Though Halloween has officially come and gone, I couldn't resist writing this one. It's set in S6, before the sex and the über-angst – when our couple was still having those potentially sweet moments. It was originally inspired by a throwaway line, delivered by Spike near the beginning of "All the Way."
Hope you enjoy!
Title: Hiding In
Word Total: 3735
Summary: When work at the Magic Box starts getting the Slayer down, what's left but to take a certain vampire up on his offer? Shoplifting, snark, holiday television specials, and schmoopy, fluffy Spuffy ensue!
Author's Notes: A slightly different turn of events during "All the Way." It takes place after Spike's and Buffy's conversation in the Magic Box basement, and before Giles shows up at the crypt, searching for Dawn.
Thank You: Huge hugs to the wonderful sandy_s and fishsanwitt. Thanks again, ladies, for the super quick and thorough beta. It's a much better story for your help. (Any errors that still exist are probably where I foolishly ignored their excellent advice.)
A very special thanks to itmustbetuesday and everyone involved in bringing the seasonal_spuffy community together. I've had a lovely time writing for this project!
Spike's head turned cautiously as his ears caught the foreign sound.
Here on the Hellmouth, he was used to all sorts of noises: screams of terror; rampaging demons; shrieking, irritating hellgods . . . but this one was new to him. Someone was actually – knocking.
Spike eyed his crypt door suspiciously. His fingers squeezed some ground-up flakes of the recently acquired burba weed inches from the surface of his mug of blood.
The knock came again. It was loud and insistent and low on the door, like the pounding fist of some petulant child.
Spike raised an eyebrow. He froze where he stood, unsure of how to handle the situation. Were the Halloweeners on the Hellmouth that hard up for sweets that they'd resorted to knocking on crypt doors? Spike shifted his glare to the crushed herb pinched between his fingers. The spicy aroma of it was filling his sinuses, and his eyes were starting to water.
If some snot-nosed rugrat expected to get candy from a crypt, they would be sorely disappointed. Would serve them bloody right if he gave them a mouthful of burba weed for their trouble. Straight-up, the stuff could be as spicy as drinking an undiluted glass of Tabasco. While the imagery quirked a corner of his mouth, Spike didn't want to deal with the searing protests of the chip if he tried to force-feed burba to a pre-teen. He decided to just ignore it; maybe whoever it was would just go away.
He turned back to his blood, and the pounding came again. More insistent.
Spike set the mug on top of the refrigerator and grumpily tossed the crumbled bits into the blood. If he didn't mix it right away, the flakes would settle out like sediment and it wouldn't be nearly as hot and spicy as he liked. Sodding trick-or-treaters.
Spike wiped his fingers on the leg of his jeans and marched toward the door, shaking his game face on as he went. The chip might stop him from wringing their scrawny little necks, but he could still give the brats an eyeful that would feed their nightmares for a week. Teach them to mess with the Big Bad on his sodding night off.
With a flourish and a growl, Spike yanked the door open just as another round of poundings had begun. The final strike, which was meant for the door, connected sharply with Spike's left shin. He snarled in pain and bent double reflexively. Then he whipped his head up, bearing his fangs and flashing feline amber eyes at the intruder.
His anger quickly faded as he saw who was at his door. A flash of surprise crossed Spike's vampiric features. "Slayer?"
He couldn't see her face as he looked at her. The large object she was carrying obstructed his view. But it was definitely Buffy. She stood maladroitly off-balance on what passed for his doorstep, holding a bulky cardboard box like some over-eager trick-or-treater. She placed the foot she had used to kick at the door back on the ground and shifted her weight to stabilize herself. Then, she craned her head over the rim of the box.
Spike straightened and eyed her with a puzzled look.
"Trick-or-treating?" he asked dubiously.
"I see you're already in costume," she replied. Spike remembered his game face and, with a small jerk of his head, quickly shook it away.
"You knocked," he observed, glancing past her into the graveyard. He couldn't seem to rid his mind of suspicious mental images that included a revived 'bot on his stoop, and a gaggle of Scoobies giggling behind a tombstone. But his sinuses were clearing from the assault of the burba weed, enough to tell that this was definitely Buffy. He grinned at her and leaned casually against the doorframe. "And they say Christmas is the time of miracles."
Buffy rolled her eyes and made a show of shifting the box in her arms. "Technically, I didn't knock; I kicked," she replied.
"Ah, but you didn't kick it in," Spike said, still grinning appreciatively.
Buffy scowled. "Only because I needed most of my balance to hold onto this thing. Otherwise, your door would so be history."
"In that case," Spike said, "let's have us a look at what spared my hinges." He stepped away from the doorframe and took a few steps forward to stare inside the box. Spike's eyebrow arched sharply upward as he looked at the contents, and Buffy hefted her burden in her arms again, rattling the objects inside. Spike reached forward and plucked an item off the top. Raising his arm, he dangled the object at eye-level. It was a shrunken head – complete with shriveled leathery skin, eyes and mouth sewn shut, and even a miniature bone through its nose.
"So this is what the neighborhood grannies are passing out to the kiddies nowadays," he mused. "I gotta say, it's a bit more creative than the old razor-blade-in-an-apple stunt."
Buffy rolled her eyes again with a snort of disgust. "Don't be stupid."
Spike tossed the miniature head back into the box. "Well, if it's not your Halloween haul, then what is it, Slayer?" He still looked thoroughly amused . . . until Buffy thrust the box into his chest, relinquishing her hold on it as the burden passed from her arms to his.
"It's . . ." she stuttered a bit at first; then, her expression became cool and matter-of-fact. "It's your order," she finished as she strode past him into the crypt, leaving Spike holding the box in his doorway.
He turned around to watch her trot casually into his inner sanctum like she owned the place. "Excuse me?" Spike followed Buffy down the stairs, then walked over to deposit the heavy box on the lid of his sarcophagus. "My bloody what?"
Buffy turned around; she was wearing that slightly guilty expression again. "Your order?" she mumbled, failing to make her voice sound convincing as she shrugged and picked at her fingernails.
Spike raised an eyebrow and turned his attention back to the box. "I don't know, pet," he said, choosing another object, a rather hefty-looking figurine, from inside it. It didn't have many prominent features . . . aside from the fact that it was quite obviously – not to mention largely – male. Spike wrinkled his nose at it. "Can't say that I recall ordering a Dionysian fertility statue. Been shooting blanks for more than a century. Although," he assured her with a roguish grin, "I am still shooting."
"God, you're such a pig," Buffy groaned, complete with ew-face.
Spike tossed the statue back into the box and Buffy threw up her hands in frustration. "Okay," she said, pointing a finger toward Spike, "and you will never, never hear me say this again, but . . ." she sighed, "you were right."
Spike was even more amused. He crossed his arms. "That right? What about?"
"About me," Buffy grumbled, "and retail. Not so much with the mixy."
"Ah," Spike said, pushing off from where he had been leaning against the tomb. He headed back over to his mug of blood. "So this isn't so much 'delivering' as it is 'ecsaping'." He picked up the blood and took a drink. Some of the burba's potency had definitely worn off. Bloody shame.
Buffy rolled her eyes huffily. "Well, you know," she said, "Halloween is always supposed to be the demon-world's big night off, but the last few years . . . I just thought maybe a patrol later . . . ."
"Had to get out of there, huh?" Spike smirked over the rim of his mug.
Buffy's arms dropped leadenly to her sides. "Giles had me bagging," she groaned with exasperation.
"Sadistic." Spike took another sip and put the mug back down.
Buffy sighed. For a moment, she wore that lost expression. Spike hated seeing that look on her face – and he'd seen it nearly every day since her return.
"I just keep asking myself: When did my life become this mundane sequence of dead-end work?" she said. "Is this what 'normal' became while I was sleeping? Because, really! I'm the Slayer; I can deal with weirdness. But ask for normal enough times and I get . . . bagging."
Spike was unsettled by Buffy's casual reference to her own death. He knew she had lost something when her bloody clueless friends had forcibly pulled her back into the land of the living, and it had left a bone-deep imprint on her. Claiming to know how she felt, however, would be a lie. He didn't know. He couldn't. And she wouldn't allow her nearest-and-dearest in on her little secret. But if there was one thing Spike did know: a warrior like the Slayer wasn't meant to wallow. If there was one sure-fire way to prevent that, it was by getting the girl's dander up.
Spike gave her a playful smile. "So, what you're saying is, you got so fed up with the capitalist grind that you faked an order to the Magic Box, loaded up a crate of random knickknacks and carted it all the way out here . . ." he nudged his tongue against his teeth, ". . . just to visit yours truly."
Buffy scoffed. "No," she said, drawing the sound of it out with droning insistence. "I just thought I'd take you up on your offer. And I didn't fake a call, anyway. There was a wrong number, but still . . . " she whisked a crumpled piece of paper from her back pocket, "I made out a receipt and everything."
Still smirking, Spike took the paper from her and scanned it.
"Besides," Buffy added, "I'm the Slayer. It's my job to save lives, no matter what night of the year it is—"
"And I'm guessing the Magic Box was in real danger of being one proprietor short by morning if you'd stayed any longer," Spike interrupted without looking up from the receipt.
Buffy sniffed in pouty indignation.
"And you were giving me the holier-than-thou act before," Spike mused, shaking his head with some element of surprise. "Does Demon Girl realize some of the stuff that you took?"
"I didn't take it," Buffy insisted unconvincingly.
"No, right," Spike countered. "It was 'ordered' via wrong number by a Mr. . . . William Williams?" He raised his eyebrow at the customer name on the receipt. "Don't tell me you can't be more creative than that, Slayer."
Buffy shrugged. "Like Anya looks beyond the zeros, anyway."
"And you've tallied quite a few of them, I see," Spike said, poking through the box.
"Strategy," Buffy maintained. "You think they would have let me escape if the order hadn't been too heavy for Xander to carry?"
"Urn of Abyssinia," Spike continued as he sifted through the inventory, "kal'ek thistles, belladonna . . . you know those two can explode if you cram them too close together . . . ." He removed a handful of what looked like twisted brambles from the box and lay them separately on the tomb. "One Essence of Atropine candle . . . ." He grinned. "That's an aphrodisiac, you know, Slayer." Spike raised a suggestive eyebrow and made a show of slipping the candle among his personal belongings.
Buffy wrinkled her nose and rolled her eyes.
"`Course there's nothing here that's worth anything in a non-novelty kind of way," he added with a sigh. "If you were going to pillage the company kitty, pet, you could have at least gotten your pretty fingers into the register." He gave the inside of the box another once-over. "Or maybe nicked another handful of burba weed."
"I'm not stealing it!" Buffy said. "And you are not keeping any of it. I just needed an excuse to get out of there. I'll bring it back later."
"Well, I'm sure the lack of a real sale this large will break poor Anya's heart. But, I assure you, Mr. William Williams certainly won't be paying for any of the junk you're thrusting upon him."
Buffy's eyes widened they way they had in the Magic Box basement. "There's no thrusting."
Spike chuckled. "So I'm just harboring fugitives, am I?"
"Quit being such a baby," Buffy said. "I just need Mr. Will— you – to keep it here for a few hours. I'll return it afterwards."
"And what excuse do you plan on giving to our favorite shop girl as to why you didn't come back with the cold hard cash?"
"It's Halloween," Buffy said with a casual smirk. "Prank phone call."
Spike looked taken aback for a moment. Then he gave an appreciative nod. "That's actually . . . not bad."
"Thank you," Buffy replied in a very businesslike manner.
"Well," Spike said as he picked up his duster from where it had been draped over a wrought-iron grate. "Never let it be said that I don't stand by my offers. If it's a patrol the lady wants . . . ."
But Buffy didn't move right away. She shifted her weight and glanced around the crypt.
"Something wrong, love?" Spike asked.
"Actually," Buffy said. "I do plan on patrolling . . . but that wasn't the offer I was talking about."
Spike's mind reeled, and it was his turn for his eyes to go a little wide. He strained to think of what other offer he had made. His thoughts immediately turned to the Essence of Atropine candle, and he glanced at where he had set it upon the tomb.
Spike met and held Buffy's gaze over the candle. Her eyes went very large and she flushed violently as she stumbled back into speech. "You – you mentioned something . . . ," Buffy said, some awkwardness evident in her voice, ". . . about The Great Pumpkin?" She collected herself and gave a small tentative smile.
Buffy looked at him as though trying to figure out why he was staring at her that way – like she'd just sprouted an extra head. She reached into the box and pulled out a sealed plastic baggie. The object was clearly not part of the Magic Box's merchandise. "I brought candy corn," the Slayer added coaxingly as she held the bag up.
Spike placed his duster back over the grating. He looked at her with an odd combination of curiosity, amusement, and barely-concealed wonder. Then, he snapped back to himself. "Break open the bag, love," he said. "I'll pull the couch around."
The tattered couch from the opposite side of the room was soon sitting in front of the television set. Spike didn't use it much himself, so the poor excuse for a sofa often remained along the far wall. He'd only decided to get it after Dawn had begun to make frequent late-night visits to his crypt, during the summer. Sometimes, when she didn't want to go home, he would pull the ratty piece of secondhand furniture in front of the television for her. She'd curl up tightly against one end of the couch and they would watch an old movie together.
Spike always stationed himself in his usual chair, which he placed directly beside the couch. Although there was plenty of room on the sofa, he never joined her there. It just never felt right, sitting beside Dawn – like he had any familial warmth to offer; like he deserved to share her space; like he hadn't failed her. The late night movies became more of a vigil for him, and Spike never took his eyes off the Nibblet. It didn't usually take long for her to fall asleep.
Now, as Spike's eyes flickered restlessly to his right, it was Buffy who had taken up temporary residence in Dawn's place – tucked into a corner of the couch. She frowned as she watched the rather fuzzy cartoon images play across the screen.
"Why is it that Charlie Brown always gets a rock?" she said. "Is there something about him that makes him inherently rock-deserving? And what sort of people stock up on rocks to give out to trick-or-treaters, anyway?"
"I'd imagine the Hellmouth might have a few," Spike replied, slouching casually into his chair, one leg tossed over the armrest. He twisted the top off his second bottle of beer.
Buffy sighed and rolled her head back onto the couch. "Every time I watch this I always hope at least one person will give him some real candy. I mean, what kind of message does that send?"
"Could be a cautionary tale for blokes with low self-esteem."
"What? Buck up, or you get a rock?"
"Seriously," Buffy said, turning to him and perching her chin on the sofa arm. "Does it have to be so obvious that no one likes the poor kid? It just doesn't seem like the sort of message a cartoon should be giving."
Spike tilted his head as he considered this. "I imagine Schulz-y likes him fine," he said. "It's my understanding that it's customary to torture the favorite characters."
Buffy snorted, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling of the crypt. "Somebody up there must really love me, then."
Spike shifted uncomfortably at the casual bitterness in her words, unsure how to respond. "There's a bright side, you know, pet," he said at last. "`Least he won't have a problem with his teeth. Then one day, when the kid's all grown up, he'll be the only one left with a winning smile." Spike flashed her a grin. "Last laugh and all."
Buffy cocked her head and studied him for a moment. A half-quirk tugged at the corner of her stubborn mouth. Eventually, she gave up a small smile. "You can be an incredibly lame-ass vampire sometimes, you know that?"
Spike turned self-satisfactorily back to the television. The Slayer might not have much to be pleased about in terms of her own life at the moment, but if Spike could be the one to make her grin at the prospect of someone else's life improving, he was happy. Even if they were talking about a fictional, two-dimensional character in a ghost sheet with about ten-too-many holes in it.
They watched in silence for a few more minutes until Spike began snickering lowly during one climactic scene. Buffy twisted toward him again with an appalled expression. "How can you laugh at that?"
"What?" asked Spike. "It's bloody amusing."
She straightened a bit in her seat to emphasize her words. "A little boy waits outside all night, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Great Pumpkin. His hero never shows, and you think there's something funny about that?"
"For such a dedicated Great Pumpkin groupie, the kid's pretty sodding uninformed." Spike swung his leg off the arm of the chair so he could sit upright as he looked at Buffy.
"Care to explain?"
"The Great Pumpkin," Spike announced in a rather important-sounding voice, "or as it's sometimes called, the Pepe'on Demon." He waggled his brows, and Buffy's eyes went rather huge.
"Are you telling me," she asked accusatorily, "that the Great Pumpkin is real?"
Spike shrugged. "I'm telling you that there is such a thing as a Pepe'on Demon, love," he replied. "Though it's funny how the great Mr. Schulz got so many of the details right. For instance, it's not unusual to spot them on a pumpkin farm, but you'll never see them going all St. Nick with the presents. Pepe'ons've got a thing for gourds and melons – next best thing to their favorite form of nourishment. Plus, their skin is a bright rusty orange color, so it makes sense that a person would make the pumpkin connection."
"Let's go back to the 'favorite nourishment' thing," said Buffy, shifting in her seat as though she had already heard something she didn't like. "You mind telling me what that would be?"
Spike rolled his eyes and took a pull from his beer. "That's quite the tutelage Rupert's giving you, Slayer," he muttered. He slouched back in the chair but continued to look at her. "Pepe'ons have a mouth like a whale, pet – all rows of skinny comb-teeth. Long and nasty, yeah, but they can’t really bite with them; they have to feed like a filter. But they've got this long one, see? Sticks out from its upper jaw like a big sodding straw. It's supposed to be pretty strong, too – enough to puncture the shell of a pumpkin . . . or a melon . . . or," he raised one eyebrow and smirked, "the unsuspecting noggin of some young, hapless passer-by."
Buffy made a revolted face.
Spike's grin widened as he added, "Fancy the soft squishy, that lot."
"Ew!" Buffy said, horrified. "You are not seriously telling me that Linus' Great Pumpkin is really a brain-sucking demon!"
Spike shrugged again. "Didn't think I'd have to, pet. Figured your Watcher'd already filled you in on that one. It's pretty common knowledge."
Buffy shot to her feet.
Spike was suddenly startled. "What's wrong?"
"What's wrong?" she repeated. "Spike, you're saying that there's a brain-eater out there stalking the pumpkin patches! Do you know how many kids are probably out there every Halloween because of this stupid cartoon?" She quickly started to step between the chair and the sofa to reach the door.
Spike also got to his feet. "You're leaving? Don't you want to finish watching?"
Buffy rounded on him. "Apparently, I've got more patrolling to do tonight than I thought!" She made for the door. "The one time of the year that supernatural threats give it a rest, my ass. As if the cemeteries weren't enough work. Where am I supposed to find a pumpkin patch, anyway?" She spun back around to Spike as she asked, but he was suddenly right there. He caught her by the upper arms before she plowed into him. As she looked up into his face, she saw that he was grinning.
Spike laughed. "I wouldn't worry, pet. Pumpkin patch is probably the one place you won't find a Pepe'on tonight."
Buffy's eyes were huge, but she hadn't made a move to release herself from his hold yet. She blinked. "What do you mean?"
Spike cocked his head. "Well, your Watcher was right about one thing," he said. "Halloween . . . taking the night off . . . kinda the rules. In a hundred years, I've never heard mention of a Pepe'on attack on Halloween night – not even after the start of all this Great Pumpkin nonsense." His features softened as he gazed at her. "Everybody takes a break once in a while, pet."
Buffy frowned dubiously. Spike's hands continued to firmly grip her arms. His thoughts again turned to when she'd been gone. A few short weeks ago, he hadn't imagined ever seeing her again, much less having her this close to him. Even before she had died to save Dawn – and the world with her – the very idea of Spike watching telly side-by-side in his crypt with the Slayer would have seemed highly unlikely, if not bordering on delusional. He wondered how long it would be before she realized where she was and pulled away.
It wasn't long.
Buffy sighed tiredly, stepping away from the pressure of his hands as she did so. But instead of turning and heading for the door, as he thought she would, she ambled past him, back to the couch, brushing her shoulder against his chest as she went. Spike was stunned. He fought the urge to touch her again but couldn't resist turning in place to move with her as she walked, eager to keep the contact she'd inadvertently created for as long as he could.
He found himself in front of the couch with her and, as Buffy stopped and sank back onto the cushions, Spike was faced with a decision: he could sit beside her, or break away to return to his usual spot in his chair.
Spike decided that certain acts of nobility were highly overrated. He eased down next to the Slayer – even going so far as to stretch one arm over the back of the couch. But he didn't touch her.
Buffy sighed again. It didn't seem as though she was going to protest his new position. At least not yet. "That's one weird code the forces of evil have got," she muttered.
Spike shrugged. "Forces of darkness fancy a lie-in as much as the next person. Evil's still there in the morning."
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "If you're so sure the Big Badness is taking the night off, why did you suggest a patrol tonight?" she asked, a hint of amused accusation in her voice.
Spike flashed her a 'you-caught-me' grin. "A quiet night out can be as nice as a quiet night in."
Buffy appeared unconvinced, but she didn't argue the point.
The final few moments of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown scrolled across the screen of Spike's out-of-focus television. "So," Buffy asked, her eyes on the TV, "does this mean Charles Schulz was a demon? Because that would just be a serious blow to my childhood."
Spike laughed. "Not so far as I know, pet," he said. "Always thought he might have been a Watcher, myself. After all, he did center his whole story around the one day of the year the little brainless children would be least likely to run into a Pepe'on Demon. Kept them safe that way, most like."
Buffy wrinkled her nose. She leaned her head back against the couch, and Spike's gaze shifted to where it was almost touching his arm. "So, do any of his other cartoons focus on real demons?" she asked. "Because TV-watching? It beats Giles' books any day. I could get used to that kind of research."
"Jury may still be out on Snoopy, I think," Spike replied helpfully. "He is awfully shrewd for a canine."
Buffy smiled. "Xander will be so disappointed."
Some time later, the television was still on, but now it was flashing images of a cheesy horror flick into the otherwise quiet crypt. An empty candy corn bag had been tossed heedlessly to the floor, and the candles that had been burning a few hours ago were starting to sputter out. A disregarded bottle of beer sat, half-full, flat, and slightly warm, alongside the chair.
Spike hadn't moved from his position, but he wasn't watching the screen. Buffy's head had lolled slackly against the back of the couch. Her eyes were closed, and her breathing was steady and even. Not long ago, Spike would have been insulted if the Slayer had dared to fall asleep in his presence. Now, he was afraid that any movement on his part would cause her to wake up and leave.
A quiet night in, he thought, is definitely turning out to be the better choice. Spike didn't want to be the one to disturb her. After all, everyone deserved a break once in a while.
Besides, evil would still be there in the morning.