Chapter 3: Safe House
It was so much like the previous night, Spike had another moment of questioning Willow’s magical abilities. He was returning from the butcher’s shop, walking toward his crypt with a brown bag in one hand and a cigarette in the other, when Buffy ran across his line of vision, hot in the pursuit of a fledgling vampire.
His first instinct was to follow, so he could enjoy the show and talk with her while she worked. But before he could change course, Riley came running up behind her. Spike glared after him and continued on toward his crypt. The sounds of an argument soon reached his ears.
“It was one vamp! One! I don’t even consider myself warmed up until I’ve had three times the fight that guy had to offer.”
“There’s gratitude for you! I was trying to help!”
“Riley, I didn’t need help. That was not a life or death situation. That wasn’t even a challenge. Why can’t you back off and let me do my job?”
“Fine! I’ll just go. You have fun; get yourself killed. But you’re a fool for not using backup when you have it.”
Spike stepped behind a crypt as Riley stormed back toward the cemetery gate. Buffy followed his path at a more leisurely pace, coming to a stop a few yards from where Spike hid. She watched her boyfriend march out of sight with a cool expression. “I have backup, Finn. Don’t worry about me,” she mumbled. “Spike, do you want to come out now, or should I stand here talking to myself all night?”
He sauntered out from behind the crypt. “Walk with me? Gotta get some things to the fridge.”
She nodded and fell into step beside him. They walked in silence all the way to his crypt. Once inside, Buffy perched on the arm of his battered chair while he tended to his groceries. “You’re being remarkably restrained.”
Spike closed the refrigerator door and turned to face her. “Nothing I can do about it. This is where-- when we are. You’re his and I can’t even hit him without a splitting migraine.”
“I’m not his, Sparky. I thought you knew that.”
“You were. And as far as anyone who isn’t in this room knows, you still are.”
“Well, I need to figure out how soon I can change that. I know there’s going to be a lot of lying over the next couple of years, but I… well, I’d rather do my lying with my words, not my body.”
Spike was silent for a long moment, absorbing her meaning. She's really going to do it. She's gonna dump that wanker earlier this time, admit to herself she didn’t love him. He stood there, awe in his eyes, trying to find something to say. All he could come up with was, “’Preciate it, love… Know it’s not for me, but still… Thanks.”
Buffy gave him a soft smile, and then stood abruptly, ready to change the subject. She straightened her shoulders. “So, have you found a hideout for us yet, Lieutenant?”
He shook himself out of his emotional state and matched her stance. “Got a couple of ideas, General. Figure you’ll hate ‘em, but they’re all I got so far.”
“Left up here.” Spike waved toward the next corner as they walked down the dimly lit street. His muttered directions had been the only conversation since they had reached downtown. Both had been focused on their surroundings, making certain they weren’t seen together by anyone they might know.
Buffy visibly relaxed as they turned onto a narrow residential street. The houses here were old, maybe half of them occupied. They were more likely to run into a vamp nest than a friend of a friend in one of these houses. “You said this was your second idea. What was the first?”
“Old mansion on Crawford Street.”
“Oh, hell no.”
“Thought so. See what you think of this, then.” He ushered her into a darkened house.
Buffy squinted into the darkness until Spike shone his flashlight into the room. As her eyes adjusted, her expression changed slowly. First there was mild disgust. The living room of the abandoned house was filthy, covered in cobwebs and dust. Then there was worry, as the ancient floorboards creaked under her feet. Then came the dawning of recognition.
“Uh, Spike?” She frowned at the ceiling.
“Doesn’t that chandelier eventually end up in the basement?”
She stared at the light fixture for a long moment, and then broke into laughter. “All the empty buildings in this town, and you pick this one?”
He shifted his weight uncomfortably, not sure if her mirth was going to last. “Well, um, I figured it was a place no one but us knew about, and we know it’s going to be available for a while…”
“And we also know it was condemned with good reason!” She leaned against the wobbly staircase railing, still giggling.
“Seem to recall the cellar floor was sound. Could stay down there.”
Catching her breath, Buffy shrugged. “Alright, we’ll look at the basement.”
“Not like you haven’t seen it before.”
“I never took the stairs down, though.”
Spike smirked in a way she hadn't seen in a long time, a smirk she knew to be his way of saying he was biting his tongue against a hundred innuendo-laden comments. The residual smile from her fit of laughter renewed itself on her face. She'd missed that particular smirk more than she'd realized. It felt good to see a little of the old Spike coming back. She shook herself out of her thoughts and straightened her countenance.
“You've got the light, and better eyes. Lead the way.”
A dim glow from the main room of the basement became visible as they came down the staircase. She threw Spike a questioning glance, but his face only reflected her concern.
“We’re not alone, love,” he whispered as he sniffed the air and turned off his flashlight. “Smells not-quite-human. Demon, maybe?”
Buffy frowned. “I’m not sure this house can take a brawl,” she whispered back.
Spike gave her another dose of that long lost smirk and led them cautiously toward the lighted room. They stepped into the main area of the basement to see over a dozen dusty white pillar candles burning atop a large wooden table. Across the room was a man in a garish rust-colored suit, rummaging around in a dusty corner cabinet.
He addressed them without turning around. “Hey, kids. Got any hooch in this termite pit?”
Buffy’s eyes grew wide with recognition. The voice was familiar. As if to confirm her guess, the man chose just then to turn and face them.
His very human face earned a sneer from Spike. “Oh, so it’s a half-breed, is it?”
The man chuckled as he rubbed the dust from his hands. “Look who’s talking. Been held prisoner by any distant ancestors lately, Pratt?”
Spike threw a shocked glance at Buffy, unable to guess how this half-demon knew details about their recent troubles. ...And knew his surname. Buffy, however, didn’t look surprised at all, just angry. She crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want, Whistler?”
“You know this bloke?”
“Yeah,” she replied, keeping her gaze on the intruder. “We met once, right before I had to run a sword through Angel. He is not a bearer of good news.”
“And you found a way to save the other one. Well played, Summers.” Whistler extended a hand to Spike. “Whistler, case agent for the Powers That Be, at your service. And you’re the missing guest at a dinner party with the bosses.”
Spike eyed him suspiciously, ignoring the offered hand. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think it means you're supposed to be dead. Whistler, do you remember what I said about your rib cage the first time we met? I'm older now. I tolerate cryptic a lot less. What do you want?”
Whistler took a cautious step back. “Did you know the bosses expected you to go with the idea of making an army of slayers to fight the army of Turoks? Long term, it would have been a disaster, but it was a viable short-term solution. They just figured on fixing it later. But you had to go and change the game again, didn’t ya?”
“Let me get this straight: You waited until after Willow’s spell to tell me this was a mistake?”
Whistler paced the room with his hands in his pockets, studying the flickering shadows on the walls. “Truth be told, catching you as you traveled wasn't worth the effort. Your other witch really knows her stuff. She sent you through pretty fast. But no, I wasn’t trying to stop you. Thing is, if you pull this off, it should turn out better in the long run. The Powers were a little surprised, is all. Did anyone bring a broom? This place is filthy.”
He was evading, and Buffy had no patience for it. She stepped closer to him. “Last chance before Spike and I play football with your head. Why. Are. You. Here.”
“To help. Really.” Whistler put his hands up in surrender. “Man, you grew up scary. I liked you better when you were younger.” He addressed Spike. “How have you put up with her all these years? …Never mind. Forget I asked.” He dropped his hands. “Ok, kids. I’ll get to the point. You got a good idea here, and it’s got some definite potential for cleaning up the mess you left behind. But the odds aren’t great.”
Buffy gave an unladylike snort as she stepped back. “What else is new?”
“The bosses have plans for this little expedition, so they don't want it screwed up. They sent me to offer a little help. Come here, you two. I have a gift for ya.”
Spike and Buffy glanced at each other, communicating mutual apprehension and resigned agreement with little more than eye contact. They stepped toward Whistler in unison.
“Amazing,” the demon murmured. He reached out to touch their foreheads. “Remember!” he intoned, triggering a quick flash of blue light where his fingertips made contact with them.
“What the bleedin’ hell was that?” Spike shook his head, slightly disoriented.
“Just a little memory boost. Human memory is too fallible for time travel work. Neither of you may be fully human, but you both have that crappy human memory. This will help.” He turned to Buffy. “Pick any event from the coming years. Can you remember exact dates, times and details?”
Buffy frowned, and then her face lit up. “Wow. Yeah. Hey! You’re not completely useless!”
“Don’t sound so surprised there, kiddo. I’m not just another pretty face.”
Spike scoffed. “So you’ve added more magic to the mix. Bloody thrilling. Got anything else of use?”
“First, that’s no ordinary magic. Second, don’t check out the teeth on the gift horse, will ya? But in answer to your question, yeah. I have a little advice.” He turned to Buffy. “It’s not going to be easy, you know. Might not be a hell of a lot easier than last time.”
“Again with the what-else-is-new.”
“Play it as close to the way you remember it as possible. That’s why I gave you the boost. If any of you start acting differently, you could change more than you expect. Be subtle. You'll have a chance to get that hardware out of Pratt's head again soon. You gonna take it?”
Buffy glanced at Spike. “I hadn't thought about it, but we probably should.”
“He's thought about it, hasn't he?” Whistler eyed Spike, who gave a brief nod in response. “Do it if you want. But it won't change the big picture. And it won't help you get rid of Benny Boy, either. Too soon to tell, but I'm betting that job will go to the same person it went to before."
“Me?” Buffy asked. “Was it me? I wasn’t exactly around for the finale of that mess. I was busy getting myself dead.”
“He means your watcher, pet. Glory turned back into Ben after you knocked the snot out of her. Rupert finished him off.” At her confused look, he explained. “Got hammered with me a couple of nights while you were... gone. Got to talking.”
Buffy’s mouth hung open for a moment as she tried to absorb this information. When she finally spoke, her voice was low. “From confidante to conspirator,” she muttered, recalling Spike’s recent escape from Robin Wood’s garage. “How...?”
Spike shrugged. “Simple. You came back. He didn’t need me anymore. Didn’t need to drink himself into a stupor and didn’t need the hired muscle.”
“How can you be so casual about it?”
“’Cause that’s how it always was,” Whistler interjected. “You can't afford to forget that.”
Spike ignored Buffy's apologetic glance. He'd been expecting this. “So why can't I bleed the boy dry? If he dies, it's problem solved, far as I see it.”
“Glorificus gets weaker as Ben fights for control, making her more vulnerable. If he dies before he softens her up, she might be strong enough to break free, or at least jump into the nearest body.”
“Which would be Ben's killer.” Spike's plans were suddenly dashed away.
“You can't skip ahead to the end of this, kids. You have to go through it. Let go of the idea that you can just erase everything. It won't work. Life isn't that simple.”
“We have to let Glory take Dawn. Is that what you're telling me?” Buffy gave Whistler a dangerous look, ready to kill the messenger.
“You know another sure way of getting to her around that time? I didn't think so. I'm not saying you have to jump again, only that if you try offing Ben early, it could bite you in the ass. Stick with small, careful changes. After this thing with Glorificus is over, you'll be in a totally new situation with no obligations to the past you knew.”
“Get through Glory's key hunt, and then we're alright to do as we please?” Spike clarified.
“That's about the size of it. Listen you two, I gotta book. I’ll touch base later. Just one more thing: Summers, I know what else you want to change.” He shook his head sadly. “Take the opportunity to say a proper good-bye. That’s all you can have. Sorry, kiddo.”
There was another, larger blue flash as tears formed in Buffy’s eyes. Spike stepped up behind her to put a gentle hand on her shoulder. They stood that way in silence for a long time after Whistler disappeared.
She moved cautiously down the basement stairs, convinced the house would come down on her with one misstep. The glow of candlelight guided her toward the main room of the basement once again, but a very different scene greeted her.
The large wooden table, which had previously dominated the center of the room, was now pushed to one side, near the cabinets. Two leather club chairs had been procured from a source Buffy promised herself she wouldn't question and placed on either side of the table. On the other side of the room, against the wall, a mattress rested on the concrete floor, dressed in mismatched blankets. The large pillar candles that had nearly covered the table were now spread around the room, some still on the table, some on the cracked counter that ran across the tops of the cabinets, a few on top of the old wood burning stove in the corner, and one on the floor beside the makeshift bed.
Except for the last, all the candles were lit, giving Buffy a clear view of the new arrangement, and also allowing her to see that the new-looking broom in the corner had been put to good use. As she marveled at the change in the place and shook her head at the mental image of Spike cleaning away cobwebs, a door creaked behind her. She turned and followed the sound back towards the staircase, turning away from it when she realized the noise had come from the little room beside the landing. Stepping into the dark room, she ran straight into Spike, who immediately turned around. “Follow me.”
She obeyed, stopping just behind him as he flicked on his flashlight. “Perfect!” she exclaimed when she saw what the light had revealed. A metal ladder mounted to the cinder block wall led to a double door over their heads, that could be nothing other than a side entrance to the basement. “At least I can avoid those stairs now.”
Spike replied as he led them back toward the main room, “Figured it'd be good to use an entrance that's not in plain sight.”
“Thinking like a vampire.”
“Yeah, well.” He shrugged.
They sat at the table in awkward silence for a few minutes. “So here we are. It's been almost a week.”
Buffy shifted in her chair, taking another look at the room. “It looks like you're moving in.”
“Eh, not quite. Gotta keep the crypt. People expect to see me there.”
“But this is a place you can hide out?”
“We, love.” Spike pointed at the bed. “I don't need that many blankets. You need a place to get away, too. That Whistler bloke was right. It's not gonna be easy, doing this all over again.”
“Yeah, I know. I guess it's time for us to get comfortable and make some plans.”
Spike went over the the cabinets and opened the largest one, revealing a bright red cooler. From the ice within, he dug out a can of Coke and a styrofoam container of pig's blood. He placed both on the table and retrieved a yellow legal pad and a black pen from another cabinet before sitting down again.
Buffy wiped the top of the can with her sleeve, preparing to open it. “Thanks. I guess you're going to let yours warm up for a while?”
Silence fell over them once again, punctuated with occasional tapping of Spike's pen against his notepad. The tension of the room finally popped when Buffy felt her nerves could take no more of it. “Ok, I give. What is wrong with you tonight? I haven't seen you in days, and when I finally get a chance to come by, you barely speak to me. What the hell? Were you expecting to see me every night?”
Spike scowled, but kept his tone low and calm. “Kinda used to every night. Used to having a home to go to, voices that aren't in my bloody head to listen to and talk to, and going out on patrol most nights. Gave all that up. Now I got two places to live alone, 'cept when Harm's about, which is worse. Gotta keep my distance from damn near every demon I don't plan to kill, in case they can sense the difference. Mostly been alone since the night I brought you here. So, yeah, it'd be nice to talk to you once in a while.”
Buffy bit her lower lip and brought her tone down to match his. “I'm sorry, Spike. I wasn't thinking. I was caught up in my own stuff and I forgot I was leaving you with no one... What about Clem?”
“Avoiding him as much as I am Harm. She's too bloody dense to notice, just annoying. Clem will know I'm different the second he gets close. Couple years down the line, he'll get it. But now?” Spike scoffed and fixed his gaze on the paper before him. “Doubt he'll understand getting a soul for any reason.”
“Oh.” Buffy couldn't think of anything else to say. In this time, Spike still lived mostly in the demon world, a world that could sense the change in him and would shun or kill him over it. Later, when he was living mostly in her world, getting his soul was viewed as a good thing, and he was somewhat accepted. She'd dragged him away from that and back into a life amongst demons, but they couldn't leave his soul behind in 2003, and now Spike was a man without a country... more than ever before.
He broke into her thoughts. “Least I'm not living like Angel did after Darla tossed him out.”
Buffy tossed a mild glare in his direction, but opted to change the subject. “So I guess you're wondering what I've been up to?”
“Can smell some of it, love. And how is your tin soldier today?”
“Don't get snippy, Spike.” She sighed. “You know, sabotaging a relationship on purpose is hard work! I can do it on accident easily--”
“Preachin' to the choir,” Spike mumbled.
“But trying to make it look gradual and authentic sucks. I've been picking fights with Riley all week. Little stuff, not enough to make us break up too fast, but enough to keep him at bay… most days.”
“You mean out of your knickers.”
“Other than that--” Buffy pointedly ignored his interjections. “I've been enjoying a lot of quality Mom-time. You should go see her, too. She asked about you.”
“Eh, probably shouldn't. Your mates might come by.”
“That didn't stop you before. According to Mom, you stopped by more often than I did during the school year. Why did you never tell me that?”
“You never asked. Besides, you never revoked my invite... up 'til a few months from now.”
“We'll change that. We can, right? You're not going to chain me up again, are you?”
Spike stifled a smirk, trying hard to appear nonchalant. “Wasn't planning on it, but wouldn't call it a necessary change. Maybe I should.”
“You're kidding, right? You don't actually plan to—” Buffy caught the glint of humor in his eye and relaxed back into her chair. “You aren't going to make me put on the big 'Spike is icky' show for Mom and Willow. You just said that to make me squirm.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, a bit. There's catches to skipping it, though. We gotta deal with Dru, for one. Also, that little admission of mine is the only reason your mates know for me to be about. We gotta give them something that makes sense. Else, you'll have to keep inviting me to hang around, and they'll think you're wrong in the head for it.”
“What about protecting Dawn? She'll be here soon. I can say I talked you into helping me keep an eye on her.”
“And why would I do that for you?” Spike leaned forward, bringing his face closer to hers across the candlelit table and pulling away his human mask. “Look at the exterior, love. That's what they see. Just a killer with a chip in his head.” His amber eyes flickered blue for an instant. “Nothing else. That's what you saw. You'd better start thinking that way again, unless you want to tell your mates and your watcher every detail about our real history.” He fell back in his chair. “Don't fancy that, myself.”
“We're going to have to plan this all very carefully, aren't we?”
“Every day of it. Gotten a bit of a start on you.” Spike shoved the legal pad across the table for her inspection. He had filled four pages with notes of upcoming events, possible changes they could make, and what events needed to be left untouched to preserve known chain reactions. After she'd looked over what he had written, he handed her the pen and reached for his container of blood. “Your turn.”
Buffy wrinkled up her nose as she began to write her own notes in the spaces he'd left between his. “I would have left us in our own time if I'd known there'd be homework. This is definitely going to suck.”
“Don't feel bad about it. I've been speaking the language about a century longer than you. Your vocabulary will catch up… eventually.”
Joyce swept the letter tiles back into the bag. “Don't get cocky. You only beat me by 30 points. That's not what I'd call a decisive victory.”
Spike grinned, glad she was taking the bait. “Sounds like someone wants a rematch. Tomorrow night?”
He stood up. “Shall I put the kettle on?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t, Spike. Buffy will be home soon, if she doesn't go to Riley's tonight.”
Spike turned away from her as he filled the kettle, hiding the flare of anger showing on his features. “She won't. Fact is, she's expecting me. Got business to talk. She'll be here soon.”
“Oh.” Joyce looked surprised, and a little worried. “This isn't world-ending stuff is it? Like the first time you two had a meeting here?”
“Nah. Just a li'l vampire problem we've got. Easily fixed.”
Joyce returned the game box to its place in the hall closet. When she returned to her stool, she watched him move around her kitchen. He was more relaxed than she’d ever seen him, and seemed very at home. He also didn’t appear to be dreading his meeting with her daughter. “Spike, if I ask you something, will you be honest with me?”
“If I can.”
“Don’t beat around the bush because I'm her mother, but is Buffy being any nicer to you?”
Spike nodded, recalling a similar conversation they'd had the first time around. “Yeah, a bit. Doesn't seem to object to me being around so much.”
“Good. I haven't been happy with the way she treats you.” Joyce put her hands up in mock surrender. “I know it's a slayer-vampire thing, and I can't expect to understand it, but I don't think it's fair. I shouldn't have to worry about having to sweep you off my kitchen floor if she comes home unexpectedly.”
“Buffy's not gonna stake me, Joyce. She'll yell and beat on me if it takes her fancy, but you needn't worry. She's never revoked my invite, remember? Girl's got a couple of witches at her beck and call. If she wanted me to stop calling here, she'd change the locks on me in a bloody heartbeat. Trust me.”
“Thanks.” Joyce accepted her cup of tea with a smile. She frowned a moment later, as Spike's attention turned toward the front of the house. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing.” He set out another cup, just as a key turned in the front door.
“Mom?” Buffy called as she closed the door behind her.
“In the kitchen! Are you armed?”
Buffy laughed as she came into the kitchen. “It's ok. I knew he'd be here.” She turned to Spike as she took the stool beside her mother. “You haven't been driving her crazy, have you?”
Spike pushed the third teacup toward her. “Shut up and drink your tea.” He casually sniffed the air around her. “So our mutual friend's in town, then? Any trouble?”
Buffy nodded. “Nothing unexpected. Probably talking to his new... buddy as we speak.”
Joyce looked from one to the other and stood up to leave. “I think I'll take my tea upstairs so you two will stop speaking in code.”
Her daughter blushed. “Sorry Mom. I didn't mean to be rude.”
Joyce patted her shoulder. “It's ok, honey. You two talk shop. I'll see you both tomorrow. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight” calls from slayer and vampire followed her out of the room.
“She likes your visits. You should be here more.”
“Likes you liking my visits more.”
“How's that?” Buffy wrinkled her nose at the taste of her tea.
“Worries you're not being nice to me.” Spike passed her the sugar bowl.
“What did you tell her?”
“That you won't dust me and you're improving... a little.”
“Oh for god's sake, Spike. You downplayed how well we're getting along? You're such an ass.”
“What should I say, then? ‘Getting on just grand, Joyce! In fact, it’s me she sneaks out of here most nights to crawl into bed with, not her cardboard boyfriend.’ That’d go over well.” Spike leaned on the counter. “Next, I can tell her why I know my way around her kitchen so bloody well.”
“Didn’t say anything, but had a funny look on her face when I skipped the mugs and went straight to the teacups on the top shelf.”
Buffy looked at her cup. “Yeah, we don’t use these very often.”
Her glare turned to a yawn. “I wish I could do some of that sneaking out tonight.”
“Gotta get used to it, love. Even after you drive that ponce out of town, you need to be spending nights in your own house, so people won’t be looking for you. Leave the cellar-dwelling to me.”
“I don’t sleep well alone anymore.”
“Noticed that. Not looking your sprightliest.”
“Then let me come home with you tonight. I really need the rest.”
“Not while Drac’s about.” Spike took in his surroundings. “And the safe house isn’t home.”