Author’s Notes: The title comes from Ecclesiastes, which most people know from the phrase, “A time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven.” Really, this story is based on the entire book, which is probably my favorite in the Bible. It talks about making the most of what one has now, and while some find it depressing, I love it. If you’ve got the time, I’d really recommend you read the whole thing.
“What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises… What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun… There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die… a time to kill and a time to heal… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” ~Ecclesiastes 1:3-5, 9; 3:1-4
“I really am sorry.”
Spike bit back an impatient sigh. “Apologize one more time, and I will fire you,” he warned.
Wesley gulped back his next attempt at apologizing. “Spike—”
The vampire rolled his eyes. “Look. Go home, get some sleep. Come over to my place tomorrow, and we’ll talk, alright?”
A very subdued Wesley nodded, hesitating before he got out of the car. Spike drove back to his place, shaking his head. The whole fiasco wasn’t technically Wesley’s fault. Spike had had a few mishaps on the job, and he knew that accidents happen. The difference was that if he screwed up in the past, he was the one who paid the price. Well, that and he typically made sure he didn’t leave any witnesses alive.
There was something to be said for being the boss, and a vampire mercenary. He could take steps to ensure his reputation remained intact.
Wesley had improved immensely over the summer, but he still had his occasional lapses, and this had been one of them. They’d both been lucky to get out unscathed and with the book they’d been hired to steal.
Actually, the book they’d been hired to “recover,” considering that their client had purchased the volume at auction, and then it had gone missing. Not that Spike was completely against a little larceny now and then.
What with Wesley tripping over his own feet and sending a very expensive vase crashing to the floor, combined with the alarms going off immediately thereafter, the job had become a lot more complicated than Spike had anticipated.
Wesley had wound up getting shot—just a graze, not a serious wound—but Spike had bawled him out for his carelessness. It had been more fear than anything else, though. Spike was growing fond of the git, and he didn’t want to see him killed.
Spike froze in the doorway of his house, sensing the beating heart. “H’lo?”
His lips curved in a smile when he saw Buffy coming to greet him. “How’d you know when I was getting back?”
“I’m a good guesser,” Buffy replied. “How did things go?”
“Wesley nearly got himself killed,” Spike said, tilting his head to kiss her.
Buffy snickered. “Told you so.”
“He’s improving,” Spike said in defense of his assistant. “Could have happened to anybody. It’s not like you haven’t tripped out on patrol before.”
“Mmm,” Buffy replied, not giving him an answer one way or another. “But no one’s lived to tell the tale.”
“I could say the same,” Spike murmured.
For a long, comfortable moment, there was nothing except the feel of her lips, and Spike lost himself in her embrace. Four days was too damn long.
“Mom wants you to come for dinner tonight if you’re up for it,” Buffy said. “I think she’s beginning to feel like you’ve abandoned us.”
“Bite your tongue.” Spike gave her one last kiss, heading into the kitchen for the fridge and his blood supply. He hadn’t eaten in the last couple of days, and he was starving. “That’ll never happen, and you know it.”
“Oh, I think we’re both well aware of the fact that we’re never going to get rid of you,” Buffy teased. “You’ve been really busy this summer, though.”
“I have been. Should slow up a bit now, though. I don’t have anything on the line for the next week or two.”
Buffy mock-sighed. “I suppose I can put up with you being around for that long.”
Spike drew back, raising an eyebrow. “If that’s going to be too difficult for you, I can always leave town for a bit.”
“Don’t you dare,” Buffy replied sharply, tugging him towards her by his jacket. “I want you right here, where you belong.”
All pretense gone, they moved together again, hanging on to one another tightly. “You sure we have to see your mum tonight?” Spike murmured in her ear.
“Probably better,” Buffy said. “We can tell her we have to patrol later, though. Just think, when I’m in college, no one will know how often I’m staying here.”
Spike groaned. He had absolutely no desire to leave his cozy little place. What he wanted was something best done in the bedroom.
Well, in his house, anyway. He wasn’t picky about the choice of room.
On the other hand, Spike knew that it was in his best interests to keep Joyce happy.
“Four days until I move in,” she replied. Buffy ran a hand over his cheek. “Although, I’m not sure it’s going to get much better. I have no idea how busy college is going to keep me.”
“You and Willow take my advice and get a room together?” Spike asked.
Buffy rolled her eyes, but finally nodded reluctantly. “Yes. You were right. It would be easier not having to explain the fact that my boyfriend can’t go out in the daylight. And, since Willow has a boyfriend of her own, she can’t look disapproving when I don’t come home.”
Spike smirked. “I’ll never get tired of hearing those words come out of your mouth.”
Buffy frowned in confusion. “What?”
“That I’m right.” He laughed as she smacked him, although not hard enough to hurt. “Now, how long do we have before we have to be at your mum’s?”
Buffy sighed. “Not long enough to do what you’re thinking about doing. That, I’m afraid, will have to wait for tonight.”
“Let’s get going, then,” Spike said. “Wouldn’t do to keep your mum waiting.”
Buffy gave him a wry grin. “I doubt she’s getting too anxious, since Giles is there to keep her company.”
“How much longer before they get here?” Giles asked.
Joyce peeked over his bare chest at the clock next to the bed, grimacing. “It depends on how distracted they get, but I don’t want to leave that to chance.”
“Probably better not,” Giles agreed, pushing himself up and reaching for his clothing. “How are you feeling about Buffy moving out in a few days?”
Joyce just smiled. It was an expression only worn by the most satisfied of women. “You can ask me that when I don’t have to worry about Buffy walking in at an inopportune time?”
Giles chuckled, a rich sound that didn’t fail to make Joyce tingle in the best of ways. “Forget I asked. I will assume that the empty nest will agree with you and leave it at that.”
“And you?” Joyce asked. “What about your empty nest?”
Giles grimaced. “I’ve been thinking about remedying that. The life of a man of leisure turns out to be a bit more boring than I would have thought.”
Joyce raised an eyebrow. “I could have told you that.”
Giles gave her a dirty look that was only briefly obscured as he pulled his shirt over his head. “I thought it would be a good idea to consider my options before jumping into something new. I’m still Buffy’s Watcher, and there are other reasons to stay in Sunnydale, of course.”
Joyce made a pleased sound, and then continued, “You’re an active man, Rupert. I didn’t think that sitting around and cataloguing your books would occupy you for long.”
“What are you thinking about?” Joyce asked. “Anything I can help with?”
“Perhaps,” Giles replied. “You know, when I was a boy I wanted to be a grocer, or a fighter pilot. I think I’ve passed the age to join the RAF, however, so…”
Joyce’s eyebrows went up, trying to determine whether he was serious or not. “You want to open a grocery store?”
“Actually, most likely not,” Giles replied. “I was thinking something more along the lines of a bookstore.”
Joyce thought that over, trying out the idea in her mind. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
“It’s still in the planning stages,” Giles said dismissively. “We’ll have to see whether or not it comes about. It would give me a certain amount of freedom that other positions would not.”
“Being your own boss does have its advantages,” she agreed, checking her makeup and hair in the mirror. She could see Giles coming up behind her, resting his strong, capable hands on her shoulders. Joyce leaned back against him, enjoying the picture that they made together.
She felt more alive now than she had in years.
The moment was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. “Mom!”
Giles exchanged an amused look with her. “A mother’s job is never done,” he murmured.
“Neither is a Watcher’s,” she replied, turning to give him a quick kiss. “I should get dinner started.”
He watched her leave the bedroom, then made certain his appearance didn’t give away the afternoon’s activities. Not that it wouldn’t be fairly obvious to a casual observer, but Buffy had proven herself capable of ignoring a great many things about his relationship with Joyce.
It seemed that the Slayer was just as good at using her selective memory as Joyce had been at one time.
Wesley stood in front of Spike’s door with a feeling of trepidation. He had no doubt that Spike was going to tell him that it wasn’t working out, and Wesley honestly had no idea what his next move would be if the vampire let him go.
The summer had been a revelation. Spike had been—well, “kind” was probably an exaggeration, but he’d exhibited a sort of rough care that the best of Wesley’s teachers had shown back in school. He’d learned so much…
And he’d failed again.
The door swung open before he could knock. “Are you going to stand on the porch all day, or are you coming in?” Spike asked, the amusement in his voice obvious.
Wesley stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. “I, uh—”
“Please.” Wesley realized that Spike wasn’t going to start the conversation before he was good and ready.
“First off, I’m not going to fire you,” Spike said in a conversational tone. “I’m enjoying not having to do all the research myself. It’s a nice change.”
Wesley nodded, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief. It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but it was, somehow. He wanted to succeed badly. “I—thank you.”
“Oh, bugger that,” Spike replied rudely. “Even the Slayer trips up on occasion, Wes. You’re not perfect. Get over it.”
“I am perhaps rather more of a klutz than you would want with you, though,” Wesley replied.
Spike resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Barely. “You’ll get over that. Get a few more jobs under your belt, and you won’t be so nervous. You want a little confidence, that’s all.”
Wesley wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. “Is there another job coming up that you’ll need my assistance for?”
“A couple actually,” Spike replied. “But nothing immediate. Until then, I suggest you take a break, have some fun.”
Wesley winced. “Fun?”
“You do know what that is?”
“I may have forgotten,” Wesley replied dryly.
Spike chuckled appreciatively. “Then you’ve got some time to figure it out. Meanwhile, I expect you back here tomorrow afternoon, four sharp.”
“What happens tomorrow?”
“You start your training,” Spike replied. “If you’re going to be going out on your own at all, you’re going to be prepared for it.”
Spike stood at the door of Buffy’s dorm room, his fingers just brushing the invisible barrier. The Slayer seemed fairly intent on unpacking her things, and Spike was content to watch, even though he hated the thought of walls between them.
“Come in, Spike.”
Just like that, it was gone, and he crossed the threshold. “How long did you know I was there?”
“Long enough,” Buffy replied. She turned to smile at him. “I can feel you.”
“Your mom said you were moving in today. You should have waited. I could have helped.”
She shrugged. “It wasn’t that big of a deal. Mom roped Giles into helping Willow and me, and it didn’t take very long.”
“Still doing his tour of the fifty states, as far as we know.” Buffy came to sit down next to him on the bed. “We haven’t heard from him in a while.”
“And that doesn’t worry you?”
“We figure he’s too busy having fun.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. “I don’t want classes to start tomorrow.”
“You’ll be fine,” he encouraged.
Buffy pouted. “That’s not the problem. The summer wasn’t long enough. I’m not ready for school to start up again, and I have to spend the night here.”
“Wouldn’t have to spend the whole night here,” Spike replied.
“Early morning with orientation and getting the student ID and all of that,” Buffy said apologetically. “That means I actually have to get out of bed.”
“So we patrol, make a quick stop at my place, and then I drop you back here,” Spike replied. “Piece of cake.”
“Or I come over tomorrow after classes are over, and join you in bed,” Buffy suggested.
Spike winced. “Sorry, luv. I’ve got a standing date with Wesley.”
“I hope you don’t mean date in any other sense than you have to meet him.” Buffy’s eyes had a teasing light in them. “Because I’m going to get very suspicious of those business trips otherwise.”
Spike raised an eyebrow, obviously not amused. “Ha, bloody ha, Summers. You know I am, and always will be, yours. No, I’m giving Wesley some training so I can trust him on his own for small jobs. It might actually free up some time for you.”
“I can’t argue with that, but what happened to the ‘hand-to-hand’ techniques that he likes to boast about?”
“Lots of training, and virtually no practice means the git doesn’t have a chance if he’s faced with a real opponent,” Spike said. “Well, maybe a small chance.”
Buffy shook her head. “I still don’t see why you even hired him in the first place. He’s gotten better, but he’s still…” She searched for the word. “Wesley.”
“He’s not so bad,” was all Spike said. It was, in fact, pretty much all he would ever say about Wesley. Buffy hardly viewed it as a reasonable explanation, but she didn’t push. From the hints that Spike would occasionally drop, she thought it might have something to do with his human past, and that was a topic that Spike still regarded as off-limits.
As well as Buffy had come to know him, Spike was still largely a mystery to her in certain areas. He would occasionally share anecdotes about his clients that had her laughing, and yet she got the feeling that he wasn’t telling her everything. She didn’t think he was doing it to protect her. It was more that he’d never been in the habit of telling anyone anything, and so to have someone to talk to was still very new.
Buffy was also well aware that Spike was a better listener than she was, which meant that she was the one who ended up doing a lot of the talking.
“What is it that you see in him?”
Spike raised his eyebrows at the question, obviously trying to decide how to answer it. “Don’t know what you mean,” he said carefully.
“Yes, you do,” Buffy argued. “You know exactly what I mean. When everybody else had no problem with the idea of Wesley dropping off the face of the planet, you asked him to work with you. It’s like you saw something that no one else did.”
Spike stood in one liquid motion, and Buffy could feel him distancing himself from her. It worried her, but at the same time, she wondered if he didn’t need the space to say what he needed to say. “Someone once saw potential in me,” Spike said quietly. “Suppose that’s all it was.”
She snorted. “I doubt you were ever as bad as Wesley.”
“Seems I remember you telling me you were once as bad as Cordelia,” Spike pointed out.
“Yeah, but…” Buffy trailed off. “You’re serious.”
Spike winced. “Maybe not quite as bad, but I had my moments.”
“You never talk about what it was like to be human,” Buffy said. “Is that why?”
“One reason,” Spike admitted. “It’s like a dream, you know? A dream of a different life, a different man. Doesn’t have anything to do with where I am now. At least, not much of anything.”
Buffy leaned back on her bed. “So what were you like?” At his closed-off expression, she changed tactics. “Okay, so what did you want to be when you grew up? I’ve got to choose a major at some point, and I’m looking for ideas.”
The barest hint of a smile pulled at Spike’s lips. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” He shrugged. “Besides, you’ve got time yet, right?”
“Willow already knows,” Buffy pouted. “She’s known since kindergarten, and I have no idea what I want to do.”
Spike flopped down on the bed beside her. “Buffy, luv, Willow isn’t you, and as much as I like her, I’m grateful for it. Don’t be thinking you have to compare yourself to her.”
“Did I hear my name?” Willow asked, poking her head in the door. “Oh, hey, Spike!”
“Red,” he replied, greeting her fondly. “Where’s your boy?”
She waved a hand. “Out doing boy-things. We’ll meet up tomorrow.” Willow sat down on her own twin bed, looking at Buffy and Spike dubiously. “You guys weren’t both planning on staying here tonight, were you? I mean, if you were, that’s okay. I can find another place, if you want to be alone, but—”
“Relax, Will,” Buffy said with a smile. “We aren’t going to kick you out. One of the benefits to dating an older guy is that he has his own place.”
Willow frowned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” At their twin expressions of surprise, she quickly added, “Oh! I didn’t mean dating an older guy, I just meant sleeping over tonight. We’ve got an early day tomorrow.”
Spike smirked. “It’s already been discussed. I’ll have Buffy back here before eleven. How does that work for you?”
Buffy’s elbowed him. “Less sarcasm,” she ordered. “I’ll be back right after patrol.”
“Well, be careful,” Willow said. “It wouldn’t do to miss your first day.”
Everything was changing.
Buffy lay in the darkness of her room, staring up at the ceiling. She knew that Willow was looking forward to classes starting, to the challenges that it presented. Buffy wasn’t so sure. She had always known that she would go to college, but she couldn’t picture herself as anything but the Slayer. How could she? It sometimes seemed as though that one word defined her entire being.
Her last summer at home had mostly been spent slaying, with little time for Spike. Even when he was in town, they were usually patrolling together. Xander had been gone. Willow and Oz spent every minute they could together. Cordelia was off in L.A., even if Buffy would have wanted to hang out with her, which she wouldn’t have.
The real trouble was that she couldn’t see herself as a grown up. She’d died once. Making plans for the future seemed a little silly when your chances of having a future were slim to none. Not to mention the fact that, if Buffy had her way, she would probably want to do what Spike did—travel the world, kill demons, and get paid to do it. She had her sacred duty, though, and that didn’t include leaving the Hellmouth anytime soon.
Even Spike, whom she had considered her one constant, was changing. He had his own life, his own job, and—if you counted Wesley—even his own friends. Not that he wasn’t there for her, not that he wasn’t attentive when he was in town, but it was different.
Not for the first time, Buffy wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to slow time down a bit, to have a day to savor, to cherish. She wished she taken more time over the summer to—do something. To mark it out as a turning point. To create a milestone.
Buffy wanted more time.
She listened to Willow’s even breathing across the room, and sighed into the darkness, wondering why, when her friends all seemed certain that this was the right thing to do, she felt so unsure.