Spike was dragged out of sleep by the buzzing of his alarm clock. He rolled over in bed, glared at the clock that read 8:57, and yanked the thing off the table. He threw it across the room and immediately fell back asleep.
What seemed like only minutes later, he was roused again by the sound of slamming car doors and the clamor of voices coming from right below his bedroom window. A few choice curse words fell from his lips as he reached over to slam his window shut. With the sounds muffled, he pulled the covers over his head and tried to get some more sleep.
That plan was working just fine until he heard the peal of the doorbell echoing through the house. "Bloody hell," he muttered. He decided to ignore it.
The doorbell rang again, followed by what sounded like an elephant banging on his door with a battering ram. He threw his blankets off in a temper. He yanked on the jeans he'd discarded next to the bed not even two hours ago and stomped, barefoot and bare-chested, down the stairs.
"What?" he said by way of greeting as he yanked the door open. There was no elephant, no battering ram, just a pretty and petite-and extremely pissed-off-blonde standing on his doorstep. He eyed her up, from her dainty little sandal-clad toes and long bare legs to the extra-short shorts and skimpy tank top clinging to her pert breasts. When his gaze reached her face, he took in the scowling hazel eyes and smiled, leaning casually against the door frame. "Well, hello, cutie." He ran one hand down his chest, hooking a thumb in the waistband of his jeans, and smirked as her eyes followed the movement. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
The blonde shook her head and tore her eyes away from his torso. "Are you-Spike?" she asked. She pronounced his name as if it would bite her if she weren't careful. She fixed her eyes on a spot safely away from his bare chest and folded her arms beneath her breasts.
Spike grinned at her obvious discomfort. "At your service," he said. "Now, wanna tell me why you dragged me out of bed so early in the morning? Not that I'm complainin', mind you." He let his eyes prowl over her figure again, ignoring the angry flush that colored her cheeks.
"It's almost ten o'clock! Mr. Giles told me you would meet me at the house at nine thirty to let me in."
A dim memory of Rupert's phone call the night before surfaced. "Right. You must be-" He searched his brain. "-Bitsy? Bunny?" Yeah, that sounded right.
"Buffy," she said tightly.
"Well, knew it was something silly."
"Yes. And 'Spike' is a real grown-up's name. Where's your dog collar?"
He grinned. Rupes had told him the girl who'd be over this morning was 'a nice young lady.' Hadn't mentioned anything about her being a feisty little thing. "Ooh, kinky. 'S upstairs, I'll just go fetch it if you'll be patient a minute."
"Ugh! You are- Look, I've got a gang of people waiting to help me move in and a truck that needs to be returned in four hours if I don't want to pay for another day. Which I don't. All I need is the key, and I'll be out of your hair. Because, wow, that's the last place I'd want to be. What do you call that look anyway? Peroxide Panic?"
Spike ran a hand over his head. He stifled a grimace when he felt the soft mess of curls sticking up all over the place. "Yeah, like you're not a walking advertisement for Miss Clairol," he said. "I'm willing to bet the carpet doesn't match the drapes." Spike ignored the girl's offended gasp and turned to rummage amongst the clutter strewn across the table next to the front door. "Know I got it here somewhere," he said when he heard her tapping a foot impatiently. "Ah-ha!" He located the keyring and faced his visitor with a triumphant grin.
She didn't look suitably impressed-merely held out an expectant hand-so he dangled the keys just out of her grasp. "What's the magic word, princess?" he asked with a grin. The grin fell off his face in a hurry, and his breath rushed out of him with an 'oof,' when she planted her fist in his ribs. His arm dropped, and she snatched the keyring from him and flounced away from his house.
"Welcome to the neighborhood, kitten!" he called to her retreating-and shapely-back end. She didn't look back, just waved briefly at him over her shoulder. Well, it would have been a wave if she'd used more than one finger. Spike grinned again and rubbed the sore spot on his side. Little spitfire, he thought. He wasn't sure why he'd been so rude to the girl other than the fact that he was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a morning person. He shrugged, closed the door, and cracked his jaw in a giant yawn as he headed back to bed.
Buffy was fuming when she returned to the U-Haul and her gathered friends. "What a jerk!" she said. She unlocked the front door. "First he doesn't show up when he's supposed to, and then he's all, all rude and leer-y!"
Xander opened his mouth, but Buffy didn't notice. She just kept rolling. "Spike! What the hell kind of name is that for a grown man? And he's got the nerve to call my name silly?"
"Well, 'Buffy,' not exactly one of the classics, you know," Willow said as she climbed the front steps into the house, a large box in her arms. "Um, but yeah, he shouldn't have said that," she amended. Her cheeks reddened under Buffy's death-glare."Where do you want this?" she asked, nodding her head at the box in her arms. It was clearly marked 'Kitchen.'
"Gee, Will, how about the kitchen with that one?" Buffy said sarcastically.
Willow and Xander exchanged a look, which Buffy intercepted. She closed her eyes and sighed. "Oh, Willow, I'm so sorry. You know I didn't mean that. You guys shouldn't have to deal with me being all grumpy-girl. It's just-"
"Yeah, we know, Buff," Xander said. He put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a squeeze. "It's hard."
Buffy smiled at him. "Thank you for putting up with me." She glanced over her shoulder to see Tara and Anya-Willow and Xander's significant others-watching her warily. "Thanks, you guys. I know I've been kind of-"
"A bitch?" Anya said. She easily absorbed the glares that Willow and Buffy sent her way; Xander shook his head. "What? You have been very difficult, Buffy."
"Ahn, c'mon," Xander said. "Sorry," he mumbled to Buffy before pulling his girlfriend back to the truck and loading her up with boxes.
"I was going to say 'cranky'," Buffy said to Willow.
"I agree with Anya."
Buffy turned to look at her little sister, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the house. She had her arms folded tightly across her chest and a sullen expression on her face. "Gee, thanks, Dawn," Buffy said. "Wanna go inside and check out the bedrooms? I'll let you have first pick."
"Whatever." Dawn stomped up the stairs and pushed past Willow and Buffy into the living room. It was a moderately sized room and featured a large picture window and a fireplace. Dawn looked around skeptically. "It's kind of small," she said.
Buffy looked around the room. Dawn was right-especially compared to their mom's house on Revello Drive, this house was tiny. For the two of them, though, there was plenty of room, and she couldn't argue with the price. She thanked her lucky stars for Mr. Giles. He'd done business with her mom, and Buffy had met him a few times at the gallery before Joyce had gotten sick. After her mother's death, he had approached her about purchasing the gallery, and even put her in contact with someone who had eventually put in an offer on the house. When Buffy had told him they would be moving into an apartment after the sale of the house, he'd insisted that they take the vacant rental property he owned instead. Buffy knew the rent she was paying wasn't anywhere near what he could actually get for the house; that was one reason she'd taken the place sight unseen.
"Well, yeah, but-" Buffy started to defend her choices, but Dawn brushed by her into the kitchen. Buffy followed her. They stood next to each other as Dawn looked around the room. There was a dining area on one side of the room, and a galley-style kitchen on the other. A sliding glass door led to a screen porch beyond the dining area. "Look, we've got a dishwasher," Buffy said. She smiled at Dawn, who merely rolled her eyes in response before turning on her heel and walking away.
Buffy sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She could feel a monster headache coming on. She wondered briefly if she had made her mother feel like this when they'd first moved to Sunnydale. "Payback's a bitch," she said to herself. She blinked away tears-her instinctual response to thoughts of her mother-and headed for the second floor in search of Dawn.
"I want this room," Dawn said when Buffy caught up with her. Buffy looked around the room. It was spacious and had two long closets lining one wall. One of the three windows included a window seat. A large oak tree spread its limbs outside that window. She could see why Dawn liked the room. Buffy was tempted, for just a moment, to argue with Dawn about her bedroom choice. Then she thought of Dawn's face at their mother's funeral and the way her little sister had drifted through their house like a silent ghost for the past month. Buffy forced a smile onto her face.
"All right." Buffy took a deep breath and tried to broach the subject of whythis move was the right thing to do. "Dawnie, I know this isn't easy, but I really think this is the best choice for us."
"Yeah, I'm sure you do," Dawn said. "I'm going to go help with the boxes." She didn't spare a glance at Buffy as she left the room.
Buffy sighed again. She should be used to Dawn's attitude, but it still hurt. Up until a few months ago, they'd been getting along fine. Of course, it had helped that Buffy had been living in the dorms at UC Sunnydale for three years; that had left Dawn free range of their mother, the house, and all the clothing Buffy had left behind in her closet. Then their mother had gotten sick, and everything had changed.
Buffy stopped that line of thought in its tracks and moved down the hall to investigate the other bedroom. It was half the size of the first one and offered only one small closet and two windows; one overlooked the street while the other afforded a direct line of sight into her obnoxious English neighbor's house. His bedroom, from the looks of things. Buffy was drawn to the window; her head tilted to one side as she took in the lean body lying on the king-sized bed plainly visible from her vantage point. She pictured again his hand sliding down his muscular chest, past the pierced left nipple and over his well-defined abs. And that sharp vee his hips made on either side of the thin line of hair below his navel- Buffy blinked the image away. He's a jerk! she reminded herself sternly. We do not ogle jerks.
He rolled over as she watched him, and the covers slipped down past his hips. Buffy gulped when it became apparent that her new neighbor slept in the nude. As if the nuclear shade of his bleached hair hadn't been the tip off, there was the proof positive that he wasn't a natural blond. Her skin suddenly felt too tight. She felt a rush of relief that Dawn hadn't picked this room, because therewas a view her fourteen year old sister so did not need. That thought was immediately followed by a little voice in her head-it sounded eerily like Anya-that said having a tiny room with a really nice view was not such a tough sacrifice.
Footsteps clattering up the stairs, accompanied by the sound of Dawn's voice, brought Buffy back to herself. She jumped, then quickly yanked the blinds closed. Not that she'd been doing anything that needed hiding. Nope. She was just-saving her friends from an unexpected peep show. That was it. She was conscientious girl, saving Xander from the need for brain bleach.
Buffy turned away from the window just as Xander and Anya entered her room with a load of boxes. "This is a very cozy house," Anya said. She dropped the two boxes she was carrying. Buffy winced when she heard something crack and rattle inside one of the boxes. "I hope you have room for all of your things. The things you haven't had to sell, I mean."
"It's cute," Xander said, giving his girlfriend the Look, followed by an apologetic shrug for Buffy's sake once Anya left the room.
"It's cheap. That's pretty much its biggest appeal." Buffy opened the closet and peered inside. Anya wasn't kidding about the cozy part; she wondered how much persuading she'd have to do to store some of her things in Dawn's closet. Probably pay rent to the brat. "And it's in a decent neighborhood, so hopefully I don't have to worry about Dawn when she's home alone."
She closed the closet door and leaned on it wearily. Sheer exhaustion seeped through every pore, every cell. "Dawn hates me," she said softly, meeting Xander's warm brown eyes.
"That's not true," he said. He came and stood next to her, his shoulder butting up against hers. "She's a little out-of-sorts, yeah, but she'll get over it. And hey, you let her have the big room, so you'll be back on her favorite sister list in no time."
Buffy shook her head. "Ever since Mom-" She swallowed back a sob. "Ever since Mom got sick, she's been like this. Like everything's my fault, you know?"
"C'mon, Buff, she's sad, that's all. Everyone deals with grief differently. Give her some time. She'll be back to annoying you in that special little sister way before you know it." He nudged her with his elbow. "Now, I know you brought me along for all my manly muscles, but you need to help unload the truck, too. And then give me lots and lots of beer."
Buffy groaned. "Can't I just supervise?" She and Xander laughed and chatted easily as they headed for the waiting truck. And Buffy banished all thoughts of her annoying, peroxided, body of a freaking Greek god neighbor from her mind.