By Nan Dibble
Sequel to Old Blood
SECTION THREE: ENGAGEMENTS
Chapter Eleven: Working Conditions
Ending the hall watch developed into a conference and then into a proposition. Then a deputation had to run back to Casa Summers to summon and work out any disagreements, pretty much like the Senate and the House except that the numbers were about even between the two troops. Not too bad for half past three in the morning, in Dawn’s opinion.
Bouncing two steps down the basement stairs, Dawn called, “Everybody decent?”
Simultaneously Buffy’s and Spike’s voices replied respectively, Yes and No, and both of them sounded irascible, which Dawn interpreted as matters being about as she’d left them. She nodded an all-clear back to everybody in the hall and then trotted the rest of the way.
At the bottom she tried for a pleasantly neutral, noncommittal expression, but it was hard because they were going to totally freak, both of them, and she couldn’t wait to see their faces when they heard it. Meanwhile the SITs, all twenty-seven of them, were coming down behind her.
The far end of the basement was fitted out with that suburban necessity, a conversation pit, probably as compensation for having no hot tub. Two big curved couches and a smaller one, all in shades of sage with blue piping, set into a lowered circle about eight feet across. Dawn had noticed it earlier. So she’d named it as the mark, and all the SITs went there and found places to sit on the couches or the carpeted edges except for Amanda, who stayed by Dawn, as was appropriate for the chosen spokesman. Spokesperson. Speaker of the Law. Whatever.
Peering cautiously into the bed end of the basement and finding Buffy and Spike both standing there reasonably clothed, whatever they might have been doing before Dawn called, Amanda said, “We want to talk to you.”
Buffy responded a little skeptically, “All right,” and started toward the designated gathering place.
Not budging, Spike said flatly, “What about?”
“Come and find out,” Amanda replied, which was exactly right because you shouldn’t reward him when he was being tiresome. Dawn entirely approved.
It pleased her to see that SITs had learned to manage him a hell of a lot better than Buffy ever had. Different baggage, probably. And a lot less of it.
Not hopping or bouncing, maintaining a dignified expression, Dawn circled the pit and found a cabinet to perch on because she figured to be just audience. The SITs had to make the running on this because it was their idea. She’d just been the resource person.
The assembled SITs, in their colorful variety of long sleep shirts, baby dolls, and pj’s, and lots and lots of long bare legs, suggested a parliament of Playboy bunnies in one of Xander’s more X-rated dreams, except that none wore makeup and had tense, cranky wee hours expressions that presumably didn’t figure in that sort of dream.
The smallest sofa had been left vacant for the Honored Leaders. Beginning to look nervous, Buffy had known enough to sit in the appointed place. Pulling on one of his black T-shirts in transit, looking wary and mean, Spike naturally sat on the floor in front of the loveseat, even though there was plenty of space for him next to Buffy and it would have been so much cuter that way. But would he do that? Oh, no, Mr. Bill, he had to be freakin’ independent and mistrust anything that was so obviously a set up.
Well, he’d find out.
Settling on the carpeted rim of the pit opposite the loveseat, Amanda folded her hands on her knees and opened the proceedings.
“Slayer, you’ve taken us in and taken responsibility for us, and we appreciate that. But you don’t own us. And some things, we have to decide for ourselves now.” Following that startling opening, which left Buffy looking rather alarmed, Amanda said to Spike, “You call us children. I hope you know we’re not. We’re the best fighters you could make of us in the time we’ve had, and some of us are gonna die, and we all know that. So let’s cut the ‘children’ crap, all right?”
Crap, from Amanda, constituted serious swearing.
Not unlike a sullen dog crouched at Buffy’s feet, Spike didn’t comment, waiting to hear the noun.
So Amanda went on in the same blunt fashion, which was how you had to talk to Spike for him to pay any attention, “When you said goodbye to us last night, where did you think you were going?”
“’Manda, I don’t see that’s any of your fucking business.” When Buffy kicked his back, Spike looked around at her. “Well, ’s’not.”
Buffy told him, “I’d like to hear the answer to that, too.”
Thus suitably ganged up on, Spike took a minute to view first Buffy, then Amanda, with about equal suspicion, then said, “Figured to stay for the patrol, if that’s what you mean. Wasn’t gonna duck out on that.”
“Actually,” said Amanda, “we’d already figured that. No, that’s not what I’m asking you. Things have been done a certain way here for a while now. Two troops. Casa Summers and Casa Spike. And nobody objected because it mostly seemed to be working OK that way, except that the Casa Summers troop mostly got handed the boring, sucky patrols and we got the good exciting ones.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Buffy started to protest.
“Excuse me, Slayer, but our business is with Spike. If you want to say something when I’m done, you can have a turn then.”
“What is this all about?” Buffy demanded.
Not backing off an inch, which was exactly the way you had to do it, Amanda replied, “We’ve been discussing this for a while. All of us. We have some ideas about how things could be better. And we’re entitled because it’s our lives here. Some choices, nobody else gets to make for us. Now back to the point. Where did you figure to go, Spike? After the patrol.”
“All right,” Spike decided. “To the cousins. For awhile, anyway.”
“What?” Buffy exploded, though this time without kicking him.
“Would have still turned out for the patrols, an’ all. Just need to get back where I know how to do without having to think it all out every bloody minute. An’ then wrong anyway, for all that. Can’t do that no more. I told you.”
Addressing the back of his head, Buffy demanded, “You were gonna leave?”
“Yeah. Be my own dog for awhile. Didn’t think you’d have much objection.”
Dawn heard what he didn’t say: After tonight.
Buffy’s hand flew significantly to her neck at the realization that the snacking hadn’t been accidental, spontaneous, or reflexive.
Dawn thought her original idea of tying them both down and making them talk still had been the best. According to Spike’s admittedly incoherent blurt, he’d expressed a wish to “set his mark” on Buffy, and Buffy had made no objection. What had Buffy thought he meant? What else could it mean if your vampire boyfriend said he wanted to set his mark on you? He was gonna give you his team jacket instead of a really severe hickey?
So here’s Spike, thinking that he’s asked and been given consent, and here’s Buffy freaking and sending Spike off the deep end. Totally ridiculous.
Sometimes Dawn wondered if they ever actually communicated at all.
Amanda and Kim had agreed: adults were insane.
“Proceeding,” Amanda said rather loudly before a quarrel of really major and embarrassingly intimate proportions could break out, “Spike, what’s the worst thing about pigs’ blood?”
He frowned at her as though she’d sprouted a second head. “What?”
“What’s the worst thing about pigs’ blood? The taste? Something about pigs? What?”
“Well, it’s dead, innit?” Spike responded with obvious sincere revulsion.
“Hadn’t thought about it that way--that what we eat is dead,” Amanda reflected. “But that’s true. Even vegetables. They’re dead. Anything cooked is dead. Sprouts? Never mind.” She shook the thought off. “So once the blood’s been processed, sitting in a plastic jug in the refrigerator, it’s no good anymore.”
“Well, it hasn’t actually coagulated,” Spike commented with about the expression somebody else might show contemplating day-old road kill. “Blood can be deader than that. But not much. Imagine, you lot, eatin’ dead rats raw. Every day. Keep you alive, that would. But it’d hardly seem worth it. You can cover the taste, mostly. But can’t do nothing about the fact it’s dead. Really putrid stuff.”
“OK, the food around here is really terrible. What are the other problems? What else would you want different, to be willing to stay?”
“No point goin’ on about it.” Spike sounded less wary and defensive, more fed-up and exhausted. “Nothing’s gonna change.”
“You changed for us. We’re willing to change, for you to stay. But we don’t know what’s bad if you don’t tell us. Who knew how much you hated pigs’ blood until now? I hate lima beans, but it’s not a big thing, I can eat something else. For you, blood is it. That’s important. Everybody knows you don’t like pigs’ blood. But nobody knew it was borderline nauseating and spoiled! How would we know, Spike? Did you ever say so?”
“No,” Spike said, after a minute, soberly, “I never did. Didn’t see any point.”
Over on the far side, JoAnne burst out, “Give us some credit here, Spike. You think you can tell us fifty dozen times that to those vamps we’ll be patrolling with, we’re just lunch, and we don’t know that’s you too? You think that we don’t know you’re not just some guy, you’re a vampire? That we don’t know that you’re so goddam homesick for it, or however you’d call it, that it’s barely worth you putting on the mask anymore pretending otherwise?”
In a deadly voice, Spike said, “Which of you children has complaint against me for how you been treated?”
Waving down voices of the other SITs protesting, Amanda shot back, “Nobody, Spike! Nobody. All right? You’re not hearing us. Nobody at all is criticizing you here. Just the opposite. We need you and don’t want you forced out by, by ignorant neglect. OK, leave the other issues aside for the moment. Just stay with the one thing. And we’re not children. Get rid of that habit. The past week or so, we’ve been talking about cooperation between us and vamps against a common enemy. That’s a basis for cooperation--enough to try. Right? Slayer?”
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “It at least seems worth a try.”
“That’s what we already have, Spike. You and us. And it’s worked. Last night you told us you’d taught us the best you knew, and we all really believe that. We’re good, and we know it, and it’s because you’ve been teaching us. Training us. We’re good because you’re good. And we want to keep going with it. All of us. No more crap about your troop and the Slayer’s troop. Buffy, half the day you’re at work, and then there’s patrol most evenings. When is there time for you to put in a six-hour training session with your troop, like we have every day? There’s not enough of you to go around. That’s not a criticism, that’s a fact. Spike has a job too, but it doesn’t start until midnight and it’s only four days a week. The rest of the time, he’s teaching us. General sessions and individual training, whatever’s needed. Full time. It’s come to the point that half the people in Slayer troop are sneaking over here every morning to get in on the weapons drill. Because how else are they gonna learn? Spike, you can divide us up any way you want, but it’s all the SITs. Who in the Slayer’s troop wants to resign and be just the SITs, training with Spike? Show of hands.”
Nine, and then eleven, and then thirteen hands went up--some defiantly, some apologetically, some sneaking barely shoulder high but still up. Unanimous.
“I try to make time,” Buffy commented plaintively. She looked as though she couldn’t decide between being indignant, defensive, or relieved.
Amanda soothed, “Everybody knows you do. But it’s not practical, and it’s not working. It’s time somebody said so and did something about it. With this new arrangement, Spike, the food gets better. Effective immediately. Us.” Amanda did a slow wave indicating all the SITs gathered around. “Since Dawn is the only one who’s ever bothered to find out what a vampire needs per day on average, Dawn helped us run the numbers. And it’s doable. There’s twenty-seven of us. All healthy. About a pint in rotation, every couple of weeks, isn’t gonna do the least harm to anybody. You take care of us and we’ll take care of you.”
It was the moment Dawn had been waiting for: when they understood the offer. While Buffy gaped like a fish, Spike handled the revelation by going after his cigarettes, away off by the bed, lighting one, and leisurely returning with an ashtray, dropping back into his former place. Keeping his face and his reaction to himself. Typical. Poker habit, probably.
The first thing Buffy found to say was, “You can’t.”
“We can,” Amanda contradicted. “And we will. Everybody has agreed.”
“Spike--?” Buffy began in an ominous tone.
Not looking around, Spike responded, “Slayer.”
“Did you put them up to this?”
“First I heard about it. But you don’t have to take my word on it: ask ‘em.”
Kennedy stood up. “It was my idea.” As usual, she was frowning, but still composed. “We need what he has. He needs what we have. It seems like a fair exchange. I thought about it and we started talking it over a few days after that business at the airport.”
It was in rescuing Kennedy from her own arrogant stupidity, almost six weeks ago, that Spike had effectively burned both his hands off.
Buffy was back to making fish faces, and Spike was regarding Kennedy thoughtfully, because everybody knew Kennedy didn’t even like Spike. So this being her idea immediately deflated a good many counter-arguments.
More quietly, seriously, Buffy said to Amanda again, “You can’t.”
“Yes. We can. This isn’t up to you, Slayer.”
Spike tapped his cigarette on the ashtray. “Yes it is. ‘Cause nothing don’t happen here without her say-so.” Then he gave Amanda a calm, level look that said this was not negotiable.
Nobody had foreseen this problem. Kennedy sat down, and Amanda and Dawn traded a semi-panicked look.
Deciding it was Amanda who needed backup this time, Dawn slid off the cabinet and went to stand behind to her: the designated sister. “Why not, Buffy?”
“Well, because biting people and drinking their blood is wrong!”
“Sez who?” Dawn responded, and folded her arms.
“Everybody knows it’s wrong!”
“Everybody minus how many? Show of hands.”
All twenty-seven hands went up. Actually twenty-nine, because Dawn put her hand up and Kim stuck up both of hers. Spike conspicuously did not vote, but Dawn considered that a discreet abstention.
Dawn said, “Buffy, vampires bite people and are sustained by live blood. Notice I said live. That’s part of the definition of what a vampire is, Buffy. That’s what they do. What they are. What they need. If you have an objection to this fundamental need of vampire metabolism, you’re in a minority here, you might notice.” Dawn had no scruples against heavy-handed hinting, and was pleased to see Buffy’s hand again go to the side of her neck where a new white quick-healed mark was apparent if you looked really hard. That gave her a matching set, with the bite-mark from Angel on the opposite side.
Amanda said earnestly, “Please, Buffy. We need him to stay. We need to change things so he can. Nobody’s being unreasonable about this. It’s a workable arrangement.”
And Dawn asked Spike, “Does this make sense to you?”
He considered, quite soberly. “Could. Could do. Maybe.”
Buffy muttered something, and Amanda said, “What?”
“One for the Boogey Man Credo, I said. Giles will go stratospheric. We’ll need a telescope…. All right. One week trial. And if anybody objects, this stops.”
“No,” said Dawn, “if anybody objects, they drop out of the rotation. As long as there are enough in the rotation to make it work, the arrangement stands.”
“And who says if there are enough?” Buffy challenged.
“I do,” said Spike. “Because I’m the only one who knows. If you children are willing to abide by it, so am I. An’ I’m not gonna quit calling you children, so get used to it. By my standards, you’re all of you children. Slayer?”
At last he looked around, and Buffy’s hand came down from her neck to rest on his shoulder. They were looking at each other, faces maybe a foot apart. “All right. One week trial, agreed. Because I…really don’t want him to leave either. Spike, are you sure you didn’t set this up?”
Spike only smiled.
In hastily convened mass-SIT session in the front room of Casa Spike about an hour before sunrise, it was initially felt that Kennedy should be first to try the new arrangement, since it’d been her idea. But to really nobody’s surprise, Kennedy wasn’t all that eager. For her, it was clearly a matter of principle taking priority over strong personal preference. Not only did she not want to give the required report, but there was the whole guy thing, and the Spike himself thing, and apparently several other things that she didn’t want to discuss. She’d take her turn when it came but didn’t want to be first.
Dawn would have volunteered, but she wasn’t a SIT and it just wouldn’t have looked good, after Buffy, which everybody now knew about but had agreed not to discuss in public. About like the sex, which occasionally was noisy beyond anybody’s ability to ignore. Particularly Buffy. But sometimes Spike. Just one of the less appealing perks of living at Casa Spike. The SITs dealt.
Amanda raised her eyebrows and made a wincing, woeful face like a Kabuki mask. “So I guess I’m it.”
Dawn hurried to reassure her. “It’s a token: I’m certain he’s not really hungry right now. And besides, Buffy will be there, watching for anything even vaguely approaching hanky-panky. Like the proverbial hawk, you can believe it. And I’m really sure Spike doesn’t want to scare you!”
“Yeah. I guess. Like the striking distance drill, only for real. OK, no fainting. I’ll just be mortified to death if I faint. No fainting.”
Chubby, solid Kim in yellow baby dolls shoved past and trudged down the hall. About half the SITs came out or leaned out to watch. At the top of the stairs, Kim turned to remark, “If you faint, everybody will freak, ‘Manda. I’ll do it. I haven’t been running around sans bra for the past month like some people I might name. Not built for it. I suggest a permanent moratorium on that, if anybody cares. It’s vile.” Then she stomped down the stairs, making as much noise as possible.
She didn’t stomp, coming back a few minutes later. While everybody stared, Kim grinned, taking obvious pleasure in making them wait. Then she tilted her head, pointed, and turned a full rotation, to make sure everybody had a chance to see the two fang marks over the big artery right behind the hinge of her jaw.
They all gathered around.
Peering, Suzanne remarked, “Just like in the movies. Awesome.”
“No blood or anything,” Amanda noted, looking hugely relieved, as was natural because seeing or smelling blood generally made her throw up. She was fine against vamps but against Bringers, not so much.
“He’s neat,” Kim agreed.
“Did it hurt?” Rona asked anxiously.
“Nah. On a scale of ten, not even a one. You can hardly feel it. Kind of tingles, as much as anything. And kind of numb, too. If somebody’s that curious, they can ask him why it doesn’t hurt worse because I’m not gonna. Dawn, you want to know that bad?”
“I’ll think about it,” Dawn commented, and added smugly, “I can ask him anything.”
“Yeah, well, there’s things I don’t particularly want to know that much about. And afterward, he licks you.”
“Oh, ick,” said somebody in the back.
“No ick,” contradicted Kim. “Not the least ick. Seals it up, he said. All tidy, he said. He was real nice about it, looked me in the eyes and everything. Serious. Trying real hard not to be scary, just like you said, Dawn.” Kim hitched a shoulder. “‘Course, I knew that anyway. He knows how to be nice. After all, this is a kind of a business arrangement. So not too nice, if you get what I mean. Slayer was looking absolute daggers. But he was cool about it.”
“Punnage! Punnage!” Gail chimed in, while several people groaned.
“My turn next,” said Sue avidly. “When’s next?”
“I’ll make up a roster,” said Dawn.
“No, I will,” said Amanda. “This is SIT business.” To soften what might otherwise have seemed a snub, Amanda hugged her. “You were terrific: you stood right up to her!”
Dawn shrugged with elegant casualness. “Sisters are useful for that sometimes.”
Buffy had stayed on the loveseat while Spike took his little careful chaste nip at Kim and sent her on her way. No squeals of delight. No cinematic swoons. About the heat level of pecking your visiting ancient maiden aunt on the cheek. Buffy still didn’t like it, not one bit, and would never be completely convinced he hadn’t somehow connived with the SITs to pull off this minor mutiny.
And Giles’ reaction didn’t even bear thinking about. He’d go into cardiac arrest. And after that, he’d start talking and the tirade he’d given Willow over the irresponsible use of magic would recede into memory as a happy chat. Maybe he wouldn’t find out.
Sure, no swoons. But no exclamations of horror and revulsion, either. And why had squeals of delight been the first dire possibility that had leaped into Buffy’s mind? Just too many dumb Lugosi and Christopher Lee movies? Media mind-wipe?
That reflection started her rethinking matters very soberly.
Spike had conspicuously found things to fiddle with, kick around, and do in the middle of the room as a pretext for not returning. From time to time he’d absently rub the side of his neck: probably where Dawn had tasered him. More than once, Buffy caught them both performing the same gesture at the same time, which was really absurd.
“If this biting business is so freaking natural, why’d you go all hysterical afterward?” Buffy demanded.
He looked around, answering simply, “’Cause I’d hurt you.”
“What’d you expect--I was gonna enjoy it?”
“Yeah, seriously. Been known to happen.”
“Exactly what is your basis of comparison?”
He shook his head, barely a smile. “No, you don’t get me to go there. Expected you to disapprove. Afterward. Never thought you’d take it as any harm. I--” He threw away any attempt at further explanation with a flip of his hand, circling off again.
He did that when he gave up, Buffy thought then. When he despaired of her understanding and gave up trying.
“C’mere,” Buffy said, very seriously, and got a wary, spooked look as reply. Buffy was thinking of Dawn’s saying that he’d been hard to understand because he’d kept forgetting to breathe. She’d never seen him as totally freaked as that. Spike without words was unthinkable. To him, it hadn’t been a scheme or a careless mistake. It’d come very near to being a catastrophe.
It was like algebra, or trig, or some other very hard thing for Buffy to not only realize everybody didn’t see the same world the same way but to imagine actually being somebody else and seeing that different way. Specifically, to be Spike. See things as he did. Even trying made her feel cross-eyed and dizzy. But sometimes, she could imagine. Sometimes she could connect, even after he’d given up.
“Come on. I want to ask you something. Nothing bad. No hitting.”
And she thought then what a good and sustaining thing it was that whenever she truly asked, he would hardly ever refuse her. He came and settled on the floor, the way he’d been before: backing her up against the SITs. Not only leaving the choice to her but insisting nobody had the choice except her.
Head bent, Spike told her, “I expect I told you some time or another, but I never been with anybody but Dru--yeah, and Harmony, her too--like I am with you. Just vamps. So sometimes I make mistakes, an’ I don’t mean to. Never thought there’d be any harm in it. Just that you wouldn’t think it was right. Wouldn’t approve afterward. ‘S’why I wouldn’t show you, first time you asked. Thought you’d…think the worse of me, or yourself, or something, on that account. Didn’t mean no harm though.”
“Spike, without even trying I can recall ten, a dozen times we did something together really off the wall…sometimes actually involving walls…and afterward I’d turn around and go all ‘Get thee behind me’ and blame it all on you. I would have denied I was even there, if I could, much less denied I’d enjoyed it. About the only time I didn’t was that once I was invisible…. So there’s precedent. For you expecting me to act that way. But we’re trying a new thing here. Don’t assume I’m quite as predictable as you think I am.”
He gave one of those shaky laughs that twisted Buffy up inside. “No fear, love. You never stop surprising me. Likely never will, neither.”
All the surprises hadn’t been good. It wasn’t what he’d said or maybe even meant. But it was true.
“And how’s the soul at the moment?”
“Still hurts. Still tryin’ to poison me for being such a wretched git as to hurt you.” A self-mocking, bitter chuckle. “Just the usual, I s’pose.”
Buffy leaned forward and hugged him, both as reassurance and to keep him there, and laid her cheek against his hair. “Tell me honestly: did you like it? Is that something that feels good to you?”
“No. Not even a little.”
He pulled out of her embrace, to swing around and look at her fully. “You-- I can’t believe-- Well, I guess you don’t. It’s very fine, love. Dunno how to say it except that. Only once before did I ever feed from a Slayer. An’ no, I wasn’t fucking her at the time, neither. First one I killed. It was a brilliant fight, and I won, and I drank her. Afterward I lived off the memory of that…well, up till tonight, actually. Never knew anything to compare. An’ now there’ll never be anything, ever, to compare to what this was, this one time, an’ no death in it now between us--only joy. For me anyway. Couldn’t wish for better.” Spike laid his arms across her lap and bent his head on them. Couldn’t speak of such an enormous joy without touching her.
“Well, I’ll tell you something if you promise not to tell Giles.”
“Until I started thinking how horrified I should be, and all the reasons my forty thousand closest friends would all be horrified and disgusted, and Giles would be horrified and have me committed….before all that got in the way…it felt very fine to me. Too. And I’m dying of shame here, admitting that. Not exactly shame--embarrassment, awkwardness, confusion…. Sometimes…I lie to myself about what I feel. But I don’t know that’s what I’m doing until later. Sometimes much later…. It’s been hard for me to accept there are things we do, that I like, and we like, that I would never ever dare admit to anybody. Except you. Because in that, you’re the only one that matters. Discovering oral sex, for instance--when I actually had to do anything--was a thing I thought I’d never accept. Too horrible and repulsive, nobody could possibly expect me to do that! Which attitude has, you may have noticed, slightly moderated over time….
“So I’m trying really hard here not to lie to myself and certainly not to you, because…because it’s important, that’s all. There’s no rules for what we are, together. Or for what we do. Never a Slayer and a vampire together, the way we are, or else it’s been very thoroughly hushed up…. We have to make it up as we go. And sometimes, figure it out…. So it was. Very fine. Scary and unexpected and waaay overwhelming, but fine. Underwhelming not a virtue here. So you practice on your SITs and nobody better get dead or too happy, and we’ll put this aside for a while until I can…make my peace with it. But sometime again. Sometime, that will be OK. And more than OK, it’s huge and strange and scary. But that’s part of it, always--the scary stuff. The stuff you have to trust me for, or the stuff I have to trust you for, that would be real bad without the trust. World-famous trapeze act with no safety net…. I know I’m gonna dream about it. And it won’t be scary in a dream because then it’s all allowed.”
After awhile he said, “There’s been times when loving you has been a curse even my worst enemy wouldn’t have wished on me. And then there are the times when it’s as close as I can imagine to a blessing. An’ one time like this, it makes up for all the rest.”
Buffy wished she could say back to him what loving him was like. She still didn’t have those words to say. But she thought she was closer than she’d been.
Maybe not now, not yet, she thought. But sometime.
Continued in Chapter Twelve: Patrol