“Thanks, Pidge,” Spike mumbled as Dawn handed him a nearly full gallon jug.
Seven pints of blood. One each from everyone but the girl herself and her big sis, with the latter donating two and the former being declared too young. His lips were too swollen to drink easily, which meant he’d probably end up spilling at least a bit all over himself. Terrible waste, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
Before he could start drinking, though, the little bit plonked a long, bright pink silly straw into the jug. Spike stared at it for a moment, at the curves that spelled out the word “cool.” Then he glanced at Dawn. She was trying to fight them back, but couldn’t hide the tears in her eyes. It hurt like a wicked bitch, but he managed a raised brow and slight smirk for her.
“Appreciate the sentiment, even if it is less than dignified.”
That earned him a wobbly little smile. “Dude, I once saw you run into a wall because you were too busy rambling to watch where you were going. You and dignity are rarely on speaking terms.” Then the smile fell. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “It’s my fault you got hu–”
“Enough of that, now, Bit,” he said gruffly. What was it with Summers women, always taking the blame? Suppose it makes sense, he thought. What, with her being made from the slayer and all. “Hellbitch is gonna do what the hellbitch is gonna do. And whatever it is she does, it’s on her. Not you.”
“But nothing. Evil, soulless vampire here, remember? No reason to be all goody-goody and lie to make you feel better. If I say it’s not your fault, then it’s not your bloody fault. Understood?”
“Yeah.” She nodded, and the smile came back a bit. “I… um, I’m supposed to get cookies and orange juice out of the kitchen for everyone.”
“Off with you, then, Nibblet, I’ve some serious drinking to get to.”
Once she was out of the room, he gingerly wrapped his battered mouth around the straw, letting his eyes flutter closed. He heard the others come into the room, but he was barely aware of them as they started hashing things out. There was only the blood. Fresh. Human. Still warm and freely given.
Salt and the copper tang of new pennies. Sugar and smoked cinnamon. Moonlight and daisies. Buttered rum with a hint of strawberry. Leather and wood, and a tinge of whiskey. And shot through it all was sunlight and wildflowers paired with the distinctive spice of a slayer. An odd thing it was, all that blood from so many different donors. Odd, but good, both the flavor and the sentiment.
Could be the lot of them just want to make sure you’re strong enough to help fight off Glory if need be, his inner cynic pointed out. His inner romantic was a wee bit stronger, though, and told that bit to sod off. He was part of the group. He was accepted. He–
“I don’t know about this splitting up idea, Buffy.”
Willow’s voice disrupted his thoughts, and he opened his eyes to look around. The various Scoobies were sat about the living room, Anya and Rupert in the armchairs while the others, except for Buffy, were on cushions on the floor. The slayer was pacing, absently nibbling at an Oreo. They’d been talking all this time while Spike rested on the couch, drinking his blood. Something about Willow’s tone had caught his attention. Scarpering off to parts unknown seemed a right bloody good idea to him, though apparently not to her.
“Maybe… maybe we should go to L.A. and stay with Angel.”
Bloody buggering fuck! Spike nearly choked on a mouthful of blood. She couldn’t sodding well be serious, could she? A look at her face showed she was. All anxious and earnest. For such a smart girl, Red could be bloody stupid at times. Going to Angel was a terrible idea, and not just because he was a smug wanker. Dawn had never much cared for his grandsire, and the feeling had always seemed to be mutual. Angel would sell her out in a heartbeat if he decided it was for Buffy’s “own good.”
“No!” Buffy snapped out before Spike had a chance to say anything. “We are not running to Angel. And don’t call him again about things that aren’t his business.”
Willow flinched as if she’d been slapped. “B-but, Buffy–”
“No. He’s not part of this. He’s not one of us. And this isn’t up for debate. We’re splitting up into two groups and getting out of here. Dawn is coming with me, Giles, and Spike. You guys get to figure out the rest of the details while I pack up Spike’s things. Then we’ll all gather our stuff and get ready to get the hell out.”
Then she turned and stormed away towards the basement.
Once, the basement had had an open floor plan. Now, though, the stairs led into a basic laundry and storage area with the rest sectioned off with some walls and a door. Buffy, Xander, and Spike had spent a day setting it all up after The Naked Vampire Incident. Mom had put her foot down, insisting that even if he didn’t sleep naked, Spike should have an actual bedroom if he was going to keep staying with them.
Buffy let herself into the room and looked around. There was a twin bed in the far corner. A nightstand was beside it with a reading lamp and a book. A comfy armchair was set up next to it so he could use the lamp to read from either it or the bed. On the other side of the room there was a weapon chest and a cheap wardrobe.
Time to stop stalling, she thought, crossing over to the wardrobe. There was a backpack and a small duffel at the bottom. She’d fill the backpack with weapons, but first….
Black jeans, black T-shirts, a couple of red dress shirts, and…. Buffy felt tears prick at the back of her eyes and her mouth curve up into a smile. The Fish Shirt. She carefully pulled the silk dress shirt out of the wardrobe and walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. It was a good quality shirt of a color that had been up for debate ever since Mom got it for Spike. It had been dubbed “The Fish Shirt” after the first argument.
“You need a bit more color in your outfits,” Mom insists. “That’s a lovely shade of salmon that’s very in this season.”
“What are you on about, woman? It’s not dusky enough to be salmon. It’s bloody well pink, and you know it.”
“It’s actually more of a… peach, I think,” Buffy offers up, wanting in on things.
Spike shoots her a glare that’s honestly more playful than menacing. “Not helping, Slayer.”
She’d only seen him wear it twice. Once when Mom had come home after the scan revealing her cancer. And then…. The last time had also been the last time she’d seen Angel. A little over a week ago at Mom’s grave.
She could feel him there, waiting in the shadows as the sun set. Sensing vampires wasn’t exactly her strongest skill, but she didn’t need it in this case. She was always aware of him. An odd little tug in a certain direction if he was far away. A solid feeling of presence when he was nearby, like a cat had taken up residence in her awareness and made itself at home. It was… comforting. Especially now.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. “For the flowers. Mom would have….”
…loved them. Mom would have loved them. She couldn’t say the words. Couldn’t force them through her throat. Would have. Loved. Past tense. Her mother was past tense. She fought back the tears prickling at her eyes. She had to be strong.
“She was a good lady,” Spike said softly, “your mum. Always treated me like a person. Not just some kind of freak.”
The tears spilled down her cheeks while a wobbly smile tugged at her lips. Her mother and Spike had been friends. He’d known her on a different level from most of them, not a child or even surrogate child. Buffy could talk to him, share stories without having to share the role of grieving daughter. And he didn’t look at her the same way her sister and friends did. He didn’t expect her to be strong all the time.
“Not ‘just’ some kind of freak, huh?” she said as she turned to look at him, her voice a little raspy. She saw a bit of pink between his coat and black T-shirt. He was wearing The Fish Shirt. She could tease him about it, but she didn’t want to. Didn’t want to even acknowledge it. He’d worn it for Mom, not her.
“Have to turn in my punk card if I wasn’t at least a bit of one, wouldn’t I?” He smiled for a moment, then it faded away, along with Buffy’s own. “And, um, the whole vampire thing. But there’s more to me than all that. She saw that. Meant a lot to me.” He was quiet for a bit before the smile came back. “Also, woman wielded a mean ax. Gotta respect that.”
“Too bad she didn’t do a better job with it.”
Buffy was already whirling around to face the speaker, ready to fight, when she recognized the voice. Angel? What was Angel…? She stared at him blankly for a moment, trying to understand why he was there. He never just showed up for a visit. Something had to be wrong, either down in L.A. or there in Sunnydale. Some new crisis that she had to take care of.
No. No, no, no, no. She stumbled back a step, shaking her head. She couldn’t deal with this. There was already too much. She couldn’t….
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” Angel asked, distracting Buffy before the panic could fully take hold. He was glaring at Spike.
“Paying my respects, not that it’s any business of yours.”
Spike’s fists were clenched at his sides, and Buffy had the sick certainty that there was going to be a fight. Right there. At her mother’s freshly filled grave.
“You have ten seconds to leave, or I’ll –”
“You’ll what? Puff yourself up and try to fling your weight around?” Spike shook his head in disgust. “Much as I’d love to put a fist right through that overly large forehead of yours, I’m not going to throw down. Not here. Not now. Not going to disrespect Joyce like that.” He looked over at Buffy, the anger in his eyes softening. “You need me, you know where to find me.”
Then he was striding away, leaving her alone with Angel. At her mother’s grave.
Mom never liked Angel, she thought, still feeling numb. She had liked Spike, though. She’d made hot cocoa for him when he’d been brokenhearted. They’d spent hours together watching their ridiculous soap operas. They’d even taken a six-week cooking course together. And….
You need me, you know where to find me. She did. Even without the connection between them, she knew where he was headed. Her house, to be with Dawn and the others.
“Buffy.” Angel’s hand was on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Willow called.”
“She doesn’t like you.” The words spilled out of her mouth.
The hand on her shoulder jerked away, and when Buffy turned to look at its owner, he looked confused. Maybe a little hurt and uncomfortable.
“I… I know I caused a lot of trouble and heartache when I…. I thought Willow had forgiven –”
“Mom. She doesn’t… didn’t…. Mom didn’t like you. She wouldn’t want you here.”
Past tense, not present.
“…oh.” Neutral voice. Blank expression. Mom hadn’t liked him. Had the feeling been mutual? “Buffy… she’s gone. She’s gone, and I’m sorry. You have to think of the living right now, and that includes you. What do you want? What do you need?” He held out his arms towards her. “I’m here for you.”
You need me, you know where to find me. She turned again, towards the direction Spike had taken. She could still see him in the distance. What did she want? What did she need? She looked back at Angel, with his open arms. If she’d been alone when he’d shown up, would she have fallen into them, seeking some kind of comfort?
“What I need is for you to go home,” she said quietly. The arms fell, and he stared at her incredulously. His mouth opened, but she didn’t give him a chance to say anything else. “Go home, Angel. Please. Just… go home.”
She didn’t wait to see if he would or not. She ran after Spike, easily catching up since he hadn’t been going much faster than a power walk. That slowed to a comfortable amble when she got to him.
They walked that way together in silence for a few minutes before Spike stopped and gestured towards the sky. “She’s up there, you know. The great mums of the past look down on us from the stars.”
She gazed up, thinking about it for a moment. Up in the stars, huh? “You got that from The Lion King,” she said quietly.
“Yeah, what of it? Good movie, that.”
“One of Mom’s favorites.”
They continued on in silence for a few more minutes before Spike broke it again. “Well, what say we pick up a few pints of ice cream, kick out everyone but the nibblet, and watch your mum’s Disney collection?”
“I say….” The tears were back and her throat felt clogged. She cleared it. “I say that sounds like a great idea.”
Buffy ran her fingers over the silk, then used her other hand to wipe the tears from her eyes. There wasn’t time for this. She could grieve later, once Dawn was safe. She stood up and went back to the wardrobe, carefully putting the shirt in the duffel before shoving in a few pairs of jeans and T-shirts.
Clothes. Weapons. Spike was good on blood for now, but they’d need to pick some up some lamb from the butcher shop on the way out of town.
Right. Okay, that was everything Spike would need for now. She just needed to pack up her own clothes and weapons and make sure Dawn brought along what she’d need. And then they could go….
Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She hated this. She was supposed to fight. To set herself between the Big Bad and the potential victims. But here she was, getting ready to run.
It’s the only way, she told herself. Glory was too strong. And even though her gift was apparently death, Buffy was more than just a killer. She was a protector. She’d protect them all.
She opened her eyes, then walked out of the room, striding towards the stairs. It was almost time to go.
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