ALWAYS WAIT FOR YOU

 
 


Prologue


She sat beside the body of her dead husband - the man who had fathered her children - and tightened her grip on the stake in her right hand.  The cold, immobile face and body were at once eerily familiar and completely strange to her.  Gone was the blush of health that came with warm blood pumped by a beating heart.  Gone, the sun-kissed bronze that touched his perfect cheekbones.  The warm, breathing, loving man she had spent the last ten years with was gone; and in his place was a marble-perfect, but dead body.  One that was probably going to rise up any minute, its demon slavering for her blood.


In spite of offers to “take care of it for you” from everyone from an aging Giles to a surprisingly sympathetic Faith, she refused the help, insisting that it was her responsibility.  If anyone doubted her intentions, the broken expression on her face was proof that she knew what had to be done and was ready to do it.  However, she stubbornly refused to do it before he awoke.


“He deserves a last fight with a Slayer,” was all she said when Willow pointed out that to stake his dead body might be easier than dealing with a reanimated version of Spike.  “For both of you,” she added, when Buffy shook her head in denial.


As she kept her lonely vigil, scenes from the past seventeen years flew through her brain, the mental images bringing alternating tears and laughter.


“That’s when I kill you.”


“Hello, cutie.”


“I may be Love’s Bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.”


“Make me the happiest man in the world.”


“Look at that lip. Gonna get it...”


“You know you want to dance, Slayer.”


“I’m drowning in you, Summers!”


“You treat me like a man.”


“Every night I save you...”


“You always hurt the one you love.”


“I’ll make you feel it!”


“Why does a man do what he mustn’t?  For her.”


“You’re the One, Buffy.”


“No you don’t, but thanks for saying it.”


“Buffy? Not home then. Prob’ly just as well. Jus’ wanted to tell you – well, guess you know by now ...but if you don’t...I’m with Peaches. Think the big poof might’ve bit off a mite more than we can chew this time, so I jus’ wanted to say...I want to say...Bollocks!  Good-bye, Slayer. I love you. You and the Bit.  Have a good life, love.”


“It’s me again.  I meant it. I love you and I want you to be happy – but not with the bloody Immortal, dammit!”


“Buffy? Am I dead? Is this heaven?  Why are you cryin’?  An’ why am I...breathing?”


“Me?  You’re choosin’ me over the great brooding git?”


“Say you’ll marry me and make me the happiest man in the world.”


“She’s beautiful, pet.  Looks like you.”


“What? I am not crying!  Jus’ got somethin’ in my eye.”


“No, you don’t look like a whale.  You look like my beautiful, sexy, very pregnant wife.”


“Are you sure you don’t want any drugs, love?  Not that I don’t admire your fortitude, but I think you just broke my hand...”


“I don’t love him more than her!  All I said was he was a fine, big strong boy baby, and...”


“I love you, Mrs. Pratt.”


“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who fell in love with an ugly beast...No! She didn’t slay him, you silly goose.  She married him and had two beautiful, disrespectful children who don’t know when to go to sleep.”


“I thought they’d never go to bed.  Here, you hand me the tools and I’ll put the bloody thing together...”


“Merry Christmas, love.”


“Be right with you, Slayer.  Soon’s I kiss the niblets good-night and get my stakes.”


“Got your back, pet.  Be careful. Looks like the nest is bigger than we thought...”


“Buffy!  Noooo!”


“Get away from my wife!  Yeah, that’s right, take me on.  Come on, then.  That’s right, chase me you bloody wanker. This way, you ugly bugger.  Follow me.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



The vampire opened his eyes slowly; the sound of gasping sobs and the scent of tears almost overwhelmed the sound of a human heartbeat and the scent of warm blood. He turned his head to find a woman standing over him, a stake in her upraised arm, her tear-filled eyes staring blindly at his chest.  Her hand was shaking, but her grip on the stake was firm as she brought it down in an arc that would have ended in his unbeating heart.


With supernatural speed, he threw himself off the stone slab upon which he’d been lying.  The stake sliced through the fabric of his shirt, but missed his flesh as he landed on the dirt floor, confused and snarling.  Tears still streaming down her face, Buffy followed him across the sarcophagus, her arm once more ready to plunge the stake into his heart.


With an ease that frightened him, he caught her wrist and stopped the downward motion, pulling her into his chest and wrapping the other arm around her shaking body.  As his memories began to surface, he understood where he was and what was fueling his wife’s need to kill him...again.


“What’s this, then, love?  Did you think I wouldn’t be me when I rose?  Did you think I could forget you?  Buffy? Talk to me, Slayer.”


“Spike? You...you remember?  You’re you?”


“You were expectin’ Angelus, maybe?”  He felt her relax against him and released her wrist so as to put both arms around her. He held her softly sobbing body against him, rubbing her back with long soothing strokes as he murmured into her ear.  “How could you think I wouldn’t know you?  That I wouldn’t remember you and the niblets?  Don’t you know me any better than that, love?”


“But, you...the demon...your soul...”


“Soul’s gone, sweetheart. No denying it.  But I didn’t have it when I fell in love with you, did I?  Didn’t have it when I spent months mourning for you, or keeping the Niblet safe that whole summer you were gone. I’m still me, Buffy.  Man or vampire, I’m still your Spike. Still your husband and the father of your children.”


“How can a vampire be a father?”


“Might have to give up coachin’ the boy’s football team, what with all those sunny  fields they play on, but—”


You can’t expect me to let you near my children!”  She felt him stiffen, his arms dropping to his sides as he stepped away from her.


Your children?  I die, and suddenly they’re your children?”


“Spike. You’re a demon.  A bloodthirsty, soulless demon.  Surely you can see why...”


His faced shifted, the demon suddenly more than obvious as he glared at her with amber eyes that managed to telegraph a lethal anger and the deepest pain with the same furious stare.  The snarl that emerged from his chest had her tightening her grip on the stake and falling into a fighting stance.  He crouched, ready to launch himself at the small human threatening him.  Buffy’s slayer instincts took over, her tears forgotten as she readied herself for his attack.  


For long moments they remained frozen in a timeless tableau - the eternal battle between demon and Slayer.  Then Spike’s face and posture relaxed, although he maintained his true face.


“So, that’s how it’s gonna be then, Slayer?”  The deeper, more guttural tones of a vampire couldn’t hide the pain in his voice.  “Jus’ like that, you’re going to take my family away from me?”


“The vampire that turned you took your family away, Spike.  I’m just trying to keep them safe.”


The lessons learned after years of listening to Angel and Spike teaching new slayers how dangerous, if stupid, newly risen vampires could be warred with her reluctance to treat the demon in front of her as the bloodthirsty creature she knew him to be.


“You’re the ones who told me how out-of-control fledglings are. You and Angel. That’s all you talk about – how newly risen vampires can’t think about anything except going home and killing their families.  You both did it.”


He stared at her, not believing that she would throw the mistake he’d made with his own mother at him as justification for cutting him out of her life.  Once again, his body tensed, the demon demanding he kill the woman causing him so much pain.  Buffy watched anxiously as he visibly fought for control, not relaxing her stance until he slid back into the human face that was so familiar to her.


“What are you going to tell them?” he demanded.  “Are you going to tell them that you staked me? That you killed their father?”


Buffy flinched, her need to destroy his demon fading with her adrenaline. “I...I don’t want to stake you...if you can promise to...to stay away from...”


“You want me to abandon my family. You want me to leave you and the two other most precious things in my life.”  His flat voice held no trace of a question, but she responded as though he had asked one.  “You might as well stake me, Buffy.  Couldn’t hurt any less, could it?”


“Are you telling me that you know you can trust your demon?  That you could be around those warm little bodies and not want to taste them?  Come on, Spike. You’re the one who’s always said how dangerous fledglings are.  That they can’t think of anything except blood.”  She lowered her head, avoiding his once again amber gaze.  “You told me that they always come home,” she whispered.  “You said they always come home.”


He shook his head, blinking back tears that he hadn’t even known he could shed when his demon was to the fore.


“I’d ask if I really look like a fledgling to you, but it’s not worth the effort, is it?  You don’t trust me.  You don’t trust me to control my demon around my own children.” He whirled on her.    “Tell me, Slayer, do you trust me around you?  I just had you in my arms.  Had your neck right there in front of my hungry demon. Why aren’t you dead?”


She stared mutely, her own eyes filling again.


“I...I trust you not to...I trust you around me.  I don’t want to stake you...or to send you away.  I just...”


“You just don’t think I have enough self-control to be around anybody else I love.”  Again, there was palpable pain beneath the cold, uninflected words.  “So, what’s your plan, Slayer?   Make me your dirty little secret again and let the world think you staked your husband after he got turned? Let my children grow up thinkin’ they don’t have a father?”


Responding to his harsh words, her back straightened.  “My plan was to stake the demon that had taken over my husband’s body.  I didn’t expect you to be...so...so you.  I thought it would be easy.”


He cocked his head and studied her tight face. “Guess that explains the waterworks when I woke up, then,” he said with as much sarcasm as he could put into his voice.  “Tell me, Slayer, if you were so sure it was going to be easy, why were you so blinded by tears that a mere fledgling could disarm you with one hand?”


“It was your body, dammit!  It was the body of the man I loved, and I was going to have to make it dust.  Of course I was crying.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have done it.”


“Yeah, I think I got that message,” he growled, fingering his torn sleeve.  “So, now that you know I’m me and not just some strange demon hauntin’ my body, what are you gonna do?”


“I don’t know.” Her shoulders slumped in defeat.  “I didn’t think past dusting you before you could come home and –“


“Before I could come home – to the house I can’t get in without an invite – and destroy everything that matters to me in this world.  I can see where there would have been some urgency there.  No sense waitin’ to see what kind of a vamp rose from my grave, was there? Just dust him and move on.”


His sudden attack on the stone wall of the crypt frightened her more than his demon’s face.  She watched helplessly as he pounded the unforgiving granite until his hands dropped to his sides, blood dripping from ruined knuckles.  Buffy cringed at the dead expression in his eyes when he turned back to her, feeling the first flutter of indecision and regret as he spoke quietly.


“Alright, Slayer.  Never let it be said that William the Bloody couldn’t tell when he wasn’t wanted.”  The irony of his statement would not occur to either one of them until much later.  “Jus’ let me see the niblets one last time and I’ll get out of your life.”


When Buffy opened her mouth, a protest already on her lips, he raised a crippled hand.  “They don’t have to see me.  Just bring them out on the deck for a few minutes.  You can do that much for me, can’t you?”


Her head whirled at the way the events of the past few minutes had spiraled out of her control.  She had come to the crypt prepared to destroy the demon inhabiting her husband’s body.  That the demon would be the same one with whom she had fallen in love so many years ago had not occurred to her.  She felt her life twisting into unfamiliar paths as she regained the man she loved and lost him again within a few moments’ time.


She remembered how familiar – how right – it had felt when he cradled her sobbing body and soothed her with touches and words that could only have come from the man she married.  Suddenly, the idea of being without him, now that she knew he was still Spike, was worse than the grief she’d felt at his death.


“Spike...” she started, not sure what she was going to say, but unwilling to allow him to go completely out of her life.  “I...we could...I don’t want...I mean, you...”


“If you’re tryin’ to say what I think you are, Slayer, I don’t think it’s a very good idea to finish that thought.  We’re either a family, or we’re not.”


The look flashing in his amber eyes frightened her more than anything he had ever said or done in all the time she’d known him and she flinched away from the genuine menace she could read there.  Shame washed over her even as she bristled in anger, knowing that he had correctly guessed where her thoughts were going.  She gave a curt nod of acknowledgement and whispered, “I’m sorry,” before turning towards the door.  With her back to him, she said “Be outside the house in an hour.  I’ll bring them out with me for a few minutes.”


She just barely heard his “Thank you, love” as she left the tomb, steeling herself for the lies she was going to have to tell her closest friends and family.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Buffy said nothing about what had occurred inside the tomb, allowing her former watcher and her closest girlfriend to interpret the frozen expression on her face and her red-rimmed eyes however they would.  No one thought it strange when she went immediately upstairs to her children, her thanks for watching them while she was gone mumbled absently as she left Giles and Willow to see themselves out.


She stood in the bedroom doorway, watching the way the nightlight threw shadows across her daughter’s face, the defined cheekbones catching the soft light above her shaded cheeks.  Her daughter, at age eight, was already a fascinating mix of her father and mother.  A poet at heart, with a love of literature and a gift for writing that teachers had assured them was unusual for a child her age, she was also an accomplished gymnast with a strength and flexibility that had Buffy wondering if the girl was a slayer – albeit one with a kind heart and no love of violence.


Unless the object of her ire was her younger brother... At six and a half, Will was a green-eyed, blond, whirling dervish.  She smiled down at him, enjoying the way he relaxed so completely when he slept.  His agile little body was sprawled across the bed, one leg dangling off the edge, the other bent behind him at an angle that should have been, if not impossible, certainly painful.  In spite of being no larger than the average boy his age, he too had a strength and agility that made him sought after by older children wanting his natural athleticism on their side in whatever game was being played. Although he looked more like his mother than he did his father, the irrepressible mischievous streak that colored everything he did made it very clear to whom he belonged. 


Buffy doubled over, seized by a physical reaction to the overwhelming sense of how much she loved these children and what she was doing to their father by forbidding him to see them.  She had forgotten soulless Spike’s ability to love – already evident when she’d first met him as an unrepentant killer of slayers, who was willing to do anything to cure the vampire he’d spent over one hundred years caring for and loving.   She tried to shake away the sudden memory of how she had made soulless, unchipped Spike call off a massacre, simply by holding a stake to Drusilla’s heart. Or the way he had endured torture and beating at the hands of a hellgod in order to keep Dawn safe and prevent the pain her death would have caused Buffy.


Only her own desperate and consuming love for the two vulnerable beings that she had brought into the world, and her constant fear that the dangerous world in which she lived would take them from her, allowed her to remain firm in her conviction that their own father could no longer be trusted around them.  If her memories were beginning to whisper that she was being foolish and causing unnecessary grief to the very people she loved most, she resolutely closed her mind to them.  The all-consuming fear of the consequences if she allowed her faith in Spike to overcome her slayer training, kept her resolve firm even as her heart ached for the man she loved.


Years of living with the man that the Powers had allowed the souled vampire to become, and years of remaining close, if not entirely comfortable, friends with the other Shanshued vampire, had pushed memories of what they had been like before to the back of her mind.  Uppermost in her thoughts now was the Council line that she drilled into new slayers with every new class at the academy. Reinforced by Spike and Angel, the new slayers were told never to trust a vampire’s word, that a newly-turned vampire always came home to kill his or her own family, and that the blood lust was overwhelming until the vampire had enjoyed enough years of unlife to develop some control over its demon.


With so many slayers in the world, the number of vampires that lived long enough to develop that kind of control was steadily dwindling.  If any still existed, they had learned how to stay below the radar of the Council of Watchers and the lethal young women in their employ.  It had been years since Buffy or any other slayer had faced anything but starving fledglings, mindlessly seeking fresh blood. The idea that a vampire was something with which a slayer could have a conversation, or with which she could make a deal to save the world was completely outside their range of knowledge.


Buffy watched her children sleep until her slayer senses tingled, signaling a vampire’s presence.  She placed her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and shook it gently.


“Joyce,” she said quietly.  “Joy? Wake up, honey, we need to go downstairs for a while.”


Sleepy blue eyes blinked at her until Joyce understood what her mother had said.  In spite of the normality of their daily lives, nocturnal visitors and middle of the night trips were not so rare that the children were inclined to argue when asked to wake up.  The slender blond girl slid out of bed and pushed her feet into slippers as she asked, “Do we need to get dressed?”


“No, sweetie.  Just put on a robe; it’s chilly outside.”


As she spoke, Buffy was awakening her other child, sitting him up and wrapping him in a blanket.  Preceded by her daughter, Buffy carried the half-awake boy down the stairs and out to the deck.  She sat down on the glider, nestling into the corner cushions and spreading the blanket over both children.


“What are we doing?”  Joyce looked around curiously, her keen intellect raising questions in spite of the excitement of being up in the middle of the night.  Safely cuddled into her mother’s side and warm under the blanket, she had no fear of the inky darkness hiding the familiar backyard.


“We’re just going to sit here for a bit. That’s all.  We’re going to cuddle together and remember how much your daddy loved us and how much we love- loved him.”


At the reminder that her father was gone from them forever, Joyce’s eyes filled with tears.


“How could God take our daddy away?” she sniffled.  “What will we do without him?”


“Who’s going to coach my soccer team?” Will asked plaintively, his own eyes barely open as he curled into his mother’s embrace.  At six, he didn’t quite understand what it meant to be “dead”, but he did understand that his daddy hadn’t come home two nights ago and that his mommy had done little but cry since then.


“Shhh, Will, honey.  I’m sure we’ll find another dad to coach your team.  Tell you what, guys – before we go inside and go back to bed, why don’t we send daddy a message?  Let’s tell him how much we love him and miss him.”


“Is he in Heaven?” Will perked up and peered into the starry sky over their heads.


“I’m sure his soul went to Heaven,” Buffy was able to say with just the barest catch in her voice.  “I’ll bet he can hear you all the way up there if you say it loud enough.”


Always the first to show affection, Joyce tilted her head back and sang, “I love you, Daddy!  I will miss you.”  She followed up with a two-handed thrown kiss accompanied by the “mwaaa” sound that her father had taught her.  She beamed up at the sky as if waiting for a return kiss.


Not to be outdone, Will struggled out of Buffy’s arms and stood at the edge of the deck, shouting at the sky, “I love you, Daddy! I’m going to score lots of goals this Sunday – just for you.”  He waited impatiently, then walked back to Buffy. Climbing onto her lap, he grumbled, “He didn’t answer me.”


“I don’t think he can do that, sweetheart,” Buffy said, torn between tears and laughter.  “I don’t think it works that way.  He can hear us, but we can’t hear him.”


“Oh.” Will burrowed under the blanket again, losing interest in speaking to a father who couldn’t answer him.  He closed his eyes and quickly dropped back to sleep.  Buffy stood up, holding her son and nodding to Joyce.


“Let’s go back inside, honey.  We all need some sleep.”


“Mommy? Aren’t you going to say anything to Daddy?  Aren’t you going to tell him you love him?”


Buffy froze.  She knew Spike was somewhere behind the shrubbery at the end of the yard. She could feel him, her memory of how his signature differed from other vampires having rapidly returned as she sat outside with their children. She wasn’t sure that she could respond; she felt as though she’d been punched in the gut, and all the wind driven out of her lungs.  She stood, Will in her arms and Joyce clinging to her hip, staring out over the yard where Spike had so carefully tended the flower beds he made for her.


“Mommy?” Joy’s voice jolted her out of her paralysis.  “Aren’t you going to tell him?  Don’t you love Daddy any more, now that he’s dead?”


With a muffled sob, Buffy gasped out, “Of course I love him.  I will always love your father.”  She put her head back and addressed the darkness above them. “Do you hear me, Spike?  I love you.  I will always love you.  Always...” she finished in a whisper as she felt his signature begin to fade.


Biting back tears, and fighting the urge to leave the children on the glider while she raced after what was left of the man who’d given them to her, she turned back toward the house.  Within a few minutes, the children were back in their beds, and Buffy was standing in her own bedroom staring at the kingsize bed that suddenly seemed much too large and empty.


She stretched her slayer senses to their limits, but there was no trace of a vampire anywhere in the vicinity.  Dropping her clothes on the floor and stumbling blindly to the bed that still smelled of their latest love-making, she buried her face in the pillow and prepared to learn to live her life without Spike.




AN: This chapter kind of zips through random events of Buffy’s life after Spike’s “death”.  None of them are particularly significant, just little glimpses of life in the Pratt household through the years.


Chapter One


“Buffy?  Are you home?  Can I come in?”   The next-door-neighbor’s voice snapped Buffy out of her day dream - one in which she’d look up and Spike, alive and breathing, would be standing in the doorway, the sun casting his shadow onto the kitchen floor.  Instead, she saw that her nosy next-door neighbor was poised to enter the room, her hand already on the handle of the screen door.


“I’m sorry, Judy.  I must have been daydreaming.  Of course, come on in. What can I do for you?”


The slender, dark-haired woman slid onto one of the kitchen stools. “It’s more what I can do for you,” she said with a pleased smile.


Buffy raised her eyebrows dubiously.  Although Judy spent much too much of her time ferreting out information about everyone they knew, she kept most of it to herself and was, at heart, a very kind woman.  Her desire to know what was going on in everyone’s lives was more out of a need to be of assistance, than it was a desire to spread gossip. In spite of her persistent interest in Buffy’s somewhat unusual life and Buffy’s equally determined refusal to discuss it, they had managed to become friends.


Her determination to figure out what Buffy did at her “night” job, as well as what had really happened to her dead husband had become an affectionate contest between the two of them.  Judy would ask a leading question, Buffy would deflect her by answering something else, and they would continue the verbal duel until one or the other got tired.  Her latest attempts to find out what was going on in Buffy’s life had to do with the fact that now, a year after Spike’s “accidental” death, Buffy was showing no interest in moving on with her life.  A course of action that her friend repeatedly pointed out was not a smart one.


“And that is...?”


“My office is having a picnic this weekend. Nothing fancy, very casual cook-out kind of thing and we are allowed to bring guests.  I’ve decided to bring you as my guest!”


Sensing an ulterior motive, Buffy fixed a stern glare on Judy and said, “Okay. And why should I go with you and give up some of my weekend time with my kids?”


“Because Bob hates these things and he offered to keep Joyce and Will all day and take them to their games and then buy them unhealthy fast food and bring them back here to watch cartoons until we get back.”  She finished, out of breath and smiling hopefully.


“What’s the catch?”


“Catch?”  Judy batted her large brown eyes innocently. 


“There’s always a catch.  Spill. What is it?  Who are you trying to fix me up with?”


Her friend sighed theatrically.  “Why do you always suspect me of trying to fix you up?  Maybe I just like your company...”


“I suspect you, because you are always trying to fix me up.  Even though I’ve told you a hundred times that I’m still Mrs. Pratt and I’m not interested in becoming anybody else.”


“I know that, sweetie.  I do.  And I’m not suggesting you find some guy and haul him off for hot monkey sex behind the moonbounce; but you’re a young woman. And a beautiful one.  You know that Spike wouldn’t have wanted you to mourn forever.  He would have wanted you to move on and be happy.”


Buffy gave a laugh that veered perilously close to sounding like a sob.  “Oh, you really don’t – didn’t know him very well, did you?” She gave her friend a sad smile.  “And, anyway, I never paid that much attention to what he wanted when he was alive. I don’t see any reason to start now.”


“I’ve never seen anyone love a woman the way that man loved you,” Judy said softly.  “And I can’t believe that he wouldn’t want you to be happy again.”


“What makes you think I’m not happy?” Buffy jumped at the chance to change the subject slightly.  “I have my house, my children, my job, good friends...I don’t need a man in my life.”


“Did it occur to you that your children might need one?” she responded softly. “That they might not want to grow up without a father?”


“They have a father,” Buffy said stubbornly.  “He just isn’t...around.”


“All right, sweetie.  I’m not going to beat you up over this – I know it’s still pretty fresh for you.  But even if you aren’t looking for another man, it won’t hurt you to come to a picnic and drink some beer and have a good time, will it?  I swear I don’t have anybody lined up for you. I know better than that.  It’s just that there will be a lot of people there having fun and I think it would be good for you.  Please?” she added, as Buffy’s indecision became apparent.


“All right. Fine.  I’ll go.  But I refuse to have fun.”


“Whatever.  Be ready to go by 10:00 AM.  Bye!” 


Judy was out the door before Buffy could change her mind.  Shaking her head and smiling at her friend’s insistence on finding a way to make her happy, Buffy put her dishes in the sink and went upstairs to get dressed and go to work.  She gazed at her wedding band, still in plain sight on her finger.


I’m still Mrs. Pratt.  I still have a husband.  I may have sent him away, but I’m still his. And he’s still mine.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“Okay, this is just getting to be ridiculous, Buffy.  That was a perfectly nice, attractive man who was trying to pick you up, and you not only blew him off, you must have driven him away, ‘cause I don’t think he’s even in this bar any more.”


Buffy’s mouth twisted, remembering how she had left the dust of her would-be seducer drifting away into the alley behind the bar.


“I was nice to him,” she protested mildly.  “I even went outside with him to look at his sports car - I guess he decided I wasn’t his type and drove away.”


“I swear, sometimes I think you don’t really want to meet another man. I suppose you’re going to tell me that guy just wasn’t your type?”


Buffy flashed back to her first love, and to her last one.  “Actually, he kinda was... Too bad for him.”  She offered no explanation for her strange response, just got her coat and bade her well-meaning friends a ‘good-night’.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


“Mom?” Joyce was holding an old photo of her father, one that was taken shortly after Buffy had found him and Angel in a run-down hospital in what was left of Los Angeles.  He still had his vampire pallor and the bleached hair that had been his trademark for the last thirty years of his life as a vampire.  But the picture had been taken in full sun.  Buffy’s mind wandered back to that day.  She’d picked Spike and Angel up from the hospital’s rehab wing and, after many promises to be sure that they used a lot of sunblock and took their vitamins with every meal, she had driven off with them for a day at the beach.


The process of slathering the two men – neither of which had been in the sun for longer than they cared to remember – with sunblock was more awkward than she’d expected.  While they were both more than capable of doing their faces, arms and legs, and bellies, neither one could reach his own back.  Finally, with a sigh, Buffy had grabbed the tube of SPF 60 and ordering them both to turn around, she spread a thick layer of sunblock over each muscular back, taking care not to spend more time on one than the other.  When it was time for one of them to return the favor, both men automatically held out their hands for the tube – exchanging glares when Buffy clutched it to her chest, her eyes darting back and forth between the two ex-vampires.  With a sound of disgust, Spike dropped his hand and turned away, heading for the ocean and ignoring Buffy’s “Spike!”.


With an apologetic smile at Angel, she handed him the tube and raced towards the water, catching Spike when he was almost waist deep and tackling him into a wave.  He came up sputtering and swearing, his furious expression fading as he saw who had knocked him down.  He floated beside her, head back as he turned his face to the sun and felt its warmth go all the way through him.  When her hand timidly linked with his, he opened one eye and peered at her.


“What’s this, then, pet?” he asked softly.


“This is me, trying to remember that you’re mortal now and that I can’t kick your ass the way I want to for not telling me you were alive last year.”


“So, you’re going to hold my hand until I apologize?” He grinned and squeezed her fingers. 


“I’m going to hold your hand until you stop acting like a jerk and backing off every time Angel does something that you think you should be doing.”


“Didn’t say I thought I should be doin’ it, did I?  Jus’ forgot for a second that the big git was here and that you might have another choice for somebody to take care of your back.”


Buffy floated over until she was stretched out above him, their knees bumping occasionally as their bodies floated only inches apart.  She released his hand and slid her arms up around his neck, pulling herself closer as she whispered, “Nobody takes care of my back like you do, Spike.  I would never choose anybody else if you were available to do it.”


His hands barely grazed her sides as he touched her waist and held her in place.  She held his gaze, hers as open and honest as she could make it, willing him to see what she was saying.  When he gave a laughing sob and pulled her into a kiss that left them both gasping, she relaxed, knowing that he’d finally decided to believe the words he’d thrown back at her over a year ago.


“Me?” he whispered in her ear.  “You’re chosing me over the great brooding git?”


“If you’ll have me,” she whispered back. “If you still love me.”


“I will always love you, Slayer.  Don’t ever doubt it.”


“Mom!”  Joyce’s annoyed shout jolted Buffy out of her memory and she blinked several times before the ocean sounds and the sun faded from her brain.


“I’m sorry, honey.  I must have...”


“You must have been thinking about Dad again,” Joyce said with a smile that belied her twelve years.  “I can always tell when you’re remembering him.  You get a sappy smile on your face and – poof! – you’re gone somewhere else.”


“It’s that obvious?”  Buffy blushed lightly, embarrassed that her children knew her so well that they could tell what she was thinking.


“It is to me,” Joyce said softly.  “I still miss him too, but I know that you have a lot more years of having him to miss.   Anyway,” she continued briskly, “I wanted to know why his hair looks so blond in this picture.  Was he some kind of a surfer dude or something?”


“Or something.” Buffy’s laughter was free and relaxed.  She realized that she was finally able to think about Spike without feeling more little pieces breaking off her heart.  Her years-long efforts to think of him as actually dead and gone, rather than just the gone that she knew was the case, were finally paying off in a comfortable way.  “It was a phase he went through for a while. He bleached his hair white and slicked the curls down with gel.  It was just growing out when that picture was taken.”


“Dad bleached his hair?  For how long?”


“Uh...” Suddenly Buffy’s good mood evaporated.  “For a...a few years.  It was like that when I met him, but after a while he let it grow out.”


Neither of Spike’s children had any idea that their father and their Uncle Angel had ever been the very creatures that their mother was training other girls how to slay. Once again, Buffy shuddered at the fine line that she continued to walk between being sure her children knew what evil things were in the world, and how to defend themselves from them, and telling them no more than they needed to know to remain safe.


They knew that their mother was freakishly strong, that she wasn’t aging as rapidly as their friends’ mothers, (thank you for the resurrection spell, Willow was Buffy’s wry thought) and that she trained other strong girls to fight vampires.  They knew that Auntie Willow was a powerful witch and that magic was not something to play with.  That “Grandpa Giles” was not their biological grandfather and that the only “real” aunt or uncle they had was their Aunt Dawn. 


And all they knew about their father’s and mother’s early years and courtship was that it had taken them a long time to fall in love with each other; but that when they did it was very special and forever.  With typical ten-year-old-boy lack of interest, Will shrugged off what his older and more romantic sister insisted was “one of the great love stories of all time” in favor of remembering how his father used to talk about the epic fights he and Buffy had back when they “couldn’t stand the bloody sight of each other, and that’s the truth!”


“Oh.  I wish I’d known him then. I’ll bet he was a lot of fun, wasn’t he?”


“Sometimes he was,” Buffy agreed, smiling as her mind wandered again.  “Sometimes he was a lot of fun...and sometimes he was a gigantic pain in the neck!” she finished, taking the picture away from Joyce and carefully smoothing it out before tucking it back in the album.  “But I love – loved him.”



Chapter Two


She came in late one night, escorted by one of her infrequent dates, to find her two children watching television in the living room with an armed and nervous-looking Xander, while Faith stood by the door in a defensive stance. Raising an eyebrow in question, Buffy responded to Faith’s imperceptible nod by quickly introducing her date to her friends and then hustling him out the door and into his car without so much as a “call me”.  She didn’t respond to his bewilderment when she refused his insistent request that she allow him to see her safely back inside.  She shook her head, checked the backseat of his car and all but shoved him in the door, waiting only until he had closed the door and started the engine before rushing back inside.


“Sorry, B,” Faith said with a grin. “You’re just never gonna get laid again at this rate, are you?”


“Faith!”  Buffy glared and jerked her head at the two youngsters pretending not to be listening to the adults’ conversations.  “Can’t you do anything with her?” she demanded as Xander walked up and gave his girlfriend a quick hug.


“Long since given up,” he said cheerfully.  “She’s stronger than I am, anyway.  It’s not worth the pain.”


Shaking her head at the two of them, she asked in a lower voice, “So, what’s up? Why are the kids down here and why is Faith looking like she’s on guard?”


“Something set her vamp-dar off, and when it didn’t go away like it would have if one just wandered by, she went out to look for it.”


“And?”


Faith shrugged.  “There was a vamp on the roof.  Near Joyce’s room.”


“Did you dust him?”  Buffy tried to keep the fear from her voice, but the other slayer picked up on it.


Faith shook her head.  “He made me before I got up there and he took off.  I chased him for a while, but he was faster than me.”  She looked at Buffy.  “I don’t think it was a fledge,” she said with no trace of her usual snark.  “It was a powerful signature and he made a jump from that roof that would have crippled most vamps.”


Buffy’s eyes flew to her children, now no longer pretending to be watching the television.


“Relax, Mom,” Will said with a twelve-year-old boy’s casual sense of immortality. “You know nothing can get in here – vamps need an invite, which we’re too smart to give ‘em – and Aunt Willow’s wards keep out everything else.”


Saving her lecture for later, Buffy thanked Faith and Xander for coming by to watch her children while she enjoyed one of her rare nights out.


“So, what was wrong with this one?”  Faith’s teasing question had Xander snorting with laughter.


“Nothing, smartass,” Buffy said, glaring at her sister slayer. “But I don’t know him very well, and I really didn’t feel like trying to explain why Xander was hiding in the living room, while you stood by the door like an underweight bouncer.  Or, why the kids, who he thinks are old enough to stay by themselves, were huddled in the living room with Xander.”


“Point,” Faith agreed, laughing at Xander’s indignant “I wasn’t hiding! I was...protecting...”  “So, are you gonna see him again?”


“Based on the look on his face when I shoved him out the door, I’d have to say ‘no’,” Buffy responded with a grimace.  She actually had enjoyed her date and was seriously considering going out with him again just to see where it went. 


The six years since Spike’s “death” had gone by in a flurry of PTO meetings, soccer games, gymnastic meets and birthday parties.  Her own social life revolved completely around her children’s activities, and, although she knew that her non-council friends and acquaintances thought that her life must be very dull, the three or four nights a week that she led a group of slayers-in-training on their first real-world patrol more than made up for any boredom with her daytime activities. 


Although she had begun dating occasionally – more for appearances’ sake than any desire to meet someone new - the dates never went beyond the dinner and a movie stage.  At any suggestion that a man thought their relationship needed to be more physical than the chaste goodnight kisses that she allowed, Buffy was instantly seized by pangs of guilt.  Without explaining that she still thought of herself a married woman, she usually found some reason to end the relationship soon thereafter.


The one time that she had given serious consideration to pursuing a more amorous relationship with a man, she had just allowed herself to melt into his body and enjoy his skillful kisses when her slayer-senses went off, and she gasped as she felt the signature of a powerful vampire nearby.  Wrenching herself out of his arms, she pushed him behind her and faced the direction where the tingles were telling her that a vampire was hiding in the shadows.


Although she couldn’t have said that she recognized the signature for sure, fear for her boyfriend’s life had her insisting on seeing him safely inside his apartment and making him promise her that he would not open the door to anyone unless it was daylight outside.  When he demanded an explanation, and tried to coax her to spend the night with him, she had shaken her head sadly.


“I’m sorry, Jeff,” she’d said with wistful smile.  “I don’t think I’m as ready to move on as I thought I was.  Just remember what I said – don’t open your door to anyone after dark.  Please.  Not for a while, any way.  Just in case....”


“Just in case what, Buffy?  What’s got you so spooked?”


She hadn’t answered his questions, just rose on her toes and kissed him gently.


“Good-bye, Jeff,” she’d said with a sigh.  “I’m sorry.”


Although he never appeared, and Buffy had no real reason to think that the signature had belonged to Spike, she resigned herself to the fact that having a romantic relationship with anyone could mean putting the unsuspecting man in danger. She went back to casual dinner dates that seemed unlikely to escalate into anything more inappropriate for a widow whose husband was not dead in the normal sense of the word.


Buffy brought her attention back to Faith’s puzzled face, asking briskly, “Okay, what do we know?  Random vamp, but older than usual? Or, one that knows who lives here?”


Faith shook her head.  “I told you all I know, B.  He – it was a he, I saw that much – was crouched outside Joyce’s window.  Didn’t see what he was doing there.  He saw me coming and made that jump from the roof to the back yard and was gone by the time I got across the yard.  I tried to track him, but he’s fast, whoever he is.  Once I couldn’t feel him anymore, I figured I’d be more use back here – just in case he doubled back.  If you’d gotten home a few minutes earlier, we’d probably have had him.  No way he could have gotten away from both of us.”


Buffy glanced ruefully at her high heels and tight skirt.  “Yeah, maybe.”


“You want us to stay?”


Buffy shook her head.  “No, thanks, but Will’s right.  No vampires can get in without an invitation; I don’t care how old and strong they are.  We’ll be fine.”


“Okay, then.  Let’s go, big boy.”  Faith took Xander’s hand and tugged him towards the door.  “See you tomorrow – we promised the latest class that we’d take them someplace where they might see a real vamp.”


“Maybe we should just bring them here for a sleepover,” Buffy said with a smile. “Sure would make it easy if the vamps would come to us, wouldn’t it?”


She carefully closed and locked the door behind the couple, then walked into the living room where her children were watching her with eyes that combined confidence with trepidation.


“Was he really watching me?” Joyce asked in a shaky voice.  “While I was sleeping?  That’s kind of creepy.”


Buffy remembered waking up in Sunnydale to find Angel sitting by her window and shuddered in sympathy for her daughter.  “It is creepy – but, hey, you know – vampire?  Kinda the definition of creepy, isn’t it?”


“I think it might be kind of cool to be a vamp,” Will said, not noticing his mother’s horrified gasp.  “I mean, if you could be a good vamp.  Think about it, Mom, super strong, super fast – just think, if there were good vamps, how cool would they be?”


Buffy’s eyes shut tightly while she struggled to control herself. 


“They would be very cool, Will,” she was finally able to get out.  “But I think they are probably very few and far between.  If they even exist at all...”


“I heard the slayers talking last week,” Joyce said abruptly.  “They said there were two evil vampires that turned good.  Got souls and everything.  Do you think it’s true, Mom?” 


She watched her mother’s face keenly, not willing to mention what else she’d heard until she got some inkling of the truth of the rumor. When Buffy blanched and couldn’t smother a small gasp, she nodded to herself.  Ignoring Buffy’s stammered and rambling non-story, she vowed to get back into the school’s database at the first opportunity. 


Mastering her shock, Buffy relaxed her clenched fists and suggested that the two children go back to bed and try to salvage something of what was left of the night.  She assured them that Faith had undoubtedly frightened the vampire away and that she would remain awake until daylight, just in case he came back for some reason.


With some reluctance, they left the old movie, which they hadn’t really been paying attention to anyway, and started up to bed.  Buffy’s blurted instructions halted them at the foot of the stairs.


“Don’t open the windows,” she said in a tone that meant she was deadly serious.  “And whatever you do, don’t go near an open window when it’s dark out.”


“We know this, Mom,” Will said, shrugging his impatience.  “Do you think we’re stupid?”


“No,” she gritted out, “I don’t think you’re stupid.  But I do think you’re a little too comfortable about living on a Hellmouth.  If you’d been in Sunnydale when I...”


“Yeah, yeah.  We’ve heard it before.” Will didn’t notice his mother’s narrowing eyes.  “Sunnydale was a real Hellmouth – not like Cleveland.  And you were the only slayer there...yada, yada.”


The crack of Buffy’s hand against his cheek was louder than it was painful, but it shocked all three of them into stunned silence.  Her son put his hand on his cheek, the emotional pain in his eyes so familiar that she felt her own eyes fill.  She stretched a shaking hand towards him, biting her lip when he flinched away from the offered comfort.


“I’m...I’m sorry, Will.  I’m so sorry... I just...you two are everything to me.  You’re my world.  And I worry...If anything happened to you...” Her eyes glistened, begging them to understand and forgive.


Ever the peacemaker, Joyce touched her brother’s arm gently and tugged him up the stairs.  “It’s okay, Mom. You’re scared for us.  We get that.  Don’t we, Will?”  She gave his arm a little pinch.  He jerked it away from her hand, glaring at his sister as he mumbled, “I get it.  It’s okay.  Guess I should be glad you weren’t using slayer-strength, huh?” He tried for a smile, but it didn’t reach his reproachful eyes. 


Without another word, the two most important beings in her life turned their backs and went up the stairs, leaving Buffy to sink to the floor as soon as they were out of sight.  She wrapped her arms around herself, rocking back and forth and saying his name for the first time in years.


“Where are you, Spike?” she whispered.  “This is so hard.  I don’t know how to keep them safe without smothering them.  They need their father.  I need their father...” As the words left her mouth, she remembered whose fault it was that the father who had loved them as unconditionally as he’d loved her was no longer part of their lives.  Giving herself a mental shake, she stood up and wiped her eyes.


Get over yourself, Summers.  This is what you wanted.  You didn’t want him in their lives.  Deal with it.


Vowing to have another, calmer conversation with them the following day, she walked around the house, double-checking the locks on the doors and windows and turning off the lights as she made her way back to the stairs.  She did the same checking of the upstairs windows, hesitating in front of her son’s door before forcing herself to trust him enough not to check up on him.  She knocked timidly on Joyce’s door, opening it slowly at her daughter’s soft “come in”.


She glanced at the window, seeing that Joyce had closed the blinds, effectively shutting out the outside world, and then sat down uncertainly on a corner of the bed.


“You know I didn’t mean to do that, don’t you?” Buffy asked, her hands clenched tightly in her lap.


“I get it, Mom. I do.  I understand that your life was different from ours – and scarier.  But Will doesn’t hang out at the school as much as I do – and he doesn’t pay as much attention to what’s going on in the classes.  He thinks it’s just you worrying too much because—” She stopped, her eyes dropping to the blanket.


“Because of your father,” Buffy said dully.  “He thinks I only worry because I’ve already lost one person I love.”


“Yeah,” Joyce nodded, touching her mother’s hand with a comforting pat. Showing a wisdom far beyond her years, she added, “He doesn’t know how much else you’ve lost.  How many other people you cared about...”


Buffy’s eyes flew up to meet Joyce’s.  “What do you know about it?” she demanded, suddenly intent.


“Not as much as I should, probably.”  Joyce withdrew her hand and sat up a little straighter.  “Just stuff I’ve picked up here and there from Aunt Willow and Uncle Xander. Nobody talks to me about what it was like when you guys lived in Sunnydale, but they talk between themselves.  And sometimes people forget that I’m there.”


“Wonderful,” Buffy groaned. 


“Mom.  You know, if you just talked to us about...about everything we don’t know, it might be easier for us to understand why you do things.”  When Buffy didn’t reply, she added, “and we might be safer.  If we knew.”


Shaking her head at being handed advice by her fourteen-year old daughter, Buffy reminded herself that she’d been only a year older than Joyce when she was called.  She smiled and hugged her daughter, whispering, “I’ll think about it, honey.  You might be right.  Good-night.  I love you.”


“I love you, too,” Joyce said, hugging her mother back.  “Good-night.”




Chapter Three


The next morning found a subdued Will apologizing to his mother for his “smart mouth”, and, after accepting her own repeated apology for her loss of control, a quick, I-know-you’re-too-manly-for-this hug sent him off to school with his mother’s “I love you” echoing in his ears.   When he’d mentioned his smart mouth, Buffy had grinned wryly and responded, “You come by it honestly, honey.  Trust me.”  The indirect reference to his father had Will beaming with pride.  Any time he was compared to Spike, even if it was for a negative quality, he seemed to grow a little taller – his father having taken on heroic status in the eyes of his only son.


In spite of his sister’s insistence that he paid no attention to what went on at the slayer school, he did listen.  Especially when the conversation turned to stories about Sunnydale or his father.  With Joyce not being the only one to assume that he wasn’t paying attention, he had actually picked up as much information as she had.  He just lacked her ability to put things together in a way that would guide him towards even more unknown facts about his parents and their early days as heroes on the Sunnydale Hellmouth.


Buffy was sitting in her tiny office on the third floor of the old, converted elementary school that served as both school, training facility and dormitory for the slayers in training and those staff members who didn’t have anywhere else to stay.  She was mulling over what Joyce had said the night before, wondering if she had really been right to try to keep the true story of their father from them.  It was becoming more and more of a strain – not just on Buffy, but on everyone who interacted with the Pratt children.


Remembering what they did and did not know about Buffy, Spike, Angel and the history of their lives in both Sunnydale and in Los Angeles was becoming more and more difficult for everyone.  Buffy had eventually shared with her children that she had burned down the gymnasium of her first high school, regretting it immediately when her son’s eyes lit up with excitement.  She immediately assured them that it had been an emergency situation with no other alternatives and that they should never, ever, on pain of being grounded forever, even think about doing such a thing themselves.


“If you think you’ve spotted vampires – in your school or anywhere else – you tell a slayer. You hear me?  You tell me, or Faith, or Aunt Willow – call somebody who’s qualified to deal with it.”


Will’s lip had stuck out rebelliously, even as he agreed to turn over any vampire hunting to one of the adults in his life.  It was obvious to everyone that Will had inherited much of the impulsiveness that had plagued both his parents and Buffy resolved to watch him more closely.  She was just wondering if she should ask Xander to spend more time with him, giving him a role model of a normal male, when Faith strolled in without knocking.


“What’s up, B?” she asked, draping herself over a chair.  Like Buffy, there was little sign of aging in the brunette’s face or body.  Only the way they carried themselves, and the fact that everyone knew who they were, gave away the fact that they were the last of the “original” slayers.  Living with a man who loved her had mellowed Faith just enough that she and Buffy had become the close friends that had seemed impossible at one time.  But she was still her usual authority hating, reckless self.


Buffy sighed and gave a short recap of her behavior the night before.  She dropped her head in her hands, mumbling, “Joyce thinks I should trust them enough to tell them everything they don’t know.”


“Like, for instance, that the vamp outside her window was probably her father?”  Faith’s voice was deceptively light and smooth, but her tense posture as she waited for Buffy’s response made it obvious that she was expecting fireworks.


To Faith’s surprise, as well as her own, Buffy just raised her head and met her sister slayer’s eyes calmly.


“How did you know?”


“Come on, B, how long have we known each other?  You think I can’t tell when you’re lying?”


“You think it was Spike?”  Buffy didn’t even try to keep the hope from her voice.


“I felt him,” Faith said in an uncharacteristically gentle tone.  “It’s been a long time, but I know William the Bloody when I feel his signature.”


“Why didn’t you say something last night?

“Wanted to see how you wanted to play it.”


“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted.  “I mean, I thought it might...but he’s never been back, and...”


“Why did he leave?”  Faith raised her hand quickly, acknowledging Buffy’s right not to tell her.  “Not my business, I know, but why’d you let him walk?”


Buffy’s face crumpled, relief at being able to share the secret she’d been hiding for so long destroying her usual defenses.


“It was him,” she whispered.  “He was...he was my Spike. Not a strange demon, not a fledgling...he was just Spike.  I couldn’t do it.  Not when he...”


“No soul?”  Faith’s expression said she had recognized immediately why Buffy hadn’t brought her newly-vamped husband home. “Is that why you sent him away?”


Buffy nodded.  “It seemed best.  I was so afraid...” She raised her eyes.  “I was stupid.”  She dropped her head again, playing with a pencil on her desk.  “How long have you known?”


“Almost from the get-go.  I can’t believe nobody else figured it out yet.  Nobody who knows you, anyway.”


“It’s obvious?”


“Buffy, you live your life like a nun.  You haven’t let a man touch you since he died, have you?  You haven’t taken off your ring.  And...” She paused, looking guilty.  “And I saw him once.  Before last night.   It was just after he... I was having some trouble with a pack of vamps – the baby slayers froze on me, and I was trying to dust vamps and protect them at the same time.  It was gettin’ a little hairy and then, suddenly, the vamps started droppin’ like flies.  Broken necks, most of them, some just out cold.  Down long enough for the babies to get their courage back and start doing their job and dusting them.


“When I looked around, I saw him – and then I felt that signature that says ‘this is an old, powerful vamp’.“ She stopped talking and waited for Buffy to look up.  “He didn’t say anything to me.  Just nodded and vanished.  Never felt or saw him again until last night.  Figured it was a secret best kept to myself.”


“You didn’t even tell Xander?”


Faith shook her head.  “That was hard.  Especially when the girls started talking about what happened and how I’d disabled a whole pack of vamps for them all by myself.  But...”


“But you didn’t trust Xan not to go after him.”  Buffy’s flat tone was the result of the residue left from Xander’s actions during their years in Sunnydale.  Before Spike became human and was gradually accepted by her best male friend as someone he could like.  When he was just an souless demon that Buffy had sullied herself by falling in love with. She nodded her understanding. 


“You know, that’s one thing I never worried about.  How anyone else would see him.  I was just terrified for my - our – kids.  I never thought—” She looked at Faith with hard eyes.  “If not for the kids, I would have brought him right home with me,” she said challengingly. 


“I know,” Faith agreed quietly.  “I know you would have.”


“But I didn’t.  And now he’s back.  I wonder why?”


“You don’t think...”


“No!  I don’t think...  I was stupid.  He would never hurt them.  Soul or no soul, Spike would never hurt the people he loves.  I sent him away for nothing. And now he’s back.”


“Maybe he’s just visiting,” Faith offered.  “Wanted to see how the kids are growing up...”


“Why didn’t he tell me?  Why didn’t he come back, then?  I stayed up all night.”


With her usual lack of subtlety, Faith responded, “You were on a date. Remember?  You had a honey with you – and you brought him into the house.”


“He isn’t a ‘honey’!”


“Spike wouldn’t know that, would he?  Probably looked to him like he’d be in the way.”  She grinned at Buffy.  “Good thing the guy left fast.  Can’t see William the Bloody being too gentle with somebody he thought might be banging his wife.”


“Not helping, Faith!” Buffy groaned.  “How am I going to find him and tell him...”


“Tell him what, B?” Faith’s voice carried more of an edge. “For all you know, he saw what he came here for and is gone again.”





Chapter Four


Faith’s supposition turned out to be prophetic.  The spying vampire never returned, and after six months or so, Buffy quit waiting for him.  She stopped looking up hopefully at every sound after sunset.  Stopped waiting, stake in hand, until she was sure that the vampire she was about to slay was just an ordinary demon.  Things in the Pratt household had returned to normal when Joyce walked in one afternoon, her blue eyes as stormy as Buffy had ever seen them.  She slammed a pile of loose copy paper down in front of her mother and asked coldly, “Would you like to explain this?”


A quick glance showed Buffy that she was looking at pages copied from an old watcher’s diary.  With a shaking hand, she picked them up and ruffled through them just enough to see that they contained pages of information about Angelus, William the Bloody, and, later pages about Angel, the souled vampire, and, even later pages, copied from Giles’ diaries.  Buffy didn’t need to read them to know that they described Spike’s arrival in Sunnydale and his subsequent entry into their lives.


She raised stricken eyes, seeing no trace of its usual soft expression on her daughter’s face.


“Joyce...I...”


“Why couldn’t you tell us?  Would it have been so bad?  For us to know? We have a right to know...”


“To know that your father was once a ruthless killer?  That he and your Uncle Angel – and the two sluts that made them – rampaged through Europe and Asia for over a hundred years? That he killed two slayers before he found me?” 


Joyce’s gasp told Buffy that the girl really hadn’t thought through what it meant to find out that Spike had spent the first 140-plus years of his life as, first a Victorian gentleman, and then as one of the world’s most feared vampires.   Buffy’s face softened and she took Joyce’s hand and gently pulled her down to sit beside her on the couch.


“Your father is - was a wonderful, gentle, loving man.  What good would it have done to let you know that he was once one of the creatures that I’ve spent my life slaying?  I would never want you to think any less of him – or to be afraid of him.  I wanted all your memories to be good ones...not the stuff of nightmares.”


Biting her lip, Joy gestured at the papers Buffy had thrown back onto the coffee table.


“But it says he started helping you.  That he stopped killing.  That he...that he fell in love with you.  While he was still a vampire. And that he got a soul. For you.  And he saved the world.”


“Twice,” Buffy said softly, squeezing her daughter’s hand.  “He saved the world at least twice – and helped me save it a couple of others.”


“And you didn’t think we should know that?”  Her shrill voice carried to the front hall where her brother had just entered the house.


“Should know what?”  His eyes darted back and forth between his mother and his sister. The tension between them was so strong he thought he could see the air quivering.  When neither one answered him, he repeated, “Who should know what?  Mom?  Joy?”


The girl held Buffy’s gaze, a challenge in her eyes.  When Buffy still said nothing, just dropped her head onto her chest and covered her face with her hands, Joy nodded stiffly.


“Fine.  I’ll tell him then.”


“No!” Buffy’s head flew up, her eyes pleading.  “Just...just give me a minute, okay?  I have to think about how I want to say this.”


She gestured for Will to come into the room and sit in the adjacent chair, then switched places with Joy so as to be facing both of her children.


“What do you remember about your dad?” she began carefully.


“That he was very brave and a good fighter,” Will said loyally.


“That he was a good dad and he loved us very much,” Joy added with a glare at her brother.


Buffy nodded.  “He was all of those things,” she said softly.  “And he was those things for much longer than you know.”


They waited, Joy expectantly, Will with a still-puzzled look on his face.  He spotted the paper on the table and went to reach for it, but Buffy, in a rare demonstration of slayer speed, got there first.  She put her hand on them firmly, saying, “No, let me tell you the story.  Then you can read these, and you’ll know what to believe and what not to.”


“A long time ago, in London, England sometime in the 1800’s there was a shy, gentle man – a poet.  He took good care of his sick mother and he tried to be a good man.  But one night, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and his life changed forever....”


Twenty minutes later, when Buffy had reached the part where she went to LA after the apocalyptic battle with the senior partners to find that the two vampires that had been a part of her life for so many years were now fully human, neither child had yet to interrupt.  With wide eyes and growing wonder, they had listened as Buffy tore apart everything that they’d thought they knew about their father and the “uncle” who was a distant, but important, part of their lives. In place of the half-truths and invented history that they had been told, was the long, sometimes ugly, and ultimately heroic story of the man-turned-vampire-turned-man who had been their father.


“So, when Dad talked about the fights you two used to have...”


“He meant real fights.  Real, violent, I’m-trying-to kill-you fights.”  Buffy’s voice held no trace of a tremor as she thought back to the early days of Spike’s time in Sunnydale.  “We were mortal enemies – a slayer and a vampire who built his reputation on having killed two slayers.”


“But you fell in love.” Joy’s voice was certain, if puzzled.


“We did.  It took a long time, and we had a little help from one of your Aunt Willow’s wonky spells and the US Army; but, yes, we fell in love.  And then your father saved the world and I thought he was gone forever.  I mourned and then I moved on – or I tried to.  It wasn’t working out all that great, and then LA blew up and when I got there with an army of slayers, I found...”


“You found Daddy in the hospital.”


“Yes, your father and Uncle Angel.  Both of them.  Hurt, but alive and breathing.  As human as you are.”


“As human as you are, too,” Will pointed out.


“I’m a slayer, Will.  I think the jury might be still out on how human I am.” Buffy gave a small smile.  “But, yeah. He was human like me, and we got married and we had you and our life was as wonderful as it can be for two people who risk their lives on a fairly regular basis.”  She paused and took a deep breath.


“The thing was, your father and I both tended to forget sometimes that he was only human.  And he was being really stupid when he tried to lead those vamps away from me.  It got him killed.”


“We know that, Mom,” Joy said, the first grace of her usual gentle nature finally showing in her voice and face.  “You’ve never hidden from us how he died.”


“Yes, I have.”  Buffy waited while they digested that simple sentence, then continued.  “He did die saving my life. That’s all true.  But what I never told you is that the vamps didn’t just kill him; they turned him.”


There was a duet of gasps from her children.  She saw Joy’s eyes widen as the older child, the one with the quickest mind, began to remember scenes from their past.  The tearful “good-byes” shouted into the night sky, and the vampire that had been watching her sleep less than a year ago.


Buffy nodded silently to Joy and then explained to her frowning son, “I waited up all night by his body, ready to stake the demon that I was sure was now inhabiting it.  But...”


“But...?”  Will was all but exploding; holding himself into the chair by sheer will.


“But the vampire that rose that night was still...well, not your dad.  He was a vampire through and through. No soul, no heartbeat. But it was Spike.  My Spike. The one I fell in love with so many years ago.”


“Did he...did he remember us?  Didn’t he love us any more? Is that why he didn’t come home?”


Buffy took a sobbing breath and clenched her fists tightly before trying to answer.


“No. That’s not why he didn’t come home.  I...I didn’t let him come home.  I was afraid...afraid for you.  I didn’t know...” She stopped and met their eyes firmly.  “I was very foolish.  I should have known better... as long as I’ve known him... and he’s never, ever hurt anyone he loves.  Even when he was evil, he always took care of the people he loved.  But I forgot all that.  All I could remember was listening to Angel lecturing about killing his whole family the night after he rose, and I was afraid.  I sent your father away.”


Will’s eyes lit up with sudden understanding.  “The night you took us outside to say ‘good-bye!’ ” he said, dredging up a faded memory from years ago.  “We really were saying ‘good-bye’ to him.  He was there!”


Buffy nodded, her face a mask of regret.  “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.  I thought I was doing the right thing...” Sudden memories of how often she had listened to Willow or Giles repeat that excuse when something they had done had caused her pain sent a bolt of empathy through her.


I guess I owe the two of them some apologies now.


“Is that why you haven’t remarried?” Joyce asked shrewdly. “Because Daddy is still alive?”


“He isn’t ‘alive’, Joyce,” her mother said sharply.  “Nothing about your father makes him different from any other vampire – except...”


“Except that he still loves us and wouldn’t hurt us,” Will said firmly.


“Except that.”


“Where is he?  Have you seen him?  Do you talk to him?  Can we talk to him?”  Suddenly the questions came tumbling out of their mouths, so close together that Buffy could hardly follow them.  But she did get the gist of what they were really asking.  Holding up her hand for silence, she glared at each of them until they subsided.


“Now listen to me; and listen very hard,” she said, her voice sheer slayer.  “We do NOT know where your father is or where he’s been.  We don’t even know if he’s still ...if he hasn’t been dusted somewhere, by some slayer who never bothered to report it because he was just another vamp to her. I need for you both to promise me, right now, that you will not change anything about your behavior around vampires because you’re hoping one of them might be your father.  No walking around by yourself at night because you think he might be out there.  No leaning out the windows and calling for him at night.  Promise me. Right now – or you will never leave the house after sunset again.”


One look at their mother’s face told them she was deadly serious, and they nodded slowly.


“Promise,” Buffy ordered.


“We promise, Mom,” Joyce spoke for both of them. 


She studied their faces, searching for any signs of rebellion or duplicity, before nodding.


“Okay, then. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you about your father sooner.  And I don’t think I can even begin to tell you how sorry I am that I took him out of your lives; but I did, and now we have to live with it.”


“Do you think he’ll come back someday?”  Joyce’s voice trembled with hope.


“I hope so, honey.  I really hope so...  He always has before,” she whispered, almost to herself.


“He’s probably really mad at you,” Will said, his eyes reflecting the accusation he was afraid to make.  “Maybe he won’t come back.”


“He probably is really mad at me,” Buffy admitted, her shoulders slumping as she spoke.  “But no matter how mad your dad gets, he always comes back...eventually.  And, anyway,” she tried to sound more upbeat, “It’s me he’s mad at, not you two.  He knows it wasn’t your fault that I made him go away.  He won’t be mad at you.”


“Maybe he’s mad at us because if it wasn’t for us, you wouldn’t have had to send him away.”


Her son’s quiet observation, so wrong, and yet so typical of a child whose parents were no longer together, brought back memories of Buffy’s early teenage years when she tried to understand how her father could be so busy with his life in LA, that he couldn’t find the time to come and see her.  She was only too familiar with how easy it could be for child to take the blame for a divorce or separation.


She blinked back tears as she brought her fist down on the coffee table, splitting the solid wooden top and causing both children to jump in their seats.


“No!  No. Spike— your daddy--would never, ever, do that.  He isn’t mad at you and he doesn’t blame you for what I did.  Don’t ever think that!”


“But,” Joy’s quiet voice joined her brother’s, “you sent him away because of us, right?  So it is our fault.  If we didn’t exist, he could have come home with you and you’d still be happily married.”  She gazed at her mother calmly, the logic of her comment seeming indisputable to both children.


“Oh, God.”  Buffy’s moan put an end to the conversation.  Rather than stay and try to comfort their mother when her head dropped into her hands and her shoulders began to shake, they quietly left the room and went upstairs, by tacit agreement going into Joyce’s room and closing the door.


“Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”  Already the girl’s gentle nature was asserting itself and she was regretting her words.


“Maybe not. But it’s true, isn’t it?  She sent him away because she was afraid he’d hurt us.  So if she hadn’t had to worry about that, he would still be here...just...deader.”


They were silent for several minutes, each lost in thought as they tried to absorb all the new information about their family’s history.  Joyce was torn between sympathy for her mother, who she knew was still crying downstairs, and anger that she’d kept such an important secret from them.  Will was trying to decide if he was excited enough about the fact that he still had a father - and that said father was a vampire – to forgive his mother for keeping him away from them for so long.  Suddenly, his eyes lit up and he turned to his sister excitedly.


“I know what we should do, Joy!  We need to find Dad and get him to make up with Mom!  Then we can be a family again.”


Hope flared, then died quickly.  “How are we going to do that?  He isn’t around anymore.  We don’t know where he is or how to find him.  And we just promised mom we wouldn’t go looking for him at night.”


Only momentarily deterred, Will began to jump around the room.  “I don’t know how – I just know we need to do it.  I’ll think of something.”


Continued





 

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