"Cookies!" Anya gasped. She staggered to the sink, yanked the faucet to 'gush' and gulped down the whole glass of water in practically one gulp.
"Is, um, your next word going to 'Rosebud' or something?" Tara asked. "Because I just don't quite see...?"
"We're out of cookies." Anya whispered. It was the same tone of voice that Buffy remembered using in reference to mascara, a combination of horror and realization. "What are we going to do?"
"Uh... mug a Girl Scout?" Buffy suggested.
"Oh, yes, that's so funny." Anya filled another glass and drank it slowly. "But she's in such an awful mood, I don't know what to do; it's only the cookies keeping her calm."
"Uh, get her some more maybe?"
"Where?" Anya demanded. "I don't think there's anything open at this hour anymore."
"There's got to be a Seven Eleven or something," Tara said. "Besides, shouldn't Hallie be leaving soon?" It's not like she was invited, she thought. But how did you eject a vengeance demon who supposedly couldn't exert the forces of revenge according to her own desires? She checked the time: eleven thirty and the girls were still up. Judging by the squeals periodically being emitted from the living room, they were quite up.
"What are you guys talking about in there?"
"Oh, you know, teenage stuff; hair, clothes, boys, music, boys, sex--"
"Uh, Anya, you're not talking about sex with them, are you?" Tara pointed out gently. Buffy, thinking she had a clear shot, snatched a pepperoni and popped it in her mouth.
"No! They're the ones that brought the subject up."
This caused such a long glance between Tara and Buffy that even Anya noticed. "Well, it's rude to change the subject, isn't it? Besides, I didn't know any of the words. I thought they would be helpful in my retail career. A good vocabulary is always helpful. And, besides," she muttered, "Hallie was telling them all about the good old days."
"The--" Buffy swallowed, envisioning the lawsuits in her future -- "the good old days?"
"When Hallie was human and I was a vengeance demon."
"Oh, and what else was Hallie saying?"
"Well, sometimes I was on the front porch. But Willow was telling them about the boyfriend that used to be a werewolf."
"Oh, good." Tara said mildly. "Buffy?" There was a loud shriek, a chorus of "OHS!!" and Anya froze, jumped, and whirled, all at once, disappearing back toward the living room. Tara blinked. "I think that actually violated the laws of physics."
"You know, it really is getting kind of late..." Buffy gestured for silence, and headed toward the living room, expecting to hear occasional shrieks, but it was suddenly, ominously, quiet. This was good, perhaps... or was it? She paused outside the living room. She could hear a soft voice, soothing, rising and falling as gently as water on a shore, almost sense the in held breaths of eleven girls. Did Vengeance demons also cast spells of silence?
She peeked around the door, and saw Hallie, in game face, surrounded by girls sitting cross-legged at her feet, with Willow perched on the end of the sofa. "....And the Married Women's Fair Credit Act enabled women to get credit on their own and buy things without having to...." Anya saw the thunder in her expression and unobtrusively slithered to her feet, the picture of guilt, sidling past her back toward the kitchen.
Buffy sighed hugely and was suddenly the center of thirteen pairs of eyes. They all looked at her curiously, Dawn's scary older sister, who reportedly had truly frightening weirdness cooties that were totally ineradicable. Now, she thought, why are demons less frightening than eleven disapproving teenage girls?
She gestured enthusiastically -- too enthusiastically, she realized; she looked like someone trying to guide in a jetliner on a runway -- for the chat to continue, then backed away with a huge sigh of relief. She wondered just how many older brothers and fathers would find themselves the subject of lectures tomorrow.
"Anya!" She snapped from the kitchen doorway.
"She's talking about the Federal Fair Credit Act or something. Not sex."
"Well..." Anya shrugged. "I think credit is sexy.'
"Yeah," Tara said, "You and Alan Greenspan."
Buffy and Anya exchanged blank looks while Tara took a deep breath. "Okay, well, I thought that was funny."
Anya patted her on the shoulder. "Maybe I just don't understand lesbian humor." She squared her shoulders and headed back into battle, leaving Buffy and Tara shaking their heads.
"Chief of the Federal Reserve Bank."
"Can't help you with that one, sorry." Tara eyed more pineapple, while Buffy looked over the pizza and sighed. "So... what can I help you with?"
Buffy groaned. "You've helped too much as it is." She picked at a pepperoni, while Tara half-heartedly slapped at her wrist. "Buffy, why don't you just eat the whole damn thing?"
"You said damn, Tara! What's next? Combat boots?"
"It's the pineapple, it makes me all aggressive." Tara watched her disapprovingly as she snagged more contraband from the practically-nude pizza. "You know, you just pick and pick and pick, because why?"
"Too many calories."
"How many of those have you eaten?"
Buffy swallowed guiltily and tried to look innocent.
"Yeah, okay, Buffy, but think about it. You've been picking all evening, picking at bits and pieces, but you've eaten so many of those slices, you probably might as well have eaten the whole pizza by now. Except this way you get to convince yourself that you didn't really do that much, it's calorie free because it's just a bit here and there. It's more fun just to admit it, and just take the whole thing."
Buffy stared at her.
"Sorry, Buffy, I just...." Tara wondered suddenly if she had inadvertently inflamed some sort of eating disorder, the way Buffy stared at her with wide eyes.
"No, you're right." Buffy gave her a strange smile, and shook her head. "You know what, Tara, you are right. You really are. You always are. It's funny, isn't it?"
"Oh, Buffy, I didn't mean it like that, okay?"
"Oh, I don't know... I think it worked...." Buffy slid off her stool at the counter. "Hold down the fort, okay? I need some air."
"Whose car is it?"
"Certainly not yours, sweetness. So slow down so we can get it back to the rightful owner in one piece."
"He's given up on getting it back."
"Okay, then, slow down so you can get me back in one piece."
Spike gave him the double whammy of a stare, and an exasperated sigh, made all the more impressive by the cut-glass cheekbones and the scarred face. It didn't work. Lorne had too much sympathy in his face for Spike not to feel guilty, especially when he considered his ulterior motive in allowing the demon to come with. He wondered if Lorne had an ulterior motive. It was getting to the point where it was just easier to assume everyone had an ulterior motive and be pleasantly surprised when they didn't. Although he wasn't sure about Angel; his motive was crystal clear: kill him and/or make sure he suffered. Seeing as how this pretty much summed up his own ambitions for Angel's future, this actually worked pretty well.
"Remind me why you're here again."
"Just curious to see the inestimable Buffy, who slays vampires when she's not l--"
Spike whipped out a hand, and Lorne was impressed by that; the vampire seemed to barely twitch, and then he was pinned to the seat with what felt like a hand of cool marble, utterly inescapable, and implacably squeezing off his air.
"Talk about her like that again, mate..."
Lorne gestured surrender, and Spike fixed him with icy blue eyes, releasing him. Lorne watched with some wonder as the vampire swallowed hard, then stared so intently out the small unpainted aperture in the windshield that it was surprising it didn't melt.
Lorne thought about vampires, about this vampire in particular. He didn't have a soul, but he was puzzled as to why the humans bothered so much with that concept. Here was a vampire at his most evil, singing Bruce Springsteen for a woman he feared didn't love him back. And a vampire in love with the Slayer! He marveled at the concept. Even though he knew of two cases, it still awed him, and he'd heard too many awful renditions of "If Ever I Would Leave You,' to not be a bit cynical.
He had his own little guidelines for judging people, and Spike had effortlessly confounded them. Much as he resisted it, he had to contrast the two vampires; the one with the soul, the one without. He knew he shouldn't compare musical tastes or execution, but it was impossible not to think about Angel's rendition of 'Mandy' in contrast with Spike's version of 'She's the One.' Or Angel, brushing aside Buffy's death with a lament about a wasted vacation. Spike, traveling to LA on some harebrained quest to get enough cash to take the heat off her for a while.
He knew none of it mattered, knew it was unfair to let it matter, but he wanted to see the woman who inspired two different men to two such extremes. Maybe, technically, they were vampires, but something about her made them behave like men, and he wanted to see that.
He eyed the vampire beside him, face taut with concentration, and wondered if he was approaching the dilemma from the wrong direction. Maybe it wasn't the things they did, the desires they had that was important. Maybe he shouldn't be trying to solve this puzzle from this angle. Maybe it wasn't the woman he should be considering; maybe the key to understanding vampires in love wasn't the vampire part, maybe it was the part about love.
Buffy whirled around in surprise. "What are you doing out here? You're the hostess."
Dawn shrugged. "Too much Maybelline, I guess." She displayed a hand on which every fingernail was a different color. "I think the fumes were getting to me." She edged closer to where Buffy was sitting on the top step of the deck. "At least, I think it was the fumes. Maybe it was Halfrek. They sure must have some strange perfume taste in Demon Land."
"No argument here. So I'm just your ulterior motive? Huh. Just a cover, that's me."
Buffy tried not to look too pleased.
"Well, yeah." Dawn scoffed. "So, um, you wanna be alone or something?"
"Not if you have other plans."
"Oh... Okay." Dawn scooted forward and plopped down on her butt next to her sister. She cocked her head tentatively at her, then snaked a arm through one of Buffy's. "Just, you know, we used to do this. With Mom." She glanced away. "I missed it."
"And you, too."
Buffy turned sharply and looked at her. God, what a knife blade teenagers put you on, she thought. A joke would be too flip; too serious and she'd smother. All she remembered from her own adolescence was panic, resentment, rules, mayhem, and Angel. Dawn was studiously considering the trees in the backyard, as if they had only recently just sprouted. When she was sure the coast was clear, she cleared her throat, and cautiously glanced in her older sister's general direction. "So... um... is Spike back?"
Oh. "No. I haven't seen him yet."
"Uh..." Buffy took a deep breath. Why shouldn't Dawn know? If she found out that Willow and Tara knew before she did, the fall out would be nuclear winter like.
"What, uh, made you think I'd know if he was back or not?"
"There's something going on, isn't there?" Dawn shot back. "I mean, I've seen the way he looks at you."
"Well, you know, there's that whole thing last year...."
"No, this is different. He looks at you different this year."
"Well, he's... glad I'm... back."
"I'll say. He looks like... . I don't know." Dawn struggled with what she was trying to say. "Maybe it's not him. Maybe it's you."
Buffy gulped, and gave it away without a fight. "Um, he's been really... really..."
"Buffy... look, it's okay." She had just consumed an entire box of Girl Scout cookies on her own, after having rescued them from Halfrek by virtue of her own cunning, and she was feeling pretty benevolent. "Remember how Willow didn't tell us about Tara? How she acted around her? That's the way you act around Spike."
Buffy looked around for another sign of the apocalypse.
Dawn tightened her grip on her older sister's arm. "Besides, it's really convenient, if I get that paper route..."
"Oh, okay. It's my priorities that are the problem. I must get a vampire boyfriend so you can get a paper route."
"That's what I was hoping, anyway." Dawn was silent for a long time. She clutched Buffy's arm hard and looked down at her toes, which were also color-coded. "It was awful when you were..."
"It's okay to say it, Dawn. I was dead."
"Okay, when you were... dead. Spike was..." She looked up, trying to find the word, sighing with impatience. "He was... just... He wasn't even sarcastic with Xander. Xander just kept saying these things to him, and Spike just wouldn't even notice. He just ignored him; I don't think he even heard him most of the time, you know? He and Giles actually talked -- "
"You mean, about the weather or..."
"No, shop talk, you know, Slayer stuff, but Giles talked to him, you know. I mean, they actually talked." Dawn marveled at it all. "It was polite and stuff. Giles would ask him questions, and he'd think of something, and then Giles would listen. But when you came back... Giles stopped being nice to him."
Giles, always with the protective instincts, just a little bit too late. Buffy did a mental gulp at the thought of telling Giles. Xander's reaction paled in comparison to what her imagination could speculate about Giles' response. "What, um, else, did he do?"
"He'd baby-sit me every night."
Every night I save you.
"And he was real strict." Dawn crinkled her nose at the memory. "Worse than Giles." She clutched again. "It was kind of weird, too."
"He wouldn't talk about you."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know," She bumped her shoulder against Buffy's like a cat. "Your name would come up, and Spike would just... disappear."
"And you know, if we kept talking about you, how much we missed you, he'd change the subject in the most rude way. He was nice most of the time -- you know, Spike's kind of nice. But he'd just get this look on his face; you kind of felt sorry for him and scared of him at the same time."
Buffy thought about it for a minute, then asked: "You were scared of him?"
"Well, you know." Dawn shrugged. "He might call you something terrible that you'd have to look up in a dictionary. So there was the delay issue, you know, in getting back at him. You know how he is; he would tease me" -- and here Buffy watched with some amusement as Dawn preened just a little bit -- "but I never pushed him. It just made it worse."
"Why?" Buffy asked gently.
"Because now, like, they're pretending that summer never happened, you know? I mean, I watched him Buffy, and the whole summer, if your name came up, he just disappeared. And now it's like Xander is-- is-- forgetting all that stuff, because it's real easy to ignore somebody who's not here, you know?"
Buffy stroked her hair, looking into her worried eyes. "Well, Xander's going to have to stop that, isn't he?"
"Are you going to tell him?"
"Tell him what?"
"Buffy, it's totally obvious." Dawn crowed.
"Um, what? What's totally obvious?"
Dawn rolled her eyes, full of adolescent superiority. "You know how you used to glare at him when he came in the room or something?"
"I, uh, glared?"
"Yeah! And then you'd kind of sigh or something. Well, now you don't do that. You kind of don't look at him. Because it's like you know he's there. You don't have to look." She sighed happily. "It's so romantic."
"No, it's not, it's..."
"Is it just sex?" Dawn asked curiously.
"NO!" Buffy shouted, panicked now. She shrank back against the porch rail and eyed the alien who had stolen her sister's body. "No, it is not just sex, it's..."
"Oh, is it love?"
Buffy had to look away. "Dawnie, I don't know. I really don't."
"Will you tell me when you find out?"
"Keep you updated, you mean?"
"Yes. Now go away, you're making my head hurt."
Dawn jumped up and sauntered toward the door, a Woman With a Mission. At the door, though, she stopped, and turned. "Buffy?"
"No more sex!" Buffy cautioned her.
"Okay." Dawn agreed soberly. "No more weird sex talk confidences." She paused thoughtfully. "At least till I have some myself, right?"
Buffy's eyes got very wide. "Which will not be till graduate school, right? Decades of graduate school, then graduation, then doctorate. Okay? And no vampires, and...."
"Buffy," Dawn sighed. "Chill. This is Sunnydale. Not like there's lots of options. But when I do..."
"Yes," Buffy conceded, mentally crossing her fingers. "When you do."
"Buffy... will you promise me something?"
"Will you keep Spike updated, too?"
Buffy waited a long time before answering. "When I know, I will."
Continued in Chapter 24