It's my friends that are screwed up.
She glanced around surreptitiously, afraid somebody would read her mind. She'd been afraid when she lost her virginity that people could just look at her and tell; she'd been even more afraid when she first slept with Spike that everyone could look at her and tell she'd spent the better part of a night doing things she couldn't even put a name to. So far, so good on that one. But what she was really afraid of was them seeing her and not seeing her, the way they'd spent the fall. She was right in front of them, and they'd seen nothing, but it was Spike who'd noticed right off the bat.
She shifted uncomfortably. He would have to leave town and make her think about him non-stop, because while he was here, she spent all her energy not thinking of him. That was pretty damned challenging, too. She'd spent five years studiously ignoring everything about him except his very irritating self, and when that particular piece of wool got pulled from her eyes, it had been a very large shock.
Maybe this was an opportunity, she thought. Yeah, an opportunity. Spend time with her magic-addicted best friend, her shoplifting sister, and her soon to be hitched other best friend, while trying desperately not to notice that, well, she wasn't being noticed at all. Add to that a whole slough of feelings she resolutely didn't want to think about, and you had a very uncomfortable Slayer.
It was just the whole sex thing, she thought. After all, she was used to it now, the nocturnal visits, the secrecy, used to waking up next to him. The way they laid in her bed, or his, and whispered about any and everything, bullshit free. The way his body would warm to her temperature, even while she herself got goosebumps. That was it. It was a habit that was perilously close to being something she had to tell her friends about.
Part of her resented that. It's not as if they tried to tell her they'd bring her back in case she died, although that whole train of thought she suspected resembled Grassy Knoll-type paranoia. She really didn't want to think like that about her friends, but it was so hard to think about sitting down with them and saying, 'we have to talk.'
What they had to talk about was her and them, and him. That she suspected was going to be the worst. There was the house, which she was struggling to keep, with a house payment due in a few short days' time. There were the utility bills that accumulated when three women lived in a house, with at least one of them insisting on taking lengthy baths with a certain vampire. There was the car, which at least she'd managed to sell, but had discovered that it had been driven a lot during her absence.
And then there was the fact of rent. Willow wasn't paying any, and she wasn't contributing much except for babysitting, which was problematical because Dawn still made it clear that the witch was on probation. Dawn had spoken of a paper route, which would bring in several hundred dollars a month, but she wondered what would happen to Dawn's grades, and the money itself, once Dawn actually saw a paycheck. Somebody was going to have to be the Big Bad, and she didn't think it was going to be Spike.
Who really shouldn't have taken so long, dammit.
It had been two days; she kept waking up in the night to find him not next to her, and her colder than she liked. She'd finally started putting pajamas on again, because she got cold in the chilly California nights. Somehow he never made her feel chilly; in fact, he made her feel feverish, and she rather wondered how that would go over if she worked that fact into her little heart to heart with her friends.
She shifted around on the deck. In the intervening two days since he'd left, she'd played board games with a sullen Dawn, sidestepped around Willow and had long chats with Tara. She felt a great urge to do so again, but controlled herself. After all, it was important that she not wear out her welcome, not take advantage of the kind-hearted witch.
She'd done laundry, all except her sheets, which she kept finding excuses not to wash, because they had suddenly started smelling like leather and cigarettes a few days earlier. She could turn her head just so on the pillow and close her eyes and see him, not that that meant anything at all, thank you.
She wondered what would happen when he came back. Actually she knew what was going to happen when he came back; she just wondered how many times and in how many locations.
Not that that meant anything. Nope, meaning-free zone, starting here.
The whole thing about Spike was that he had changed. If he could, could she?
And worse, if he could, why couldn't they?
It only took a hundred years, she thought wryly.
"Buffy?" It was Dawn, looking through the kitchen window. "You want to go to Xander's?"
"You mean, in the we're invited to go there, and I'm supposed to pretend you're not grounded sense, or in the we're not invited, and I'm supposed to pretend you're not grounded what the hell sense?"
"Uh," Dawn thought about it. "Am I still grounded?"
"Have you worked off all that stuff?"
"Nope." She said sullenly.
"Well, then, I guess we're not going, " Buffy said softly, trying to lessen the blow.
Dawn considered it a moment, then said, "We?"
Oh, God, it about broke her heart to see the hope on that face. "Yes, we. I have to make sure there's still Chunky Monkey left if it's going to be the two of us."
Buffy stood up, brushing off her jeans. "There isn't? Dawn-- "
"Hey! Not my fault, I swear. It was Spike."
"The other day."
She shook her head irritably, but there was something comforting in getting pissed off at a guy eating you out... her eyes widened -- of house and home. Oh, God, why did I even think that?
Dawn looked at her with great concern all of a sudden, as Buffy turned a bright red that had no accessorizing potential and took a very deep breath. "Buffy? You okay?"
"There's no Chunky Monkey." Buffy said dryly. "And Spike ate it all. Sure I'm okay." She noticed how cheerful Dawn was looking, perhaps at the thought that the Big Sister was now directing her ire at someone else. "You do know what this means, right?"
"We'll have to go eat Xander and Anya's Chunky Monkey."
There was a curious lapse of time after Dawn knocked on the apartment door; it was almost as if the people inside were considering whether to answer it or not, which was very un-Xander-and-Anya like. Buffy wondered what on earth they could possibly be doing, then realized exactly what they could be doing, and tried to smile, non-queasily, at Dawn. "Maybe we should come back later, when they're not..."
"What?" Dawn was bewildered for a moment, then realization dawned. "Huh. They're not having sex, they're probably..."
The door was abruptly snatched open at that, and they found themselves face to face with a tall female demon who was either very pissed or very pleased; it was impossible to tell. "Gah!" Buffy gasped. "What are you doing he-- Hey! What did you do with-- "
Anya poked her head around, and the demon shook her head at the two guests. "I'm not here on business, you two!" She trilled." This is just for fun!"
"Fun?" Buffy said cautiously, edging gingerly into the apartment. "For who?"
"Oh, everyone." The demon said airily. "Unless, of course, you're an unfaithful man or a child abuser or something..." Dawn looked quickly away at that, and Buffy suddenly found the ceiling tiles to be utterly engrossing. "Isn't this sweet? Look, now admit that it wasn't all for the best. Look at you two, spending time together. Would you be doing that if not for me?"
Damn. She had a point there.
"Halfrek," the demon said. "Oh, just call me Hallie. I feel like I know you all already."
"Oh." Buffy shot a suspicious look at Anya, who was very busy in the kitchen with sodas and cookies and any small object she could drop repeatedly. This only made Buffy even more suspicious. "So, if we're such good friends, does that mean you're not going to go all vengence-y again on us?"
"Well," Hallie said thoughtfully, "You know, vengeance, or justice, is really in the eye of the beholder."
"That's not fair." Dawn burst out.
All three looked at her. "It's not." She muttered. "It's not fair."
"Well, it's just not. It's like Rebecca at school; she's always picking on me and Janice, because we're tall and everything, but I can't help it. Why should she pick on me? I never do anything to her. Never. I would sort of understand if I did and she did, then, you know?"
"Dawn," the demon said, "You're the one I'm interested in, not your little friend. It's people like you that I help."
"Do you?" Buffy said quietly.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Does it really help? To get revenge?"
"I prefer the term, justice."
"Oh, hey!" Anya exclaimed. "Look! Lots of cookies!" She took one and shoved it right in the other demon's face, and Hallie, for her part, was so startled that she morphed into human face right then and there.
"Now, you two, no talking shop. This is for fun."
"Well, we weren't talking shop." Buffy said quietly. "We were talking, uh, philosophy."
"Aside from which," Hallie said, going for another cookie after already eating the first one," we don't have work in common to discuss."
"Buffy is the Vampire Slayer," Anya said proudly.
"Oh." Hallie said. It was a little snip of a word, but it packed a tremendous punch. Disapproval radiated out from her in snide tsunami waves.
"Oh, it's nothing; I guess times must have changed since my day."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, I wasn't always a justice demon, but I do know something about it. I'm very well-rounded." With that, she reached for a third cookie.
"Well-rounded in what way?"
"Oh, well, as I said, I do know something about vampire slayers."
"Such as?" Buffy crossed her arms and waited. Hallie scarfed down the cookie in record time, patted crumbs from her ample chest, and then, as if to make up for the way she was plowing through the cookies, took an exceedingly delicate sip of tea from her teacup. She patted her lips with her napkin, and then gave Buffy a look that would have boiled cheese.
"Well, my dear, it's not my place..." Down the hatch went another cookie.
"What does that mean? You know, you can say anything you want to."
Dawn and Anya were exchanging uneasy looks as Buffy slowly got more and more rigid in her chair, and her eyes more flinty. Hallie, however, never looked directly at the Slayer, but kept sighing and hesitating, when even Dawn could see she was eager to spit something out.
"I don't know what you mean, really."
"You're a vengeance demon," Buffy pointed out. "You could do all sorts of things in the name of vengeance, and then just claim somebody else asked for you to do it."
"My dear," Hallie said with the sort of patient voice that implied she was feeling great impatience, "You must know that we are forbidden from taking revenge on our own behalf. It's tragic, really."
"So what?" Buffy spluttered.
"Well, I am forbidden from taking revenge, if you want to call it that, on anybody for my own personal gain as long as I wear this." She indicated the pendant on her ample chest.
"So you're more or less like a normal person, as least when it's getting pissed off?" Buffy demanded.
"Yes." Hallie sighed. "But you know what's tragic?"
"That hair?" Buffy asked.
"Hm. Ha. Ha. Aren't you funny?" There was a pause during which Buffy checked out potential high-velocity exits, and Dawn glanced from her sister to the demon, awaiting the smackdown. Anya wondered how much insurance she and Xander had, and vowed to increase it to cover act-of-demon immediately.
"No, but all this travel does take its toll. No, it's just that when I see someone with such potential..."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, my dear, it's tragic. If you don't know, it's going to be ghastly for you, and if you do know, well, you really aren't doing your job."
"What are you talking about?" Buffy demanded.
"I'll never tell anyone." Hallie assured her.
"Tell anyone what already?" Anya shouted.
Hallie nodded at Dawn, wide-eyed at the dining room table, leaning forward eagerly. "Do you really think?"
"Hey, already there." Dawn assured her. "Spit it out already, you're killing me."
Buffy winced at that, certain that Hallie would now subject them to a round of further evasions. Evidently, though, she'd misjudged the demon, because after primping her hair only once, she sighed and with the appearance of great reluctance, said, "There was a vampire at your birthday party."
There was a great gust of wind as three extremely exasperated women let out inheld breaths. "That's it?" Dawn demanded. "That's all?"
Hallie glanced quickly from face to face, obviously disappointed that her secret hadn't had quite the bang she'd been anticipating. "If half the things they say about him are true..." She waved a finger in Buffy's face. "And you had him at your party, with your little sister and your friends? He had to have had an invitation to get in, you know."
"Spike's welcome in my house any day." Buffy said quietly.
Hallie spluttered. "Spike? Spike? Is that what he calls himself? Spike? Oh, that is too funny -- in a touching, pathetic sort of way...." She giggled until her face turned red, covering her face with her hands.
Dawn frowned at her, then looked at her older sister, unsure of what was going on. This horrible woman knew Spike? She felt the faintest prickle of alarm looking at Buffy, too: she was as mad as she'd ever seen her. Her chin was down, and she was glaring at the demon woman, her lips tight and white. "Touching? Pathetic?" She repeated, with wonder in her voice. Who was this creature referring to? "Yeah," she said sarcastically, "It was so pathetic how he almost died instead of telling Glory who Dawn was."
"He did what?" Dawn squeaked, suddenly glowing.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Hallie said sweetly. "You don't mean you have some sort of feeling for him, do you? Maybe he's a better vampire than he was a human. I haven't kept up to date on him as much as I should have, but really, when he was human, he was so-- so-- "
"So what?" Buffy demanded.
A hand waved in the air, dismissing the subject. "He wasn't worth remembering, really. Let me see. Does he really call himself Spike? I don't suppose there's much else he could have called himself."
"That's not true." Dawn said. "People used to call him William the Bloody."
At that, Hallie laughed so hard she snorted. Dawn flinched, and Buffy sighed. Anya looked at her friend with great interest, not at all nonplused.
"Oh—Oh—Oh-- "Hallie laid her head on the table and gasped for breath, as tears streamed down her face, and she slapped the table repeatedly. "Oh, stop, you're killing me..."
"I wish." Buffy gave it the whole two-syllable pronunciation. She looked at Anya and sighed; Anya, completely bewildered as to what was going on, held out the cookie basket. "Cookie?"
Hallie recovered herself after a trip to the bathroom, where she evidently reapplied her makeup with a trowel, probably to counteract the lizard-like demon face that she turned back on. Once again calm, she reassumed her place at the table, sipping primly at cold tea, and sighing contentedly. "I'm so sorry, I just didn't realize that William had become a vampire. Although I wonder.."
"Wonder what?" Buffy snapped.
"Well, he was such a pathetic loser when he was human..."
"You keep saying that," Dawn said impatiently, "but you never back it up."
"Oh, he liked to call himself a poet." Hallie said. "He was always off in the corner, scribbling in a notebook, and of course, they were all about me! I was horrified," she confided, leaning forward. "He was awful."
"What do you mean, awful?" Buffy snapped. "Did he kill lots of people?"
"No," Hallie said pertly. "He just made us all wish we were dead."
"By writing poetry? So just what was the big hobby back then? Belching?" Buffy demanded.
"No, my dear, it was such bad poetry. It was awful. Bloody awful. That's what we called him, the Bloody Awful Poet. It was torture."
"Oh!" Anya exclaimed. "So he was a vengeance demon?"
"He might as well have been." Hallie said with a shudder. "Really, afterward.."
"After... what?" Buffy asked, dreading the answer.
"After he told me how he felt about me..."
"How did he feel about you?" Buffy suspected it wasn't the way she felt about the demon herself.
"Well, of course, it's one thing to have nice young men admire one, but he was just so... so..."
"Pathetic?" Buffy supplied.
"He really was," Hallie agreed, mistaking Buffy's helpfulness for agreement. "He was utterly beneath me, and the worst thing was, he simply didn't realize it! Kept on and on about how he was a bad poet, but a good man! Awful, awful experience. And then..."
"I was the most pathetic git you ever saw. I wrote awful poetry, and I had a crush on this awful woman. It was just terrible. And the poetry!" Buffy thought sickly, remembering. You're beneath me.
"You're completely right." Buffy said. "It must have been just terrible. Having a good man love you, even if he was pathetic. Write poetry about you, oh my God, the horror of it all. How did you cope?"
"I became a justice demon." Hallie said proudly.
"Yes, it was just too much. I found out later that the man I really admired saw William cornering me at a party and decided that I must've been engaged to him. So he left, and I never got him."
"Did you get revenge on him?" Buffy asked carefully.
"The man I couldn't have? Oh, no, he wasn't worth it. Plenty of fish, all that. But it was so presumptuous of William to think I'd ever even consider... I never actually, formally, exactly, got revenge on him, but I like to think I helped. I believe he went out that night after the party with his little virgin heart all aflutter and tore up those horrible poems, and then a vampire got him. And then, of course, he did go after some of the party guests. I'd never have guessed he had it in him. If I had, I might have thought differently. It was even sort of witty, too, now that I think about it, the torturing people with railroad spikes. That's what we always used to compare his poetry to."
"Wow," Buffy said." What a loss."
"It just is, isn't it? If he hadn't kept bothering me like that, none of this need have happened. I'm kind of surprised to know that he's a better vampire than he was a man." She shrugged. "Who knows?" She looked around. "Are there any more cookies?"
Continued in Chapter 15