...the pepperoni she kept swiping from one of Dawn's pizzas. The front door slammed down the hall from her, and she jumped several guilty-looking feet in the air, eeping as she did so. She whirled for the back door, but before she got to there, Dawn was at the kitchen door, scowling. "Buf-fy! Stop that!"
"Hey." Buffy tried for placating, but it came out... whiny. No, that wasn't a whine, dammit. She did not whine. "I'm just hungry."
"You'll spoil your appetite." Dawn said, glad that she had one. "Besides, you always pick all the pepperonis off."
"I paid for half those pepperonis, I'll have you know." Buffy pointed out loftily. She pointed a finger at Dawn, but got intercepted again, because Dawn was eying her other hand and grabbed it.
"Knock it off, I mean it. Or I'll tell Spike that you—"
Buffy's jaw dropped. "What-- what-- -? Dawn!"
The doorbell rang, and Dawn, with the smirk of a successful small time crook, whirled off to answer it, leaving Buffy with several questions.
Tell Spike what?
And what all over again?
And when did Dawn get back to normal?
She cast a resentful eye toward the front hallway, then picked a pepperoni off the pizza, firmly closed the box, and popped the slice in her mouth.
"Dawn's gonna get you for that," Willow observed from the hallway. There was something satisfying in the guilt on Buffy's face, she noticed.
"Hey, aren't I entitled to a pepperoni here and there?"
"I don't know if it's the pepperoni bugging her so much." Willow picked off a piece of pineapple and down the hatch it went. "It's the sneaky part of it."
Weak languid kisses in the shadows of the Bronze, Spike's coat wrapped around her... like he himself was. The secret sensation of moisture between her thighs, the sensation of him only just gone... She turned white, remembering. Willow's red face, almost a match for her hair... Once this would have been a shared conspiracy, the two of them filching something they shouldn't have, but she didn't like the tone of Willow's voice. "Uh, Will -- I've been meaning to talk to you about something..."
"You, doofus." She nodded at the back door. She took a deep, steadying breath. "Wanna huddle?"
They stepped outside, sat down on the steps. Buffy was sorry to notice how far apart Willow put herself from her, and how it didn't seem accidental. "So." Willow said, looking at the toes of her sneakers. "Talk."
"Well..." Buffy said, and her throat closed up. "Well..." Oh God, how could this be happening? Once there had been nothing they wouldn't talk about; now there was nothing they could. "The other night...?"
"Which other night?" Willow asked, still looking down. "Tuesday? Wednesday? Or I don't know... maybe the night I saw you kissing Spike? That night?"
"Will?" Buffy asked forlornly.
"Buffy, I know..." She swallowed and quickly glanced up, then quickly away. "I know, with the magic and all.... I haven't been a good friend. I've... been..." She swallowed hard and stared sternly and the wooden stair railing. "But what' s going on there?"
"I couldn't tell you." Buffy said. "I don't understand myself."
"Well, how serious is...?" Buffy flushed to the hairline, and Willow regarded this with some amazement. "You mean... you... with Spike? Spike?"
"Oh, God." Buffy moaned, burying her face in her hands. She ran her hands through her hair, then stopped, recognizing the gesture; it was his, when he was particularly frustrated. It was almost as if he was hoping to shake some brain cells loose. And now she was doing it. Maybe it was the times she spent with her fingers in his hair...
Will, though, mistook the meaning of the gesture. "Buffy...? Really?"
"Just don't tell anyone."
"Xander." Buffy said firmly. "I'll have to explain it to him, and I just can't explain it to myself."
"Buffy, do you love him?"
"He loves me."
"But do you...?"
"I don't know!" She burst out. "It just feels so different! I can't tell what it means, it just feels so strange, so... new... I don't know what to think. I just..." she shrugged helplessly. "I don't know what this is."
I didn't understand that I didn't think of men the same way my cousin did, Buffy's mind prompted. "I never felt this way about someone like Spike..."
"Angel?" Willow supplied thoughtfully.
"He had a soul," Buffy pointed out sadly. "So he was... different." She concluded lamely. She couldn't finish the thought precisely. Angel had a soul; Spike did not.
Spike has you, her subconscious prompted.
"So he's different. Not the same species." Buffy continued.
"But vampire with a soul."
"As opposed to chipped vampire."
"Totally different animal." Willow agreed, not seeing Buffy wince. "Didn't feel the same at all?" She prodded hopefully, trying to be useful, trying to help. "I mean... You know, the way you felt about him...?"
Not at all, Buffy thought. Lots of torment and denial; with Spike the only denial was in front of her friends. Was it just the difference between the two vampires, or was the difference in her? She only knew everything felt new with Spike around, as if she'd never felt anything before, tasted anything before... "I mean, vampire, right? Impossible. Angel was the exception; one-time thing. Once in a lifetime. For me, anyway." She brushed away memory of their uncomfortable little meeting. " But this... If he weren't a vampire, if he weren't Spike...." She swallowed. "It would be... perfect." She whispered.
Willow looked at her, her face worried, then reached out across the bitter months, and brushed Buffy's hair out of her eyes. "It's okay, Buffy."
"You're just saying that because it's in the Best Friend Bylaws that you have to do that."
"No." She said softly. "I'm just glad we talked. I could tell something was bugging you; you had to come out with it."
Come out with it? Buffy thought with a panic. Come out? That was what Tara had said.
"Hey..." Tara poked her head out the door. "Uh...." She hitched her shoulders up with tension, then regained her composure. "Hey, Buffy." Her voice dropped. "Willow."
"Oh, Tara, it's so cool." Willow jumped to her feet. "It's so neat." She gestured at Buffy, who was moving from puzzled to a little annoyed. "Buffy just came out."
"Well, of course, Spike," Wes said with great, adult, calm. "Buffy should know what's going on, shouldn't she?"
"None of her business, innit?" Spike glanced between the Watcher and the nemesis. "Don't exactly go to the tanning salon with her, do I? Punches me in the face every chance she gets." Not to mention the shagging. He drummed his fingers on the table, wishing he had a watch to look at so as to give the impression he was completely without a care or time to care. As if the thought that they would discover that he and Buffy wereohI'mdeadhaving sex didn't make him wonder what it felt like to get staked. Well, actually he did know that part, the World's Biggest Slice of Wonderbread having staked him with plastic the one time. He'd heard -- the sort of tales that got told around campfires (or microwaves, waiting for the blood to heat) -- that being staked, before you were dust, felt like being burnt alive.
Kind of like what if felt like when he and Buffy... He jerked his thoughts back to Wes and Angel, wondering what they'd seen, what they'd noticed while he gazed off dreamily in the distance. Was it that obvious? Did he look all wussy and poetic now? They were frowning thoughtfully at one another, prompting a time-wasting smirk from Spike. "Want me to leave for a moment? Have something to discuss?"
"No," Angel said tightly. "Just something to do."
"We'll have to call her." Wes said, with more than a little reluctance.
"Uh, let's not and say we did?" Spike suggested. The badness that would result from this phone call could not be contained by his brain cells; it would be like a nuclear blast, spreading debris over whole continents.
"What's the matter, William? Afraid the Slayer's going to slay you? Oh, she doesn't know, does she? Wonder what she'll do when she finds out. I mean, who could it be? If you'd ever actually gotten anywhere with whoever this woman is, you'd be bragging to anybody who'd listen."
Spike forgot his apprehension for a minute, and just looked at Angel. He shook his head slowly. It had always been Angelus who bragged of his conquests -- or massacres, was the better word. Never did like a fight unless the odds were on his side. And women? Who did he himself have to brag about, Dru? How could you brag about poor Dru, when the slightest kindness did her in, the poor twisted little thing. Angel was smiling unpleasantly, certain he'd struck a nerve. "Unless you have no hope of success with her? Have you even told her you're a vampire? Too scared to?" Spike shook his head again, and Angel, mistaking the gesture for a no rather than what it was -- a negation of him -- continued to needle. "Who is it, Willow? The lesbian witch? Or maybe it's Joyce... that'd be more your style, William, pining after someone you can't have because she's dead..."
Spike flashed to his feet before he was even aware of it, but Angel stayed sitting, completely cool, as unaffected by the other's vampire's anger as he was by the errand that had brought him here. This has been entertaining but it really has gone on too long. Finally, having made his contempt more than clear, he languidly stretched to his feet, reaching out and dusting off imaginary specks on Spike's collar. "Time to decide, Spike. What's the truth? Your little girlfriend, does she know what you are? Or does she even know you exist? You're not the Big Bad any longer, you know? So what are you? The... Medium Bad? "
"Afraid not. You come here, into my town, demanding what, my money? and... I'm supposed to hand it over? Why? Because I feel sorry for you? Maybe I feel sorry for your..." He chuckled unpleasantly. "...for your little girlfriend. If she's your girlfriend. Because how could any human love you?"
Spike lashed out, but before he'd even extended the punch, the pain bloomed in his head, twisting his features with anguish. He sank back down onto the bench. Wes and Angel exchanged glances. "Right, then." Wes said. "Do you have any change?"
Buffy cast a gimlet eye at the arriving guests, while Tara sent a few sideways glances her way. "What?" Buffy demanded out of the corner of her mouth.
"You gonna check ID's, too?"
"That's a thought." Especially seeing as how I wouldn't put it past Janice to being a demon in her own right. "You know what we need?"
"Hm?" Tara asked, smiling at a wide-eyed Sophie.
"A demon detector."
"I was going to go for another bathroom, but hey.... Nice to have at airports."
"It would so simplify my life."
Then again, maybe not, as Anya, former demon, appeared at the door with... Oh. No.
"Oh, no, I don't think so."
"She's in town for the wedding."
"She locked us all in the house."
"Oh, that." Hallie dismissed this little contretemps with an airy hand wave. "That wasn't personal."
"It was to me." Buffy said through tight lips.
"But, sweetie, you're the one who had the vampire at your birthday party. What's another demon?"
Ha! Buffy thought. That only works if you're a bleached blonde vampire with a certain wit and a wicked tongue. The last two were not necessarily synonymous. She crossed her arms resolutely on her chest, and glared at the demon. "You're not just another demon," She pointed out. "You think I'm a bad older sister to Dawn. What are you going to do, hang around and wait till someone wishes something?" She glared at Anya, who shrugged. Then an idea visibly struck the former demon, and she held out a hand to Hallie. "Give it up."
"What? A cover charge?"
Hallie looked more aghast than any demon who didn't intend mischief should have looked, giving Buffy a certain satisfaction. After all, at the very least, she was protecting the members of N'Sync from a room full of teenage girls. She considered for a moment how much fun it would be to speculate on what form that would take, then shoved that thought aside as being very unworthy.
At least till she could discuss it with Dawn, later.
Sulkily, the demon gave up the amulet, which Anya pocketed without a second glance. "So," She said with great satisfaction. "Where are the cookies?"
The phone rang.
Spike tried the puppy dogs eyes look at Wes, but it just wasn't working. Wes, covering the receiver with one hand, gave the vampire's chest a shove. "Push off, Spike, I need to concentrate."
"It's concentrating that I don't want you to do." Spike glanced back at the table, where Angel had spread out, almost triumphantly across one side of the booth. He had one arm stretched along the back as if he owned the place, and the fingers of one hand were leisurely tapping in time to the music of the jukebox. Spike frowned. Angel didn't like music much. What was...?
"Hello, is Buffy there? It's Wesley." There was a pause. "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce Buffy's former Watcher. Yes, I was." Another, lengthier pause followed, during which Wes crooked the phone on his shoulder, took off his glasses and wiped them. Spike eyed the stubble of a neglected beard, and wondered what that was about. Weren't Watchers supposed to be all neat and tidy? He made a grab for the phone, but noticed two things simultaneously: Wes had the plunger pressed down on the phone, and was staring past Spike's shoulder with enormous eyes.
Spike whirled around, just in time to see Angel's eyes slowly cross and assume an extremely befuddled expression. Then he slowly rolled forward till his head banged on the table. There was a baritone chuckle, a sigh, and then all was silent. His own knees just about gave way; no more harangues, no more lectures, no more Ohpoormewiththesoul. Then he remembered Wes. He turned around to find the Watcher replacing the phone receiver back in the cradle and meeting his gaze with a certain -- and, he felt, rather inappropriate -- cockiness. He nodded at the phone. "What was that?"
"Thought I needed to stall him." Wes nodded at Angel. "And what was that?"
Smile gave him an entirely appropriate smug grin. "I had the waitress put all the laudanum that should have gone into my drink into his. So I got half and he got twice as much. " He turned and waved cheerily at the girl, who at that moment was stroking the silk of Lorne's tie very gently, like it was a pet. Who knows, maybe it was. Lorne perked up right away and came sauntering over. "So it was a success?"
"Depends on how big a hangover he has tomorrow." Spike shrugged. He turned to Wesley. "Why didn't you...?"
Wes looked away. "Because it's Buffy, isn't it?" He scrubbed his glasses vigorously, ignoring the way Spike's jaw dropped.
"You won't -- You can't..." Spike's throat abruptly turned dry. "If he finds out..."
"He won't find out from me," Wes said quietly.
"Why did you...?"
"It occurred to me, that a vampire can be a very useful ally. Or spy. Or lots of things."
All three of them looked at each other, then Lorne cracked up. "That's it, honey, no more James Bond movies for you. You get all frustrated after you watch them."
"I was completely serious."
"I'm sure you are, sweetness. But see, I just thought how sweet it would be, two lovelorn kind of... guys... joining forces." He sighed loudly, affixing a wistful look on his face. Given that he was green, had horns, wore an outfit that made him look like an Irish pimp, and was actually gazing wistfully at a bar full of tacky American vintages, this was an impressive feat. It also gave Wes time to look off in the distance, and Spike an opportunity to examine the toes of his boots.
"I'm a former Watcher." Wes pointed out stiffly. "And I am the director of this company, so I decide what gets done with petty cash." He looked sternly at Spike.
"This is not a gift. This is a retainer." He glanced at Angel, face down in the booth. "And it just seems practical that we do this on a cash basis due to certain... tensions... That's all. Now. Shall we?"
Continued in Chapter 22