Sequel to A Nice Place To Visit, But ...; part of The Bittersweets Series
Summary: "There are things everywhere that'll break your heart. Just break it." "Fortunately, you can live a big big life, even with a broken heart."
Story Notes: Number umpty-something of The Bittersweets Series. Set twenty-one years after the events of "Mrs Grieves & The Abandoned Husband."
Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow
Completed: August, 2004
Thanks: To Varina8, who consented to be spoiled when this was a Work in Progress, to help me plot it all out. And to everyone who read this in parts in my LJ and spurred me on with great hot lashings of creamy enthusiasm, praise, and character analysis. Thanks to Orthoepy and Lovesbitca for suggesting or inspiring character names, and to Thedeadlyhook for advice and enthusiasm above and beyond.
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in."
"I should have called it
Something you somehow haven't to deserve."
—Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man, 1915
"You didn't invite anyone along?" she said. "I thought this was supposed to be a party."
He watched his mother look around the dark-paneled, underlit restaurant as she unfurled her napkin. He could see she was wondering why he'd chosen it—or more likely, how, since she must've twigged to the why by now. Usually, when his parents came to visit, he led them into smoky caverns of red sauce Italian or fluorescent temples to Peking duck in Soho. The maitre d' here had wanted to stop them at the door, whether for lack of neckties or worse was unclear, but one look from his father, followed by her bright appeasing smile, convinced him it would be less fuss to seat and serve them. This temple of decorum was nowhere near the university or his surrounding stomping grounds. No one he knew would stumble across them here. They could fucking well afford it. Hell, so could he, for that matter. It was his birthday. He was twenty-one and free, with Uncle Rupert's ching-ching filling his pockets.
Her smile was too sweet, like those technicolor Indian desserts. "We told you you could bring anyone you like—this is a celebration. I was hoping you'd introduce me to your pals."
"Oh yeah, I'll be doing that shortly. Pals, here's my parents—they barely look older than we do, but don't ask me to explain how that is."
"Don't talk to your mum that way."
"What way? It's the truth. You're a couple of freaks—no one's gonna buy that you're my parents. Why even go there?"
There was a time when he'd stopped buying it himself. At sixteen it occurred to him, in a late-night stoned epiphany, that he couldn't be their son, not biologically. His father was a vampire, for Chrissakes, and he so didn't buy that cockamamie story about travel through dimensions, through time. Even for them, that was a bit much to swallow. And she—she was something not human either, because his mother just couldn't be the same twenty-year-old hottie who'd supposedly given birth to him, if the family photo album was to be believed. How could she not have aged since then? She was so fucking pretty it practically hurt. He'd throw a boner when she appeared in a bathing suit, or if she bent over the table and he saw down her blouse. And that time he came in early one Saturday night and caught her swaying on top of him on the sofa, their undulating bodies blue-pale in the shifting TV-light—Christ. He's almost creamed his jeans, and at the same time he'd wanted to smash Papa's skull in—Ugh. Don't think about that. They must've acquired Jem and him somehow. Not adopted, because who would let a vampire and a wild superwoman officially adopt children?
It was all so bogus and fucked-up. He couldn't really be a part of the two of them. He didn't have to be, if he didn't want to.
When he confronted them with it, Mamma's eyes had gone all huge and watery; she opened her mouth but nothing came out. Spike slapped him so hard his head almost did a 360. How dare you? You know what your mum went through to have you, an' your sister both. Told you about it often enough. How dare you be such a bloody wanker?
He'd burst out crying like a big baby, but when she tried to put her arms around him, tears slipping down her peachy cheeks, he couldn't take it, having this nubile girl hugged up against him. He pushed her away. That went over big, too.
Now Buffy hurried to fill the smoldering silence. "Have you spoken to your sister lately?"
He didn't look up from the menu. Still trying to decide between the two most expensive things on it, because, fuck it. Fuck them. "Yeah."
"You talk to her too."
"I do," Buffy said. "I just thought—"
"What, that I'd tell you things she told me in confidence?"
"Johnny, that's not what I meant."
"Yeah it is."
"You gonna talk properly to your mother, or am I gonna take her on out of here?"
"Go, if you want to go."
Spike was halfway out of his chair, but Buffy put a hand on his arm, and he settled back.
"So tell us, Johnny …what's …what's new?"
"My name isn't Johnny."
"Sinjin is a stupid faggy name. And Johnny is for a kid. I changed it."
"You can't bloody change it, it's your name."
"Oh yeah, Spike? I can do anything I want with my name. It's mine."
"What did you do?" Buffy asked. Her voice was calm, but he heard the thin edge of dread there. Not that he cared.
"I got it changed. Legally."
"Changed? You know, we gave you that name because of ... " She blinked, and for a moment he was terrified she would let loose with the waterworks, which would cause Spike in turn to do something to get them thrown out of here altogether. He knew the whole sorry story of his stupid name. Didn't they get that that was a big part of his having to get rid of it? Plus he was sick to death of spelling it and pronouncing it for people.
Anyhow, he was no saint.
"It's Nick now. Nicholas. Just a normal name."
"But you didn't change your—"
"Nicholas Grieves Summers. It was too much hassle to change the last names." He hadn't even considered that, but he couldn't resist getting the little dig in. God, this was such a charade, sitting here with the two of them like they were three friends. Yeah, he knew he looked like them. Spike could've been his brother. Back in high school he'd tried that out on a few people, but it got back to her, so no go. And probably nobody really believed it, anyway. Everyone in town knew Spike and Buffy, at least by sight. Knew how long they'd been around, although no one ever really talked about how they never changed.
"You could've just kept John," Buffy said quietly. "That's a normal name too."
"I wanted Nick."
"Nick. Well, I hope you're not going to be all sensitive if I forget and call you Johnny." She smiled another one of her trying-too-hard smiles. Her long loose hair gleamed in the candlelight, and she was so—not beautiful, he knew what made a woman beautiful and she wasn't that—but she was so damn pretty, pretty in that fresh glowing nearly supernatural way that some girls had, a way that could be better than beauty because it just made you want to be with them, and they looked like they'd want to be with you. It did his head in. She was fifty. She was fifty and his mother and it felt all wrong. Jemima already looked older than Buffy did. The pair of them would still be here, still look like that, when he was dead.
He couldn't forgive them for that.
He glanced at Spike. He was still pretending to read the menu, although he only ever ordered steak, nearly raw.
"So, Nick," Buffy said, still with that tenuous smile, "we were hoping you'd come home for Christmas this year. Jem is coming, and I asked Tara to be with us." She mentioned these two as if knowing that he'd need other inducements than just their company. "And you haven't really spent any time with us yet at the new place."
"He won't," Spike said. "He'll be off to some country where the sun beats down all day." He let the menu fall. "Where's the bleedin' waiter? We either need liquor, or a fistfight. Rather try the booze first. Make the fight later better anyhow."
"I wouldn't think you'd find it all that interesting to fight me—it would be over too soon."
"Yeah. S'what's kept your head on your shoulders these last few years since you've been ridin' the attitude train."
"Nobody's going to fight," Buffy said. "Spike, do you have to bait him?"
"Little bleeder won't talk like a person, what else am I supposed—"
"What did you call me—?"
"For God's sake, keep your voices down."
"Y'know—this—fuck this. I don't need this, and neither do you. So let's just—I'm gone."
He almost made it to the exit before his arm was grabbed. He tried not to turn, tried just to open the door and go out onto the street. But she was the slayer, and when she grabbed hold of you—she grabbed hold.
"Johnny—I mean—sweetheart. Don't go."
She looked up into his face, her eyes gleaming like her gold earrings. "It doesn't have to be like this. Your father and I—you know we adore you. Why must there have to be all this tension?"
"I don't know, mother. Why?"
"It's your birthday—such an important birthday. We came all this way so we could celebrate, celebrate you." She touched his face, and the placket of his shirt. "You look more handsome every time I see you. Do you know that? You're beautiful the way your father is. I bet you've got all the girls at school trailing after you."
"Can we not talk about this?" He reached again for the door, but she placed herself in his way.
"Are you seeing anyone special, Johnny? I don't mean to pry. I guess what I'm really asking …are you happy? Here in London? Do you have nice friends, a nice …."
"I'm fine, yeah. Look, I've got to go."
She stepped aside then. Her little face settled in an expression she probably didn't realize was a pout.
"Ma—" He shut his eyes, shut them tight and pulled her against him, hugged her hard. She wore the same perfume she always wore. When her arms went around him, his eyes burned with an impulse to tears. He kept them closed. "I love you, but I just can't do this."
"Maybe I can see you again before we leave London? Will you call me?"
"You'll hear from me. Say goodnight to Papa. Tell him—tell him I'm sorry."
He couldn't find a taxi, but after walking a while, he did find a pub, and within that pub, many pints of bitter. Bitter in, bitter out. A couple of hours later, worse for wear and blinking back tears, he shambled, not sure of his direction, feeling disconnected from the unpeopled streets of townhouses he passed, so many of them dark as if all the residents had gone away. He wasn't keeping track of himself, or them, his thoughts fixed on his mother, her questions, the things he couldn't tell her, and on his father, who always took her side, made sides when there shouldn't be any, and who always looked at him like he was a bug. And then he was on the Chelsea embankment. The moonlight on the Thames arrested him. Leaning on the barrier, he watched the shimmering water.
So easy—too easy—to feel all alone in the midst of the city. Just like he'd felt all alone at home with them in Sunnydale, for as long as he could remember. Alone with his parents, who weren't like him at all, weren't like anyone else, and seemed to need only each other, and the things they fought and conquered. Alone with his sister who was always so good to him, so understanding. But he couldn't tell her all he felt and feared, and she couldn't really fix things—she rescued him sometimes, but that wasn't the same. She was papa's favorite, of course, and he was supposed to be mamma's, but …Buffy was really all about Spike. When it first dawned on him, around eight or nine years old, that his parents were lovers first and foremost, he felt he'd lost what he'd never really had.
He was hungry now, and getting a headache, and wished he'd postponed the inevitable quarrel until at least after the main course.
There would be taxis along here—he could be back at the university soon enough.
When he stepped down to hail one, a woman appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. "Oh, can you find me a hansom, young man? I have tried and tried."
She swayed drunkenly, while still managing to look graceful. Her long dark hair hung straight and silky on either side of her pale face. She had large heavy-lidded eyes that gleamed in the yellow streetlight.
Another lost soul who'd had too much liquid cheer. "Here comes one." He stuck his arm out. Couldn't imagine what was wrong with the woman, that she couldn't hail her own taxi. But it was nice to be needed by someone attractive.
"You may share with me," she smiled. She stood very close to him. Her face was of a height with his. He could smell her perfume, very different from Mamma's. She smelled cool. That contrasted oddly with her tipsy precise speech, and the way she havered.
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, we can drop you off first. I'm in no hurry. The night—" she wrapped her hand around his arm, and suddenly he was bearing part of her weight, "—the night is so very young, you see."
She stopped into the ladies room after Johnny—or Nick, but she couldn't think of him as Nick—left. Stared at herself in the mirror, wondering what her son saw when he looked at her, that made him not want to look at her. Did he think she hadn't noticed that? Like Spike maybe thought she didn't notice that he didn't look at her the same now either.
She blotted up the moisture from the edges of her eyelids, saving her make-up, and blinked.
Spike had a drink in his hand when she returned to the table. His glance was more sympathetic than she expected, given how he'd been lately.
"I'll probably see him tomorrow. He can't seem to deal too well with us at the same time."
"Dunno why he has to talk to you like that. You've never been anything but sweet to him."
She leaned back in her chair and sighed. "Have I? I wonder."
"You have," Spike said, decisive.
She heard to him, although he didn't say it. "Do you want to stay here?"
"Could do. Or could go. Haven't ordered any nosh yet."
"Then let's get out of here. I'm not hungy."
He drained his glass, left money on the table. She shivered when the cool air touched her face.
He was quiet in the car. He'd been quiet like this ever since ... Now she had to begin every conversation. The only remarks she could think of now would be about what just passed; she didn't particularly want to talk about it, yet she sensed it was the one subject on which he'd be readily sympathetic.
"Dunno why he's so sore about his name. Might've called him William. Didn't."
"He could just introduce himself to everyone as John. Who would know? I don't see why he had to change it altogether." She paused. "It's hurtful."
"That's reason enough why a lot of people do things."
She quivered as if he'd pinched her. "No. No, it really isn't. Not meaning to hurt—not going into it because—"
"Yeah. Well, same with him, then. Wanted to change his bloody name, didn't think about what we'd think." Spike tapped his fingers against the wheel as they waited at the light. "Pleased himself, he did."
"I suppose so."
"Why shouldn't he. Doesn't owe us anything."
"Spike, I wish you'd—"
"Sure you're not hungry? Could pick up a curry on the way."
"Do you want something to eat? You know, we're not far from that nice little place where we used to—"
"Don't care, really. It's up to you."
"Then let's just go up."
Spike pulled up in front, but didn't cut the engine. "Was thinkin' I could do with another drink or two."
"You're going to the pub?" Suddenly she was aware of her hands, of their emptiness. Usually he'd drive with one hand on the wheel, one wrapped around hers. But not now.
"Thought, yeah …could do with a drink."
"Are you going to be late?"
He was looking out the windscreen, not at her. He seemed to be waiting, as if for her to withdraw the question, or say something less obviously …abject.
"I just wanted to know, y'know …whether you'd like me to wait up for you."
He seemed about to say something, something that would be like a blow. But after a moment he exhaled, and the moment passed. "I'll just park it and come up, then. Have a drink at home."
She got out of the car.
She got herself a drink, and stood in the dark study, looking out the window at the sweep of the river, the glittering bridges, the glittering Eye on the south bank. The heat of the scotch she sipped failed to warm her. Things seemed to be dwindling, and who could've anticipated that that would feel so much scarier than all those time when the apocalypse threatened to snatch everything away in one big explosion of violence. Unhappiness didn't torpedo; it crept.
She took off her make-up, undressed. In her panties, a tiny red blossom. She rinsed them in the sink, and shed a few tears while the water ran.
He'd always forgiven her everything. Everything.
But there'd never been anything like this before.
Turning off the tap, she heard him come in. Bit her lip, afraid of what she was going to do, pride shriveled, the little voice inside saying don't. She walked through her misgivings as through a curtain of cobweb, felt them brush her skin so the goosebumps rose. In the bedroom she stood naked for a moment, breathing. Saw her reflection in the big floor-to-ceiling window. Remembered another reflection, when she saw herself in a new way, a whole new orientation, like looking into a kaleidoscope and being the kaleidoscope at the same time. She bit off the memory, slipped her high-heeled strappy sandals back on, and walked down the carpeted hall to the study. Spike stood where she'd been standing; he was drinking out of her glass. She stepped up close to him, her white nude skin up against the black cool cloth of his clothes, the cool expanse of his body. She hoped he wouldn't make her speak; there should be no need to speak. She lifted her hair off her neck and let it fall again, to release her perfume. Knew what he'd smell; he'd told her so many times, in a rapture of delight, how the sweetness of her flowery scent mixed with the soft musk of her skin, and the delectable salt tang of the blood seeping between her legs, overwhelming his senses so he could think of nothing but immersing himself in her, worshipping her. Over the years he'd never taken this offering of her monthly blood for granted, had always rewarded her for it with the most exquisite attention. Rewarded her too by his helpless excitement, his ecstasy. Even as good as their sex always was, those times were better than best.
Surely he wouldn't pass it up now?
Again she saw her reflection in the black window, and though she stood right beside him, her image showed her she was alone.
Spike stood as if he was alone too, and finished his drink.
She felt the slight draft off the large window in the moisture at her hairline and upper lip. She touched her breasts, full and heavy at this time of the month, the nipples hard from the chill and desire and trepidation. She didn't want to have to speak.
He set the empty cut-glass tumbler on the bookshelf, and then slipped hands into pockets.
She couldn't stop herself. She laid her head against his arm.
" …do you …do you need to punish me? You can." She crossed her wrists as if they were bound together, and held her arms up to him. "I'll let you do anything to me. To take possession of me again. Anything you want to, to punish me. Only this punishment, this …where you ignore me, deprive me …I can't stand it." She fought to keep from crying, her eyes burning so she couldn't look at him.
"Oh Buffy." He didn't reach out to her, not to her upheld slavegirl hands, not to the hair tumbled around her blushing face, or her trembling breasts pebbled in the coolish air. Her suppressed sob made her shoulders shake.
"Spike, I know I betrayed you. I know."
"You did, pet."
"I don't know why I did it. It wasn't to hurt you. You understand that, don't you? It wasn't because I was angry at you or wanted you to be hurt, I …I …I don't know why I wanted him. I don't know what I was thinking. But it wasn't about you."
"No, you didn't do it to cause me pain. You did it because you were able to not think of me at all while you were with him. My pain didn't occur to you at all. You forgot what we are." He took one step back from her. "You forgot us, Buffy."
"No ... "
His eyes were lowered, he might've been looking down into the street, or into the past, or the future, but not at her. His lips made a small angry smile. "You were attracted to his power, his sorcery, but he put no spell on you to make you do it. Nothing like that. You just gave yourself to him. You opened. Let him know your secret aromas, the heat of you, you took him into yourself, into your pretty mouth and your quim and your little bunghole, an' you spent yourself an' clung to him. You did it over and over. I smelled it all on you, every bit. I can smell your love, an' it's absence, an' it's nothing to do with what you scrub off with soap an' water. You must've forgotten about me, if you could do that with him."
She drooped, knees trembling. They'd talked about this already …so many times. Gone around and around it, raging, weeping, arguing and reasoning, pledging and promising, and he'd said at last that he'd forgiven her, that he'd always love her.
Still they were far apart.
Saleem was more present to her in the vacuum of his absence than he'd ever been. She could not make him go. Spike held him there, between them.
Commanding forces that even Willow couldn't evoke, Saleem had been her full partner in defeating this latest End of the World. To prepare in the weeks before the ultimate battle, they'd had to spend a lot of time together. There were …rituals. Magical, mystical, mingling their essences, forging power neither of them could summon alone. But it was true, Saleem had done nothing to coerce or manipulate her. She took him for a lover because she could not ignore the potent hunger his presence brought into being. It was impossible not to touch him, to be entwined with him, to learn him and pleasure him. She'd had no one but Spike for more than thirty years. Saleem was something different, a revelation, like a new consciousness. He'd been apart with his power from the rest of the world for a time that encompassed many life-times; in ending his celibacy, she'd felt she was creating something, something intricate and gleaming and wonderful.
Together, she and Saleem made themselves into a new kind of warrior, unique in one another. Spike was right. She hadn't thought of him while all that was happening.
They'd defeated the interdimensional Army of Zhoth. Saleem died in the final moment of the battle.
She returned home, grieving, delivering her message of betrayal to Spike's every sense.
What could she say now? She'd already said I didn't love Saleem. I love you, I always will, I always do. Already said, I knew even while it was going on that it was only for that time. I was always coming back to you. Already wept, It was a mistake. A mistake. I know that. I promise it won't happen again. I want you more than ever now. I belong to you and I always will.
She knew how often William and Spike had been betrayed; had always felt proud of balking his expectations of loss. And yet she'd done this.
Didn't know, had the circumstances been reversed, if she could try to forgive.
"I let him have those things," she murmured. "I did that. And I'm so sorry. Spike. So sorry. But he didn't have my blood. That—that's only for you." She lifted her hair again, holding it away from her neck, so he could see the delicate raised bite scars she bore. "I give myself to you, in love, I trust you to take and not to kill me. I know that's not everything, against what you understood about our marriage—it's barely anything, I know!—but it stands for. It stands for what you are to me. You hold my life, Spike. I've given it to you and it's still yours." She tilted her head, offering her throat.
He groaned. "Christ, Slayer."
"Please. Please, anything you want."
He lifted her then; his shirt felt scratchy against her breasts and flank. Crossed the room with her, set her on the high marble mantlepiece. A hand on each of her knees, he looked up into her face. "When you turn your heart away from me, that's when I remember that I'm really dead."
She started to cry then. He watched, as her face crumbled, the tears flooding over. With a sigh, he parted her legs, lifted her knees gently over his shoulders, and began to kiss her. His hands were soothing on her feverish skin, traveling up her hips and waist, then gripping her arms. She opened more, crossing her ankles at the nape of his neck. He licked her clit with soft patience until she felt something thick and liquid slip inside her; then he went lower, tonguing up the seeping blood, his mouth pressed tight to her quim, sipping her up.
"Oh …oh …this is good …oh …do you like this, Spike …Spike, oh lover …." Her hands knotted in his hair; she mewed. He was holding her now at the small of her back, circling her clit with the other thumb as he drank her. His every touch gentle, the inexorable softness that undid her more than anything.
"Lover …oh God …Spike …are you hard? I want to touch you too. Are you …oh God, there, oh! …."
When he sensed she was near spending, he changed the rhythm. She stared through watery eyes at the top of his head, the brightest thing in the unlit room. Combing his hair hard through her fingers, she felt herself floating, and it was far better than anything with Saleem, even when he'd made love to her on the ceiling, gravity something he could will away for a time. He could take her in midair, but nothing was this, nothing was Spike, her lover, her husband, her darkness, her light, her life.
"I'm yours …Spike …I'm yours …everything …oh God …oh oh oh …please …please …take it all, it's yours, I'm yours, everything …."
When he finally permitted her to come, she almost slid off the ledge. He held her while the ripples lasted, face buried in her, and when she was still he kissed her there as he would kiss her mouth, and drew back gradually, as if with regret. She leapt down, reaching for him. Her hand brushed the hard bulge in his trousers, but he stepped away. She reached again, and he was receding. In the doorway, he said, "Goodnight, Buffy."
She didn't move until she heard the quiet click of the guestroom door closing.
Johnny was afraid she's be a nuisance in the taxi, and almost didn't get in with her after she leaned in the driver's window to tell him where to go. But she'd slid all the way over to the far side, nearly resting her glossy head against the window, and as they started up, she folded her two pretty hands in her lap. Bit by bit, he stole glances at her in the sudden flare of each street lamp they passed beneath. She was very pretty—not the way Buffy was, and not like Penelope either. She'd seemed much older when she first accosted him, but now he saw she was young like him, though not dressed like a student, which must've been what threw him off. He couldn't really place her accent either, from the few remarks she made.
"Was anything wrong?" he said. "You're not lost, are you?"
"Lost?" She laughed, a charming sexy sophisticated laugh. "In the dear old Smoke?"
"I only thought—"
"You were very gallant to assist me. It's just such a bad spot for hansoms, you see, and I was tired of walking." She glanced down; he followed her gaze and saw that she wore very high-heeled red shoes, which had ribbons that wound around the ankles and tied in a bow. Very nice ankles. He imagined lifting her dainty foot into his lap, tugging the end of the bow, unwinding the ribbon …. Then she turned her head to regard him, and smiled. It was a smile to bask in.
"You are not a Londoner, though. You are from America."
"I have been in America. On the whole, I did not care for it. The people there …they have no taste."
"And they are unpleasant. They interfere."
"Seems like lots of English people don't like us."
"No one could possibly dislike you, pet."
He wasn't sure if that expression on her face now wasn't a leer, albeit a restrained and lady-like one. At any event, it made him feel suddenly better.
"Anyway, I'm glad I live here now."
"I'm glad too," she said. Her eye-whites gleamed in the half-dark of the cab, her dark red lips glistened. He couldn't believe how …friendly she was being.
Her mouth made a circle; she almost looked surprised. Then her radiant smile reappeared. "Nick. Such a nice strong name. Makes me think of …." She trailed off, and glanced out the window. "Oh, we're nearly there. You must be a student."
"Well, yes, but …."
"I do admire a scholar."
"I'm not a scholar, I just …uh ... " The cab pulled up in front of his digs. "You know …it is early …maybe you'd like to, uh …get a drink somewhere?"
Her eyelids fluttered. "You are kind." She paused. "Perhaps another time."
"Oh! Uh …well, look, I didn't mean to stick you with the cab fare. Here, uh …here's a fiver." He held the bill out, as his inner voice prodded him, Ask for her number, ask, ask!
She took the banknote, delicately between her first and second fingers, and then used it to wave a little bye-bye, as if it was a handkerchief. "You've been very very nice, Nick. I'm so glad we met."
"Yeah. I mean, me too! I mean …you're sure you're all right on your own?"
She dimpled. "Don't you worry about me, you sweet boy. I won't be on my own for very much longer."
He'd been so sure she was coming on to him. Which would've turned this night—his birthday, for God's sake—around. He couldn't remember the last time any girl had flirted with him like that, out of the blue. Because his mother was wrong: he was good-looking, yeah: good enough, anyhow. But somehow he didn't seem to do half as well as other guys who had a lot less going in the looks department. He'd never been able to figure that out. He wasn't a social leper, but he'd always thought it should've been easier.
In his teens, he'd spent hours practicing Spike's thing in the mirror: that way he could look at a woman—a waitress, a checker in the supermarket, a student at the slayer academy, one of his friend's moms, Buffy herself, and render them all bedroom-eyed.
And he could do it perfectly.
In his flat he shrugged out of the good camelhair coat Buffy had bought him a couple of years ago, leaving it all anyhow in the armchair, and changed his good shirt for a sweater before slipping into his leather jacket.
He took his frustration to the pub. With any luck … He scanned the smoky bar as he walked in, gaze bouncing from head to head.
She was there, wedged into the corner behind a small table on the other side of the fruit machines, a cigarette in one slim hand, the other wrapped around a nearly empty pint, her mouth open wide in laughter at something George, Nigel or Oliver had said. Figured, she wouldn't be alone. She was never alone.
Although, what girl went to a pub to sit alone?
She spotted him then, and to her credit, half rose out of her chair to wave him over. "Johnny! Bring us a refill on the way!" She held up her glass, but he didn't need to see it. Hers was always a black and tan. The others held theirs up too, but he was damned if he was going to buy a round the minute he walked in the place.
Carrying two brimming pint glasses, he thought once more of the sultry stranger in the cab, then let her slip away in favor of what was right in front of him.
"Ta, darling." She accepted the glass, and gave Oliver a shove that would've been rude in any less lovely and self-confident girl. "Make room, you large oaf."
"Let him sit over there. Why should I move?"
"Because I have so directed you. Johnny, c'mere."
She grasped his leather sleeve and pulled him in. "A little bird has told me, that today is St.John's birthday. He's twenty-one." She gazed at him with mock-seriousness, her dark eyes sparkling. She was blonde and fair, but her brows and eyes were a dark brown that somehow surprised him every time he looked at her. Like finding a chocolate left where you least expected it.
He didn't think she'd remember; he'd mentioned his birthday last week, but she hadn't taken it up then. He blushed with pleasure.
"That makes you a man," she said, still gripping his sleeve in her strong fingers.
"Oh, I think I've been a man for a while now." He winked at her. "Don't you?"
She opened her large mouth wide in pretended outrage. "I say! I say! Are you trying to imply that I have been unchaste?"
"No. Chased you rather, before I caught you, as I recall."
The four of them laughed uproariously at this; which pleased him. He was more pleased when Penelope threw an arm around and leaned against him, and as the evening went on and the personnel of their little table waxed, she refused to let anyone else take his place, even when he got up to go to the bar or the toilet.
When the pub closed, she let him take her arm as they spilled out onto the street. For a few moments there was some confusion—she was in the midst of a hilarious conversation with two other boys, which he hadn't been following when the barman called time; and though she didn't positively pull away from him, she seemed inclined to go walking off with this conversation in the entirely wrong direction.
"I'm still waiting for my birthday kiss."
She wheeled around, grinning. She was loose and drunk, her eyes shining. "Who says you're to have anything of the sort? Go ask George or Ollie to kiss you!"
"Well isn't that curious." Her smile tempered then, became more personal to him. "Hmmm. Weren't you supposed to be dining with your family?"
"Yeah, but we made it an early night."
"Poor Sin-Jin." She went up on tiptoe then, and kissed him. A kiss without sloppiness or liquor in it, and maybe without much passion. He knew she was capable of better, and put his arms around her. She repeated, "Poor Sin-sin. Jin-Jin."
"Oh, if you insist. Poor Nick. That sounds like the name of something. Poor Nick's Eucalyptus Throat Lozenges, proof against catarrh and hangnails and the bends. I like St.John better. St.John is a gallant fellow with a suit of shiny armor, and a quest, and a large large lance."
That word, 'gallant,' pinged in his inebriated brain even as he pulled her tighter, pushing her hair aside to state in her ear, "Got that lance right here."
"Oooh er, missus!"
She sighed, arms moving on the coverlet, hips stirring as he explored her with his mouth. He'd kept the light on because he loved the sight of her spilled across his bed, her neat little pussy laid open, then the plane of her belly, supplanted by the distant range of breasts and uptilted chin. Penelope was quality, choice. A girl wanted by everyone, the right girl. He was in love with her, even as he was aware, never more than right at the moment, that he didn't really know her, and that she'd never seemed to notice, or care, how unknowable she made herself.
Even knowing how to bring her off was a constant mystery—the technique that worked one night might be a failure the next.
He tried hard to please her. If he found the right way, just the right way to be with her, in bed, out of bed, then something in her would turn, she'd fit with him, she'd become his girlfriend. He had hope.
"Darling, yes …just there. Johnny—oh—just there!"
He tried to do exactly what he was doing exactly as he was doing it. She sighed again, churning her hips.
Spike had never given him the talk—he'd learned the Facts of Life in the school yard like most of the other boys—but when he had his first real girlfriend at thirteen, Spike had taken him aside to impart a little paternal wisdom. You like a girl, you want to please her. Nothin' pleases her like addressin' yourself to her little cunny as if it was the most precious jewelbox that ever was. Which it is. Women an' their quims are here to be a little bit of paradise on earth, boy, an' the sooner you realize that an' act accordingly, the happier you'll be. You make your girl happy, early an' often, by going down on her like she's the most dirtysweet bitchqueen in the world, an' there'll be very little she won't want to do for you. But you don't do it just for the sake of gettin' your knob polished, either—you do it because there's nearly nothing a right-minded man likes better than the taste an' feel an' smell an' sight of his girl's cunny, an' making her wild, making her come with your mouth an' hands. It's the secret of life as a man, that is. An' every girl fucks better after she's had a bit of tongue.
He'd never, at that point, even touched a girl's breast except over two layers of fabric, and this information, imparted in such an intimate, man-to-man manner, frightened nearly as much as it excited him. He wondered afterwards if his father had any idea how much he'd revealed, with those few sentences—and a few more about technique that he'd barely been able to take in through his waves of flushed embarrassment—about Mamma, and what happened behind the mysterious door of their eternally candle-lit bedroom. He'd been unable to look his mother in the face for almost a week afterwards, to the point where she became convinced he'd done something terrible, and was riddled with guilt.
But the advice turned out to be sound—amongst the soundest he'd ever had from Spike, who wasn't otherwise good for much in the way of guidance. He realized how much the first time he put it into practice, when he fell in love—passionately, painfully and seemingly permanently, with that seventh grade girl and what she had in her jeans.
In high school, he had an interesting reputation.
Not a lot of real girlfriends, but a lot of practice.
At the moment, he seemed to be getting it right; Penelope was getting noisier, trying to fuck his mouth, one arm thrown over face. The face-concealment was a good sign: the best. He redoubled his efforts.
Later, fucked out, he lay boneless, drowsy, and she seemed to drowse too, her hair spread out on his chest.
He was nearly asleep when she spoke.
"Darling, what do you think of George?"
It was an effort to move his mouth. "As little as possible."
"Ha bloody ha, darling."
"Don't want to think about George at all."
"Don't you? Curious."
He stroked her hair, letting that 'curious' go by, and waited for whatever she'd say next.
"Be a poppet and light me a fag."
He reached for them on the bedside table, but instead of waiting for him to do it, she took them, sitting up, and began to smoke.
"So, twenty-one. Anything exciting come with that?"
"This was pretty exciting."
"Prezzies or dosh."
"Oh. Yeah. Trust fund. From an uncle who died a couple of years ago. Not my real uncle, actually. An old friend of my mother's."
"Masses of tin?"
"Not masses. A heap, though. A small heap. My sister's had the other half-heap, back when she was twenty-one. He never had any kids of his own. His wife died young." Well, Anya was over a thousand, technically, but she'd still looked young, and she'd somehow never managed to get pregnant, though she talked about it enough.
"That's jolly." She rested her arms on her drawn-up knee. "Going back to America in the spring?"
He liked this new direction. Half sat up, began to caress her arm with the back of one finger. Smiled when she gave off a little shiver. She didn't move the arm. "That depends."
"Well, on if, say, I had a beautiful girlfriend in London."
"Heaps of tin," she said, implying it could buy anything.
"Is that what you care about?" He went on stroking her arm.
"Oh, what I care about …shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings. Plus, of course, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, et-alia."
"Penelope …I'd plan to stay, if you …."
She put out the cigarette, smiling her loveliest smile, and slid back into his arms, dotting his face with kisses before settling more seriously on his mouth. Her hand went adventuring at the same time, and woke him up.
The intercom buzzer woke him. He reached for Penelope and found nothing. But he smelled her smoke, and there she was, already dressed, slipping on her shoes with a cigarette hanging from her mouth, her hair trailing down half over her face.
"Your doorbell's ringing or something."
"God. What time is it? And where are you going? I was going to—"
"Darling, you know I'm going to the thing in Turkey this summer. The, um, digamabob."
"Oh, did you get that? That's great."
"Yes. I shall be archaeological to the top of my bent." She stood up, adjusting her stripey sweater, tugging on her skirt. "So …you know, last night was super."
He sat up, smiling. God, she was so beautiful. "Yeah, it was. You're so—"
"So let's go out, you know, on the high point. Right?"
The buzzer sounded again.
"You should probably answer that." She tossed him his trousers.
"Penelope, what are you talking about?"
"You've been so sweet, don't let's have a scene." She was rifling through her purse now. Finding what she wanted, she leaned over and began brushing vigorously from the nape. He couldn't see her face now, and half expected her to set fire to her hair with the cigarette. He also half-expected himself to go up in flames: Yank student in spontaneous combustion shock horror
She stood up, and her hair bounced down around her shoulders like hair on a shampoo commercial. She came to his side, dipped to kiss his cheek. "Happy birthday, Sin-Jin Summers. Hmm, your name is like a little sentence. St.John Summers—but where?"
Not in Turkey.
"Oh, better still—you really should turn 'em around and be St.John Summers Grieves. It makes a better sentence. St.John Summers Grieves." She put a hand through his hair. "Only you won't, will you? There's no point, really. Promise? And you really should answer that persistent nagging bell."
He couldn't move. She smoothed her hair, took up her bag. "Or I could, you know, on my way out?"
Buffy rang again. She couldn't imagine he was up and out already, it seemed too early for that.
A girl came out the building then, one of those tall striking girls with fantastic hair and black Italian sunglasses, wearing a striped jersey that made her look even more Parisian. She glanced at Buffy, and laughed suddenly. "Well, there. He won't grieve at all, because he's got you all lined up. Go on up and console him, darling, he's already all laid out in the bed, just add, you know, boiling water. Or whatsoever your fetish." She held the door, and Buffy passed through, confused.
Upstairs she found his flat door open. "Johnny? Are you here?"
The place was a shambles, as usual.
"Ma? Shit—don't come in here!"
"I'm not …did something just happen?"
"This is not a very good time."
"I thought I'd take you out to a late breakfast. We never even gave you your birthday present last night." Buffy strolled around the room as she called out to him, unseen beyond the bedroom door, which was down a little corridor. He was studying European history; large uniniviting books were stacked on every surface and tumbled on the floor. The desk was a riot of papers and empty lager cans. Since when did he drink so much? Everything was dusty.
"There was this strange girl who let me in downstairs. Was she just coming from here?"
"She was really something. I'm impressed."
"Oh God, don't be."
"I always wanted to have that—I dunno, insouciant thing. I bet she's titled. Is she titled?"
"She's an Honorable, actually. Ma, for God's sake, would you go away?"
Buffy tip-toed to the bedroom and peered through the crack between the half-open door and the door-jamb, seeing him while he couldn't see her. He lay flat on his back in the bed, just as the girl had said, looking rather the worse for wear—sweaty and pale.
"Johnny, aren't you feeling well?" She gave up pretense, and walked in, driven by her overwhelming urge to feel his forehead. He groaned and snatched at the sheet, trying to roll away before she reached him. "You look like shit."
"Oh thanks. I'm fine. And my name is Nick now. Go away. Look, I said I'd call you. You were supposed to wait for me to call you."
"Well, I couldn't wait. I'm your mother and I haven't seen you in four months. Hmm, you're not feverish."
"What I am is naked and fucked and about to start screaming if you don't get out."
"Did something just happen?" She sat on the side of the bed. "Because you know you can tell me, sweetheart."
He rolled onto his stomach with his face in the pillow. His shoulder blades trembled. Buffy sighed. God, he was just like his father.
"Okay, okay. I'll wait for you in the caff around the corner. Will you come?" She waited. No answer.
"Johnny." Then, "All right—Nick."
"Mamma, please. You can't be here now."
"I'm sorry she wasn't nice to you, but you know—"
Buffy got out of the bedroom ahead of his fists pummeling the headboard. She'd said the wrong thing again. Lately everything out of her mouth—or into it, she thought, wincing—was a miscalculation.
She was going to go straight out, but she couldn't pass the chair, where his nice coat was dumped in a heap, without picking it up. She shook it out, and smiled at herself; when exactly had she changed from the careless child strewing nice clothes around like rags? The coat hung lopsided from her hand, from something heavy in the left pocket. She pulled it out: a woman's wallet, in royal blue leather, so stuffed as to be nearly spherical. It didn't look like the kind of thing the Honorable Whosits would carry; Buffy flipped it open. The ID showed a pretty, sweet-faced young woman with dark hair. Caro Banville. Caro had a big fistful of credit cards, plenty of banknotes, a fortune in weighty pound coins, and every receipt she'd ever been handed, apparently.
"Sweetheart," she called, "does Caro know you have her wallet?"
The shower was on, of course he couldn't hear her. Buffy hung the coat in the closet, and sat in the now empty chair, cradling the wallet in her lap, and picked up a Sunday Observer Magazine from the floor.
He came into the room wrapped in a towel, hair dripping, and started. Before he turned abruptly, Buffy thought he looked like he'd been crying. "You were supposed to be waiting for me at the caff."
"Your friend is probably frantic about her wallet."
"What wallet? What friend?"
She held it up. "I found this in your coat pocket."
"You're rifling my coat pockets now?" He came up to her slowly and took the wallet, turning it in his hands as if he wasn't sure what it was. "I've never seen this before in my life."
"Who's Caro?" He flipped the wallet open, glanced at the ID. "Oh—this …this is strange. It's the woman from the taxi last night."
"Oh, I shared a cab with this lady. I don't know how her wallet got into my coat. Unless …she was kind of drunk, and she leaned into me before we got into the car. Maybe it fell into my pocket then." He shrugged. "I was kinda drunk too."
"You're not turning into the Artful Dodger, are you?" She smiled up at him, hoping to get an answering smile, something to break the frozen look on his face. He was trying so hard not to look miserable, it was obvious even to her, Oblivio-girl.
"You think I'm a thief? No, that would be Papa."
"Your father is not—!" Not lately, anyway. "Now there you go! You always say something mean, and then—"
"It's not mean, it's true. And he'd be the first to say so. He's quite a role-model."
"Oh shut it."
She opened her mouth to shout at him, then stopped. What was the point? He wasn't listening. "Baby, we just love you. I'll leave you alone now, but will you come to the flat later? I think there'll be a surprise there."
"I've had enough surprises today. Don't think I can take another one." He walked away. She heard him banging around in the bedroom.
"Please." The word echoed in her head as she said it. The backs of her eyes burned. She'd barely slept all night, and hadn't seen Spike yet that day—she'd gently tried the knob on the guest room door in the morning, and found it locked. She wondered if he could sleep either, and suspected he was sleeping fine.
"Yeah, all right."
"Okay. I'll see you later, Johnny. Call this girl about her wallet before you do anything else. She must be going crazy wondering how she lost it."
"Yeah, I will."
He didn't come out of the other room. Buffy let herself out.
Hung-over and dazed, he poured sugar into his mug in the vain hope that the sweetness might lift his spirits.
Penelope. She'd been …just so incredibly hot last night. Hot, and affectionate, and she'd remembered his birthday, and blew him without even being asked. He might've misunderstood her. Why would she treat him like that? She knew he adored her, and she'd seen him almost every time he asked her since the term started. She'd greeted him so exuberantly when he came into the pub last night. So how could she say—? Especially right after they'd had what was probably their best sex ever—both before and after she asked him what he thought about …Christ. George.
She'd had the nerve to tell him right there in his bed that she was about to kick him over for George. And then to give him a last pity fuck to seal the deal.
She must've thought that was really funny.
If he found her, she'd just be with George, and she'd pretend she didn't quite know what he was talking about. Fuck. Now he thought about it, he'd seen her do the like before, to other guys, the bitch. Asking him what he was going to do after graduation, as if she gave a toss. She was probably telling George right now that he was a complete tosser and she was so glad to be rid of him. George would be smirking like he always did, and she'd stick her tongue in his mouth.
Fuck fuck fuck. He'd cried in the shower, feeling like the world's biggest turd, so why was he tearing up again now? He covered his face with his hands; his cheeks felt hot, his palms hotter. God he was such a freak, a freak raised by freaks, and they all could tell, if not right away, then eventually. They'd be able to tell everywhere he went.
He picked up the phone, pressed the speed dial.
By the third ring he was muttering curses. On the seventh, he heard This is voicemail for Jemima Whidders. Please leave a message.
"Jemmie. Fuck. Why aren't you answering? Isn't that the whole point of a mobile, that you should always be there? It's me. I'm not having a good day. I'm not having a good life. I might have to kill myself. Possibly in front of this girl who—anyway, call me."
Jemima's unreachableness reminded him that he barely had anyone else to call. No one he could tell about this, without making himself even more of a prat than he already undeniably was.
George Christ. George.
Yesterday's mail lay on the strewn table. He picked it up in listless hands. A couple of bills, a flyer for pizza delivery, and a note from MacManus, his tutor.
Given the state of your work this year, I cannot write the recommendations you're asking for. In my opinion you're not ready for graduate study. A year or two in the world—perhaps some job—might help you get your priorities sorted. Better come see me.
And again FUCK.
He balled the letter up and tossed it over his shoulder into the general confusion.
For a few moments he sat with his cheek on the desk, eyes closed, as if waiting for a guillotine to come down; as if wishing for it.
Then he remembered the wallet.
She opened the door with her key. The rooms of the large flat that she could see from here—the sitting room, the kitchen—were flooded with the pale watery light of a sunny English winter afternoon. She knew the windows were fitted with special glass, but it still startled her to walk into a place where he was and find the windows seemingly undefended.
They'd never had anything like that at home in Sunnydale. Just the polarized glass Xander had installed in what had been her nursery, so he could come in to her during the day. But activating that made the glass black, and shut out the sun.
Setting her bag and gloves on the little table in the foyer, Jemima called "Papa? Are you here?"
At this hour he might be asleep, but she knew he wouldn't mind being roused, not by her.
When she found him in the guest bedroom, raising a yawning face from the pillow, she understood why her mother had been so urgent on the phone early that morning, asking her to come.
She'd been getting ready to come anyway, feeling furtive, so that worked out well. Not that going to see Papa was any more mentionable at home than her original purpose for the trip.
The bedroom door was ajar, but she didn't go in. "I'll heat you up a mug. Meet me in the kitchen."
The place was both comfortable and rather intimidating, in the way of things belonging to the Council. It was designated for the use of the Slayer, for her lifetime, although this was understood only to mean Buffy. Buffy was the only slayer in history who had lived so long, and who was so unique in other ways—unique among the unique. The other slayer—the one in what she thought of as the Faith line—was always a young girl who would've had no use for such a place, just as the Council had no use for her in London. There was a new one every two or three years or so. She didn't like getting to know them anymore.
The microwave dinged.
He'd dressed—soft white shirt, trousers—but his hair stood up in bed-tufts. She went into his arms. "Papa." It had been so long.
He took a deep breath of her, held it for a moment in which she felt his thoughts ticking over, then pulled her in even tighter. Biting her lip, she let herself bask in the buttery radiance of his affection, before she'd have to complicate it with speech, about herself, or him.
He let her go a little, just enough to look at her. His gaze was so gentle—far too gentle for what she'd have to tell.
"Oh, my girl, my girl. So my little one's going to—"
She shook her head fast, to preclude what she couldn't bear to hear him say. "I've got to end it. Actually that's why I'm here—in London. There's an appointment."
His head tilted. She might melt as he looked at her that way. She couldn't allow herself that. "I tried, I tried, I don't know why I did …but it isn't working out."
He pulled her into his chest again. No one could hold her like he did. Her eyes were very dry, eyes and nose and mouth, sere, thirsty. Feeling that absence already, feeling the failure. Failure of what should never have been. Complete waste of ten years she'd never have back again.
"You never wanted me to have anything to do with him and God, you were so right!"
"Had to find out for yourself, tho', didn't you, Sweetness?"
She shook her head. "No. I was stupid. I've gone on being stupid. I don't know why I went back to him this time."
"He's your husband."
"Was. Why did I have to ever listen to another word he—" It took her seven years to divorce him, and then she'd been foolish enough to let him get to her again. To let him exact that promise, that she'd come back, try to make things right …a promise that included agreeing not to see her parents. I want us to be together, he'd said to try honestly and that has to mean no …no insidious influences. I still think we can make it, if only you'll meet me halfway ….
Spike kissed the top of her head, stroked her hair. She pressed her cheek against his silent chest, let her eyes fall closed. Why hadn't she seen, back then, how simple it was? Milo wanting to rescue her, by charm, then seduction, then cajolery, and finally blunt psychological force, from …from just this. From being held in her father's arms. That was what it finally came down to, after she peeled away all the layers and layers of complicated mystical, philosophical mumbo-jumbo he spouted.
"You should've locked me up until I was—twenty-one, at least. Twenty-five."
"Would've done if I could, Petal. But then you cry, y'see, an' I—"
She'd let Milo keep her from them, let him fill her head up with his towering rationalizations, made her doubt her own memories, her own experience. Because he didn't trust Spike, didn't trust Buffy. What they were, how they lived, their histories and powers. He was old school Council. And he'd picked her out, she was sure now, not because he really liked her, but because he could make her into the princess in his personal fairy tale, use her to prove all his theories to himself. She'd been so bowled over by him, he must've craved the mirror of himself he saw in her limpid innocent eyes. You're safe now, he'd told her once, I've caught you early enough, and you're safe. You'll be pure again, you'll see.
He could throw around words like that. Pure. Taint. Sully. Relinquish.
She'd mistaken that for love and lost so much time.
Spike had waited for her, though. He'd been angry—plenty angry, plenty of times. He'd never made it the least bit easy. But he'd never given up on her, he'd waited for the scales to fall, and caught her when they did.
"It shouldn't be legal for eighteen year olds to elope. I should've …I should've waited to get your blessing. If I'd done that—"
"Gave it you, though, didn't I?"
Afterwards, he had, with a wealth of misgiving in his eyes, unable to refuse her anything, even as she tried to pretend she didn't see how it killed him. But he'd never agreed that it would be all right, her marrying into the Whidders clan. He'd tried to hide that, for her sake, when it was a fait accompli. A stab of pain reminded her of the terrible confusion she'd felt then—and years afterwards—loving them, trying to be loyal to her family, when Milo expected her to be led by him, to see them the way he did. Two opposed ideas that never could merge, or coexist.
She lifted her head to look at Spike. "I haven't told him about this. It's not his decision."
"An' you're sure you—"
"Don't ask me that."
"Not trying to knock you off your pins. Just wondering if maybe you wanted me to talk you through it."
She shook her head, cutting off the possibility. "Don't tell Mamma. It would make her sad, and …I think she's sad already."
"Papa. Why is she sad? She phoned me early this morning—she didn't know I was coming up to town, she asked me if I could get away and come to you, and it sounded like …."
"Asked you to come to me, but it's her bein' sad you're worried about?"
"Something's happened between you, hasn't it?" She snuggled against him again. "I guess I shouldn't pry. Oh God, Papa, it's so good to see you. I have been so stupid. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I let him keep me keep me away."
"Ssh, ssh. Not hearin' sorries from you. Never necessary. An' not stupid, Pudding. Only young."
She laughed. "And now I'm not anymore. So there's that sorted."
"Twenty-nine's plenty young."
"You understand, right? Why I can't go through—"
He nodded, and she had to avert her eyes from his.
"Promise me you won't tell anyone. Mamma or Johnny or anyone."
"Already promised. Do you want me to go with you?"
"Oh gee. Oh, that's so …but no." She twined her fingers in with his. How often he'd told her the story, of her own origin, how she'd survived two separate trips to the clinic. How he'd been for ending her, because he was afraid. For Buffy. And of himself. "No, I'm going to go alone."
"You'll stay here."
"I'm going to stay with a friend. If I come back here, Mamma—"
"Yeah, right. But a little later, Jemmie. You're not going to go back up to York, are you? Back to him."
She hadn't even thought that far ahead.
"Plenty of room. We'll be here awhile. Sort yourself out."
"Maybe. Thanks. I'll see." She drew back. Noticed the empty mug on the counter. "Oh, your drink. It'll be cold now."
"Zap it again."
"But you say it's never as nice, reheated. Papa, what's going on with you and Mamma? I wish you'd tell me."
She caught him off-guard, and for a moment she really thought he'd answer her. Then he smiled, an off-kilter smile that seemed to say, ah ah ah, you thought you had me.
"You'll stay a while today, anyhow? Want to hear all about—want to look at you. Know you're not happy, but I'm happy you're here." His smile deepened, became about her. His constantly-renewing pleasure in her. "Keep me company at least until the sun goes down."
She answered the smile, squeezing his hands in hers, and it was then, when she was smiling hardest, to reassure him, to show how much she loved him and how conscious she was of all her idiotic foolishness, that the tears came.
He lifted them off her cheeks with his thumbs. "Sssh, sssh. There's time, Sweetness. You'll have another husband if you want one, an' there'll be another …when you're ready. An' you know I'm not going anywhere. We'll make it up, you an' me."
Her body felt light, as if she was about to fall, and be caught. She would've given in to the luxury of sobbing then, if not for the sound of a key in the lock. She jerked back, turned the kitchen tap on full, and splashed her face, then made a good thing of blotting it carefully in the dishtowel. When she looked up, she was able to smile without trembling.
"Well, Mamma, you asked for me, and here I am."
Buffy was making coffee or something in the kitchen, but Jemima followed him into the sitting room, to cuddle up on the sofa like a little girl, head on his shoulder. Letting him enjoy her, and, for a little while, this secret grandchild he'd scented as soon as she'd come into his arms a half hour ago.
Couldn't tell her what he really thought, which was that he hated her decision to end it. Didn't want to lose any of his few darlings, even one he'd only just learned about. He'd always looked forward to the children she might have, more connections between him and real Life, company for the future.
Back at the beginning, when Jem was just a curl of surprise inside her mother's body, he'd never imagined Buffy would be alive nearly thirty years later. It was such an impossibility he'd discarded even fantasies about it—kept himself, where she was concerned, strictly in the moment. Pretty easy, since his demon never did favor thinking much ahead.
Buffy seemed half gone to him now. He missed her while she was right there in the room with him. Dreamed of her in his sleep and awoke remembering how she'd returned to him reeking of Saleem. Wanted to talk to her like he used to, but couldn't summon up the words. She was right there, but he couldn't make himself reach for her.
Couldn't reach beyond the constant throb of her betrayal, which so filled him that he couldn't think of or approach her in any other light. What she'd done was a distorting medium. Through it, he questioned everything. Maybe she'd never really loved him at all. She'd been faithful all these years, but that didn't necessarily mean what his faith to her meant …it could be nothing more than that she hadn't seen anyone she liked better. Until Saleem.
She said it wasn't love with him. But if Saleem had survived the battle …?
I didn't love him. She'd said it over and over since then.
If it wasn't love and its attendents grief and shock that he could smell pouring off her body after she returned worn and trembling from the big battle—then what was love to Buffy? He thought after all these years that he knew the taste of all her truth, the sweetness in her she sometimes claimed wasn't there.
If that wasn't love with Saleem, that so shook her to her core, how could it have been love with him? Maybe she was right after all, years ago, when she'd said she just didn't know how. Didn't have it in her. Maybe he'd been fooling himself all these years.
He didn't know which was worse now, or better: that she love Saleem, or not. It was killing him.
"Papa, I'm sorry."
"Told you, you don't have to say—"
"I don't mean about me. I'm sorry …about whatever it is that has you so down."
"You're a good girl."
At least he had Jemima back now—perhaps—he hated the idea of a trade, but wasn't such a fool as not to know: if she went ahead and had the baby, it would just become another of Milo's subjects. He'd never be allowed to know the child, not while it was a child, anyhow. So maybe better this way, if Jem really would do it this time, leave that righteous twat for good and all. He'd been so angry when she drifted back to him, but it was so like her soft affectionate nature, to be unable to refuse any needy call. She was more like Tara, in a way, than she was like either him or Buffy. Funny that.
"Have you fallen out with Mamma? I know you two—that never lasts long—"
Buffy came in, balancing three hot mugs.
"Don't you two look comfy."
"Sit here with us." She reached for her coffee, and patted the cushion on her other side. "Jem sandwich. Like we used to."
Buffy hesitated; her eyes darted to his, as if asking permission. "Lovely to have our girl with us again," Spike said.
She took this as affirmative, and sat. Jem put an arm around her, pulled her in to nuzzle her neck. "New perfume?"
"No," Buffy said.
"Something feels different."
"I'm glad you could come. Was it hard to get away?"
"Milo is out of the country just now. Apparently there's some new kind of demon in the north of Sweden." She looked into her mug. "I—it was a coincidence, you calling today. I was on my way out anyway. I …I've left him. He doesn't know yet, obviously, but …I'm not going back."
Spike watched Buffy enact the proper maternal reaction—glad cry of surprise, skeptical questioning, followed by more exclamations of relief and satisfaction. They shifted to embrace more fully, mother and daughter who looked like sisters, their two glossy heads together, but then Jemima took her place again curled against his side.
Buffy looked at him across their daughter's head. "This is wonderful." Her eyes full of pleading.
"It is." His arm was around Jem, it was nothing to lift his hand a little further and curve it around Buffy's cheek. She smiled, her eyes glistening, turning her head so she could put a kiss in his palm.
Between them, Jemima watched and smiled.
Like we used to.
"Typical. The three peas in the pod."
He was with them suddenly. No one heard him come in.
Jemima leapt up. "Sluggo! C'mere!"
"His name's Nick now." Their two voices in chorus, cut off abruptly. Spike didn't look at her. His hand was warm where he'd touched her, and he wondered why he'd done it.
In front of them, Jem and Johnny embraced, she laughing, he complaining about something as he rocked her in his arms—a telephone message, neglect and abandonment and ruination.
She laughing more, pretending to shake him. "Stop being such a little pill!" Then more serious, "What's the matter?"
"Nothing. Sucks to be me, right now." He glanced at Buffy. "This the surprise you promised me?" Then at Jemima again, "How'd you get him to let you out of the asylum?"
"Snuck out." The news was repeated again.
Johnny danced her around in a circle, then noticing the wedding band still on her finger, made her take it off.
"Shall we pitch it into the Thames?"
"Not until it's official. And then—yes!"
Still seated on the couch, Buffy turned the ring on her own finger. "Johnny, sweetheart, did you call that woman? About her wallet?"
"What? Oh, yeah. Gonna take it over to her later."
Watching them, Spike felt invisible. Remembered suddenly that last Christmas, 1879, when it was just him, Mamma, and sister Jemmie left in the house that had once held three more, their doings and chatter and faith and hope. Just a few miles and a hundred and fifty years away from here. Remembered how they'd moved around one another in the chilly drawing room as if they were all the wrong ends of magnets, repelling. Pretending to enjoy themselves, pretending to be glad because it was the time of year for gladness. Each smiling for the sake of the others, wrapping little parcels, pulling crackers, slipping oranges into stockings. Why had they pretended? Wouldn't it have been better to admit to each other that they were frightened and bereft? What use all that dissembling?
He rose. "Come here, son. Come tell me something."
Johnny looked up, with that same sullen face as the night before.
"Not gonna bite you, boy. Let's go in here."
Led the way into the study, a room lined with leather-bound books that must've been discards from the Council's collection—nothing he or Buffy ever cared to crack, but they gave the room its tone.
"What?" Johnny said.
"Haven't wished you a happy birthday yet."
Easy to see he wasn't any happier than the rest of them. He'd gotten lucky last night, but along with that Spike could smell the underlying sourness of sudden disappointment.
"If she's been a cunt to you, forget her. That's my advice."
Advice he'd never taken himself in his entire life, but maybe the boy would be different.
Johnny made a face. "Why do you do that? It weirds me out. It's like mind-reading. No—it's more disturbing than mind-reading. Don't smell me."
"I can't help smelling you. I smell everything. S'like if I said to you, don't look."
"Yeah, but you don't have to make a thing of it. I'd prefer not to know that you, y'know, smell stuff."
"Just trying to help." Spike wondered at himself. Had things been so bad last time they'd met, in the summer? He hadn't thought so. Somehow in the intervening time, they'd also stopped touching each other. It left little to do.
He would try, though. "Twenty-one. Really. Congratulations. I'm proud of you."
His face went hard and closed. "That makes one of us."
"Told you. Your age, no bird's worth gettin'—"
"Can we not do this?"
"You used to talk to me. You looked just then like you wanted to be drawn out."
"Do I smell like it, too?"
"No, you smell like a little shit's forgotten how to have a proper conversation."
"You only ever want to talk to me when it's about something wrong with me. You sense a weakness and there you are—you want right in." Johnny raised a defiant chin. "That's a demon thing, so I guess it's just how you are."
"What, you think I'm trying to hurt you? Why would I want to do that?"
"I'm not saying you can help it—but God, you're like a hawk, you just get right in there and—"
"Look, 'm sorry if I growled at you last night."
"Heard you say just now that something was up—"
"I was talking to Jemmie."
Spike eyed him for any slightest crack in the veneer, then turned away. "When're you gonna forgive me for puttin' it to your mother?"
Johnny gasped, but no fast rejoinder followed. Guilt, disgust, anger scented the air, and then Spike had the room to himself.
"God." Johnny let his head loll against the seat back, eyes closed. Making a left turn, Jemima saw the white curve of his adam's apple silhouetted against the dark window. "They exhaust me."
"I don't know why they should. You just like posing as an exhausted youth. So where am I taking you exactly?"
Sighing, he flipped the wallet open again. "Montague Terrace. Do we know where that is?"
"Get the A to Z out of the glove box."
They drove in silence for a while, as she wondered whether to encourage him in this mood. She'd heard the voice mail from earlier, and was worried. As he'd known she'd be.
He seemed, not content in his silence, but determined not to be the first to break it.
"All right." She sighed. "Who is this girl over whom you're going to end it all?"
"Fuck the girl. I'm in trouble with my tutor. I may not get to graduate with my class. Come May I'll be nowhere."
"Nowhere? Please. You'll be right where you always are, Mr Drama-pants, and not exactly facing signing on, not with what Uncle Rupert left us. What are you talking about?"
He sighed again, furiously. "Everything's complicated. Things are just …nothing fits."
"Me. I don't fit."
"Oh, Sluggo. What does that mean? Your girlfriend broke up with you?"
"It's more than that. And she wasn't my girlfriend. I love her—she knows how much—and she didn't even have enough respect for me—fuck it. Fuck it."
She glanced nervously at him as he rubbed his eyes. Was this going to be a repeat of that time he took the overdose? Winter break when he was seventeen, and she, temporarily separated from Milo, stayed with him while Spike and Buffy were off battling some …thing. She couldn't remember what. He'd taken an insane amount of pills—so many that the excess probably saved him, making him so sick in the night that she woke and found him.
He'd denied afterwards that it was a suicide attempt and exacted her promise not to tell anyone. She hadn't told, although for a year afterwards she'd been jumpy as a cat every time either Spike or Buffy started to talk to her about him. If she'd made a mistake, it would be all on her.
"I think you'd better forget about the girl. It's your work I'm concerned about."
He was studying the A to Z now. "Here. Turn here, I think. It must be just up here."
The street was a long terrace of Edwardian houses. She stopped across from the number. "Do you want me to wait for you?"
"I'll get on the tube afterwards."
"Look, I've got something to do for the next couple of days, but we should spend the weekend together. If it's not raining we could take the boat to Kew, or go to Hampton Court."
"You're so quaint, Jemmie."
"I like those places and so do you."
"You're going to coddle me, and thereby exact terrible promises to shape up, aren't you? You'll wield tea in brown pots, and little cakes, to do your dirty work."
"Johnny, I don't want you to be unhappy."
"And yet we all are."
She smiled and touched his face. "I'll be better, once things are clear between me and Milo."
"Once there is no more 'you and Milo.'"
"Don't let him browbeat you."
"Good." He started to get out of the car. "I'll call you in a couple of days, then?"
"If you don't, I'll call you! Don't make me do that!" she laughed. He gave her a little backwards wave as he crossed the street. She watched him climb the steps to the red painted door of Caro Banville's lit-up house, the wallet in his hand. He was so handsome, it was easy to forget that he could be anything less than confident and successful. She'd wanted to help him, and felt now that she hadn't. He might've confided more if she'd answered the phone when he first called her that morning—but she'd left it off during the whole drive down from York lest she get a call from Milo and have to confess her escape. As it was, all he'd done was drop a couple of bombs in her lap and leave her with them.
The house door opened. He turned and motioned her off before disappearing inside. She put the car in gear and set off.
"So do you think it's really over?" Buffy said. "The Milo Era?"
"You hope so?"
He only shook his head. Buffy felt a twinge of anger; it was one thing for him to refuse to be her lover, or even her friend. But they were parents together no matter what. His manner now wasn't about indifference to Jemima—far from it, Jemima was his constant passion. It was about her. About not caring enough for her to discuss what he cared for so much more.
"You don't still think it's my fault that she married him?"
"You used to say—"
"I used to say that she couldn't bear disappointing anyone. Wanted to love everyone, give herself to everyone whether they deserved it or not. He played on that. Played her like a sodding fiddle."
"And she turned out that way because I didn't love her enough when she was small."
"Never said that."
"You implied it."
"Buffy, I don't blame you. Jemmie is who she is. Better to be a warm little heart than—"
"Than what I am?"
"Now you're twistin' everything—"
"Oh God, I am." She pressed her hand to her mouth. "Spike, I'm sorry—" That word again; saying it made her feel guilty, as if for trotting out something old and tired.
He was already moving away, and didn't turn to see her gesture. "Goin' out now. See you later."
She was so happy to have her wallet back. She danced and laughed and clapped her hands in a way that should've been sort of silly but wasn't: it was sexy. It implied things.
Honesty, she said, was so very rare these days. It called for champagne. He must stay and have a drink with her.
He was always happy to drink champagne on somebody else's dime. Happy to sink into a corner of the sofa, his legs wide apart, and let this pretty woman—Caro Banville—treat him like a hero.
She had music playing, something he'd never heard before, sort of sultry and exotic sounding. The room was all candlelit, the lights off. When he first came in he thought she must have a date coming, that she'd want to hustle him out before he arrived.
But he was the date. She meant to give him a nice reward, he could tell, for returning her things.
A reward, maybe, that would take all night.
She was smiling at him now over her champagne flute. She hadn't come near him yet; she perched at the far end of the long couch, her legs doubled under her. Her dress was made of velvet; it was low-cut and tight and dark-red. She wore pretty little high-heeled shoes—the same ones he'd liked before, with the ribbons that wound round and round her slim ankles. Her hair fell forward over her shoulders and shimmered in the flickering golden light. She looked at him as if he delighted her. Not at all the way Penelope used to look, with that half-distracted air even when he was fucking her into the mattress.
Caro Banville looked at him like he was the only man on earth.
She didn't let his champagne flute empty. The bottle was one of those enormous ones—bigger than a magnum. Ridiculous, really. She asked him a lot of questions, and she was so sympathetic, with her big eyes and pouty mouth and head set a little at one side, like a listening dog, that he found himself telling her all kinds of things: about Penelope and his course-work and how his tutor didn't understand him, and how the English could be so frustrating—present company excepted—friendly enough, maybe, on the surface, but hard to establish intimacy with. He was used to Californians, who were more straight-forward, perhaps, or perhaps it was just that the English thought Americans were funny.
She pouted. "You are lonely here. Alas, alas, there are so many lonely in London."
"I'm not, I'm fine, I—"
"I can't think why such a beautiful man as you should be lonely. What was that silly Penlope thinking?"
"We don't have to talk about Penelope."
"If I was your lady friend, I should show you the proper attention." She tugged at the neckline of her dress, and for a moment he saw a flash of areole, wine-dark against the pale breast.
He stared. He felt light all over, his skin prickling under his clothes, it was like standing at the edge of a sharp drop, disorienting and exciting. "Would—would you?"
She asked about his family.
There was no point in patrolling in London these days; the feral vamp population was nearly nil. Most of the undead here were wily non-hunters with investment portfolios and old houses whose windows were covered with heavy swags, dark and unimpeachable-seeming from the street.
Which was all to the good, Spike supposed, nodding to the barman in a dark little pub a couple of miles and a world away from the high-rise flat. Except that, wanting a spot of violence as he did now, options were limited to mixing it up with humans. And that was no fun—you could stamp on skinheads getting out of order in a Paki neighborhood—if you managed to stumble upon 'em in the act—but you couldn't finish them off. Ditto for the common or garden variety bar brawl. Mix-up interruptus was worse than none at all.
He was itching for a fight to the death.
Knocking back his third boilermaker, the thought came: he wanted it with her.
Wanted to fight her, all out. Pour his rage onto her body, that she'd given to another man, beat her for disregarding him enough to do that. Make her suffer, make her hurt. Force her to defend herself at stake point. Get her down with his fangs at her throat: kill or be killed.
If she stayed her hand at the last second …let him live though he might kill her …he'd know then, wouldn't he? That she really cared? That she was still his?
Not really. She used to decline to slay him all the time, out of pity. Out of not taking him seriously.
He was impetuous and stupid but even so he could forsee how that would play out. She'd know he was testing her. She'd be angry, cry manipulation, and she'd leave him.
He couldn't turn back to her, couldn't make himself forgive her. But he knew if she left him, he'd die.
He reached for her, but she stayed in her corner of the sofa, far off—farther off than she'd seemed a few glasses of champers ago. His mouth was moving, he was still talking against the ever-playing music, and she was smiling, nodding, sometimes laughing. She approached him only to refill his glass, and side-stepped quickly when he grabbed for her waist.
"Naughty naughty boy. The bottle isn't empty yet."
He had to stop drinking—he might already be too drunk to fuck. And it was so obvious that was what she wanted, what she was goading him towards with her looks and her flashes of nipple and her trilling laughter. She wouldn't just plop herself in his lap, though.
He let the glass drop to the carpet, and launched himself at her.
He'd been right. He'd been right, right, right, so right. Caro Banville wasn't too drunk to get his jeans open lickety-split. Caro Banville wasn't wearing any underwear. Caro Banville wrapped her arms and legs around him and let out a happy growl when he sank into her.
Caro Banville was tight and muscular and knew how to move.
She rippled and squeezed and growled, so he wasn't sure anymore what he was drunk on.
She kissed him all over his face, and his neck. His skin felt fiery-hot; her kisses were cool yet inflaming.
She could nip with her cunt like no girl he'd ever had before.
"Oh you are so warm and lovely and pulsing. Oh, I shall miss that later. I never felt it with him, but I shall at least have the memory of you."
Girls said some amazing crap when they were getting fucked. He dicked her hard and fast, and she took it. Her ankles, still ribbon-wrapped, were on his shoulders. His face was buried in her hair, she was giving out high breathy cries that made the pent-up crazy feeling move up from his balls, spreading all through him.
"Come. Come, petkin. Come to me, pretty boy. You've come to me, you're mine—" Her mouth fastened on his neck.
He seized up, rumbling, seismic—and shot.
Her kiss beneath his jaw went on and on. He trembled, floating on the afterglow, his heart fluttering in his chest, and when she brought his numb mouth to her breast, he sipped the thickish liquid from her nipple, and was out.
The early morning waiting room was bright and full of plants, but everyone there was more or less solemn. A teenage girl with her mother was sobbing by the rain-flecked windows. Jemima had determined to be sensible about this; she'd already had her crisis, at home in York, when she realized she hated Milo, really hated him, and that the pregnancy couldn't go on either, because if it did she'd never really be free of him. She'd cried, and steeled herself, waiting for him to leave for Sweden so she could leave too.
All that was done, and now she had to just get through this part without a fuss. Afterwards she could grieve, and figure out some other life.
She had a book open in her lap, but she couldn't read. Reaching into her open bag, she pulled out her mobile. There were already five messages from Milo. She'd been afraid for a while to listen to them, just let them pile up. Was struck, when she finally played them, by how peremptory they were—each more than the one before. It never occurred to him for a second that she might not be calling back because she was sick or in an accident.
But then, he wasn't stupid, he must know she was actively ignoring him. The last message, received late last night, said she was being childish, and thereby forcing him to fly back early.
Well, he'd find an empty house. Of course he'd come right to London then, right to her parents, wanting to know where she was hiding. But by then it would be too late, she'd be finished with this part.
One of the staff came up to her. "Mrs Whidders, do you have somebody who'll be here to take you home after the procedure?"
"No, I was going to just phone for a taxi."
"We really do recommend that you don't leave alone. You may feel faint or a bit ill afterwards."
"I'm sure I—"
"Haven't you a friend to call?" The woman looked pointedly at the mobile in her hand. "You just have time before we bring you inside to prep you."
She glanced at the window. From where she sat, she saw only an expanse of grey sky through rivulets of wet. "Is it supposed to clear up today?"
"What? Oh—I heard just now on the radio that we won't see the sun again until the weekend."
"Thanks. I'll call now. It's all right."
The woman walked away. Jemima pressed the speed dial, and waited.
He groaned. She'd awakened him, then, and from …"Hangover?"
"Never mind that, Petal. What is it?"
The tightness in her eased a little. This was like him. No matter what, she was always Petal, or Pudding. Always his little girl.
She heard her name called and glanced up. A nurse in white was holding a door open.
She started to her feet. "Papa, I'm at the clinic. Could you—could you be here when it's over?"
He awoke not knowing where he was. Couldn't open his eyes. He was lying under something heavy. Tried to shout, but when he opened his mouth, it was suddenly filled with grit.
He spasmed, kicking, thrusting his arms—and suddenly he was sitting up. There was absolutely no light, but somehow he could see—he was sitting in a large box filled with earth, in a cellar. He'd been covered up, dirt was stuck to his hair, his skin. He wasn't wearing any clothes.
Above, footsteps scurrying across the ceiling. A sudden wedge of golden light.
Her heels clattered on the wooden stairs. Caro Banville loomed at the end of the box, her face alight with joy. "I did not expect you so soon! You're an early riser." She laughed. "That bodes well—you're eager, my lovely." She put out one slender white arm towards him, the fingers of the hand opening and shutting as if to snatch something out of the air. He grasped her hand. She pulled.
"Caro, how did I—" He stopped. He knew.
So this was what it felt like. No!
"Oh God. You turned me! You made me into—shit. Shit." Buffy's face loomed in his mind, the largeness of her shock and disappointment flooding his every new sense. "I'm a vampire. No. No. I can't be a vampire! My mother's gonna kill me!"
Her mouth drew down into a moue. "The Slayer will do nothing of the sort. That's not in my plan at all."
"Your plan?" He burst into tears. "Where are my clothes? I have to get out of here!" He tried to barrel past her, but she blocked him.
"Silly boy. I'm not Caro. Caro was a too-generous girl who shared a hansom with a stranger. She was quite tasty, though, and such a nice maisonette she left for me." She was pulling him now, up the stairs. He seemed to float. The effort of climbing was nil. He felt so strong—and so hungry. "You must know who I am."
They reached the top of the stairs; she pulled him through the kitchen and back into the sitting room, still candle-lit. All those flickering votives, on every surface …just like his parents' bedroom back in Sunnydale.
She was game-faced now, regarding him with wide yellow eyes. "You must know …he must have told you about me …for you, pretty petkin, are your father's son. Who is my son. And was my knight and my lover. And now you are all that, and we shall be together for a long long time, all feasting and fun."
"Drusilla. You're Drusilla? I thought you were—"
"Dead?" She was disdainful. "Did my Spike tell you that? And you believed him? He never was a good liar. I tried and tried to teach him—"
"No. He …he never told me anything about you. He wouldn't …wouldn't talk about you." Standing there, barefoot and naked in the flickering glow, Johnny saw his whole life as if in a long perspective, remembered everything his father had ever said to him about his own past—and realized it was nearly nothing. He'd never questioned him, and Spike never volunteered. He only knew about Drusilla at all because Uncle Rupert or Uncle Xander had sometimes mentioned her. He'd never been curious enough to look her up. He didn't want anything to do with all the musty vampire lore.
"He let them put bits in his head. They invaded his poor pretty head. Slayer bits. But even before that, he turned away from me. He wanted to love the ones who hated him, and he forgot how to love poor me." She drooped as she spoke, then brightened. "But they made you just for me …and I have waited for you. I have waited while the stars twirled, until you were ripe." She came close, pressed herself against him. The velvet of her dress was soft; her sinuous body hard beneath it. "We will have such larks, my darling. We shall be all in all to one another."
He still wanted to resist her, her touch, her words, the craziness of her confidence. But his cock was rising against her belly, helped by the way she ground against him, and then he was hungry, he was ravenous. He smelled something—something beyond her perfume, something that smelled like fear. Like food. Suddenly his mouth was full of fangs, and his face—he touched it. His face was a different shape. It was like hers.
She smiled up at him. "Such a handsome one it is. I knew it would be." She touched his brow and his mouth. "Come see what mumsy's got waiting specially for you."
She wrapped a hand around his cock, and tugged him towards the dining room.
He saw it now, what he'd smelled a moment ago. A girl his age, bound hand and foot, mouth sealed with duct tape. She lay on the dining table, and when she saw them peering in at her from the doorway, she began to whimper.
"She's for you," Drusilla said, letting go of his erection and giving him a pat on the behind. "Now let me see you eat her all up."
Spike was grateful for the call, because he always was grateful for a chance to help Jemima—too rare since she'd married that Milo wanker—and because it was an excuse to walk out on Buffy for a while.
Jemima was pale as a used-up victim when she appeared in the clinic waiting room, clutching her bag and a sheet of instructions. But she held her chin up, and smiled when she saw him. The nurse with her smiled too; Spike could see she thought they made a handsome couple.
In another couple of decades, they'd take him for her son.
"All right, Pudding?"
"Not too bad."
"Shall I carry you to the car?"
She almost laughed as she shook her head. "No such dramatic gesture needed."
Jemima's friend met them at the door. She introduced him as "my dear friend Spike," and she said, "Nice to meet you, come in." She seemed to think they were a couple, and mostly left them alone, going out for the evening. They watched movies on the telly, cuddled together on the sofa. She smelled now only of herself, tinged with the high smell of a body that's been stirred around inside.
Milo's get, he reminded himself. Milo's get, and so none of theirs. There would be others, later, when she found a good man. She wouldn't make the same mistake again. She'd made it twice, but not a third time.
At midnight she let him carry her upstairs, setting her down at the bathroom doorway with a kiss. "I'll kip on the sofa. You need anything in the night, just speak out, you know I'll hear you."
"Shouldn't you call Mamma?"
"Your mother's not expecting me."
"Didn't tell her. A promise's a promise. But it's all right. I'm yours long as you need me."
She seemed uncertain, but nodded.
"You're my brave girl. All brave an' shining."
"You're so good to me." She went up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. Then, her hand on the bathroom doorknob, she turned back to him. "Papa—show me your other face."
She asked for this sometimes, unpredictably. "Why?"
"I want to see it. I like it."
He fanged out. She smiled softly, and touched her fingertip to the ridge of his nose. "Milo wanted me to hate you. Why didn't I see right away, how wrong that was?"
"He didn't know me." He knew. He knew more than you ever have or will, sweet loving girl, he knew about the iceberg of me and you know only the tip that glitters in the sun.
"When you say things like that, it's only so I won't feel bad."
"Never want you to feel bad, Jemmie. Never on my account. Go on now, get your sleep."
She kissed him again, and slipped into the bathroom, shutting the door with a quiet click behind her. He knew she did it that way because even putting a door between herself and anyone she loved might feel too exclusionary, unless she did it very gently.
How hard it must've been for her, to separate herself from that beginning of a child.
Giving J a bit of attention. Back when I'm back.
Buffy crumpled the note. He'd done this before, since Saleem, without leaving a note, so she supposed she ought to be grateful.
The first time he went AWOL, she'd been sure he'd left her. Told Willow and her sister in separate, tearful late night phone calls. Willow, as always, tried to accomodate Buffy's misstep, explain it away, take her side. Dawn was quieter, her what did you expect? unsaid but obvious. She'd asked her sister not to tell Xander. Xander was closer to Spike these days than he was to her. He wouldn't have much sympathy, if he found out what she'd done with Saleem. "He's not there with you, is he?" only thinking to ask when it would've been too late to keep him from overhearing if he was. "No," Dawn said, "not tonight." Buffy wondered, as she always did, why Xander and Dawn didn't get married, or at least live together, but she'd learned not to ask.
Now she called no-one. Never mind that she'd have liked to see her daughter herself; she'd seen more of her in the last few years than Spike had, but this visit to London was still their first reunion since she'd gone back to try again with with her husband.
Spike would come back when he was ready. He'd returned the other times, after a few silent days, looking like he'd been on a bender.
She wondered how long this was all going to last.
Lately she wondered that alot. What it meant, that her friends all looked fifty, while she looked just as she had when Willow brought her back from the dead. Did that mean she was immortal the way Spike was immortal? Or would all this non-aging catch up to her suddenly one day, turn into some cancer that would rip through her in a month?
The Council knew nothing about any Slayer who survived past the age of twenty-five. None of them had been resurrected as she had.
The Council's medical officers, who gave her a physical once a year, said she was biologically twenty-two years old. She showed no sign of nearing menopause. No sign of anything breaking down or using up or running out. Spike said he had it on good authority that she was a sort of angel, and therefore the normal rules didn't apply. But that had to be his poetic fancy.
Normal rules never had applied to her, she supposed.
It wasn't a cake-walk, this non-aging thing. Not when her friends were starting to look—sinewy. Not when a store clerk mistook her and Dawn for mother and daughter the last time they were together.
Not when she thought, as she often did in the middle of the night, about how she might well live on like this after her contemporaries and then her children were gone. With no one to know her well, except Spike.
Much as she loved and needed him, that prospect …had a chill to it.
She'd spoken to Angel about it. A late-night phone call from Reykjavik to LA, one of the times when Spike wasn't there. Hoped he'd have some words of wisdom for her.
But he'd reminded her that before they met, he'd spent decades disconnected, drifting from one place to the next, without associates and sometimes without a home. And now he was facing the same thing she was. Even more so. "Wes …there's very little left of Wes except his mind. That's still strong, but …the cancer's made him a fragile old man. Hollowed him out. Every day I go to see him I think 'this could be it.'"
His best friend. He had younger people around him too, his "minions" as Spike called them with a sneer; those who helped him with the work as Wes and Cordy once had. He spoke of them with familiarity, with love. But no one was a replacement for Wes.
And Angel still denied himself a partner.
"You'll be all right," he told her. "I'll always be here for you, Buffy. But more important, Spike will take care of you. You take care of each other, and it'll be all right."
She didn't tell him that night that she had no idea where Spike was, or if he'd come back to her.
The girl's eyes were enormous. He'd really never seen fear like that before, at least not outside a news photograph. Part of him wanted to study it, memorize it. He realized the sight of it, its stink, gave him pleasure. An anticipatory pleasure. His belly rumbled. The hunger was intense, as if he'd never ever been fed, as if he was hollow inside. It wasn't a human hunger. Suddenly he thought of his father. Was startled that he hadn't thought of him yet: after all, he was like him now, made that way by the vampire who'd made Spike long ago.
Spike knew this hunger and resisted it.
And what for?
With this thought, a new discovery: something he'd always carried within himself was missing. He didn't care what became of this stranger in front of him. Her fear, coming off her in hot waves, roused no compassion. It was important only in that it whetted his appetite. Made him smile, made his cock harder.
He grabbed the bound girl by the hair at the back of her head, yanking it up off the table's glossy surface. His fangs didn't go into her like a hot knife into butter; the skin resisted for a moment, then gave way with a messy crunch. She squeaked through the gag. His mouth filled with blood, hot, alive. It ran out the corners of his lips, too much to swallow it all at first. His hunger surged, and a wild bolt of joy rippled through him.
At his back, Drusilla was singing a little nonsense song in the voice of a fairy. Suddenly he wondered what she looked like naked. He could barely recall what it had been like to fuck her, he'd been too drunk. He wished he could remember exactly what her bite felt like, but that was lost in the maelstrom of that last quarter hour that he could not grasp, as it is impossible to grasp the sensation of falling asleep.
Letting the girl's head fall, he turned to her. She sang, doing a snaky dance, fingers stirring the air like it was water. He shot out a hand, hooked the collar of her dress, and tore it open. Drusilla let out a delighted scream. Her body was pale as a peeled banana, the areoles of her small pointed breasts nearly as dark as her scrim of cunt hair. He pushed her down on top of the hyperventilating girl, who writhed and mewled through the tape. Drusilla cooed, outstretching her arms and legs. Her hair fell across the other girl's face.
He climbed on top of them both.
Left them both limp and spent when he finally rolled off, smirched and sticky and sated.
Time for a bathe.
He drowsed in the steamy heat, immersed to his chin, satisfied with himself and everything around him, until Drusilla appeared in the bathroom doorway. She was still naked, her body marked with bloody smears and the bites and bruises he'd just inflicted on her. She held her breasts in her two hands, pushing them together. He'd gnawed her nipples, and they were swollen. She regarded them with a contemplative look.
"Come here. Let me see those."
She bent over him, her hair falling softly against his face as she presented her breasts. They tasted of blood—hers and the victim's. He licked the rusty stains, then sucked one distended nipple into his mouth as she moaned. With one wet soapy hand he traced the inside of Drusilla's thigh, then grasped her cunt.
This woman had belonged to his father—rather, he'd belonged to her. He knew that much, courtesy of Uncle Rupert, and knew also that she'd thrown him over because he lost his ability to satisfy her. Lost it when he became attracted to the Slayer.
If not for that, he would still be with Drusilla, and he himself would never have been born. He gnawed at the nub of flesh with his blunt teeth, working his fingers into her. Drusilla gasped and giggled. He pulled her to him by her cunt, looked up into her downturned face.
Things happen for a reason, Spike used to say to him when, as a boy, he bemoaned consequences. He didn't know yet what was the reason for this, but he'd already realized he liked it. Liked it better than anything that had ever happened to him before. He'd never known he could feel so entirely free.
He shoved his fingers higher, tightened his thumb over her clit. He raised his arm, hefting her by her sex until her toes barely touched the floor. Her gaze widened. It was adoring.
"Let's get one thing straight right now," he said. "I'm not my father."
She wriggled against the pressure of his hand, squeezing his fingers until an orgasmic tremor took her in a long shiver.
"No, petkin. You are yourself."
He lifted her higher at the end of his outstretched arm. He was immensely strong now. He could do anything. She balanced, her legs dangling, hands in her hair, looking rapacious and pleased. Then he let her fall, caught her, bone against bone in the splash. She let out a happy scream, and another when he twisted her hair in his fist to get at her mouth. Kissing her was sublime. In the hot water they were both warm, slippery, everywhere moist and sensitive. She shifted in and out of game face as he explored her mouth, still holding her tight by the hair as his other hand took possession once more of her sex. Her little wounds bled again, turning the bathwater a delicate rose. He sucked at her breasts, then slid down into the water.
When he was a child they'd gone on beach vacations, in an isolated place on the Pacific coastline of Mexico that was lent by someone Uncle Rupert knew. As the last tinge of pink and orange disappeared from the horizon each evening, Spike would emerge from the house whose windows were always slatted against the sun, and run into the ocean, diving beneath the surf and disappearing for long awful minutes together. Watching from the sand, he'd be terrified, anxiously scanning the dark shifting water, waiting for Papa's white head to pop up, the white arm to lift in a wave. He'd heard it explained that Papa didn't need to breathe, and that there was nothing to fear when he swam far far out beyond the breakers. He wouldn't tire, and he wouldn't drown. But it was so hard to believe, and every time he felt the awful suspense, thinking that this time surely Papa would fail to appear above the surface of the water. He'd hold his own breath, and have to gasp for air long before Spike crested the surface.
When he did, Johnny was relieved, and at the same time felt a low-down tickle of disappointment in his belly.
And then often at night, when he was supposed to be asleep, he'd get out of bed. From his room at the top of the house he could see the whole expanse of moonlit beach where his mother was now swimming with her husband. It was a silent tableau, silvery and magical. When she was with Papa like that, Buffy never glanced back at the house. He watched her, his lip sucked up beneath his teeth, feeling his pulse there, wondering if she remembered him at all at that moment. The night was theirs, and the very fact that he was a child and supposed to be asleep made him feel excluded not just from their togetherness, but from everything adult and mysterious and therefore worth-while. He saw them swim out together, their two heads side by side on the dark surface, and then Spike would be gone, and Buffy floated, gazing up at the sky. He would stand at the window for as long as it took for his father to emerge from his long long dive, to make sure he brought Buffy back to shore.
He didn't understand what he was watching for a long time, not until the day he overheard Dawn and Willow, on a visit, whispering and laughing when they thought he wasn't nearby. The understanding crushed him. He couldn't get up anymore to watch over his mother. Instead he lay in bed, eyes squeezed shut, unable to think about anything but this thing he was't supposed to know about, that filled him with unease and dread.
All of this flashed through his mind in the second it took to slip beneath the surface of his bath. He exhaled a torrent of bubbles against Drusilla's pussy, and then his lungs were empty, and there was nothing, no burning in his chest, no urgency for air. He fastened his mouth around her clit, sucked on it until she thrashed.
This was what Papa did with Mamma in the ocean—did everywhere—this was what made her so focused on him to the exclusion of everything else.
What made him feel like such a bystander in his own family.
Now he had no family …and he wasn't a bystander. Drusilla had made him, but he wasn't going to belong to her.
She would belong to him.
He fanged out and sank his teeth into her tender flesh as if to devour her from below; she spasmed against his mouth, her scream muffled by the water and her thighs, but reverberating through her body, through his head. She grabbed his hair. His mouth was full of her fluids, salt and tart and luscious. He sat up slowly, picturing her rising out of the water like a vampire Venus, riding his face. Let the bumps go then, and pushed her off.
"Do you like what you've brought into being?"
"Oh yes. You are a bad selfish boy and I adore you! My pretty petkin."
"Don't call me that. My name is Nick."
Nick. He was even more glad he'd chosen that now. It was one of the names of the devil.
Continued in Part Two of Ten