Spike did the dishes because he didn’t know what else to do. It kept him occupied, kept him away from interfering because no matter what Buffy said this was a time for her and her friends. The three of them sat out on the porch, at the table, talking as the darkness descended upon New Sunnydale. They’d been talking for hours with no sign of stopping. He could hear them through the open sliding French doors. Buffy had filled them in on her spot of bother and Willow and Xander had been outraged and sympathetic. They’d laughed, they’d cried, they’d sat in silence remembering old – or not so old in Buffy’s mind – times.
Mya had joined them now. She was being chased around the lawn by Harris as they played a game of one-on-one football. She’d always gotten on well with Willow and very well with Xander. Not that the pair of them had bothered to visit much. They’d met on a few occasions over the years, friendly enough, and Spike didn’t expect nor want more. They had always been Buffy’s friends, not his.
Spike could hear the chink of glasses, the cicadas in the distance, and the sound of Mya’s radio all drifting in from outside. And he was apart from it all. On the inside looking out. He blinked, annoyed with himself, he had dishes to do. He set upon the task with renewed determination. Until he heard his name.
“So, Spike’s your handler, huh?” Willow asked voice low and curious.
There was a pause before Buffy spoke. “I guess so. He’s in charge of making sure I don’t go all Harrison Ford.”
“It must be strange.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“I meant for him,” Willow responded.
Buffy said nothing as though not sure what she should say. Spike didn’t blame her. It confused the fuck out of him. He cleared his throat and set to work drying the dishes with the towel.
Willow spoke again. “He’s a good man now.”
Spike stopped, fingers wrapped around a plate; face the very picture of controlled surprise. Out of all of the Scoobies he supposed Willow was the one who didn’t loathe him quite so much, which was strange considering he’d tried to kill her the most. To know that she thought that about him made him feel…well, he didn’t know how it made him feel. Just that it made him feel something.
Of course, it was the Slayer who went on to shock him further.
“He always was,” Buffy breathed softly, voice carried to him on the breeze.
Spike turned to look at the open doorway. They were out of sight and all he was greeted with was the dark night sky, seemingly a void as big as a chasm. He took a step towards it.
“Oh yeah, he was real good when he was ripping out people’s throats,” Xander stomped up onto the porch, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Xander!” Willow snapped.
“I’m…going to go check on dad,” Mya said, voice small.
Spike’s jaw tightened, fists clenching.
“Mya, I didn’t mean…” Xander trailed off, sounding genuinely sorry.
The vampire turned his back a fraction of a second before Mya came in through the door. He heard her slide the door shut, sealing off the noise from outside. Spike closed his eyes, forehead creased. Mya knew about his past, of course. She knew everything about a vampire’s nature. But they didn’t talk about it. They never went into details about what he’d done and to whom. It was something they kept tucked away. Tried for normalcy as best they could.
She came up behind him quietly and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her cheek between his shoulder blades. Spike could feel her heart beating against his back. His daughter. His Mya. She loved him and he wasn’t even sure why but he was more glad for it then he could have expressed.
“Can we kick them out?” she asked.
+ + +
“I can’t believe you said that with Mya standing right there,” Willow glared at Xander, shaking her head in mild disgust.
He held his hands up, plopping into the vacant chair around the table. “I know, okay? I lack a brain. It just…sort of came out.”
Buffy sat opposite him and couldn’t think of a thing to say. She wanted to tell him off. To be mad. And, she was. She was mad but she was also sad for Xander, because even after thirty years he still wanted to hurt Spike. He still hadn’t learnt that Spike was about the best ally they’d ever had and that, yeah, he’d done bad things, but he’d also done good things. Great things. Buffy didn’t doubt that given another thirty years Spike would go on to do more. He had the capacity to be the real thing. A true hero. Way, way better than her.
Xander laid his hands palm down on the small table. “It just pisses me off that vampires get it so easy. I mean, they’re evil. We all know this.”
“Spike isn’t evil.” Buffy said, lifting her eyes to lock onto his.
“He’s not exactly a saint either, Buffy,” Xander leaned back, chair creaking. “Don’t get me wrong. He’s helped out. He has. And, yeah, he hasn’t sucked neck for a lotta years but there’s something there. Underneath the surface. Like he could just go at any minute, you know?”
The Slayer’s eyes darkened. “No. I don’t. Why don’t you tell me?”
“Forget it,” he said quickly, looking away.
“No, Xander, I really want to know.” She leant forward on the table. “Give me your insight.”
He nodded slowly, then shrugged. “Fine. It’s the same with every vampire. It’s their nature to kill. Spike was one of the worst. It’s gotta be there all the time. That want. How do we know one day he isn’t just going to revert back to William the Bloody?”
Buffy felt a deep anger rise in her. “I kill. I kill most nights. So, how do we know I wouldn’t just reach across this table and snap your neck?”
Xander’s mouth opened and he blinked, stunned.
Willow shifted in her seat, uncomfortable. “Buffy! God, what is wrong with you two?”
“I’m just sayin’,” Buffy sank back into the chair, face impassive. “You can no-more know what a human might do one day, than you can Spike.”
He pointed a finger at her. “So you agree with the law, then? Vampires are the same as humans?”
“I never said that,” she said easily. “I’m not talking about vampires plural. I’m talking about vampire. One.”
Xander snorted. “Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?”
“Oh sweet Gaia…” Willow muttered to herself.
“What’s so special about Spike?” Xander questioned, pissed off.
“I know Spike. I know I can trust him. He’s earned that trust from us all.” Buffy announced.
He shook his head, annoyed. “Not me.”
“Xander, what about your eye?”
Buffy looked at Willow, intrigued. She hadn’t mentioned it before. Xander’s eye patch. She hadn’t wanted to bring up what was probably a sore point but it had surprised her upon first seeing it. Just in the grand scheme of surprises in the past few days it hadn’t rated quite as high as it might have. Xander had lost an eye and she felt guilty for not taking the time to ask him about it, not taking the time to barely even notice it. What kind of friend did that make her?
“What about it,” Xander grunted, shifting uncomfortably.
Willow looked at him pointedly. “Without Spike you’d have lost them both.”
“How…did that happen?” Buffy asked softly.
Xander looked at her and the look was one that made him look suddenly old and tired. “Caleb. A psycho friend of The First.”
“I’m sorry, Xander,” Buffy told him, reaching over to place her hand on top of his.
“For what? Wasn’t your fault.”
“For not being there.”
He shook his head; a falsely brave smile curved his lips. “Also not your fault.”
“It wasn’t Spike’s fault either,” she assured him. “And I want you both to understand that. He told me about the exchange.”
Willow and Xander looked at one another but neither of them said anything. It was clear to Buffy that they still blamed Spike for her disappearance and that they probably always would. It would do no good to remind them that they too had both made mistakes, serious ones, and been forgiven. They would never forgive.
Willow sipped her drink. “Buffy, I like Spike…sometimes. It surprises me, but I do. And I think he’s a great father to Mya and he’s good at his job and he fights on our side. Which is also good. So, that’s what I have to say.”
“If you need somewhere to stay, Willow’s place is always open,” Xander offered glibly.
Buffy shook her head. “Can’t. Gotta stay with my handler.”
“It’s the handling part I’m worried about.” He grumbled.
She rolled her eyes. “Xander, I’m a grown woman. I can take care of myself. Besides, he got married. I think it’s safe to say Spike isn’t interested in handling me in that way.”
“Once you go Buff, you don’t go back.” He pointed at her then paused. “I don’t mean buff in the naked sense.”
“Thanks for the clarification, Xander,” Willow smiled.
The Slayer looked over at the doors that led back into the house. “In any case, I like it here. It’s peaceful. And Mya’s great. It’s…a good place for me right now. ’Sides, kinda hoping Spike can get me off this murder charge.”
Willow nodded and Xander sighed slightly, looking off into the distance forlorn. Buffy sipped her drink and tried to search for something, anything, upbeat to say. There was nothing to say. So they sat.
A minute or so later the screen door slid open and Spike stepped out onto the porch, the light from the house flooding around behind him and shrouding him in shadow. She could barely make out the features of his face. In his hand he clutched a paper.
“Hate to interrupt but I just got a fax,” Spike declared. “We’ve been summoned to meet with the Watcher’s Council tomorrow.”
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