“I’m not kidding, Giles!”, Buffy said. “Besides, you’ve had him cooped up in here forever. My mom likes him, Dawn likes him, so he can stay at my house.”
Giles sighed and glanced at his Slayer across the dining table. “Buffy. I know that over the last week or so you and Spike have been getting along. Lord knows that he’s been calmer lately. But are you sure? Inviting him in, having him stay in the same house as your mother and sister? He’s still a vampire, and still rather unpredictable.”
Buffy snorted. “Unpredictable. Please.” She laughed. “I’ve got him wrapped, Giles. We’re friends. And he likes Mom and Dawn. He wouldn’t hurt them.”
“What if the chip fails?”
She shrugged. “I asked him that yesterday. He said that he didn’t know what he’d do, but he promised to leave us alone.” She considered a moment. “I don’t think he’d hunt, anyway. He likes being friends with me. And he knows I’d drop him like a hot plate if he ever hunted humans.”
Giles chuckled. “Yes. I suppose you’re right.” Shook his head. “Alright. But on a trial basis only. And remember, you still have to ask your mother. And Spike.”
Buffy grinned. “No problem. And I already asked Mom. She said that he could sleep on the couch. She’s already putting sheets over the windows just in case.”
Giles gave a sigh and stood up. “Very well, then. Now all you have to do is ask Spike.”
She smiled. “I know he’ll say yes anyway.”
“What do you mean you don’t want to!”
Spike shook his head again. “Just what I said. I don’t want to. I’m fine at the Watcher’s.”
Buffy pouted. “Awww. Come on! You can hang out with Dawn, and have cocoa with my Mom, and watch movies, and sleep. You’ll have the run of the house!”
Spike sighed and sat on a tombstone. This was the second night that he’d accompanied the Slayer on patrol that week. The night before, he’d had the pleasant realization that he could kill demons without setting off the chip. A large green and purple demon had cornered Buffy, and Spike had reacted totally on instinct, leaping onto it’s back and breaking it’s neck in one swift move. Then he’d dropped back, waiting for the chip to go off, thinking that it was a delayed reaction. Upon realizing that it wasn’t, they moved on to test this. Stake vampire, no shock. Kill demon, no shock. Throw a rock at a rat, shock. Step on a snail, no shock. Although that last one was an accident. They’d come to the conclusion that he couldn’t harm any living thing with the exception of insects and slimy creatures like snails. They’d looked for a snake, or a frog to test the ‘Can’t Hurt Warm-Blooded Animals, Can Hurt Cold-Blooded’ theory, but hadn’t been able to find one. Still, it was good enough for Spike. He could get in a little of the violence that he craved, and still keep his friendship with the Slayer. Perfect arrangement. “It sounds so good, luv. I just…”
She crouched in front of him. “You’re nervous again.”
Slight nod. “Yeah. I keep waiting to wake up and you’ll hate me again.”
She looked in his eyes and placed her hands on his knees. “Not going to happen, okay? Now, come on, or else.”
He chuckled and looked down at her. “Or else? Or else what?”
She laughed. “Or else I’ll tell Dawn about you being ticklish. In detail. And then I’ll hold you down for her.” She squeezed his knees gently.
He laughed and jerked back from her, nearly falling off the tombstone backwards in the process. “Okay! I give!”
She grinned and stopped her playful kneading of his knees. “So you’ll come home with me?”
He chuckled. “Yeah. You talked me into it. Under threat of torture, no less.”
She snorted and stood up. “Oh, please. You love it and you know it.”
He chuckled and stood to follow her. “I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with that, Slayer.”
She waited till he fell into step beside her, and slipped her arm around his waist, letting him rest his across her shoulders, and then she leaned her head against his chest as they walked. “Yeah, yeah. I already know the answer, anyway.”
The vampire just chuckled.
“Ahhh! Help! Vampire!!”, Dawn screamed, running around the backyard with Spike hot on her heels, game face fully in place. “Oh, won’t someone save me?!”
Buffy jumped off the porch as the pair rounded the lawn again and flying tackled Spike to the ground. “Never fear, Super Slayer is here! I will take this- AHH! Spike! Stop it!!!” In the middle of her superhero rant, the vampire had started tickling her sides. Buffy squealed and yelled to Dawn for help. The youngest Summers just watched the two wrestling on the grass.
“I’m sorry, Buffy. I didn’t quite catch that. What did you say?”, she said with a giggle.
Spike grinned up at Dawn, and mouthed something to her, without pausing his tickling of the Slayer. Dawn grinned back. “What’s the magic word?”, she asked her helplessly giggling sister.
Buffy squealed when Spike got too near her bellybutton. “Pleeehe-he-hessssee!!”
Dawn grinned. “But she didn’t say who I’m supposed to help. Oh well. Move over, Spike.” She pounced on her sister, helping Spike by going for Buffy’s waist and lightly pinching furiously. This sent the Slayer into gales of laughter. She couldn’t fight off both Spike and Dawn at the same time.
From the back porch, Joyce Summers watched the three playing in the yard. Spike had been added to the household five days earlier, and had already proven himself indispensable. He cooked dinner, which had surprised Joyce when she’d come home late from the Gallery. He cleaned up after himself, as fastidious as a cat. AND, he looked after both Dawn and Buffy like some sort of big brother with fangs. Joyce chuckled at the scene in the backyard and shook her head. Poor Buffy. She’d have to do something.
Spike and Dawn were so focused on torturing the Slayer that neither of them noticed Joyce approaching from behind. She gauged who was dishing out the torment the worst, and found it to be Spike. So, the mother of two did the only thing she could do, she leaned over and dug her fingers into the vampire’s side in a movement that must be taught to mothers at some parenting class. The effect was instantaneous. Spike howled with laughter and rolled off Buffy, trying to shake off Joyce. Dawn’s eyes grew huge as Buffy turned the tables on her, tickling her younger sister mercilessly. After about ten minutes of payback, the two sisters got up, both still giggling up a storm, and walked over to where Spike and Joyce were now sitting on the back porch stairs. Spike was still chuckling, and grinned widely when Dawn climbed into his lap and hugged him tightly.
The four stayed on the porch for a long time, talking about anything and everything that came to mind, until nearly ten pm. Joyce decided then that they’d been up long enough, even for a Friday night, and insisted that it was time for them all to go get some sleep. Buffy agreed. Dawn probably would have, except that she had fallen asleep in Spike’s lap about an hour earlier, and he’d carried her up to bed, then come back to join the mother and daughter on the porch.
Now, yawning widely, the trio trooped back into the house. Exhausted, Spike flopped on the couch and waved good night to Buffy and Joyce as they made their way upstairs. He yawned again, and removed his shirt, socks, and shoes, then grabbed the comforter that was draped over the back of the couch and pulled it up over himself. Snuggled down against the pillow, and was soon sound asleep.
In the middle of the night, an electrical storm began. Loud, rolling thunder and lightning flashes lit up the night. Spike groaned and pulled the comforter up over his head to try and block out the annoying sound that was keeping him awake.
Upstairs, Dawn woke up and sat straight up in bed. Thunder boomed again. She glared at her window. She hated thunderstorms. Passionately. She wasn’t scared of them. Not really, but still. Buffy’s bed was probably a safer place to be, in case the power went out or something. She picked up her stuffed cow, Spot, and walked down the hall to her sister’s room. The door was open slightly, so she just pushed it the rest of the way. “Buffy?”
Shook the Slayer gently. “Buffy, wake up.”
“Mm. What?”, Buffy said groggily. At that moment, thunder crashed outside and both sisters jumped. “I’m awake.”
Dawn looked at her sheepishly. “Can I sleep in here? Till the storm goes away?”
Buffy sighed. It wasn’t the first time, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last. She scooted over. “Sure, Dawnie. Climb in.”
Neither of them could sleep, what with the thunder BOOMing every two minutes or so. So it wasn’t really a surprise that they were awake to see the bathroom light come on. Water running. Toilet flushed. Light off. Dawn looked at Buffy, an unspoken question in her eyes. Buffy sighed and nodded. Dawn got up and went into the hall. “Spike?”
The vampire at the top of the stairs turned around. “Bit? What’re you doin’ up?”
She shook her head. “Can’t sleep. Buffy says you can come in here with us, if you want.”
He cocked his head at her. “Really?”
She nodded emphatically. “Yeah. We can’t sleep with all the noise.”
He chuckled and walked with her back into the Slayer’s room. “To tell you the truth, those flashes of bright light aren’t doin’ too much for my sleep cycle, either.”
From the bed, Buffy smiled. “Climb on. Thank God Mom bought us queen sized beds.”
Spike chuckled and got on the bed next to Dawn. She rolled over him so that he was squashed between the two sisters. Spike rolled onto his side, making himself comfortable. Dawn and Buffy both snuggled close, Dawn with her back against his stomach, and Buffy against his back with one arm slung over his side. Spike pulled the sheet up over the three of them and then put an arm over Dawn in the same position that Buffy was with him. In unison, all three sighed, then started laughing a little at the strangeness of that particular motion.
They lay together in silence for awhile, with the girls snuggling closer to Spike every time there was a BOOM outside. Finally, Dawn posed a question. “Spike?”
“Can you tell us a story?”
“That depends on your sister.”
Against his back, Buffy nodded. “Ok. But nothing scary. Maybe.. a fairy tale, or something?”
Spike chuckled. “At this moment, the two of you are cuddling a vampire. Remind me again what constitutes ‘scary’.”
Dawn giggled. “Not you.”
Spike used the arm that he had around her to squeeze her a little. “Oh yeah? Why not?”
Behind him, Buffy laughed quietly. “Dawnie, do you want to tell him, or should I?”
Dawn rolled over a little so that she could look up at him. “Because no one, vampire or not, who likes to cook, and play, and be tickled, and cuddle can be really scary. No matter what you look like with fangs, which I think is cool, by the way. And you have pretty eyes. Both ways.”
Spike was very glad at that moment that it was impossible for vampires to blush. He cleared his throat. “Oh. Okay. So.. story, huh?”
Both Summers nodded, even though he could only see one.
“Okay. Give me a minute to think of one.”
Buffy gently squeezed him from behind. “Hurry, please.”
He chuckled. “Okay. Well, once upon a time, there was a dog who lived in a nice home, in a nice neighborhood, and had a wonderful family to play with. He was happy where he was, and never wanted to leave.”
“What was the dog’s name?”, Dawn asked.
Spike thought for a moment. “Prince. He was a Australian Shepard mix.”
Buffy smiled. “Does that mean he had blue eyes?”
Spike moved his body a little to bump her backwards. “Who’s telling the story? Me, or you?”
“Thank you.” The vampire cleared his throat. “But yes, he did.”
Both girls giggled. Spike ignored them and continued. “One day, his family took Prince to a nearby field to play. He played with the other dogs, and then something in the sky caught his eye. It was a hawk, soaring high up at the bellies of the clouds. Prince was excited. That creature could fly! He barked at the hawk and was surprised when the bird called back and swooped low toward him. He got very excited, and began to bark at the hawk some more. Suddenly, the hawk buzzed him extremely close. It was an invitation to race. Prince accepted and ran after the now low flying hawk. He ran as fast as he could go, and actually passed his new flying friend, then skidded to a stop and reared up on his hind legs. The hawk screeched happily and flew around him a couple of times, before returning to the sky. About that time, Prince heard his family calling him. Reluctantly, he turned from watching the hawk and ran back to his family.”
The vampire paused to gather his thoughts, then continued. “A few days later, Prince was resting in his dog house in the back yard, when he caught sight of a strange dog outside the fence. Wanting to defend his territory, he got up and barked at the dog, but his collar that was chained to his house wouldn’t allow him to get close enough to properly defend his territory. So, what did he do? He slipped his collar and leaped over the fence after the strange dog. He chased the dog until he had lost sight of it. He was certain that he was out of his territory, anyway, so he turned to go home, but suddenly, a loop went around his neck and tightened! Prince was trapped. He growled and snarled, shaking his head and trying to escape, but that only made the loop get tighter. He was dragged over to a truck and thrown in the back, into a cage.”
“Oh no!”, Dawn said. “How does he get out?”
“I’m getting there, Bit. The truck was a pound truck. And he wasn’t wearing his collar. The truck took him to a pound far from his home, in a different part of town where the buildings were all run down and broken. There, he was pulled from the truck and thrown into another cage with two other dogs. A female German Shepard mix, and a male Husky. Prince and the Husky, who’s name was Charger, didn’t get along at all from the start. But the female, one Misty by name, well.. that was a different story. Prince was instantly in love. Misty on the other hand, well, she only had eyes for Charger.”
“That sucks,” Buffy said quietly.
Spike chuckled. “Yeah. It does. It’s.. hard to be in love with someone who you know doesn’t want you like that. See, Misty just wanted to be friends, and Prince liked being with her so much, that he was afraid to tell her how he really felt.” He took a deep breath, hoping that he hadn’t been *too* obvious with that remark, then continued. “Anyway. The pound had rules. In order to make room for new arrivals, dogs that had been there longer than a month had to be.. eliminated.”
“Eliminated?”, Dawn asked. “You mean put to sleep!?”
“Unfortunately, yeah,” the vampire replied. “And the pound marked the cages with a red notice that had the unlucky animal’s name on it. One day, when they came back from their evening run in the exercise yard, there was a red notice on their cage door. Prince stood up and read it. It wasn’t his, and it wasn’t Misty’s. Charger’s time would be up in three days. Now, Prince was secretly excited by this. Once Charger was out of the way, he could finally tell Misty how he felt. But Misty was destroyed. She loved Charger, and didn’t want to live without him. She confided in Prince that if Charger was put down, she would stop eating. Prince couldn’t allow that, so he began coming up with a plan to get all three of them out of there. See, he’d rather save Charger and keep Misty happy, than be able to tell her that he loved her, and know that she would still be broken-hearted over Charger.”
Against his back, Buffy nodded. “Makes sense.”
“Anyway, he decided that the next time that they were in the exercise yard, he would jump the fence. It wasn’t any higher than the one in his yard, anyway. Then, when he distracted the guard at the gate, Charger and Misty could sneak over the fence as well. Well, the plan worked perfectly, and the three dogs were free by that night.”
“Yay!”, Dawn said. “Now Prince can go home.”
Spike chuckled. “Not quite, Bit. Remember, he’s in love. Misty and Charger were street dogs. They’d never had a family, and wouldn’t listen to him when he tried to tell them that humans were wonderful companions. Especially children. He thought he was getting through to Misty, but Charger was adamant. No humans. So Prince stayed with them, learning the way of the streets. Finally, he felt that he could pretend no longer, and decided to strike out for home. He knew that he had no chance with Misty, and he would just have to leave. He missed his humans, and thought about them all the time. His humans probably missed him, too. He was getting worried about them, especially the youngest girl. So, one night, even though it broke his heart to do so, he said goodbye to Misty. And under the full moon, he finally got up the courage to tell her that he loved her. To his dismay, she didn’t even say anything, just turned and gazed at the moon. Finally, she told him that he should go. If Charger found out, he’d kill him for sure.”
“I don’t like Charger,” Dawn said. “That’s so horrible. She didn’t even say goodbye?”
Spike shook his head. “No. She didn’t want to give him any hope. Prince was heart-broken. He left, but wasn’t heading anywhere in particular. He knew he should head for where his heart told him that home was, but he just couldn’t do it. He found himself in a railroad yard, and found a hollowed out place near a track to lie down. What was the point anymore? His family had probably gotten a new dog. Misty couldn’t love him. Prince was seriously considering throwing himself in front of the next train and ending his miserable life.”
“No!”, Buffy said. “There’s hope! He has to see that there’s hope. Even when you’re heart-broken, you have to see past it.”
Spike nodded again. “Yeah, but is it that easy to see without someone to tell you that? Prince had no one. He was all alone in the world. The longer he lay there, the more he allowed self-pity to rule, the more he became convinced that his life didn’t have meaning, and that he should end it. In his mind, the bugle had sounded. He couldn’t go on. He couldn’t even start. He had nothing left, just an empty heart. There wasn’t a road he knew that lead to anywhere. Without a light, he knew he would stumble in the darkness of his mind, so to him, it made more sense just to lay right down and decide not to go on.”
A tear ran down Dawn’s cheek. “This is so sad. Does it have a happy ending?”
Spike squeezed her gently. “Let me finish, and you’ll see.” Took another deep breath. “Then, the sun broke through the clouds, and a single ray seemed to shine from heaven right onto him. He looked up, thinking that he could move away from the light, and was shocked to see a hawk circling above, coming lower and lower. He watched the bird. Could it be possible? Yes! It was the same hawk that he’d befriended in the field on that day so long ago! The hawk landed nearby and called to him. It was like a sign from on high. A voice calling for him to remember who he was. If he lost himself, his courage would soon follow, so he had to be strong, and remember who he was.”
“Yay, hawk!”, Buffy said happily.
“Prince stood up, his eyes locked on the bird, and shook the dust from his coat. The hawk was right. He had to get home. Thoughts of his family had brought him this far, they could get him home. He was a soldier right then. Fighting in a battle to be home once again. And suddenly he knew, that was worth fighting for. He barked for the hawk to lead the way. The bird lifted into the air and flew in the direction that Prince knew that he must go. He followed the bird through the train yard, ducking under parked trains and crossing over tracks. Finally, they reached a small hill that over looked Prince’s old neighborhood. The hawk called from above, and Prince was suddenly filled with the knowledge that something was wrong. He had to get home, right that instant. He’d always been fast, but now he ran like the wind. He shot down the hill and into town. He cut across streets, barely missing being hit by several cars. He dodged around people on sidewalks and shot through a drainage pipe. His heart knew the way, so he let it lead. He ran as fast as he could, the wind whipping his ears and tail. Finally he turned onto his own street, and saw his house. There was a burglar trying to break into the window! He charged, barking at the top of his lungs. The burglar saw him and panicked, he turned to run, jumping over a fence and into the neighbor’s yard, Prince followed. He was gaining on the burglar, but needed a way to take him down. That’s when he saw the Mack truck. He passed the burglar, leaped up onto the hood, then the cab, then the trailer, ran the length of the trailer, and dove off, just as the burglar ran beneath him. He hit the burglar full force on his back, and knocked the human to the ground. He held him there until the police arrived and arrested him, then the poor dog collapsed from exhaustion.”
“Oh no!”, Dawn said. “He’s okay, though, right?”
Spike grinned. “Again, you’re getting ahead of me. Turned out that the burglar had been terrorizing that neighborhood for quite some time. The police were very grateful to Prince for capturing him, and they paid for a vet to check him out. During this check, a microchip was located in his ear that gave his home address and phone number. His family was called, and they came and picked him up. After a few days, he was as good as new. Mostly.”
“Mostly?”, Buffy asked. “He’s home! Why isn’t he-” She paused, her mouth forming an ‘o’ when she realized it. “Misty.”
Spike nodded. “Yeah. He was home, but he’d left a part of his heart back there on that bluff under the full moon.”
Dawn sniffed. “That’s not fair. I want a happy ending.”
“I didn’t say that was the end, did I?”, Spike said with a grin. “One day, about a month later, Prince was laying in his backyard, watching his humans play, when he caught a scent. At first, he thought he was losing his mind. He’d thought about her so often that now he was smelling her. Then, he heard a bark from the gate that lead to the front yard. Still thinking he was hallucinating, he turned around, and froze. There was Misty, alone, standing outside his gate.”
Dawn and Buffy smiled.
“Well, at first, Prince didn’t know what to do. He just stood there, staring at her. He shook his head and looked again, but she was still there. He wasn’t dreaming. He gave a happy bark that she returned, and ran to the gate. Misty leaped over the gate, and the two dogs allowed themselves to collide and fall to the ground in a tangle of wagging tails and scrabbling legs. When they’d gotten through with their initial greeting, Prince asked where Charger was. Misty told him that it was Charger who had told her to go. After Prince had left, Misty’d been miserable. Finally, Charger realized that Misty really loved Prince. Not wanting to stand in the way of her happiness, he had told her to go. She’d argued at first, but Charger’d insisted, so she left to find him. And here she was. Prince’s family loved Misty, and they adopted her on the spot, she became a permanent addition to the family, and was never a stray again. As for Prince.. Well, lets just say that Australian and German Shepherds make beautiful puppies.” Deep sigh. “And they lived happily ever after,” the vampire concluded.
Simultaneously, both Summers hugged him tightly. “That was a great story,” Dawn said, nuzzling under his chin happily.
“Yeah, Spike,” Buffy agreed, squeezing him from behind. “Really nice story. And look. The storm’s stopped. We can go to sleep, now.”
Dawn raised herself up to look over Spike at her sister. “Can we stay here anyway? I’m comfortable.”
Buffy laughed a little. “Of course. Assuming Spike wants to stay as well.”
Spike yawned. “Does that answer your question?”
Buffy grinned and snuggled back down behind him. “Works for me.”
Dawn cuddled to the vampire’s chest. “Me too.” Slowly, the trio fell into a deep and wonderful sleep.
Unbeknownst to them, Joyce had been standing outside the door for quite some time, and had heard all of Spike’s story. She came into the room quietly, and pulled the covers up over the three of them. She turned to leave, then turned back and looked at them. She smiled at them one last time, and closed the door. Suddenly, as she considered their positions, a hidden meaning in the vampire’s story suddenly appeared. Joyce sighed as she returned to her room. She said quietly, to no one in particular, “I hope he realizes, someday, that he isn’t a stray anymore, either.”