Some nights, I really miss being able to hit you.
Chapter 5: Underfunded
The Buffybot strolled blithely into the house, with Spike right behind her. They went to the living room, where Dawn and Tara were bent over a board game at the coffee table.
“How was your first patrol?” Tara asked the robot.
“Patrol was great!” the bot said with a wide smile. “We slayed vampires!”
Spike dropped onto the couch beside Dawn. “Tara, there are still some… glitches. Not all the old programming is gone.”
“Oh.” Tara blushed at the implication. “I’ll ask Willow to look into it. But she’s slaying ok?”
“She did alright, when she wasn’t talking too much, and not trying to lead me to the crypt.” A tingle passed through his shoulder, and he sighed in relief. “I’m just glad it’s over for the night. Nibblet, why don’t you take this bloody thing upstairs to its battery charger?”
Dawn stood up and started toward the stairs. She addressed the bot without making eye contact. “Come on, Plastic Buffy. Bedtime.”
“Giles left some money on the desk for you,” Tara said when she thought they were alone. “As a ‘thank you.’ He knows you really don’t want to patrol with her.”
“Good. Last night’s ice cream run with Dawn nearly cleaned me out. Could use the dosh.”
“We all could. Willow and I have pooled our money, but Giles is still going to have to help with the mortgage soon. Mrs. Summers’ life insurance will only cover three more months of expenses.”
“Guess I could look into finding some kind of work in the meantime, help keep Nibblet off the street.”
Tara bit the inside of her cheek. “It wouldn’t be legal work, would it?”
“Probably not.” He shrugged. “But whatever it takes, yeah?”
Dawn came back down the stairs and resumed her place on the couch. She leaned into Spike’s shoulder. “I wish she didn’t have to be in Buffy’s room,” she said quietly.
“I know, Bit. Me, too.” He gestured to the coffee table. “Finish your game. Past time you went to bed.”
“Can you stay with me again tonight?”
“I need to talk to you for a minute,” Buffy whispered.
“Sure.” He stood up. “Gonna head out back for a smoke. Be up in a few.”
He went out to the backyard and sat down on the garden bench, well away from the house. “What’s on your mind, love?” he asked while he fished his lighter out of his coat pocket.
“Tara’s not exaggerating about the money. I was looking over Giles’ shoulder when he was going through the bills yesterday, and it’s bad. Tara and Willow don’t have all that much to contribute.”
“Then they can get jobs. Two able-bodied young witches should be able to find something.”
“That would help, but it would only be part time. They have school, Dawn, and slayage stuff to worry about. I’m thinking of the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is of slowly bleeding Giles dry.”
“The old man can manage. You got him back on the Council payroll, and he’s got the shop, besides.”
“Spike, he’s already started slipping money into the checking account, presumably to stretch out the life insurance.” Buffy looked toward the house. “Tell them… Tell them to sell the house.”
“Sell your mother’s house?! Have you gone completely mad?” He turned toward the sound of her voice. “Buffy, we’re all trying to keep Dawn from worrying, and keep social services from looking too close. You think selling out wouldn’t catch some attention?”
“Being foreclosed on by Christmas would draw a lot more attention.” She sighed. “The alternative is to de-fund Giles’ retirement, a little at a time. I don’t like either option.”
“Say they get the bleedin’ bot to behave itself long enough to sell the house without anyone catching on that she’s not you. Then what?”
“I don’t know. A smaller house. An apartment. Something a little more manageable.”
Spike took a long drag of his cigarette. “And how do you propose I push the idea? A little birdy whispered in my ear that you’d be right with it? They’ll think I’ve gone mad.”
Buffy was silent for a long time.
“Slayer? You still with me?”
“I told you to quit calling me that.”
“Hard habit to break.”
She sighed. “I know, I know. You aren’t good at breaking habits.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve been smoking for how many decades?”
“Eight or so. What’s your point?”
“Talk to Giles about selling the house, Spike. If he resists, tell him about the little ghost birdy.”
“Yeah, you’re definitely the one who’s gone ’round the bend.” He put out his cigarette. “Gotta go see Nibblet off to Dreamland ‘fore we head off for a real patrol. You coming up?”
She grinned. “That depends. Are you going to sing her to sleep again?”
“Bloody hell.” He shook his head in embarrassment. “Didn’t know you were there that night.”
“I like your voice.”
His expression shifted into one of surprise at the compliment. “Yeah?”
“Yeah… Um, I think I’ll go scout the cemeteries, to see if I can find some trouble for you to get into. Give Dawnie a hug for me?”
“Always. …And Buffy? It’s mutual.”
Spike leaned against the back of Buffy’s headstone, his head tilted up to study the stars “What do you think about, when you do this?”
“I don’t know. Stuff. I just kind of let my mind wander,” Buffy answered from her position a few feet away, where she was stretched out on the ground, staring up at the sky.
“Dru always loved to look at the stars, but it was different. More like they were having conversations.”
Spike tapped the side of his head. “A lot going on in there, for Dru. Easier for her to say the things in her head -voices, visions, and whatnot- were all coming from somewhere else. Dolls, stars, pixies, whatever she could think of to make it make sense.”
“None of that makes any sense. Stars giving her visions? Where’s the sense in that?”
There was a long silence as Spike tried to come up with a better explanation. “As bad as Angel screwed you up, love, you’ve nothing on Dru. She makes as much sense of the wreckage as she can.”
“Angel didn’t screw me up.” Buffy frowned up at the stars. “Well, I guess he did in some ways, but I got over it.”
“Sure you did.”
“Just so you know, I’m giving you a dirty look right now.”
“Figured as much.” Spike climbed to his feet. “’Bout time I headed off to Willy’s. Don’t wanna be late. Talk to you in the morning?”
“What’s going on at Willy’s?”
“Poker game. Gonna pad my pockets a bit.”
“Oh. Well, have fun. And can you try not to be so drunk when you come home that you leave the door open again?”
“Bloody nag. If I’m inconvenient to live with, maybe you’ll go haunt someone else.”
Buffy laughed. “You wish you were that lucky.”
“Thanks, love. That’s a great thing to say to a man on his way to a card table.”
“Please! The only luck you need is to not get caught cheating.”
Spike chuckled as he walked away. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Liar!” she called after him. She turned her attention back to the stars, letting her thoughts wander again. “Cheating at poker,” she whispered to herself. “That might actually work…”
Spike looked around the poker table, then reached up to scratch his tingling shoulder. Buffy took her cue and stepped away from him, walking around the table and to the far corner of the room, where she started quietly humming. Half the players at the table started looking around for the source of the sound. The humming came to an immediate halt.
“Did anyone else hear that?” one player asked.
“Yeah. What was that?” asked another.
“I didn’t hear anything.”
Spike pretended to look as confused as the others. “I did. Odd, that.” He shrugged. “Stopped now, anyway.”
“So whose turn is it to deal?”
Three hours later, Spike sold his modest winnings to a demon who had more need for kittens than cash and started for home. He was almost to Restfield Cemetery when he felt the tingle of a hand passing through his shoulder.
“Hey.” Buffy fell into step beside him. “No kittens? Who do you owe?”
“Came out a little ahead, actually. Sold ’em off to a bloke uses them to–”
“Stop! Stop!” She put her hands to her ears. “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know what happens to the kitties.”
Spike rolled his eyes and changed the subject. “Never gonna make much, this way. It’s a good idea, but there are too many demons and half-demons around, and most species can hear you. Can’t find a safe table in this town.”
“Not one you could get a seat at, anyway.”
“So what’s your next bright idea?”
“A bigger town. Someplace where we can get you into an all-human game. I mean, we’ll still run the Hum Test, just to be sure, but in a bigger town, the odds of finding a safe table would be better.”
“Are you asking me to run off to Vegas with you?”
“I was thinking of a place I actually know, that’s a lot closer, besides.”
He clenched his jaw. “Hell, no.”
“Why not? It’s a big place, with a big underworld. As in, big enough to have a lot of humans involved. I’m sure we could find an underground poker tournament or two.”
“And risk running into your dearly beloved.”
“Come on, Spike. L.A. is huge. What are the odds he’ll ever even know you’re there?”
“Pretty damned high, the way I figure it. The L.A. underworld is his bloody sandbox.”
“We go in, we win enough for a couple of mortgage payments, and we get out. He’ll never even know we’re in town.”
Spike shook his head. “Anywhere but L.A.”
“Fine. Then give in and talk Giles into selling the house.”
“No. Vegas. One weekend out there could set Nibblet up for a year or two, easy.”
Buffy refused to give in. “L.A. is close enough that we may not even need to be gone a whole weekend.”
“If you’re gonna argue with me all night again, Slayer, I need to hit a liquor store ‘fore we head home.”
She glared at him. “Some nights, I really miss being able to hit you.”
“Welcome to my life.”