Buffy slumped her way into her seedy apartment building, barely noticing that her unused mailbox seemed to have something in it. Telling herself she was officially pitiful if she was willing to consider an advertising circular actual mail, she never the less used her key to open the box and pull it out.
“Huh,” she muttered to herself. “Somebody wrote on it.”
Sending a “get out of my way” glare at Mr. Smith, the building manager who had learned the hard way that she couldn’t be physically intimidated into allowing him extra privileges in return for reduced rent, she continued up the stairs to her tiny efficiency apartment. She waited until she was safely in and the door was locked before sitting on the bed to read the back of the flier.
Slayer, it began, making her gasp.
Or should I say “Anne”? I’m guessing nobody here knows who you are being as how the stupid fledge I stopped from following you last night thought he’d spotted an easy meal. If you were just trying to throw out a lure by seeming to be an easy catch, then I’m sorry I ruined your plan. But if you were really as oblivious and tired as you looked to be, then I may have saved your life. No idea why I did that, BTW, but you’re welcome.
Don’t know what you’re doing here in LA, or why you aren’t home basking in your watcher-wanker’s congrats on defeating Angelus. I’m guessing that’s what you did? Seeing as how the world didn’t end and what-not. Anyway, seems like we’re neighbors for the time being, so maybe we need to make some rules? You can write me back at the PO Box below.
William (the Bloody)
Buffy flopped onto her back and stared at the cracked ceiling. Spike? Spike was here in LA? And apparently watching her?
She sat up and glared at the crinkled paper.
“Rules? You want rules?” she growled at it. “I don’t do rules with vampires!” She pushed thoughts of the truce they’d had back in Sunnydale away as she frowned at the note. “I’ll show you rules!”
She grabbed the unused box of note cards she’d bought with her first paycheck—back when she thought she might want to get in touch with somebody eventually—and began to scribble on one of them.
Dear Spike, she wrote, then crossed out the word dear and continued. The only rule we need is the one that says if I catch you eating people, I’ll stake you. And what’s with the stalking me? If you have something to say to me, say it to my face!
She stuffed the notecard in its envelope and began to address it, stopping when she realized she didn’t know what to call him. With a shrug, she addressed it to William Bloody, PO Box 231, Los Angeles, CA and put it aside to mail on her way to work the next day.
The little boost of adrenaline and energy Spike’s note had given her faded, and she sighed tiredly as she got ready to go to sleep. In spite of her words to Spike, she had no intention of going out hunting for him or any other vampires. She reminded herself firmly that she was retired from slaying, then brushed her teeth and slipped into the big tee shirt she slept in. At the last second, before turning out the light, she realized how easy it would be for someone with good night vision to see into her poorly-covered window.
She hit the light switch, but pulled her tee shirt down as far as it would go as she walked to her bed.
“Stupid vampire,” she muttered, glaring at the window. “He’s probably watching me.” She got up and marched to the closed window and pulled it open. She enjoyed a few seconds of the cool breeze that came in, before yelling out into the darkness, “Go away, Spike! Stop watching me!” She slammed the window shut, locking it against any human intruders that might try to take advantage of the fire escape that hung precariously on the outside of the building. It didn’t actually look sturdy enough to hold anyone, but she’d been afraid to trust that thought enough to leave it open at night.
Buffy dropped the note to Spike at the post office she passed on her way to work everyday, and continued on to the diner in which she worked for tips and a meager salary. She knew the owner was taking advantage of her youth and probable status as a runaway, but she liked most of her co-workers and some money was better than no money at all.
At the end of her shift, she waved good-night and stepped outside, pausing to use her vamp senses for the first time since she’d left Sunnydale. When she felt no tingles on her neck, she concluded Spike wasn’t around, and she started home. In spite of her anger at his words, she found herself mildly grateful that she hadn’t had to tackle a vamp the night before when she was so tired and unarmed. She patted the stake she’d hidden in her apron pocket, but refused to acknowledge it had taken Spike’s disapproval to get her to start carrying the only weapon she’d brought with her from home.
There was nothing in her mailbox this time, although she told herself there was no reason to think there would be. Even if Spike was expecting a reply, he wouldn’t have had time to receive it yet. She smothered what she assured herself was not mild excitement at having had some contact with someone she knew from home, and went up the stairs without bothering to glare at Mr. Smith when he stepped out to watch her as he so often did.
When two more days had gone by without any more communication from Spike, she slipped back into her normal subdued melancholy and lack of interest in her surroundings. She did, however, continue to bring the stake with her when she went out, using the leg holster she’d been wearing when she left Sunnydale. Which she was grateful for one night when only a warning growl from above allowed her to look up from the sidewalk in time to see a new vampire, dirt still clinging to his clothes, reaching for her as she passed an alleyway.
“Ugh!” she said, dodging away and pulling out her stake. “Get away from me!” She faced off against him, hoping he’d leave when he saw the stake and not get her only clean uniform dirty.
“Huh?” He blinked at her, but was obviously too new to even recognize the stake for what it was, never mind be aware that something like a slayer existed. “You can’t stop me with a little stick,” he growled. “And stand still, dammit!”
The sparkle was still there when she got to her building and saw the letter in her mailbox. She took it out and only glanced at it long enough to see that it wasn’t from anyone in Sunnydale, then tucked it into a pocket and trotted up the stairs, waving at a bewildered Mr. Smith when he peered out at her. She waited until she was sitting down to bring out the note, telling herself she wasn’t looking forward to it, just starved for something to read.
Not stalking, just happened to see you leaving work the other night and when I saw where you live (!), I figured we might cross paths soon and should set some ground rules. I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone. Is that simple enough for you?
PS Nice job with the fledge tonight. Looked a bit like yourself, you did.
PPS Shouting out your window into the night isn’t very ladylike. Your mum would be appalled at you.
Buffy smothered the little warm feeling at his praise and settled for anger and then sadness at the mention of her mother. She grabbed another note card and, pressing so hard she almost broke the pen, she began to write:
Spike – My mother doesn’t care what I do. Why do you think I’m in this ugly city working for pennies? Mind your own business.
Rather than wait until the next day, she addressed the envelope, put one of the stamps she’d purchased on it, and left again, slamming the door behind her. She marched to the post office, grumbling all the time about PO Box addresses that didn’t tell you where to find somebody so you could drive a stake through their nosy heart. She put the note into the slot for local mail, and stomped back to her apartment. She twitched when she felt a little tingle on her neck, but it was gone so quickly she wasn’t sure she didn’t imagine it.
She was shocked the next day to find a response already waiting for her, and she snatched it out and read it while she was standing in the lobby.
Find that hard to believe, Slayer. But if that’s why you’re here, then we need to talk. I’ll be back in a day or two.
She blinked at the message, then shook her head. “Stupid vampire,” she said to herself as she went to the stairs, ignoring Smith’s brave attempt to put his arm around her as he asked, “Bad news? Want to tell me about it?” If he noticed that she’d managed to duck his attempt to touch her without even acknowledging it, he didn’t act as though he had, just muttered about “stuck up bitches” as he watched her go up the stairs. Her angry stomping was enough to discourage him from following.
She took her time getting ready for bed, telling herself she had no reason to write back to Spike now that she’d told him to buzz off, and he wasn’t going to be around anyway. While insisting vigorously that she didn’t know or care where he went, she none the less found herself holding a note card and a pen.
We do NOT need to talk. Don’t you know what mind your own business means? We have nothing to talk about. Where did you go? Not that I care, but I’m sure you’re up to something evil, so….
Don’t call me, I’ll call you,
She waited two full days and nights, then grabbed another card. She bit her lip in concentration as she tried to word her scathing message properly. She settled for: Where are you? What have you been doing? Are you still here in LA?
She dropped her latest missive off on her way to work and did her best to ignore her disappointment that Spike wasn’t back yet.
When, two days later, she was jumped on the way home by three vampires and a small demon, she found herself both a bit concerned and more than a bit excited. Whirling and quipping, she managed to stake two of the vamps and kick the demon out into the street where a passing bus hit him. She almost didn’t turn around from that satisfying sight quickly enough to avoid the trash can lid the remaining vampire was trying to bring down on her head. A guttural snarl from the back of the alley made him hesitate just enough that she was able to duck under his arm and run her stake into his ribs as she kicked the side of his knee, sending him to the ground. While he was within easy reach and distracted by his injuries, she quickly staked him, then stared around for the source of the snarl she’d heard quite clearly.
When, after several tense seconds, she heard no more snarls and felt no vampire tingles, she shrugged, thinking she must have imagined where the snarl came from and attributing it to the vamp she’d just dusted. She turned her back on the now-empty alley and resumed her walk home. Just as it had several days ago, her step was lively, her cheeks had color in them, and her expression was happy and alert.
The happiness faded a little when there was nothing in her mailbox, but the satisfaction of having won a difficult fight was enough to carry her through the rest of her evening and she went to bed pleased with herself. She was feeling so confident, she actually opened her window enough to let in the cool night air. The three inches it was open, and the strength it had taken to get the old window that far, made it unlikely that a human would be able to open it far enough to get in, at least not without waking her up with the noise.
The envelope she found in her mailbox the next night made her heart race in a way that was more than a little disturbing, but she told herself it was only because it might have been from someone at home, not because she was expecting anything from Spike. She cheerfully ignored the fact that nobody in Sunnydale had any idea where she was or how to reach her….
She opened the envelope and took out one of her own cards. On the back of her last message, Spike had written: Missed you too, Slayer. And so does your mum. And the watcher. Know a bit more about what went down after I left now, but not enough to understand what sent you running off to the big, bad city. Want to tell me about it?
Buffy gasped, then fury took over as she grabbed a new card and began to write, ignoring the tears on her cheeks.
You went to my mother!!!! And my watcher? After I told you to mind your own business? Do you have a death wish, Spike?
And just so you know, my mom threw me out because I went after Angelus. She told me not to come home! And after you left, Acathla was opening and Angelus got his butt kicked, but Angel got his soul back, but I had to kill him anyway to stop the end of the world and it broke my heart and I wanted to die.
PS. You suck, Spike!
Before she could change her mind, she put it in an envelope and, as she had before, ran to the post office down the street to make sure he would get it the next day.
When she returned, Mr. Smith stepped in front of her.
“Out a bit late, aren’t you?” he said, reaching a hand toward her tear-streaked face. A face that went from a sorrowful girl’s to an angry slayer’s before he could touch her.
“Now is not a good time,” she said through clenched teeth, too angry to enjoy the way he flinched back and retreated behind his own door. Ignoring him. she continued up the stairs to fling herself on her bed and sob for the first time in many weeks.
Contrary to what she expected, Buffy woke up feeling a little better than she had since she left Sunnydale. After an initial breakdown, she’d refused to allow herself to cry about her situation, even as it pulled her down a bit more each day, in spite of her having shut off any expression of emotion. Not until she got Spike’s first note had she begun to allow herself to feel anything. Granted, it was anger and then more anger, but between that and the boost slaying vampires gave to her spirits, she had to admit that the Slayer of Slayers had done more to bring this one back to life than anything else had.
There was no note from Spike the next evening, nor the day after that, although Buffy wasn’t sure she hadn’t seen him walking past the diner. She ran to the door, but there was no sign of him and she sighed and returned to her job.
The knock on her door after she got home that night made her frown. She’d already sent the ever-hopeful Mr. Smith scuttling back to his own apartment and she couldn’t imagine he was stupid enough try again.
“Who is it?” she demanded.
“Special delivery,” came the response in a voice that she couldn’t quite place, but felt that she should know.
Confident that no vampires could get in, and she was stronger than any human stupid enough to try, she opened the door just far enough to see who had knocked. She stared so long, Spike finally shook his head.
“Don’t need to ask me in, luv,” he said with a sigh. “But a ‘hello Spike’ wouldn’t be too much to ask, would it?”
“Hello Spike,” Buffy said. “Why are you here? Why didn’t you just write me back?”
“Because we need to talk, and it would take forever doing it one short note at a time. I’m not getting any older, but you are. Don’t think you’ve got that much time to spare, Slayer.”
Buffy hesitated. “I’m not asking you in, Spike.” She wasn’t sure she hadn’t seen a flash of disappointment and pain cross his face before he nodded.
“Smart thing to do, Slayer,” he said. “Don’t allow the dangerous vampire into your home. Even if you did go runnin’ off leaving your mother in a home he has access to.”
“You’ve been in my house? Without me?” She pulled the stake out from behind her back and started toward him.
“Easy, pet. Said I still had that invite, didn’t say I took advantage of it. Just pointing it out. You can trust me.”
Buffy snorted, then thought about what he’d said. “We had a truce then,” she muttered for lack of a better comeback. “And I thought you were in South America.”
“Was for a while. But as you well know, I’ve been back here. Livin’ right down the street from you actually.”
“So you haven’t been back to Sunnydale?”
“Didn’t say that either. I have been—” He was interrupted by the appearance of the curious building manager.
“I knew you weren’t as goody-goody as you try to pretend, you little slut. What’s this one got that I don’t?”
Before Buffy could respond, Spike turned a cold, blue stare on him, then let his fangs drop.
“Bigger teeth,” he snarled.
The surprised man almost fell down the stairs in his haste to get away from the monster glaring at him.
“Can I eat him, pet?”
Buffy sighed. “No, he’s human. Just kind of a scuzzy one. Let’s go somewhere else to have this talk you think we need. He’d probably give you indigestion,” she added as she collected her stuff.
She slipped the stake into its holster, grabbed a jacket, and pulled the door shut behind her. They descended in silence, pausing at the bottom of the stairs to gaze at Smith’s door. Spike grinned as he heard the locks being slammed into place and furniture being dragged to the door.
“What’s so funny?”
“That wanker. He’s locking and barricading himself in.”
“Good,” Buffy said with her own smile. “Maybe he’ll stay in there and starve to death.”
“If you want him to starve to death, why can’t I eat him? Would be the faster way to go, so a kindness, really.”
“A. I don’t want to be kind to him. And B. You know I’m not going to let you kill somebody, no matter how deserving they may be,” she finished under her breath. His chuckle told her he’d heard it anyway. He held the door for her as they went onto the street and started walking.
“Alright, pet. Let’s find ourselves someplace quiet to talk.”
“It’s almost midnight, Spike. It’s quiet everywhere—”
There was the sound of a scream just ahead of them, and without thinking Buffy ran toward the sound to find a vampire pinning a wino up against the alley wall.
“Let him go,” Buffy ordered, shocked when the vampire just glanced at her, saying, “Wait your turn, blondie. I’ll get to you.”
Buffy turned to Spike, who had followed her at a more leisurely pace and was watching with mild interest.
“Doesn’t he know who I am?”
“Probably not, pet. He’s not very old and you haven’t been workin’ here enough for anyone to know there’s a slayer in town.”
“A what?” The vamp looked back and forth between Spike and Buffy.
“Slayer. The,” Buffy said as she ran her stake into his back. His intended victim slid down the wall and blinked at the dust floating past his face. Without missing a beat, he tipped the bottle he’d never let go of up to his mouth and began to drink.
“You’re welcome,” Buffy said, as she walked away.
“Missing your usual flair, Slayer, but points for the save I reckon.”
As they walked down the street in a surprisingly companionable silence, Buffy put the stake in her waistband.
“I need to get a holster for my back,” she said, as if she discussed weapon storage with Spike every day.
“Good idea, luv,” he agreed. “Might want to get one to allow you to hang a sword down your back too. Be easier than hauling one around with you everywhere.”
“Interesting fact, Spike, I’m pretty sure walking around LA with a sword hanging off my back is going to attract too much attention. Of the police kind,” she added, in case he didn’t get the message.
Spike sighed and gestured to a bench in a small park.
“Have seat, luv, and let’s talk about goin’ back to where you can carry a sword around with you.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, but sat down. “Is this where you tell my why you know my mother is missing me?”
“Could be. Are you going to hear me out?”
He sighed again. “Long story short, Slayer, after you told me what happened, I went back to Sunnyhell and checked in with your mum. Didn’t try to go in the house, and she didn’t invite me in, but I could tell the invite was still good. Was there long enough to know that she’s more than a little sorry for telling you not to come home. Has heard enough from the watcher… and yours truly… to have a bit more understanding about what you are and how little choice you had about it. Pretty sure she drinks herself to sleep most nights.”
“And you know this how?”
“She told me. Not about the drinkin’, I figured that out on my own, but she told me that the watcher had tried to explain, but she was having trouble believing him. So, I added what I could to what he’d told her, and when she didn’t want to believe me…..”
“You flashed your fangs at her?” Buffy’s voice went up.
“Did. Was getting right aggravated that she was being so stubborn about it and I just went into game face without thinkin’.” He gave Buffy a small smile. “Not hard to see whose mum she is. Thought she was going to brain me again, but she was smart enough not to come outside to do it. Stood in the doorway holding a frying pan, though, telling me I’d stay away from her daughter if I knew what was good for me.”
“Go Mom,” Buffy muttered. “But that’s not the same thing as wanting me back.”
“No, but when I finished telling her how selfish she was being, and how unhappy you are, and where and how you’re livin’, she broke down and sobbed. Knew she didn’t want sympathy from a monster, so I just told her I was comin’ back here and really wanted to be able to send you home.”
Buffy stared at him. “I’m not sure I want to go back. I haven’t been the Slayer at all here… and I think I like it.”
He raised his eyebrows at her and she blushed.
“Okay, not so much with the scuzzy landlord, disgusting apartment, and no money, but not having to kill things every night is—”
“Bollocks! That’s a bloody lie and you know it. If you could see yourself after you’ve made a kill, the way your eyes sparkle, the color in your cheeks, the way you carry yourself…. If you could see what I see—the difference between that miserable little girl I first saw here and the brave, amazing one I know you can be…. You’ve changed a lot in the last couple of weeks.”
“Since you started writing to me,” she said softly. “You changed me.”
He shook his head. “All I did was remind you who and what you are, Slayer. You did the changing for yourself.”
“Why, Spike? Why did you do this?” She stared at him, poking him when he tried to look away.
He sighed and shook his head.
“Because you’re the best slayer I’ve ever faced, and you’re still a baby. You could be the best slayer ever if you get the right kind of support. And I want to see you get there. Grownup, adult Buffy is going to be an amazing woman and an amazing slayer. Someday the world is going to need you again, luv.”
“And you like the world,” she said, nodding as she remembered his speech to her when they formed the truce to defeat Angelus and Acathla.
“And I like the world,” he agreed. “Just doin’ my part to keep it going ‘round and ‘round.”
“And you’re sure my mom wants me to come home?”
“She does. No doubt about it. And your friends and your watcher miss you too. They thought Angelus killed you.”
“But now they know he didn’t?”
“Now they know he didn’t.” He didn’t look at her as he spoke but she glared at him anyway.
“Did you terrify everybody while you were telling them?”
He gave a rueful laugh. “Didn’t bother with your friends, jus’ went straight to the watcher after I’d talked to your mum. Had to calm him down a bit, but once I’d explained about the truce an’ all, he settled down. I told him you were in LA, but I didn’t tell him anything else. Left it up to you if and when you want to talk to him.”
“So Willow and Xander don’t know that Angel got his soul back? That I sent my… the man I love… to hell?”
“Not unless the watcher tells them so.” He cocked his head at her, the sympathetic expression in his eyes surprising her. “I figured that was your story to tell… if you choose to.”
Buffy nodded and was silent for several minutes. Then she raised her head and smiled for the first time in months.
“I guess I better get myself back home, huh?”
“It would be my suggestion.” He hesitated. “Could drive you there if you want. Got a couple of loose ends to tie up before I go back to South America. I can spare a couple of days more.”
Buffy shook her head. “I’ll get back the same way I got here. On a bus. I need to quit my job, tell my creepy landlord to get stuffed… it’s going to take a day or so to get myself together. I’ll… I’ll call mom tomorrow and tell her I’m coming. She can meet me at the bus station.”
She stood up, frowning when Spike rose to his feet also. “I’m just going to go back to my room now, Spike. I…” She glanced up to meet his eyes, idly noting how dark they seemed to be in the dim light from the distant street lamp. “Thank you,” she said simply. “I don’t know what else to say, and I don’t know why you did this for me, but I appreciate it.”
“Just go home and grow up to be the amazing woman I know you can be.” He touched her cheek lightly, letting his fingers linger until she began to look uncomfortable, then dropped his hand. The gentle expression on his face faded into a more normal cocky smirk.
“I’ll be in touch, Slayer.”
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