"Huh...what? What the hell?"
Willow sat up abruptly, wondering how she had gotten from Africa to her own bedroom. Oh. Dream. Damn. It's always the good ones that get interrupted. Nobody ever interrupted that dream about her failing test scores being posted on the front page after she'd been arrested for public nudity. She shook her head to clear it and looked around. Tara's apartment. Good---familiar. Tara. She glanced down at her fondly, but she was still asleep for the moment. Then the pounding started again, and she thought: Uh. Oh. Unfamiliar.
She slipped carefully from under the covers, grabbing a throw from the foot of the bed and wrapping it around her shoulders as she tiptoed from the room. The heat of the dream's setting had departed, leaving her feeling chilled.
She paused in the living room door to get her bearings, shaking her head to clear the dregs of sleep from it. There was no noise from the other bedroom, which meant that either the girls were sleeping through it, or they'd absconded through the window.
Xander? She hurried to the door, bracing herself against whatever it was now. Why couldn't emergencies happen during the day when she was rested, and awake? It was bad enough getting woken up, but then you had to deal with getting acclimated to the shock of whatever was going on. That never got easy. She sighed and unlocked the door. At least I have my fuzzy blanket, she thought. Grasping at straws always helps.
She opened the door to find Xander knocking on it so ferociously that he didn't stop until a couple knocks had almost hit her. She frowned at him, scanning him for wounds, extra body parts, or sudden excess body hair. She relaxed slightly as she realized that he was upset, not in an Apocalypse kind of way, but in a Xander kind of way. Nothing looked different, but he was wild-eyed. "Xander?" she asked mildly. "What's wrong?"
"Sit down, Will, I have bad news."
"What? Tell me! What's wrong?"
"It's Buffy. She-" He gulped and looked around. "Is Dawn in bed?" He asked softly. "I don't think she should hear this."
"What?!" Willow grabbed his arm and yanked him inside. "Is she okay?"
"Oh, she's okay," he muttered, striding across the room with his hands in his hair. "She's just fine, physcially, but mentally, she's all----"
"Is it a spell or something?"
"It must be." He'd been dreading this moment for quite some time, he realized. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he'd dreaded it ever since he'd found Spike weeping outside of Buffy's house after she came back. "She's sleeping with Spike."
Willow blinked at him and waited.
"See? I know! I was in shock, too, it's disgusting, it's---"
"It's---Is that it?"
"What do you, mean, Will, is that it? She's sleeping with Spike, he's Spike, he's---"
He flopped down in a chair, running his hands through his hair repeatedly and rocking back and forth. Willow looked down on him for a moment, then sighed, and sat down next to him. "Xander?"
"I knew that."
"Buffy told me during the slumber party. It was kind of obvious."
He was struck dumb, staring at her with something like betrayal in his eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"
She sighed and looked into space. "For the same reason I didn't tell you about Tara at first. I had to figure it out myself first. Then I told you."
"This is different."
"Do you think it's okay, me and Tara?"
"Well, yeah, it's...it's....What do you mean?"
"What if you didn't?"
"What if I didn't? Will, you've never dated anybody stupid. I mean, you've never done anything stupid like that."
"But what if I did?"
"Huh? I don't....I don't get it."
"If I was dating somebody you didn't like, what would you do?"
"Well..." he shrugged. She leaned against him, sighing deeply. "I don't know. Why would I disapprove?"
"Well, somebody you just didn't like. You know, that fat guy you work with who smells? What if I decided to date him and you didn't like it?"
"Oh, hey, hey...I see what you're doing." He jumped to his feet, leaving her lurching sideways on the couch. "This is different! Spike is evil, Spike is---is----" He sputtered helplessly, looking for a word. "He's...He's...Spike! It's disgusting! He's tried to kill us a lot of times."
"Well, we get that a lot," Willow said. "But, Xander...You know, you're dating a demon. A lot of people wouldn't understand that."
"Did you guys compare notes or something? Ex-demon, ex-demon! She doesn't do that stuff anymore!"
"Sure, Xander. Like she doesn't miss it or anything."
"Will? Did Buffy just call or something? Do you get your game plan together?"
She rolled her eyes, but her voice was mild. "Why?"
"Buffy was----" He stopped pacing and stared at her. "She said some of the same stuff. She said Anya was a demon for centuries..."
Willow, startled, considered it. How on earth had she overlooked this particular little weapon in the arsenal of Anya-dislike? "Well, yeah, Xander, it's not as if Anya---" She stiffened at his bewildered anger, and subsided back. This is me, she thought. This is how I reacted to Anya and Xander. "Xander, are you jealous?"
"Jealous?!" He made a snorting noise. Then he stopped pacing and looked into her eyes. "Do you think I'm jealous? I'm worried about her. He could hurt her."
Willow looked at him carefully, considering. She wondered just how much honesty he could take. "You know, Xander, we were the ones who pulled her out of heaven."
"I think he loves her, Xander. I really do. He looks at her the way Tara looks at me. Maybe Buffy finally noticed." She waited a second, but his shocked expression didn't abate, although his jaw slowly fell open. "There's lots of people who think that Tara and I are wrong, who would think that you and Anya are wrong. But..I think love makes you feel alive. Buffy needs that now, more than ever."
"That...that..." He shook his head at her, no longer angry, but sad. He looked at her as if he'd never seen her before. "That's..."
"Are you happy, Xander?"
"Me?" He looked at her cautiously. "Why?"
"It's just a question, Xander. Are you happy?"
"Yeah." He shrugged. "Yeah, I'm happy."
"Well, don't you want Buffy to be happy?"
"Not with Spike! She can't be happy with Spike!"
"I think she is, Xander. And I want her to be happy. I screwed that up, and we screwed up. But he didn't, not that at least. He loves her. I mean, Xander, remember how he helped us while she was dead? He was there the whole time, even when he thought she was dead. He remembered her, Xander. He loves her, the way Anya loves you." A memory came to her, then; Spike in the Bronze, muttering something about Buffy being more likely to hurt him than vice versa. "I just don't think you throw love away like that."
Xander stared down at her, eyeing her rather dreamy expression with suspicion. "It's that whole bad boy thing, isn't it? The leather coat, the accent, the---the----You're gay! You're supposed to be cynical about men."
Willow stared at him, then got to her feet. "I didn't choose to be this way, Xander, I just am. Like you and Anya. Maybe you can sort of not fall in love, but sometimes it surprises you. I'm just not going to...to...whatever because you don't like Spike. You didn't stop dating Anya because we, sort of, had some tension, you know."
"You know she and I don't get along all the time."
"It's gotta be the same for everybody, Xander. If Buffy can't date Spike, then I can't date Tara, and you can't date Anya. How would you feel?"
He sighed and looked at his feet, and she stood up, pulling her fuzzy blanket around her like armor. "That wasn't a rhetorical question, Xander. How would you feel if you couldn't date Anya?"
He finally looked up at her. "Answer me," she ordered.
"I can't imagine."
"Well, what if the Initiative were still around, Xander? What do you think they'd do to her?"
He gasped at that, freezing as he actually considered it. Anya in the hands of people who would cage her like an animal? She wasn't human enough yet to understand why, and she'd be confused and very likely terrified. She'd miss him terribly....Unwillingly, he remembered that summer. It was more than unwilling, it was almost as if the summer was forcing its way into his brain, demanding that he look at the memory. It was Spike, turning away from him every time he brought up Buffy's name, flinching away even from looking at pictures of her. He'd caught the vampire staring off into the distance from the back porch more than once, just staring off as if there were vast spaces in front of him instead of the Summers' small back yard. He'd get that look on his face, that thousand-mile stare he had when he was thinking about Buffy, and you'd actually have to touch him to get him to notice you.
He avoided Willow's eyes. "Look, Xander, I'm not asking that you two start skipping hand in hand through fields of wildflowers, but is it too much for you to just leave them alone? As long as you're dating Anya, at least. As long as I'm dating Tara."
"If he hurts her.."
She looked at him sadly, and that was his last excuse. "I'm going home," he muttered. "You can form the Spike fan club on your own."
Willow went to the door and held it open. "Get some sleep, Xander. And think it over. Maybe think about how come you didn't let Anya tell us you were engaged, too."
She closed the door on his freshly-dropped jaw, pulled her blanket about her tighter, and wondered if she could somehow find her way back into that puzzling, intriguing dream. In the hallway, Xander squared his shoulders and walked slowly away, but as he got closer to the car, his step picked up. Anya. Home. Bed. No frogs. No vampires. Sleep, he thought.
Dawn rolled over on her back and caught Janice's eye. Janice was frowning in puzzlement. "What was that about?"
"It was about me getting a paper route," she said with great satisfaction, before drifting off to sleep with dreams of actually buying cds dancing through her head. The thought surfaced briefly just before she slept, and Spike will have to be there all the time, too.
It was a somewhat subdued group that Buffy bid adieu to at the front door. Angel had been waiting out in front ever since she'd had her talk with Xander, and she never actually got to say good bye to him. Fine. Be that way, she thought. You might have forever to carry a grudge, but I don't. Anya was still perky despite the fact that Hallie appeared to have abandoned her once again for Wes' company, once the need to get Anya out of the room had passed. Wes looked both perturbed and intrigued at that, and she found herself wondering what exactly had happened to the twitchy little Englishman she remembered. How come Angel had a good effect on him? The rest was a blur, and she was left closing the door on them with such relief that she felt almost but not quite guilty over. She actually leaned against the door for a moment, pressing her face to the wood. Then she turned and leaned her back against it, reaching out with one hand to jiggle the knob to make sure it was locked.
Angel stared for a long moment at the doorknob from the yard, then turned to look back at the group silently regarding him. Lorne waited a second, and then jammed his hands into his pockets with a sigh. When Angel didn't move, Lorne stepped forward and held out a hand. "C'mon Kemosabe. I think we need to get drunk." This was greeted with silence. "Okay, we need to get Wesley drunk and watch him try to sing."
"I heard that." Wes muttered.
"See? Wes is willing to take one for the team." So what are you willing to do, you big sour puss? He thought. He looked at Angel thoughtfully, wondering if Angel was capable of putting aside his problems just once, so the rest of them could have some fun. "C'mon, big guy, let's go get wasted." Lorne glanced around the group for support. "We'll drink, we'll exchange confidences, we'll talk about women." He glanced somewhat nervously at D'Hoffryn. "Or...demons." Or whatever, he noted to himself. Sheep? Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'dinner and a movie.' "Say..." he eyed D'Hoffryn. "Not telepathic, are you? Good.....So.... We'll get drunk, we'll get tattoos, we'll listen to country music. Maybe some of us will wind up sleeping with inappropriate people. C'mon, all we need to have fun is you."
Angel looked down, considering. Suddenly, he was just terribly worn out. Nothing had turned out the way he had planned, the way he'd hoped, and all he wanted was sleep. No thinking, no drinking, no friends. He shrugged at them all, and they began to drift toward the car. With their backs to him, none of them saw the way he paused under the tree, looking at the door, looking at the porch. How had everything changed, that he was the one standing outside the house, while Spike was inside?
Buffy braced herself against the door, flinching slightly at the sound of the car doors slamming outside. There they go, she thought. She ached all over with weariness and tension, and though a lot of it was leaving with them, some of it simply felt...unfinished. Is it bad that I want something....else? What that might be, she wasn't sure, but it nagged at her. Shouldn't be, she thought, but still....the argument felt unfinished. They think they're going to ignore this till it goes away, she thought grimly. It's not going to go away. She lifted her eyes to Spike's, and looked at him as he shuffled slowly from the living room. As she watched, he ran his hands through his already-rumpled hair, and cautiously looked up at her. He looked so much like a guilty schoolboy that she had to smile involuntarily, and his shoulders slumped suddenly.
Spike gave a sigh and sank down onto the steps in front of her, stretching his arms out as they were stiff from being crossed sullenly in front of him for the whole evening. He gave her a rueful look composed of two parts irony and one part exhaustion that had once been exasperation. As she continued to stare, the irony melted away until she was looking at the genuine thing, the unadorned character. It was at moments like this that she saw the man he might become if he had the chance. It was also at moments like this that she wondered if that chance was...her. No pressure there. Oh, boy, she thought. What did I say tonight? What did I do? It seemed somehow appropriate that she had gone from having sex with Spike to actually admitting having sex with Spike. One more stage, though, she thought. One more thing. How many more things are there? They looked at each other, Spike slowly blinking those lashes as if he were considering something deep and serious, and she trying to fathom what that something might be. A clock ticked somewhere, but it occurred to her how seldom it was that they got uninterrupted watching time out of bed. She'd watched him in passion, in abandon, but when there were clothes between them, she'd always felt the need to glance at him only surreptitiously. Now I don't have to bother, she thought. I can look at him any time I want to. So she did, studying him with a seriousness that made him first glance down curiously, then meet her eyes uncomfortably, not certain what or why she was looking at. "What?" he asked.
"Nothing." Damn. She could feel herself flushing again. Damn that feeling, that sudden rush of blood, that abrupt leap in her pulse. She didn't stop looking at him, though. He responded to the scrutiny by ducking his head and running his hands through his hair again, leaving it in messy curls. It was such a nervous gesture, so boyish, that she had to smile, something that Spike caught instantly.
"What are you starin' at, Slayer?" But now he'd stopped being nervous, and was staring back. She stepped toward him, then, conscious of how odd it was to be glad her friends were gone and that Spike remained. She walked right between his arms and he wrapped them around her, bowing his head to her stomach. She used his hair for a pillow, smiling silently at the lack of gel. "They're gone," she muttered.
"Temporarily," he grumbled.
"They're still my friends."
"I think that says more about you than it does about your powers of persuasion, pet."
"Hey!" She pulled away and he loosened his arms, sliding his hands down the backs of her legs. Then she realized it was sort of a compliment. Oops. She was staring down into his eyes, arms loosely around his neck. "You know..."
"Hm?" He was already looking at her lips, she noticed.
Who are you? She thought. Who am I? I know who I used to be, and who you used to be and who my friends used to be, but not any more. I just chewed out my friends for you, and I think they're still my friends.
She scraped her fingers through his hair, tracing his face with her fingertips. I can do that, she thought. I can do that in front of my friends now. Probably better not actually do it, though. And then it hit her; Oh my God, I told them about Spike. No more secrets. I did the mature thing. I don't have any secrets.
Well, maybe one.
"C'mon," she said, pulling him to his feet.
After the tension of the evening, it just seemed to her suddenly that she couldn't bear any more pretense. She knew she wasn't ever going to be Exposition Girl, but now the last couple of days just crowded up around her. Confronting what had felt like the whole world's opinion of her was so much more difficult than confronting demons and vampires. When you staked them, they stayed staked. When you confronted your friends, they argued. No, she thought. When you confront your friends, they argued, and then they...stayed your friends. "Just...c'mon." And not to mention how irritating it was when your friends acted like they could date unsuitable people, but you couldn't.
Bemused, he let himself get led upstairs, and into her room. She turned around at the threshold, her finger pressed to his lips, pulling them away playfully when he tried to kiss them. She slipped his coat slowly down his arms, looking into his eyes the whole time. When his coat fell to the floor she still had her hands around his arms, sliding them down to his hands, and twining her fingers with his. They stared at each other, oddly peaceful. "Sorry," Buffy whispered.
"I just want to...."
"Look at you." She whispered. "Just want to look at you."
A slight quirk of the lips, and his eyes changed colors, darkening as he almost but not quite smiled. That was when she kissed him, gentle and unhurried. She leaned into his body, wrapping her arms around him, feeling his arms around her. With a tug, she pulled him toward the bed, and they walked backward, still kissing. At the bed's edge, she pulled back slightly, pulling his shirt away from his jeans, leaning back when he skinned off his tee shirt. She took off her own shirt and pants, then, and found him undressed when she turned back. She paused and looked into his eyes again, not sure of what she was looking for. Maybe just him. A slight breeze brushed over them as she reached up and kissed him again, tasting his lips as delicately as if she were savoring a new wine.
With the clothes gone, his skin became the only barrier, and she found herself tracing the muscles of his arms and backs as they kissed, murmuring into his mouth. This time he was the one who pulled away. "Hm?"
"C'mere." At that, he smiled. They were naked and pressed together, and she was telling him, 'c'mere.' He sat down on the bed, and she hovered at his knees, looking down at him with sleepy eyes. For a moment he had the typical male reaction to a naked female; a fraction of a second of shock that in fact there was a naked woman at his knees, and not only that, that it was Buffy. Then she leaned forward and they eased onto the covers, bodies twining together like string.
He had no idea whatsoever was in her mind. She kissed him the way he'd always wanted her to, slow and deep and supple, fingertips on his face, breathing, 'oh, oh,' into his mouth. Her warmth seeped into his skin, his bones, his fibers, and there seemed to be no separation between the two of them, not skin, not personality, not blood. She eased away slightly to look into his face. "What?" he muttered.
"What?" she repeated, amused. "A little tense?"
"What yourself. Want to see my ID or something?"
She cocked her head at him, then slowly glanced down his body, taking her time before her gaze reached his feet and she came back to his face. "What I really want to see is where you'd keep it."
He crossed his arms behind his head. "You're awfully feisty tonight."
She smacked his chest again, then looked at him consideringly and tried to tickle him. Spike just smiled patiently and batted away her hand. "Nice try. Vampires aren't ticklish."
"Oh, they're not?" Buffy demanded skeptically. She traced one fingertip down his neck to his nipple, circling it while keeping a thoughtful look on her face. Spike held his breath as she continued, shuddering suddenly till she triumphantly flattened her hand against his chest. "What was that, then?"
"Well, thank you, Doctor..." She cleared her throat. "Well, thank you, Doctor Spike.Doctor..Spike, get it? Doctor Spike?"
Spike groaned and let his head drop to the pillow. Buffy shook her head at him, and muttered, "Well, it's not like you're the one contributing witticisms to the conversation."
Conversation? He thought suddenly. He lifted his head to look at her. "Sorry. I've been remiss. Please go on and speculate as to where, precisely, I keep my green card."
"You know, I just don't think that's on my list of worries right now."
She shook her head at him. "You're the one that's awfully frisky tonight." They looked at each other, then, and Spike reached out one finger and touched her cheek. He could feel the blush before he saw it, and he wondered if she was aware of it, that blush that was the sign of all those bottled emotions, struggling in her throat.
"Can't imagine why I'd feel...so..different tonight." He said quietly. "Can't imagine what it would be."
"Yeah, well," she muttered, embarrassed. "It's not like...I should have said something before. I'm not a liar or anything."
"You're not," he agreed soberly.
"It's just that I don't know what to say when I...don't know what to say." She frowned. "That sounded a lot more intelligent in my head."
"You told Angel."
Something struck her, then; the absolute certainty that he had not told Angel. The suspicion was certainly what had brought Angel to Sunnydale, but Spike was not the one who had said anything. The only thing better than killing a Slayer is f-- She looked at him with equal parts irritation and wonder. A God tortures him for an answer, and he doesn't give it, but he couldn't refrain from blurting out that comparison between offing Slayers, and, well, getting off with them. It made no sense at all. "And you didn't, did you?"
"What?" He shook his head, trying to follow her thoughts. "Oh? Oh. Oh. No, love, would you have wanted me to? Seems like it's your job to tell the ex about the...."He hesitated.
"About the new..." she hesitated. "Guy?" She paused again. "About the new....boyfriend?" She finished.
"Yes," he breathed. "Yes, that." He steadied himself. "Seems only fair."
"I guess. Which still doesn't explain why Angel never..." Buffy made a tsking noise to herself, scowling for a moment. "I will not think about that again."
"Will thinking about it make you get irritable with Angel? Because that I wouldn't object to."
"You think he's going to..." She rolled her eyes at herself. "Nope, not gonna go there. What's wrong with me?"
"Not enough shagging." Spike said seriously.
"No, it's not that," she muttered. "Just..." She traced a finger across his chest, then looked up searchingly into his face. "You know, I always worry about that...chip." Her voice dropped at the word, chip, as if it were something extremely profane. "Always." Hurt made his forehead furrow briefly before she continued. "But....I wasn't worried tonight. I was more worried about Angel."
"Think he'll come back and do your hair in your sleep or something?"
"Point taken. I, however, am naked."
"Yeah, you're funny."
"Whereas you are funny-looking."
"Me what? Go ahead, finish that sentence." She propped herself up on her elbows over his chest. He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully at her, his scrutiny not matching her mood. He cupped her face in one hand and her eyes got big and round, her lower lip sticking out. She pulled herself closer and pressed her hand over his, fitting his against her face, and laying her head on his chest. The gesture made his throat close up, and he buried his face in her hair. "So," he muttered. "Shouldn't we be planning for tomorrow, getting all ready?"
"Why?" Buffy demanded."Getting ready means making sure I'm not wearing underwear. And I know you're not."
"Which you've put to good advantage."
"Like I didn't have help..." Buffy said dryly. "So, okay, see how this sounds. This is tomorrow, right? I will fight demons, bad guys, and my friends. They will bitch and moan. Xander will sulk, probably. Tara will look all happy. Dawn will be really happy. Willow will make jokes. You and I, well, you and I, we'll, uh---"
"---Look for broom closets."
"Probably," Buffy said dryly. "Why do I think my friends will be following us around suspiciously?"
"Because they will. Especially Harris."
"But anyway, there will be fighing, probably some snarky remarks from Xander, and Angel might call. People will listen to me...or not. And you'll be here, all the time."
"All the time?"
"All the time." She raised her head and looked at him. "That's all I know for sure about tomorrow." She nudged her head under his chin again. "That's....all I need to know."