"No, it's just for nostalgia's sake... William. You don't remember me?"
Spike pricked up his ears at this, noting the tell-tale I-know-you-but-I'm-going-to-draw-it-out singsong. Who in the hell was this woman? Or vengeance demon, he remembered now. At that thought, he glanced over at Buffy, mouthing, "Dawn?"
Buffy shook her head at that. "I'd ground her," she promised. "She tried that once."
"Yeah, and look what happened." Spike brushed past Hallie into the kitchen where he dumped the leaning tower of pizza on the table and stomped down the hall. He hesitated before the living room, wondering if he should cover his eyes or something, then decided his best bet was bellowing. "DAWN!"
The chattering in the living room got cut off like water from a tap. Holy Hell, it was one in the morning, what were they, fledglings? "Come here!"
Dawn's worried face appeared at the door. "What?"
"Dawn, if anything happens to any of those Backstreet Boys..."
Dawn's trepidation turned to bewilderment. "Why would something happen to them? Didn't they, like, retire, or something?"
"Well, roomful of teenage girls, vengeance demon, what am I supposed to think?"
"So you just naturally thought we'd... uh, what? Get, uh, vengeance? For what?"
"For being an abomination to the idea of music?" Spike suggested, then realized he was ruining his Strict Male Figure impersonation.
"I still totally don't know what you're talking about." Dawn said.
"Well, just don't go wishing any revenge on people."
"Especially tacky boybands?"
Talk about temptation, but Spike manfully bit his tongue. "You heard me."
"Heard, but well, comprehended, that's still kind of...?"
"Yeah, yeah, when did you become my dad?" She flounced back into the living room, to be greeted by a highly descriptive silence and then a burst of whispers. Spike shoved both hands through his hair in exasperation, wondering how he had become the savior of All Things Tacky, before turning away. He almost smacked into Hallie, who'd followed behind him. "Who are you?" He snapped, irrigated. Woman -- or demon -- moved like a ghost, which she wasn't, but he could do something about that.
"You don't remember me, do you, William?"
That smile, he thought sickly. That smug smile, those predatory eyes, gleaming with malice. Something else, too, glimpsed behind the confidence, something small and frightened lurked like a monster behind her eyes. She had the smile of a fighter who always picked a smaller opponent, a conqueror who picked smaller armies. That smile was most definitely familiar; he'd last seen it on the face of a woman who'd found him revolting, but believed his adoration only her due. And she expected him to adore her still, he saw; she was waiting eagerly, poised to say something, watching for the moment he crumbled. And then what? Would she console him, or just watch and gloat?
Watch and gloat, he saw. That clinched it for him. "Hello, Cicely." He said quietly. Bloody hell, but the air was dry inside this house. See what smoking for a century did to you throat; the Surgeon General had a point. He brushed past her, past Buffy, who had followed Cicely, and out the back door.
Buffy watched him as he went past, seeing his face work with emotion before he was gone. Then she turned to the demon standing there. Behind them, Anya hovered in the living room doorway, and glanced brightly from one to the other. "Oh, did Spike bring pizza?" She turned back into the room, "More pizza, girls!"
There was a rumble, like a gathering avalanche, and then the two demons and the Slayer were buffeted by a powerful current of teenage hunger. Tara and Willow bobbed past, like corks caught in a flood, casting worried glances at the little cluster of demons and Slayer in the hallway. Then they were alone again. Anya looked from Buffy to Hallie and back again. Desertion definitely the better part of valor, here. She started to tiptoe past, but Buffy grabbed her arm and twisted. "You're not telling me something, are you?"
"Spit it out, Anya. Why was Spike so upset?"
"Spike was upset?" Anya dodged. Who knew what got a vampire pissed off? O positive shaken and not stirred? "Uh, I don't know. Why?"
"Anya probably doesn't even remember." Hallie said softly, slowly, and Buffy turned on her, hearing the malice in her tone. Looking into the woman's eyes, she could see it as well. It was all Hallie could do, she saw, from not going after Spike and not rubbing some more salt in whatever wound it was that she'd just opened. "Do you, Anya?"
"Remember me? What happened?"
"When you granted my wish. When I became a Justice demon."
Anya looked even more puzzled, if that was possible, and just frowned at the both of them, starting to get irritated. "Of course, I remember that. You're my best friend, why wouldn't I remember that?"
"Remember the man?" Hallie smirked. "Or boy, really. Remember him?"
"Not really," Anya said regretfully. "I really didn't have to do a lot of work on that one. You did most of that yourself. I hardly did anything at all."
"Did what?" Buffy asked in a firm voice.
Uh, oh. Anya thought. Buffy's arms were crossed, and she had that mustslaysomethingnow look on her face that Xander always talked about. Better not be me, she thought. "I can't remember everything I did," Anya whined defensively. "I mean, you should have seen my filing system for just the maimings alone! Plus it was a thousand years of this stuff. It's not like I had a stenographer or something."
"Think," Buffy said, and this time her voice had gone from firm to hard. Anya knew she was in real trouble, but she couldn't quite figure out why.
"Well, I don't know." Anya said carefully. "I really, really, didn't do much; I've never seen an amateur who had such command of the craft, you know? So ask Hallie, and let me go. I like having blood run through all my veins."
"What did you do, Hallie?"
"Nothing much. I just wished he was dead." Hallie examined her fingernails.
"You didn't say that before."
"It didn't come up."
"Well, I wonder why not?" Buffy said tightly.
"Well, I'm not a fool." Hallie glanced up from where she was examining her fingernails. "How stupid would I have to be to tell the Slayer her vampire boyfriend used to be some git who tied his cravat wrong and stuttered?"
Anya goggled. "He's your boyfriend?"
"What's a cravat?" Buffy shook her one question aside. "Never mind. Is that it, Hallie? That's all? That's all he had to do to irritate you? God, how shallow." Hallie sniffed.
"I just have high standards."
"Yeah, that explains why you're stuck on a Saturday night, trolling a kid's pizza party for vengeance? What's the matter? Can't get anything more glamorous? Getting a little bit too into your work? Homelife suffering?"
"He didn't just irritate me," She snapped. "He--"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, we went over all this before. Gotta wonder, Hallie, I really do, why you keep coming back to that. You mentioned it before, but methinks the demon protests too much. I mean, I've only seen you the three times, and every time you bring it up somehow."
"Well, I guess I shouldn't -- a vampire slayer who doesn't so much slay vampires as-- AWK!" Buffy slammed her against the wall so hard the pictures rattled, and there was sudden silence in the kitchen.
"My personal life is my personal life, and that includes Dawn. If I ever catch you or any other vengeance demons sniffing around here again, I'll...." She dusted her hands off, as if they were covered with something dirty. "I'll slay you. And that's my job."
Hallie snarled at her; there was no other word for it. "There are lots of people who'd love to know what the Slayer is doing with a vampire--"
"What is she doing with him?" Anya asked eagerly.
"Really? Then where were they with Angel?"
"Angel was a good vampire."
Buffy laughed. "What makes you think you're in any position to judge?"
"I bring justice!"
"You torture people." Buffy said quietly. "You say you do it for justice, but you'd do it for any excuse at all."
"And what do you do?"
"Well, I don't torture people, but I could change that." She grabbed the demon by both upper arms and propelled her toward the front door. "Starting with you." She yanked open the door, and tossed the woman out on the front porch. She reeled as far as the first step before she caught herself. Adjusting her rumpled outfit -- and dignity -- she collected herself on the top step and glared into Buffy's eyes. For just a minute, Buffy swallowed and forgot she was the Slayer. Slayer, hell, there was nothing more frightening than the prospect of fighting high-maintenance women, the sort who hoped to divorce well. Add the demon factor in, and Hallie made Glory look like a head cheerleader with mildly bad PMS.
"This isn't over." Hallie said.
Buffy pulled out a stake, and brandished it. "It could be. Wanna try for now?"
Hallie disappeared in a poof of smoke that smelled like some department-store perfume Buffy knew she was never going to be able to afford. She inhaled for a moment, then turned to Anya, who was fidgeting in the doorway. When Buffy looked at her, Anya waved nervously, her eyes huge.
"You should have told me."
"Why would I?" Anya muttered guiltily. "I didn't know he was your boyfriend!" The last word sarcastically emphasized. "If I had known that, I would have told you, except I don't even know that I knew that stuff, because Hallie really was the one who did most of that. They were just convenient."
"Who were?" Buffy asked tiredly.
The vampires. Angel, prowling the streets. "Spike." Buffy said carefully. She couldn't figure out why she was asking, or even what she was asking. "Did he cry?"
Anya winced. "Well..."
"You have to tell me."
"I-- think so. Hallie might have exaggerated, though. She always did love that part."
"What part?" Buffy asked sickly.
"The gloating." Anya flinched at Buffy's look. "Hey! Look, for me, it was just a job with benefits! For her, it was like... A religeon."
"Stop, you're making me sick." Buffy grimaced. Then they both looked at each other, Buffy stepping back to the door, and glancing out. No Hallie, thank God, just some char marks on the porch.
And Spike, leaning against the passenger side door of the DeSoto, smoking a cigarette with furious pulls.
"You're not telling Xander anything, Anya." Buffy warned.
"Nothing." Buffy snapped. "You and I are so going to have a talk."
"About what? Sex?" Anya quailed at Buffy's look. "Well, what else are we supposed to talk about? Boyfriends?"
"Seeing as how we both have one, yes, we could." Buffy stepped out on the porch and glanced back at Anya, who was curiously peering out the door from her to Spike and back again. "Just so long as you don't share this with any of the girls."
"Fine." She didn't move.
"Go away, Anya."
She saw the way Spike looked down as she approached, tossing his cigarette to the sidewalk with careful finesse, as if he were doing a cigarette ad. "Was she the one?"
"That was her." He agreed. He looked up into her face, then shook his head as if he'd just suddenly remembered something. "Wonderful taste in women I have, innit?"
"Present company excepted, I hope." She tried to smile at her own joke, but Spike gave her such a intense, questioning look that she bit her lip. She hesitated, lifting one hand, then reaching for his arm, and could not have been more surprised when he raised his hands, not in surrender, but in protest.
"You're never going to love me." Spike said flatly. "Just finally realized it now, I did. Not going to happen."
"I--" Buffy took a deep breath. "You can't tell me that."
"Why? Because we shag? " He lit another cigarette, and Buffy noticed his hands were shaking. "That's all it is to you, in't it? I keep telling myself otherwise, but I know it now."
"I can't say yes or no right now." Buffy said quietly. "I'm not like you, Spike."
"Neither was Angel."
"I don't mean that." Buffy said, but this time her voice was even softer. She had to take a deep breath to steady herself. "It's-- You know, you're part of the reason." She looked up at him. "Afraid I wasn't worth the second go?" Her breath trembled this time. "You meant it."
"You said that before." Spike said flatly. "We talked about this before. Is that what you're always going to say?"
"No." There was a long pause, during which Spike wondered if she could hear his nerve-endings jangling. He hoped not, because it seemed very important to be mad at her right now -- very mad at her, because he had to cling to the sudden certaintly that there was no hope at all. He wanted nothing so much as to leave before she saw things he wasn't ready to show, no matter what else she'd seen. Not just yet. "But Angel..."
"Yeah, Angel..." Spike said scornfully. "Bye, then."
She stumbled back as he swept around the car, slamming victoriously into the driver's seat before she could form syllables through a dry throat. She dropped her head as he pulled away, so she wouldn't see him leave.
Continued in Chapter 28