Note - Thanks to my beta, t_geyer, for her unending patience, perseverance and support. Thanks also to always_jbj who keeps arguing that she doesn't merit a co-writing credit, but without whom I would never have got the basic plotline worked out. ETA Special thanks to Speaker-to-Customers for pointing out some typos that managed to slip through the net this time.
'You've got to come,' he said. 'It'll be fun,' he said. 'You can't miss the grand re-opening,' he said. Buffy mentally cursed Xander for talking her into coming to The Bronze. 'No you won't be Fifth-Wheel Buffy, I promise. You'll be head Scooby Buffy, hanging out with all the gang.' Buffy cast a bored glance over to the dance floor where the two couples were dancing, leaving Fifth-Wheel Buffy to mind their seats and their drinks. Sure, like Xander had had one thought that wasn't about Anya's breasts since they started bouncing up and down at the beginning of the song. Ya, right. Lots of fun. Head Scooby Buffy, my perfectly-formed ass.
It wasn't like Riley had ever been way keen on hanging out with the Scoobies. He'd have come, and he might have chatted to Willow a bit and maybe Tara. He never really got Anya - who did? - and even though he made an effort when it came to Xander, it was painfully obvious to everybody other than Xander that he thought he had to dumb down... but at least she would have had someone to dance with. Then, they would probably take turns at minding the table.
She made an effort to quell the inner bitch, reminding herself that, if she missed having a boyfriend more than she missed Riley, then it was probably just as well that he had left town. Besides, just as soon as they worked up a thirst, her friends would be back, at least for long enough to have something to drink, and she needed to put her happy face on.
"Bleedin' crime, is what it is."
There was no mistaking the accent and Buffy looked up in surprise as Spike dropped bonelessly into the chair beside hers. If she hadn't thought that things with Spike were of the weird before now, then here was proof. He must have mugged someone who had a GAP discount card... well, not mugged, but Anya had said something about him lurking in alleys, scaring people into giving him their wallets. You know, if you didn't know that he was a soulless vampire and if it wasn't for the Billy Idol hair, he might actually have the potential to make a reasonable hottie.
"Jackin' up the bar price to pay for fixin' up this sinkhole," the vampire grumbled on. "Not my fault insurance doesn't cover act of troll."
"You could always go back to patronizing Willy's?" the slayer suggested in a teasing tone. "But I don't think the customers there would appreciate the new you."
For a second Buffy could have sworn that there was a look of total panic on the vampire's face. "The clothes, Spike?"
"Oh!" The vampire sat back in his chair and instead of an acquaintance filling in time, he suddenly had the look of someone who was getting way too comfortable. "I've half a mind to! Especially since the flowering onion got remodelled off the sodding menu." Another of Spike's dramatic shifts and he was leaning forward over the table again, Budweiser in hand, his face inches from her own. "'S the only thing this place had going for it."
Okay, the weirdness could only go so far before she called someone on it, and since her mom was back at home with Dawn and Giles, the Key-sitter, she guessed it would have to be Spike. "What are you doing?" she asked, the words coming out a little more sharply than she had really intended.
A look of confusion stole over his features. "Wha'... what do you mean what am ... I ..." he stammered.
Buffy felt a twinge of conscience and softened her tone. "Here?" she asked. "At this table? Talking to me. Like we're some kind of talking buddies."
"Well, I saw you ... sitting here alone," the vampire babbled. "Thought, I don't know, you could, maybe do with a bit of, uh, you know, company."
'Great,' thought the slayer, 'now I'm so pathetic that Spike is taking pity on me.'
"It's just, we took on that Glory chippie together," he continued. "I was right there with you, fightin' the fight."
Buffy couldn't help the smirk that slid over her face at his expense. "Actually, you were sleeping the sleep of the knocked unconscious-."
"Still, points for intent-." Spike began but was rapidly cut off.
"But, then, there was the thing with Dawn and mom and the knight the other day... and, yeah, that one buys you some points, I guess."
"See!" announced the vampire triumphantly. "That should be enough to cut me a sliver of slack. Earn a little consideration, respect."
And he was right. And, well, talking to Spike might not be the funnest part of the night, but it beat sitting alone.
"Hey," Xander cut across their conversation. "Uh, Evil Dead, you're in my seat."
Xander and Anya stood behind Spike's chair, waiting expectantly for him to move, but as the vampire twisted to see, Buffy was surprised to find her Xander resentment making a return, this time on Spike's behalf.
With a sigh and curse the vampire reached out to get his beer. He pretended to fumble it, but just before he could snatch the note from the tray of change on the table, Buffy's voice stopped him.
"Take it easy, Xander. It doesn't have your name on it. There's room for everybody."
"Forget it, slayer." The vampire gave her a rueful smile before he righted his beer and vacated the seat. "I'm going."
"Xander, I think you may have hurt his feelings."
Buffy thought Anya's statement came under the heading of stating the patently obvious. She'd never thought about it much before, not till she'd seen him with her mom and Dawn. It was only when she'd seen him actually happy and relaxed that she'd realised how seldom it happened. The Spike most people saw was constantly on his guard, always ready to strike if provoked. She kind of liked the happy Spike better.
"And you should never hurt the feelings of a brutal killer." Xander answered in a facetious tone, only then stopping to think over what he had just said. "You know, that's, uh, that's actually some pretty good advice."
Buffy rolled her eyes, as Willow and Tara sat down, but didn't say anything. She looked up, hoping to catch Spike's eye, but she saw that he was heading for the door. All of a sudden, she knew she didn't want to leave things as they were.
Xander meantime was taking full advantage of his recent move up from minimum wage. "So, who's up for some more liquid refreshments? I'm buying, for I-." He paused to watch as Buffy pushed back her chair and ran after the vampire.
"Spike!" she shouted. By the time she had got her hand stamped the vampire had quite the head start.
The vampire turned and waited but made no move to close the distance between them.
Buffy jogged to catch up and when she got within ten feet Spike gave her a nod and a curt, "Slayer."
"You shouldn't leave just because Xander's being an ass..."
"I'm not," he answered sharply, and then seemed to reconsider. "Well, I'm mostly not..." he admitted. "Just wanted to see how they'd done the place out after the refit. I came, I saw, I got stiffed on the bar prices."
"But you got all dressed up?" Buffy coaxed.
"Who says that's why I got dressed up? Maybe I'm meeting someone," Spike teased.
"If you were meeting someone, you'd be meeting them at The Bronze," Buffy argued, though she had no idea why. She should just be letting him go, but the idea that Xander thought he could just act like that when she was in the middle of talking with anyone irritated her. "At least come back for a while."
Spike raised an eyebrow at her insistence, but explained at first patiently and then warily. "One, I had to excavate the sofa to pay for that beer, slayer. I've got some poker debts I can call in but it's going to take a couple of days, so... Two, you deserve a night off but if you're here that means Joyce and Bite Size are on their own. Three, there's something I need to talk to you about, nothing that won't keep... but it might get a bit noisy so not in a bar, somewhere private. All very good reasons for me to go scrounge some cocoa off Joyce and see you when you get in."
Buffy didn't know where to start. She could probably afford to buy Spike at least one beer if she was careful, maybe two, and she felt like that was the least of what he was owed, but she didn't know whether he'd accept them or not. He'd willingly steal Giles' scotch, or bum hot chocolate off her mom, one was a game, and the other was no big deal among friends, but she didn't think he would react well if he thought she saw him as a charity case. She hadn't exactly left her mom and Dawn alone, but she couldn't deny that having a superhuman bodyguard around for them sounded way better than just having Giles. And she couldn't help thinking that she wanted to know just what it was that Spike had to tell her now . How was she meant to have a carefree night out when she had some great huge Spike secret hanging over her head?
"Giles is there," she offered after several seconds' consideration. "I mean he might be all watchery..."
"He won't make too much of a fuss if Joyce is alright with it. Worst comes to worst, he'll insist on hanging around till you get home and glare at me over the top of his glasses all night," Spike assured her.
"Which still leaves the great impending Spike-doom?" Buffy raised an eyebrow and sighed. "Wait here. I'll get my coat."
"Slayer!" Spike growled with a hint of impatience, and Buffy guessed that he thought she wanted to keep an eye on him. "Look, if you want to get out of there because you don't want to sit on your own all night like a sad git while your little pals play the mating game, then fine, but there's no great impending anything... Your mom's known for a couple of days. If she thought it was urgent, she'd have told you, but she thought it would be better coming from me is all. It's kept this long. It can keep long enough for you to have one lousy night on the town."
Buffy gave him what she hoped was a conciliatory smile. "I'll get my coat. That whole sitting alone thing... Not all it's cracked up to be."
"Huh?" Xander shook his head as he watched Buffy's retreating back. "Tell me that she did not just go running after Bleach Boy 'cause we are so not doing the Angel routine again..."
"Maybe she just wants to apologise," Tara suggested timidly.
"And again with the huh? Since when does Spike get apologies?" Xander asked.
Anya shrugged. "Maybe since he did that thing where he stopped the guy from cutting Dawn into little bitty Key pieces?"
Xander gave her his best scornful look, waiting till she shrank back slightly in her chair before he spoke. "Joyce would've stopped him anyway. It's not like he did anything great other than happen to be there. And I sooo need a beer. Who wants? As I was about to say, I am buying for I am payday man!"
Willow held up the bottle of aspirin that she was struggling to open. "I could use a water."
Xander waved a dismissive hand. "Water poses no challenge for payday man, for I have..." He paused and stared at the tray that held his change before pulling out a bill, dangling it between thumb and forefinger by one corner. "...Some very wet, sticky money that's covered in Bud. He did that deliberately. I know he did that deliberately." His gaze swivelled to the now empty doorway. "Spike, you diabolical fiend!"
In the distance a train horn blew, heralding the arrival of the late evening train from Los Angeles. The station porter skimmed through another couple of pages in his Spiderman comic before he pushed himself away from the fence he'd been leaning on and straightened up his uniform. He positioned himself level with the foremost door of the train as it slowed to a stop.
Seconds passed, but instead of the usual bustle of a dozen or so people getting together their belongings, the eager ones poised at the steps before the train even stopped, there was an eerie stillness.
The porter frowned, making his way to the door, grabbing the rails at either side and putting a foot on the first step to lean in and call out to the passengers who must have fallen asleep inside. "Sunnydale Station! Last stop this line!" he called out, raising his voice so that it would carry through the carriages.
He stepped back so he had a view of the whole platform. Still, no one got off. The train was never empty, not on a Friday night. Mostly there were just a few stragglers coming all the way to the end of the line but there was nearly always a few kids home for the weekend from college. Slightly hesitantly the porter climbed the steps into car. The first couple of rows were empty, but a tousled head lay at an angle in the third. He thought he'd yelled loud enough.
One more step changed his perspective enough to see that the man wasn't simply napping. Blood coated his neck and the pillow supporting his head, too much blood for his sleep to be anything other than permanent. Suddenly as if his eyes were focusing where they needed to and letting his brain catch up at its own speed he saw a slim forearm, hanging limply over the arm of a seat into the aisle, slowly dripping blood... far too slowly given the savage looking bite marks on the inside the wrist. He saw a woman in her thirties, her eyes wide open and staring as a fly landed on her eyeball, her top more red than its original white cotton. Body after body, each one looking like it had been savaged by a wild animal, or so the papers might say... and no one who had actually grown to adulthood in this town would believe a word of it.
His brain finally caught up, sending adrenaline coursing through his body, making his breath sound laboured as he tried to decide whether to run or go forward. Maybe it got off at the last stop. Leave the bodies to be discovered later. Before he could convince himself to move one more step along the train there was a swish of fabric, almost inaudible, something soft and luxurious his brain supplied incongruously.
He locked eyes with the grotesquely scarred monster as it walked towards him, eyes of molten gold, ancient, wise, wicked and completely insane.
"Oh god! Oh please! Help me!" he called out as he turned and ran. "Somebody please!" He was at the doorway. Maybe, just maybe someone would hear his screams. "Help me!"
Just as he placed his hand on the guard rails, ready to jump to the platform, a hand gripped him by the neck and pulled him back into the carriage, his legs dragging behind him even as he tried to regain his footing so that he might have a chance to pull away.
Teeth sank into his neck, ripping through muscle and sinew to find the artery below. At first his heart sent the blood pumping from the wound so fast and under so much pressure that it spurted wildly into the hellfiend's mouth, but as his heart slowed and he felt the chill seeping into his limbs, it lifted its head and sing-songed the last words he'd ever hear.
"It's very rude to run away when I need your sweet red medicine to make me pretty again for my William." Dru rose and let her features return to what currently passed for normal, one side of her face covered in thick shiny pink burns, but after tonight's feast she would heal quickly. She skipped daintily from the train, lightly scenting the air to see which way the driver had gone.
Joyce looked up at the sound of the door opening and closing. It wasn't even ten o'clock. "Buffy?" she called out and was rewarded by the appearance of her daughter in the hall doorway, Spike at her shoulder.
"I'm back by popular demand," her daughter announced as she wandered into the middle of the room.
"Spike?" Giles looked at the vampire with suspicion. "What are you doing here?"
"Had something I needed to discuss with the slayer."
"Really?" Giles drawled in a threatening tone. "And what might that be?"
"Rupert!" Joyce interjected sternly. "Spike is a guest in my house."
Giles' gaze flicked back and forward between the two Summers women and the vampire before he pushed himself up from his seat. "Well, now that there's a slayer in the house again, I think it's time I took my leave."
Spike glared right back at the watcher as he stalked through to the kitchen and put on the kettle. "Maybe you should stay around for a few more minutes, watcher? No point getting the melodramatics twice."
Giles made no further move to leave, but his left fist clenched and unclenched at his side as if he was waiting for just a little more provocation to take a swing at the vamp, who he realised now had neatly managed to put himself on the opposite side of the kitchen island from him and Buffy, with a recently boiled kettle far too close to hand for comfort.
"Okay, situation is this. Chip's gone." Spike was pretty certain that Giles would have made a lunge for him right then, if not for the obstacle in the way. Buffy was simply standing with her mouth open, looking from him to her mother and back again. So far, so good. "I plan on staying. Way I see it you have three options. Option the first: slayer or her watcher in shining armour, here, try to stake me. I don't intend to let you. If it's Buffy, we both end up hurt. If it's the old man let's just say I don't think I'll be in too much danger but there's a good chance it'll be bye bye grandpa. Option the second: I go back to being chained up in the bath tub at the watcher's, probably tempting on the face of it, but if cleanliness is next to godliness..." he nodded in Giles' general direction as he patted down his pockets. "...You must have been getting pretty pally with Old Nick by the time I did a runner the last time."
Pulling out his pack of cigarettes and his lighter, Spike shook a cigarette loose, running it between thumb and forefinger as he pressed the end against the counter and then flipping it over to repeat the motion over and over again as he gave the slayer and her watcher a third choice. "Option the third: you let me get on with my life and I don't give you any cause to come after me. Way I see it, that's about all the choice you've got, but I'd think very, very carefully about what's going to happen the next time some psycho on a mission from God decides to come after your little sis before you go for either option one or option two." The vampire stared straight into Buffy's eyes, leaving her in no doubt as to his seriousness.
He wouldn't normally smoke in the house, but he had a feeling that since there was a reasonable chance it might be his last ever one, he thought Joyce would let him off. He snapped the lighter open and flicked the wheel over the flint to bring a flame to life, inhaling deeply as he held it to the cigarette's tip. He'd taken a risk getting the watcher to stay, but he figured in the end it would be Buffy's opinion that would matter anyway and the last thing he wanted was the old git turning up at the crypt, however many days from now that it took for Buffy to tell him, with one of his holier than thou lectures.
The rest was up to them.
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