All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  42  43  44  45

Affinity
By Ginmar

Chapter 40

Buffy had experienced lots of uncomfortable silences in her life. For example, there was the one that had occurred after she'd reluctantly admitted to her mother that she'd slept with Angel. Then there had been the tiny moment of silence with which she had contemplated her death. Her second resurrection had prompted its own share of silences, too, as her poor, tired, brain tried to come to terms with what had just happened to it.

But, really, for vivid, uncomfortable silences, the one that descended over their little group at the shopping mall after all the geeks in Sunnydale had dashed for cover, really deserved the prize. There was Angel's glowering silence, Spike's cheeky gloating, and Wes' visibly nervous consternation. Hallie alternated between looking bored and looking at Wes, while D'Hoffryn was eyeing his wand with a mixture of disappointment and betrayal. Lorne just leaned against Angel's car, buffed his nails, and looked expectantly from face to face. "So, Superfriends?" He drawled. "Now what? And I expect to hear the phrase, 'Lorne gets to take a shower at my place' figure heavily in the next few sentences." He glanced around the twitchy little group, making sure he glared into everybody's eyes before, at last, he caught Hallie's eye. "You're a vengeance demon, right, sweetie?"

"Well, I prefer just---"

"Whatever. Listen." He looked around firmly. "Listen up, because hell hath no fury like a hygienically frustrated member of the Deathwa clan, okay? I want to take a shower. I must take a shower, or I will lose my mind and run amuck. Do I make myself clear?"

"Uh, not exactly." Buffy said. "But...my place?"

"A party, too, you said?" Lorne asked.

"Well, did the last one count?" She asked, rather annoyed at the implication she was some sort of party person.

"Why wouldn't it?"

"Well, it's hard to get into the party spirit when you're actually trying to prevent a real party from breaking out."

"I see your point. So, will there be music?"

"Uh.."

"Let me be specific...Will there be music that I, and I alone----because I know what these two listen to when nobody's around--- can pick through and save us all from the horrors of boy bands?"

"Hey." Wes said defensively. "I've been told I have very good taste in music."

"You do have great taste in music, that's the problem." Lorne said agreeably. "You know I think you're a great guy, Wes, even if you do iron your boxers. But---"

"Hey!" Wes said again, this time flushing.

Hm. Hallie thought. Boxers?

Oh, God, Buffy thought. Watcher underwear. I'm too old to have childhood trauma.

Humans and underwear, Spike thought.

"But while 'Ode to Joy' is, in fact, great music, and good for air-conducting, it is not, in fact, dance music. So I and I alone will be in charge of the soundtrack."

"Definitely." Buffy said with great relief.

"Well, then, let's go." He poked Angel, who was standing as if he'd been turned into granite. "That means you, too, gorgeous. The only thing between me and my shower is your, ah, attitude." He raised an eyebrow at Hallie and she smiled to herself in a way that made Wes visibly straighten up and look at Lorne.

"Well, then, I say we have the ingredients for a party." Buffy said brightly.

"Alcohol would be good, too," Lorne said. He opened the back door of Angel's car, sliding in and laying one arm with perfect nonchalance out the window. He looked from one to the other, but everyone seemed frozen. Only D'Hoffyn perked up, blinking at this indication of progress and exclaiming, "Shotgun!" Nobody else moved.

"Just give me one of those." Spike muttered, and Buffy poked him.

"I heard that."

"Sorry. I'll whisper next time."

"Right." She glared at him, in what he correctly interpreted as a 'just-wait-till-we're-alone' glare. Fine with him.

"Buffy..." Angel said.

"Not now, Angel." Buffy said quietly.

"Get some beer, Oxford, would you?" Spike said, but Wes was eyeing Hallie as he slid behind the wheel of the car. Hallie, now looking a bit bored that Lorne had evidently decided against vengeance, slid in from the other side and crossed her arms over her chest, staring straight ahead. D'Hoffryn plopped in next to her and slammed the door enthusiastically, caressing the car with appreciation.

"Such a nice model." He glanced around Hallie at Wes. "What year is this one?"

"Oh, I don't know." Wes said apologetically. "Angel, what make is this car?"

Angel climbed in the back seat with Lorne, not bothering to answer D'Hoffryn, but taking the time to give Buffy a long, thoughtful glare.

"Uh, Buffy..." Wes said cautiously. "We're sort of crowded. Could you and Spike....?"

"Sorry, Wes, we've got an errand." Spike answered for her. The fact that he spoke for her irritated her, as did the fact that he'd said what she'd wanted to before she'd thought of it. Not a chance on sharing the car after that last car ride, she thought. Not a chance.



"Well, that was Angel's car." Anya said.

"Angel and who else? Was he driving?"

"Someone scruffy looking, but not Angel." Anya said thoughtfully. "It looked crowded, that's all I could really see."

"Well, I said I was sorry I got lost."

"It's okay, sweetie. I understand about not asking for directions."

Xander risked a glance over at her, despite the speed he was going, and the amount of irritation he was feeling. She was placidly looking out the window, utterly unbothered by the idea that something might have happened to Buffy. In fact, she would probably be glad if something did happen to Buffy. He felt instantly guilty at the thought, then irritated again at his guilt, then guilty all over. He reached out and squeezed her hand as penance.

"Xander..." She said.

"What, sweetie?"

"Could you slow down? I know you want to get there, but I think whatever was going to happen has probably happened by now. There must be a reason we saw all those naked Star Trek people."

"A Star Trek streaking convention?"

"Well, maybe it was a gay Star Trek streaking convention." Anya said thoughtfully. "Because I didn't see any women."

"You didn't look too disappointed."

"Oh, I know what you mean."

"Huh?"

"You just think I liked looking at all those strange men's penises. Hm." She said thoughtfully.

"Huh? No, I do not. It's fine if you..." Xander stopped himself with an effort. "I mean, it's not okay if you look at...but if you did, I wouldn't mind...because.....because...."

"Oh, Xander, it's okay. You know there's only one penis I want to look at, and it's yours." Anya beamed proudly, incontestably certain that she had finally Said The Right Thing.

"That's nice to know." Xander said quietly, but he was abruptly irritated again, and he didn't know why. He didn't want to discuss whether or not his fiancée wanted to look at the genitalia of strange men, and it made him irritated that he was having a conversation in which the word 'penis' figured heavily. Having such a conversation with a doctor was one thing; having such a conversation with Anya, however, in which the appendage in question belonged to another man, or other men, made him feel so confused that his head hurt.

His silence continued too long for it to be comfortable, and he glanced over guiltily at Anya. She was looking at him with wide, puzzled eyes, and guilt won out over irritation. "You know what, An?"

"What?" She asked in a tiny voice.

"Angel's left; I bet Buffy has, too. Let's just go and figure out what's going on, okay?"

"Okay." She said softly, still looking at him. Yes, let's find out what' s going on. She thought. I wish I knew.



"Payback's a bitch." Buffy said.

They were pretty much all alone in the parking lot, and they were eyeing each other over the roof of Spike's car.

"And you're telling me this because...?"

"Because of all the stuff you were doing to me in the car."

"You helped." She flushed abruptly at the memory of feeling him beneath her hand, hardening beneath fabric...

"Well, still...."She said lamely.

"Don't distract you with facts?" He speculated. With that, he climbed in the car, reached over the seat and shoved her door open, not yet sure enough of her mood to actually do his opening the car door routine. She peered in at him, and that with vampire fast timing, he grabbed her and pulled her in.

"And those would be which facts?" She demanded, wriggling, but he let her, because it was becoming very clear very fast that she was only giving him a hard time. She maneuvered onto his lap and looked down into his face. He raised his hand, hesitating, and then traced her cheek with one fingertip.

"This fact," he whispered. Another fingertip, this time on the other side of her face, resting the back of his head against the head rest, looking up at her with serious, solemn eyes. After the shenanigans in the car, she felt a curious mixture of disappointment and excitement. "And then there's the fact you liked it." He murmured, looking steadily into her eyes. And that was, in fact, true. She couldn't argue with that one. However, there were certain rules to be upheld about behavior, not that she knew what they were, and didn't really care, because she was just screwing with him to get back at her for firing her up in the car.

"Yes, but..."

"Bugged you, being in front of those two, didn't it?" He asked suddenly, looking down, and not, she saw, at any part of her, so conveniently close.

"Well...." Whoops, what just happened? She thought. He's all serious? Huh?

She stared at him, so puzzled her mind went blank for an instant. Oh, crap, he believed me. She thought. How come none of the others...? What is it with guys, anyway, they always believe all the wrong stuff...? She studied him curiously, assessing the abrupt mood swing. Not your typical guy mood swing, either. Those tended to take the form of, 'Oh, it's not you, it's me,' and usually involved the male half of a duo making an exit. What a pretense. Pretense. She looked at him afresh. With Angel, it had been pretense, on whose part, she wasn't entirely sure. Parker had had so many, she still wasn't certain he had his own personality at all. And then Riley....What was the difference between pretense and defense? She shook her head for a moment at the many varieties of male obtuseness before simply grabbing his face with both hands and kissing him till he was the one who pulled away, rather mystified. "Duh, already, okay? Boy, men."

She called me a man, Spike thought.

"This whole timing thing of yours." She looked at him. "Birthday party, remember?"

"Always an appropriate present, that." He grinned at her.

"Maybe it's impeccable, who knows? But your timing? Seriously sucks."

He wrapped his arms around her waist, sliding his hands slowly against her skin, while she slid hers around his neck. Parking lot, she thought. Parking lot, bright lights, and who knew when all the fleeing shoppers would return? But also.... hands against skin, denim against denim, the slow tempo...She pressed her face against his, and he sighed into her throat. "Timing, is it? Care for a demonstration?"

Buffy frowned at him for moving away, tightening her arms around his neck and not moving anything else. "I have a houseful of demons coming over."

"This is different from the other day how...?"

"Actual demons, as opposed to hormonal demons."

"Didn't stop us before."

"One of the demons being Angel."

"Great." He said sourly. "I don't know how I'm going to recover from that." Actually, I can think of several good ways to recover from that.

"Dawn's sleeping over at Tara's."

"I feel better already. Hey, the sooner we get there, the sooner they're gone, right?"

"Right." Buffy agreed.

They looked at each other. "I guess..." Spike said reluctantly.

"I have to move, don't I?"

"Well, just for now...."

"Good point."



"Uh, thanks, Spike, 'preciate that." Tara said uncomfortably.

"Spike?" Dawn squeaked. "What's going on?"

"Yes, that was Spike. Ah, Dawn, stay away from the window, okay, sweetie?" Tara sat down a shade too precisely and smoother her robe over her knees. "It seems the nerd problem has been, ah, well, I don't know if I can call it solved...."

Willow cleared her throat at that impatiently. "You know, I don't know if that's what I'd call it, sweetie."

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, you know, oh, nerd problem. What problems do nerds really cause, anyway?" She exclaimed. "I mean, really, what's wrong with being all serious about punctuation and---and---spelling? They really didn't do anything, well, except for Warren and his, his, whatever--- and I don't think you can really say it was something they..." Dawn and Tara both eyed her as if she'd sprouted another head, and both heads were having a conversation in front of them. "Okay, shutting up now. What, ah, what happened?"

"It's got to be something in the water here." Tara sighed. "You know how some people answer a question with a question?"

"Like this?" Willow demonstrated.

"Yes, like that." Tara smiled at her. "Well, uh, it seems that D'Hoffryn needs a few more classes in wand management because when he turned all the nerds back into humans..."She grimaced again.

"So what does that have to do with answering a question with a question?" Dawn asked.

"Well, okay, that's just what it made me think of." She said absently. "You know, fixing one bad spell with another bad spell."

"What do you mean...bad?" Willow asked delicately.

"Well, ah, something went wrong." Tara said dryly. "Somewhere. Somehow. And wand using is kind of a lost art, anyway. Don't see lots of people using them much any more. It's just that when D'Hoffryn turned them all human again, he must've left out part of the spell, because they came back...without their clothes."

Dawn's eyes widened and she jumped back from the window sharply. "Okay, then."

"How come you guys all look like that?" Janice said from the hallway.

"Sometimes," Willow said, "You just have to look like this."

"Well..." Dawn frowned thoughtfully. "I bet that'll make finding the nerds easier."



When did I grow up?

Seeing Angel sitting on the top step of her porch, his face in his hands, jerked Buffy back to high school, to innocence, to possibility. Seeing him vulnerable, so attractive to someone whose job description included the very antithesis of the concept, ricocheted her back to Senior Year, to things like cheerleading and pep rallies. Odd that a two hundred year old vampire could do that to her. Odder still, that despite her irritation, she found a certain longing for innocence, when his every kiss had been a revelation, when every touch was a conquest. What happened?

She lingered so long in the doorway that he felt her, and he stilled, lifting his head from his hands. She raised the beer she had impulsively grabbed by way of explanation. He shook his head wryly in answer. "I've already done my drinking for the week."

"The week? Really? That's impressive."

She was standing in the doorway, his back to her face, and it took her a while to interpret the body language of his bowed head, his stiffened shoulders. I loved you, she thought. But would I love you now? Another part of her brain whispered, and with sorrow, she calculated all the killing, the wars, and the deaths. Who was he, now, and who was she? What solace he had once been had changed into distraction. He had been a refuge, but now he had become a complication.

Oh, God, my life. She thought. Vampire. Slayer. Vampire with a soul. Slayer. Capulet. Montague. Cubs. Yankees. What else? What better? They stared up at the stars together, and it was Angel that finally looked down, and tried to find a way around the lump in his throat. "I'm sorry."

She wanted desperately to wipe away the distance, to go back to innocence, to lay a hand on his arm, to offer some comfort, but it seemed like a retreat. He should be sorry said one part of her brain. Shouldn't we all? Said the other.

Instead of touching him, she looked at him. It was the defeated slump of his shoulders that got to her, and made her move through the door to him, rather than away. Men, she thought. Who knows what goes on in their heads? Who cared if he was right about Spike? She was an adult now, and he had no business giving her orders when he gave her nothing else.

She'd often suspected that vampire hearing was so good he could practically hear her thinking, standing in the doorway, so when he sighed and looked up, she wasn't surprised. She held up the beer she'd brought with her as an excuse---one of Spike's, actually----and asked, neutrally, "Run out of things to say?"

He grimaced at that. "Afraid to open my mouth, actually."

The thought struck her that he felt this was unreasonable, that he blamed her for it. In more than two hundred years, he'd evidently seldom felt the need for self-reflection, but she saw for the first time the self-pity that Spike hinted at. She brushed it aside and charged in. "So what's really pissing you off?"

He glanced at her, startled. "Well, when I told you that, before..."

"No, that's not what you're pissed about. What is it, really? Every time somebody tells me they're pissed off about something, it's never the thing that they're really mad at that they talk about." Except Spike, came the thought.

"I really didn't want to intrude." He said quietly. "Your life..."

Buffy tamped down the anger that flared up, then took a deep breath and threw caution away anyway. What, is he going for a prize or something? She thought furiously. "God, men." She said with great precision. "You didn't want to intrude? Yeah, sure. You don't want to intrude when it really would have been a big help, and you do want to when it's just a pain in the butt."

"It's Spike, Buffy. It's Spike. I've known him for a hundred years. I made Drusilla, and Dru made him. He doesn't have a conscience, he doesn't have a heart, and he doesn't have...."

"Enough.You know what? We're not going through all that again." Well, okay, she thought. Except for this part. "Angel, I don't want it to be like this. And by that I mean, I didn't want you telling me how to live my life---" She stopped and swallowed, hard, to keep the words, 'when you weren't interested in helping me live it,' inside her. They sat on her tongue but after all she'd already said to him, she just couldn't add that to the pile. She looked at him, and tried to feel sixteen again, but there were too many deaths between that Buffy and the Buffy she was now. There'd been too many funerals, including her own, too much mourning rushed through and glossed over, and too many wounds that hadn't so much healed as they had hardened. It had all changed her, sometimes in ways she didn't like. Maybe he just didn't change; maybe he was beyond it. The thought came to her, then, that if she had just met him, it was possible she wouldn't fall in love with him. They'd loved each other when everything had seemed possible for her, but when things had become impossible, he had not been there at all. She had been sixteen when they'd met, after all, and he had been the same man he was now. She had been the malleable one, but looking at him now, she couldn't think of a single time he'd gone against his judgment for her; always the other way around. The only time she'd ever talked him out of something he supposedly wanted to do was the suicide attempt that Christmas.

When you can't die, what are the stages you go through? Is there some kind of puberty for vampires? In an odd way, it was rather comforting that this centuries old vampire could be just as annoying as any man. On the other hand, it was also profoundly disturbing that he hadn't done much with his time. She half glanced over her shoulder at the kitchen window at the sound of Spike's voice. Some of the changes in him had certainly been because of the chip, but the rest? It was as if he was maturing before her eyes. His love for her, and the torture of losing her had put him through his own crucible, unearthing things in his character he hadn't even been aware of. Was it then so fair to expect Angel to be aware of that sort of Spike when it had taken Spike himself by surprise?

Taken Spike by surprise.

Had it?

How long had he loved her? When had it begun? He'd never told her.

She kept coming back to one thought. Angel had known her longer, was supposedly good, ensouled, decent. But it hadn't been him caring for Dawn or helping her fight off a Hell God. She could feel herself getting angry all over again. So this is why people get so angry after a breakup, she thought. All those things you never let yourself see

She let herself see for just one moment. How could you love someone but not believe in love otherwise? How could you do that? One painful moment came to her, a moment she'd once have happily killed Spike for at the time. She sat like stone on the step and felt the past spin her away. Spike, pinning her and Angel down with desperate eyes, wounded and humbled, but not so cowardly as to retreat. Drunk and dumped, but still not retreating. What had he said? What was it? God, how irritating.

She looked at Angel. "Do you remember after you came back?"

Clearly nervous, he nodded cautiously. "Why?"

Doesn't trust me because he knows I'm going to argue with him, Buffy thought. Hm. "Stay here, would you? A minute?"

She got up and went to the kitchen, but Spike had moved on, standing in the hallway, leaning in the door. Wes, Hallie, and D'Hoffryn were setting up a Monopoly board on the dining room table. As she approached, he stilled, the beer pausing on its way to his lips, and then he half turned. "Having a fun chat?"

"Oh, very." She looked around him, at the others, then up at him. Instantly, he lowered the beer, and she took his other hand, pulling him into the darkness in the hallway, leaning into him. "I had to ask you a question."

"Is the question, 'Why don't you take off all your...?"

"I don't think so." Buffy said acidly.

"Oh, of course, how stupid of me. You never ask."

"Like damaging your wardrobe is a big fashion crime."

"Yeah, that must be why you're so eager to get rid of it."

She shook her head at him. "You know, there was a reason I came over here."

"Just not the right one." He said dryly.

"Well, not the right time... anyway." She said. "Do you remember...." She watched his face close, warily, and cleared her throat. "Do you remember what it was you said to Angel and I? When you, ah, came back after Dru dumped you?"

His expression relaxed, then, but he still looked bewildered, honestly puzzled over the question. "God, luv, I don't think I do. Give me a clue, here. She did dump me a bunch of times....Which time was this?"

Well, she thought. Oh, you know, after Angel and I slept together, and he went to Hell and back, and you and I had that temporary truce, that time. "You came back, and you wanted to make Dru love you again..."

"Oh, that." Spike tapped his forehead with one index finger. "That time. Bloody hell, I burnt my hand that trip, too. What did I say? God, luv, I was bloody pissed that time. Could you give me a jumping off point? Something?"

It was amazing how mad she'd been at him at the time, and you'd think that would make it memorable. "Angel and I." She said. "Something really infuriating."

Spike leaned against the wall, her leaning against his side, watching him concentrate on the tips of his boots. "Just drawing a blank, Buff. But..."

Buffy eyed him warily. "But...?"

"I know what I should have said."

"What would that be?"

"He shouldn't have ever left. Couldn't understand that at all, myself. Even then, didn't get it, you know, and I didn't, well, at the time, I didn't, ah, much care for you, myself."

"Not at all?" Buffy asked. He rubbed his forehead with one finger.

"This is one of those questions women sit around, thinking up, isn't it?"

Buffy shook her head, amused despite herself. "No, just curious. And what did you mean, 'much'?"

"Well, I noticed you, you know."

"That's all? Now I'm curious."

"Hm." Spike turned his head toward the kitchen. "Was it something about friendship?"

"What? Could have been." Buffy said thoughtfully. "I wanted to remember it, because it really pissed me off."

Spike looked pleasantly startled. "Did it? Wish I'd been paying more attention." His expression changed, and she turned to follow his eyes. Angel stood in the kitchen doorway, looking both irritated and guilty. He stared at them, face tightening with anger, and Buffy found herself getting angry. It was one thing for Spike to bicker with her, but it was another thing for Angel to say one thing and then do something else. Can't even ask him to stay put, she thought.

"It took a long time." Angel said quietly.

And you just couldn't do one damned thing I asked, Buffy thought. "Well, yeah, it was a long time ago." She said, walking toward him, conscious of Spike behind her, wondering if she had to fear some sort of flare-up between the two. It occurred to her that while Spike didn't want to piss her off, Angel didn't care if he did or not. So who cared more? "I asked you to stay out there."

"Yeah, why did you do that, Buffy?" Angel demanded, drawing himself up to his full height.

Why do I have to have a why and you don't? Buffy thought, but she just couldn't say it. "Just because." She said. "I forget."

"God, I still can't believe it." Angel said scornfully. "Looking at the two of you..."

"Then leave." Spike said tightly. Buffy glanced at him, startled, then back at Angel.

"Uh, guys?" Buffy said gently. "My house, my rules. They're really simple: do what I tell you or I'll kick your asses. You do not get to kick each other's asses in my house because that's my job, and besides, I know you really want to. And you?" She frowned at Angel. "You're pissing me off."

"Well, Buffy, wouldn't you do something if you saw somebody you..."

"Somebody you what?" Spike asked quietly. "Where were you, mate? Havin' another relapse? Funny how it is that you never hurt yourself when you have one of those nasty little...." Angel actually took a step forward at that, and Spike took a compensating step backward, muscles twitching in his jaw.

"Yeah, what would you know, Spike? Done any bragging yet about this Slayer? That's all he ever talked about before."

"Yeah, and that would be when?" Spike now looked deeply and profoundly bored, studying his fingernails. "Did you send me a Christmas card I missed? Oh, and you might want to get a new postman, because the birthday card seems to have gone missing, too. For a century." Spike glanced up at Angel and promptly looked more bored, if that was possible. "But good help is so hard to find."

"You know what I mean." Angel said tightly. "That's all it is to him. That's..."

Spike thrust the beer at the counter and flashed forward, not even registering the crash as the bottle teetered on the edge and crashed to the floor. Buffy shoved Angel aside, stepping in front of Spike, who froze. She raised one hand to his chest, and laid it there, part request, part consolation. "No asskicking, remember?" She turned to Angel, just in time to see the fleeting look of disgust leave his face. It was Spike's expression she missed; for one fraction of a second, his face softened, and it was at that, really, that

Angel glowered. Before she could open her mouth to speak, though, somebody else did it for her.

"Uh..." Wes said from the doorway. He took in the sight before him, Angel glaring at Spike, Spike, tight-faced and rigid, and Buffy standing between the two of them, her hand on Spike's chest. The smell of beer rose from a puddle of foam and broken glass at their feet. "Ah" A triangle, he thought. Time to leave.

"What did you want, Wes?"

"What? Oh, a quarter." Wes looked startled. "We need to flip a coin because D'Hoffryn and Hallie both want to play the same piece."

"The same what?"

"Monopoly." He said apologetically. "D'Hoffyn's idea of a party."

"What the vengeance demon wants, the vengeance demon gets." Buffy said dryly.

"How about more beer?" Spike added, just as acerbically. He cocked an eyebrow at Angel. "What about what the vampire wants? Might make some things more tolerable."

"Oh, Wesley...." Hallie sauntered up behind Wes and laid one hand on his arm. Then she looked around, hard, and shook her head. "We've reached a compromise." She smiled a little too sweetly. "In the living room."

"Hey!" Buffy said brightly. "There's an idea."

"So..." D'Hoffryn squeezed through the group at the entryway, and stopped. "So, are we going to do something? Or are you guys just going to talk about it again?"

"Well, Oxford's going to get some more beer, aren't you?"

"One track mind." Angel muttered. Buffy glared at him, and Hallie considered that glare with some interest. D'Hoffryn shook his head at her, and she glared back at him. Angel, too wary to glare at Spike with Buffy in such a precarious mood, just scowled at the floor.

"But we do need more beer." Spike said helpfully. Everyone stopped glaring at whoever they had been glaring at, and glared at him instead. "For it to be a party."

"Uh..." Wes ducked back. "Beer? Ah, you said beer?" Hallie, right behind him, grimaced in a kittenish way that Buffy suspected she practiced in a mirror.

"I don't like beer," Hallie pouted.

"Michelob?" D'Hoffryn asked hopefully.

"What do you like?" Wes asked in a low voice.

"Champagne."

"Hey!" Buffy said. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but could you settle the beverage issue at some other time?"

"There were a couple left," Spike said thoughtfully.

"Hey!" Buffy snapped, and he froze, then grinned at her, sticking his tongue out. She looked around. She had never seen such an interesting group of guilty-looking faces in her kitchen; Hallie, looking sullenly at the floor; Wes, eyeing the remains of Spike's beer with longing, and Angel, looking like Angel. The moment fixed itself in her mind, another little glimpse into the weirdness that was Chez Summers. Two vampires, two humans, two demons----no, make that one, as Hallie sniffed and stomped off to the living room. It occurred to her that it would take some doing to eclipse the weird factor for this evening. Now, there's a challenge, she thought.

Buffy cleared her throat, and watched the reaction. I really am Mom. Oh, God. Everyone looked suddenly guilty again for a moment, then briskly resumed whatever it was they were doing. Wes rummaged in the fridge for a beer, then handed it back to Hallie, without noticing she was no longer behind him. It was D'Hoffryn who took it, twisting the top off with a casual flick of the wrist that had been sadly absent during his wand-wielding demonstration. Wes casually handed another to Spike, who took the opportunity to eye her over it as he savored the first taste, turning a swig of beer into a heavy-lidded study of her suddenly flushed face. The moment was spoiled when he coolly raised one eyebrow at Angel behind her, and Angel responded by trying to step around her. She held up a hand like a referee and turned a withering scowl on Angel, but when she'd turned back to the kitchen, only a slightly startled D'Hoffryn was looking at her. She had to sigh and regard Angel with impatience.

"Come on."

They returned to the porch, assuming opposite corners like boxers. "I really don't like this, Angel, but there just doesn't seem to be any way around it, okay? I've changed, and you aren't dealing with it."

"Buffy, that's not it at all. I know you're different, so am I."

"Prove it."

He frowned in puzzlement, and Buffy saw that, too. He's not used to me disagreeing with him. Yet. "How?"

She sat down on the porch step, implicitly inviting him to do so as well. Stiffly, he adjusted his coat and sat across from her.

"Cordelia's baby." She hugged her knees to her chest. "How come she didn't tell anybody? Who's the father? How old is it? What happened? It's killing me."



Continued in Chapter 41

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