“Buffy? Are you home? Can I come in?” The next-door-neighbor’s voice snapped Buffy out of her day dream - one in which she’d look up and Spike, alive and breathing, would be standing in the doorway, the sun casting his shadow onto the kitchen floor. Instead, she saw that her nosy next-door neighbor was poised to enter the room, her hand already on the handle of the screen door.
“I’m sorry, Judy. I must have been daydreaming. Of course, come on in. What can I do for you?”
The slender, dark-haired woman slid onto one of the kitchen stools. “It’s more what I can do for you,” she said with a pleased smile.
Buffy raised her eyebrows dubiously. Although Judy spent much too much of her time ferreting out information about everyone they knew, she kept most of it to herself and was, at heart, a very kind woman. Her desire to know what was going on in everyone’s lives was more out of a need to be of assistance, than it was a desire to spread gossip. In spite of her persistent interest in Buffy’s somewhat unusual life and Buffy’s equally determined refusal to discuss it, they had managed to become friends.
Her determination to figure out what Buffy did at her “night” job, as well as what had really happened to her dead husband had become an affectionate contest between the two of them. Judy would ask a leading question, Buffy would deflect her by answering something else, and they would continue the verbal duel until one or the other got tired. Her latest attempts to find out what was going on in Buffy’s life had to do with the fact that now, a year after Spike’s “accidental” death, Buffy was showing no interest in moving on with her life. A course of action that her friend repeatedly pointed out was not a smart one.
“And that is...?”
“My office is having a picnic this weekend. Nothing fancy, very casual cook-out kind of thing and we are allowed to bring guests. I’ve decided to bring you as my guest!”
Sensing an ulterior motive, Buffy fixed a stern glare on Judy and said, “Okay. And why should I go with you and give up some of my weekend time with my kids?”
“Because Bob hates these things and he offered to keep Joyce and Will all day and take them to their games and then buy them unhealthy fast food and bring them back here to watch cartoons until we get back.” She finished, out of breath and smiling hopefully.
“What’s the catch?”
“Catch?” Judy batted her large brown eyes innocently.
“There’s always a catch. Spill. What is it? Who are you trying to fix me up with?”
Her friend sighed theatrically. “Why do you always suspect me of trying to fix you up? Maybe I just like your company...”
“I suspect you, because you are always trying to fix me up. Even though I’ve told you a hundred times that I’m still Mrs. Pratt and I’m not interested in becoming anybody else.”
“I know that, sweetie. I do. And I’m not suggesting you find some guy and haul him off for hot monkey sex behind the moonbounce; but you’re a young woman. And a beautiful one. You know that Spike wouldn’t have wanted you to mourn forever. He would have wanted you to move on and be happy.”
Buffy gave a laugh that veered perilously close to sounding like a sob. “Oh, you really don’t – didn’t know him very well, did you?” She gave her friend a sad smile. “And, anyway, I never paid that much attention to what he wanted when he was alive. I don’t see any reason to start now.”
“I’ve never seen anyone love a woman the way that man loved you,” Judy said softly. “And I can’t believe that he wouldn’t want you to be happy again.”
“What makes you think I’m not happy?” Buffy jumped at the chance to change the subject slightly. “I have my house, my children, my job, good friends...I don’t need a man in my life.”
“Did it occur to you that your children might need one?” she responded softly. “That they might not want to grow up without a father?”
“They have a father,” Buffy said stubbornly. “He just isn’t...around.”
“All right, sweetie. I’m not going to beat you up over this – I know it’s still pretty fresh for you. But even if you aren’t looking for another man, it won’t hurt you to come to a picnic and drink some beer and have a good time, will it? I swear I don’t have anybody lined up for you. I know better than that. It’s just that there will be a lot of people there having fun and I think it would be good for you. Please?” she added, as Buffy’s indecision became apparent.
“All right. Fine. I’ll go. But I refuse to have fun.”
“Whatever. Be ready to go by 10:00 AM. Bye!”
Judy was out the door before Buffy could change her mind. Shaking her head and smiling at her friend’s insistence on finding a way to make her happy, Buffy put her dishes in the sink and went upstairs to get dressed and go to work. She gazed at her wedding band, still in plain sight on her finger.
I’m still Mrs. Pratt. I still have a husband. I may have sent him away, but I’m still his. And he’s still mine.
“Okay, this is just getting to be ridiculous, Buffy. That was a perfectly nice, attractive man who was trying to pick you up, and you not only blew him off, you must have driven him away, ‘cause I don’t think he’s even in this bar any more.”
Buffy’s mouth twisted, remembering how she had left the dust of her would-be seducer drifting away into the alley behind the bar.
“I was nice to him,” she protested mildly. “I even went outside with him to look at his sports car - I guess he decided I wasn’t his type and drove away.”
“I swear, sometimes I think you don’t really want to meet another man. I suppose you’re going to tell me that guy just wasn’t your type?”
Buffy flashed back to her first love, and to her last one. “Actually, he kinda was... Too bad for him.” She offered no explanation for her strange response, just got her coat and bade her well-meaning friends a ‘good-night’.
“Mom?” Joyce was holding an old photo of her father, one that was taken shortly after Buffy had found him and Angel in a run-down hospital in what was left of Los Angeles. He still had his vampire pallor and the bleached hair that had been his trademark for the last 30 years of his life as a vampire. But the picture had been taken in full sun. Buffy’s mind wandered back to that day. She’d picked Spike and Angel up from the hospital’s rehab wing and, after many promises to be sure that they used a lot of sunblock and took their vitamins with every meal, she had driven off with them for a day at the beach.
The process of slathering the two men – neither of which had been in the sun for longer than they cared to remember – with sunblock was more awkward than she’d expected. While they were both more than capable of doing their faces, arms and legs, and bellies, neither one could reach his own back. Finally, with a sigh, Buffy had grabbed the tube of SPF 60 and ordering them both to turn around, she spread a thick layer of sunblock over each muscular back, taking care not to spend more time on one than the other. When it was time for one of them to return the favor, both men automatically held out their hands for the tube – exchanging glares when Buffy clutched it to her chest, her eyes darting back and forth between the two ex-vampires. With a sound of disgust, Spike dropped his hand and turned away, heading for the ocean and ignoring Buffy’s “Spike!”.
With an apologetic smile at Angel, she handed him the tube and raced towards the water, catching Spike when he was almost waist deep and tackling him into a wave. He came up sputtering and swearing, his furious expression fading as he saw who had knocked him down. He floated beside her, head back as he turned his face to the sun and felt its warmth go all the way through him. When her hand timidly linked with his, he opened one eye and peered at her.
“What’s this, then, pet?” he asked softly.
“This is me, trying to remember that you’re mortal now and that I can’t kick your ass the way I want to for not telling me you were alive last year.”
“So, you’re going to hold my hand until I apologize?” He grinned and squeezed her fingers.
“I’m going to hold your hand until you stop acting like a jerk and backing off every time Angel does something that you think you should be doing.”
“Didn’t say I thought I should be doin’ it, did I? Jus’ forgot for a second that the big git was here and that you might have another choice for somebody to take care of your back.”
Buffy floated over until she was stretched out above him, their knees bumping occasionally as their bodies floated only inches apart. She released his hand and slid her arms up around his neck, pulling herself closer as she whispered, “Nobody takes care of my back like you do, Spike. I would never choose anyone else if you were available to do it.”
His hands barely grazed her sides as he touched her waist and held her in place. She held his gaze, hers as open and honest as she could make it, willing him to see what she was saying. When he gave a laughing sob and pulled her into a kiss that left them both gasping, she relaxed, knowing that he’d finally decided to believe the words he’d thrown back at her over a year ago.
“Me?” he whispered in her ear. “You’re chosing me over the great brooding git?”
“If you’ll have me,” she whispered back. “If you still love me.”
“I will always love you, Slayer. Don’t ever doubt it.”
“Mom!” Joyce’s annoyed shout jolted Buffy out of her memory and she blinked several times before the ocean sounds and the sun faded from her brain.
“I’m sorry, honey. I must have...”
“You must have been thinking about Dad again,” Joyce said with a smile that belied her twelve years. “I can always tell when you’re remembering him. You get a sappy smile on your face and – poof! – you’re gone somewhere else.”
“It’s that obvious?” Buffy blushed lightly, embarrassed that her children knew her so well that they could tell what she was thinking.
“It is to me,” Joyce said softly. “I still miss him too, but I know that you have a lot more years of having him to miss. Anyway,” she continued briskly, “I wanted to know why his hair looks so blond in this picture. Was he some kind of a surfer dude or something?”
“Or something.” Buffy’s laughter was free and relaxed. She realized that she was finally able to think about Spike without feeling more little pieces breaking off her heart. Her years-long efforts to think of him as actually dead and gone, rather than just the gone that she knew was the case, were finally paying off in a comfortable way. “It was a phase he went through for a while. He bleached his hair white and slicked it down with gel. It was just growing out when that picture was taken.”
“Dad bleached his hair? For how long?”
“Uh...” suddenly Buffy’s good mood evaporated. “For a...a few years. It was like that when I met him, but after a while he let it grow out.”
Neither of Spike’s children had any idea that their father and their Uncle Angel had ever been the very creatures that their mother was training other girls how to slay. Once again, Buffy shuddered at the fine line that she continued to walk between being sure her children knew what evil things were in the world, and how to defend themselves from them, and telling them no more than they needed to know to remain safe.
They knew that their mother was freakishly strong, that she wasn’t aging as rapidly as their friends’ mothers, (thank you for the resurrection spell, Willow was Buffy’s wry thought) and that she trained other strong girls to fight vampires. They knew that Auntie Willow was a powerful witch and that magic was not something to play with. That “Grandpa Giles” was not their biological grandfather and that the only “real” aunt or uncle they had was their Aunt Dawn.
And all they knew about their father’s and mother’s early years and courtship was that it had taken them a long time to fall in love with each other; but that when they did it was very special and forever. With typical ten-year-old-boy lack of interest, Will shrugged off what his older and more romantic sister insisted was “one of the great love stories of all time” in favor of remembering how his father used to talk about the epic fights he and Buffy had back when they “couldn’t stand the bloody sight of each other, and that’s the truth!”
“Oh. I wish I’d known him then. I’ll bet he was a lot of fun, wasn’t he?”
“Sometimes he was,” Buffy agreed, smiling as her mind wandered again. “Sometimes he was a lot of fun...and sometimes he was a gigantic pain in the neck!” she finished, taking the picture away from Joyce and carefully smoothing it out before tucking it back in the album. “But I love – loved him.”