Artwork that inspired the story by Kudagirl
AU future. Not comics compliant.
“Never a good sign,” he said with an indulgent smile that belied his words.
“Funny. Not. Okay, here’s the thing… I’m not really needed here except when I’m teaching or we have a meeting, right?”
“That is correct.”
“So, I’m thinking that instead of living here, I should get myself a flat… or maybe even a house… and start being a grownup.”
“I would think you might have had quite enough of that during your last few years in Sunnydale,” he said. “None of us were as helpful as we could have been during those trying times, and I doubt your first venture into home ownership was a very pleasant experience.”
“Well, yeah. But the thing is, I’m old enough to be a grownup now. And I have a good job, that pays me actual money, and I like it here in London where I don’t have to drive a car to get places, and I saw this awesome house the other day and yeah, it’s kinda run down, but it’s for sale and it’s gotta be cheap because it needs paint and stuff and I thought—”
His raised hand brought her babble to a halt. “Does this have anything to do with the research you were doing the other day? About William the Bloody?”
She sighed. “Maybe,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “What of it?”
“And what did you find out?” He ignored her question.
“I found out where Spi—William used to live.” Her expression became even more stubborn. “But that’s got nothing to do with all my reasons for wanting to move out. It’s just a coincidence that the house I want happens to be the one William used to live in before he was turned.”
“Yeah. You know, when one thing seems like it made the other thing happen, but it really didn’t?”
“Giles, I’m going to do this. You can help me, or you can sit on your hands, but don’t try to talk me out of it.”
“I wasn’t planning to. However, I do want to be sure you know what you’re doing. And I would also like to take a look at this house and make sure you are not buying a fire trap.”
“Oh. Okay then. Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome. Why don’t you contact the estate agent and see what you can set up for sometime tomorrow morning?”
“Giles, you’re the best!” Giving him a quick hug, Buffy left his office before he could change his mind.
After calling the agent and setting up an appointment to see the house again, this time with her “uncle”, Buffy couldn’t resist visiting it once more. She stood out front, gazing at the seedy-looking entrance and boarded up windows, trying to picture it as it had been in William’s time. She tried to imagine him going in and out the solid-looking door, maybe with his mother on his arm or even a female friend…
She shook herself, remembering that the only female friend Spike had ever brought home was Drusilla; she shuddered to remember that conversation. With tears in his eyes, recently-souled Spike had tried to tell her why she had to slay him, now that they knew the First was making him kill. He’d described in great detail bringing Dru home with him to meet his mother, and how she’d eaten her way through the few servants they’d still had at that time. And what he’d done to his own mother. What he hadn’t realized, as he talked about that night, was that his love for his mother and his real reason for turning and then killing her had come through loud and clear.
He’d done it for love. Just as so much of his behavior in the following years had been for love of Drusilla, and even, to some extent, Angelus. She really didn’t want to try to understand his love/hate relationship with Angel – especially now that she knew that connection had gotten him killed for a second and undoubtedly final time – but she understood to a greater extent than she’d ever let him know, how hard he’d worked to be the kind of vampire Angelus and Dru had wanted him to be.
As she stared at the house in which William had grown up to become the man he’d been before turning, she smiled at how quickly he’d changed again after he couldn’t kill anymore and after he realized he’d fallen in love with the slayer.
“You were a good man, William,” she murmured to the house. “In spite of yourself, you were a good man.”
Buffy followed behind Giles and the realtor (estate agent she reminded herself), listening with half her brain as they discussed surveys (Why the hell don’t they just call them inspections if that’s what they are?) and broken windows and heating systems. When Mrs. Reese turned to include Buffy in her question, she had to repeat it.
“I asked you if you would like me to arrange with the owners to have all the old furniture and personal belongings stored upstairs removed? Assuming you decide to take the house, of course.”
“Oh,” Buffy said. “Sorry. I guess I was busy thinking about paint colors and stuff.” She smiled as Giles and Mrs. Reese stared from her to the boarded up windows and battered furniture still remaining on the first floor. “Um, no, the stuff in the attic is fine. I’ll go through it some day and chuck what’s chuckable. If you can just help me line up some cleaners…”
“So, you are determined to live here?” Giles’ voice held just a trace of disapproval and Buffy bristled immediately.
“I just heard you guys say that it’s basically sound, just old and dirty. When those boards come off the windows and we can get some light in here….”
“And, if and when it passes a structural survey,” Giles said. “There is nothing in this house that isn’t very old – including the electrical system. Between that and the plumbing, all added at some point in the last seventy years or so, there are a myriad of things that could make it uninhabitable.”
“Well, we’ll just get them fixed and make it… whatever the opposite of uninhabitable is.”
“That would be ‘habitable’, and you cannot think of moving in until that has been firmly established. Nor should you put down any money until we have been through the house with the surveyor.”
“Xander already said he’d look at it for me,” she grumbled. “Quit trying to smush my excitement.”
Giles sighed and turned back to Mrs. Reese. “We will arrange to have the appropriate surveys done, and we’ll be back in touch once we have spoken with the surveyors. If Mr. Harris is going to be in town at the right time, we will probably want him to be present as much as possible.”
Xander stood in the living room, gazing around at the tattered rug and worn furniture. With the boards off the windows, the grime and signs of hard use were even more obvious than they’d been before.
“Wow, I don’t think the last people to live here were… actual people?”
“I think the last time anybody lived here was in the seventies or eighties. Mrs Reese said it was rented out to some group home that turned out to be a bunch of druggies. I guess it’s lucky they didn’t burn it down…”
“Yeah, lucky.” He grimaced and walked over to look at a dust-covered portrait over the fireplace. A blond woman wearing old fashioned clothing and a simple hairdo stared out into the room with bright blue eyes that seemed slightly disappointed in what they were seeing. He cocked his head and stared at the face for a long time, finally turning to Buffy. “Is there a reason she looks so familiar?”
Buffy cleared her throat. “Uh, yeah, you know that thing I said I’d tell you about after you told me if the house was okay?” He nodded and she continued. “Well, see, here’s the thing… that’s… that’s Anne Pratt. She used to own the house, back in the 1800’s. “
“And she looks familiar because…?”
“Because her son’s name was William.” Buffy waited a second, then added, “William Pratt, aka William the Bloody, aka—“
“Spike. That’s Spike’s mother?” He looked around. “This is his house?”
“Well, not anymore. It’s been bouncing around their distant relatives for a long time and the ones that own it now want to get rid of it. Hence the Buffy buying.”
“I’ll be dammed,” he said, gazing around the shabby, but clearly formerly genteel, surroundings. “That lying son of a bitch,” he continued. “Told me he’d always been bad. ‘Raised in the slums’ he said.”
“Yeah, he said that a lot. Wasn’t true though. Dawn knows even more than I do about him when he was human. She said he wasn’t anything like what he wanted us all to believe. Everything was fake – the clothes, the accent, the crude manners. He wrote poetry, if you can believe that. Poetry!”
“You think you know somebody….” Xander glanced at her. “You didn’t know any of that stuff? I thought when you and he….”
“We didn’t do a lot of talking,” she said curtly, then sighed and shook her head. “That’s not really true… I knew a little bit. I knew how gentle and sweet he could be – not that I ever let him show that until.... And I knew he was educated. Giles told me that a long time ago.”
“So I’m the only one who didn’t know the Big Bad was a fake?”
“There was nothing fake about the demon he was when we first me him. He was just as big and bad as Dru and Angelus had wanted him to be. Trust me, William was buried way inside him by then. If it hadn’t been for the chip and—”
“And falling in love with you.”
“And that,” she said with a sad smile. “We would never have known anything about him except what a dangerous vamp he was.” Her voice strengthened and got colder. “I’m damn sure Angel wouldn’t have admitted how much he had to do with making Spike what he was.”
Xander nodded. He’d long since learned not to interject his own opinions of either of the vampires in Buffy’s life, although he hadn’t been able to bring himself to utter anything but the barest acceptable condolences when the news of the final battle in LA reached them.
“So,” he said, changing the subject quickly. “What’s the plan? I talked to the inspectors and went around with one of them. The house is really well-built and there’s no dry rot or termite damage or anything like that. Most of this is just cosmetic stuff. A couple of broken windows to fix, some doors that need to be rehung, stuff like that. The electricity isn’t up to modern code; you’re going to have to have the house completely rewired before you’ll be allowed to live in it. But it’s safe enough for now. The gas is going to be connected as soon as they issue a safety certificate, but you’re going to need to buy a new stove. That one isn’t up to modern codes either.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I’m going to be shelling out a lot of money for appliances. The estate agent told me that. Even the ones that still work are so old they’re obsolete.”
He nodded. “The plumbing was my big worry, but it’s surprisingly okay. Again, it’ll need some updating, but it’s usable the way it is.” He looked at Buffy’s serene face as he rattled off all the things she was going to need to spend money on. “What aren’t you telling me?” he asked finally.
“What? What do you mean, ‘not telling’ you?”
“Buffy, I know the Council has money, and I know they pay you well enough to keep you in fancy sweaters and expensive Italian shoes, but… never mind what this place must have cost to begin with, we’re talking big bucks to make it livable, and you aren’t even blinking. This is not the same woman who fed Dawn Doublemeat sandwiches all the time because they were free.”
Buffy sighed and sat down on the couch, bouncing up again immediately when a mouse ran out of the cushion.
“Eeek! Did you see that?”
“It was a mouse. A little, bitty, run-of-the-mill mouse. Jeez, Buff, you’d think it was a demon.”
“It could have been a demon-mouse,” she muttered, settling for leaning against an old desk. “You don’t know.”
When he just looked at her and shook his head, she sighed again. “Okay, here’s the thing – and this is not something very many people know, okay?” He nodded his understanding and mimed zipping his lips. “Spike knew he wasn’t going to live through the battle Angel’d gotten them into. And he had some money put away. That’s another thing he lied to us about. He always had money, he just liked to steal things and liked to make us pay him for help.”
“Jerk,” he said, shrugging an apology at Buffy when she glared. “Come on, he was a total fake and he lied to us. What part of that isn’t jerky?”
“He was just protecting himself, Xan. Trying to keep up his image.”
“Right. That all-important image as a thief and a killer and… Sorry. Go on with your story. So, Spike had money?”
“He did. And he made a will, leaving it all to me and Dawn.”
Heedless of any remaining mice, Xander fell into the couch with a thud. “You’re rich?”
“Well, a lot closer to it than I’ve ever been before in my life. I don’t think I’ll be buying a yacht any time soon, but Dawn can go to school pretty much anywhere she wants to, and I can afford to buy a neglected old house and fix it up.”
“I’ll be dammed…” He jumped to his feet. “All right then, let’s get this project rolling.” He grinned at her with genuine delight. “Here I was worrying that you were going to be in debt for the rest of your life and trying to think of ways to save you money… This is going to be fun now!”
“Uh, Xander, did you miss my subtle hint that I’m not a billionaire?”
“Oh yeah, I got it. No yachts. No problem.” He pulled out a note pad and started jotting things down. “Okay, cleaning crews first. Clean it out, get rid of all the old furniture—”
“Giles says a lot of them are antiques.”
“Fine, get an antique dealer in here to identify which ones to keep or sell.” He didn’t even slow down, just made another note. “Strip wall paper, scrub painted walls—”
He interrupted himself. “Better get the outside done up first. Want the neighbors to know you’re fixing up the eyesore.” He made another note. “Clean and paint exterior, check and repair mortar between bricks…” Buffy trailed him around the house as he wrote down the things that required repair or replacement before she could move in. When they’d made it to the third floor and he gestured at a narrow staircase, she shook her head.
“It’s just an attic. There are boxes of clothes and other… stuff up there that belonged to Spike and his mom. I don’t want anybody up there until I’ve had a chance to go through it.”
He shrugged. “Okay. Both inspectors said the roof was sound and the floor up there was okay, so I guess it can wait.”
They made their way downstairs again and he handed her the list. “I’m sorry I can’t stay around to oversee all this, but I’ll check in every time I’m back in London. Maybe the real estate lady can help you line up some good people?”
Buffy nodded and took the list from him. “She said she would. And some of the girls from the school have offered to help. It’s not like I need to pay anybody to do the heavy lifting.”
“You’re good to go, then.” He hesitated. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Buffy… I know it’s hard to let go, but sometimes you just have to move on….”
She smiled, a bit sadly, but with sincerity. “I’m not planning to live here and wallow,” she said. “Spike wouldn’t have wanted that. I needed a place to live, that’s all. It just so happens, I found the house he used to live in and it was available. I’ll be fine. Really.”
Mrs Reese was true to her word, and once all the papers had been signed, and Buffy had turned over a cashier’s check for the asking price, she helped Buffy line up contractors and cleaning crews to work on making the house a pleasant place to live. Buffy was in and out whenever she wasn’t working at Council Headquarters, checking on the progress and bothering the head contractor for a definite move-in date. Finally, more, she was sure, to get her off his back than to provide good information, he gave her a date of mid-March.
“Not until then?” Buffy’s lip came out in what even the foreman could recognize as the beginning of a major pout.
“Ms Summers, the house is okay to be lived in anytime you want to move in. I’ve just been assuming, since you have somewhere else to live right now, that you’d rather not be trying to live in a house with strangers running in and out at all hours.”
Buffy sighed and nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry. And yeah, I don’t want to have to worry about stepping out of the shower and onto the plumber. Okay. But I’m moving in in March, ready or not.”
By March Buffy was very grateful for her job and paycheck from the Council. Repairing and refreshing the old house had eaten a major hole in her disposable income. Giles had explained, more than once, that her money would make her money if she was patient and left it alone. And she really hadn’t dipped very far into what he called “capital” to get the house in working order. But now, with the rooms all scrubbed, floors polished, and walls painted, it was painfully obvious that she was going to have to put out even more money to furnish it.
“First things first,” she said as she and Dawn entered the furniture store. “We need a bed for you, and living room stuff – a couch, couple of chairs, and… what?”
“Buffy, you don’t need to buy me a bed right away. I won’t be around that much after I start school, and I don’t mind staying at the Slayer school.”
“But… don’t you want to live here… there? With me?”
“Of course I do. But I’m going to be gone a lot once I finally start university, and then I’ll be getting a place of my own when I get a job, and….” She stopped when she noticed the expression on Buffy’s face. “Oh my God. You didn’t do this for me, did you? Did you buy a house instead of a flat because you thought—”
“No, no. Don’t be silly. I bought it because I… well, honestly? I bought it because of who it used to belong to. Don’t tell Giles that, though. I think I’ve got him convinced it was just a coincidence that I decided to buy a house just when this one came on the market. But I did think you’d be sharing it with me….”
“Which I will! For a long time yet. But you remember what it was like when you moved into the dorms. You only came home to do your laundry or for holidays. At least until Mom got sick. And you were younger than I am and going to school in the same city. Who knows where I’ll be?”
“You’ll still need a bed,” Buffy said, her expression brooking no argument. “If and when you don’t need it to come home to, I’ll just call it a guest room.”
“Okay, fine. But why don’t I use some of my own money to buy furniture for my room? Then I’ll already have some stuff when I’m ready to get a place of my own.”
Hours later, when they had sat on twenty or thirty sofas, and almost as many chairs, they sprawled in exhaustion, feet up on a rustic-looking coffee table.
“I like this one,” Dawn said, her eyes shut and her head leaning against the padded back of the couch.
“You’re just saying that cause it’s comfy,” Buffy said, also resting her head. “And cause we’re sitting on it.”
“Comfy. Wouldn’t that be, like, the most important thing?”
Buffy sat up and blinked. “Dawn, that’s brilliant!”
“Good. Can we go home now?”
Waving the saleswoman over, Buffy ignored Dawn to begin negotiations for having the couch in question, or one just like it, covered in the fabric she’d already picked out. Fending off suggestions for end tables and other pieces, Buffy paid for the sofa and matching chair and pulled Dawn to her feet.
“Okay, let’s go. Dinner first, then home. ‘k?”
“Home” for Dawn was still Slayer Central, although Buffy had moved into the house as soon as she purchased a new mattress for the four-poster bed she’d found still in good shape in one of the upstairs bedrooms. With the assistance of several equally strong girls, she’d begun moving pieces of furniture around as soon as the interior of the house had been cleaned, repaired and repainted, but the refurnishing of the other rooms was still very much a work-in-progress.
Since there seemed no way to move the bed with which Buffy had immediately fallen in love without taking it apart, she had declared the room it sat in as her “master bedroom”. This, in spite of the obviously true master bedroom across the hall, which was much larger and airier. She’d given Dawn a smaller, but still generous room at the end of the hall and really had no plans for the largest bedroom, ending up using it as a holding area for all the pieces of old furniture left in the house that hadn’t been used somewhere else. Good furniture cleaner and polish, as well as slayer elbow grease, had made many of the tables and chests more than usable in the finished rooms of the house.
“So, how’s it going here, Henrietta Homeowner?” Xander smiled and looked around the living room, surprised at how much Buffy had accomplished since his last trip to England.
“Slowly,” she responded with a sigh. “It’s a bigger house than I thought.” She brightened. “But, all the rooms we have to have done right now are okay. The kitchen is all finished and usable, all the bathrooms work, and I have a nice, cozy living room to sit in.”
“It looks nice, Buffy.” Xander nodded as he walked around the newly painted and furnished room, remembering what it had looked like when he first saw it. “Lot of hard work, huh?”
“It was, but it’s kind of fun too. I just wish….” She shook her head and laughed at herself.
“Nothing. I was going to say I wish I had somebody to share it with, but really? I’m pretty happy for the alone time after all those years of living surrounded by other people.”
“Dawn’s not here?”
“Oh yeah. Technically, she lives here. But she spends most of her time at Slayer Central or the Council offices. I think she’s going to be a Watcher. After she goes through some snooty English University that Giles is pushing.”
“So….” He gazed around the room, then fixed his eyes on Buffy. “Pretty big house for one person, isn’t it?”
Buffy shrugged, refusing to meet his eyes. “If I get too lonely, I’ll just rent out a room to one of the slayers or instructors. Right now, I’m really enjoying being by myself. I never have, you know. Always a roommate, a sister, or a bunch of baby slayers. It’s… different, but I think I like it.”
With the house as livable as it was going to get for the foreseeable future, Buffy was left with more free time in which to get better acquainted with her new home. Inevitably, her feet took her to the foot of the narrow staircase leading to the attic. She stood there for several minutes, broom, mop and bucket in hand, then stepped on the first riser. She set her burdens down a few feet away from the last step and went back down stairs to retrieve her dusting implements and a trash bag.
Go me. If this place has done nothing else, it’s turned me into a first class janitor.
She began her task by washing down the insides of the windows at either end of the large, vaulted room. Cleaning a century’s worth of grime from the glass brought a surprising amount of light into the space, and Buffy stepped back, smiling in satisfaction. As long as she worked on sunny days, there’d be no need to bring the electrician back to install lighting in the long-neglected room. Several small, but functional, oil lamps gave evidence of how the room had been illuminated long ago.
Hours later, when the waning sunlight was no longer brightening the dark corners, Buffy stretched and surveyed her efforts. The floors were now dust free, as were all the other horizontal surfaces in the room. She’d filled two bags with trash – mostly old newspapers and magazines that had crumbled away or been destroyed by mice and insects. And she’d washed down the outsides of the various chests and enclosed shelves against the walls of the attic. She was very proud of herself for the way she’d kept to her tasks and resisted the urge to dig into the chests and books before she’d finished cleaning.
Leaving her cleaning tools by the door, Buffy picked up the bucket of dirty water and made her way down the steep stairs to the floor below. The interior hallway was already growing dark, and she had to resist hitting the light switch on her way to the back stairs, telling herself it would be a waste of electricity and she’d just have to come back up to turn it off. The stairs, which led first to the floor containing the family bedrooms and from there down to the kitchen, were well-lit and, although still somewhat narrow, more easily negotiated even when carrying a full bucket of sloshing water.
“I should have stopped and dumped this in the tub,” she muttered as she finally made it to the kitchen, hit the light switch there, and carried the bucket to the back door. She opened the door and stepped out into the growing gloom to empty the bucket over the grass she was encouraging in a small cleared area.
As she stood up, familiar tingles on her neck had her balancing on the balls of her feet, searching for the source of what could only be vampire vibes. She dropped the bucket and picked up a near-by rake, holding it in the middle while she moved out into the garden. Buffy made a mental note to have someone come in and trim the large boxwoods behind which anything could have been hiding. Even as she strode toward the back gate, which she could now see was hanging open, she felt the vibes becoming fainter. By the time she got to the gate, she could no longer sense them and she kicked it in disgust.
She slammed it closed, latching it firmly. Before she re-entered the kitchen, she made a quick circuit of the house, but found nothing amiss and no lurking creatures except a small black and white kitten that meowed and glared at her with great suspicion.
“Hey, don’t yell at me. I live here. What are you doing in my yard?”
The kitten stared at her, then stuck its tail in the air and walked away with great dignity. If it found the sight of a strange human holding a gardening tool intimidating, it refused to admit it. Buffy watched it go, then laughed and put the rake back by the door.
“I don’t know if you’re really brave or really stupid,” she called after the kitten, which had already disappeared into the bushes. “Good thing for you I don’t play poker with demons.”
The small smile that graced her face for several minutes was proof of how far she’d come in the years since the fall of Angel’s LA team. A memory that would have once brought a lump to her throat was now just something to smile about as she remembered the vampire who’d inspired it. She closed and locked the kitchen door before peering into the refrigerator for something to eat.
She took the sandwich she’d fixed and her bottle of water into the living room and made herself comfortable on the couch. She clicked the TV on and settled back to watch while she had her pre-patrol meal.
The vampire stood for several minutes, staring at the freshly-painted exterior of the old house, wincing when the lights began to come on. He was already fading back into the shadows when the kitchen door opened, and had moved well away before anyone had time to come out and find him lurking outside.
Cursing his luck, he moved down the street, an obvious limp making him appear even more down on his luck than did the battered leather coat and the disfiguring scars on his thin face and hairless head. His cheekbones stood out sharply below his hollowed eyes—eyes that flared yellow whenever a human walked past and the scent of warm blood hit his senses.
“So, you think there was a vamp in the yard - garden?” Dawn spoke around a mouthful of pizza. “Really?”
“I think I know what a vampire feels like, Dawn,” Buffy said with some annoyance. “I just don’t understand why one was in my yard and then left before I got outside.”
“Maybe he wasn’t hungry?” Dawn reached for another slice of pizza and frowned at it. “Do they put mushrooms in everything in this country?”
“Pretty much,” Buffy said absently, biting into her own slice. “I dunno. It just seemed weird. Maybe he was some old vamp who thought the house was still empty?”
“That makes sense. It was empty for a long time, wasn’t it? Maybe long enough for vampires to be able to come in and hole up here. It’s not like there was an owner hanging around to make sure they couldn’t get in.”
“Well, if that’s what it was, he knows now. The lights were on, and even a vampire should be able to tell the difference between a ratty old house and one that’s been fixed up.” She finished her pizza and took a swallow of Diet Coke. “But I’m going to have those boxwoods trimmed, anyway. They’re all taller than I am.”
“Five-year-olds are taller than you are,” Dawn said, not bothering to hide her smirk.
“Very funny, giant girl.” Buffy stood up and stretched. “Let’s watch some ‘telly’ before we go to bed. You’ll like the new flat screen Xander picked out for me.”
“He’s been around a lot lately, hasn’t he?” Dawn followed Buffy into the living room. “Something going on there that I should know about?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s Xander. He’s here a lot because… because he’s Xander. That’s all.”
“Uh huh.” Dawn remained unconvinced. “And where does he stay when he’s here?”
“So not your business,” Buffy said, blushing. “But just so you know, I fixed up the other spare room for him. If and when he needs a place to stay, he stays there. In his own room, Miss nosey-pants.”
“Dawn, it’s Xander. I love him dearly, but he will never be anything but one of my best friends. And I’m sure he doesn’t think of me that way anymore either. He has girlfriends, for God’s sake.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. No Xander-Buffy hanky-panky. How boring.”
“Boring is good. Boring means no yelling, no hurting each other, no crying, no—”
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to tell you something one time, and then we are never going to discuss it again. ‘k?”
Dawn looked intrigued and turned down the volume. “Okay. Spill.”
“I once had the best lover a woman could ever want. He was inventive, unselfish, strong, sexy, an amazing kisser, rough when I needed him to be rough, and gentle when I needed him to be gentle… and he could outlast a slayer.” She paused. “And he loved me with everything he had.” She looked up, her eyes glistening. “I’m not saying I’ll never find anybody else like that,” she said softly. “But I’ve tried often enough to know that I’d rather do without than be disappointed. Someday I’ll meet somebody and fall in love, and then….” She shook herself. “In the meantime, I don’t plan to use my best friend just to scratch an itch that I’m pretty sure he can’t reach.”
“Oh.” Dawn seemed to be rendered genuinely speechless for several seconds. “Oh, Buffy…” At a gesture from her sister, she stopped her intended expression of sympathy and regrouped. “Okay, so, the next time someone asks me why you don’t date more, I can just tell them the guy has to be better in bed than—”
“Do and die.”
The next opportunity Buffy had for some free time, she returned to the attic to indulge her curiosity about the leather-bound books behind the glass-front cabinets and the items in the trunks. An hour after sitting down beside the first trunk and opening it, she was still there, marveling over things like programs from dances, names that meant nothing to her scribbled here and there, a woman’s fan that looked like it had been caressed many times.
Many of the things she took out meant nothing to her modern eyes, but they had clearly been important to Spike’s mother, whose treasures she assumed they were. A guess that was confirmed when she found a small cache of letters tied with a ribbon. The letter on the top made it clear that they had been written back and forth between Spike’s mother and father at some point early in their marriage when James Pratt had been away on business. For some reason, to continue reading the letters seemed to Buffy too much like an invasion of Anne Pratt’s privacy, and she put them back in the trunk along with all the other bits and pieces of a life lived long in the past.
After closing the trunk lid and fastening it down with the clasp, Buffy sighed and looked around the room. Her eyes lit upon the glass-enclosed bookcase and she wandered over to it. The books on the shelves seemed to be mainly books of poetry – some by poets whose names Buffy vaguely remembered from English class, and some not. She smiled at the notations in the margins, and the underlined phrases, guessing immediately who the books had belonged to. When one fell open to the flyleaf and she saw “To William, Wishing you a very happy twentieth birthday, Love, Mother” she sat down, stroking the page.
She glanced through several more books, finding his name in the front of each one, and notes throughout. “Well done!” he’d written beside one underlined stanza by somebody Buffy had never heard of. She shook her head and stood up, clutching the book to her chest. She closed the doors and took the book with her to read later on.
Buffy was lounging in a chair, enjoying the unusually warm, sunny day by pretending she was back in southern California. Sunhat on head, sunglasses on her face, and legs stretched out for tanning, she watched as the man she’d hired to trim the boxwoods worked. He’d had to use a ladder to reach the tops, but had quickly reduced them to a more manageable four feet tall. At Buffy’s gasp when she saw the first butchered shrub, he’d quickly explained that the bushes would fill in before she knew it and be all the healthier for the pruning.
“Trust me, Miss. I know what I’m doin’. Been tending to gardens all over the city for more years that you’ve been alive.” He looked around with approval. “You’ve got the basics of a lovely garden here. Bit overgrown in places, but the bones of it are classical. It could be a showcase.”
Buffy smiled, but recognized the sales pitch for what it was. “I’ll settle for just not having to hack my way through it with a machete,” she said. “Anything else will have to wait until I have more time and money.”
He’d accepted the rejection with good grace and gone back to his vigorous pruning, while Buffy settled down with her book of poems that had, at one time, been important to Spike. She smiled as she read, noting how often his favorite lines seemed to be about love and women. “Some things don’t change that much, do they?” she whispered to herself, remembering Spike’s hundred-year devotion to Drusilla, and his willingness to endure torture or death for Dawn and Buffy.
“That’s odd!” Buffy looked up at the surprised tone in the gardener’s voice. He was staring at the old potting shed near the rear of the large yard.
“What is?” Buffy stood up and walked to where she could see where he was looking.
“Nothing, I suppose. I just would have sworn I’d left that door open until I finished the job and put the tools away.”
Buffy shrugged. The idea of danger appearing in broad daylight was still foreign to her, in spite of knowing that humans were as capable of evil as any demon or vampire. “Maybe the wind blew it shut,” she said, turning away.
“Maybe,” he agreed with more agreement than belief in his voice. “Not that there is any wind today….”
“Well, we’ve both been here all afternoon, so it’s not like anybody could have snuck in,” Buffy said. “So, either you forgot you closed it, or there was a gust of wind.”
“Right you are, Miss. I’m sure that’s the case.” He turned away and began raking up all the boughs of boxwood. “I’ll just finish tidying up here and be on my way, then.”
Buffy nodded and went into the house to get the check she’d already written out for him. She watched from the window as he gathered up all the trimmed off branches and piled them in a deep cart which he used to transport them to the gate. His small truck was parked outside the gate, and it took only a few minutes for him to transfer the debris from cart to truck bed. He put his pruning tools in behind them and returned to the garden.
Buffy came outside, check in hand, and pointed at the few tools he’d used that belonged to her. “Don’t worry about that stuff,” she said. “I’ll put them away myself. You’ve worked hard enough for one day.” She smiled and handed him the check, watching as he got back in the truck and drove off – after offering her many assurances that anytime she needed more work done, he was “her man”. She latched the gate behind him and turned toward the equipment waiting to be put away.
Picking up the few tools she owned that the gardener had deemed “passable” for his tasks, she carried them to the shed, holding them awkwardly in one hand while she opened the door and let in a wide shaft of sunlight. The sound of something scuttling away inside the otherwise dark shed caused her to yelp and drop the tools.
Get over yourself, Buffy! You slay demons, for cripe’s sake. You need to stop flinching at mice and other small creatures.
Picking up the rake, she ventured into the interior, waving it around as she said, “Whatever you are, I’m not afraid of you, but you can’t live in my shed. So get out!” She poked the handle of the rake into a box in the corner, muffling a small shriek when a rat ran out and paused to stare at her. When a voice rasped out, “What the bloody hell were you screaming about if you’re not afraid?” she gulped and stared back at the rat.
“You can talk? You’re a talking rat?” Her eyes narrowed. “Amy? Is that you?”
Without replying, the rat decided that a frightened woman holding a rake was more than he cared to deal with; he ran between her legs and out into the bushes.
“I think its name is Roscoe, not Amy,” said the oddly rough and breathy voice whose owner seemed to be having trouble getting enough air for speaking. Buffy started again, then realized that the voice had been coming, not from the rat, but from the very back of the shed behind a sheet of plywood Xander had left there. She hefted the rake into a more weapon-like position and fixed her best Slayer glare on the plywood.
“Ok, so it’s not a four-legged rat. Come out here where I can see you. Now.”
“Or what? You’ll bludgeon me with a bamboo garden tool?” She could hear the gasps of air before each little burst of word, but the scoffing tone and obvious intent to ignore her command brought a growl from her as she tossed the rake aside and picked up a small axe.
“How about I bludgeon you with an axe?” Buffy inquired sweetly. “Or, you know, maybe just chop your head off with it?”
“Bloodthirsty bint, aren’t you? And not a very hospitable one.” Something about the scratchy voice was beginning to nag at Buffy, but she smothered the urge to think about it. It had taken her several years to learn to live in England without flinching every time someone called her “luv” or “pet”, or used an accent similar to the one that still made her heart ache just a tiny bit.
“Come out here. Now,” she ordered. “I want to see who you are.”
“Excuse me? Can’t? You mean won’t. Do you think I won’t use the axe on you?”
“Oh, I’m beginning to suspect you probably would.” The voice held just a trace of what might have been admiration. “But if I come out right now, you won’t need to use it.”
“Why no—” Buffy glanced from the shadowed corner, protected by the plywood sheet, to the brightly lit sunny area right in front of it. Her eyes narrowed as she acknowledged the tingles on the back of her neck and wondered how she’d failed to notice them until just then. “What would happen to you if you came out now? Like, right here. In front of me. In the nice sunshine?” She looked around the shed and grabbed a broom, using the axe to hack off a foot-long piece of wooden handle. With the axe in one hand and the make-shift stake in the other, she raised her eyebrows at the innocent looking piece of wood.
“Ah, now, there’s no need to be getting belligerent.” The breathy voice sounded mildly aggrieved. “Wasn’t threatening you, was I? Just not jumping high enough when you said ‘frog’. Give us another hour or two and I’ll be out of your hair… so to speak.”
“You’re a vamp,” she said flatly. “There’s a freakin’ vampire living in my garden shed. What is wrong with you? Don’t you know what I am?”
“What’s wrong with me? I’m not the one threatening a total stranger with decapitation or staking. For all you know, I’m one of the fairy-folk. A brownie, maybe. Or a sprite of some sort.”
“I don’t believe in fairies.”
“But you believe in vampires.” The voice was sounding more and more like its owner was laughing at her, or would have been had he been getting enough air into his lungs.
“Why am I talking to you? I should just drag you out into the light and watch you go up in flames.” She made as if to approach.
“Hey now! Have I caused you any harm? So I get my forty-winks in the back of a garden shed. How is that hurting you? I’ll be gone as soon as it’s dusky enough.”
“You’re a vampire!” Buffy said, rolling her eyes at his refusal to accept the wrongness of his existence. “I’m a vampire slayer. Are you getting the sense that you might have chosen the wrong garden shed to hide in? What’s wrong with a nice empty crypt? London is lousy with cemeteries. Why my shed?”
“Don’t know,” he said, his voice suddenly softer and less confident. “Woke up nearby and something drew me here. Thought it might be the house, but I couldn’t get in.”
“Something ‘drew’ you here? To a slayer’s home? I think they call that a death wish.”
“Didn’t know it was your home,” he said, still sounding more petulant than dangerous. “Didn’t even know what I was, for sure. Just knew I needed to be someplace dark when the sun was up, and that I couldn’t be around people. For some reason, I knew my way to this house.”
“What do you mean, you couldn’t be around people?”
“Have terrible urges,” he whispered. “Want to do terrible things to them. It’s why I wanted to hide here. Have to take myself where there aren’t any people to tempt me.”
“Tempt you to do what?”
“You tell me, Slayer. You seem to know more about me than I do.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but it isn’t going to work. You’re a vampire. I slay vampires. End of story.”
In spite of her words, Buffy’s posture had relaxed and she dropped her arms to her sides. Standing safely within the pool of sunlight, she cocked her head at her invisible companion. With a big sigh, she backed toward the door and out into the yard. “I’ll give you till sunset,” she said. “Then I want you out of my shed and off my property. Got it?”
“Got it,” was the short reply. As Buffy pushed the door closed, reducing the amount of sunlight entering the small building, she just barely heard, “Thank you, Slayer.”
“My name’s Buffy,” she said as she walked away.
If there was a reply, she couldn’t hear it, and she went into the house, putting the axe and the broom handle on the kitchen table.
A phone call from Giles reminded Buffy that she was scheduled to take out a group of student slayers that evening for a final assessment of their fitness to be assigned their own areas. Somewhat reluctantly, she dressed for patrol and left the house before the sun had gone down far enough for her mysterious vampire to safely leave the shed. Although she carefully locked all the doors, and even the first floor windows, she didn’t bother going out to check the back gate again. If her guest was going to leave, she wanted to make it easy for him.
The test went well at first, all things considered. The girls managed to find and stake two fledglings in the first cemetery, and were high-fiving each other and celebrating when Buffy’s vamp radar went off.
“Knock it off, ladies. Am I the only one who can tell there’s still a vamp in the area?”
The suitably chastised girls quieted down and stretched their less well-honed senses until Rose finally shouted, “Got him! This way!” The girls ran in the direction she’d pointed, whooping and daring each other to be first. Buffy followed at a more leisurely pace, confident that there was nothing lurking in the cemetery that could threaten a whole squad of slayers.
By the time Buffy reached them, the anticipatory whoops and giggles had turned to started exclamations and curses. Rose was on the ground, cradling her injured right hand with her left. As Buffy watched, Gill came flying through the air to land next to Rose, shaking her head and blinking away stars. With an annoyed frown, Buffy ran toward the bushes she could see shaking. The air was filled with the sounds of growls and snarls and muttered British curses as two more girls rolled out, wrestling each other until they noticed who they were fighting and stopped to join their friends in regrouping. Just as Buffy plunged into the shrubbery, searching for the source of the noise and violence, it went quiet. The only sounds were the outraged yells from the defeated slayers.
Buffy’s radar told her that the vampire was long gone. Even if it had not just trashed a full squad of trained slayers, the speed with which it had disappeared told her this was no ordinary fledgling vampire. There was no argument from the girls when she counted noses and began to lead them out of the cemetery. Except for Rose, whose hand was broken, no one had suffered anything more than bruises and momentary unconsciousness, in spite of having done their best to plunge their stakes into some part of the vampire’s anatomy.
“I think I got him once,” Gill said. “Look, there’s blood on my stake.”
“Blood, not dust?”
Gill shrugged with embarrassment. “I was just trying to hurt him enough to get a good shot in. I don’t know where I stabbed him, but it wasn’t the heart.”
“Okay. Well, let’s get you guys back and patched up. We’ll go looking for him tomorrow.” She paused. “It was a ‘him’ wasn’t it?”
“Oh yeah. It was a guy-vamp. I could tell that, even in the dark.” There were giggles from the other girls, and Buffy rolled her eyes.
“I don’t even want to know…” she said, memories of fighting against Spike and other male vampires making her more than aware of how they probably knew he was male.
When she returned home well after midnight, she stood in the kitchen frowning in the direction of the shed, now invisible in the gloom. She debated with herself, then gave in and, taking a flashlight and a stake, she went into the garden. She sent out her senses, but there was no trace of a vampire anywhere in the large garden, including the shed, which stood alone, its door hanging open as if to verify that the vampire had left as he’d promised. Telling herself it was a job well-done, she went back inside and directly to bed. She had a full day of work at the school scheduled for the next day and wasted no more time worrying about one random, possibly harmless vampire.
The vampire studied the dark house for several minutes, searching for any sign that Buffy was still awake or lying in wait for him. When he was satisfied that the garden was empty of deadly women holding weapons, he limped to the shed on trembling legs, pausing frequently to gather what little strength he had left. Pulling the door shut behind him, he settled himself back onto the bed he’d made under the plywood shelter. Although he suspected Buffy would be angry at him for not staying away, the house and garden continued to feel like sanctuary to his weakened body and he’d obeyed the urge to return there to wait out the rapidly approaching day. Telling himself he should have eaten the rat when he had a chance, he curled his thin frame up into a surprisingly small ball and closed his eyes.
Buffy overslept in the morning and had no time to check her backyard before rushing off to work, but she was confident the mysterious vampire would have had enough sense to stay away, now that he knew what lived in the house he claimed to have been drawn to.
“Drawn to, my ass,” she grumbled as she dressed. “Somebody must have told him it was empty and he thought he’d use it for a lair. How stupid does he think I am?” In her mind, she could hear that voice responding, I’m guessin’ probably not as stupid as you look, Slayer. But you never know… She almost snapped an answer at him before remembering that it was an imaginary voice in her head, not an actual vampire speaking to her.
She had a quick lunch with Dawn, who said she was planning to come home that night as her roommate had “plans”. It took Buffy several minutes to realize what Dawn meant, and several more minutes to calm herself down and remember that Dawn was over eighteen now and old enough to have a roommate who might need privacy sometimes.
“Okay, just…” Buffy paused, not sure what she wanted to say or how she wanted to say it.
“Just what? Don’t tell me you have ‘plans’ too?” Dawn broke into a happy grin at the thought.
“No. No, of course not. It’s just… there was this vampire yesterday. In the garden shed. And he… I… I’m sure he won’t be back, but….”
“You didn’t stake him?”
“Well, not as such, no…”
“ ‘Not as such’? What the hell does that mean?”
“He sounded… harmless, okay? So I let him stay there, and he left after it got dark and I’m sure he won’t be back, and… Just don’t go out there without me, okay?”
“You let a vamp stay in your shed for the day? And then you let him walk? Who are you, and what have you done with Buffy?”
“Very funny. I like to think that I’ve matured and learned that the world isn’t all black and white anymore. He didn’t sound dangerous, and I felt sorry for him.”
“Sorry. For a vampire. A vampire that isn’t Spike or Angel.” Dawn made a show of looking around in a panic. “The world is ending, isn’t it? And you’re just afraid to tell me.”
“Very funny. Ha, ha.”
Dawn smiled, very pleased with her own humor. “If you’re so sure you scared him off, why do you want me to be careful?”
“Well, I didn’t exactly make him promise to stay away… I mean, Slayer here, telling you to get lost, it should be a given, right? But, I dunno. He said something drew him to my house, and he didn’t sound like somebody who follows orders very well, so… just in case.”
Buffy hurried outside as soon as she got home, noticing immediately that the shed door was closed. Cursing herself for not having checked it in the morning, she decided to assume the vampire had returned to close it after leaving the previous night. She was able to hold that assumption until she opened the door and felt the telltale tingles on her neck.
“I thought I told you to get lost!” she said, slamming the door shut behind her.
“Didn’t tell me to stay lost,” came the hoarse rasp from the corner.
“I thought that was understood. Leave and don’t come back. What was hard to understand about that?”
“Had no place else to go.” His voice was so soft, Buffy could barely hear him. His words were distorted, not in the way they would have been by fangs, but he was clearly having trouble speaking.
Not my problem. Not my problem. Not my problem…
“No place else to go. In a city the size of London, you couldn’t find another shed to hide in?”
“Bloody cemeteries are full of ill-tempered little girls,” he growled, anger making his voice somewhat stronger for a few seconds. “Had to fight my way out of a herd of ‘em last night just to make it back here. Wasn’t really in any shape to go house-hunting after that.” In spite of the irritation she could hear in his voice, there was also an undercurrent of pain and exhaustion that stayed her instinctive urge to retaliate.
She froze. Coincidence! Coincidence! Aloud, she said, “You mean you’ve met some other slayers?”
“I guess that’s what the bloodthirsty little bitches were.” He stopped to gasp for air, and Buffy had to fight an urge to ask him what was wrong. “Tried to stab me with pieces of wood. Was hard work getting out of there without hurting any of ‘em too bad.” There was a long pause, then, “I don’t think I hurt anyone. I tried to be careful. Thought you wouldn’t like it if I hurt anybody.”
Buffy sank down on an upturned crate. “That was you?” There was silence for a few seconds while the vampire grasped the implications of her question.
“Maybe? Are you angry with me?”
Buffy laughed sourly and waved her hand in the air. “Why would I be mad at you? You move into my backyard, beat up a squad of slayers who were supposed to be ready to graduate, and then come back to live in my shed again. What about that could possibly make me mad?” Her voice had risen as she talked, and when she realized she was yelling, she stopped and glared in his direction.
“In my defense, they were trying to kill me,” he said in a small, weak voice. “Came damn close to it, now that I think on it…”
“They were supposed to kill you. I can’t graduate a bunch of girls who can’t take care of one vampire when the odds are six to one! That shouldn’t even be possible.”
“Really?” For a moment he sounded more like the defiant vampire she’d first talked to. “Most vampires couldn’t have done that?”
Buffy bit her lip. “I can only think of one… maybe two… probably just one.” She shook herself. “So beside the point!” She groaned and put her head in her hands, oblivious to the fact that the sun was sinking and her safe space was shrinking as the gloom increased in the small building. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Prob’ly not the issue you think it is,” he said, sounding tired again. “Didn’t get a chance to catch anything to eat last night, lost a lot of blood from where one of those girls nailed me, and today I’m so weak, I couldn’t even catch Roscoe when he paid a visit.”
“Oh. Yeah. Roscoe. Wait, what? You were going to eat a rat?”
“It’s not like I’m strong enough to go hunting lions, is it? What little energy I had left, those girls took right out of me.”
“You kicked their asses. How do you figure you’re too weak to hunt… something?”
“That was fear – sheer terror – and being smarter and faster than they were. I got lucky. Probably couldn’t do it again if I had to. I was on my way to try to find some other place to sleep when they jumped me. By the time I got away from them, it was all I could do to drag myself back here before the sun came up. I may not know all there is to know about being a vampire, but I can feel m’ body shutting down. Another couple of nights without food, and…”
“You expect me to just leave you here to starve to death? It’d be kinder to stake you.”
“Well, bloody well can’t expect you to feed me, can I?” he growled, then coughed and moaned softly. “Just go away, Slayer. Let me die in peace, yeah?”
“Buffy. My name is Buffy.” She paused, then took a deep breath. “What’s yours?”
“Got no bloody idea. Pick one you like.” He sounded exhausted and uninterested. There was another rustling sound as he shifted positions, reminding her that he was injured as well as hungry.
“You don’t know your name? Not even from before you were turned?”
“Don’t know much of anything before a few days ago. Woke up outside your garden gate—hungry, hurt, and with a bad sun allergy. Didn’t know for sure what I was till you told me. Suspected, but didn’t know.”
Buffy stood up. “Stay here,” she ordered, turning and walking out before he could respond.
“Did you just buy blood?” Dawn stared at Buffy’s defiant face and rolled her eyes. “Ohmygod. You’re adopting this vamp, aren’t you?”
“He’s starving. And he doesn’t eat people for some reason, so I just… I just got him some blood. So he can get better. And leave. That’s all.”
Dawn cocked her head at Buffy. “Does he remind you of Spike or Angel or something? Is that why you’re feeding him instead of killing him? Because he looks like one of them?”
“I don’t know what he looks like,” Buffy admitted. “He’s always behind the wood if it’s daytime, and I didn’t get to see him last night.”
“Last night? You’re feeding the vamp that beat up your squad?” Dawn rolled her eyes dramatically. “I’m living in bizarro world, aren’t I?” As Buffy started out of the kitchen, Dawn fell into step behind her. “What?” she said to Buffy’s startled look. “I want to meet your new vampire.”
“He’s not my ‘new vampire’, Buffy snapped. “I’m just helping him get strong enough to go live somewhere else.”
The shed door was still open, as Buffy had left it, but without the sun shining into the building, the interior was all shadows and darkness.
“Damn! I should have remembered the flashlight.”
“What?” Buffy answered Dawn in a distracted fashion, as she moved slowly into the shed, watching the shadows for one that might be animate.
“It’s a torch. That’s what they call them here. You need to learn the lingo.”
“I was born and raised in California. It’s a damn flashlight, and that’s what I’m going to call it.”
“Whatever. Do you want me to go get it?”
“Yes, please. It’s sitting on the kitchen table with the… you know. The stuff.”
Muttering to herself about people who were willing to buy blood for vampires, but not to use the word in front of them, Dawn followed the stone path back toward the kitchen door. She glanced up when the back gate creaked open and several shadows slid into the garden.
“Buffy?” Dawn’s voice had a tone that she only used on rare occasions – usually when she was in need of rescue. “Are you sure he doesn’t have friends?” She looked around frantically for some kind of a weapon, backing up toward the shed where Buffy was just peering out the door to see what was going on. With one leap, Buffy was out the door and in front of Dawn, pushing her back and ordering, “Hand me the broomstick and grab the rake.”
The shadows moved closer, revealing themselves to be a small group of newly turned vampires, grave dirt still clinging to their clothes. In the faint illumination coming from the kitchen windows, Buffy could just make out their fangs.
“I’m guessing you guys are kinda new around here, huh?” Buffy put her hand behind her for the broken broom handle Dawn was just placing there.
The vamp in the front looked confused. “Shouldn’t she be screaming?” he asked, looking to his companions for confirmation.
“I’d think so,” one replied. “We’re bloody frightening, if you ask me.”
“You’re ugly,” Buffy agreed. “You got that right.”
She moved away from the shed so that she would have more room to move, knowing Dawn would warn her if any of them tried to get behind her. At a silent signal, they all rushed the woman they’d planned to have for dinner, only to discover that she was no longer there. Having flipped over their heads, Buffy took advantage of the temporary distraction to drive the broomstick into two backs so quickly the first one was still dusting when she plunged it into his companion.
A sound from Dawn momentarily drew her gaze away, and two of the remaining vampires leapt at her, carrying her to the ground with their combined weight. A third was wrestling with Dawn as she flailed at him with the rake and tried to close the shed door. Buffy landed with the piece of broom handle facing out, impaling and dusting one of the two opponents still in the fight. The sound of snarling and scuffling from the shed had her throwing the remaining vampire off and staking him before he’d even hit the ground.
She whirled to go to Dawn’s rescue to find nothing but the rake and a pile of dust in the doorway. Dawn was breathing hard and clutching her neck, but seemed to be fine. On the ground beside her was what appeared to be a bundle of dark clothing.
“I don’t know. One minute I was trying to get the door shut or stake him with the rake, and then something pushed past me and held him until I could get a good angle on his heart.” She glanced down at the dark bundle at her feet. “I’m guessing this is your vampire project?”
Buffy dropped to her knees beside the inert object. She ran her hands over it, confirming only that there was a vaguely human form under the tattered leather coat. She picked up one thin wrist to feel for a pulse, then shook her head at her own stupidity.
She stood, picking up the limp body and placing it in the garden cart.
“Let’s get him to the house, so I can see what’s wrong,” she said, moving forward as she did so. “And for God’s sake, remind me tomorrow to get a lock for that damn gate!”
“Maybe you could just post a sign, ‘Slayer lives here’,” Dawn said. “That should cut down on the demon visits, don’t you think?”
“Assuming idiots like that can read….”
While Dawn held the door, Buffy lifted the vampire’s unnaturally light body out of the cart and easily carried it into the kitchen, muttering a probably unnecessary “come in” as she did so. She stood inside the door, frowning uncertainly.
“Oh, just put him on the table. We can clean it off later.”
Depositing her burden carefully, Buffy turned him onto his back and gasped when she saw his face. In addition to the expected wrinkled brow and fangs, his face was a mass of angry scars and sores that could only have come from burns. His lips were barely visible, going a long way to explaining why he was sometimes hard to understand. His head was just as covered with scars and burns as his face.
“Oh my God!” Dawn’s voice was a combination of horror and disgust.
Biting her lip, Buffy pulled the coat away from his body and couldn’t smother another gasp. The torso she exposed was barely covered in a shredded tee-shirt that couldn’t hid the emaciated corpse under it. Every bone was visible, his stomach so sunken in that Buffy wasn’t sure he actually had internal organs. Every inch of bare skin bore more of the horrific burns that made his face so hard to look at. Some of them were already ridged scar tissue, and others seemed to be new and raw. In some cases, the flesh was blackened, making Buffy afraid to touch it for fear it would crumble to ash. An open gash along his left side was proof that Gill’s stake had, indeed, almost found its mark. Glancing down his body, Buffy and Dawn could see that his jeans were almost as destroyed as his shirt. Through a gaping hole in one leg, they could see an oozing sore that went all the way to the bone. There was no blood visible in or around either wound, something Buffy took to be a very bad sign.
“Oh my God,” Dawn said again, in a whisper this time. “What happened to him?”
“Those are burns,” Buffy said. “I don’t know where or how he got them, but I can understand why he might not want to remember it.” She stared at the motionless body on her kitchen table. “I should just put him out of his misery,” she whispered. “He’s got be half crazy from the pain.”
“He saved me, Buffy.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Buffy turned away and struggled with her conscience. “I know he saved you. And look what it did to him.”
The two girls stared at the inert body on the table. It looked like nothing so much as the corpse of someone who’d been cremated, but pulled from the oven too soon.
“He’s not dust,” Dawn said finally. “As long as he’s not dust, he can recover, right?”
“Recover and do what? Spend the next… however long it would take… suffering from burns over most of his body?”
Even as she argued with Dawn that the kindest thing to do would be to stake the creature while he was unconscious, Buffy was opening one of the containers of pig blood she’d bought. Without warming it up, she dipped one finger in and smoothed it over the ragged lips. There was no sign of life from the vampire; the blood just sat on his lips and gradually soaked into the mangled flesh.
“Huh. Do you think that could help?”
“Putting it on the wounds. Maybe it doesn’t matter how it gets into his body, just so it gets in there.”
Buffy sighed. “I suppose you’re right… it just looked like it soaked into…” She stopped and put another finger’s worth of blood on the ravaged lips. While waiting to see where it went, she dipped her finger again and let a few drops of blood drip onto the cut in the vampire’s side. She frowned, moving her gaze from his torso to his face and back. “I think it’s sinking in,” she said. “I’m going to keep trying.”
Suiting actions to words, Buffy began to apply the blood all around the oblivious vampire’s mouth, afraid to rub it in for fear of damaging the burned lips ever more, but making sure there was plenty coating them. She stood back and surveyed her work. Except that he now looked like he’d been feeding, with the blood on his lips and a small trickle running down his cheek, there was no change.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, here! Give it to me.” Dawn grabbed the container away from Buffy and inserted a small spoon. She took the spoonful of blood and stuck it in his mouth, holding it there long enough to make sure it was pooling inside and not running back out. She waited, then tried it again.
She’d put four teaspoons full of blood into the vamps mouth before Buffy gasped and squealed. “He swallowed! I saw his throat move!” Encouraged, she pulled the spoon away from Dawn, saying, “Let me!”
“Fine! It’s your pet vampire. You feed him.” Dawn turned away in disgust, washing her hands and watching as she leaned against the sink. Buffy filled his mouth again, waiting impatiently for some sign that he was swallowing. When a low snarl accompanied a slight opening of his mouth, she shouted in triumph and offered more blood.
It was soon evident that, although his body was responding to whatever was placed in his mouth, the vampire was still unconscious and unaware of anything going on around him. Not until his eyes opened and an amber glare fixated on Buffy’s throat did it occur to her that a starving vampire might not be in full control of himself.
“Down, boy,” she said. “Don’t make me have to hurt you… any more than you already are.” Ignoring the steady growls coming from his throat, she began spooning more blood into him, smiling as the growls tapered off to more appreciative sounds. There was only half a container left when he snapped his mouth shut and closed his eyes.
“I think he’s probably full,” Dawn said when Buffy frowned and looked as if she was planning to force more blood down his throat. “If he’s really been starving, he probably can’t hold very much at one time.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense…” Buffy put down the blood and spoon with a resigned sigh. “But that wasn’t enough to make him better,” she complained.
“Come on, Buffy. You know how long it took Spike to get over what the First did to him – and that’s with you sneaking him your blood when you thought nobody would notice….” She giggled when Buffy stared at her with wide eyes.
“How did you…?”
“I’m not as dumb as you think I am,” she said with a smug smile. “Plus, there was no way, as weak as he was, that he got back on his feet that fast on a diet of pig blood.”
At Buffy’s raised eyebrow, Dawn looked uncomfortable for a moment and then said, “When you were… gone. Spike would get drunk and go looking for fights. Sometimes he lost. I got pretty good at knowing how long it was going to take him to heal up enough to want to go out and do it again.”
Buffy nodded and gestured to the vampire on the table that was watching them with eyes that showed no trace of recognition. “So, how long do you think before he can have more to eat, Dr. Summers?”
Dawn shrugged. “Beats me. Spike got pretty thin, but he never starved himself. I could always get him to eat. He knew he wouldn’t be much use to anybody if he was too weak to fight.”
“But it was okay for him to go out and get himself mangled?”
“That didn’t happen every time,” Dawn said, defending Spike’s honor. “And he’d always be really sorry that he couldn’t be there to protect me, or to patrol with everybody. He just couldn’t help himself sometimes. It was the only way he could deal….”
A whisper of sound from the table brought their attention back to the injured vampire lying there. The eyes were still those of a demon, and they focused on Buffy with an intensity that was almost frightening. Until she noticed that they were actually looking past her to the blood and spoon she’d set down.
“Guess he’s ready for more,” Dawn said.
Buffy nodded and grabbed the spoon and container of blood. As the vampire opened his mouth far enough for Buffy to see that the inside was also badly damaged, she began spooning in more blood. “It’s like feeding a baby bird,” she said as she waited for him to swallow and open again. The eyes flickered to hers, holding mingled shame and need. “Sorry,” she whispered. “Just drink up, ‘k?”
There was only one spoonful left in the container when he once again shut his mouth and refused to take any more. Buffy tried to coax him to finish it off, but his eyes were closed and he’d become completely immobile again. She straightened up and sighed. “Guess I’d better not push it. I don’t want him throwing up blood all over the kitchen.”
“Ewwwwww. And on that disgusting note, I’m going to my room to watch the telly. Hopefully I can find something funny to wipe that little picture from my brain.”
“Hey, you’re the one who’s used to blood and slimy demon guts and stuff like that. I have more delicate sensibilities.”
“This from somebody who used to try to make milkshakes with day old pizza….”
“I’m a creative cook,” Dawn said as she flounced from the room. “See you in the morning, if your vampire hasn’t recovered enough to try to eat you before then.”
“Hah,” Buffy muttered, staring at the still corpse-like body. “I could break him in half with one hand right now.” The vampire opened one golden eye far enough to make sure she could see him glaring at her, then shut it again and went back to being dead.
She puttered around the kitchen, dumping out the already-congealing blood left in the container and rinsing off the spoon. She glanced at the filthy and ragged boots dangling off the table and shook her head. With a quick glance to see if he was going to object, she snapped the laces and pulled the first one off. A groan from the owner of the foot made her slow down enough to see that there was burnt flesh inside the boots too. With a quiet, “I’m sorry,” she worked it off and found that the burns coincided with the holes in the boot. When working on the other boot, she was able to guess where the painful spots were likely to be and she got that one off without getting any noticeable reaction from her patient.
Holding them away from her body, she carried them to the door and set them outside. She eyed the trashcan wistfully, but resisted the urge to throw them away.
When she returned to the table, she tried to tell herself that she was seeing some improvement in the still-inert body. Her optimism was rewarded when she saw his fingers twitch as he attempted to raise his hand.
“Do you want something? Are you still hungry? I have more blood.”
His mouth opened, but all that came out was an exhausted sigh. She watched curiously as he obviously tried to speak, then gave it up. Buffy took his fingers in hers, trying not cringe away from the fragile skin there. “Don’t try to talk. Just squeeze my fingers – once for yes, twice for no. Can you do that?”
A barely noticeable squeeze led her to ask, “Do you want more blood? I don’t want to make you sick, but you look like you haven’t eaten in…. Well, you look pretty skinny. So, more blood?” He squeezed her fingers again, more strongly this time, twice in rapid succession.
“Okay, so not hungry yet. What do you wan—” She stopped herself, remembering why they were using fingers to communicate. She blew out a frustrated breath. “I don’t know what else to do for you. I’m more used to hurting vamps than I am trying to help them.”
He made a small sound that might have been a bark of laughter, then winced and was still. His fingers went limp in hers, causing a brief moment of panic before she realized that he’d just lost consciousness again. She dropped his hand and leaned over him, trying not to cringe at the mess that was his face.
“Listen, I’m going to go upstairs for a little while and shower and change, okay? I’ll be right back. Don’t try to go… I guess that’s not gonna happen, but just wait for me ‘k?”
There was no response, but she told herself he’d probably heard her and went up to her room. She took a quick shower and changed into sweatpants and a loose shirt, putting warm socks on her feet in case the kitchen floor got cold. As she went back down, she checked the doors and turned off most of the lights, leaving just one at the foot of the stairs and the bright overhead light in the kitchen.
When she got back to the table, she saw that he had turned his head to one side and was squinting. Quickly turning off the too-bright light, she lit the softer ones beneath the cabinets. “Is that better? I didn’t think about the light maybe hurting your eyes.”
He made a sound that she chose to interpret as “thanks” and turned his head to stare at her. “Why?” he croaked.
“I don’t know.” Buffy avoided his gaze, studying the floor intently. “I just thought… and then you saved Dawn and….” She glared at him. “Just take what you get and don’t make me think about what I’m doing,” she said.
He gave another one of those almost laughs, then moved one hand and gestured toward himself.
“You want more? Okay, give me a sec.” She took the other container out of the refrigerator and debated with herself before pouring some into a big mug. She put the mug into the microwave and let it warm while she returned the blood container to the fridge. She got the spoon from the dish drainer and carried it and the mug to the table.
“Open wide,” she said, dipping the spoon into the warm blood. When the body temperature blood hit his tongue, the vampire made a sound that Buffy almost blushed at. “Good, huh?” She coughed to cover her embarrassment. “That’s how Spi—nevermind. Here, open up again.”
By time he’d finished the mug of blood – a tedious process, one spoonful at a time – his face, while still scarred and oozing, was noticeably less gaunt. He shook his head lightly when Buffy asked if he wanted her to warm up another mugful.
“Thank you,” he rasped while she was rinsing the spoon and mug off in the sink.
Buffy glanced over her shoulder to see him watching her, his golden eyes softening into a dark blue as she looked at him. The wrinkles smoothed out just enough for her to see how badly damaged his human face was. The scars were hard ridges across his cheeks and nose, and the open sores still looked raw and painful.
“I wasn’t sure I was doing something you’d thank me for,” she admitted. “It… you… the burns—they look very painful.”
He nodded his agreement, but grimaced in what she took to be an attempt to smile. “Hurts like a bastard,” he said. “I’m wearing my fangs more often than not. Seems easier to handle the pain when the demon’s in charge.”
“Then why…?” She gestured at his almost equally distorted human face.
“Thought if might be easier for you… getting that close to me. That you’d be more comfortable if—”
“I’ll be fine,” she said, smiling to counteract the terseness of her reply. “It’s not the first time I’ve been that close to a feeding vampire.”
He blinked a couple of times, then sighed in relief and faded back into his vampire mien. “Right then. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She cocked her head and studied him. “You look like you’re getting stronger.”
“A bit,” he said. “Don’t want to appear rude, but I think I’m going to take a little nap….” His voice trailed off as his eyes shut and he stilled.
“Great. He naps and I get to hang out waiting for him to wake up and want more food.”
Movement near her head caused Buffy to stir and raise it from where it had been resting on her arm. She sat up, embarrassed to have been caught napping by the wide awake vampire lying only a few inches away from where her head had fallen.
“Sorry,” she said. “I guess I dozed off. Are you ready for more blood?”
“If you don’t mind, Slayer. I thought about trying to get it myself, but….”
“But you’d have fallen on your face and made a mess in my kitchen,” she said, giving him a wry smile. “Waking me up was definitely a better choice.”
She walked to the refrigerator and took out the last container of blood. “Guess I’d better hit the butcher shop again when it gets light,” she said, more to herself than him. She poured blood into the mug and put it in the microwave to warm, turned around to find him looking at her with an expression that seemed very out of place on the face of a demon. “What?”
He shook his head and said, “Nothing. Nothing at all.” He struggled to sit up, then surrendered to his body and settled for rolling onto his side. “Don’t know why you’re doin’ this for me, but I appreciate it more than I can say. As soon as I can hold myself upright, I’ll get out of your hair.”
Buffy approached the table holding onto the mug of blood. “Don’t think I’m going to let you leave here until I know you can take care of yourself,” she scolded. “I’m not sending you out there to undo—I didn’t give up a whole night’s sleep just so you can throw all my efforts away.”
He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know much about being a vampire, or about what Slayers are, for that matter, but I’m pretty sure that most people who do would think there was something very wrong with this.”
“I got over worrying about what ‘most people’ think when I was fifteen and had to set fire to my high school gym to get rid of a nest of vamps.” She looked from the cup to him, asking, “Do you think, if I hold you up, you can swallow this by yourself? It’ll go faster if I can just pour it in there.”
“Give it a try,” he said, but there was an undercurrent of doubt.
“You don’t think you can? Why not?”
“Hurts,” he said shortly. “Think I’m burned on the inside too.”
“Oh my God, I never thought about that. I mean, I could see that your tongue, and your voice is… I’ve just been hurting you more with every swallow, haven’t I? I should have staked you, I’m just making things worse.”
“No. Don’t think that. You’re doing what you think is right, and I….” His voice trailed off as he struggled to get enough air to continue speaking.
“Shut up,” Buffy ordered in her best I-am-the-slayer-and-you-aren’t voice.
She slid her hand under his back, trying not to notice the way the damaged flesh gave under her fingers. As soon as she felt she could do so without pulling his skin off, she lifted his still-too-light torso until he was almost sitting upright. Setting the mug to his lips with her other hand, she watched anxiously as he obediently opened his mouth and allowed her to slowly pour the contents of the mug into his throat. When he’d swallowed almost two thirds of the contents, something about the way he was so rigid against her arm told her the pain was becoming too much, even for the demon. She took pity on him and pulled the cup away.
“Are you okay?”
He rolled one golden eye at her, not bothering to waste any energy commenting on the obvious not-okayness of his condition, but managing to get the message across anyway.
“All right. Not okay, but is this working? If it’s too painful, say so, and we’ll go back to the spoon.”
“I’ll be alright,” he rasped out. “Just need to take a little break.” Now that he wasn’t fighting the pain of swallowing, his body trembled with the effort to remain upright.
“Relax,” she said. “I’ve got you.”
He nodded and slumped against the strong arm holding him up.
“Ready to try again? Before it gets all cold and yucky… and I cannot believe I’ve just suggested that warm blood isn’t yucky.”
He huffed one of his laughs and nodded again. When she held the mug against his lips, she accidentally bumped them against his fangs, drawing a pained gasp from the vampire.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m not used to vamps being so fragile. Even when they’re hurt.”
He quickly swallowed the rest of the contents, sighing when she took the mug away and lowered him to the table.
“Taken care of a lot of hurt vamps, have you?” he gasped.
“Stop talking. And yes. Well, no. Only one. But he was always getting himself beat up or tortured, so…”
“Sounds like a right idiot,” he said, his voice a bit stronger, if still distorted.
“No,” she said, sending him a fierce look. “He wasn’t an idiot. He was a… a hero. A champion.”
By the time Buffy had fed the vampire the last of the blood, the sun was beginning to lighten the sky outside the windows and he was looking nervous.
“Need to get out of here,” he said. “This room has too many windows for me, and no handy sheets of wood to hide behind.” He pushed himself up to a sitting position and looked around the room. “Where are my boots?”
“Those disgusting things? They’re outside, where they belong. They aren’t even in one piece, anyway. You should just let me throw them away.”
“They’re all I have,” he said quietly, sending a bolt of shame through her for not having considered that.
“Well, you can’t go out to get them now,” she said, gesturing to the shaft of sunlight coming through the glass in the kitchen door.
“I can’t stay here, either,” he pointed out. “Just get them for me… please?”
“Why? So you can walk outside and go up in flames? It looks like you already tried that once—“ Her voice broke off. “Is that what happened to you? Did you try to walk into the sun?”
He shook his head. “Got no bloody idea what happened to me. Told you, I can’t remember anything before a week or so ago.” He looked down at his torn clothes and the hole in his leg. “Prob’ly just as well,” he muttered. “Doesn’t look like I was having much fun.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Buffy moved back to his side, her voice more sympathetic than before. “You can stay in the basement. Just till you’re well,” she blurted when he gaped at her. “It’ll be more comfortable than the shed, and you can get your own blood if I’m not home.”
“You’re either daft, or so bloody cocky—”
“Don’t follow that thought,” she snapped. “If you weren’t so weak, and if I didn’t think I could sort of… maybe… trust you, I wouldn’t even consider it. But I can’t get you back to the shed now, and I can’t leave you on my kitchen table, so the basement it is.” She put her hands on her hips. “Can you get up by yourself?”
He nodded and slid to the end of the table, his pale bare feet looking incongruous with the jeans and coat. He sat there for a moment, then dropped to the floor, swaying with the effort. Before he could fall, Buffy was beside him, her shoulder under his, her arm around his waist. “I’ve got you. Come on, I’ll help you get downstairs.”
Moving very slowly, but with better balance with each step, they got to the door at the top of the basement stairs. “Be careful, it’s gonna be dark until I find the light switch… Oh, yeah,” she said with an embarrassed laugh as she remembered what was leaning on her. “Guess that’s not as big a deal for you as it is for me.”
“It’s over there, Slayer,” he said, gesturing with one hand. “An’ yeah, I don’t need it, but don’t want you to go tumbling down, do I?”
“Not if you don’t want to go back to being hungry,” she said, reaching for the switch. When the stairs had been illuminated, they began the painful process of getting him down them without falling. It took a while, and a few hissed intakes of breath that told Buffy she’d held on too hard, but in time they were safely at the bottom. She left him holding on to the bannister while she looked around for the best place to put him.
The cellar was not someplace she had been to very often; with her washer and dryer in a room off the kitchen, and Xander’s frequent visits to make sure everything was working as it should, she’d not had much reason to visit the dark, dank area under the house. She prowled around until she found a stack of old furniture pushed up against one wall. Along with some tables she’d been unwilling to discard, were the old mattresses that they’d taken off the upstairs beds. Deciding that a starving, injured vampire wasn’t in a position to complain if mold had already begun growing on them, Buffy pulled the first two away from the wall, dragged them out, and put them into the cavity under the stairs, one on top of the other.
Once you’ve had a house full of girls sleeping everywhere, you know better than to throw away mattresses. Although I probably should move them out of here one of these days. Maybe they can go upstairs somewhere on the third floor. It’s not like I’m using it for anything.
“I guess that’s about as comfy as I can make it,” she said, frowning at the lumpy and not terribly clean surface. “I’ll be right back with some sheets and—”
“Slayer—Buffy… Not that I don’t appreciate this, luv, but I’ve been sleeping with a rat on the dirt floor of a garden shed. I’ll be more than fine. You go do whatever it is you do during the day, and I’ll just catch some more kip here, yeah?”
“Kip? Oh yeah, sleep. Wish I could do that, but I think I have to go to work today – at least for a little while. I need to talk to Giles about those girls and whether or not we should graduate them.” She stared at him again, taking in his barely average height, the painfully thin body, the exhaustion caused just from getting down a flight of stairs. She shook her head. “I just really don’t know how you did what you did. You should have been dust within seconds.”
He shrugged. “Came at me in a bunch,” he said. “Got in each other’s way so much that I was able to keep them fighting each other more than me. Wasn’t until I started pushing them away that they had room to swing their stakes without hurting each other.” He turned away as if ashamed. “I’m sorry about the one with the broken hand. I didn’t mean to do that to her, but she was trying to kill me.”
“It’s okay,” Buffy soothed. “You were defending yourself. I’m not mad at you – I’m mad at me. I should have taught them better.” She paused and bit her lip. “So, if they’d come at you one at a time, or maybe two…?”
“You’d have a much cleaner kitchen table, and no bags under those pretty eyes.”
Ignoring the compliment and the uncomfortable feeling it gave her, Buffy focused on what she’d learned about the team’s ability to fight as a group. “That’s actually very helpful. Thank you, … “ She sighed. “I’ve got to call you something. I wish you knew what your name was.”
“Wouldn’t mind knowing a bit more about it myself,” he agreed. “But I don’t. Anytime I try to remember anything, jus’ gives me a headache and makes my burns start hurting more.”
“Well, I’m just going to name you then… something Englishy maybe? Nigel?” She giggled at the growl he forced out. “Percy? Rupert? No, Giles already has that one. Let’s see, Basil? Reginald?” Her giggles increased along with the growls that accompanied each attempt to come up with something suitably annoying. When the last growl choked off into a coughing fit, she realized what she was doing and apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… How about ‘Bob’?”
He staggered to the mattresses and sank down upon them, drawing shallow breaths that obviously pained him almost as much as the growling and coughing had. Buffy bit her lip and reached a tentative hand toward him, dropping it when he glared at her.
“I am sorry,” she said. “I guess that was only funny to me… you know, the one without the burned lungs, who’s missing her common sense.” She looked so genuinely distressed that he waved a forgiving hand at her.
“It’s alright, Slayer. As much as you’ve done for me, got a right to call me whatever you want. ‘Bob’ is fine.”
“Okay, Bob. I’m going to go get dressed and check in at the school. I’ll pick up some more blood on the way home.”
He didn’t reply, just lowered himself to the bed and closed his eyes, once again seeming to be nothing but the corpse of someone who’d died a very painful death. Buffy watched him for a few seconds, but when there was no movement, she went back upstairs, turning off the light and shutting the door behind her.
She was just putting coffee into a travel mug to take into work with her when Dawn came down and snatched the pot away. While she poured out her own cup, she looked around the empty kitchen.
“So, where is he?”
“Basement. Stay out of it, ‘k?”
“Sure. No problem. If he’s getting better, I plan to let the one with the super strength take care of the injured vampire.” She set her cup down and reached for the sugar bowl. “He is better, I take it?”
“Yeah. He’s stronger. He’ll be even better when I get some more blood into him. Still looks like somebody tried to barbeque him, but at least he can stand up and growl at me when I say something stupid.”
“Growl? We’re feeding him, and he’s growling?” She tossed her head. “Damned ungrateful, if you ask me.”
“He’s hurting, Dawn. He’s hurt, confused, and, I think, scared. I shouldn’t have been teasing him.”
“Note to self: Don’t provoke an injured vampire. Maybe you should put that in that Slayer Handbook you and Giles are working on.”
Buffy snorted. “Maybe so. On the plus side, he did tell me why he was able to get away from six slayers with only a gash across his ribs, so that’s good to know. I can work with those girls today and maybe get them ready to graduate after all.”
“Could be handy, having a pet vampire around,” Dawn said. “I remember how you and Spike used to work with the potentials…”
Buffy smiled. “Yeah. That was pretty awesome. They were so used to him being the quiet guy in the basement, they didn’t know what to do with themselves whenever he went into game face or beat something up in front of them… It was good training for them too – having to spar with Spike – even when he couldn’t hit them.” She shook herself. “But, that was Spike and I knew I could trust him. ‘Bob’ is just a random vamp that for some reason won’t feed on people.”
“What? It’s a perfectly good name. And easier than calling him ‘the vampire’.” Buffy walked to the door, preparing to leave. “Maybe I should ask Willow to take a look at him and see if he’s got a soul? That would go a long way to explaining why he’s so weird.”
“So, what do you think?” Buffy stared at Giles expectantly. Without going into great detail, she’d filled him in on the vampire in her shed and what he’d shared about his experience with the slayer squad.
He shook his head. “I don’t know what to think. Certainly, we should have Willow or one of the other coven members take a look at him to see if he has somehow kept or acquired his soul. I don’t want you bringing him around the school, though. Not unless they can vouch for his souled state. And I’m not very happy that you’ve kept him on your property…”
Buffy had not shared with Giles that the vampire in question was now residing in her basement and sharing the house with Dawn. She just said, “He’s so weak right now, you could beat him up, Giles.” She grinned at his glare and continued, “Don’t worry. I’m not planning to adopt him. But he did save Dawn from a bad bite, and almost dusted himself doing it, so….”
Giles nodded. “Well, I do agree that the information he shared about how he managed to avoid becoming dust when he had a full squad of slayers after him, is something you can use in a training session. Perhaps he can be of some use to us, if it turns out he is genuinely harmless.”
“You’ve come a long way, Giles,” Buffy said as she stood up. “Remember when the only good vampire was a dead one?”
“I don’t believe I said ‘good’, I said ‘useful’ and ‘harmless’. I am still of the opinion that the only way you can trust a vampire is if he has been ensouled somehow. Preferably permanently…”
“Or, if he wants to be good badly enough that he goes and earns his soul back,” Buffy said, her steady gaze telling him they were still poles apart when it came to how they chose to remember Spike.
“Quite so,” he said with a sigh. “But that was a very unique situation, and Spike was strongly influenced by his feelings for you. I sincerely doubt that it was a desire to be good that sent him seeking that soul.” As Buffy’s face clouded, he hastened to add, “But it was an admirable thing to do, never the less, and I will always believe so.”
Somewhat mollified, she stood up, saying, “I’m going to work with that squad today and see if I can get them to figure out what they did wrong the other night. If they can’t, then I’ll have to tell them what it was, and that means they’re going to need more training before we send them out on their own.”
“All right, ladies.” Buffy, hands on hips, stared at the girls grouped in front of her. “Who can tell me what went wrong the other night?”
There was a lot of shuffling of feet and exchanging of sidelong looks before Rose raised her bandaged hand.
“It was dark. And he was really fast, and—”
“Un huh. Because it will never be dark when you’re fighting other vampires, will it? And God knows, they aren’t as fast as we are….”
Rose glared at a girl who dared to snicker at her, and dropped her hand. “Well, you try fighting one vamp when your friends keep getting in your way,” she muttered.
Six pairs of eyes blinked at her beneath puzzled frowns. Buffy could see when the wheels began turning and things began to fall into place. Gill gave a triumphant shout. “That’s it! We got in each other’s way. That’s why I missed his heart; I couldn’t get a good angle on it because there was always somebody too close by.”
There were murmurs of agreement as everyone realized that their eagerness to be the one to stake the vampire had resulted in his escape.
“Who was supposed to be running the squad that night?” Buffy’s voice brought their attention back to her. There was some throat-clearing and eye-shifting, but no one volunteered a name. “That, ladies, was a rhetorical question.” Buffy focused her gaze on a tall girl trying very hard to hide behind Gill.
“Ildeka, whose job was it to organize that attack?”
“Mine,” she mumbled, just a trace of her Hungarian accent still present. “I should have told them what to do.”
Buffy nodded. “When you’re the squad leader, you have to let your team know who is expected to do what. That way, we don’t end up stabbing our own people, or missing a chance to take down the bad guys. A vamp like that, alone, weak, and surrounded by slayers, should have been assigned to one girl. Two at the most, if backup was available. Everybody else should have stayed out of the way.” She ran her eyes over the group. “Who knows why – aside from what we already know about what happens when you have too many cooks?”
Ildeka frowned, the old saying meaning nothing to her, but the other girls thought hard. Rose raised her hand, more timidly than she had the first time.
“The ones who weren’t fighting could have been watching out for other vamps – in case he wasn’t alone.”
“Exactly. Not only did you get in each other’s way, but no one was watching for trouble. That kind of carelessness could get you all killed.” Buffy sighed as she watched the girls’ expressions flicker from ashamed to angry and back to ashamed. “Okay. Here’s the deal. We’re going to do another patrol in a few days. We’ll head for somewhere that we know has a vamp problem and hope we get the chance to solve it for them. If I like the way it goes, you’ll all graduate on time.”
“And if you don’t?”
Buffy just stared at them until they had all dropped their eyes. She started to walk away, trying not to hear the muttering behind her. When “bitch” drifted to her ears, she stopped and sighed before turning around.
“Look at this from my point of view, girls. If I send you out on your own without knowing for sure that you’ve been well-prepared, then anything bad that happens to you is on me. I didn’t prepare you for something like what happened the other night. That’s my fault. From now on, every group of trainees will practice attacking in large groups. But since it didn’t end successfully, I’m giving us all another chance to show that we know what we’re doing—you, as students, and me as your instructor.”
Buffy was almost to the gate out of the compound when Gill approached her. “Ms Summers… Buffy? Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, Gill. What is it?”
“Why did you say the vampire was weak?”
Gill gazed at Buffy with genuine curiosity, becoming more curious by the second as Buffy stumbled for an answer, finally settling on, “I just know he was. I’m hoping I’ll be able to explain how I know that eventually, but for right now, just trust me. He wasn’t even close to full-strength… and he wasn’t trying to kill you. Think about that the next time you’re feeling cocky about how good you are.”
Without continuing the conversation, Buffy left quickly. She was anxious to get home and make sure Dawn and ‘Bob’ hadn’t tried to kill each other; but she did remember to stop at a butcher shop and clean out the man’s supply of pig blood. After assuring him that she would be a steady customer for a while, she hurried home with a shopping bag full of chilled blood.
Buffy let herself into the house, taking the blood to the kitchen and putting all but one container of it away. Faint tingles on the back of her neck told her that the vampire she’d left in the cellar was not dust and still in the house, so she poured a large mug full of blood and put it in the microwave. While it spun around, she found the note Dawn had left and read it quickly.
Hi – Bob was very quiet. I didn’t check, so I don’t know if that means he’s sleeping or dust. I’ll be staying at the school tonight, so don’t worry about dinner for me. TTYS, Dawn.
Setting the note down, Buffy took the cup from the oven and walked over to the door to the basement. She opened the door, hit the light switch, and started down the stairs, thanking her slayer coordination for her ability to carry the very full mug without slopping blood all over her hand.
She walked around the corner and found Bob lying on his side and staring at the cup in her hand with hungry yellow eyes.
“Hey,” she said softly. “Can you hold this yourself yet?”
“Tired of coddling the old vamp?” he rasped, struggling to a sitting position.
“I just thought maybe you’d rather be in charge of pouring it down your throat.”
“Sorry, pet,” he said, holding out one shaking hand. “Seems like being hungry makes me cranky in a way that starving never did.”
Buffy handed him the cup, not letting go until she was sure he had a good grip on it. When it appeared as if he wasn’t going to be able to lift to his mouth, she sat down beside him and put her hand around it.
“Here, let me,” she said, allowing him to guide the cup, but using her own strength to lift it. As it reached his lips, she noticed that they seemed marginally fuller and less raw than before. With Buffy’s help, he drained the cup in one go and sighed in relief.
“More?” she asked, taking the cup and edging away from him.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” he said. “The more I eat, the faster I’ll be out of your hair.”
“I think…” She thought better of telling him about Giles’s idea of using him to help train slayers, and changed to, “It’s not a problem. You can stay until we both know you’re well enough to take care of yourself. I don’t want to go into the shed three weeks from now and find you curled up with Roscoe again.”
“Wouldn’t do that to you, luv. Once I’m gone, I promise you’ll never see me again.”
“I’m not finding that as reassuring as you probably meant it to be,” she said, standing up. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
He was already lying down, eyes closed and face relaxed. “Be right here,” he mumbled.
Three mugs of blood later, he shook his head when she asked if he wanted more. “Want, yes. Be able to hold onto? I doubt it. Just let me absorb this good old Hampshire hog’s gift of life for a while.”
Buffy nodded and cocked her head at him. “You look… okay, you don’t actually look better, ‘cause…” She waved her hand at his burns and scars. “But you seem to be stronger. How do you feel?”
“Like a kind, beautiful woman has been spending way too much of her time taking care of something so far beneath her she ought to be wiping it off her shoes.”
Buffy stared at him, mouth open and face turning red. At a loss for a reply, she just ran upstairs and began washing the cup out in the sink. As she put it on the drainer to dry, she shook her head at herself. “Get a grip, Buffy. He’s grateful. Deal with it.” Pushing away memories of another vampire who had thought she was beautiful and better than him, she marched back down the stairs and around the corner. She found him sitting on the edge of the bed, hands dangling between his knees, as if contemplating standing up.
“You better not be thinking what I think you’re thinking,” she said, hands on hips and belligerent glare on her face.
“I embarrassed you. I’m sorry,” he said, ignoring her words.
Buffy sighed. “You didn’t embarrass me. You just reminded me of some… somebody else. I should have been able to deal with it better than that.”
He turned his head to the side and looked up at her. “Before I leave here, you’re going to have to tell me about that other vampire you used to take care of.”
Buffy made a non-committal sound and walked closer. “It’s ancient history,” she said. “Really nothing to tell.”
“Uh huh.” His ragged voice dripped skepticism. There was silence for few seconds, then, suddenly, “Is that why you’re helping me? Do I remind you of him?”
“Oh, God no! I mean, yeah, you’re all with the English accent and stuff, but no, you’re nothing like him.” She stared at him. “At least, I don’t think you are,” she admitted. “It’s kind of hard to tell with you being all skinny and scarred up… But, no. I’m not doing this because you remind me of Spike, I’m doing it because… I… because… I don’t know why I’m doing it. Why don’t you just quit asking me?”
“Because I don’t understand. The more I think about what I am—what I’m capable of—you should have dragged me out into the sun as soon as you found me.”
“You really don’t want me having second thoughts about this,” she said, the warning in her voice very clear. “If I were you, I’d shut up.”
Ignoring her, he continued. “I don’t know why you believed me when I told you I was staying away from people. You didn’t know me, had no reason to think a vampire could have that kind of control…”
“Look.” Buffy threw her arms up and began to pace. “It was stupid, okay? But it’s not like I was in any danger – trust me, even healthy, you aren’t going to take me on and win – you wouldn’t have been able to get in the house anyway; and you didn’t sound… you didn’t sound like the average vamp. And the city’s full of student slayers just looking for something to practice on. Letting you get away didn’t seem like anything to worry about. And it kinda seems like maybe I was right – so quit trying to make a big deal out of it.”
“Don’t suppose you have any idea why I’m like this?” He sounded genuinely curious, and Buffy accepted how frustrating it must be for him not to remember anything about who he was... or who he had been before he was turned.
“Actually…” She studied him for a second, then shrugged. “I do. Or at least I have a possibility in mind. Would you be willing to meet with a friend of mine?”
He shrugged. “Assuming she’d be willing to get anywhere near me. Is she another slayer?”
“No. She’s a witch. I want her to read your aura. To see if you have a… a soul.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Again, genuine lack of understanding was all she could read in his voice and eyes.
“Because you’re a vampire, remember? Vamps are demons. They don’t have souls. The soul leaves when the demon takes over.”
“Huh.” He seemed unsure what to make of that, mulling it over for a while. “So, what makes you think I have one?”
“The whole not-eating people thing, trying not to hurt the slayers, saving Dawn from that definitely not-souled vamp even though you were half dead yourself… stop me when I get to something that sounds remotely demonic or evil.”
He cocked his head at her. “That vampire that’s ancient history, did he have a soul?”
“Eventually, he did.”
“But not all the time? When you knew him, he didn’t have a soul, but he was still a hero?”
“He… it was complicated. He was evil at first, and then he couldn’t…and he started helping, and after that he…” She glared at him. “He got his soul so he could be a better… better man.” She paused and took a deep breath.
“Why did he want to be better? Wasn’t he happy being a vampire?”
Buffy bit her lip and tried to come up with a way out of the trap she’d set for herself. Me. He did it for me. “He just wanted to be better. And this is soooo none of your business!”
“So, he was able to do good things without the soul?” He gave no sign that he’d noticed her panicked reaction to his questioning.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. As soon as you’re strong enough, I’ll get Willow over here and we’ll find out what’s up with you.”
“Whenever you want, Slayer,” he said, sudden exhaustion overtaking him. Buffy gave a guilty flinch when she realized how long he’d been talking.
“You should have shut up when I told you to – now look what you’ve done!” She watched him stretch out on the mattress, closing his eyes and going limp.
“I’ll be fine, Slayer. Just need to rest a bit. Go on back upstairs into the light.” He spoke without opening his eyes, and without the usual gasping for enough air to speak.
“I’ll come down and check on you before I go to bed, ‘k?”
There was no response from the inert body on the bed, so Buffy turned around and went upstairs. She fixed herself a salad for dinner, putting tuna fish on it for protein, and rewarding herself with ice cream for dessert. She called Willow’s number and left a message about setting up a time to read Bob, then watched TV for an hour or so.
Bored with the television, and too sleepy to go out and patrol, she went to the kitchen and fixed another mug of blood. She made her way downstairs and found Bob sitting up again and examining his wounds. He’d taken off the few tattered pieces of tee-shirt he’d been wearing and was feeling the scars and burns on his ribs when she came around the corner.
“Oh! Sorry,” she stuttered. “I didn’t think about knocking.”
He shrugged one bare shoulder. “Don’t need to knock, luv, it’s your house. And I heard you comin’ anyway. Just didn’t feature putting my rags back on to spare your dainty eyes.”
Buffy narrowed said eyes at him. “I think I liked you better when you thought they were pretty eyes,” she said. “What flew up your butt and bit you?”
He sighed. “Nothing. Everything. I’m sorry, Slayer. Guess I must be getting better; I’m starting to care about things like torn clothing and scars on my body.” He looked up at her, fading out of his fangs and wrinkles. “What do I look like?” he asked, feeling his face and tracing the scars with his fingers. When she didn’t reply, only stared, clearly unsure of what to say, he nodded. “Not so pretty, huh?”
“You’ll heal,” she said. “You’re a vampire. Vamps don’t usually have scars. Even if it takes a long time, they go away eventually. Usually.”
Buffy looked uncomfortable. “Spike had one. But he got it from a slayer with a magical sword. Nothing else that ever happened to him left permanent scars.”
He nodded. “Guess I’d better hope whatever did this to me didn’t have any slayer magic then, yeah?”
“Yeah,” she responded. “Here. Take this. I’m going to bed. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“You didn’t get any sleep last night. And that’s my fault.” He took the mug and inhaled the scent of the warm blood. “Go on, Slayer. This’ll do me just fine till tomorrow. I’ve already had more to eat in the past twenty-four hours than I can remember ever having before.”
“You sound a lot stronger,” she said. “But you still look like crap – no offense.”
“None taken,” he said with a short laugh. “My insides feel better. Doesn’t hurt so much to swallow or breath. My tongue is working better. Guess the vocal cords are healing too, although I still sound like somebody’s grandfather.”
“Spike told me one time that vampires heal from the inside out. Sometimes he’d still have bruises and scabs long after I would have expected them to be gone, but when I asked him why he wasn’t healing, he told me his insides were fine. The blood or energy or whatever, went there first.” Now that she’d said Spike’s name, Buffy couldn’t think of any good reason not to use it in front of Bob. She’d already admitted to having known him well and for a long time; there was no sense pretending that he hadn’t been the source of much of her information about vampires.
“Sounds about right,” he agreed, sliding back to rest against the wall while he drank the blood. He looked at her over the rim of the cup, his blue, human eyes peering at her with a warmth that made her uncomfortable. “Go, Slayer. Get some sleep.”
She nodded. “Okay. Good night, Bob.”
By the time Willow arrived the following afternoon, Bob was sitting up and even attempting to stand from time to time. Only the pain of his not yet healing burns kept him from trying to walk around the cellar.
Buffy had run out that morning to the nearest discount store and bought a few soft tee shirts and a cheap buttoned shirt, hoping that one or the other of them might be soft enough to not irritate the raw skin on Bob’s torso. She’d also bought an inexpensive pair of sweat pants that she was sure would be less irritating to his legs than the stiff, blood-encrusted jeans he was still wearing. The relief on his face at no longer having the tee-shirt rubbing against his skin hadn’t gone unnoticed, and she could only imagine what it must feel like to have denim sliding past the open wounds on his legs.
She presented him with her purchases when she got home, only to find him reluctant to take them.
“I appreciate the thought, Buffy. But I don’t want you spendin’ your money on me.”
“You need clothes. These were cheap. You can owe me, if it makes you feel better.”
He nodded and took the package, peering in and then back at her. “Tell me, Slayer,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “is this really for me, or is it just to keep you from ogling my tight little body?”
Buffy gaped at him, then realized the sarcastic self-derision behind his comment. “You wish,” she said, tossing her hair. “If you could see yourself in a mirror, you’d know how dumb that question was.”
The humor vanished from his eyes as he said, “So, it’s to cover up the things you don’t want to look at, then?” He glanced down at his scarred and burnt torso. “Can’t say I really blame you.”
“I didn’t… I don’t….” She rolled her eyes. “That’s not it either. Are you always this irritating?”
“You trying to tell me you like looking at this mess?” He gestured with one hand, encompassing himself from head to toe. “And how the bloody hell would I know what I’m always like?”
“No. I’m not saying that. But I’m not trying to cover it up so I don’t have to look at it either. It is what it is. I can deal. But Willow’s coming over this afternoon and I just thought…. You know what? Do whatever you want. If you want to meet her covered in rags and oozing sores, knock yourself out. She’ll deal too. And Dawn’s already seen you, so she won’t care either.”
Buffy turned and flounced up the stairs, muttering to herself the whole time. “I should have staked him when he laughed at me for being afraid of a rat. Stupid vampire.”
Willow had arrived accompanied by Dawn, who admitted to being curious about their guest now that he was conscious and talking, Buffy fixed another mug of blood and led them to what she was now silently thinking of as “Bob’s room”.
When he met them in front of his little alcove, standing up, one hand on the wall in barely noticeable support, he was wearing the sweat pants and one of the tee shirts. Buffy had purchased fairly large sizes in hopes that the extra fabric would mean less rubbing on the wounds, so she frowned when she noticed that blood or some other fluid had leaked through the pants leg over his wounded thigh.
Following her gaze, Bob shook his head. “No worries, Slayer. The flesh is growing over the bone and there are blood vessels leaking. I’m sorry it stained my new clothes, but—”
“No, it’s okay. I should have expected….” She shook her head. “I don’t know why I didn’t think to bandage you. I’m stupid.”
He shrugged, then gave up pretending he was more recovered than he actually was and sat down. “Pretty hard to put bandages on stuff like this,” he said. “Wouldn’t expect it of you, anyway.”
“I probably wouldn’t have expected it of me either,” she sighed. “Good thing I never went into nursing, I guess.”
Willow and Dawn cleared their throats and Buffy hastened to move aside so they could see the vampire.
“Bob, this is Dawn – my sister – she’s the one you saved the other night. And this is Willow. She’s my friend, and an awesome witch.”
He raised his eyes to the strangers, the color flickering back and forth between blue and yellow. “Ladies,” he said in a voice that Buffy was pleased to find sounded more and more like he wasn’t forcing the words out through shards of glass.
“Hi.” Willow waved, her eyes running over him from the still-burned and bald head to his bare feet. They paused briefly at the stained area on his leg, then went up to meet his eyes. “Wow,” she said. “And, owie!”
He twisted his mouth into some semblance of a grin, and nodded. “Very owie,” he agreed.
Dawn moved toward him, seemingly unafraid about getting too close to a potentially dangerous vampire. She held out her hand and waited for the surprised vamp to take it. “Thank you,” she said, squeezing it just enough to be sincere, but not so much as to hurt him. “For saving me, I mean.”
“You’re welcome, pet. Don’t know that I remember much about it, but if you say I saved you, well, good on me, I guess.”
“You did. So good for you.”
She dropped his hand and stepped out of the way as Willow and Buffy moved closer. Willow placed a small bowl of herbs on the floor and lit them. As she inhaled the fumes, she reached for the hand Dawn had just released and held it over the smoke. Bob flinched as his hand neared the small fire and Buffy stepped to his side, saying, “She isn’t going to hurt you. I promise.”
Willow shot Buffy an irritated glance, then sighed. “She’s right. I’m not going to hurt you, but I need for your hand to be with mine inside the smoke. Is that okay? We’re not going to touch the flames, I swear.”
Buffy rested a comforting hand on his shoulder and he nodded, relaxing his arm and allowing Willow to hold it where she wanted it. She closed her eyes and chanted a few soft words, holding his hand lightly and trying not to rub the still burned flesh there. She finished her chant, dropped her head to her chest for a second, then gasped. Her eyes flew to him, then to Buffy, then back to Bob.
“What?” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“Willow?” Buffy’s voice echoed his. “What’s wrong? Doesn’t he have a soul?”
“Oh yeah,” Willow said, letting Bob take his hand back and blowing out the fire. “He’s got one all right, but….”
“What’s wrong with it?” he demanded.
“No…nothing’s wrong exactly. It’s just that I think it might be… used.”
“I mean, it… it may have been used before. By somebody else.” She looked back and forth again between the frowning vampire and Buffy. “I need to… I need to consult with the coven. I might want to bring someone else back to… I just need to learn more about recycled souls.”
“Recycled? You mean reincarnation?”
“Well, yeah. Sort of. Except that I can’t imagine anybody being reincarnated as a vampire.”
“Willow, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing. I mean, I’ve got nothing to tell you. Nothing that you… Nothing. Big nothing. Unless I find out… and then it might be a something… But, you know, probably not? I’ll be back as soon as I know if it’s a something or a nothing.”
“You’re babbling,” Dawn said, crossing her arms. “That’s never a good sign.”
“Is there something wrong with me?” Bob’s voice broke through the round of staring and frowning going on between the three women. There was the faintest rumbling coming from his chest, causing Dawn and Willow to step back and Buffy to put her hand back on his shoulder. It was a gentle touch, but there was no question that she was restraining him. He sighed and slumped down. “Sorry,” he mumbled, looking up at Willow and Dawn from under stubby lashes that were just beginning to grow back.
“It’s okay,” Willow said. “I was babbling as if I’d found something wrong. I didn’t, though. You do have a soul, so that’s why you’re not trying to kill everybody, and that’s why it’s okay for Buffy to have you in the house. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, I was just… surprised for a minute. That’s all. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this.”
“For what?” Buffy’s voice was growing more impatient.
Willow drew herself up and took a deep breath. “Probably for nothing. And that’s all I’m telling you for right now. He has a soul. That’s what you wanted to know, isn’t it? Now you know why he hasn’t been feeding, and why he tried not to hurt the slayers. I’ll tell Giles and he can stop worrying about you.”
Dawn accompanied Willow up the stairs and walked her to the door. “What aren’t you telling us?” she asked, fixing her old friend with the Dawn Summers version of ‘resolve face’. Willow put on her own face and said, “I’m not telling you something that you don’t need to hear if it turns out to be nothing.”
They exchanged stubborn stares, then burst into giggles.
“Fine,” Dawn said, unfolding her arms. “Keep your secrets. See if I care.”
“It’s not a secret, Dawnie. It’s just something I’d rather keep to myself for right now. I swear.”
“Uh huh.” Dawn watched Willow walk away, then closed the door and went to join Buffy, who was now in the kitchen putting together what seemed to be the world’s largest first aid kit.
“What are you doing?”
“What I should have done when he was out like a light and couldn’t feel anything – cleaning those wounds and putting bandages on them so his clothes don’t rub against them while they heal.”
Buffy scooped up the bag of supplies and heading downstairs again “I’ll fix dinner when I get back up here,” she yelled over her shoulder.
“I’ll cook tonight,” Dawn volunteered, laughing when Buffy groaned. “It’s the least I can do.”
“She’s got that right,” Buffy muttered as she came around the corner. Bob was just setting his empty mug on the floor, and glanced at her.
“What’ve you got there, Slayer?”
“Stuff.” She set the bag down and began taking things out, arranging them neatly on the floor. “Pain killers,” she said, handing him two pills and a small bottle of water. “Take one. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it sooner. Tomorrow I’ll ask Willow for some herbal pain relievers to put on the burns, but for right now, this old OxyContin ought to do the trick. I doubt it’s going to hurt a vampire.”
While Bob obediently swallowed one of the pills, she continued to unpack. “Wound cleaning stuff, salve, and bandages. You’ll be a lot more comfortable when I’m done.”
He was silent, staring dubiously at the collection of medical supplies in front of them. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought, Buffy, but getting out of my old clothes and into these wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. Not really looking forward to shucking these so that you can play Florence Nightingale.” When she didn’t say anything, but got a stubborn expression on her face, he added, “Not to mention, if you wanted me naked, all you had to do was ask…”
“Not funny, Bob.” She bit her lip as she accepted the reality of his words, finally sighing and saying, “All right. I’m not really interested in making you hurt more than you already do. But if I wrap the ones that are still open—”
“Was only half-kidding about getting naked, Slayer. Put the clothes on because your friend was coming over, but I’d have rather stayed out of them for a while. If I just had something to cover myself with when you have to come down, I’d be better off without clothes until all the oozing things have stopped… oozing.”
Buffy studied him, seeing no sign of anything but an honest desire to please her without causing himself additional pain. He was unconsciously pulling fabric away from the wound on his leg, grimacing when it seemed to stick for a second.
“That actually makes an odd kind of sense,” she said finally. “Okay, if you can stand to pull your clothes off one more time, I’ll go get you a sheet or something for when you have visitors, and you can just be all nature boy down here until they’ve scarred over.”
When she returned, a soft cotton sheet in her hand, as well as a light blanket and a pillow, he was holding the sweatpants in front of his body and still wearing the shirt. Buffy handed him the sheet, turning her back while he dropped the sweats and wrapped the sheet loosely around his hips. A soft groan brought her back around to find him struggling to pull the tee-shirt over his head. With a sigh of relief, he dropped it to the floor, letting his arms dangle at his sides.
Buffy studied him with a clinical eye. With the sheet draped precariously around his slender hips, there was nothing remotely sexual or attractive about the body in front of her. Although it had filled out a little after two days of steady meals, it was still painfully thin and lacking any muscle definition. Clearly, Bob’s ability to fight his way out of the slayer attack had been based, as he’d said, on adrenaline-fueled speed and a lack of coordination on the part of his attackers.
With his scrawny body, coupled with the sores and scars that covered him from head to toe, and his inability or unwillingness to feed on humans, there was little to envy in the miserable being in front of her. Once again, Buffy had to wonder if it wouldn’t have been a kindness to have staked him while he was unconscious. Something of her thoughts must have shown on her face, as Bob pulled the sheet up higher on his body and shrank back into the alcove.
“I’m doing better, Slayer. I promise you.” The fear in his voice snapped her out of the dark place her thoughts had wandered, and she flinched in sympathy. The very fact that he now wanted to live, versus his “Just leave me alone to die in peace” of less than two days ago, was proof that he was speaking the truth.
“I can see that,” Buffy said. “I didn’t mean to look at you like you were—”
“Something the cat dragged in?”
Buffy sighed and picked up his shirt and pants. “I’ll just put these in the next load of laundry,” she said, avoiding a response to his question. “That way, they’ll be all ready to wear when you think you’ve healed enough to wear clothes again.”
She eyed the dirty mattress upon which he was about to lie down. “I should have brought two sheets,” she muttered. “I’ll be right back.”
She was back with a few minutes, asking him somewhat apologetically if he would get up for a minute so that she could put a bottom sheet over the mattress. Wearing the awed expression that was making her more and more uncomfortable every time she saw it, he got up without comment, clutching his sheet around his body and standing patiently until she had covered the stained mattress.
“That’s better,” she said with satisfaction. “It might not be as fun as cuddling with Roscoe, but it sure looks more comfy.”
“Roscoe’s appeal is highly over-rated,” he replied, grimacing as he lowered himself back onto the bed. “I’ll take clean sheets and solitude any day.”
“And on that cheery note, I’m going to go get you some more blood and then force myself to eat whatever Dawn has conjured up for our dinner.” She bit her lip. “It’s possible it will be less disgusting than your dinner, but I’m not counting on it.”
The sound of genuine laughter followed her up the stairs and she emerged from the basement smiling to herself. At Dawn’s quizzical look, she shrugged and said, “I think he’s feeling better. I’m going to take him some more blood before we eat.” She peered into the pan on the stove. “What are we eating, exactly?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Slayer here. Not a big fan of surprises.”
“Don’t be such a coward. Just throw some more blood at your pet vamp and get back up here.” She continued stirring while Buffy ran back down with another mug of blood and quickly returned.
“Okay. I’m braced for it. What are we having?”
“Chicken soup. From a can, you big sissy.” Buffy sigh of relief was only slightly exaggerated, and caused Dawn to flick soup off her spoon into her sister’s face.
A couple of hours later, when Buffy, carrying another mug of warm blood, made her final trip of the night, she was pleased to find Bob sitting up and looking around the cellar with eyes that were at once curious and oddly content. Twisting his scarred mouth into as close as it could get to a smile, he thanked her and took the cup. For the first time since he’d begun feeding himself, he didn’t throw the contents down his throat as soon as he got them. Instead, he took a deep draught, then set it down and savored the feeling as it went through his body, repairing damage and soothing pain.
“I see you’re enjoying your drugs,” Buffy said, giggling at the blissed out expression in his eyes.
He nodded. “Hadn’t realized how depressing it was to be in that much pain until it wasn’t so bad anymore.” He managed to look both pleased and ashamed at the same time. “I took the other pill… might have been unnecessary….” He gave what, on a less disfigured face, would probably have been a goofy smile. “But it’s doing a bloody good job.”
Buffy stopped giggling. “I’m sorry I didn’t think of giving you something for the pain before. I could have crushed them up in your blood or something. I’m just not in the habit of worrying about vampires and pain….”
“Wouldn’t expect you to be, luv,” he said. “Stop apologizin’ to me. It’s… unnatural, is what it is.” He seemed quite proud of himself for coming to that conclusion.
“How would you know what’s ‘natural’ or not for me? Or for vampires, for that matter.”
He gave one of his one-shouldered shrugs, causing Buffy to look more closely at his bare shoulders and see that the right one had both an abundance of scar tissue and a newer wound that was just scabbing over. No wonder he groaned when he was taking that shirt off.
“Dunno,” he said. “Just doesn’t seem right, somehow.”
He snorted a laugh and nodded. “I’ll be looking for it, then.”
Buffy studied him for a few moments, smiling at the spaced out expressions that crossed his face every once in a while. She shifted her gaze to the heavily scarred torso visible above the sheet. “Do they hurt too?” she asked abruptly. “The scars, I mean. They look… painful.”
He looked down at his body, then tried to lift one arm, wincing when he did so. “Yeah,” he said. “They don’t have any give like normal skin would. Actually split a couple of them open when I was tryin’ to get away from your little vampire killer students.”
“Slayers. We’re slayers, not killers. And oww.”
He gave another one-shouldered shrug. “If you’re right, I guess they’ll go away some day.” He looked up at her. “You’re the expert on vampire healing.”
“I think Dawn might know more about that than I do, actually. Except for… I’ve always been more into causing vamps injury than worrying about how fast their boo-boos were going to get better.”
“You think these are boo-boos?” He stood up, holding his sheet over his crotch, but allowing the rest of his body to be visible in the dim light from the stairs. Buffy bit her lip, but couldn’t prevent her eyes from running over him. Her flinch and accompanying shudder were unconscious and instinctive as she shut her eyes. He gave a small snort of disgust and sat down, keeping his privates covered with the sheet.
“Look,” she said, her rigid posture not giving away if she was angry or just embarrassed, “I’m not all with the warm, fuzzy stuff, okay? You’re not dust, I didn’t cause any of those wounds, and I’m feeding you. I know you’ve got no idea where that puts you on the scale of ‘Buffy and her treatment of vampires’, but right now? You’re so far ahead of the one who’d actually done something to deserve to be treated better….” She stopped and took a deep breath, opened her mouth to speak again, thought better of it and just sighed.
“I’m going to bed. I’ll bring you another pill in the morning before I go to work.” She gave him a glare that promised serious retribution if he disobeyed. “Don’t do anything stupid just because the pills are making you feel better. They haven’t healed anything.”
He nodded, leaning back on one elbow. “’m not a complete fool, Slayer. And I do appreciate what you’re doing for me. It’s more than I deserve, I’ve no doubt. Whatever I can do to pay you back, you’ve got it. I’ll be in your debt for the rest of our lives.”
Embarrassed by the emotion in his gaze, she mumbled, “Just don’t do anything to make me sorry I didn’t stake you,” and went upstairs without her usual “good-night”.
Bob settled back on his pillow and watched dust motes floating around in the wake of Buffy’s swift exit, a blissful expression in his eyes and as close to a smile as he could manage on his face.
When Buffy brought his blood down in the morning, she was shocked to find him waiting at the bottom of the stairs, sheet wrapped firmly around his body and eyes bright and alert.
“Whoa! Somebody’s feeling perky.”
“Feel like a bloody new man,” he agreed, staring at her hands. “Did you bring me more magic pills?”
“I brought you one magic pill,” she said with a stern glare. “I didn’t save you so that I could turn you into an addict.”
“Can vampires even become addicts?” he pondered as he moved out of her way.
“Let’s not find out, huh?” She softened her expression and smiled as she handed him his blood and the small pill. “But it’s nice to know you’re feeling better.”
“Not just feeling,” he said. “Look.” Setting the blood and pill down, he pointed at his shoulders and waited for her to notice that they no longer had any open wounds. He sounded like an excited little boy as he said, “I’m like that all over… well, ‘cept for that hole in my leg and the souvenir from the other night. They’re still open, but everything else has either scabbed over or…. here, look!” He dropped the sheet lower so that Buffy could see his whole torso. As he’d said, except for the wound from Gill’s stake, everything else was covered in scabs or shiny newly scarred flesh.
Buffy broke into a broad smile. “You’re healing!” she said. “It’s about time!”
His face fell at her words and he turned away, pulling the sheet back up and taking the mug off the step where he’d placed it. “Yeah, I should be out of your hair in no time, now.” He kept his back to her while he swallowed the pill and drained the mug of blood. Handing the empty cup back to her, but keeping his eyes cast down, he said, “Thanks, Slayer.”
“Okaaaaay, from yippee to offended in record time. What did I say?”
“Nothing. You were glad I’m healing. As you should be.” He kept his eyes down as he turned away, missing the frustrated look on her face. “Should be out of your hair within another day or two.”
“Are all souled vampires idiots?” Buffy asked of no one in particular.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You. Spike. Angel. Idiots, all of you.” She waved her hands around for emphasis as she warmed to her subject. “Why are you always so sure you know what I need or want? I think I should be the one to decide if I want to be left ‘for my own good’ or if I wouldn’t care if somebody I loved came back from the dead. Or if it’s okay to be happy that somebody I’ve been taking care of for two freakin’ days is finally starting to get better. Who died and appointed you ‘the reader of Buffy’s mind’? Who, huh?”
Bob stared at her, his mouth open. “Have you gone daft?” he asked, not having understood half of what she was saying.
Ignoring his question, Buffy answered the one he hadn’t asked. “I just meant, I was happy to see that you’re getting better. Did I say anything about leaving? No, I did not!” She blew right past his attempt to speak. “You can’t go out looking like that, even at night. You’ll scare small children… and their parents, probably. And you don’t know how or where to get blood, you’ve got no money….” She wound down. “Did you think that’s what I was saying? That I was glad you’d be able to leave soon?”
“Aren’t you? Glad, I mean.”
“Beside the point. I didn’t say it. You just decided that’s how you wanted to take what I did say. And, no, actually, I’m not glad. Not that you could leave, anyway.” She stopped and blew out an explosive breath. “I’m not saying I won’t be happy to know that I don’t have to wait on you hand and foot anymore, cause, all things considered? Not my thing. But, I don’t want you to go running off as soon as you think you’re healthy enough.”
“Why not?” Those piercing blue eyes that could make her so uncomfortable stared into hers, demanding she give him a believable answer.
With a sigh, she sat down on one of the lower steps and tried to explain.
“Okay, here‘s the thing. Back in the day, Spike used to help me train. Even when he couldn’t hurt me, we could spar and it helped like whoa! It made me faster, smarter, and more…. what’s that word that means surprisey ….”
“Yeah, those things. It really helped me. And when we were working with the potentials, trying to help them learn how to fight vampires, it was a big help for them to have to go up against a real vamp. It was a real eye-opener for them. Plus, he knew stuff, and he could show them things… I know it probably saved at least a couple of lives just because the girls had some experience against the real thing.”
“Am I going to like where this is going?” He had backed into his corner, clutching his sheet around him and eyeing her warily. “Don’t fancy being a punching bag for girls with a grudge against me.”
“Not expecting you to. But, once you’re healed enough to move freely, you could be a big help to me when I’m training them. And since you don’t have any money, and you’ll have to buy blood…”
“You’re going to pay me to be a punching bag?”
Buffy stamped her foot, causing him to flinch back against the wall. “You aren’t going to be a punching bag,” she insisted. “You’ll be able to fight back. I expect you to fight back, just, you know, without hurting anybody too badly. And it wouldn’t be me paying you; you’d be a Council employee. Just like me, and Willow and Giles…”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Unless your soul has made you so wimpy you won’t even fight when it’s not your life on the line. Spike always liked to fight; I guess I just thought… You don’t like it?”
“Got no bloody idea what I like, Slayer,” he said. “Don’t know that anymore than I know….” He got a faraway look in his eyes for a second, then frowned. “Would have sworn something was niggling at the back of my brain, but it’s gone now.”
“Maybe….” She trailed off.
“Maybe what?” He moved out into the room again, still clutching his sheet.
“Nothing. Let me run it by Willow or somebody else really smart first. Then I’ll tell you what I was thinking. Okay?”
He nodded and walked to his bed, his limp much less pronounced than it had been. Buffy watched him, then changed the subject abruptly.
“Do you feel stronger?”
He nodded again, giving her a wary look when she smiled.
“Think you can make it upstairs? If I help?”
“I can probably make it on my own,” he said. “Will take me a while, these scars still keep me from moving as easy as I’d like – at least, I’m guessing they do. Don’t know what I was like before I got them, but I can’t believe that normal vamp skin doesn’t have more give than these scars do.”
Buffy walked over to him, raising an eyebrow to ask permission before touching his shoulder. Keeping one hand on the shoulder, she used her other hand to raise the arm, watching his face for a sign that she should stop. She was able to raise the arm almost half way over his head before a gasp told her it was as far as he could go. She could feel the unnaturally ridged scars under her hand as they tightened, preventing the arm from going all the way up.
“Yep. That arm is definitely not as flexible as it should be.” She let go and watched him lower it by himself, wincing a little.
“That’s higher than I’ve been able to get it,” he said, demonstrating by raising it himself to just past shoulder height.
“Hmmm. Well, I don’t want to try too much while all that skin is so new, but maybe when you’ve had another day or two of steady meals….”
He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her, which, she was pleased to see was actually noticeable.
“I’m just thinking… Okay. Maybe not. A trained physical therapist, I’m not. But, if somebody who knew what they were doing could just stretch you every day…”
“I’ll work on it myself, Slayer,” he said, moving away as if her proximity was making him uncomfortable.
“Yeah, okay. Good idea.” At the same time, Buffy became more aware that she had been putting her hands on a male vampire who was essentially naked. She flushed and moved a few steps away.
There was an uncomfortable silence for several seconds before they both spoke at once:
“Bob, I thin—”
They laughed. “Ladies first, Slayer.”
“I’m not sure I qualify,” she said, making a face. “In spite of my mother’s best efforts. But anyway, I was just going to say that you should probably try moving everything at least once a day. Not hard enough to tear that new skin, but just so those scars don’t permanently restrict your movement.”
“Way ahead of you, luv. Gonna start by walking up those stairs to get my own blood…” He stood, then stopped and looked down at himself. “Guess I should put my kit on before I go wandering around where the real people live.”
Buffy snorted. “There’s nobody here but me, and I’m leaving to go to work in a little bit. But you can’t go up there now anyway. The stairs go right into the kitchen and it’s full of sunshine at this time of the morning. Give it a few hours, and it will probably be safe enough. The blood is in the fridge – you do know what a refrigerator is, don’t you?” At his nod, she continued. “It’s in there, your mug will be in the sink, and the microwave…”
“I think I know how to use a microwave oven. Couldn’t tell you how I know that, but I think I do.”
“Okay, then. Just… be careful going up the stairs. Don’t fall down and undo all my hard work.”
Without answering her, he just sat back down on the bed and stared until she flushed and, with a “See you later”, ran up the stairs. He laid back and listened to the sounds of Buffy getting ready to leave for the day, waiting until he heard the front door close behind her before he shut his eyes.
“So, that’s the deal, Giles. He has a soul – although Willow won’t tell me why she overreacted the way she did, so I don’t know what’s up with that – and he’s probably going to be willing to work with me… us… to train the girls.” She shook her head, letting her frustration show. “Assuming he has anything to offer. He doesn’t seem very fighty for a vamp. I think he’s pretty much a wimp.”
“A wimp that managed to fight his way out of a squad of trained slayers,” he reminded her. “And who put himself between Dawn and a much healthier demon.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. But he says he was just terrified of the girls and that gave him strength, and I don’t know what the deal was with the vamp in my yard, but Dawn staked it. He just held it still for her.”
“Be that as it may, I suspect just facing something that fast and strong will be enough for our newest recruits. It will cut down on the surprise factor the first time they have to face the real thing.” He leaned back in his chair. “When do you think he’ll be ready to be of use to us?”
Buffy shrugged, not quite sure why she found so distasteful the idea that her “pet vampire”, as Dawn insisted on calling him, was only going to be tolerated because he could be useful.
“It’s gonna be a while. In the first place, even if he could fight now, most of these girls would throw up when they saw him. Multiple burn scars equals really not pretty. But he can’t. The scars are all tight and stiff. He doesn’t have much range of motion anywhere. He’s not going to be very good in a fight until they start to go away.”
She stood up. “I’m off to talk to Willow about whatever it was that freaked her out yesterday, and then I’ve got a full afternoon of training.”
“Don’t forget about the squad you need to take out before graduation. I’m sure they’ll be fine, but it wouldn’t hurt to make them prove it first.”
“Crap! I forgot all about that. Okay, I’ll try to find someplace to take them tonight.”
“So, what’s the deal, Wills?”
Willow smiled at Buffy. “Hi to you too,” she said, ignoring the question. “Buffy, this is Katrina. She’s a good healer, and she’s also something of an expert on souls. I’d like to bring her over to meet Bob.”
“Sure. That’d be great. I gave him some drugs yesterday and he was a lot more comfortable, and he healed a lot, too, which is kinda weird cause I wouldn’t have expected the OxyContin to—”
Katrina broke in. “There could be a couple of things going on there,” she said with a small cough of apology as she interrupted. “Severe pain is very debilitating – I would think just as much for demons as for humans, even though I’m sure they can take more of it. When you eased his pain, it gave his body the relief it needed to start healing itself. Then too, you have been feeding him regularly for a few days now. Do you know how long he’s been injured and unable to eat?”
Buffy shook her head. “Only the gash that Gill’s stake made. No idea how long he’s had all that other stuff. And neither does he. He can’t remember anything before he ended up living in my shed. You’d think his brain got burned too.” Buffy snorted a laugh, then realized Katrina wasn’t joining her, but was frowning and muttering to herself. “What?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just… that may well be what happened,” she said. “If whatever caused the burns also burned his internal organs, it’s possibly it could have destroyed brain cells as well as the other, more visible, damage. I’m a little surprised he isn’t blind, actually.”