Chapter 3: Certain Signs

Dawn strode down the barely lit street, heels clacking like a particularly cross woodpecker.

"I am so never speaking to you again," she said furiously.

"Look, Dawnie, maybe I was a little harsh, but you don't know everything -" Humiliatingly, Buffy had to scurry to keep up with her long-legged younger sister.

Dawn stopped short to glare at her, rubbing a tear from her cheek.

"Know what? That Spike finally came home and he's helping people and being all nice and everything and you just decide to treat him like dirt again? What's there to understand, Buffy?"

"He hasn't really changed at all!" Buffy said, hearing her own voice grow shrill. Dawn had some nerve defending Spike to her; time and again she'd bent over backwards to give him a break. "What do you think he was doing here at this hour with those crooks? He's right back into the same stuff as before; he'll be harboring demon eggs - evil demon eggs," she added, with a glance at Anya, "before you know it."

"He's a vampire, Buffy; of course he hangs out at night. And how do you know they were crooks? And, anyway, I don't believe that stuff about eggs -- that's just what Riley told you."

"Riley wouldn't lie to me - "

"Oh, right; he told you ALL about his vampire prostitutes. I'm not an idiot, Buffy -- I know what happened between you two."

"Actually, I think that was Wally, not a crook," Anya interrupted calmly as Buffy opened her mouth for an indignant reply. "I don't like to interfere in a family brawl, but you seem to be veering off track, anyway, and one might as well be accurate."

The sisters gaped at her.

"What?!" Dawn yelped.

"You know, the blue-skinned man. Or I suppose he's not exactly a man; the one who helped Spike save Angel," Anya explained helpfully. "Spike said his name was Wally. I recognized him from the little ship. Boat."

Buffy suddenly felt as though the pavement was crumbling beneath her feet. Damn, damn, damn. Of course. She'd been so angry seeing Spike with that loan shark she'd barely even glanced at the third person.

Wally the mer-man. Spike had looked so happy explaining the little souvenir boat his friends had sent him, complete with models of Gunn, Fred, Captain Jack, Wally, Spike and Angel, and telling the three girls the whole adventure. She pressed her fingers to her trembling lips. She'd been so sure he would disappoint her again, that he hadn't changed, that it couldn't be true. (Those words kept echoing in her head since seeing him that day. 'It couldn't be true.')

"Oh, my God," she whispered. "Why didn't he say something? They just ran off so I thought -"

"It looked to me like they were helping that shark-y person," Anya said. "He didn't look well."

"Why do you have to be so mean, Buffy?" Dawn said sadly. "Why did you just assume he did something bad?"

Buffy stared unseeingly up the street in the direction Spike and his companions had gone. "He just drives me crazy; I can't help it. I don't know why."

For a brief, significant moment, the other two girls' eyes met. They both had a pretty good idea why he drove her so crazy, as a matter of fact, but with really heroic self-control neither one said anything. However annoying she was being, it was obvious Buffy wasn't ready to hear it. Dawn put a comforting arm around her.

"Well, I guess you can apologize next time you see him," she said, trying to be cheerful. "Let's go home to bed; Mom said things always look better in the morning."

"And that's really true, you know," Anya said kindly. "Your mother was very smart."

Spike steeled his nerves. Just a few deep breaths and he'd be fine. Sure this was scary, but there was nothing for it. He was trapped; there was no other way out that he could see. And after all, he'd faced worse things, and not too long ago, either; how bad could it be?

He waited, trying to keep his gut from clenching. One ring; two rings. Bollocks, they should be home by now. Three rings - oh.


"Hello, Slayer?"

"Spike?" Was she all right? She sounded funny. "Are you calling me on the phone?"

Why did she always ask that? They were talking, weren't they? What else could he be doing?

"Right. See, here's the thing, Slayer; I've got a social dilemma on my hands."

"What are you talking about?" THAT sounded more like his Slayer. Pissed off. "At this hour? Quiet, Dawn. And go to bed."

"See, well, I've sort of got Xander and I don't know what to do with him," he explained. "Is Anya there?"

"What do you mean, you've got um, him?" From her reluctance to say the name, he deduced she didn't want someone there to know what was going on. Maybe more than one someone.

"Well, to put it bluntly, he passed out in the street, pissed as a newt, and I just happened to fall over 'im, like." This wasn't strictly true, but why worry her unduly? Bad enough the way it was.

"Oh, my God, is he okay?"

"Will be after he sleeps it off; he'll have a bastard of a hangover, I should imagine," he said as one with deep and broad knowledge of similar situations. "No damage I can see. But he's out cold, Slayer; where should I put 'im? Where's he live now? I'm out of the loop. His parents' house? The apartment? Anya's not there, is she? Because she probably doesn't want to see this. The Niblet, either."

"Tell me where you are; I'll be right over." Buffy said decisively. He heard paper rustle as she scribbled the address he gave her -- 99 Deuce Lane.

Spike sat on the front steps of the neatly kept brownstone, waiting and smoking thoughtfully. He was just as glad to grab a few minutes downtime; so far it had been a busy night. He saw Joyce's SUV pull up behind Wally's Cruiser - funny how he always thought of it as her mum's wheels, not Buffy's - and rose, dropping his cigarette and grinding it out with his boot.

"Oi, Slayer!" he said, as she slammed the door and rushed towards him, her face worried. "No need for four alarms; he's not going anywhere."

"Are you sure he's okay?"

"He'll have a hell of a headache, eventually."

Suddenly she seemed self-conscious.

"Spike," she said uncertainly, not quite meeting his eyes, "I'm really sorry for what I said before. I was out of line."

He took her by the arm and turned her around, making a show of peering closely at her back.

"What?" she asked, puzzled.

"Did Red fix you before she left?" he said, deadpan. "I thought you were the real Buffy for a minute there."

"What? But I am -- oh, ha, ha, very funny," she said crossly. "Where are we, anyway? I've never been to this part of town before."

"No reason you should; it's Demon Town," he said, taking her elbow in a gentlemanly manner and helping her up the steps -- which was a good thing, because she was still tottering on the four-inch heels she wore to the Bronze. "But I know one person who can cope with any eventuality, and this is where she lives. Besides, she's got a phone."

As they approached the natty green-painted front door it opened, and a middle-aged (as far as one could tell), entirely benevolent-looking lady demon wearing a twinset stood in the entrance.

"Spike, how many times I tell you to wipe feet?" Mrs. Caprescu said, her earrings bobbing. "You get vamp dust on my carpet. Hello, young lady."

"Well, I was kind of busy when I came in, wasn't I, Mrs. C?" he protested. "This is Xander's friend, Buffy --"

"The Slayer, I know, I know," she said warmly, her ruby eyes welcoming, "Come in, Buffy. Nice to meet you. Your friend is inside."

Buffy followed her in, throwing a desperate glance at Spike. As their hostess preceded them down a hallway, he bent to whisper hastily in her ear, "Mrs. Caprescu. Clem's mum." Enlightenment washed over her face, and Spike saw her shoulders relax a bit.

Mrs. C took them into her neat kitchen. Xander was lying in an unattractive, hops-scented heap on the floor, dead to the world. Spike wondered idly just how long it would take to get that pissed on American beer. He didn't hold with it, himself; if you were going to get well and truly sozzled, might as well go for the good stuff. But to each his own. Then he glanced at Buffy's troubled face and suddenly regretted taking it so lightly. Damn. He was sympathizing again.

"It's not good for young man to drink so much," Mrs. Caprescu said. "But he be okay in a few hours - except very sorry for himself. You want to take him home?"

"I guess it'll have to be my house," Buffy said. "I hate to put you to all this trouble, Mrs. Caprescu, at this time of night."

"What are friends for? Anyway, is not so late for us," she said. "Spike, you can carry? Want me to call Clem?"

"No worries, love," Spike said easily. He felt inexpressibly relieved. Buffy was being a perfect lady and two of his favorite girls were getting on all right. Nothing like an emergency to bring out the best in women; he'd noticed that before through the decades. "Slayer and I can handle 'im."

"He that is thy friend indeed
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep;
Thus of every grief, in heart,
He with thee doth bear a part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flatt'ring foe."

Richard Barnfield

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