Joyce Summers poured her third cup of coffee black and took a deep swallow. She needed some life to flow into tired body. After her rude awakening at four ayem with Buffy clattering around in her room and coming out to mumble excuses, she had sat at the kitchen table and waited.
Call me Buddy, Buffy had said to her. That rankled. This charade was wearing thin.
She swallowed another gulp, accepting the burn that trailed all the way to her stomach.
Dawn's voice in the silence made her jump. "Yes, honey."
"Buffy is back, isn't she? I heard her moving around, but her door's locked and she won't answer."
"She's … got some problems. Let her have her space for a while."
The clock read seven-twenty-four. "You should get ready for school."
Dawn looked away.
"Oh, right. Summer vacation. I'm a little out of it this morning."
"That's all right," Dawn said. "Are you going to work?"
"No. The gallery's closed all week."
"Well, Melissa and me are going to give each other makeovers. Her mom got a bunch of free samples from Mary Kay."
Joyce smiled wanly. Is she coming here?"
Dawn blurted, "It's right next door."
"Okay, just asking. Be careful anyway, uh? Look around before you step out."
After Dawn left Joyce loaded another coffee with milk and sweetener and sat down. Resting her chin on her palm turned out to be a very restful maneuver, and she slept.
When she awoke the clock read eight-ten, her coffee was cold and her hand was asleep. She shook it and watched Buffy pour coffee into two cups, which emptied the pot.
"Buffy, we have to talk."
Buddy brought the cup to the table.
"Mom, call me Buddy. And I don't have time, I have to tend to Spike."
"Sit down, honey. Please."
Buddy sat. He scratched at two days' growth of beard, jiggling his leg impatiently. His eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. Stress had leached much of the handsomeness from his face.
"You're my … child," Joyce said quietly. "I love you, but –"
"Look, Mom -"
"Listen." Joyce hit the table and a few drops spattered from Buddy's cups. He wiped them up with a napkin.
"Okay, Mom. Please get to the point."
"I don't know what's happened to you. I know, I know, a curse. But honey, you disappeared for more than a week. There are horrible things going on in town, things you're supposed to stop as the Slayer.
"Now you come back from Las Vegas with a wedding ring on, and I'm hoping …" her voice cracked and her eyes brightened, and she blinked away the wetness. "I'm hoping," she went on, "that things will return to normal around here.
"You didn't marry Spike, did you?"
Buddy leaned back and worked his wrists in circles. He exhaled and stretched.
"It's been a long night, Mom, I've been trying. Trying to … be normal. I can't remember why I agreed to go to Vegas. It seemed the thing to do. It's like I lost part of me for a while. No, it's still lost."
He slumped over the table and put his chin on his palm. "Spike and I may have … gone to the Little White Chapel in Vegas, 'cause it's a landmark."
Joyce shut her eyes.
"We may have had a ceremony there."
"You don't know?"
Buddy threw up his hands. "We might have had a few drinks."
Joyce sipped some cold coffee. "I swear," she groaned, "I had such high hopes. None of them was seeing you wind up marrying a transsexual, punk-rock vampire."
Buddy kicked back his chair.
"I have a right!" Joyce's voice turned shrill. "You two are in my house. Having Spike here is costing me, and no one ever thinks of my problems, my responsibilities."
Buddy said flatly, "But you like Spike."
"I don't know anything about him, except he's turning my daughter into some kind of pervert. Oh –"
Her face took on a horrified expression. "I don't know why I said that."
"Because you meant it." Buddy stood and pulled a wad of bills from his pocket. He dropped them on the table. "We'll leave tonight. This will pay for the coffee, and other costs we've run up here."
He picked up the cups and walked out.
Joyce called after him. He didn't answer. She caught up to Buddy as he got to the second floor. "Listen to me, mister!" she threw a hand to her mouth. "You hear that? I called you mister. Like I've accepted you're a man."Buddy kept walking. "I am one, so you might as well accept it."
Joyce followed him. "No, no, no, you're not going to talk to me with that tone. I'm not some bigoted person casting judgment."
Buddy paused at his door. "No, you're just hassling me for something I have no control over. You act like it's my fault. What would you have done, anyway, if one day I brought a girl over and told you I was a lesbian?"
He went into his room.
"Isn't that what you did?"
Joyce gasped as she sighted Spike, lying on Buddy's bed. Blood-encrusted bandages covered her body. Another was wrapped clumsily around her head, and her one eye stared lifelessly at the ceiling.
"My God, Buffy. What happened?" she stepped quickly to the bed. "This is Spike?"
"Yes, Mom. Who else?"
"He needs more than coffee." She touched Spike's chest, frowning with maternal resolution. "Go boil water in two pots. Boil scissors and my circular needle from the sewing kit. Bring the other pot up. I'll get clean bandages."
She started out of the room. As Buddy lingered, she snapped, "Now."
Buddy set the coffee on her dresser and bounded downstairs. Mom's attitude changed as though a switch had been thrown, and it felt good to have her on the case.
Joyce returned with a white first aid bag and sat on the bed. She spread out gauze and tape, and a bottle of peroxide. "We're going to take care of you, Spike. Don't worry about a thing, okay? You're going to be fine."
Spike's eye focused on Joyce, recognition expressed through iris and corona. "I'm sorry," she wheezed, her voice a whisper.
Joyce took her hand, hiding shock at its coldness. "No Spike, I'm sorry. Buffy –" she blinked, then her lips tightened and she continued, "Buddy and I are going to get you through this. I'm glad you're here, and I'm happy to help."
She squeezed Spike's hand, and Spike's delicate fingers gave her a faint squeeze in return.
When Alex Fimple left Teresa's he felt better. He sang with the radio as he drove south, and stopped for directions at a 7-11. The turbaned clerk sullenly pointed him in the right direction.
When he walked into Angel's office Cordelia greeted him.
"Hello sir, welcome to Angel Investigations." She came out from behind her desk and took Alex' hand with both of hers. "Whatever problem you're having, be assured that Angel Investigations can solve it, for a very reasonable fee.
"You know," she went on, "you look very familiar." She snapped her fingers. "You're the actor – Colin Farrell! You're in Minority Report with Tom Cruise, oh, you were so good in that. Should've had Tom's part. This is a coincidence, because I'm an actress too, I'm sure you've seen me. Or not, you're probably too busy.
"I have this agency," she continued, "they're not too good, not fulfilling my full potential, so I'm looking to change. Maybe you can recommend an agency."
Alex opened his mouth.
"Maybe your agency would be good. I can try them, but I kind of want to do it fast, and sometimes they have trouble noticing true talent. You can just tell them, right? I'm sure an important actor like you can tell them to just add me to their talent pool. If I like them, I'll stay. I'm very loyal to a good agency.
"Hey, what are you working on now? I'm not really working here myself, I just stepped in for my sister. She's sick. And-and I'm doing research - for a part. The part of a secretary – it's like Working Girl. I even run around topless like she did."
She puffed out her chest. "See, I have very real, very firm and natural –"
"Cordy, Cordy Cordy," Alex broke in. "I'm Willow. Yeah, Willow, from Sunnydale? A demon spell turned me into a man."
"Well, let's get you to Angel," Cordelia continued without missing a beat. "You two'll have a lot of catching up to do, I'm sure."
She walked Alex to Angel's door and opened it. Angel was at his desk.
"It's Willow," Cordy told him. "She got a sex change or something."
She left and closed the door. Alex said, "Actually Angel –"
"I know what really happened. I saw Buffy." He waved Alex to a chair. "Didn't Buffy mention that I came by?"
Alex sat. He shook his head. "No, we haven't been communicating very much. Buffy's not even in Sunnydale any more."
"Where'd she go?"
Angel was silent.
"The truth is, we've all been doing weird things. Unpredictable. It's this spell, it makes you kind of lose yourself. No, not kind of. Really lose yourself. I almost forgot who I was myself. I just saw a friend who helped get my memories back. But the spell may be working it's magic as we speak. Soon I may think I was born and raised as Alex Fimple."
"Giles chose the name."
"Oh." Angel leaned forward. "You want some coffee … Willow?"
"No. I'm here because I need to get Buffy, Xander, Giles and Spike together so I can help them regain themselves, like me."
"Who else is missing, other than Buffy?"
"All of them."
Angel got up and turned his back on Alex. He leaned against the wall with his head down. Alex looked around the office, noting the spare appointments. A couch, a couple of chairs and a coat rack. No frills business.
"Giles was working on this. What happened to him?"
"He's lost. Ran off with some … glamour guy."
Angel turned and gave him a sour look.
"I thought maybe they came through L.A. I know you've got this place wired, so …"
Angel shrugged. "Any chance of reversing the spell altogether?"
"Maybe. You've heard of Ethan Rayne?"
Angel nodded. 'He had that Halloween costume store, when everyone changed into what they were wearing."
"Um-hm. He's at it again. He's going around Sunnydale, behaving like some demon god. I think he was the one who laid this curse. I – I think he did it to get us out of Sunnydale, or steal power or something. Now we have to get him to renounce the spell. I can't handle this on my own."
Angel took his black jacket off the coat rack. "I'll help you."
Alex glanced at the blinded windows. "It's daylight."
"We can black-out my car. You drive here?"
Angel pulled a roll of duct tape from a drawer and jerked his head toward the door. "I'll follow you in my car."