With the house as livable as it was going to get for the foreseeable future, Buffy was left with more free time in which to get better acquainted with her new home. Inevitably, her feet took her to the foot of the narrow staircase leading to the attic. She stood there for several minutes, broom, mop and bucket in hand, then stepped on the first riser. She set her burdens down a few feet away from the last step and went back down stairs to retrieve her dusting implements and a trash bag.
Go me. If this place has done nothing else, it’s turned me into a first class janitor.
She began her task by washing down the insides of the windows at either end of the large, vaulted room. Cleaning a century’s worth of grime from the glass brought a surprising amount of light into the space, and Buffy stepped back, smiling in satisfaction. As long as she worked on sunny days, there’d be no need to bring the electrician back to install lighting in the long-neglected room. Several small, but functional oil lamps gave evidence of how the room had been illuminated long ago.
Hours later, when the waning sunlight was no longer brightening the dark corners, Buffy stretched and surveyed her efforts. The floors were now dust free, as were all the other horizontal surfaces in the room. She’d filled two bags with trash – mostly old newspapers and magazines that had crumbled away or been destroyed by mice and insects. And she’d washed down the outsides of the various chests and enclosed shelves against the walls of the attic. She was very proud of herself for the way she’d kept to her tasks and resisted the urge to dig into the chests and books before she’d finished cleaning.
Leaving her cleaning tools by the door, Buffy picked up the bucket of dirty water and made her way down the steep stairs to the floor below. The interior hallway was already growing dark, and she had to resist hitting the light switch on her way to the back stairs, telling herself it would be a waste of electricity and she’d just have to come back up to turn it off. The stairs, which led first to the floor containing the family bedrooms, and from there down to the kitchen, were well-lit and, although still narrow, more easily negotiated even when carrying a full bucket of sloshing water.
“I should have stopped and dumped this in the tub,” she muttered as she finally made it to the kitchen, hit the light switch there, and carried the bucket to the back door. She opened the door and stepped out into the growing gloom to empty the bucket over the grass she was encouraging in a small cleared area.
As she stood up, familiar tingles on her neck had her balancing on the balls of her feet, searching for the source of what could only be vampire vibes. She dropped the bucket and picked up a near-by rake, holding it in the middle while she moved out into the yard. Buffy made a mental note to have someone come in and trim the large boxwoods behind which anything could have been hidden. Even as she strode toward the back gate, which she could now see was hanging open, she felt the vibes becoming fainter. By the time she got to the gate, she could no longer sense them and she kicked it in disgust.
She slammed it closed, latching it firmly. Before she re-entered the kitchen, she made a quick circuit of the house, but found nothing amiss and no lurking creatures except a small black and white kitten that meowed and glared at her with great suspicion.
“Hey, don’t yell at me. I live here. What are you doing in my yard?”
The kitten stared at her, then stuck its tail in the air and walked away with great dignity. If it found the sight of a strange human holding a gardening tool intimidating, it refused to admit it. Buffy watched it go, then laughed and put the rake back by the door.
“I don’t know if you’re really brave or really stupid,” she called after the kitten, which had already disappeared into the bushes. “Good thing for you I don’t play poker with demons.”
The small smile that graced her face for several minutes was proof of how far she’d come in the years since the fall of Angel’s LA team. A memory that would have once brought a lump to her throat was now just something to smile about as she remembered the vampire who’d inspired it. She closed and locked the kitchen door before peering into the refrigerator for something to eat.
She took the sandwich she’d fixed and her bottle of water into the living room and made herself comfortable on the couch. She clicked the TV on and settled back to watch while she had her pre-patrol meal.
The vampire stood for several minutes, staring at the freshly-painted exterior of the old house, wincing when the lights began to come on. He was already fading back into the shadows when the kitchen door opened, and had moved well away before anyone had time to come out and find him lurking in the yard.
Cursing his luck, he moved down the street, an obvious limp making him appear even more down on his luck than did the battered leather coat and the disfiguring scars on his thin face. His cheekbones stood out sharply below his hollowed eyes—eyes that flared yellow whenever a human walked past and the scent of warm blood hit his senses.
“So, you think there was a vamp in the yard?” Dawn spoke around a mouthful of pizza. “Really?”
“I think I know what a vampire feels like, Dawn,” Buffy said with some annoyance. “I just don’t understand why one was in my yard and then left before I got outside.”
“Maybe he wasn’t hungry?” Dawn reached for another slice of pizza and frowned at it. “Do they put mushrooms in everything in this country?”
“Pretty much,” Buffy said absently, biting into her own slice. “I dunno. It just seemed weird. Maybe he was some old vamp who thought the house was still empty?”
“That makes sense. It was empty for a long time, wasn’t it? Maybe long enough for vampires to be able to come in and hole up here. It’s not like there was an owner hanging around to make sure they couldn’t get in.”
“Well, if that’s what it was, he knows now. The lights were on, and even a vampire should be able to tell the difference between a ratty old house and one that’s been fixed up.” She finished her pizza and took a swallow of Diet Coke. “But I’m going to have those boxwoods trimmed, anyway. They’re all taller than I am.”
“Five-year-olds are taller than you are,” Dawn said, not bothering to hide her smirk.
“Very funny, giant girl.” Buffy stood up and stretched. “Let’s watch some ‘telly’ before we go to bed. You’ll like the new flat screen Xander picked out for me.”
“He’s been around a lot lately, hasn’t he?” Dawn followed Buffy into the living room. “Something going on there that I should know about?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s Xander. He’s here a lot because… because he’s Xander. That’s all.”
“Uh huh.” Dawn remained unconvinced. “And where does he stay when he’s here?”
“So not your business,” Buffy said, blushing. “But just so you know, I fixed up the other spare room for him. If and when he needs a place to stay, he stays there. In his own room, Miss nosey-pants.”
“Dawn, it’s Xander. I love him dearly, but he will never be anything but one of my best friends. And I’m sure he doesn’t think of me that way anymore either. He has girlfriends, for God’s sake.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. No Xander-Buffy hanky-panky. How boring.”
“Boring is good. Boring means no yelling, no hurting, no crying, no—”
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to tell you something one time, and then we are never going to discuss it again. ‘k?”
Dawn looked intrigued and turned down the volume. “Okay. Spill.”
“I once had the best lover a woman could ever want. He was inventive, unselfish, strong, sexy, an amazing kisser, rough when I needed him to be rough, and gentle when I needed him to be gentle… and he could outlast a slayer.” She paused. “And he loved me with everything he had.” She looked up, her eyes glistening. “I’m not saying I’ll never find anybody else like that,” she said softly. “But I’ve tried often enough to know that I’d rather do without than be disappointed. Someday I’ll meet somebody and fall in love, and then….” She shook herself. “In the meantime, I don’t plan to use my best friend just to scratch an itch that I’m pretty sure he can’t reach.”
“Oh.” Dawn seemed to be rendered genuinely speechless for several seconds. “Oh, Buffy…” At a gesture from her sister, she stopped her intended expression of sympathy and regrouped. “Okay, so, the next time someone asks me why you don’t date more, I can just tell them the guy has to be sexier than—”
“Do and die.”
The next opportunity Buffy had for some free time, she returned to the attic to indulge her curiosity about the leather-bound books behind the glass-front cabinets and the items in the trunks. An hour after sitting down beside the first trunk and opening it, she was still there, marveling over things like programs from dances, names that meant nothing to her scribbled here and there, a woman’s fan that looked like it had been caressed many times.
Many of the things she took out meant nothing to her modern eyes, but they had clearly been important to Spike’s mother, whose treasures she assumed they were. A guess that was confirmed when she found a small cache of letters tied with a ribbon. The letter on the top made it clear that they had been written back and forth between Spike’s mother and father at some point early in their marriage when James Pratt had been away on business. For some reason, to continue reading the letters seemed to Buffy too much like an invasion of Anne Pratt’s privacy, and she put them back in the trunk along with all the other bits and pieces of a life long in the past.
After closing the trunk lid and fastening it down with the clasp, Buffy sighed and looked around the room. Her eyes lit upon the glass-enclosed bookcase and she wandered over to it. The books on the shelves seemed to be mainly books of poetry – some by poets whose names Buffy vaguely remembered from English class, and some not. She smiled at the notations in the margins, and the underlined phrases, guessing immediately who the books had belonged to. When one fell open to the flyleaf and she saw “to William. Wishing you a very happy twentieth birthday, love, Mother” she sat down, stroking the page.
She glanced through several more books, finding his name in the front of each one, and notes throughout. “Well done!” he’d written beside one underlined stanza by somebody Buffy had never heard of. She shook her head and stood up, clutching the book to her chest. She closed the doors and took the book with her to read later on.
Buffy was lounging in a chair, enjoying the unusually warm, sunny day by pretending she was back in southern California. Sunhat on head, sunglasses on her face, and legs stretched out for tanning, she watched as the man she’d hired to trim the boxwoods worked. He’d had to use a ladder to reach the tops, but had quickly reduced them to a more manageable four feet tall. At Buffy’s gasp when she saw the first butchered shrub, he’d quickly explained that the bushes would fill in before she knew it and be all the healthier for the pruning.
“Trust me, Miss. I know what I’m doin’. Been tending to gardens all over the city for more years that you’ve been alive.” He looked around with approval. “You’ve got the basics of a lovely garden here. Bit overgrown in places, but the bones of it are classical. It could be a showcase.”
Buffy smiled, but recognized the sales pitch for what it was. “I’ll settle for just not having to hack my way through it with a machete,” she said. “Anything else will have to wait until I have more time and money.”
He’d accepted the rejection with good grace and gone back to his vigorous pruning, while Buffy settled down with her book of poems that had, at one time, been important to Spike. She smiled as she read, noting how often his favorite lines seemed to be about love and women. “Some things don’t change that much, do they?” she whispered to herself, remembering Spike’s hundred-year devotion to Drusilla, and his willingness to endure torture or death for Dawn and Buffy.
“That’s odd!” Buffy looked up at the surprised tone in the gardener’s voice. He was staring at an old potting shed near the rear of the large yard.
“What is?” Buffy stood up and walked to where she could see where he was looking.
“Nothing, I suppose. I just would have sworn I’d left that door open until I finished the job and put the tools away.”
Buffy shrugged. The idea of danger appearing in broad daylight was still foreign to her, in spite of knowing that humans were as capable of evil as any demon or vampire. “Maybe the wind blew it shut,” she said, turning back to her book.
“Maybe,” he agreed with more agreement than belief in his voice. “Not that there is any wind today….”
“Well, we’ve both been here all afternoon, so it’s not like anybody could have snuck in,” Buffy said. “So, either you forgot you closed it, or there was a gust of wind.”
“Right you are, Miss. I’m sure that’s the case.” He turned away and began raking up all the boughs of boxwood. “I’ll just finish tidying up here and be on my way, then.”
Buffy nodded and went into the house to get the check she’d already written out for him. She watched from the window as he gathered up all the trimmed off branches and piled them in a deep cart which he used to transport them to the gate. His small truck was parked outside the gate, and it took only a few minutes for him to transfer the debris from cart to truck bed. He put his pruning tools in behind them and returned to the garden.
She came outside, check in hand, and pointed at the few tools he’d used that belonged to her. “Don’t worry about that stuff,” she said. “I’ll put them away myself. You’ve worked hard enough for one day.” Smiling and handing him the check, she watchedas he got back in the truck and drove off – after offering her many assurances that anytime she needed more work done, he was “her man”. Buffy locked the gate behind him and turned toward the equipment waiting to be put away.
Picking up the few tools she owned that the gardener had deemed “passable” for his tasks, she carried them to the shed, holding them awkwardly in one hand while she opened the door and let in a wide shaft of sunlight. The sound of something scuttling away inside the otherwise dark shed caused her to yelp and drop the tools.
Get over yourself, Buffy! You slay demons, for cripe’s sake. You need to stop flinching at mice and other small creatures.
Picking up the rake, she ventured into the interior, waving it around as she said, “Whatever you are, I’m not afraid of you, but you can’t live in my shed. So get out!” She poked the handle of the rake into a box in the corner, muffling a small shriek when a rat ran out and paused to stare at her. When a voice rasped out, “What the bloody hell were you screaming about if you’re not afraid?” she gulped and stared back at the rat.
“You can talk? You’re a talking rat?” Her eyes narrowed. “Amy? Is that you?”
Without replying, the rat decided that a frightened woman holding a rake was more than he cared to deal with and he ran between her legs and out into the bushes.
“I think its name is Roscoe, not Amy,” said the oddly rough and breathy voice; its owner seemed to be having trouble getting enough air for speaking. Buffy flinched again, then realized that the voice had been coming, not from the rat, but from the very back of the shed behind a sheet of plywood Xander had left there.
She hefted the rake into a more weapon-like position and fixed her best Slayer glare on the plywood.
“Ok, so it’s not a four-legged rat. Come out here where I can see you. Now.”
“Or what? You’ll bludgeon me with a bamboo garden tool?” She could hear the gasps of air before each little burst of word, but the scoffing tone and obvious intent to ignore her command brought a growl from her as she tossed the rake aside and picked up a small axe.
“How about I bludgeon you with an axe?” Buffy inquired sweetly. “Or, you know, maybe just chop your head off with it?”
“Bloodthirsty bint, aren’t you? And not a very hospitable one.” Something about the scratchy voice was beginning to nag at Buffy, but she smothered the urge to think about it. It had taken her a few years to learn to live in England without flinching every time someone called her “luv” or “pet”, or used an accent similar to the one that still made her heart ache just a tiny bit.
“Come out here. Now,” she ordered. “I want to see who you are.”
“Excuse me? Can’t? You mean won’t. Do you think I won’t use the axe on you?”
“Oh, I’m beginning to suspect you probably would.” The voice held just a trace of what might have been admiration. “But if I come out right now, you won’t need to use it.”
“Why no—” Buffy glanced from the shadowed corner, protected by the plywood sheet, to the brightly lit sunny area right in front of it. Her eyes narrowed as she acknowledged the tingles on the back of her neck and wondered how she’d failed to notice them until just then. “What would happen to you if you came out now? Like, right here. In front of me. In the nice sunshine?” She looked around the shed and grabbed a broom, using the axe to hack off a foot-long piece of wooden handle. With the axe in one hand and the make-shift stake in the other, she raised her eyebrows at the innocent looking piece of wood.
“Ah, now, there’s no need to be getting belligerent.” The breathy voice sounded mildly aggrieved. “Wasn’t threatening you, was I? Just not jumping high enough when you said ‘frog’. Give us another hour or two and I’ll be out of your hair… so to speak.”
“You’re a vamp,” she said flatly. “There’s a freakin’ vampire living in my garden shed. What is wrong with you? Don’t you know what I am?”
“What’s wrong with me? I’m not the one threatening a total stranger with decapitation or staking. For all you know, I’m one of the fairy-folk. A brownie, maybe. Or a sprite of some sort.”
“I don’t believe in fairies.”
“But you believe in vampires.” The voice was sounding more and more like its owner was laughing at her, or would have been had he been getting enough air into his lungs.
“Why am I talking to you? I should just drag you out into the light and watch you go up in flames.” She made as if to approach.
“Hey now! Have I caused you any harm? So I get my forty-winks in the back of a garden shed. How is that hurting you? I’ll be gone as soon as it’s dusky enough.”
“You’re a vampire!” Buffy said, rolling her eyes at his refusal to accept the wrongness of his existence. “I’m a vampire slayer. Are you getting the sense that you might have chosen the wrong garden shed to hide in? What’s wrong with a nice empty crypt? London is lousy with cemeteries. Why my shed?”
“Don’t know,” he said, his voice suddenly softer and less confident. “Woke up nearby and something drew me here. Thought it might be the house, but I couldn’t get in.”
“Something ‘drew’ you here? To a slayer’s home? I think they call that a death wish.”
“Didn’t know it was your home,” he said, still sounding more petulant than dangerous. “Didn’t even know what I was, for sure. Just knew I needed to be someplace dark when the sun was up, and that I couldn’t be around people. For some reason, I knew my way to this house.”
“What do you mean, you couldn’t be around people?”
“Have terrible urges,” he whispered. “Want to do terrible things to them. It’s why I wanted to hide here. Have to take myself where there aren’t any people to tempt me.”
“Tempt you to do what?”
“You tell me, Slayer. You seem to know more about me than I do.”
“I don’t believe you. I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here, but it isn’t going to work. You’re a vampire. I slay vampires. End of story.”
In spite of her words, Buffy’s posture had relaxed and she dropped her arms to her sides. Standing safely within the pool of sunlight, she cocked her head at her invisible companion. With a big sigh, she backed toward the door and out into the yard. “I’ll give you till sunset,” she said. “Then I want you out of my shed and off my property. Got it?”
“Got it,” was the short reply. As Buffy pushed the door closed, reducing the amount of sunlight entering the small building, she just barely heard, “Thank you, Slayer.”
“My name’s Buffy,” she said as she walked away.
If there was a reply, she couldn’t hear it, and she went into the house, putting the axe and the broom handle on the kitchen table.
A phone call from Giles reminded Buffy that she was scheduled to take out a group of student slayers that evening for a final assessment of their fitness to be assigned their own areas. Somewhat reluctantly, she dressed for patrol and left the house before the sun had gone down far enough for her mysterious vampire to safely leave the shed. Although she carefully locked all the doors, and even the first floor windows, she didn’t bother going out to lock the back gate. If her guest was going to leave, she wanted to make it easy for him.