"Blondie Bear? That PI guy is on line two."
Spike sighed wearily. No matter how many times he threatened to fire his secretary, he could not impress upon her the importance of keeping her mouth closed. Of course, that would have made it hard for her to do her job effectively but…Other than that, and her horrible habit of relentlessly hitting on him, she really was a good secretary, and her ability to wheedle a reluctant donor over the phone had been invaluable in Effulgent's early days. The most Spike hoped for now was that the nicknames wouldn't get any worse than 'Blondie Bear.'
"Thank you Harmony," he growled reluctantly, tapping at his phone to switch lines. " 'Lo!"
"Will? Wesley here. Bad time?"
"Hey Wes," Spike sighed into the receiver, avoiding his question with one of his own. "You guys here already?"
"At the gates."
"I'll go get the red carpet."
Wesley chuckled softly. "Meet you out front in three?"
"I'll be there."
Hanging up, Spike made sure that his keys and his cell phone were in his pocket and headed for the visitors' parking lot, pausing for a moment before the lobby mirrors. The man that stared back wasn't him, though they looked enough alike. The soft, muted green of his shirt, the careful, neat part in his hair, the way he held himself; it all screamed Will, and in Spike's mind, screamed weakness. Will might be widely known and respected for his work with battered women, might have his own life and his own world that was perfectly put together, but Will was also wounded… damaged. Spike wasn't.
Shaking off the shadows that clung to his shoulders, he headed outside towards the parking lot, watching the drive while he waited near the front doors with his arms crossed snugly over his chest. A moment later Wesley's car appeared, a Crown Vic of all things, and almost as old as Spike's Desoto. The sight of the stereotypical cop's car brought the ghost of smile to his lips. Pulling into a slot in front of the building, the PI killed the engine and stepped out.
"Will," he smiled, striding over to Spike's side and sticking out a hand for him to shake. "It's good to see you."
Spike grasped his hand and pulled him into a tight hug; a man-hug, one-armed with fists clasped between their chests, but a sincere and heartfelt hug all the same.
"It's good to see you too Wes," Spike replied.
A million things passed between the two men in that moment, each remembering all the things that had brought them together. Spike had met Private Detective Wesley Wyndham-Price eleven years before under the worst of circumstances, circumstances which had only gotten even more horrible from there. Highly connected with the LA Police Department, Wesley had managed to help him through the worst days of his life, nights when he collapsed into haunted sleep not sure if he ever wanted to wake up. Wesley had cared when he didn't have to, and had helped to pull Spike out of his nightmare and back into a relatively normal life. In many ways he could be credited with the creation of Effulgent, encouraging Spike to take the pain and the terrible knowledge he had suffered and turn it into something useful. He had an immense amount of respect for his fellow Brit, and was more grateful to him than words could ever express. He only hoped that Wes knew just how much.
A gentle throat clearing broke the short reminiscence, both men taking awkward steps back, embarrassed to be caught gazing into each other's eyes as it were. Giving Spike's upper arm a hearty clap, Wes turned and gestured his two passengers forward, giving him his first glimpse of his new clients. The first to step forward was clearly the mother, an older woman, pretty despite the concern that darkened her voice. She offered him a small smile, reaching out a tentative hand that nonetheless shook his firmly. Spike was fairly decent at reading people by now, and he could sense a core of strength in this woman that would serve her well in the months to come.
"Hello Mr. Pratt, my name is Joyce Summers," she said softly.
It was obvious that she wished to say more, but would keep her own council for the moment, something that Spike appreciated. Too often there were accusations, demands, and tears where family was concerned; things that all had to be dealt with eventually, but the first meeting was never the best time. This mother seemed to sense that.
"Hello Ms. Summers," Spike replied, shying from the phrase 'pleasure to meet you.' It was rarely well received in this place. "Please, call me Will. I hope your trip wasn't too tedious."
"Not at all. Wesley was kind enough to drive us, and to tell us a bit about you on the way."
"All good things I hope," Spike smiled gently, glancing over at Wes who nodded. "Wesley and I have known each other for a while; I'm sure he could bend your ear for quite a few hours on the topic."
"He tells me that you've managed to help over seventy-five percent of your clients." The hope that shone through her eyes was almost blinding, and was painful for Spike to witness.
"We do have a higher success rate than many other facilities," he confirmed slowly. This was part of that conversation that was better held later. "My staff and I are dedicated to this program, and do everything we can to help the women who come to us. But they have to want the help we offer."
Joyce nodded, apparently satisfied with his answer. Turning away from him, she beckoned to her daughter who had been waiting quietly near the car, the one that everyone had been preparing to welcome for almost a week now. She stepped forward hesitantly, one arm clutching a stuffed pink pig, the other in a thick cast of the same color resting in a sling around her neck. Spike's heart broke at the sight. Shining blonde hair was pulled forward around her face, but beneath it he could see the yellowing bruise over one eye, the finger shaped marks on her neck that still beat a purple tattoo against her golden skin. He knew she was twenty two, but standing in front of him hugging her stuffed animal she looked all of a confused and frightened child.
"Hello Buffy," he said softly, not making any moves towards the slight young woman. "My name's Will."
Painstakingly, she brought glittering hazel eyes up to his, forcing herself to meet his gaze, and when she finally did, he was stunned. He recognized the things he saw there, the shadows that swam behind the tears, knew them intimately, and his throat grew thick with unsaid commiserations. Something about her struck him fast and hard, something in the way she held herself that made him remember. Like her mother, he could sense strength in her; buried deep and for now unacknowledged, but it was there, and it gave Spike hope. Something about her reassured him. She would survive this. This one would make it.