"You're not working this weekend, are you?"
"Not. At. All." This was said with relish.
Uh oh. The tone was familiar; she remembered using it on Joyce, and with dread realized what it signified. A fun-filled evening of sibling blackmail awaited her.
"This is going to be bad, isn't it?"
"No." Dawn said firmly. Not for me, at any rate, she thought. "I was just thinking..."
"You realize your chances of getting what you want decrease in proportion to how much you drag the suspense out, don't you?"
"Oh, okay. Bummer. So much for the long, subtle buildup and the surprise conclusion."
"We had that last week."
"It was kind of fun, though."
"What? The demon trapped in the house, the... Oh no. You don't mean...?" Buffy looked at her sister with horror.
Dawn did everything but get down on her knees in front of her and clasp her hands together beneath her chin. Buffy could only blink. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to find yourself, yet again, being faced with something that wasn't so removed in one's past, but somehow from the opposite side. She found herself wondering why her mother had never committed infanticide. Or adolescentside. Weird.
And not fun. She had gotten the impression (coughGilescough) that being a parent involved lots of disapproval, but she had just worked a ridiculous number of hours, and had spent two Spikeless days getting rid of suspicious amounts of excess energy by cleaning the house from the basement to the attic. Odd how it was almost as hard being apart from him as it was to be around him. And the idea of a slumber party aroused some pleasant memories that didn't involve unexpected demon visitation.
"No demons?" Buffy ordered.
"No demons." Dawn agreed.
"No supernatural occurrences, no felonies, no, ah..."
"No, no, nope, none of those, I promise."
"No whining, either. And you pay for the videos out of your allowance."
"What about pizza?"
"We'll split it." Buffy decided, because I will be pigging out. "When?"
"Friday?" A day away. Time enough to get the stun guns, earplugs, and tranquilizers ready. Doable.
"Did I mention no demons?"
"You did, and I agreed. So we're good?"
"Can Tara come?"
"Well, it might be uncomfortable for..." Buffy trailed off, watching Dawn's chin do a fascinating little crumple that seemed composed of equal parts rage and disappointment. And why not? It wasn't as if Willow had really apologized, except in the moments after the car crash, and Buffy put that down to panic. The omission was bothering her, but she simply didn't know how to approach her best friend anymore. "But the real thing is whether Tara says yes."
"I'll call her right now." Dawn jumped up and ran to the phone. Buffy watched her, seeing for the first time in too long the little sister who'd used to be her own personal Barbie Doll. She didn't think it was the idea of the slumber party that had intrigued Dawn; it was the idea of a whole evening to talk with Tara. Buffy wouldn't have minded that herself, but she cringed at the way they were monopolizing the witch's time. Really, they were both taking advantage of the sweet tempered girl, and using her nature against her.
Taking advantage of Tara was one thing; listening in on Dawn's side of the conversation was quite another.
"So, hey, Tara, what are you doing tomorrow night?"
This was followed by a pause during which Dawn twisted one ankle around the other as if she really, suddenly, badly, had to go the bathroom and had reverted to six years old. The answer was evidently favorable, because she squealed, and bounced. "Cause I'm -- " She looked guiltily at Buffy, who was almost amused at the sudden attack of conscience. Wouldn't do to offend the slumber party-giving Big Bad Sister. "We're having a slumber party. No," She said sarcastically, "I didn't think it was that bad. Well, yeah. But it was nice to have everyone in the same house again. Well, it wasn't exactly. I don't think so." She listened intently, and Buffy pretended to be reading the magazine she found on the coffee table. She glared suddenly at the coffee table, remembering; hadn't Spike brought it over after he claimed to have tired of it in his crypt? She eyed the table as thought it were the table's fault. Did he have to insinuate himself into her life the way he did into her thoughts?
Not to mention her...
She brushed that thought away promptly. When did you become such a....?
"Huh? Why? I don't know." Dawn turned and looked at Buffy. "Has Spike been around?"
Dawn waved the phone at her, and Buffy got up and took it away. "Hi, Tara."
"Hi, Buffy. How are you?"
"Oh, fine, you know. Bored."
"Bored with... working sixteen hours a day. Or...?"
"Or? Oh, no... I meant, well, you know. You do, don't you?"
"No, actually. What's wrong?"
Buffy noted Dawn's extreme studiousness with her school books. What a little scholar she was. Did Keys have really sharp ears? Or was that just vampires? She turned her back to Dawn, and hunched over the phone. "It's just that he hasn't been around for two days, and it's been really.... You know."
"Yes, exactly." Boring. No long hours in bed, wrapped around each other, not even talking; no one else in the tub. Scary. No sudden kisses out of nowhere. No surreptitious touching, no rather frighteningly vivid memories with which to entertain one's self at soul-sucking job. Of course, she actually had memories, but who wanted to remember stuff that was two days old? No, just boring. Not lonely.
"So,' Tara said, "Let me sum up. You don't miss him or anything, but it's kind of blah without him around. Sleeping okay?"
"Fine." Buffy snapped, then cringed.
Tara laughed. "It is okay, Buffy. When I first realized that I didn't feel the same way about men than my cousin did -- "
"You mean, you didn't think that they were evil but financially attractive?" Buffy interjected, thinking of Tara's cousin.
"Yeah." Tara laughed again. "I didn't want anyone to know till I came to terms with myself, you know? So I know what it feels like."
Hm. Buffy thought. That was interesting. I need to come out of my closet. Or maybe it's Spike's closet, because he's the one who's so good at getting me out of my clothes. She idly considered this, then sighed, realizing that there would be no changes in clothing status till he got back. Then she remembered she was supposed to be conducting a coherent, adult conversation with Tara, not thinking rather unpleasantly wistful thoughts about a certain absent vampire.
"And I heard that." Tara said.
"What?! Heard what? There was nothing to hear. I don't know what you're talking about."
"Buffy, this is me, remember? There's nothing wrong with that."
Yes, there is. Buffy's mind countered. Yes, there most certainly is. What do I feel about him? Something, dammit, but who knows? "Yes, there is, Tara. I just feel it."
Tara couldn't find an argument against that. "We can talk about it in depth when the kiddies are asleep."
"Didn't you go to slumber parties when you were a kid? They never go to sleep unless you drug them. Hey..." Buffy looked around thoughtfully, raising her voice. "I bet there's some drugs around here. I bet if I looked really hard, I could find enough to really give them sweet dreams."
"Hey," Dawn objected. "They're my friends, not your experiments."
"Hey, share and share alike." Buffy said. Then she turned her attention to Tara. "Tara, bring drugs. Lots of drugs."
"Real simple, request, Spike." Angel pointed out. "Don't come back to LA--"
"Like you actually care." Spike scoffed. "Besides, you know what happened to me. Can't hurt anyone."
Angel regarded him steadily, this contradictory offspring of his, and shook his head. If he had stopped to think about it, he would have recognized the gesture: it was one his own father had used on him many times -- at least before he'd killed the old fart. "And the coat."
"Then it's a whole hell of a lot more money."
"Okay, then," Angel said, "All that or..." He sipped at his drink "...the truth."
"I told you the truth."
"You never tell the truth."
"Christ." Spike snarled. "What a poncy, smirking, self-righteous bastard you turned out to be. Liked you better when you were Angelus." He turned his head to look at the waitress, who mistook his look for entreaty, and consulted with the barman quickly. "But of course," he smiled, "that was in no way, shape or form, the truth."
He was saved from immediate danger by the waitress, who had brought another tray of absinthe, despite the fact that of the four of them, only Angel's was now gone. "Cheers," She whispered, and scurried off, looking fearfully at Angel. Lorne frowned at that, then muttered his apologies, and went after her.
"I'm just curious, William," Angel gave him a hard, flinty look, so much inferior to what Angelus was capable of doing.
"Grandchild," Spike corrected helpfully, trying to smirk, but not quite achieving it. Wes was now glancing back and forth between the two of them. The correction didn't buy him much time. Shitshitshitshit. Hoist by his own petard yet again. Perhaps that had been the motto on the good old family crest. Hoist by their own petards. Putting their feet in it since 1679 or... something. Dithering in the face of danger. Here he was, and what was he hesitating over? Telling Angel something he wanted Buffy to shout from the rooftops. The irony of it all.
"What were you like when you were human?"
So who was the one hesitating now? Just a jacket, after all. Nothing special there, nothing at all. Not compared to Buffy.
Angel took another gulp of the absinthe, and rolled it around in his mouth. Spike eyed him sourly, wondering what would happen if the bastard choked. Could vampires choke? He'd have to look it up. "Who is it, Spike? I mean, even if I believe you could love somebody..."
"Do you realize how Republican you sounded just then?" Spike asked, genuinely curious. "What's next? Lecture me on the smoking?"
"No, it'll kill you." Angel gave him that dead-eyed stare, so different from Angelus. "Save me the trouble, maybe." He stood up slowly, looming over the table. He's going to go all Angelus on my ass now, Spike thought. And he will kill me. This is it -- He feinted sideways toward the aisle, but Angel still caught him by the lapels, picking him up and shaking him like Darth Vader. The thought remained, clear in his head, like a note of music. He's not Angelus; he's just pretending. He's got an excuse now, and he's using it.
He's got an excuse, Spike thought....
I've got an excuse.
Buffy's got an excuse.
Dawn's got an excuse.
They stared into each other's eyes for ages, Spike's slowly changing expression, filling with a sort of disgusted wonder. Couldn't be true, Angel thought. Oh no, not possible. Sarcasm, maybe. But if anyone was in a position to feel contempt, it was him, shaking this much smaller vamp over the aisle like he was trying to shake coins out of his pockets, this much smaller, lighter vamp who really didn't have a chance of fighting back. This much smaller vamp, who, if the rumors were true, had gone through some interesting reversals, according to Dru. As he himself had.
He dropped Spike, ignoring the six or eight inches that separated his feet from the floor. No, Spike was not some sort of noble vampire, he'd never been good, never been tormented, what right had he to expect any sympathy?
He straightened his clothes, aware of many eyes staring at him. Disapproving eyes. Wes was staring up at him, with the sort of look he hadn't seen since he'd fired them all last year. Lorne, trying to get a date with the waitress from the looks of it, looked down at the floor, as if he were embarrassed about something.
He shrugged, trying to adjust his clothes, running one hand, suddenly nervous, through his hair. He looked at Wes again. "Hey, he's Spike. He's dangerous."
"He's chipped, Angel, and you're bigger than him." Wes took a sip of his drink, and Spike watched the grimace that followed with great appreciation. Good lord, hadn't any of these people ever gotten seriously drunk? He was dead and as bad as things were for him of late, he had more of a life than they did, despite lacking that crucial thing called a pulse.
"You say you're here to help the woman you love, a human. Can't do it any other way. Is there anybody who could confirm this?" He glanced around; Spike suddenly looking anywhere but at him, and Angel suddenly, utterly inscrutable. "I think I know who would know. I mean, really, it's her job, isn't it?" He sighed, considering the thought of handing off this dilemma to someone who could deal with it far better than he.
"I've got the solution." Wes said quietly. "Let's just call Buffy."
Continued in Chapter 21