All Roads Lead to Rome – Epilogue – Happy Holidays
Eventually, they found the perfect place for Phoenix Investigations. A storefront location, several apartments on the second floor, with a large basement – just a stone’s throw away from Angel’s old Hyperion Hotel.
The new Council paid them salaries. Retroactively paid salaries in the case of their senior Slayer and Field Operative. Between Buffy and Xander they’d managed to pool their resources to cover the down-payment, but that didn’t leave much for renovations, advertising and monthly mortgage payments.
As for the renovations… so much work needed to be done to turn the basement into a combination apartment/training space. It was a seriously daunting task they’d all set for themselves.
Spike did his best to add to the coffers but hustling pool wasn’t going to make the difference between getting a business up and running, and losing the building. Sometimes he regretted not being able to resort to his old methods of acquiring what was needed.
The prospect of applying for a small business loan had Buffy shaking in her boots. She remembered her one and only experience dealing with the world of banking and finance and the total monster killing disaster it had turned into. If she remembered correctly, only those with money could borrow money, and there was no way in hell she was going to deal with that kind of rejection again.
Everyone agreed that asking Angel for a handout was so not the way to go. Nobody wanted to be beholden to Wolfram & Hart. And Spike was sure that any request for help on the part of an enterprise he was part of would be rejected out of hand.
Their salvation came unexpectedly during another dinner from the Golden Buddha. Sitting on the floor, picnic style, their dinner was interrupted by a knock on the door with a Council courier delivering a large white packet to be signed for by William Bennett.
Spike brought the envelope back to the group, a bit wary of anything delivered through the mail system. He’d already gotten his unlife and his corporeality back that way… anonymously. Knowing this was from the Watcher’s Council, even or especially with Rupert heading it, made him nervous.
“C’mon, ya big baby.” Xander laughed, not used to seeing the trepidation play across the vampire’s face. “It’s only paper, and I’m sure Giles is past his ‘dust Spike’ phase, even by proxy.”
Buffy offered to open it for him, but Spike refused, figuring if it was going to blow up in someone’s face, it might as well be his own. With grim determination, he slid his fingers under the flap, dumping the contents of the envelope out on the floor.
To his shock, Giles had come through for him, big time. Spike now had several legal copies of his birth certificate, immunization records, valid British citizenship papers, an official green card allowing him to work in the United States, and a stamped passport. He was, for all legal purposes, the almost twenty six year old William Matthew John Bennett, born December 26th, 1978 in London, England.
Buffy wrapped her arms around Spike’s shoulders, thrilled with Giles’ apparent change of heart. Looking through the papers on the floor, she noted a white envelope with Spike’s name emblazoned in red ink across the middle.
“After going through so much trouble to declare you William Bennett… who would send a letter addressed to Spike?” She frowned, a tiny furrow forming between her eyebrows. “Someone sending you love letters from the Council, Spike?”
Irritating smirk number four firmly in place, and certainly knowing better, Spike replied, “Could be that Lydia bint. Maybe she survived the First’s Watcher Fest and wants to…”
Ruefully, Spike rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry, luv. Guess I should open it and see who wants what from me now.” He picked up the envelope, smiling as he withdrew the contents. A bloke had to enjoy a little jealousy on his own behalf.
Inside, there was a smaller, sealed brown check envelope – Pay to the order of Mr. William Bennett showing through the glassine window and a letter, apparently from Giles. Proving that he did have some self control after all, Spike read the letter first, aloud.
If you’re reading this letter, it means you haven’t managed to annoy Buffy into dusting you. On the chance that you’re both still together, I’ve decided that she deserves more than a man existing out of time. With a little effort, I managed to unearth your human origins (no worries about this becoming Council knowledge – it will remain off the record unless you choose to make it public) and procure legal identity papers for you.
I’ve also managed to make you your own ancestor, and have accessed familial funds for your use. It seems that you are the last existing Bennett of your line, meaning there is nobody to contest your inheritance.
Additionally, the Council has decided to show it’s appreciation for our continued existence monetarily. I’ve combined the funds into a single money order in US funds, so you’ll not have trouble accessing the full amount.
Belated as they may be, we all owe you our thanks. Xander informed me of your business plans. Hopefully the money will go a long way in making Phoenix Investigations a success, and keeping Buffy from becoming one of Los Angeles’ homeless denizens.
You have regards from Rona and Kennedy. Willow has a personal message for you. Something about a shovel? She said Buffy will understand.
Take care of them, Spike. Be well.
“Would you open up that little brown envelope and see how rich you are already?” Xander was dying of curiosity and as impatient as a kid on Christmas morning… ready to tear into that little envelope himself.
“Easy mate,” Spike said. “I’m still gobsmacked at Rupes puttin’ down kind words to me on paper.”
Buffy was just as impatient. “C’mon, Spike… I need to know if you’re gonna be able to keep me in the style I’m accustomed to.”
“Yeah, can do, pet.” He laughed as he opened the envelope and removed the check. “S’not so hard to find a small house. Trick’ll be convincing twenty under-aged bints to move in with us.”
Spike turned his attention to the check and stared at the little rectangular piece of paper – mouth agape. The check was for seven figures; not a single ‘one’ amongst the seven.
A few weeks before Spike gave up his basement apartment, the gang found a surprise waiting for them at the office. A letter addressed to Buffy was taped to the inside of the door.
Easily recognizing the handwriting, Spike asked, “So, pet… are you plannin’ on sharin’ the contents of the Poof’s letter with the rest of the class?”
Buffy began to read:
Once again I find myself in the position of apologizing to you for trying to do what’s best for you… in my opinion. I never wanted to hurt you by keeping Spike’s resurrection a secret. Most of that was his own decision. I will, however, admit to encouraging his silence.
It’s obvious that some things aren’t and shouldn’t be under my control, and you’ve made your choices for the immediate future. I’ll try my hardest to live by your decisions.
To show my support for your newest venture, I’ve arranged for a surprise. Please knock some sense into Spike’s over-bleached head when he tries to refuse the gesture. Hard.
I’ve had all the windows replaced with necro-tempered glass. Now he has no excuse for sleeping the day away when he should be working hard to pull his weight.
Phoenix Investigations is a good idea. It fills a niche vacated when I made the choice to move to Wolfram & Hart. If possible, I’ll refer the smaller cases your way. Nice to know someone is looking out for them once again.
Good luck to you all.
From that point on, it didn’t take long. Money, determination, and Spike’s ability to work during the day made things happen rapid-fire; no more than a trio of months passed before Phoenix Investigations was up and running. The apartments were refurbished and decorated, with a nice cushion of money left over to tide them over until the business turned a profit.
The office was bustling – Angel had been true to his word and ferried quite a few small, absolutely legitimate cases their way. Word of mouth spread through both the human and demon communities – nobody was turned away because of inability to pay for services.
Delegation of work was equally divided between Buffy, Spike and Xander. Everyone answered phones, entered cases into their computer system and at least two members went out on each and every call. Harmony and Lorne each donated a number of evening hours per week to answering phones and filing, allowing the complete team to work together when necessary.
Before long, December 23rd was upon them, and they found themselves squabbling about who was going to make the airport run to pick up Dawn.
Spike argued that a little bit of sunshine never stopped him before. Buffy retorted that even though the car had vampire-safe glass, he couldn’t guarantee in the shade parking. Xander insisted that Dawn would be hyper as it was, and he was the calmest and most reasonable person to do the fetching.
As they continued to bicker amongst themselves, the door to the agency opened. A young woman leaned against the door, waiting to be acknowledged. After a few moments she cleared her throat, when it became obvious the employees were too caught up in their argument to notice her.
“Ahem. What does an ancient ex-universe door opening key have to do to get a little attention in this place?”
Buffy shrieked. “Dawnie!” and ran to embrace her sister. “Hey! We were just trying to figure out who was gonna be your chauffeur.” She glanced at her watch. “You’re more than two hours early,” she accused playfully.
“Yeah, well… we caught some great weather, and the connections were smooth, and I was so early I figured I’d just take a cab.” Dawn laughed. “It’s not like I’ll have to shell out any cash for a place to stay, right?”
“Don’t count on it, Bit.” Spike had walked over to Buffy’s side, a soft smile on his lips. “Sis is a regular skinflint when it comes to the budget.”
Dawn extricated herself from her sister’s embrace and molded herself to Spike. “Oh my God,” she mumbled into his shoulder, tears wetting his shirt. “You’re really, really back.”
“Who did you think you were talkin’ to on the phone, pet? A figment of your imagination?” Spike’s grin was infectious, mirrored on Buffy’s and Xander’s faces. “Didn’t call you until I was all solid again, an’ I don’t plan on revisitin’ that state again.”
“Stupid vampire. It’s just so… different. Until I saw you with my own eyes, I wasn’t going to fully believe you were back. I couldn’t. But you’re here and I’m just… just – damn it, I swore I wasn’t going to cry.”
Spike was content to let her snuggle, whispering soothing nonsense into her ear. “S’alright, Niblet. Family forgives all.” He’d missed the girl so much during their estrangement. A few pats on the shoulder, a teary wipe against his shirt and she was off to give the Dawnie-welcome to Xander.
Leaning into her very cuddly vampire, Buffy sniffed. “Our little girl’s all growed up.”
Gently pressing a kiss into her hair, Spike hugged the petite blonde closer to himself. The domesticity of the scene should have set his demon on edge – would have done so to almost any other vampire, but he could feel nothing but contentment thrumming through him.
“Oh… oh… I almost forgot!” Dawn ran to the door, practically stumbling in her haste. “I brought a surprise back with me.”
“It’s about time you remembered I was standing outside with a pile of luggage,” Andrew complained. “People were beginning to look at me funny.”
If synchronized eyebrow lifting were an Olympic sport, the gold medal would be equally shared by the Phoenix Investigations crew.
Xander moved first, clapping Andrew roughly on the shoulder and nearly sending the boy headfirst into the nearest desk. “To what do we owe the honor of your visit, oh little man in tweed?”
“Mr. Giles said it would aid in my Watchers’ training for me to see first hand your new operation in… operation, as it were,” Andrew said importantly.
Spike snorted. “Yeah, meanin’ he’d had enough of you trailin’ after him like a lost pup an’ foisted you off on us for a spell.” With a little pout, the vampire turned to Buffy. “Thought Rupert had finally turned the corner and stopped tryin’ to torture me, pet.”
“Very funny, all of you.” Dawn sighed as she caught sight of Andrew’s crestfallen expression. “Andrew is here because I invited him to share the holiday with me and my family. Don’t you remember what it’s like to be left out of the ‘in’ crowd? To be left out of any crowd?” She walked over to Andrew and linked elbows, smiling at him. “C’mon, shrimp. Let’s go get the suitcases before some nut job walks off with all our clothing.”
They closed the agency for a few days - Christmas Eve through the day after, barring any emergency cases. Everyone agreed to a low-keyed, old fashioned holiday – mulled cider, eggnog, homemade ornaments, and gifts from the heart.
Buffy and Xander left the building early, with their day’s mission of procuring a tree. But on Christmas Eve, the pickings were more than slim, and the mighty hunters returned with a bedraggled pine – about five feet tall with missing limbs.
As the tree settled into the stand, the little family gathered around.
“You can almost hear the Charlie Brown music playing, can’t you?” Andrew sighed. “I mean, everyone here has taken someone who was less than perfect under their wing – and now we’ve taken this poor little tree under all of ours.”
“It’s perfect.” Dawn agreed. “And wait until you see it all decorated! We’ve got yards and yards of hand strung popcorn and cranberries. And a great big honking gold star for the top.”
Spike laughed, hugging Buffy to him. “Don’t mind playing housevamp, luv… but no way was I gonna put an angel on our tree.”
Buffy gave her favorite vampire a smack on the rump, and they all set about preparing for their company later in the evening.
A buffet table was set up, the tree trimmed, gifts laid out underneath and a cheesy fake Yule log plugged in.
Of course, Spike had to whisper in Buffy’s ear. “Your giftie has a red ribbon wrapped around it… but you won’t find it under the tree. Not to be unwrapped in mixed company, pet.”
Buffy’s pretty hazel eyes sparkled for the rest of the evening, accompanied by a soft smile that left everybody and nobody wondering just what was said.
Their company soon arrived; Willow brought a small menorah to add to the celebration. Wesley’s contribution was several magnums of vintage Bollinger champagne. Lorne and Harmony arrived bedecked with felt reindeer antlers, passing out a pair to everyone who promised not to sing that evening.
Dinner was a complete success. Informal, everyone helped themselves to as much as they wanted. The champagne flowed along with the conversation, leaving them all sated and peaceful, gathered together.
One by one, they fell asleep next to their respective partners and friends, gazing into the soft glow of the false Yule log. The decorations on the little tree added a delightful and soothing aroma to the darkened room.
And Spike dreamed of celebrating his first birthday in almost two centuries with family.
May all the Gods and Goddesses bless willa_writes for all her encouragement and excellent beta skills.