Summary: Life post-Slayerdom is not going exactly as Buffy had hoped.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Pairing: Buffy Summers/Spike
Original story: Putting Down Roots by spiralleds
Notes: 3,375 words that kind of went in an unplanned direction. I really hope you like it, spiralleds. Thanks to my grammar beta, sarcasticsra, and a million thanks to sunsetsinthewes for all her help getting this in on time.
What was that? Spike leaned in closer to the mirror, turning his head to the right and staring at the edge of his left eye. He squinted, then widened his eye. Was that a wrinkle? It definitely looked like a crease of some ki—
The front door opened, and Spike jumped, glancing at the clock. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. He was going to be late for work. He raised his voice. “Buffy, love? That you?”
“No, we have a polite burglar with keys,” Buffy called back. She didn’t sound good.
He was going in. Too bad the Bit wasn’t around to toss him a line if Buffy shoved him under. “How was the interview, pet?”
“You know how the interview was.” Buffy strode into the room and tossed her purse onto their bed. “My application sounded wonderful, but they were going in another direction and already found the person they were looking for. If my experience was more built up, then maybe I would have been qualified, but no, I failed. Again. Thank you for asking.”
Sure it couldn’t be her winning attitude? “I’m sorry, love. You have that interview with the power company tomorrow, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” She gave him a brittle smile. “One failure a week just isn’t enough, is it?”
“I didn’t mean…” Spike shook his head. “You could go back to school. Seemed to like it when you and Red were in it.”
“Great. So not only do I fail at being an adult and getting an actual job, but now my husband thinks I’m stupid.” Buffy glowered at him. “Just get out, Spike. Just…just go.”
“I don’t think you’re stupid! I only meant—“
“Get out,” she told him, her voice heated and low. “Get out, get out, get out.”
Spike looked away. “All right. I’m late for work anyway.” Turning toward the door, he sighed. “I love you, Buffy.”
Generally, Spike did his best to keep his personal life separate from his work life. It wasn’t hard; work was pouring booze, pretending to listen to drunken men’s loser sob stories, and watching women dance in their underwear. Home was bizarrely domestic, non-mystical, and lacking in blood and mess. (It screwed with his mind if he thought about it too much.) But when he slammed a bottle of vodka into the counter, sending glass and alcohol across his boots, it occurred to him that maybe he wasn’t doing such a great job of it that night.
“That my vodka on the rocks?” Candy asked as she slipped around the bar, minding the shards.
“Would’ve been,” Spike muttered, “if your table wasn’t a sodding pansy and the bottle wasn’t sodding cracked.” He pulled another bottle from a cabinet behind him and cracked the seal, pouring the vodka over ice before handing it to Candy.
“You’ve been out of it all night,” she said. “Haven’t even flirted with that coed at the end of the bar. What’s up?”
Spike snorted and gave her an unimpressed look. “Please, I’m never out of it when it comes to booze. And if that bird doesn’t have herpes, I’m the bloody Queen of England.” He recapped the bottle of vodka and put it away before continuing. “It’s my wife. Interview didn’t go well and she’s none too happy ‘bout it.”
Candy rolled her eyes and leaned on the bar. “So she’s still not working?”
“No.” He crouched to sweep up the glass with one of the dirtier bar towels and tossed the whole thing.
“My sister-in-law’s the same way. Hounds my brother about money, how there’s never enough for good food or clothes for her or the kids, he never takes her out, and then he gets home from a twelve-hour shift at the site, she’s sitting on her ass watching TV, the kids are running around eating chips and Oreos.” Candy shook her head. “Could always use more dance—“
“Shut your trap, Candy,” Spike cut in, “take your table his drink, and be glad I don’t hit ladies.”
Dawn let herself in just after eight. She tucked her keys into her purse and locked the door behind her, heading for the kitchen. She paused when she heard Buffy’s voice.
“—and I’m really looking forward to seeing you, Wil, but I have no idea how we’re going to afford it if I don’t get a job sometime soon. He makes good money, especially with tips, but not that good. And with Dawn going to school in the fall… Did she tell you she got into Berkeley? Yeah, I know, incredible, right? But… No, it’s nothing. Wil, you’re not helping us with money. We already owe Giles so much. You can’t—Wil!” Buffy laughed. “If we start paying Slayers, the Council’s going broke way fast. I just…right now, I don’t know if we can pay for Berkeley if she doesn’t get enough scholarships. We’re not in-state residents anymore. No, we’ll figure it out. We’re still on.”
“What?” Dawn burst out, storming into the kitchen.
Buffy spun in the kitchen chair. “Dawn! What—“
“I can’t go to Berkeley?” she spat as she tossed her purse on the table. “When were you going to tell me this? Or were you just going to tell me next week, when I officially pick a college? The forms are due in a week and a half, remember?”
“Wil, I’ve got to go,” Buffy said, and hung up. “Dawn, that’s not what I meant. We’ll figure it out. You’ve got your savings, and there’s always loans and things. And—and you can call Dad!”
“What about Mom’s college fund for me?” Dawn demanded. “She had them for both of us.”
Buffy looked down, then glanced back up slowly at Dawn. “We had to use it,” she admitted. “After Mom died, all the house repairs, and the mortgage and everything…we had to spend everything Mom saved. That’s why Giles loaned us so much.”
Dawn sighed and sank down in a chair. “So that’s it,” she said quietly. “I should probably go to school here.”
“No!” Buffy exclaimed. “Go! Dawn, this is your best chance that you’re ever going to get. You need to take it. Berkeley is…Willow didn’t go to Berkeley. You need to go there. We’ll make it work, I swear. I don’t care, I’ll-I’ll go back to Doublemeat before I let you not go to Berkeley. We’ll sell the house to get you there.”
“Really?” Dawn asked softly, looking Buffy in the eyes. “You mean all that? You really want me to go that badly?”
“We both do,” Buffy assured her. “Spike’s bragging to everyone about how you got in.”
Dawn grinned at her. “Good. Because I…kind of sent in my acceptance paperwork yesterday.”
“Get out.” Buffy shoved at her shoulder playfully, smiling back. “When were you going to tell us?”
“Monday at dinner, when Spike was off.” Dawn shrugged. “But now I guess I’ll tell him when I see him.”
When Spike got home, he found Dawn on the living room couch with the TV on, watching the shows she’d missed during the week while she worked her diner shifts. “Done with your homework then, Bit?” He passed through the living room and into the kitchen, headed straight for the refrigerator and his nightly beer.
“Friday night,” she reminded him when he rejoined her, settling on the couch beside her. “Two more days to do homework. Besides, I’m a senior. Homework doesn’t matter.”
“Mhm,” he muttered skeptically. “Colleges agree with that?”
“They already accepted me,” Dawn pointed out. “Can’t take it back.” She glanced sideways at him. “I have news about that.”
“Yeah? What’s that?” He took a swig of his beer, eyes trained on her show. Something with pretty doctors, men and women. He liked the snappy nurse.
“I…sent in my acceptance paperwork. To Berkeley.” She bit her lip, so he kept her waiting an extra beat.
“Knew you would. Congratulations. You tell Buffy yet?”
Dawn nodded. “She was freaking out about money on the phone with Willow. She said she didn’t know if we could afford for me to go to Berkeley, and I kind of freaked on her. So I think she’s stressing out about money even more now that she knows I’m going for sure. What happened with her interview today?”
“Do you want quotes or the summary?” Spike asked dryly. “In short, didn’t get it. In long, she’s a failure as an adult and won’t ever get a job because she doesn’t have any experience.”
She winced. “She go off on you?”
“One way to put it.” Another long drink.
“Buffy’s got this…thing,” she said after a minute in which the prettiest doctor had pouted his way through a line. “She always has. Even before she was the Slayer, she always had to be…special. If she wasn’t the best at something, if the universe wasn’t focused on her, she went kind of crazy. At Hemery, she was the most popular, the best cheerleader, you know?” Dawn smiled faintly. “When we were little, we had this tree in front of our house in LA. It was a sycamore. Every summer, we climbed as high as we could and spent as much time in there as we could. Buffy always had to climb higher than me. Not because she was older. Just because she had to be the best.” She paused a moment. “I think, more than anything, even more than Dad, Buffy missed that tree when we moved.”
Spike nodded thoughtfully, taking that in. They sat in silence for the rest of the show. When it ended, he got up and went to bed. Buffy curled into him in her sleep, nuzzling against his neck. He kissed her hair and fell asleep with his arms around her.
Spike slipped out from behind the steering wheel and into the sunlight, wincing. It’d been well over a year since he’d run from daylight, but it was still hard to get used to.
“We’ll look at the rose bushes first,” Buffy was saying as they headed for the entrance of the nursery, continuing her nonstop chatter. Since they had left the house, she hadn’t stopped talking about her latest idea to fill up her long, unemployed hours—a complete and utter revamping of the yard and garden. “Then hydrangeas. Then the shrubbery and different grasses, and then we’ll head over to the edible section. I was thinking tomatoes.”
Smiling to himself, Spike grabbed the cart and followed her through the store and into the open area in the back. It wasn’t the first time that Buffy had thrown herself into a project so enthusiastically—at least, not since the job hunt had started to go sour. But if it gave her something to focus on, some meaning to her days, and a little happiness? Then he was willing to indulge her every whimsy.
Coming back to the present, he quickly turned his attention to his wife. “Anything you want, pet.”
Buffy sighed. “Stop patronizing me, will you? I could use a little input from you. It is your garden too.” Just as he began to wonder if there was absolutely no winning move to make, she rolled her eyes and sighed again. “Oh, just give me the cart, I’ll do it myself. Can you handle getting the hydrangeas?”
He promised that he could, watching her walk away for a moment (he can never get enough of the sight of her ass) before turning in the general direction Buffy had pointed. Halfway to the back corner, as he cut through general shrubbery (and thank god Harris wasn’t with them at the moment), Spike saw it.
Row after row after row of trees. Small ones, tall ones, some with white bark, some with sap. And there, right in the far left-hand corner, a baby sycamore tree being watered by a young employee. It was perfect.
“Oi!” Spike called, startling the girl. She jumped, splashing her feet as the hose slipped. Up close, she looked even younger than he had previously thought—no older than the Bit, if that. “This what I think it is?”
She paused, taking a moment to glance him over before answering. “If you think it’s a sycamore. Why, are you looking to buy one?”
“Might be in the market,” he replied, reaching for the tag tied to the trunk and reading it over. “They difficult to keep?”
“Not really. This one’s still young, so it’ll need close care at first, but it gets pretty easy. You just need a lot of room for the roots.” The girl turned off the hose. “Do you have a large yard?”
He winced, turning around to smile as Buffy approached them. “Love! Thought you were looking at tomatoes.”
“God, could you be any more blatant?”
Fearing that his surprise had been discovered before he could even begin it, Spike strove to keep his expression neutral. “Blatant?”
“I can’t even leave you alone for five minutes before you start flirting with the first pretty thing you see? She’s practically jailbait!”
His eyes widened, a stunned expression crossing his face. “Flirting?”
The girl brightened. “You think I’m pretty?”
“Shut up,” they replied in unison. Crossing her arms, Buffy continued. “This is unbelievable, Spike! I asked you to do one thing for me and you can’t even bother? This is just typical!” She spun on her heel, storming away from them before either could ask how something so unbelievable could be so typical.
“We were flirting?” the girl asked, a smile on her lips.
“Pet, we were flirting, you’d know.” Spike rushed after Buffy, calling for her as he hurries to keep up. Damn Slayer speed. “Buffy! Love, I wasn’t—“
“No, Spike,” she snapped at him over her shoulder as they reached the parking lot. “No. I don’t want to hear it. Let’s just go home.” Taking a few more angry steps, she stopped, turning to face him. “I asked you to do one thing for me. One thing! And you couldn’t even do that. Fine, you don’t care about the garden, you’ve made that clear. But, God, Spike, I’m actually excited about something for the first time in months, and you can’t bother to fake it? Just pretend you care? Way to be supportive of your wife!” She threw her arms into the air, getting louder as she grew more oblivious to the stares in their direction. “I get it, all right? I don’t have a job, I don’t have an education, I don’t even have a sacred birthright anymore. My life is meaningless right now. But I find something with a little meaning, something to pass my days, something I can be interested in, and you don’t care at all? Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? And then—then!—to see you flirting with some thing that’s even younger and prettier than I am? You can’t rest with just being unsupportive, you have to point out how unattractive you find me now?”
“Buffy,” Spike cut in, shocked to the core. “Buffy, I didn’t—“
“Save it,” she snapped, stomping to the car. “I don’t want to hear another word from you, not now. Just take me home.”
He sighed to himself, unlocking the doors and sliding into the driver’s seat.
“My life sucks,” Buffy said as soon as Willow picked up the phone.
“Your life does not suck.” Willow sounded awake, which was good, considering Buffy hadn’t bothered to do the math for the time difference.
“Wil, my life sucks.” Buffy curled up on her bed, tucking her feet under her.
“Oh. Okay. Your life sucks.”
“See? Even my best friend thinks my life sucks!”
Willow sighed. “Buffy, I’m Supporto-Gal here, but I need to know which script we’re going with. Is this a pity call, or a buck up call, or something else?”
“Mm.” Buffy shook her head. “It’s a sympathy call mostly, and a what is wrong with me call. I can’t get a job. Even Dawn has a job, and I can’t get one. I mean, I’m not positive about that power company one, but I don’t have any experience, so I don’t really have high hopes. And I’m running out of places to apply. Vancouver’s bigger than Sunnydale, but it’s not like it’s LA or Seattle.”
“You’ll get a job,” Willow assured her. “You worked as a waitress before, and a guidance counselor. You have experience.”
“Except one of those was under another name nine years ago,” Buffy said dryly, “and the other was in a town that’s now a giant crater. Wil, the universe hates me.”
“You’re the Chosen One. It can’t hate you. It picked you.”
“Stop with your logic.” Buffy bit her nail. “So fine, the universe doesn’t hate me. It’s just Washington. I miss California, Wil. My problems were simple then. I just had to worry about the apocalypse, not getting a job or making the mortgage or whatever.”
“Most people would argue the mortgage is the simpler problem,” Willow teased gently. “But I know what you mean. It’s an adjustment. You’re dealing with it. You have a house, you’re married, Spike loves you more than anything, you love him—“
“That’s the other thing,” Buffy interrupted. “I keep snapping at him. It’s insane. He doesn’t even do anything. He asks how an interview went, and I act like it’s his fault I didn’t get the job. A few days ago, we were out getting plants, and I jumped all over him for talking to a girl who worked there. She was Dawn’s age! He wouldn’t flirt with a girl that young, and I still accused him of it! I just feel like I’m losing it. I don’t have any control anymore.”
“Maybe that’s it,” Willow offered. “You need something where you have control. Get Giles to fly you out to help with training the Slayerettes. You could be like a temporary Watcher.”
“I’m not a Watcher, Wil. I’m a Slayer. An old Slayer, at that.”
“See? Even more reason to act as a Watcher. Giles says you’re the oldest Slayer on record now. You’ve got ten years of slaying to share with these girls. There are still new ones coming in. Some of them were pretty little when they were Called. I could see you while you teach them, too. Then you don’t have to worry about visiting me…” Willow offered.
Buffy sighed. “No, Wil. That’s behind me. I mean, if Giles or Xander or any of you need me, you know I’ll help. But I’ve got a normal life now. Like I always wanted. It just…comes with new problems.”
“Buffy, there are always problems,” Willow said gently. “You know that, right? No matter how your life is, it’s never going to be problem-free.”
Spike drove the spade into the ground, overturning another shovelful of dirt. The burlap-wrapped sycamore sapling rested on the ground beside him, waiting to be planted. He’d get it in the ground and surprise Buffy with it, maybe get her mind off their money troubles.
“What are you doing?”
Spike looked up to see Buffy standing in the back door and sighed. “What now? Am I digging wrong? Saying you’re fat with the angle of the tree? Thought I’d surprise you, pet, but if it’s another thing I’m doing wrong, I’ll just—“
“No, you’re not—are you saying I’m fat? Tree?” Buffy walked down the back steps. “What’s going on?”
Spike shaded his eyes with one hand. “Dawn told me about your sycamore in LA. You’ve been so down the last couple of weeks, thought I’d take your mind off things. Get you a pressie.”
“You…you got me a sycamore?” Buffy asked softly, her lip trembling. “For me?”
“What I said, isn’t it?” Spike went back to digging. Harder than it would have been a while ago. “Give us a hand, love?”
“I’ve done a lot of digging in my time,” Buffy said, taking the shovel from him, “but nothing quite like this.”
When the hole was deep enough, Spike hauled the sapling over and unwrapped the burlap sacking. Afterward, Buffy kissed him on the mouth. “Happy Arbor Day, Spike.”