Buffy looked up just as the vampire she thought might actually best her turned to dust. Hovering over her in that vampire's place was another vampire. This vampire was friend not foe and had just driven a stake through the other vampire. He pocketed the stake in his leather duster and offered Buffy a hand. "Go home, Slayer," he said once she stood and was brushing herself off.
"You heard me, go home. You almost got yourself killed and he was weak."
"I've still got two more risings to see about."
"Tell me which cemeteries and who they are and I'll take care of them for you. Your honey would stake me if he knew I let you patrol like this."
"Like he'd know," she said bitterly. "I haven't heard from him in days."
"Days? I'm sure he has reasons, Slayer."
"Right, how difficult is it to pick up the phone and call me?"
"When you keep the hours he and I keep? It can be difficult, pet."
"He could call before he goes to sleep; he knows I wake up every morning to get Dawn to school."
Spike stalked toward her, a look in his eye that was frightening to be on the receiving end of especially since he was able to hurt her without the chip firing for some reason. "Listen to me, Slayer," he said, grabbing hold of her upper arms and drawing her against him. "Your boyfriend did not risk death, to himself or to you, to ensure his soul was permanent only to abandon you. He did not put you up in that monstrosity of a house only to leave you. If he has not called there is a reason he has not called. Do you have any idea what he's going through, Slayer? Do you have any idea how conflicted he must be, being there and wanting to be here but knowing when he's here that he has a business two hours away to worry about? He has people he's responsible for, Buffy, minions of the human variety who have served him for the past couple of years."
She was crying now full fledged tears, the frustration and fear at not hearing from Angel in over five days mounting and reaching its apex tonight with Spike seeing she was off her game. "Oh, pet, don't cry," he said, offering her a hug. "Come on. He hasn't left you, he hasn't forgotten about you," he said as if reading her mind.
"How can you know that?"
"Slayer? Why would I of all people reassure you if I believed he had taken off on you?"
"True," she said, sniffling and rubbing her face against his shirtfront. "You wouldn't."
"Damn straight, if I believed there was a chance he was gone I'd be telling you that and hoping it would lead you into my arms."
"I am in your arms," she said softly, with a soft laugh.
"Not in the way I meant and you know it, Slayer. He loves you, he never stopped even I know that."
"I just wish I knew why he hasn't called me."
"Have you called him?"
"No, I don't want to be a pest. He's done so much for me already."
He was running his fingers through her hair in an attempt to soothe her and it was working. "And you think calling him would inconvenience him, pet? Did you ever stop to think that maybe he's waiting to see if you'll call him?"
"Why would he?"
"I don't know, maybe he's afraid it's all happened so fast and you'll feel overwhelmed with it all."
"Has he talked to you?"
"No, pet, he has not. I'm just offering an opinion."
"God, you must think I'm pathetic."
"No, I don't. You two were apart for a long time and it appears that it was unnecessary, I can imagine you want to make sure and get every day with him you can. As I'm sure he does, too."
"I just hate sleeping alone."
"You can come visit me anytime, pet."
"I can't sleep with you."
"I certainly wouldn't kick you out if you came to me for that, but that's not what I meant. Come sit and watch the tele with me, there are some nights I could do with the company."
"Why are you being so nice to me?"
"Because I know nothing would change between us even if Angel was out of the picture. I've come to accept being a friend to you, Buffy, a part of your Slayerettes."
"Don't let your demon friends hear you say that they'd think you've gone soft."
"They just might at that, but I'd just beat the crap out of them to let them know I haven't gone too soft."
She laughed and drew away from him, shaking her head. "Let's go look up those two risings I have for tonight and get home."
"Are you feeling better? I really don't feel like saving your neck again."
"I'm better, yeah. You're right; he's probably busy with some client or something."
"Or maybe he's waiting for a call from his mate letting him know she misses him."
"I suppose I could."
"You can tell him about the job you got today."
She snorted. "I'm sure he'll love the idea of me being a bartender."
"I think he'd rather that than the one serving them, but perhaps you should not let him know that I'm the one who gave you the quick tutorial on mixing drinks."
"Your secret is safe with me," she said, feeling better. The fact that Spike had comforted her was a little disconcerting, but it was oddly nice.
She took care of the two newly risen vamps with ease and then she and Spike returned to the mansion. It was two days before Christmas, but she had not been prepared for the sudden dip in temperatures. It had been in the low seventies that afternoon and in general a perfect California day, but it was now downright chilly and Spike offered her the use of his duster.
She felt odd when he had draped it over her shoulders. This was a former slayer's coat, a slayer Spike had killed twenty-five years ago, before Buffy was even a thought. She stopped walking and closed her eyes and took a deep breath, flooded with pictures in her mind of that slayer. "You fought her well, fairly," she stated simply when she opened her eyes.
"Of course I did, do you think I'd want to win a fight like that by cheating?"
"I feel her," she said softly. "The coat, it's a connection to her. I sense her. I'm covered in her."
"What the hell are you prattling on about, Slayer?" Spike asked
"Nothing, I don't know," she shrugged not quite clear on what she was feeling herself. "She's here, though, I feel her," she said, running her hand over the well worn leather duster. "I feel them all sometimes," she said softly, so softly if Spike had not had enhanced hearing he could not have heard her.
"I suppose that would be a little unsettling."
"It can be, yeah, it normally happens when I need to call on their power. It's not like they pop into my thoughts all of the time."
"Good thing that, I'd hate to be talking to that bint instead of you one day."
She laughed. "No, it doesn't work that way. It's just, her essence is here. I think it's because I'm touching something that was hers. I don't have this strong of a connection with any of the others except the first slayer, and that's because of that spell we did with Adam. I don't hear them or see them or anything. I just got a sense about her last fight, the one with you, and I sensed that it was fair."
"Well, she was wearing it when she died."
"I know," Buffy said softly.
"So, what's on the agenda for Christmas, Slayer?"
"The gang's coming over I'm cooking dinner much like Thanksgiving. Why? Do you have plans?"
"I was thinking I might bring someone if we were doing the festive celebrative get together thing."
"It's not Drusilla or Harmony, is it?"
"No, Slayer, it's not."
"Is it a vampire?"
"No," he said, sounding irritated.
"Well, no offense, but I wouldn't want a vampire in my house, Spike."
"I know you wouldn't, Buffy." He chuckled lightly. "You sure have gotten your mind wrapped around it being your house, haven't you?"
"Well, I live there, so yeah I have. I think it helps that I used to dream about Angel asking me to move in there with him after I finished high school. Now I do sound pathetic, don't I?"
"Dawn might not like your bringing a date."
"I know," he said softly. "She'll get over it."
"What's her name?"
"Well, tell Kristen she's welcome to join us. She does know you're a vampire, right?"
"She knows. I met her at Willy's actually."
"You what? She's a demon?"
"No," he laughed lightly. "Her car broke down and she came into use the telephone. Me being the nice bloke that I am ensured she utilized the phone safely, escorted her out to her car, waited until the wrecker showed up to tow it away, and then walked her home."
"Yeah, well, she's not you, but I really just want someone to pass time with on occasion. I've gotten sort of used to hanging out with humans," he admitted with a shrug and Buffy could not help but laugh.
"Funny that, you don't think of us as meals on legs anymore, huh?"
"Oh, some I do," he snorted.
"Well, I'll plan for an extra person to join us. Looks like I'll be the only one without a date then. Go me," she said softly.
"Glinda's coming then?"
"Willow says she is, yes. Tara gave her Hanukah presents this year, it was sweet. And you saw the menorah we had out."
"Yeah, Red even gave me a sampling of her latkes. They were damned good."
"Yeah, they were, it was fun. I've never seen Willow do all that before. I think Tara sort of encouraged her to do it, since we always do the Christmas thing. I'd never thought about it, but I guess it's not fair that we always expect her to come around for our holidays and yet do nothing for hers."
"You're right, Slayer," Spike said simply. Buffy tugged on the lapels of the duster, drawing it more snugly around her. She was tired and she still had to go home and call Angel. What if Spike was right and Angel was sitting there waiting for her to call him for a change and thought Buffy was mad at him or something? That was just what she needed. But how was she supposed to know he wanted her to call him? Other than Willow, she had never really been phone girl since coming to Sunnydale.
"Are you going to go see her tonight?"
"I was going to call her in the morning, actually."
"You are going to use a telephone?"
"Yeah," Spike said with a light laugh. "She's a student at the college and her parents went on a cruise so she's home by herself. I figured if you were all right with it, I'd ask her. But if you don't want to be the odd man out, I won't."
"No, invite her. If she's alone, invite her."
"Well, here we are," he said as they approached the mansion. The entrance to his end of the house was around the corner from the main entrance. "Have a good night, pet."
"Thanks, Spike and thanks for the help earlier."
"Don't mention it. I'll see you tomorrow I'm sure, and I meant it, if you're in the mood to hang out, swing on by. You know where to find me I think," he said with a wide grin.
"I wouldn't want to interrupt anything."
"Hardly. No company tonight, Christmas night I make no promises."
"That's a tall order for Santa."
"I have been fairly nice this year, not overly naughty."
She smiled, realizing she still had his duster over her shoulders and slid it off of her. She kissed him on the cheek as she draped the coat over his arm. "No, not too naughty. Good night, Spike," she said before entering the house.
Buffy walked through the house making sure the doors and windows were locked before stopping to check on Dawn and David who were in the living room watching a movie.
"I've locked up everything. Don't be too late, guys."
"I'm going as soon as the movie's over, ma'am, Buffy," David said.
"That's fine, I know it's break and all. Dawnie, will you look over the menu I have planned for tomorrow and Christmas Day before you go to bed and see if there's anything you want to add? And if there is, add the stuff I'll need to buy to the grocery list. I'm heading out of here at the crack of dawn to make it to the store before all of the crazies come out."
"Sure, Buffy," Dawn said and Buffy noticed the couple was holding hands.
"Thanks. David will you be eating with us?"
"Uh, Christmas Day. My parents do our big thing on Christmas Eve."
"Yeah, his parents invited me to come tomorrow night, is that okay?"
"Sure, Dawnie. You know," Buffy said, hoping she was not crossing a forbidden line. "If your parents aren't doing anything for Christmas Day, they're welcome to join us."
"I can call and ask them."
"Yeah, why don't you? I'd like to meet them," Buffy said, feeling very mommish at the moment. But it was clear this was getting serious between Dawn and David.
"Uh sure," he said and Dawn paused the movie and then stood from the couch, finding and handing David the cordless phone.
"Are you sure, Buffy?" Dawn walked into the room where Buffy waited to hear if David's parents were going to come.
"Sure, why not? It'd be nice to meet them. I mean, you're together all of the time now and he gives you rides to and from school. And, well, it'd be nice to tell Mrs. Kroeger I've met his parents."
"Okay, I just don't want you to go through too much trouble."
"What's two more people when I'm cooking a turkey anyway? I bought one big enough to feed an army, I swear."
David walked to the doorway and looked a little sheepish. "Yeah, they'll come."
"Great. Dawnie, maybe you could go shopping tomorrow and get them something from me?"
"I can help her with that, Buffy. I'll pick you up at eight?"
"Does the mall even open that early?" Buffy asked.
"Day before Christmas."
"Oh right. Okay, great. Thanks, good night then, guys. Again, not too late."
"We won't, Buffy," Dawn said impatiently as she walked back into the living room holding David's hand. Buffy sighed softly and walked away.
Buffy trudged her way upstairs, wondering what David thought Buffy did out late at night all of the time. He did not know what Spike and Angel were, did not know anything about the hellmouth, did not know about demons or slayers, and did not know that Dawn was originally a ball of energy. Buffy hoped that he could remain innocent about such things for a while longer. Eventually, he would find out, it was inevitable if he was going to be around them, just as Oz had found out accidentally the night of her seventeenth birthday.
She turned on the monitor to the computer in her room and checked her email. They had DSL, which meant little to Buffy aside from the fact she knew they were always connected to the Internet, so a click of the mouse and her inbox was displayed and indicated she had no new email messages. Dawn and Willow had both sent her something earlier in the day. It was so weird to get emails from people who lived in the same house. Nothing from Angel, and he had been the one who made her get an email address.
She turned the monitor off and headed to the bathroom. Luckily, it had just been vampires tonight, no demons so no blood, guts or demon goo, so her shower was dispensed with quickly. She always avoided seeing David until after she had cleaned up on nights like those. She plopped down on her bed, clutching one of the throw pillows that decorated the huge bed to her midsection wondering if she should take Spike's advice and call Angel. She hated this, she had told him she would be content with this separate lives thing. "But it sucks," she said to the empty room.
She hated calling because she did not want him to think she was being a pest or was not content with the way things were. She was not, but he did not need to know that. With a heavy sigh she picked up her telephone. "Here goes nothing," she said as she pushed the numbers that would either connect her to Angel or his private answering machine.
"Hello," said a voice that did not belong to Angel and was not a man's voice. "Hello?" the voice said again.
"Oh my God," she whispered and pushed the disconnect button without another word.
The plastic casing of the phone cracked under her grip and Buffy did not notice when the dial tone faded in volume until there was no sound at all. She set the phone back on its base and zombie-like left the bedroom. Her feet were on autopilot as she went down the stairs. She walked through the kitchen to the servants' quarters, Spike's part of the house. She knocked lethargically, staring blankly at the door in front of her.
"Slayer," she heard Spike say as he shook her violently. But she could not say anything, did not want to say anything. She just stared at him, saw his mouth moving but heard nothing else beyond that one word.
The next thing she knew she was sitting on a couch, Spike's she presumed though she had no conscious thought of where she was but Spike was in front of her looking at her hands and apparently irritated. His lips were moving, his brow was furrowed and his blue eyes looked stormy.
She smelled antiseptic and her head was resting on something hard, something that was definitely not her pillow. Her eyes were sore, her throat was parched and sore, her hands hurt, and her lungs felt like they had been brutally punished as if she had run a marathon or something. "Angel?"
"No, pet," Spike said. Buffy opened her eyes again to see him sitting on a table at the side of the couch she was lying on, obviously worried. "Are you in there?"
"Am I what?"
"Are you in there?"
"Thank god, you scared me to death, Buffy, don't ever do that again. That's twice now you've gone catatonic and I didn't like it any better the second time around."
"Buffy, you've been laying here on my couch for four fucking hours, staring at the ceiling, crying and screaming your lungs out."
"Hell if I know, you messed up your hands pretty good, too," he said and she glanced at her hands, sure enough her knuckles were battered again. Spike had put some salve on them or something. They would heal.
"Thanks," she murmured. "I guess I'd better get to bed," she said softly and moved to stand. Spike's strong hand at her shoulder stopped her.
"You're not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on, Slayer? Dawn came to the door telling me Angel was on the phone for you."
"Did she hear me?"
"No, she came during one of your quiet moments. I liked those less than I liked the screaming fit moments, Slayer. At least the screaming fit moments I knew you were alive."
"I don't want to talk to him," she murmured, gathering her knees against her chest.
"What the hell are you going on about?"
"I called there like you told me to."
"A woman answered the phone."
"So what, Slayer? He's got two women working for him."
"This is his private line, Spike, in his room, and it was not Cordelia."
"Maybe it was that other git he's got working for him then."
"It didn't sound like her either."
"Well, he's called here, too, Buffy, Dawn gave him my number."
"I don't want to talk to him."
"Jesus, Slayer, come on. Do you honestly think he'd take up with someone else?"
"He slept with Darla," she spat back.
"Okay, yeah, well, that was before you two were together again."
"How do I know what he's off doing now that he can? I'm such an idiot. That day probably never happened, he probably just knew Willow was powerful enough to do something to fix him."
"Right," Spike said, glaring at her.
"And he implanted those memories in your mind?"
"Well, yeah," she said, nibbling on her lower lip. "We share dreams, it's possible. I saw him kill some houseservant at a party once."
"I did, I saw him, it was his dream but I was there in it and he saw me, too."
"I don't know what you're prattling on about, Slayer, but I think you've got a screw loose if you think he'd want anyone but you."
"Someone who's in LA and not in Sunnydale you mean? He told me I was his mistress," she said softly, wide eyed.
"He what?" Spike exploded.
"Well, there was more to it then that. We were talking the day the case worker came by," she sighed softly and shook her head. She lifted her hands and rubbed her temples. "My head hurts."
"As well it should the way you were carrying on. Four fucking hours, Slayer, it's a good thing we have no neighbors or they'd have called the police."
"I'm sorry," she murmured.
"Don't be sorry, but I still think you're jumping to conclusions, Slayer. Did you even ask for him?"
"No, and that's just it. She did not answer the phone "Angel Investigations" or "Angel's residence" or anything like that, she just said "hello"."
Apparently, she had scored a point with that comment because Spike did not look as confident as he had a minute ago. "Just talk to him."
"No, I don't want to. I called him once already because you suggested it. No, thank you. I'm an idiot and we'll just chalk it up to that. No more men for Buffy. No more."
"You scared the hell out of me. You know it's not fair."
"You do this to me, fill me with worry for you, I step in and take care of you, pick up the broken pieces when I can and still you go to him."
"Again, I repeat, I'm an idiot." Spike snorted softly and stood from the table he had been sitting on. "Where are you going?"
"To get you a blanket, you're shivering," he said, something which Buffy had not even noticed.
"Thanks," she said when he returned with a throw blanket that was her mom's. "Where did you get this?"
"Dawn gave it to me. After you'd gone, it smelled like you and your mom, so she let me have it."
"Oh," Buffy said softly and snuggled up in the blanket. "What time is it?"
"In the morning?"
"Yeah," he said.
"And that's another thing. If I've been here for four hours, what was a woman doing in his room at two in the morning?"
"I don't know, Slayer."
"I need to get up."
"I don't think so."
"I need to go to the store," she said. "I have dinner to cook tonight and things to buy for tonight and tomorrow. David's parents are coming over for dinner tomorrow night." She groaned and started to cry again.
"Oh, please, Slayer, don't cry again. I can't take your tears. I'll go to the store for you."
"I've got about an hour until it comes up, and I'll take the Desoto."
"Are you sure?"
"If you promise me you'll try and get some sleep."
"Yeah," she said softly. "The list is on the refrigerator."
"No problem, Slayer, I'll do it. Want me to help you to bed?"
"No," she said, moving to stand from the couch. "I can do it. I'm sorry to impose on you."
"Hey, I told you to come down whenever you wanted to, I just prefer it if next time you don't beat the door down. The door is solid oak and I'd rather not see bloodied knuckles on you again. Okay?"
She laughed. "Yeah."
He offered her a hand, which she took and stood from the couch, the blanket dropping onto the couch. "You know, none of us will care if we don't have dinner tonight, Buffy. Your friends are capable of fending for themselves."
"No, I'm not going to let him ruin my Christmas. I refuse. He hasn't called me for days, hasn't made any effort to tell me he was going to be here tonight or tomorrow, so obviously he doesn't want to be here."
"I think you're wrong, Slayer, but I'm not going to argue with you when I have nothing definite to argue with."
"That's probably wisest."
"I do catch on eventually," he chided as he opened the door for her. "Go on upstairs, Slayer, get some sleep. I'll get your marketing done and Dawn can help me put them away, she told me she was waking up about seven anyway to get ready for a date with David."
"Yeah, they're going to the mall to get his parents something from me for Christmas."
"Okay," Spike said, though he clearly did not quite understand why they were doing it and not Buffy.
"I've got money upstairs in my purse."
"Pay me back later, pet, no worries," he said and she kissed him on the cheek.
She walked upstairs and went to Willow's room, knocking lightly. "Will, it's Buffy," she said, pushing open the door.
"Come in," the sleepy response came. "What's up?"
"Nothing, you in the mood for some company? Not that kind of company, but the best friend, slumber party type company?"
Willow laughed lightly and tossed back the half of her bedspread that was absent a person sleeping under it. "Sure, come on in. What's up?"
"Nothing I want to talk about right now."
"Okay, but if you want to."
"Nope, just want my best friend."
"That you have," Willow said as Buffy crawled into bed.
"No problem," she said and both girls fell quickly to sleep.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com