Buffy purposefully called Giles back when she knew he would be in a meeting, just so she could leave a voice mail.
“Hey, Giles. We’re back safe and sound, and have a lot to do, so I’ll talk to you later. Bye!”
Andrew sauntered into the kitchen, dressed in his tweed. “Good morning, Boss Lady. I went shopping and re-stocked the fridge last night, so you have all your favorites.”
“Andrew, it’s summer, in Rome. Aren’t you hot in that suit? And please! Go get a haircut! No one living in my house should look that un-cool!”
“Go! Don’t come back unless you look appropriate.” Buffy shooed him out the door and sighed in relief. Now, she could actually get things done without His Ultimate Nosiness around. Like getting her sister to start packing. The sooner Dawn was on her way around Europe, the sooner she could start making plans to get back to L.A.
“Dawn! Get out of bed. You need to start packing up your stuff so I can ship you off to London!”
“Bufyyyyy! We just got home yesterday! I need time to adjust. We lost a freakin’ day with the time difference!”
“Dawnie, I’m just gonna keep knocking on your door every 10 minutes, so you might as well give up. I want you up and fed by the time I get back from fetching more boxes,” Buffy ordered.
“Fine, geeze…I’m so glad I won’t have to deal with your wake-up calls on my trip,” the teen grumbled.
Buffy smiled and shook her head in the hall. She was really going to miss that. Sitting in the kitchen, she made a list of stuff to do:
1. Get more boxes.
2. Look up L.A. jobs on the Internet just in case Giles fires me.
3. Look up apartments.
4. Make sure Dawn sends her applications for college.
5. Avoid Giles’ calls so he can’t grill me about Spike and Angel. File L.A. status report. (God, those things are boring!)
She got out her bicycle, readjusted the seat since Andrew had obviously been using it, and pedaled off to do her errands.
Corinne would be out of work once summer school was over. She still wasn’t sure what she was going to do for the rest of the summer. Spike offered to help out, but she declined.
“I’ll probably just go back home. My mother’s been bugging me about seeing me more often.”
“I thought you only like spending time with her in small doses. Come stay at the hotel, pet. Then, if you happen to find a temporary job, you can save all of your dosh for finding a good place in September. Come on…you really don’t want to leave me by my lonesome with the Brooding Wonder all summer, do you?” Spike cajoled.
That pout really wasn’t fair. “Hmm, I’ll think about it.”
“Good. So, when do I get to meet this mysterious music lover of yours?”
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t. He’s just a friend, an acquaintance, really. We talk about music or art, and that’s about it. I probably won’t even hear from him anymore once he’s used to the city.”
“Oh? Where’s this bloke from?” Spike probed further.
“Somewhere in Europe, originally. I can’t place the accent, so I couldn’t tell ya. Now, shut up. The movie’s starting.” Charlotte turned her head to the screen, effectively saying she wasn’t going to talk anymore.
He grumbled, until the opening music for “Spiderman 2” started to roll. With Buffy still handling things in Rome and Dawn in England, Spike didn’t have a lot of people to spend his free time with, so he and Charlotte were out often. He thought of looking up Clem again. It was always good to stay in touch with someone you could trust.
Dawn sent lots of notes and postcards. She managed to tolerate staying with Willow for exactly three weeks, before deciding to start her adventures. Giles’ constant needling about what happened in L.A. didn’t exactly encourage her to stay, either.
“Got another postcard from Dawn today,” Spike announced as they walked out of the theater.
“Really? What’d she say?”
“She’s moved on to Scotland to see some castles. Said she’s just flitting through the rest of the UK, then heading for Paris, and she’ll give us a ring. Paris…it’d be a great city, if it wasn’t filled with the French,” he replied.
Charlotte scowled and swatted his arm. “Hey! I’m a quarter French, you know!”
The vampire put on his patented smirk. “Knew there was something I didn’t like about you,” he teased.
“Jerk,” she retorted, without any venom. “Have you heard from Buffy, too?”
The smiled faded. “Not in a week, or so. She’s probably just busy…” he replied evenly, like it was no big deal. Except that it was.
“Mm, maybe. Her life is probably in limbo until they hear about Dawn’s college applications. I suppose her boyfriend will have a say, too.” Charlotte glanced sideways at her friend.
“Oh, that wanker definitely won’t want her moving here, nor will her Watcher, for that matter.”
“Do you want her here?” she asked, as they reached the Viper.
Spike glanced to the heavens and sighed. “I don’t know, pet. I’m torn…I really am. Part of me always longs to be near her, while the other…wonders how much I’ll lose if she is.”
“You don’t trust her.”
He chuckled, shaking his head. “I don’t know. We’ve mended a lot of fences, it’s true, but…well, I’ve said it before – loving Buffy was bloody hard, in practice. We’ve hashed all this out before, luv, and I really don’t feel like it now, yeah?”
“Sure. We’ve been having a good evening…no sense making it a downer,” she agreed, smiling up at him. Charlotte received a smile in return as Spike unlocked her door.
“Night is young. Where to, now?”
“Wherever you’d like, Spike,” the brunette chirped.
“Cara mia, it took so long to catch up you. You wouldn’t be dodging me, would you?” The Immortal purred once Buffy opened the door.
“No! No, of course, not, Paolo…um, what brings you by?” Buffy nervously replied.
He swept in, catching her around the waist and murmuring in her ear, “I’ve missed you. You were gone ever so long. How is the little senorina…Dawn?”
“F-fine. She’s fine. Traveling Europe as we speak. College comes in January…”
“Mmm-hmm…” he hummed, not really paying attention. Buffy wondered when exactly they’d moved to her couch, with her on his lap.
She popped to her feet, making him pout in disappointment. “How about we go out to dinner and I’ll tell you about my trip, okay? I’m really hungry!” Buffy grabbed her purse and opened the front door, nodding like a bobble-head.
Paolo’s charming smile slipped back into place. “Of course. Anything you like, cara. Summer cuisine in Rome is ever so nice.”
“Cool. Let’s go.”
So, Buffy could admit she was being a bit of a coward. Was it really that wrong of her to enjoy one last expensive dinner, though? Paolo really did get the best tables. Anyway, she knew she needed to break up with him, that this just wasn’t going anywhere. She wasn’t cookie dough, yet, and her dough was definitely not going to the Immortal. She was the only one who’d ever liked him, anyway…well, and Andrew, but that was only to copy his “cool”. So yeah, she’d break up with him after dessert, and maybe some wine…and dancing…
Angel liked having a routine. Wake up mid-afternoon, eat breakfast, do a little tai chi, check his messages, and be ready to head out on the streets come sundown. Lather, rinse, repeat. Just because you could set a clock by how he did things…didn’t make him boring. It was efficient, comforting…
“You’re such an old man sometimes,” Nina teased.
“Come on, grandpa…let’s go do something fun! Enjoy a little culture?” she nudged. “Spend time around people?”
“We see people…”
“Connor and Spike saying hello in passing is not ‘seeing people’! Angel…take me out, please? Beyond a taco stand or Chinese food?!” she reiterated. “I know you’ve seen just about everything in your long life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a good time.”
He rose from his chair and came around the desk to run his hands over her shoulders. “Okay, if it means that much to you. Cordelia used to tell me the same thing, so I guess I should take the hint,” Angel replied with a soft smile. “It’s easy to fall into old habits.”
“I know. Just let me show you a bit of my world, okay? I promise you’ll have fun.”
“Fun? My grandsire doesn’t have that word in his vocabulary, pet, but best of luck,” Spike interjected. “Any messages for me?”
Angel grinned. “Nope. Same as yesterday. When are you moving out?”
The younger vamp sprawled in the desk chair. “Aw, Peaches, you know you love having me around.” Spike put his feet up on the desk. “Toddle off, now. Nina, you look lovely this evening.”
“Thanks, Spike.” She tugged hard on Angel’s arm. “Let’s go.”
Spike chuckled, watching the blonde pull Angel about like he was just a puny human. As much as he liked needling his grandsire, they’d reconciled enough that he wished the couple happiness…as long as it wasn’t too happy. Which reminded him that he really had to remind Angel to call the Muses about anchoring that pesky soul. No one needed to see Angelus ever again.
Hard to believe they were in business together…well, sort of. Spike stuck around to see clients when Nina wanted to drag the Poof somewhere. Sometimes the boy came in, curious for answers his father was too uncomfortable to share, or didn’t know. Sometimes, they didn’t talk about Angel at all. It made sense, really, since Spike was the only one left not involved with the kid’s crazy upbringing. But thinking about Angel having offspring led to daydreams of what children with Buffy would be like, and that train of thought had to cut off, right now.
One week of not hearing from Buffy had stretched into three, and Spike was resigning himself to being out of sight, out of mind again. The number to her apartment in Rome was in that address book on the desk, but he would not call. Nuh-uh. The days were past when he would beg her for anything, and if she wanted him, she knew where he was. It was one reason why he hadn’t moved on to a city he liked better already. Dawn would be coming in January, with or without her sister, anyway, and he’d promised he’d be there for her. She must be spending a bloody fortune on overseas calls, but she still gave him a ring every couple days.
And Charlotte…she was a reason to stay, too. His anchor to everyday life. Without her friendship, he probably would have taken off right away…drifting around like a lonely, pathetic fool. And never run into Buffy again. He’d have made himself useful, of course, maybe helped out a baby Slayer or two, but…well, it wasn’t worth dwelling on since it wasn’t his life now, was it? He had a friend, a good one, and his Bit, too. Speaking of friends…
“In here, pet,” he called out, sliding his boots off the desk and rising from his seat.
“Busy tonight?” Charlotte asked, stopping in the doorway. She was wearing a camisole and shorts, her hair up in a ponytail – evidence of the high heat of L.A. in July.
“Well, aren’t you a treat for the eyes,” Spike drawled, flirting shamelessly. She rolled her eyes as expected.
“It’s hot out there. So? Movie or something?”
He grinned. “Or something.”
“Master, why are we here?” the apprentice asked. They stood in the arcade section of the building, invisible to others.
“Look over there,” the master replied, pointing to a couple sitting at a race car game, competing against each other.
“We followed one of the vampires to watch him play video games?” he scoffed incredulously.
“No, we are here to see how they are interacting.”
They watched the girl bang her fist on the steering wheel, then stand up, done with the game. She grabbed a few tokens from the vampire’s pile and chose a different game, after speaking with him.
“There doesn’t seem to be any special connection…” the apprentice suggested.
“Have you learned nothing I have taught you about body language? They smile, they touch…see how his eyes glance in her direction frequently to check on her. Observe, young one.”
The apprentice watched, picking up clues, then gasped when the girl turned around and they could see her face.
“Master! She looks just like-!”
“I know,” biting off the apprentice’s sentence. “It was a surprise, but useful, nonetheless. And will make my plan all the more potent in the end.”
“Forgive me for my insensitivity, Master. It must be…difficult for you…”
“Nay…it is good to see my sister remembered by the universe. Come, we’ve seen enough here. There is more to see this night.”
“You are the biggest kid…” Charlotte stated, as they walked out of Dave and Buster’s later.
“Is that good or bad?” Spike asked with a smirk.
She laughed. “I don’t know. It’s…something. I had fun.”
His arm rest casually across her shoulders as they headed for the car. “We always do, don’t we?”
Charlotte smiled. “Yep. Even doubling with Angel and Nina. Sorry I agreed to that, by the way.”
Spike shuddered theatrically. “I forgive you, if only because we laughed about it later. He really is the most useless being to take to a restaurant. Nina’s not a bad bird, though…”
“Yeah, I think she’s good for him…at least it appears that way. It’s not like I know the guy.”
Spike stopped and faced her. “Does he still make you uneasy, luv? I know we haven’t talked about this in a while…” he said, trailing a finger over the faint scar on her throat. It was only visible if you were looking for it, now.
Her skin tingled, sending a rush down her spine. Charlotte shrugged. “It’s more just…awkward. I’m fine, really…and I’ve seen him with Connor enough…Angel doesn’t worry me.”
“And your dreams?”
“Boring. I’ve got Moose Tracks ice cream back at the apartment…”
“Char…” His look told her he wasn’t that easily distracted.
“Boring. Okay? Nothing’s made me scream in a long time.” Her face reddened the instant she realized what she’d said, but he didn’t call her on it.
“But, you are still having the same one?”
Charlotte turned to resume walking, Spike falling into step. “Sometimes. It’s no big deal. I bet you’ve had plenty of recurring dreams in 150 years.”
“Yeah, but my subconscious isn’t the topic.”
“And neither is mine. How’s Buffy?”
He winced. “I wouldn’t know. No reason to go for the jugular, pet. I just care about you…”
Good going, Charlotte. Now he’s wearing the kicked puppy face again. “I’m sorry, Spike. I just don’t like being pecked at. I handle my own crap.” She changed the subject. “My school sent out a letter today saying the district is changing our payday start.”
“Yeah. Instead of the first Friday of September, it’ll be the last, so we have to work until almost October without a check.”
“Wankers! Are you going to be alright?” he asked.
“Ironically, I can get through the summer, but once I start working again, that month will be tight. I’m going to have to scrimp for September. Oh, well…just means I’ll be eating ramen for lunch for a few weeks,” she replied, making light of the problem.
“You know if you’re short on rent…”
“I know, Spike. But I’ll be fine.”
His eyebrow quirked in a dubious expression. “You’re sure…I don’t mind helping out…”
Her eyes were warm with affection as she refused. “Yes! But thank you. I’d go to you before asking my mother, if it’s any consolation.”
Spike’s lips quirked. “Thanks,” he drawled. “How about that ice cream?”
She smiled. “Good.”
August arrived, bringing even more heat. L.A. residents either escaped to malls, movie theaters, or the beach during the day, then flocked to outdoor eateries at night. Charlotte spent her days giving piano lessons at children’s homes, then met up with friends in the evening – which consisted of Spike or Nicholae. The couple girl friends left over from college were still around home…and going down there meant dealing with family, and her mother’s persistent questions.
Nicholae was…like no one she’d ever met, not that she had extensive experience with men. He doted on her, yet never asked for something in return besides her time. Flirted with her, but didn’t try any moves. Charlotte would have thought he was gay, if not for the fact that she’d noticed him admiring women too many times to count. They never talked about anything personal. It was always about art, or music, or culture, or history. Even so, she felt drawn to him in a way she couldn’t explain.
Buffy was going to kill Giles. Help Xander find a Slayer, he’d said. It shouldn’t take very long…just a couple of days, he’d said. That was two weeks ago! They’d been wandering through Africa, looking for a migratory tribe with a Slayer. She was grimy, filthy, and pretty sure some demon goo was still stuck in her hair. And the real kicker was that Xander was at home here! Xander Harris – her Xander – wasn’t the least bit bothered by snakes, or poisonous insects, or weird food, which was so totally weird in itself that they had to be in some Twilight Zone. They were so remote, that she couldn’t contact anyone or be found…and that was why she was really going to kill Giles!
Two weeks of not talking to Dawn. Three without talking to Spike. There wasn’t even another girl along to commiserate with. At least she’d broken up with the Immortal before leaving home. Well, if you could call kicking his ass a break-up. Finding him wining and dining one of the baby Slayers at his mansion had been just the impetus she needed to finally speak up. Nobody cheats on a Summers, even if she wasn’t in love with him. It was the principle of the thing.
“Hey, Buff – the guide says we should find the family just two miles from here. You ready to get moving again?” Xander asked.
Buffy closed her journal and put it away in her knapsack. “Finally! Let’s get that Slayer initiated so I can go home to a long bath!”
Dawn was casually making her way across Europe. Since leaving England, she’d been to Spain, and France, then started meandering from cultural village to cultural village. There were castles and concerts and very old stuff. It was wicked cool, exploring everything on her own. Currently, she was in Germany, on a train to Berlin. Eastern Europe was probably as far as she would go, though. As pretty as St. Petersburg looked in pictures, the idea of going to Russia was kind of squicky, being an American teen on her own. Now, if Spike was with her…
Speaking of which, if she didn’t pick another continent to explore, she’d probably be back in L.A. a lot sooner than December. Seeing stuff was going faster than she’d planned/thought, and some of it just wasn’t that fun on her own. But maybe…if she was in L.A. sooner, she could have Spike to herself for a while…provided Buffy was still in Rome. Part of Dawn still missed when she had been his only girl. The only one who liked him. Before Buffy monopolized his time by shagging his brains out.
Dawn shook the thoughts of that year away and focused back on her guidebook. The waiter brought her breakfast and tea.
“It’s a wonder I’ve only gained five pounds,” she mused, digging in. She giggled internally as a picture of her sister’s expression faced with a German breakfast came to mind. “But I’ll get fat!” Dawn mimicked quietly.
Yeah, it was fun being on her own.