation of modern technology.
Spike was lying on his stomach, since the surgical scar at the back of his skull meant he couldn't lie on his back for a day or so. That he was on a soft bed made up with clean sheets in the Summers house was mind-boggling. He turned his head slightly to look over his shoulder when he finally sensed Dawn behind him, admiring the nice rear view he was unwittingly offering hallway passersby in his tight black jeans and t-shirt.
"What's up, Niblet?" he asked.
"Oh, I, uh, brought you this, 'cause the room's still kind of bare." She held out a plush doll of the Count from Sesame Street. He grinned at her, but she still saw that something was bothering him. "What's wrong, Spike?" she asked, perching gingerly next to him.
He moved over, ostensibly to give her more room, but really to keep himself from touching her. He could hear the steady thrum of her heart. She bent over a little, looking curiously at his still face. Her apple-scented hair bobbed in front of him when she moved. The fragrance was so strong, the concern on her face so clear, that he tentatively felt his own face for ridges, assuming his heightened senses meant his game face was on. His fingertips encountered only smooth flesh. "What's wrong is that you all trust me, the lot of you Summers women. You're trusting me right now, sittin' here beside me. I could have you bone-dry before you could open your mouth to scream."
He was startled when Dawn only smiled confidently down at him. "Yeah, you could. But you won't."
"How do you know that?" he cried out in desperation.
"Because I've seen you without your fangs. Because I know that you didn't have to help Buffy patrol, or help me with my mom. Because I know you love us." She was getting emotional, but though her voice got lower and lower, it carried the same tremendous conviction of her earlier declarations. "I know what this town is, Spike. Believe me when I say that when you're around, death seems to get farther away from us. You keep us safe." She stood up and laid the doll in her place. "You should get some sleep. You've got a big day tomorrow."
"Yeah?" he asked, one eyebrow arched interrogatively.
"Yeah. Mom found out there's a viewers' choice Passions marathon on tomorrow afternoon, which means Buffy and I are running away from home, leaving you behind as the sacrificial victim." She grinned. "Enjoy!" she sang out as she left his room.
"Ah. The very best in brothel chic. Thanks, mate." He examined the round, red velour throw pillows Xander had given him in disbelief. Knowing money was tight for the Summers household because of hospital bills, Willow had suggested to Xander that they should get some stuff for Spike's room that looked like it belonged in a house and not a crypt. The only things Spike had ended up moving were his record player, his record collection, and his clothes.
"The pillows were Anya's idea. She told me to get either red or black. She says they're your favorite colors, or at least the only colors you ever wear," Xander explained.
"Yeah," Willow cut in, "and she wanted to give them to you herself, only -"
"Commerce called," Spike finished for her. "I get it. Thank her for me, would you, mate?"
"Sure," Xander answered, slightly thrown by the normalcy of it all. "I haven't given you my present yet, Spike."
"Oh! Me neither!" Willow exclaimed, and darted off to Joyce's room to retrieve her room-warming gifts. She came back with a tube of posters under one arm and a houseplant in her hand. Spike unrolled the posters, grinning excitedly. He turned to examine the blank walls, trying to decide on the placement of the images, when he heard something being thrown on the bed.
He pivoted again and saw an envelope on the bed and Xander refusing to meet his eye. "I, um, talked to Buffy's mom, and she told me about everything you've done for her," Xander said slowly. "My gift is to help you paint this room any color you'd like. She said it was okay."
Spike understood immediately; the boy's offer was less about individualizing the room than about the promise of spending time together - time free of acrimony - as they painted. "Thanks . . . Xander," Spike said, sticking out his hand.
They shook, and then Xander made his way to the door. "The envelope's got paint swatches. You pick the one you like, and I'll go to the store and get a couple of cans. See you." He left, leaving Spike and Willow alone together.
"So, pet? How's that pretty girl of yours?"
"Oh, so great!" Willow said, stars in her eyes. "She got you something too, but she said she had to give it to you in person." She checked her watch and said, "I've got to go. Her class gets over soon, and I'm moving my stuff into her place this afternoon. Bye, Spike."
Word had finally gotten out about the lack of sunshine, and vamps who'd always longed for a taste of the hellmouth flocked there in droves. Darla smiled in wicked anticipation; some of the vamps had had the foresight to turn fairly powerful witches, and the havoc they wreaked with their spells meant that routine patrols, no matter how often they were carried out, were not going to keep Sunnydale safe. Darla's eyes closed in bliss when she imagined what the very near future would bring, and she whispered, "Soon, Angelus, soon."
Across the room, Drusilla heard the words, and fear gripped her. Her fingers tightened convulsively in Miss Edith's hair as images, brighter than life, flashed across her inward eye: Angelus, one hand clamped around her throat, the other reaching roughly under her velvet dress, smiling when he realized that she couldn't scream unless he willed it so; a look from his eye commanding her to kneel in front of him with her mouth open, his hands jerkily tangling in her long hair. //No. This can't be.// She knew she wasn't remembering what Angelus had done to her as his newly-turned childe; Spike had helped her heal all of that pain, kissing every spot her sire had bruised, listening when she spoke of her family, holding her when she needed to cry. //But where is he? Where is my pretty Spike?// One last memory pushed its way through the cacophony of her mad mind, and she saw herself silently ordered to laugh, to kiss, to caress her sire while her true lover watched helplessly from a wheelchair. She went cold inside and slumped over on the dark wood floor. Now she knew what had driven her darling boy away.
Spike fingered the empty cardboard carton in his pocket. Joyce hadn't said anything about his smoking; all she'd said when she pulled him aside the night before was that she really appreciated him being there, but she knew he was used to his own space, so if living with a family was ever driving him crazy, he should feel free to escape to his crypt for a little while. He'd bent his head to kiss her cheek and whispered in her ear, "A bloke'd have to be mad, leaving a house with three beautiful girls." //Three beautiful girls with healthy lungs// he reminded himself now. He looked down at the carton in his hand for a moment before crumpling it and tossing it in the trash.
The door opened, and Dawn made a beeline for the vampire while Buffy headed upstairs to finish the reading for her five o'clock class.
"How was school?" he asked.
"Fine, fine," Dawn said impatiently. "How's your head?"
"Just dandy. Poke around all you like, Pixi Stik."
She took him literally, and crawled behind him on the couch and felt around his skull with clumsily gentle fingers. "Really all better?" she asked, a smile growing on her face.
"Really all better," he confirmed with a nod. "How much homework you got, pet?"
"Not a lot. But I've got this stupid test on Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War tomorrow. Help me study?"
"Of course," he answered, and held out his right hand. They had thumb-wrestled through three study sessions, and Dawn's grades had never been better; Spike thought her concentration was akin to the mental focus Buffy achieved when she trained her hardest physically. He grinned when he captured her thumb and asked, "What was Florence Nightingale's nickname?"
Her brow furrowed as she tried to work her thumb free, and the answer slipped out of her automatically, "The Lady with the Lamp."
He was smiling at her when they finally finished, their thumbs sore. "Looks like you're all set to ace another test, Platelet."
She noticed that his teeth weren't quite straight, that when he grinned he looked endearingly like a little boy. "Hey Spike," she blurted out, "how come your teeth are so nice?" He looked completely confounded by her non sequitur. "I mean, Mr. Halloran is always telling us really gross stuff about whatever time we're studying. Like he said people used to only shower once or twice a year, and stuff like that. If you're so old how come you look like us?"
"My mum was very strict with us about that sort of thing, Niblet. She grew up in India, and she noticed that the Indians, who bathed and cleaned their teeth everyday, hardly ever fell sick. She was sure it was the cleanliness, so she made us do the same."
"She sounds smart."
"She was. And my da too. When it became apparent that I was left-handed, the parish priest said that I must be trained to use my right hand instead; he said being left-handed was a sign that I was a devil child. My parents heard him out, closed the door behind him, and didn't go to church after that."
"Wow," she said, straightfaced, "who knew the priest was right?"
"You think I'm a devil child, do you?" he asked, one eyebrow beginning to arch. "Does this seem like what a devil child would do?" He kissed her lightly on the temple, distracting her as his nimble fingers found her tummy and began tickling her unmercifully.
Continue: Part 8/15