The Letter

Chapter 6:
The Visit

The Letter
The  Coat
The Man
The Truth
The Talk
The Visit
The Dinner
Friends Come Visiting
Epiphany
Making Contact
Back in the Saddle Again
Pennies from Heaven
The Prodigal
Revelation
Reconciliation
The Salon
A New Beginning
Tea and Sympathy
Convergence
Encounters and Interludes
Desperate Measures
Dancing in the Dark
The Vampire, the Witch and the Watcher
A Week in the Death of William the Bloody
Phoenix Rising
Picking Up the Pieces
I Love a Parade
Mr. and Mrs. Summers

Clem returned a few hours later, bearing a grease-spotted bucket of anonymous fried chicken parts and a six-pack of beer. He found Spike slumped in the ratty upholstered chair, staring vacantly at the blank television.

"Well," he said, setting the evening's bounty down on the nearest ledge, "you and the Slayer patch things up? How did she handle the news of your transmogrification?"

"Didn't tell her," Spike mumbled. "We kind of got into an argument."

Clem sighed. Really, it was a dramatic, lingering sigh worthy of a high school production of Romeo and Juliet. "I thought that was the whole point of your trip. All the trials..."

"So Buffy could have what she deserves, yeh," Spike finished for him. "I'm just not sure that what she deserves is me anymore."

Clem pulled up one of the rickety folding chairs they had scrounged up for extra seating when Spike had returned from Africa. He turned it around to straddle it and leaned his arms over the back. "Hey now, don't sell yourself short. I think she really likes you."

Spike rolled his eyes at the complete and utter incomprehension of the situation that Clem demonstrated, but didn't bother trying to explain, opting instead to let his friend continue.

"It's just that she's always had issues with the whole 'soulless, evil undead' thing - but once she knows that's not a problem anymore-"

"She'll love me for my charming self, that it? Don't think it'll be that easy, mate."

If possible, Clem looked even more like a wounded Shar-pei. "Spike, you've lost a lot of weight since you've come back. You look half dead, honestly - and since you aren't anymore, that's likely not a good thing. You need regular sleep and proper human food, and you're not getting it here. This," he waved one hand at the forlorn chicken bucket, "doesn't count. And..." He paused thoughtfully, his nose wrinkling even more than usual - an amazing feat, considering. "And the latrine you dug for yourself back in the tunnels really won't do for too much longer."

Spike let his head fall back and closed his eyes. "Ta ever so."

"You really should tell the Slayer; she could help you - though you might want to grab a shower at the Y first."

O, that this too, too solid flesh would melt / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!...Indignities of the flesh, indeed.

"Spike?" Clem ventured, when he had been silent for some time.

"Shut up and pass me the beer."

**********

"Well?" Dawn's curious presence at the top of the stairs greeted Buffy as she came through the door. "How did it go?"

Buffy took a moment while hanging up her scarf and coat to gather her thoughts together before turning back to look up at her sister. "It was... okay, I guess. Not exactly a 'kiss and make up' scenario, if that's what you were wondering." She set her hands on her hips in what she hoped was a posture of some surrogate-parental authority. "And shouldn't you already be in bed? It's a school night."

Dawn just laughed. "As if. And miss this? And what do you mean by 'okay, I guess'? You apologized, right? Did he-"

"He said he accepted my apology-"

"Okay, good sign-"

"Right before he told me to leave."

"Oh. Okay, that's not so good."

"It doesn't matter. I'm not going to be seeing him again. I don't need the... complications in my life. I did the right thing, what I had to do, and if Spike's having trouble dealing with that, it's his problem now."

Geez Buffy. Defensive much? Dawn diverted the conversation to less controversial grounds. "How did he look? Did he seem to be any different? I mean... he said he left looking for a way to change..."

Buffy shrugged. "He looked pretty skinny - but then he always did - and his hair was a mess. I suppose that's some kind of unusual sign, for Spike. Other than that, he didn't really seem that different. He was certainly just as snarky as usual." She started up the stairs, her expression clearly saying she wanted to put the whole situation behind her. "Bed. Now. I've got an afternoon shift tomorrow, so I'll see you for breakfast, but you'll have to manage dinner on your own, okay? There's some chicken thawing in the fridge, and I know we still have some frozen veggies."

"Broccoli, yuck," Dawn said under her breath, sensing it was simplest to not argue any further tonight. "Yeah, I'm okay with that. I'll leave you a plate in the fridge unless you want more DoubleMeat pleasure."

Buffy's face showed what she thought of that idea. She kissed the top of Dawn's head as she came to the top of the stairs. "Thanks Dawnie. See you in the morning."

"Good night, Buffy." I guess if I want to find out anything in detail, I'll have to do it myself.

**********

Spike woke late the next afternoon with a dry mouth, a raging headache, an empty stomach and a full bladder. He groaned, pushed his tattered blanket aside and sat up gingerly; keeping both hands at his head until he was sure it wasn't about to fly apart. Goodbye to any supernatural resistance to alcohol, too he observed, barely winning the battle against his outraged stomach. On the good side, it makes me a cheap date now - something that Buffy should surely appreciate.

Clem was nowhere in sight - probably off already making arrangements for a game somewhere. Scattered cans on the floor testified mutely to the previous night's activities. Spike got slowly to his feet and struggled to slip his boots on without having to bend over. He gave silent thanks that he'd been too drunk the night before to manage to remove any more of his clothing; the stone of the crypt held a chill that bit him to the bone, even in the California afternoon sunshine. Have to rummage up something more effective than this blanket - soon.

He paused a moment to light a fat gold candle before heading to the opening in the floor and the ladder. The lower level was perpetually gloom-shrouded, and his night vision was just another of the prices he had paid. He moved precariously from rung to rung, shifting his balance slowly between two feet and one hand while the other managed the candle. This feat was rendered even more difficult than usual by the stiffness in his hands.

The candle spilled only a limited puddle of light, washing over the debris scattered about below. Ultimately, Spike had decided that this was a small mercy; he didn't want to be reminded of how things had once been. Buffy had dropped in one of Riley's grenades to destroy the hatching Suvolte demons, and then less than a day later had dropped a metaphorical one into his life. He'd been scrambling to pick up the pieces ever since, and had never had the heart to begin again the job of reclaiming and redecorating the lower level.

Even with his reduced senses, the reek of cordite was still strong in the subterranean chamber. He picked his way slowly through the rubble until he reached the mouth of the tunnel that eventually joined up with Sunnydale's extensive sewer system. Here the burned smell was overlain with a miasma of other scents; damp earth, mould, decay... and human waste. Spike made a face. If his now limited, human sense of smell was disturbed, this spot must surely be a reeking beacon for all manner of more olfactorily advanced nasties. Sighing, he set the candle into a niche in the near wall.

After he had relieved himself, Spike picked up the small spade he had appropriated from the groundskeeper's shed and threw a few desultory shovelfuls of earth into the latrine hole, not really expecting it to do much good. Best come up with an alternative soon - then maybe I can return the spade as well. Picking up the candle again, he retraced his path through the tunnel and his former bedroom. At the base of the ladder, he blew out the candle and tossed it up through the opening. After his trip in the shadows, the ambient afternoon light that came in through the crypt's frosted windows was enough for his dark-adapted eyes, and this way he could use both hands on the ladder.

With one need attended to, Spike turned his attention to another. Rummaging in his small refrigerator turned up the remnants of last night's chicken, a few wizened apples and some bottles of water. Since even the thought of cold, greasy chicken was enough to make him want to sick up, he opted for one of the apples and some of the water. His damaged hands made it difficult to get the bottles open, but once he had he drank greedily, finishing one bottle before even sitting down.

He was thankful when it seemed as though the apple was going to stay down. Little by little, he began to feel human again - a thought which provoked him to dark laughter. Best put some headache powder and stomach remedies on the next shopping list if this is going to be a regular occurrence. He inspected his hands and decided that although they weren't healing as quickly as they once would have, they were well on the way to full recovery. He rinsed off the traces of blood with the last of the water in his second bottle and wiped his hands dry on his jeans.

Spike was standing and debating whether to go after a second apple when the door of the crypt was abruptly flung wide. In sheer reflex, he flinched from the light that spilled into the room, so he was unprepared for the human missile that launched herself across the crypt and into his arms before he could stop her. "Spike!" Dawn cried, and his arms closed about her reflexively as her head thumped hard against his chest.

He knew the exact moment she detected the change in him; she froze in his embrace and looked up uncertainly. "Spike?" she whispered doubtfully. Her hands were spread across his chest, where they couldn't fail to feel the regular beat of his heart. Her green eyes widened and her mouth worked soundlessly.

"It's still me, Niblet," he said gently. "I've just been through... some changes the past few months."

"Uh-huh... I, uh... kinda noticed." After her initial shock, her curiosity overcame her and she peppered him with rapid-fire questions. "How? When? What happened? Does Buffy know?"

Spike took her by the shoulders and held her at arm's length. "In order: I don't understand the details, a few months ago, I'll tell you what I do know, and no, Buffy doesn't know - and you're not to tell her, understand?" Once Dawn had nodded her agreement, he released her and waved her to a chair. "Sit down - this might take a while."

On her way to the chair, she paused and turned back to him. "Spike?"

"Yeh Bit?" he asked distractedly, gathering thoughts for his account of his summer. He was completely unprepared for the back of her closed fist that rocked his head to one side.

"That's for what you tried to do to her."

"I see someone's been taking lessons." He rubbed his tender jaw with one hand and took in her solemn face. "It's a fair cop, Dawn," he sighed. "I deserved that."

She sank into the chair, still holding his gaze. "Then I won't say anything more about it. Now tell me what happened to you."

**********

"I can't believe you just said 'make me what I was' to a demon that powerful. What did you think he would do with an open-ended request like that? How could you have been so stupid?"

"Hey!" Spike bristled at this assessment. "Seems to me I remember Harm telling me how you ended up inviting her in one time. The pot's calling the kettle black, if you ask me."

Dawn laughed. "Okay, point taken. I won't remind you if you won't remind me. Deal?"

"Deal." They shook hands, mock-formally. Spike winced involuntarily as her hand tightened on his, and she noticed his injuries for the first time.

"Now I know you've been talking to Buffy," she said. Seeing his wounded look, she quickly clarified, "In the sense that she makes you want to pound some part of your body repeatedly into inanimate objects, I mean. Happens to me all the time - only I don't usually go through with it."

Mollified, he let himself smile. "She does have that effect sometimes, yeh. Nice to know I'm not the only one."

"And apparently she's not all that observant, either," Dawn went on, only too happy to detail her sister's shortcomings. "I can't believe she didn't notice how you've changed."

Another tilt of the emotional seesaw; his face closed up gravely again. "She didn't get that close."

Dawn continued, unheeding. "I mean for one thing, anyone could see that you've got at least a month's worth of dark roots." She laughed. "You look like a hedgehog."

He ran his hand self-consciously through his hair, tucking unruly strands behind his ear. He couldn't bear to go unshaven and had managed with the aid of a purloined disposable razor, but cutting his own hair was beyond him. It had begun curling down his neck.

"And since dead guys shouldn't be able to grow hair, or..." Dawn looked up timidly. "Spike, do you want to come over for dinner and... umm... do your laundry?" She blushed. "I mean... you probably aren't getting enough vegetables... or something."

"Like hygiene?" he snorted, understanding perfectly well what she'd left out, thanks to Clem. "Vampire crypts are a little short on amenities like showers, Bit. I've snuck into the Y a few times, but they're starting to get more observant than I like." He caught her eyes and voiced his true objection. "Thanks anyway, Dawn, but I don't think big sis would go for that."

Dawn waved his concern aside. "Buffy's on a three-to-eleven shift today, and will probably head out patrolling right after. She'll never know. Your only danger lies in eating my cooking."

Soap. Cascading hot water in near-limitless quantities. Clean towels. A hot meal. William old boy, it seems you know more of seduction than I ever gave you credit for. Spike sighed and gave in. "Is it that obvious how pathetic I am?"

"Nah," she replied cheerfully. "I could always wait to ask you until you started hanging out brooding in the shadows and delivering enigmatic warnings about mystic events then slipping away."

"Ouch. Now I know I've been insulted. Give us a minute, then." He set about collecting his small wardrobe from the various places it had been flung about the room and bundled it together in a plastic shopping bag. It made a pitifully small parcel. "Lead on, Bit."

Dawn opened the door, and then turned back to watch, fascinated, as Spike stepped into the daylight. There's a sight I never thought I'd see. "Why don't you want Buffy to know what's happened to you?"

He paused, blinking in the light. "I suppose I hope she'll judge me by my actions, and not by some checklist of conditions," he replied after some thought.

"You mean like how I'm really a two-year-old ball of green glowy stuff, but because I act like her sister she forgets and that's how she treats me?"

"Something like that, yeh," he admitted. "Though you have a distinct advantage in having a whole set of false memories implanted in everyone to go along with your existence."

"Good luck with that," she said solemnly. You'll need it.

"I'll take all the luck I can get, Bit," he replied as he carefully shut and secured the door behind them. 

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