It's a rainy Friday evening 'roundabout rush hour and you find yourself, thumb out, long black duster flapping in the wind, walking backwards facing into the rush hour traffic on the Interstate that snakes through Sunnydale for the sheer hell of it because you're bored and because Harmony did a runner three weeks ago after driving you nuts with her constant whining that you never took her anywhere and that you only wanted her sex and not her. If you stay in your crypt one more hour by yourself you'll go even more bug shaggin' crazy than you already are, so sod the weather!

Never mind that you can't finish the game same as you used to, it's still a kick and you're broke - there's always some fool who'll catch a glimpse of William's innocent, boyish face in the headlights and make assumptions; allowing lust to overcome common sense and pick you up. The thrill's in getting away unscathed from a someone who assumes you're some runaway, miserable, helpless, an easy mark. Then it's either a rapacious hand down into the front of your trousers or a five o-clock shadow-rough mouth pressed against yours, maybe pulled off on an exit ramp somewhere nearby even as you steal their wallet and extricate yourself from the clinch in such a way that the chip in your head doesn't shoot out a bright blue burst of pain behind your eyes that will truly put you at their mercy.

Around six, you notice Joyce's car pulled over onto the shoulder with a spectacularly flat tire as the rush hour traffic thunders past.

She was getting out her cell phone when you tap on the driver's side window, grinning in at her with way too many soddin' teeth for a human mouth, startling her so that she drops the phone onto her lap.

Your face registers concern when inside you're laughing at the look on hers. It's a continuation of the same game; you played it very well back in the good old bad days. You pantomime for her to roll down the window, trying to look as harmless as possible with the rain running down the back of your neck and your hair in vulnerable, soggy curls around your forehead and ears.

(Buffy's mother is understandably hesitant.)

Mate, she has every right to give you the stinkeye, considerin' what you've done to her family in the past and would do again if given the chance. Still she accepts your offer of help with ob-vi-ous misgivings.

Now it's really pissin' down, but you don't care because now you have something to do when all you thought you had to look forward to after midnight was reruns on the telly while you counted the night's take and cataloged the bruises you got from throwing yourself out of moving vehicles.

After you finish changin' the flat and start walking off down the trash-nasty shoulder in the rain - Joyce rolls down her window and calls after you, asking "Spike, do you need a ride?" without asking you why you're out on a such night as this.

(It's best if they invite you in rather than the other way 'round.)

You can bet she doesn't really want to know Spike, because she somehow knows that she might not like your answer. And that thought alone warms your dead, shriveled heart. So, you accept, sliding into the passenger side, displacing gallery catalogs, invoices, and a box of little African statuettes with your skinny bum.

The two of you ride along without speaking, Jazz FM plays softly on the radio, the windshield wipers rhythmically thumping back and forth as the rain sluices across the glass adding a backbeat to something by Miles Davis.

A semi screams past, making the car shudder.

You look over at Buffy's mum, and look away quickly, speculating.

(Joyce's not like your usual...ah...rescuers.)

What's on Joycie's mind? A little "Mrs. Robinson" type action? You grin, she doesn't seem the type but you never know. It'd do your black heart good if Buffy knew her sweet, lovin' mum and you were shaggin' in the back seat of the family car. It's been three weeks since Harmony got out of your crypt and on with her unlife, you could use a shag; old as mummy is, she'll do!

Joyce asks you how you've been; she hasn't seen you for a while and her daughter hasn't mentioned seeing you either.

You make a noncommittal sound as you casually run your fingers through your dripping hair, slicking it back so that it's out of your face and then ask if she minds you smoking, still watching her from of the corner of your eye.

She doesn't say no, so you light up, cracking the window on your side so that the smoke trails out and the rain leaks in. You arrange yourself so that you're sprawled all over your side of the car, legs spread out, arms draped over the back of the seat, almost but not quite an open invitation because you've decided to play it coy.

(This is going to be fun. Just the thought of the pain of Buffy finding out that you and her mum did the big nasty, with you on top ensuring that Joycie has a good time, ruining her, just like Angel did her daughter, for the living forever, taking her in all ways the way Dru taught you, makes you hard and you make no attempt to hide it. The one lesson the Initiative taught you well with its little bit of plastic and silver is that unlike a bruise administered by a fist, some hurts made without ever striking a blow go deeper and will never heal.)

The silence becomes too much; she's keeping her hands to herself. You know, both on the wheel at ten and two just like in the manual. A little disconcerted, you ask her how her shop is doing, the gallery.

Is it making any money?

Then your stomach growls.

(Loudly.)

Your hand goes towards Joyce, almost grasping her by the shoulder...to be halted by a silent all too familiar warning tingle somewhere behind your eyes that prevents things from going any further. Joyce shoots you a glance as she reaches down near your left knee and turns up the heater. You recover the move by using that same hand to briefly press at your forehead as you lean back, sticking to the upholstery a bit from the wet, soaking in the warmth which is a poor substitute for what your body wants, no needs but can't make for itself because it's dead.

Nervously she asks how's the weather for you? Bet you feel right at home in all this rain, you being British.

(You both go yet another mile in the growing uncomfortable silence.)

Another semi roars past, its taillights glittering blood red through the drops on the windshield; your guts snarl again as your erection fades.

Joyce sniffs, frowning as she passes a semi load of cattle going well below the speed limit before she begins telling you about her gallery, about the newest shipment of paintings from a talented unknown she hopes to promote, how business is slowing down. You know, harmless things that normal people talk about, only the two of you are pretending that this is normal, a middle-aged divorcee in a Joan Leslie blazer and slightly worn Italian shoes giving you, a nightmare in a black leather duster, a ride.

Joyce sniffs again.

(You can tell that she's trying to be polite, but the heat and the damp are bringing out your smell. Part of it's the funky odor your kind develop when they go for too long on short rations, the rest of it's just, well ...you.)

Well, lad, you're now on your own and you aren't doing so swell because, and let's be frank, you don't know how to take care of yourself. You proved that when you destroyed your clothes the one time you tried to operate a washing machine. So you make do, stealing clothes that might fit from unattended laundry baskets at the Washeteria when the owners aren't looking, raiding clotheslines now and then, shoplifting whenever you can.

She's being polite but it's getting pretty pungent in here and you can't roll down the windows. So much for seduction unless she likes that sort of thing. Your groin stirs optimistically.

Despite the rain, Joyce cracks the window on her side and it's not to smoke. Suddenly humiliated, you try to distract her by asking her about how her daughters are doing.

Joyce cut to the chase and interrupts, "When's the last time you showered?"

You admit cautiously that it's been a while as you pass the gates of the cemetery where you for lack of a better word, live. She doesn't stop and you don't protest. She's older, fussier, it won't be the back seat or even a cheap hotel. You passed two already and she didn't slow down.

"Not another word, you're coming home with me."

It can't possibly get any better than this, it'll be the bedroom, or with any luck, the couch. Buffy will walk in on the both of you playing sweaty games. You won't hurt Joyce, the chip won't let you. You do know how to be gentle, tender even. What you have in mind doesn't call for violence unless you can think of even the most pleasurable sex as highly specialized violence. If Buffy doesn't interrupt you two tonight, maybe some other night. Steady on lad, steady on, that is if mum'll let you back in.

(You'll see to it that she does.)

Joyce ushers you into the house through the back door. Awkwardly, you stand there dripping all over her linoleum. The place feels different without the Slayer in it but she's probably out playing her own sweaty games with that prick Riley. She'll be back. When Buffy does, you'll make sure that she sees everything. Joyce tells you to wipe your feet and put your duster and Doc Martins in the basement to drip over the laundry sink down there because she just mopped the kitchen floor and doesn't feel like doing it again. Then she tells you to go and take a wash because it can't possibly be healthy to smell as bad as you do in no uncertain terms.

Fair enough, you were right mate, the lady's not dating but she's not desperate. If Joyce likes her evening's entertainment clean, you'll oblige you think to yourself as she shows you to the upstairs hall bathroom, hands you a clean towel from the linen closet and tells you to take your time before going into her bedroom and firmly shutting the door behind her.

You have to admit that it's pleasant, not being stared at as the hot water runs down your body. The showers at the homeless shelters are dangerous. You don't care if the crazies stare at you as you bathe in the communal showers, but if anyone tries anything (And they have mate, they have.) you can't defend yourself because the chip in your head's happy to remind you that you're not what you used to be.

You hear the bathroom door open and grin demon-faced with anticipation. She's going to climb in with you and do more than just wash your back.

The door closes again, leaving you more than a little puzzled.

(If she's going to make a move, why hasn't she done so already?)

Your clothes are gone when you finally get out of the shower. She's left a robe, a man's robe that's too big for you but you put it on anyway, remembering a faraway time when you'd owned one similar to it, with pajamas underneath and a pair of heavy wool carpet slippers and a real bed to go with it. But you don't want to think about that, now do you? Back then you were good because you thought you had no choice, and you like being bad, don't you mate? Doing all the damage you can to everyone you meet, even if you...

(...love them?)

Barefoot and feeling more than a little disconnected, you pad quietly around the upstairs as you dry your choppy hair with a towel, feeling like you're in a museum. "Over here on the dresser, ladies and gentlemen, we have a half-used bottle of perfume. It's expensive and a reminder of when there was more money in the house. To your left, you will see a pair of forgotten jeans with graveyard dirt ground into the knees that will never come out kicked underneath the Slayer's bed. On your right is another nicely made up bed that will be the scene of a family disaster that yours truly will be the source of."

(You "borrow" a bottle of Buffy's hair gel and one of her combs because yours was in the back pocket of the trousers Joyce is now washing for you. As you put both back on her dresser, deliberately rearranging them from the way they had been before, the thought of the Slayer's reaction should she ever find out that you've used something that personal of hers adds even more savor to your intended mischief.)

Joyce startles you when she comes in behind you with a stack of Buffy's clean clothes in her arms, "Hope you don't mind, but I was doing a load of darks anyway."

(Something's wrong. Very wrong. She should be wearing a negligee, not a t-shirt, jeans, and little pink Keds.)

It's not supposed to be like this. Joyce's supposed to be all over you and you're supposed to be giving her the good old ice cold in and out; she's not supposed to be doing the laundry while wearing a t-shirt with the name of a local symphony orchestra on it while you wander around her house in her ex's old bathrobe.

Slightly off balance, you thank her and follow her around attempting small talk, stalking her even as you try to evaluate the situation.

Your stomach growls again as you lean casually against the doorframe leading into Dawn's room.

(That pig's blood wasn't enough, it's never enough.)

Joyce turns suddenly from putting away a load of Dawn's little ankle socks and stares at you, remembering what you are but still maybe not quite able to digest it because you think you look like any young man with an edgy haircut, someone's son or boyfriend maybe? Taking a few classes over at the University while you make up your mind up about what you want to do with your life? Or at least you think you do? It's been a while since mirrors meant anything to you; you have to do everything by touch because you're invisible to yourself from the throat up without the eyes of a lover to tell you what you look like. Everything below your collar you can account for. Feeling that you've lost complete control over the situation, that is if you ever had any control over it, you try to distract her by asking if there's anything to drink in the house.

(Other than her, that is.)

You're now sitting at the kitchen island, rain pattering against the window as Joyce starts heating up leftover Chinese for herself and only something to drink for you because when she offered you food you turned her down.

Because you are marginally British, she serves you tea.

It's awful - tea isn't supposed to come in bags and be steeped in water from a pot that coffee's already been boiled in. But you find her gesture touching even though you would prefer blood.

(Hers.)

Instead, you dump the entire sugar bowl into it and drink it anyway. You love sugar; it helps you get through the thin times when you can't get alcohol or lately heroin which is expensive but helps cut the cravings and keep the background headaches down to a dull roar.

More small talk, Joyce asks you about yourself, you find yourself relaxing, eating an entire box of crackers because she won't let you smoke in the house...and your stomach can take the occasional solids to shut it up.

(...you don't object for reasons stated earlier even though you're badly jonsin' for even one of those little puffs of sanity when for one second at a time the world holds still and your hands stop shaking long enough for you to focus - you're up to about a carton a night since they put that chip in your nut, eh Billy-Me-Lad? Didn't used to be that way, right?)

Joyce gets answers that won't alarm her because you still think there's a chance...she finishes, loads the dishwasher and turns it on before you both go into the living room to watch the evening news.

(You can't help but notice that she's washed every dish you've touched separately in the sink, adding bleach to the water before putting them in the dishwasher with the rest of the dishes...)

Disoriented, you wake up alone a few hours later stretched out on the couch beneath an electric blanket, not even realizing that you'd drifted off.

(The house is silent.)

Your clothes are folded up neatly on the coffee table with your boots beneath. Your shirt's been ironed. Your duster's draped over the back of the couch, the contents of the pockets undisturbed. A man's razor sits on top of it.

So you use it, dressing in the silent house before you let yourself out and walk home in the false dawn with an unlit cigarette between your lips, completely buffaloed.

(This wasn't how it was supposed to be.)

Joyce greets you with the real thing the next time you come knocking at her back door after sundown because you're bored and lonely and you still think she might help you hurt Buffy.

(But you've kind of back burnered that idea. Maybe later, once Joyce gets used to you being around she'll make her move.)

Joyce's done her homework and tries her best to present you with hospitality she thinks you'll enjoy. You still want blood, but you appreciate the gesture - the antique bone china tea set with its matching wisteria patterned silver accessories had been an expensive wedding gift from a distant relation, packed away after the divorce and forgotten until having you in reminded her of it.

(Afterwards, Buffy's mother again washes the dishes you've touched with bleach before teaching you how to use the washing machine while telling you about the day she's had. You try not to take it as an insult, but it galls, oh mate, it galls!)

You're now sorting socks in the basement while she irons with Jazz FM once more turned down low in the background, the insult of bleach temporarily forgotten. While Coltrane lays it down hot, you want to tell Joyce how the baskets of dirty clothes that you're dumping into the machine one by one are a symphony of scents, a wondrous cocktail mix of perfumes natural and artificial all blending into one big beautiful painting, but you think it might frighten her and you're genuinely enjoying her company too much to want to ruin it so you don't...

(...want to scare her off, now, do you?)

The next time you drop in with a bag of dirty laundry, Joyce approaches you with a deal. She is after all a businesswoman, but it's not what you thought it would be. She'll see to it that you get enough to eat if you help her out now and then. A mowed lawn, a heavy object moved now and then and you'll be allowed to pick up blood at the back door of the Red Cross. She has friends who have friends; it can be done discreetly.

(Perhaps you'll seduce her later.)

Sometime around June you begin noticing a subtle difference in Joyce. A jerkiness, a twitching, odd words coming out of her mouth, her scent alters ever so slightly, headaches she dismisses that you the crown prince of headaches can't ignore. You want to tell Buffy but you don't know how and anyway, she's mad at you like always. You want to tell Joyce but you don't want to frighten her. Dawnie's completely out of the question, she's too young.

It's now the night before July the 4th, the radio's softly playing Jazz FM and you're both out on the back porch enjoying the long slow summer dusk and drinking a beer when it finally happens. Joyce is shelling the peas that she bought earlier in the day at the Farmer's Market for tomorrow's annual family bar-b-cue. There are six fresh baked pies cooling on the kitchen island. There would have been seven, but the two of you ate that one right out of the pan to make sure Joyce put the right amount of sugar and spices in them. The bleach bottle was nowhere in sight.

(You've forgotten about seduction.)

You lie on your back down at her feet with yours resting on the porch railing, one hand lightly touching her left foot so softly that you don't think she notices it, looking up at the slowly emerging stars, smoking, waiting for the buzzer on the dryer to go off. You've pretty much given up on one of you seducing the other. Instead you want to warn her of the disaster she's in the path of but you're still completely at a loss for the best way to do it as the fireflies slowly rise in glittering arcs from the grass you'd mowed earlier with the push mower.

You hear a thump. She's dropped the bowl of shelled peas that she'd been holding on her lap. Her eyes are wide open and fixed as she stiffly pitches forward out of her chair.

You catch Joyce before she lands on you, taking the paring knife out of her hand, easing her to the porch floor, trying not to panic as you half-cradle her on your lap because you don't know what to do.

(Joyce is something you eat, not nurture.)

Though Joyce's nearly the same size as you are, you easily carry her upstairs and put her on the bed you once hoped to debauch her in, taking off her shoes before you sit next to her pillow anxiously watching her face, listening to her breathe until you hear Buffy and Riley coming home from patrol. Like a coward you slip out of her mother's bedroom window, glad you remembered to clean up the mess Joyce made when she...well, what it that happened exactly? You don't know and it frightens you.

(You're afraid Buffy will blame you for what's happened to her mother. Funny, you didn't used to care.)

It didn't happen again so you forget about it.

(No. You don't. You somehow know that she's dying and lie sleepless for days, debating if you should take the risk of bribing some other vampire into draining Joyce for you so that you can Sire her because you don't want to lose her...when you sire someone you love...what wakes up isn't what made you love them in the first place...you don't want to risk going through that again...so you forget it...telling yourself that it's nothing...a fluke ...doctors work miracles these days...none of your business...)

Things get crazy and you say some unwise things that get you banned from the house, so that when the end comes, despite everything the doctors do, it catches you off guard.

(Another one has slipped through your fingers.)

You want to attend the funeral, but it's in daylight, in a part of the cemetery where there are no sheltering crypts, effectively shutting you out. That night you try to do the right thing but you get chased off. Or did you allow yourself be chased off because it's too hard to stand your ground knowing what you know? So you try to sit a vigil at her grave, even though you knew that she won't be rising and you won't be the first thing she'll see, but he's there.

(The only thing you can think of doing is when they're closing down the gallery.)

You jimmy the lock on the back door as the rain slowly falls, and wander lost and grieving through the packing crates where art had once been. It wasn't the best art in the world, but it was Joyce's and she'd loved it all, even the works you flat out thought were worthless crap as you helped her unpack and display it after closing time during that all too short summer.

(You sit in Joyce's office chair for a long time, trying to catch her already fading scent.)

When you hear Buffy and the Scoobies unlocking the front door so they can finish packing up the last bits and bobs of Joyce's life up for whatever price they can get in L.A. or to be returned to the artist that made them, you slip unseen out the back door, the little Chinese dish that Joyce once kept paperclips in tucked into the shirt pocket over your silent heart like a treasure.

You stand smoking beneath the fire escape for a long time before finally walking down the alley through the gathering puddles, fists jammed deep in your pockets, head down, shoulders hunched against the rain, remembering one hot August night when you helped Joyce uncrate a bunch of sculptures that were so bizarre, so ugly even for you that you asked her why would anyone want anything that weird, that useless, that bent in their lives?

Joyce didn't even look up from the invoice that she was studying when she absently replied with a strange little smile on her face, "Don't be so hard on yourself, Spike." followed by "Watch out for the Dale Chihuly, I can't afford to replace it."

(...if we're supposed to be dead, how come this hurts so much?)


Author's Note: Dale Chihuly is a real artist and the piece mentioned at the end of this story is a real one - I saw it and fell in love with it. Unfortunately it's listed at $22,000 so I can only "own" it by using it in a story. Chiluly makes marvelous, no, fantastic, glass sculptures. If there's not a real art museum near you, you can see his work for free at the Holsten Galleries Web Site.