The place was a bit of a dump. Falling apart and just scuzzy enough to make it likely someone in the health department was being paid off. Music’s not bad, though, Spike thought as he followed the Dutchman to one of the booths, Patti Smith giving way to Metallica. He slid into the seat, his body twinging only a little in protest. It had been a few days since he’d first met the Dutchman at the Bronze, and he’d healed up enough that only bruises and a limp remained.
Bloody hellbitch had really done a number on him, and he knew he’d be in worse shape if not for the Dutchman and the flasks of human blood he’d brought him each night while they played pool and chatted. Still and all, Spike didn’t regret the choice he’d made. She could be a right bitch herself at times, but Buffy was worth the pain he’d endured. And her little contributions had helped, too. Sure, the pig didn’t fuel healing as well as human, but it did help, and she’d been swinging by his crypt quite a lot to check on him in the past few days.
A waitress in a tiny skirt sauntered over and put two laminated sheets of paper on the table before wandering off without bothering to ask for drink orders.
“Charming place,” he said dryly with a raised brow at the Dutchman. Not that he much cared, mind, but he would have expected something a little posher for a first real date, what with the man trying to seduce him into what seemed like basically a death sentence. Though at least this place had underground access and no windows. The sun held sway for a quite a while this close to summer, and it was still up.
The Dutchman chuckled and tapped at the menu. “I’ve been told that what it lacks in service and atmosphere, it makes up for in the food. Especially the appetizers.”
Spike glanced down at the menu. There were burgers and some sort of fish and chips platter, but the sheet was dominated by a list of appetizers, including a flowering onion. He’d been bitching again lately about the Bronze getting rid of theirs, and apparently the Dutchman had decided to take him someplace that had them. Huh, well, that was a bit of alright, wasn’t it? Better than some fancy place with bland food that there wasn’t much point to, considering anything other than blood did sod all for him other than as a way to get texture and flavor.
When the waitress came back, they put in an order for a pitcher of beer, the flowering onion, mozzarella sticks, and some hot wings.
“So,” the Dutchman said once she was gone again. “Tell me about yourself. There are things I’ve discovered talking to others, and the tidbits you’ve shared at the Bronze. What would you like me to know about you?”
Spike stared down at the table. How long had it been since he’d spilled his history to the Slayer? Six months, or thereabouts. Seemed like it should have been longer. She’d still been with good ol’ Captain Cardboard, and her mum had still been alive. Not even diagnosed with the brain tumor yet, though she was preparing to go to hospital that very night. And he’d been the one Buffy had confided in about it.
Just because you happened to be there at the time, his more cynical side pointed out. With a shotgun to blow her bloody brains out for what she said to you. She’d shoved him to the ground and echoed Cecily’s words as she threw money at him, like he was naught but a cheap whore.
He took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Don’t really want to talk about me, just yet.” He glanced up at the Dutchman. “What about you? How exactly did you get into this whole sailing about the world and finding a new bride every seven years gig? Doesn’t seem the sort of thing you’d answer an ad for.”
The Dutchman stayed quiet for a moment, involved in his own study of the table’s pitted surface. The waitress came back at that point with their pitcher of beer and a couple of glass mugs. The Dutchman poured them both a drink before finally starting to speak.
“If you listen to the legends about me, most say it was a punishment from God for some sort of nautical hubris. In reality, though, I was cursed for the usual sort of reason.”
Spike’s mind immediately went to Angel and his curse, but he doubted there was any common ground there. Or not much anyway. “Slept with the wrong woman, did you? Was it her that cursed you, or one of her loved ones?”
“Both, actually,” the Dutchman answered with a wry smile. “Though her spell was meant to help. I was in port making a regular delivery to a wizard.” He paused to take a long drink. “Ah, the lady of the tower. Comely young wench, starved for affection and possessed of a sharp mind that I couldn’t help but fall for. I really shouldn’t have taken her up on her offer, but I’ve always been a fool when it comes to love. Her husband came home and caught us at it, of course. He accused me of stealing away his woman and taking her loyalty. So, he cursed me to wander the seas forever as an immortal monster, never again to touch land or experience loyalty from any save my crew, and that would be no more than that of any crew for its captain.”
He took another drink, then reached into his jacket for the necklace. He gazed at it for a long moment before speaking again. “She was a sorceress, though, the wizard’s wife, and she gave me this. It was white gold then, like it is now, but the tourmalines were clear. She told me that in seven years, it would change and lead me to one that I could love. Someone full of loyalty. I’d be able to contact the person in a dream and touch land for a fortnight to court them. Her husband found out, somehow, and he twisted what she’d done. So, now I hunt every seven years, finding the person selected for the coming cycle to feed off of them instead of just enjoying their companionship.”
“Well,” Spike said after a moment of silence. “That’s a bit of a bum toss, isn’t it?”
Quite the understatement there, and he knew it. It had been torture watching Dru decline after that bloody mob in Prague had got a hold of her. How much worse would it have been if it had been because he was feeding off of her? His thoughts shifted to Buffy, imagining her slowly wasting away as he….
The Dutchman chuckled mirthlessly and lifted his mug in mock salute. “Aye, it is at that, my love. It is at that.”
Spike lifted his own mug and tapped it against the Dutchman’s. “Here’s to fools who love where they shouldn’t.”
He drank down his beer, wondering just where his foolish love for the Slayer was going to end up taking him.
“Well, well, getting to be a bit of a habit with you, isn’t it, Slayer?” Spike said as he sauntered into his crypt. Buffy was there, with the little bit in tow, just as he’d known she’d be. He’d caught her scent as he’d approached, taking the above ground route after his date now that the sun had set. “I come home, and here you are, sniffing all about.” He slowly smirked before curling his tongue behind his teeth. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were just keen on spending time with me.”
Her nose wrinkled up adorably as she scowled at him, but she didn’t take the bait. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Out,” he snapped, eyes narrowing. He loved her, but that didn’t mean he was at her constant beck and call. “I do have a life, you know.”
“No, you don’t, you’re dead.”
He rolled his eyes at that and dropped down into his easy chair. “You really want to be arguing semantics right now?” he asked quietly, glancing at Dawn. The girl was standing behind her big sis, huddled in on herself and looking scared.
Buffy deflated like a popped balloon. “Glory went after Tara. She thought she was the key, and…. Tara’s hurt and, and… Glory made her crazy.”
Bloody hell. Some of the Slayer’s lot he only barely tolerated, but he liked Tara. Quiet, mousy little bird, the kind you knew had a rich inner life she’d be too shy to share with most. She reminded him a bit of who he’d been as a human, only quite a bit less pathetic. More importantly, she was one of his humans. He wasn’t entirely sure when it had happened, but he thought of all of them, even that bloody pillock Xander, as his. And that hellbitch was messing about with them.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he opened them, looking squarely at Buffy. “Can’t imagine Red is taking this at all well. What do you need from me?”
“Willow needs me right now, but it’s not safe for Dawn to be there with my attention divided.” Spike expected the little bit to pipe up at that, to insist she was safe enough and didn’t need looking after. Instead, she kept quiet, highlighting how hard she’d been hit by the attack on Tara. “I need you to guard her while I’m at the hospital with Will.”
Spike hauled himself up to his feet and rummaged about until he found a flashlight. “Come on, pidge,” he said, taking Dawn by the arm and leading her towards the hidden entrance to the cavern below the crypt. “You’ll be safe down there. I’ll join you once I’ve had a bit of a chat with big sis, yeah?”
“Buffy?” The girl finally spoke, sounding young and scared. Fair enough, that. She was young and scared.
“It… it’s okay, Dawnie.” Buffy managed a wobbly smile for her. “The doctors are going to do everything they can for Tara, and I’ll do what I can for Willow. You go on down where it’s safe, okay?”
The little bit nodded jerkily and went down into the cavern with the flashlight. Spike gave her a few minutes to get settled, then turned to Buffy.
“How are you holding up?” he asked quietly.
“I’m fine. I’m just….” For a moment, the mask of control held, then it began to slip, her shoulders sagging under the weight of the world. “I’m not fine,” she whispered. Then she glared defiantly at him and took a step forward, gesturing wildly. “My mother is dead. She’s dead, and I’m still here.”
He saw it then, lurking in her eyes. Not a full-blown death wish, not yet, but she looked… tired. Worn down by life and ready for a rest.
She wrapped her arms around herself and kept talking. “I don’t know how to be her and me at the same time.” She laughed darkly. “I don’t even know how to be me all at the same time. There’s the slayer and the girl and the college student, but that’s gone because I had to drop my classes. And then there’s Dawn…. She hasn’t been going to school, and if I can’t make her go, they’ll take her away from me. And then there’s all this with Glory and–”
Spike stopped the spill of words by taking her by the shoulders and giving her a bit of a shake. The thought of kissing her came to mind, swallowing down her words and her worries with his mouth on hers. She’d probably just smack him for it, though, and close down, whatever trust he’d built between them gone in an instant.
“You’re not alone in this,” he told her. “Any of it. You don’t have to carry the weight of it all on your own. You’ve your mates and your watcher. And… for what it’s worth, you have me.” He more than half expected her to say it wasn’t worth much at all, but as he gazed into her eyes, some of the weariness receded, replaced by something suspiciously like gratitude. “Anything you need, love. All you have to do is ask.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, he let go of her shoulders and took a step back. The vulnerable and overwhelmed young woman had been packed away, leaving the Slayer ready to take charge.
“I need to get to the hospital,” she said quietly as she turned towards the door. “Keep Dawn safe for me. And…. Thank you.”
That last was a whisper as she slipped out into the night, and Spike was fairly certain it wasn’t just about taking care of Dawn.
Later that night, Spike lay stretched out on a sarcophagus, arms folded under his head as he stared up at the ceiling. Willow had gone after Glory, and for all her power, it hadn’t been enough. Though at least she and Buffy had got away relatively unscathed from the encounter. Bloody stupid thing for Willow to do. He’d have done the same, of course – was him pointing that out that had sent Buffy off in the nick of time, after all – but that didn’t make it any less stupid. Just as Buffy had said, going after Glory like that had damn near been suicide.
“I’d do it,” he’d told her, looking down at the ground, not wanting her to the see the look he knew was in his eyes. “Right person. Person I loved.” He’d risked a glance then, to see if she had been listening. “I’d do it.”
There was a lot he’d do for someone he loved. Even…. He wished Buffy hadn’t come back for Dawn after saving Willow. Watching over the little bit and doing his best to make her feel better had occupied his mind, kept him from thinking too much. Now, though, he was alone with his thoughts. Could they stop Glory without help? He’d witnessed the Slayer and her lot pull off the impossible before, usually when their backs were right up against the wall and there seemed no way to win. He believed in her. Believed in them. They could fight the bloody bitch and win, hellgod or no.
So far, they’d had the most problems with her when going against her alone. They’d do better about that, now, all sticking close together. Except for me, he thought, suddenly feeling very alone. And vulnerable. Like as not, Glory had no more use for him, but her scabby little minions had found him here before. They didn’t know about the underground, though. He could curl up down there for the day on one of the hard outcroppings of rock. Wouldn’t be that much different from his current resting place, really.
“Bugger that,” he muttered to himself in sudden disgust. He rolled off of the sarcophagus and onto his feet, grabbing his coat as he headed for the door.
He knew the room number of the hotel where the Dutchman was staying while his ship was being supplied and getting a bit of a remodel. He was bloody well going to sleep in a sodding bed for the day with someone who gave a toss keeping watch. And beyond that…. Well, no harm in finding out if reality matched the dream, was there?
Leave a Review
Table of Contents