By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION TWO: APPROACHES
Chapter Five: Vampires by Moonlight
Buffy figured it was one of the perverse laws of relationships that when one partner warmed up, the other cooled down; when one came on, the other started backing off.
The fact was, despite everything, she didn’t remember feeling this good since practically the great mayor/snake/explosion that had destroyed the previous incarnation of the high school.
Willow’s covert sullenness, that usually made everything awkward and hesitant, didn’t prevent Buffy from dragging her out for shopping and lattes, even if the shopping was only thrift stores. Boutiquing could be fun because it was like scavenging: you never knew what you might find and you might even be able to afford it.
When Xander started his utterly predictable grouching and ranting about Spike’s presence in the same cosmos as himself, Buffy had no problem telling him to find somebody his own age to pick on because bad-mouthing old people like Spike was just mean. Xander looked at her funny but dutifully came up with fresh candidates to snipe at.
Dealing with her friends in a direct, straightforward manner was so simple, and so plainly necessary, that Buffy couldn’t imagine why she hadn’t done it long ago instead of agonizing endlessly over what they might think of her if they knew any of her terrible disgusting awful secrets. Like having a very, very old boyfriend who was absolutely the hottest item she expected she’d ever see, and lucky to have him, and what had all the fuss been about anyway?
Not that Spike was truly old, not inside, or outside either for that matter, but it was hard to argue that somebody whose combined age was something like 150 wasn’t due some senior points here and there. Buffy told Spike about it and he looked at her funny too.
Too bad. He’d get over it.
For no particular reason Buffy knew, Spike had become fascinating to watch and fun to tease. She began to read his body language automatically, without even thinking about it. She heard words in his silences and answered accordingly, and got searching, pensive looks from him in response. She felt good. She felt happy and confident, with energy to spare, and what could be wrong with that?
Apparently something was, though, because Spike’s bounding, headlong energy, that generally required him to keep the brakes on pretty much 24/7 and drink himself unconscious several times a week just to slow down to the speeds normal people lived at, had dropped away to nearly nothing. Buffy wondered if there could be such a thing as an energy vampire and, if so, she’d somehow been turned without knowing it. There was no real reason to think her increase in vitality was at his expense, but it had to be coming from somewhere and the reverse ratio of rise to fall was pretty conspicuous.
And it was as if he wasn’t sure how to behave around her anymore. Way backed off, shy, diffident, vaguely hopeful, as if he was continually worried about saying or doing the wrong thing and getting hammered for it, which was just dumb after all this while and besides she didn’t do the dumb stuff anymore and therefore his worrying about it, if that’s what it was, was really peculiar. And also very un-Spikelike.
But even though she tickled him into near hysterics one night, he wouldn’t admit what was wrong or even that anything was, when that was obviously untrue. He didn’t even pitch a fit when accused of brooding.
Strangest of all, though, was the flatlining of whatever passed, in vampires, for libido. Since vamps didn’t have much going by the way of hobbies or outside interests, sex took up the slack in terms of what to do with your day, or night, or unlife, or anytime you weren’t actively hunting or feeding or sleeping. Since vamps didn’t actually need much sleep, and feeding took, what: maybe fifteen minutes a day?--no cooking or chewing involved, after all: speeded things right up--a whole lot of quality time was open for fooling around. So when the question was sex, the answer was always Yes, assuming they bothered to answer at all and didn’t go straight for the clinch. Always time enough for that, and repeats, and dares, and long elaborate games involving the creative use of various food and non-food items. Sex was play and conversation and provocation and consolation and sometimes even battle: every other kind of relatedness could be and was subsumed into sex with a single-minded intensity Buffy had never found in any of her human lovers. Which, she suspected, was one reason she really, really preferred vamps in bed.
They didn’t get bored and were never boring. They didn’t do the deed and then roll over and sleep when you were still highly interested. They didn’t beg off for headaches. With a singular although spectacular exception, they always respected you in the morning and were just as interested as the night before, or even more so since they weren’t going anyplace until nightfall. Four or five screaming redhot orgasms barely counted as foreplay. And without getting into the gross details, particular times of the month only made things hotter and more intense all around.
Sex was something vamps tended to be passionate about. Extremely.
Of course almost everything she knew about that she’d learned from Spike, so maybe she was overgeneralizing. Maybe he was as exceptional in that way as in liking highly spiced human food and hot sauce in his warmed-up pigs’ blood, which no other vamps seemed to have the least inclination for, going by the non-menus at the demon bars. Maybe the demon average was something closer to Clem, the only actual friend of Spike’s Buffy knew of, who didn’t exactly seem wild monkey sex material and displayed all the sexual aggressiveness of Captain Kangaroo.
Even in the bad old days, the dumb stuff days, sex between her and Spike had been pretty equal opportunity. If the opportunity offered and sometimes when it didn’t, either of them was apt to do the initial pouncing. Now, with a fair amount of opportunity and even inclination, Spike had to be courted, practically seduced, and continually reassured. Either she pounced or nothing happened. And sometimes even when she did: he might duck away, slide away, with unexplained pressing business elsewhere. His diffidence and uncertainty, newly notable in ordinary contact, came into full bloom in bed. The normal ferocity and aggressiveness, that Buffy more liked than not, clear gone. And what she felt, for no reason she could name, as a terrible unchanging sadness underneath.
Sure, they were probably all gonna die when the Hellmouth started spewing Turok-han. But that was no reason to get all depressed in the meantime.
She overheard, one evening, Spike in the front hall trying to sweet-talk Xander into giving him a ride down to L.A. to collect the motorcycle he’d left there, outbound for Africa, and butted in to offer the SUV and her company instead.
A head tilt and a glance. “Wouldn’t want to put you out, Slayer.”
“Slayer’s not going. Slayer never has any fun: it’s in the manual, just ask Giles. This is a Buffy offer. Come on: catch a movie or something while we’re there,” Buffy proposed, grabbing the non-tatted arm and leaning close, grinning in his face.
When it appeared that needed thinking about, she wheedled, “You can drive.”
Slow, small smile. “All right. Might actually make it, in that case. When?”
“Well, how about like now?”
“But…there’s patrol, innit?”
“Xander can take it. Can’t you, Xander? Surrounded by all that luscious girlflesh you can’t have? How are you feeling about torture tonight, Xander?”
Xander rubbed his hands together. “Pretty sanguine, actually. Gives me a chance to try out those inline skates.”
Buffy gave him the required skeptical look. “You have inline skates?”
“No, I have an excellent reason to get some. And some rope. And reins. A whip. Maybe train for the Iditerod.”
“Sure, you do that, except no whining about the bruises when the SITs find out you regard them as bitches. Of the canine variety.”
“Deal,” agreed Xander cheerfully. “I’ll have Andrew take pictures, make the cover of the National Enquirer right next to the Satan image on the moon and the world’s most obese kitty-cat.”
“Meow,” said Buffy, then told Spike, “See? All set. You ready?”
More thought required. “Maybe stop at Willy’s a few minutes?”
“Sure, no problemo. But this isn’t a Willy’s night, is it?”
“No. Just something to catch up. If that’s all right.”
Buffy faked a frown. “I don’t know, I’ll have to give that some serious consideration. OK. Serious consideration over.”
One of those searching looks, as if she’d caught him wrong-footed and dumped him in the training room, and he wasn’t quite sure if she was mad or not, whether he ought to stay down, not risk either of them losing their temper and the fight going real. Which had happened, but surely not lately.
She asked, “You want to get some tapes or something?”
“No, radio’s fine. Keys by the phone?”
Perhaps twenty minutes later, sitting in the SUV in Willy’s parking strip, Buffy began tapping her fingers on the dash. She’d figured Spike was just stopping by for drinking supplies, but that certainly didn’t take ten minutes. He’d left the motor running, though. After another round of tapping, Buffy switched the engine off, stuck the keys in her pocket, and went in search of him. A quick scan of the bar’s patrons didn’t turn him up, but she spotted one of his minions clearing a table: the nervous one that always seemed to suspect she was just itching to stake him, which was really excessive because Spike’s minions were perfectly harmless. He seemed to think Buffy’s asking about Spike’s whereabouts was a trick question and guessing would therefore be suicidal. Buffy turned away, annoyed, deciding to check out the side of the lot.
She saw two guys sitting on their heels in conversation, and although the light wasn’t that great past the building’s corner, Spike’s bone-white hair was unmistakable. As Buffy approached, both looked up: golden-eyed and game-faced. Startled, Buffy halted, and the vamp that wasn’t Spike rose with more an air of calm politeness than alarm: the way any guy might stand up when a lady entered a room. So it also seemed politeness that his features flowed and smoothed before he met her eyes.
Standing too, Spike apparently felt an introduction was called for: “Slayer, Mike. Michael, this is the Slayer.”
The vampire, Mike, gave her a composed nod. With his broad forehead and wide-set light eyes, he reminded Buffy vaguely of Riley Finn. Broader and slightly taller than Spike, he appeared to have been turned in his early thirties, a little older than Spike’s apparent age, which could mean anything.
If you didn’t count Dracula, who’d introduced himself, Buffy had never been introduced to a vampire before and felt at a complete loss how to respond.
Quite casually and still game-faced, Spike said to the other vampire, “So we’ll settle up about this tomorrow, all right? Got someplace to be at the moment.”
“All right. See you then. Slayer.” With another nod to her, Mike turned and started away. As Spike headed back toward the van, Buffy fell in alongside, checking over her shoulder twice to make sure the strange vamp wasn’t stalking them.
“Friend of yours?” she found herself asking, more nervously than she’d intended.
“Just somebody I know. One of the cousins, is all. No need to worry about him, long as I’m with you. And I believe he might actually have the sense to stay clear of you otherwise, though you never know.”
“But…who is he?”
“Dunno all that much about him. Ex-merc, has some good weapons knowledge, contacts. Figure, myself, he’s one of those came down from the Wild Geese, along ago. Looks it, anyways. Chaps like that, they been turning up for a good few centuries now since Ireland couldn’t feed its own, the young boyos hiring out as muscle of one kind or another to wherever was hiring. Not all of ‘em vamps, of course.” Spike pulled open the van door and swung in behind the wheel. “You take the keys, pet?’
Caught in a third backward glance, Buffy climbed in on the passenger side and passed over the keys.
Starting the engine, then backing to turn, Spike remarked, “Put you in mind of that yob Finn, didn’t he.”
Startled again, Buffy responded, “You read minds now?”
“Just figured. All those boyos cut from pretty much the same cloth. Seen ‘em from Moscow to Lima. Michael, he’s not a bad sort, considering. Trying to live by rule, like what he used to know. Won’t work in the long run, it never does, but no use to tell him so. In the meantime, he’s a steady enough chap.”
Buffy’s fingers flew to her temples. “Stop, stop. No, not the van, just the talk. One vamp I have to think of like a person is all I can handle. All right, two,” she added, obliged to think of and add Angel. “Three’s too many. Three does not compute.”
“Have to know where the people leave off and the monsters begin,” Spike responded easily. “Only natural. I expect the monsters start anyplace south of Peaches, like you said. Not altogether sure where the line for me should fall, but that’s all right. I expect you’ll sort it out however seems best to you.”
“The one I thought of first wasn’t Angel,” Buffy told him, a little stung he’d think otherwise. “It was you.”
“All right,” Spike responded, still agreeable, watching the road.
Buffy had the feeling she’d somehow committed an argument and then lost it, all without intending any such thing.
Reaching the highway, Spike switched on the high beams, which brightened the dash lights as well. He was still in game face. Until then, Buffy hadn’t been sure.
Buffy said, “How come?” and gestured when he glanced around at her.
“See better this way, love.”
“Then why not all the other times?”
A shrug, a lift of the hand not holding the wheel. “Didn’t think of it, probably. If you’re expecting me to be consistent, you face sad disappointment.” Eyes still steady on the road ahead, Spike added, “Or maybe I figured then that it mattered, show you only what you’d be comfortable seeing.”
That was blunter than she’d heard from him in some time, and blunter and more direct than she’d expected. “And now it doesn’t matter?”
“Well, you seen my demon now enough times, I expect it’s no surprise.”
All the same, he either shed the mask or resumed the other, whichever way he thought of it: as if the fact of her mentioning it constituted a request.
Buffy didn’t think he was trying to be provoking or was deliberately misunderstanding her, which made it the more frustrating. They were simply consistently misreading each other’s signals. Or at least he was, hers.
They came to the coast road and turned south. Doing maybe sixty. Poking along.
Buffy finally had to say it: “Your virtue is astonishing. Under the speed limit, no liquor in the vehicle, no radio blasting away, not even smoking. What--”
“Don’t have a driver’s license,” Spike offered, “if that makes you feel any better. Go ahead an’ get something on the radio, if you want.”
“Spike--!” Buffy tried to think of a way to put it that (a) he couldn’t dodge and (b) wouldn’t constitute or provoke an outright confrontation. She finally said, “All right, let me predict: no matter which of the three thousand ways you’ve been weird lately I mention, you’re gonna tell me you’re off, expect me to agree, end of conversation. How about we skip that part, OK? Take that as given. OK, you’re off. Why are you off? I really want an answer to that, Spike.” When she’d waited several minutes without getting any response, she blew it by breaking the silence first, trying to make a joke of it: “Is it blood poisoning from the tat? What?”
“As good a reason as any.”
Damn. She’d given him an out, and he’d taken it.
Then, maybe because he was Spike, he surprised her. “I expect I’m like that Michael, in a way: tryin’ to suss it out by the rules. Rules I don’t feel anymore. Trying not to be a nuisance about it or put a foot too wrong, but maybe that’s not possible. Anyway, this is the best I got, so either it’s enough or it’s not. If you say it’s not, I dunno where I’m to go with it.”
She slid over against him and put her arm through his non-tat one, lacing fingers into his fingers. Just as she’d suspected, all his muscles, everything in him, all locked, tight, and rigid. He wouldn’t clasp her hand, probably because there’d be fingers broken, hers or his or maybe both, if he did. But with probably the one grain of sense she’d had all night, Buffy didn’t remark on the obvious, didn’t say anything at all. Just leaned her head onto his shoulder and waited for whatever was next: for him to settle or not, or explain or not, leave the ball this time entirely in his court and see what happened.
After maybe ten minutes he slowed and pulled off onto the margin. Turned off the headlights, set the drive in Park, and turned off the key. Rather than pull away, he said, “Gonna get out now.”
“All right.” Buffy let him go, then opened her own door and down. She expected to find him pacing, but he’d only leaned back against the van near the front wheel well on her side. She mirrored his pose even to the folded arms, both of them looking outward.
A car passed behind them and then gradually silence again. There was enough of a moon to distinguish sky from the land descending between this roadside and the unseen sea. Buffy thought she could hear it, far off; but maybe it was only wind.
Spike said quietly, “I dunno if I can make you understand. Expect I shouldn’t try, won’t make things any better and will likely make them worse. But if you can’t be content if I don’t give account of myself, I’ll do as best I can to try.”
“I’ll try really hard to listen,” Buffy said. “I truly, really want to understand.”
“Let me think…. Well, to start with, it’s good you’re happier now. It just blazes off you. Anybody could see. An’ that’s yours and you deserve to have it. But what you don’t know is where that came from. The price of it. An’ I do, and I haven’t been able to get myself reconciled to it. Which is my problem, not yours, and I’ve tried as best I could to keep it away from you and manage on my own. But that’s throwing me off, and me being off, seems like that’s started to throw you off too. And I dunno what’s to be done, if this isn’t enough.”
“I think,” said Buffy carefully, “Giles would now detect the absence of a noun. You’ve told me, except you haven’t told me. Could you go a step or two back, to where this actually makes sense?”
“Dunno if it will, to you. Anyway. You recall that sister you had, except not really. Dawn.”
“No,” Buffy said honestly.
Spike laughed. Not a particularly good laugh. “Not surprising. Here.” He slipped a thin chain from around his neck and waited for her to bend her head so he could put it on her. A little dried-up twist of grass or something was pinned to it. “I don’t need it anymore, and when we’re done I’ll take it back if you want, since it’s only apt to make you sad to no purpose. All right, even though you don’t remember, bear with me here. For awhile, you had a sister. Five years younger than you, about. And her name was Dawn. An’ I loved you both very much, only different. But not one more, one less. She was taken, and sorted back into what she’d been before. Magic is as good a way to say as any, though it wasn’t that, not really…. And all of what was hers came back to you, because that was where it’d come from to begin with. And that’s as it should be. She told me so, and I got no argument. But the price of what you got back, that you’re so happy with now, is Dawn. An’ I’m not reconciled to it. There’s things I see in you now that are Dawn’s things, an’ it’s as if I think you stole ‘em. Know you didn’t, know that perfectly well. Doesn’t change anything. It’s as if it’s your fault she’s gone because you have the benefit of it, and I hold that against you. Angry with you sometimes on that account. ‘Tisn’t fair, but that’s the truth of it all the same. You give me time, and space, to be feeling toward you what I ought, maybe I will again. This isn’t something I’m doin’ on purpose or even believe is right. But it’s what is, and I’m doin’ with it the best I can. And likely this doesn’t make any sense to you whatever, because you got no memory of Dawn, like I have.”
Buffy scuffed a foot back and forth on the gravel. “When my parents split up,” she said slowly, softly, feeling her way, “for a long time I was mad at my mom. Because obviously it had to be somebody’s fault my dad wasn’t with us anymore, and if it wasn’t her it had to be me, and I couldn’t have stood that. Really, really couldn’t. Especially since this whole Slayer business had just dropped onto me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and I was really scared I was such a freak that nobody would ever love me if they knew. So it absolutely positively couldn’t be me, see? Had to be mom. And I was so wretched to her for a long time, before and after she moved us to Sunnydale, I’m ashamed now even to think about it. Because of course I loved her. A lot. You know. But it took me a really long while to get past that. To set it aside. When I could, I did. But I had to wait until I could. Does that sound to you anything at all like what you’re trying to tell me?”
His answer was to turn and take her in his arms, hard, head bent against hers. “Pretty much,” he responded hoarsely.
Buffy said, “Then Dawn probably was a smarter person than me, because I understand that, and I don’t think I would have, before. If that’s something that came to me from her, I’m grateful and I’ll try to make the best use of it I can. I have too many problems admitting vampires are even people to speculate about their being traumatized or neurotic or anything like that. Don’t have to deal with that kind of stuff if all you’re gonna do is stake ‘em.” She mimed that: imaginary pointy stick, a thump against his chest. “Sort of like the Watchers’ Council and the Slayers. Very limited viewpoint. It’s easier that way--for them. Easier, slaying, if you don’t know they have names, much less know what those names are. If they’re not people. Sort of like butchering your pet pig…. Holden Webster…. And yet it has to be done.”
“So it does.”
Buffy tried to think how all that applied. Mike, that she’d just met, connected up to it. And of course Spike. And even the minion in the bar, who maybe wasn’t your basic upstanding example of vamphood, but had his ways and likely his own way of thinking. Clem. And of course Angel. “Maybe,” she said to Spike, “I have to give up the monsters altogether. There’s a war on, and they’re mostly the enemy. But it doesn’t help see things clearly, as they really are, to demonize them. Even when they’re demons.” That made her chuckle, and Spike pulled in a deep, sighing breath, so she’d gotten through to him at least that much. Let him ease off some of the tension and what she now knew to be rigid self-control like watching your feet, going downstairs, which almost guaranteed a stumble.
Couldn’t do it by the rules: Spike was right. You just had to know, without thought, naturally, or you’d always end up getting it wrong.
“Things get complicated, that way,” Spike commented. “Dru is a monster. I been a monster in my time. Still am, mostly. And Angelus, you know. Others, that you don’t. There are true monsters out there, love, by whatever measure you choose. No cure for ‘em except to kill ‘em. No compromise, no dickering. Just put ‘em down, do ‘em as quick as you can.”
“I know. The old rules aren’t holding up. Have to make some new ones. And if that’s complicated, then it’s complicated. I’m giving you a new job, all right?”
“What’s that, pet.”
“Director of Demon Relations. Punch me whenever I go all human-bigot….” Another thought struck. “Was Dawn jealous of me? About you?”
“No, love. Not that I ever knew. Mostly she pissed you off stealing your clothes.”
“And don’t take this wrong but--”
“No. Red as good as asked the same thing, an’ I was good: didn’t hit her even a little. No, love. Neither of us wanted that. Not her and not me.”
“Ahuh. Have to work on that, then. Takes the mood right away if you’re looking at me and thinking fifteen-year-old jailbait kid sis.”
“Sixteen. An’ a half. And yes, that does come into it sometimes.”
“Ever fight with her? Spar with her, that sort of thing? Like you do with the SITs?” When he just shook his head, Buffy thought she saw the beginning of a way around that particular impasse.
It helped, she found, if she thought about this Dawn as Spike’s sister rather than her own, which was just too weird. But if she imagined the girl as his kid sister that he had lots of habits and ways left over from, and lots of unresolved feelings about, and was grieving for, and that Buffy reminded him of powerfully sometimes and in some ways, she could get her mind around that, accept that.
She’d never thought about vampires having families. To the degree she thought about it at all, she’d thought of each one alone, isolated. Like the Slayer.
It wasn’t true, anymore, for her. And maybe it had never been true for them.
She thought, For practical purposes, in just about every way that matters, Spike is Angel’s son.
That had never occurred to her before because they were about the same apparent age, you couldn’t see the near-century discrepancy the way you could with people. Other people. There certainly were ways it wasn’t true. But in a lot of ways, it was. And she’d have to think about that, to understand what it meant. To Spike. And to Angel. And to her.
She trailed fingers down his left arm, along the spiral of the tat. “Now, see, I know that: that’s hers, isn’t it.” A nod. “Then that’s hers. I won’t mess with it or give you grief over it. All I want is what’s mine. And that’s you, right?”
Another nod. Another big breath.
“Then d’you think maybe we can get this show on the road again?”
Finally, he turned loose of her. Then changed his mind and hugged her close again. Then went around the front, and they both got in.
Somehow Buffy wasn’t surprised when he pulled in at the next convenience store and came back with cigarettes for himself and a soda for her. You didn’t have to understand all the connections to know they were there and see them happening.
She had to make a friend of this Dawn: an ally. Both of them on the same side, both looking out for him. Things would be better then. She was pretty sure of it.
“So, tell me about her,” Buffy said, sitting close and nudging until Spike put the non-tat arm around her, though that meant his switching hands with the cigarette. “Tell me about Dawn.”
Continued in Chapter Six: The Boogey Man Credo