They began to walk out of the cemetery, automatically heading for Crawford Street. Buffy noticed first and stopped.
“I don’t live there anymore,” she said, pointing down the street in the direction of the mansion. “We forgot.”
“That we did,” he said. “Old habits die hard, yeah?” He kept his tone light, and Buffy tried to follow his lead. They turned around and began walking toward her house chatting idly about the houses they passed as they walked and how slaying was probably going to taper off for the summer. As they approached her neighborhood, Buffy slowed her pace.
“So… are you going to leave tonight?” She tried to match his light tone, pretending it was just more of their normal evening chatter.
“Think it’s best, love, don’t you? There’s no takin’ back that kiss.”
“I liked the kiss,” she said, giving him a sideways glance.
“I noticed.” He didn’t mention how difficult her response had made it for him to stop, but it hung in the air between them.
“What if I want to do it again?”
“If you still want to do it again after you’ve turned eighteen, let me know,” he said with a muffled growl. “Now stop teasing the poor old besotted vampire and wish me a safe journey.”
Neither of them mentioned he wouldn’t be around for that birthday.
They had come to a stop just two blocks from her house. Buffy knew her mother would be thrilled that she was getting home so early after all the time she’d spent preparing her for not seeing much of Buffy at night.
“I hope Mom doesn’t expect me home this early every night,” she said, momentarily forgetting about Spike’s pending departure.
“Probably a good thing to ease her into it,” he said. “Give her some time to get used to you goin’ out every night, and then start making it later. She knows a lot more than she did, but knowin’ something and being able to accept it aren’t always the same thing.”
She shot him a sharp look.
“We are still talking about my mom, right?”
“Could be,” he said noncommittally.
They stood silently for a moment, neither one anxious to end what was probably their last patrol together, but at a loss for how to say good-bye without losing the casual atmosphere they’d managed to maintain since leaving the cemetery.
Finally, Buffy looked at him and sighed. “You aren’t going to kiss me good-bye, are you?”
He shook his head, refusing to meet her eyes. “Not a good idea, love. Much as I’d like to….” He shook his head again. “It’s a terrible idea, now that I think on it more.”
Buffy nodded. “Worst idea ever.”
Summoning up every bit of determination and maturity she’d had to learn in the months since Angel lost his soul, she nodded, went up on her toes, rested her hands lightly on his shoulders, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Before she could move back, his arms banded around her in a grip she knew she wouldn’t have been able to break. Not that she wanted to…
They remained clinging together, Buffy’s arms now wrapped tightly around his neck, her face pressed against his shoulder, long enough for their bodies to say everything they weren’t putting into words. The sound of a car alarm down the street startled them out of their silent embrace, and they both let go at the same time.
“Have a safe trip, Spike,” Buffy whispered. “Come back some day.”
“Take care of yourself, Slayer. Always have a weapon handy.”
Without another word, he whirled in a swirl of leather and disappeared almost faster than her ability to pretend she wasn’t going to cry.
Buffy took her time walking to her house, waiting to go in until she was sure all traces of her tears were gone. Which wasn’t enough to fool her mother, but Joyce wisely chose not to ask what was wrong. She just showed Buffy where the remains of dinner were and how long to put it in to warm it up, then excused herself to go to bed.
“I’ll probably be at work by the time you get up tomorrow,” she said as she paused in the door of the kitchen. “Do you have plans?”
Buffy shook her head. “I’ll call Willow and Xander to tell them I’m living at home again. And Giles. He needs to know where to find me. He might want to have a meeting or something.”
“Okay, honey. Well, sleep well. I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”
“Good night, Mom. I’m glad I’m home.”
“I’m glad you’re home too, sweetheart. Night.”
Buffy sucked in her breath at hearing her mother use the same term of endearment Spike had used, but forced herself to push away the urge to cry again. Spike was right. He was a notorious vampire, a stone-cold killer, and she was the girl chosen to rid the world of his kind. Nothing about their changed personal relationship had altered those facts of life.
She prepared her dinner and sat at the counter to eat it, smiling sadly at how being at home meant eating alone, whereas living with a vampire meant she usually had a companion for her evening meal.
As Buffy’d told Spike it would, slaying slowed down in the summer. Giles really had no explanation for it, other than “Maybe demons take vacations too” but they all agreed it was nice to know the previous summer’s easy months hadn’t been a one-time thing.
“Are we hitting the beach this weekend, Buffy?” Xander asked as he joined Buffy and Willow at the Bronze where they’d been discussing what to do with the remaining weeks of the summer.
“I guess we could. Do you guys want to go?”
“Cordy does. I’ll drive… um… if you think your mom would let us use her Jeep.”
“I dunno. I’ll ask her. She’s been really nice to me since I came home. I’m sure it’s going to wear off eventually, but we might as well take advantage of it while we can.”
Willow nodded. “Work that parental guilt as long as you can. That’s what I do.”
“You two do realize I have no idea what you’re talking about, don’t you? ‘Parental guilt’? What’s that?” Xander’s question was obviously not serious, and they just smiled at him with sympathy for his home situation.
And so went the rest of the summer, lazy days with Willow or Giles, weekends at the beach, quiet nights when she might not see even one vampire and only the occasional demon. One of the things she’d learned from Spike was that not all demons on the hellmouth were evil or dangerous. Some were there because they just liked living near the source of power. Now, if she saw one of the demons he’d told her were harmless, she just smiled and waved them on, hoping their obvious fear was just because of who she was and not because she’d done something to them or a family member.
“If you’re not sure, kill it, Slayer,” Spike had said one night when she’d hesitated. “Especially if it’s trying to hurt you. Most of the harmless ones will stay out of your way. If you see them, it’ll be by accident, or because they look so much like humans that you don’t know they’re part demon.”
Spike had laughed at her. “You’d be surprised how many of those there are, pet. Some humans don’t mind sharing a bed with a demon.”
“Or a house?” she’d asked innocently. “That’s what I’m doing, isn’t it?”
“I guess you are at that,” he’d replied, a strange look on his face. “At least there won’t be any half-demon sprogs in this case.”
Buffy sighed, remembering that conversation and his subsequent attempts to help her recognize which demons she should kill, and which ones not. Just then, she rounded a corner and found three vampires holding one of the few demons she’d actually met pinned against a wall. He was keeping them at bay with a baseball bat.
“Hey, Clem,” Buffy said cheerfully. “How’s it going?”
“I’ve been better, Slayer. But thanks for asking.”
The closest vamp turned to stare at her. “What did he call you?”
“I guess we haven’t met yet—I mean with you being all not dusty. I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?”
“This is none of your business, Slayer,” the largest vampire growled, but didn’t approach her. “Just walk on and we’ll forget we ever saw you.”
“You’re vampires. I’m the Slayer. Ergo—my business. And anyway, Clem is a friend of a… friend… of mine, he’d want me to help him.”
“Watch him,” the apparent leader said to one minion as he turned to face Buffy. “I’ll be right back.” He charged at Buffy, signaling his other companion to go around her. She jumped into the air and flipped over the one behind her, staking him as she landed.
“You’ve bitten off more than you can chew, little girl,” her opponent snarled. “You have no idea who I am.”
“Nope,” she agreed. “Don't know, don’t care.” She dodged his attempt to punch her, closing in under his arm and plunging her stake into his chest while he was still wondering where she’d gone.
His remaining companion had turned to watch the fight, and was now on the ground with Clem standing over him with his bat.
“Good job,” Buffy said, staking the stunned vampire where he lay.
“Thanks, Slayer. I appreciate the rescue. Those thugs were after my poker winnings.”
“No problem. Happy to help. Things are slow this summer, and it was nice to have something to do.” She gave an embarrassed shrug. “I guess slaying other demons—even vampires— probably isn’t your idea of something nice to do,” she said.
“Nah. I’m cool with it. I know you don’t go looking for non-evil demons.”
“You know that?”
“Well, I know Spike told you we exist when he introduced us. And he told me you were too honorable to kill anything that wasn’t evil.”
Buffy smiled. “He said that, huh?”
“Yeah. He pretty much thinks you… I guess I shouldn’t be telling his secrets. But he really likes you. Hard to believe he’s the same vampire that showed up here last fall and said he was going to kill you.”
Buffy nodded, but couldn’t think of a reply, so she just said, “Well, nice to see you again, Clem. I’m just going to finish my patrol so I can get home early tonight.”
“Sure. Sure. You’ve got things to do. Thanks again. Tell Spike I said ‘Hi” when you talk to him.’
Buffy frowned. “I don’t talk to him, Clem. He’s down in South America somewhere.”
“Oh.” The wrinkled demon studied her face for a second, then said, “Right. Sorry, Slayer. I just figured you guys would stay—never mind. I’ll tell him myself.”
Before Buffy could grasp what he’d said about telling Spike himself, Clem had disappeared into the darkness.
She put “find Clem again and ask him if he knows how to get hold of Spike” on her mental list of things to do, and went back to cruising the cemeteries for newly risen vampires.
She hadn’t run into the wrinkled demon again yet, and was contemplating hitting Willy’s to look for him that evening when the ringing phone interrupted her mental planning. She picked it up, expecting Willow to want to talk about the weekend.
“Not hardly, love.”
“Spike? Is that you?”
“It’s me. Never meant to do this, but—”
“But Clem told you he saw me and let the cat out of the bag.”
Spike chuckled. “Interesting way for you to talk about someone who gambles for kittens, but yeah. He told me he saw you and that you would probably figure out he knows where I am.”
“Why didn’t you mean to do it? If you can stay in touch with your demon friends, why can’t you stay in touch with me?” She waited, but he didn’t reply right away. “And just so you know, I was gonna ask him for a phone number the next time I see him.”
“I guessed as much. That’s why I’m calling. Didn’t want you trying to beat it out of the poor sod.”
Buffy’s voice took on an angry edge. “So, you weren’t going to call before Clem told you he talked to me?”
She heard him sigh before he answered.
“Wasn’t planning on it. As long as I could talk with him once in a while, I could keep up with how you were doing without…”
“Without actually talking to me?” Buffy couldn’t keep the disappointment and pain from her voice.
“Was tryin’ to make a clean break, love,” he said gently, his own sorrow plain in his voice. “But I’m weak, and I can’t stand not knowing if you’re okay, so I call Clem sometimes. He’ll know if there’s something I need to worry about.”
“What if there was? What if I had another apocalypse coming?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t really thought past needing to know you were okay and living your life.”
“I am. But it’s boring.”
“Well, it’s still summer, so not much is going on slaying-wise. I mean, we go to the Bronze and we go to the beach sometimes, and I had to go visit my dad and his girlfriend for a weekend. I got lots of new clothes out of that trip.” She smiled, thinking about her dad’s guilty spending, then added, “But it’s still boring.” She hesitated, then whispered, “I miss you.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” he groaned. “Don’t do that to me. I can see that lip sticking out from here. I miss you too. You have no idea how much— And as long as that’s true, I’m staying away.”
“I miss you. You miss me. But you aren’t here. What’s wrong with this picture?”
Buffy knew she sounded like a petulant teenager, but hearing Spike’s voice again reminded her of how much she liked having him around. He didn’t answer her, and she sighed. “Okay. I sound like a brat. I know. I’m not really that stupid… but—”
“Does my old heart good to know you—but that’s not how life is for us, Buffy.”
“I know” She shook her head, even though he couldn’t see it. “I know. You vampire, me Slayer. I get it.”
“Wish it could be different, Buffy.”
“Yeah. Me too.” She took a deep breath and tried to sound more cheerful. “So, did you have any trouble finding Dru?”
“No. Found her.”
“We’re workin’ on it.”
Deciding she didn’t want to pursue exactly how he might be working on making up with his girlfriend, she changed the subject again.
“So, are you going to give me a phone number to call? In case I need you for something?”
“Just in case I have something I need help with. I promise I won’t use it for anything else.”
“I don’t stay in one place, love.”
There was a long silence that Buffy refused to be the one to fill. Finally, there was a muffled growl from the phone and she was sure she heard something about “stubborn bint”. She smiled and waited.
“Fine. What if I promise to call you once a month? During the day when your mum will be at work?”
“Okay. I go back to school pretty soon, but I’m usually home by four. If I know what day—”
“I can’t be that specific, love. If I don’t get you, I’ll just try again the next day. Is that going to work?”
“I guess so.”
“You know this isn’t a good idea, don’t you?”
“I think it’s a great idea.”
He snorted. “Pretty pleased with yourself, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean. We just talked and then we agreed that you’re going to call me.”
“Uh huh. I’ve got to go now, Slayer. I’ll talk to you again soon.”
“Okay…. Be careful, Spike. Don’t get dusty.”
“Not planning to. Stay safe, love.”
And he was gone.
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