After all, it had been a mistake. If enough time would just go by, they could get over it. Time. Months maybe. Except she kept replaying the aftermath in her head, doing it different. There were other things that came to mind, the Spike who held her hands while she blinked at him in shock, the Spike who took her drinking, and tried to make her feel better. Where had he gone?
It was all so confusing, and the person she’d gotten used to asking about confusion was Spike. If nothing else, he’d be blunt. But he’d become a friend, and one did not have sex with one’s friends. That thought was actually comforting. Sex with a friend. Oops. What if she’d had sex with Xander? Wouldn’t it be the same?
Her head hurt.
It would be fine if he would just shut up. Why couldn’t he see that? But Spike never shut up and she could never seem to find the words when he was around. When he was a friend, she felt relaxed, but now….Oh, it was too bright and shocking, trying to combine the memory of his skin under his hands, with the sensation of spinning that came from remembering his face as he told her how often he’d saved her life in his dreams. Further back, other memories crowded round, the vampire who’d dryly talked of soccer and Apocalypse, who’d scoffed at friendship and almost wept at lost love, and startled her at every turn. A dead thing who was more alive than any person who drew breath. Especially her.
Her head was hurting again.
At the front door, she was mildly startled to find that it was unlocked. Great. Maybe they needed to have another stab at a talk. She cringed at the memory, then considered. Same sense of discomfort there, she thought. Was this a clue? Maybe if she solved one puzzle, the other one would resolve itself, too.
"Will…?" She dumped her keys off by the door and snapped the lock, just in case. No Willow in the kitchen, living room, or dining room. "Will?"
"Oh, hey, Buffy." Willow was poking her head out of the bedroom door. "I thought I heard you."
"Yep, it’s me," Buffy answered perkily. "Whatcha doing?"
"I was….I was thinking about Amy."
"Oh…" Thinking about Amy would make a really good euphemism, Buffy thought. "Thinking what?"
"Just about all the mistakes I’ve made, you know." Willow sighed and slumped down on the bed. "Look at Amy---She used to be my friend, now she’s my pet."
"Well, I do have to find a way to bring her back, you know," Willow said quietly. "She was my friend."
Buffy sat down next to her on the bed. "Willow, did you ever think that maybe some things just aren’t possible? It’s been a while since Amy was human. Wouldn’t it be sort of mean to..?" Seeing Willow’s obstinate look, she sighed and downshifted. "Maybe there’s just no way…"
"No, I don’t think it’s impossible! It can’t be." Willow said desperately. "She used to be a girl, Buffy. Now she’s…running on a wheel. It’s just not right."
Buffy picked at the coverlet. "Everything used to be different, Will."
"But it doesn’t mean its okay, Buffy, it just means it’s----What?"
"It’s just…" Buffy looked away. "I don’t know," she finished hopelessly.
They sat in silence for a moment. "Buff?"
"I’m sorry I said that about Angel," Willow said quietly. "It’s so stupid, I know, the way I---"
"Well, okay, it was just sort of ---I was upset."
Buffy looked at her. "So when’s the next time you’re going to be upset?" Then she sighed. "Okay, now I’m sorry."
"No, no, that’s okay, I totally understand." Willow waved her hands in the air as if to dispel something. "Totally called-for. I shouldn’t have mentioned he-who-must-be-forgotten."
"It’s not so much he needs to be forgotten," Buffy said, "But he needs to be…dealt with, you know? I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to do that. It just feels unfinished."
"And I reminded you of it."
"Well, yeah, you did," Buffy said quietly. "And it wasn’t accidental."
"I’m sorry," Willow said softly. Buffy glanced up at her quickly.
"How are you today? Probably not the best time for a heart to heart talk, you know, last night and all."
"No, it was the best time." Willow squared her shoulders. "You’re the only person I know who kind of knows what I’m feeling."
"What? You mean, Angel leaving?"
Willow nodded, then quickly looked away. "If you don’t…"
"But…" Buffy was the one who took a deep breath. "Angel won’t ever come back. I think Tara will."
"Really?" Willow asked eagerly. Then, mournfully, she asked again, "Really?"
"He’s not coming back. Because, you know, it’s not like there’s not enough apocalypses…apocalypsii…apocalypso?—whatever!---already. Let’s risk one by, you know, getting involved again." Something nudged at the edge of that idea, but she resolutely shoved it away.
"You’re not over him?"
"No," Buffy said firmly. "Yes."
"How do you get over somebody?"
"I don’t know," Buffy said. "I’m not really good at it."
"But you’ve…" Willow said, then abruptly stopped.
"What?" Buffy patted her hand. "Go ahead. I’ve pretty much heard it all."
"Oh, no, no!" Willow muttered. "Why should you be good at it? It’s not like you did anything wrong. But…Riley… Riley just left. He just couldn’t…"
"I’m sorry," Willow shrugged uncomfortably. "I just never dated anybody who was awful to me, except for, well, Oz and that wolf girl, but, still----it was kind of the other way around. And with you, it’s exactly the opposite." She checked Buffy’s reaction. "I can do this either way, you know. Um, do you want me to be bitchy or understanding?"
"Bitchy’s good." Buffy said quietly.
"Okay….Well, Riley….You didn’t talk a lot about it."
Buffy looked around her mother’s room as if to find the answer. "He was hanging out with vampires." Funny, how it seemed like she’d been holding her breath for a long time on that one.
"He was sort of cheating on me."
"You didn’t say anything."
"I couldn’t." Buffy said softly. "Not really. I’m supposed to know how to do…" She took a deep and shaky breath. "I can’t be unloading on my friends like that…I’m the Slayer, not…not…"
Willow was still looking at her with dawning shock on her face. "Oh, God, Buffy…"She reached out impulsively, and patted her hand. "You’re the Slayer, so what does that mean? All Slay, all the time? No, it doesn’t. You’re not the Slayer, you’re Buffy. Well, okay, you’re both. But not at once, sort of. Or maybe. Do you know what I mean?" She asked hopefully.
"Yes, I sort of do." Buffy said. "But what about you?"
"Me? Huh?" She looked down on her lap. "What do you…think about me?"
"I just want to know."
"You’re my friend. But…"
"But…Maybe….maybe….you did say something last night."
"What?! I didn’t mean it, I was upset, I was…"
"You know what I did last night? I lay on my bed for a long time and I looked up at the ceiling." She looked down at her lap. "Do you think…?"
"Well….You and Spike…"
Buffy froze as a wave of shock swept up her backbone. It was not helped by the way Willow was looking down at her own lap. "What?"
"You’ve been talking a lot to him, haven’t you?" If she wasn’t, why did she go all white, and then red?
"What makes you say that?"
"Well---" I heard you talking to him last night in your bedroom. "---It just makes me wonder if, if, I was a good friend---"
Buffy blinked.Why is it easier to talk to Spike than it is to her? I can’t possibly say that!
"You are a good friend, Will, but---"
"No, I’m not," Willow said quietly. She’d rather be friends with a vampire than me.
"He died," Buffy said. "He knows what it’s like."
"Oh," Willow said quietly. "He’s not…?"
Oh, God, here it is. "Will..is it bad to be friends with him?"
"No! No, Buffy, no. It’s just that…the way he feels about you…."
"Well, you know, I’d be kind of…Look, none of my business, okay? I’m sorry."
"No, no, you’re my friend, it’s totally okay. But I wouldn’t, you know…with Spike…anything…that would put you guys in danger…."
"Well, he’s in love in you." Buffy slumped, then, as if she’d been deflated, and Willow wondered what she’d said.
"He doesn’t have a soul," Buffy said quietly.
"Well, no, but…"
"Well, he was here," Willow said quietly. "All summer. Look at this way, Buffy. He was evil, and then he fell in love with you, and now he’s trying to be good. That’s…." At the sight of Buffy’s miserable face, her eyes widened. "That’s awful, it’s, uh, uh, really, really---"
"What about the Buffybot?"
"Well, okay, not something good, but, you know, evil vampire and everything, okay, formerly evil vampire, so maybe that should count…somewhere. Somehow."
"Why are we talking about this?"
"Well…" Willow swallowed. "Well…It just seems that I’ve been a really bad friend, and you know…Oh, God, I’m so sorry."
"You haven’t been a bad friend, you were just…just…you know, in love. Is that what you mean?"
Maybe, Willow thought. Maybe. Maybe not. Okay, maybe. That’s a good excuse. "You mean, spending a lot of time with Tara?" But you’ve been spending a lot of time with Spike, too, so…?
"No! No, I mean, it’s okay, you guys are in love, you want to spend time together…"
"So if it’s okay, why are you spending so much time with Spike?"
"Because he’s good to patrol with. Hey, I never said I was spending so much time with Spike. Besides, that’s not bad, is it? You did say it wasn’t bad."
"Well…Okay, I just have to ask you something? Okay? I just need to know."
Oh, God, Buffy thought.
"Are you---Are you spending time with Spike because, you know…Oh, God, this sounds so conceited, I’m so sorry, just ignore me…"
"Well, if…I were… a.better friend….Wouldn’t you want to hang around with me? Instead? Unless of course, you…"
"No, no…! Uh…Uh…"On the one hand, it was the perfect excuse. On the other hand…It was dishonest. No! Not dishonest! No, perfect!
"Because, I totally understand, you know. I mean, if an evil vampire can…you know…become good, then a witch can, right? Right?"
Worst thing about the crypt now was that she was there constantly. Look at the chair, and he had to shake off the vision of her on his lap. The sarcophagus where he’d been sitting when she’d kissed him after the Glory debacle. He could practically smell her on his clothes.
Eventually, after he’d picked up and put down a half a dozen books, he couldn’t stand it anymore, and threw on his coat and left. Even when she’s here, she’s not here, but when she’s not here, she’s still here! Not bloody fair! The fact that he was heading slowly in the direction of her house was entirely accidental.
People wandered past him, not knowing who or what he was, and he wondered if they realized how lucky they were. He and Dru had been in Slayerless towns where doors got locked and barred at sunset, and still the population would be one or two less by daybreak. Here, people ambled innocently down the street, and the vamps that Buffy hadn’t dusted yet could only watch impotently from the darkness and snarl in frustration. The gits that lived here probably thought they were hearing stray cats or something.
Gradually, he noticed that there was an increase in foot traffic in a certain direction, and he began to follow it. Not like a bloke could go to Xander’s flat for some companionship, and…and…that was pretty much it for social options. Willow and the rest tolerated him for Buffy’s sake, and he doubted once the story got out they’d even do that much longer. Xander would probably leave vapor trails in his eagerness to find a stake with his name on it. Hell, he’d probably frame the thing once the deed was done and he was dust.
Back in the day, he’d stroll down these streets and vamps would cringe away from him. Now he got a curious glance or two from humans, and the vamps hid. Stupid people probably thought he was human as long as he wasn’t vamped out. People who took their safety for granted too long frequently lost that spidey sense. A group of college girls sped past him with a swirl of freshly-shampooed hair smell and tangy alcohol flavors. One of them tossed a glance back at him. When he didn’t react at all, she turned back to her friends and they sped off. Nice-looking girls, Buffy’s age, but just the sight of them made his chest tighten with irritation. Walking around safe, thanks to Buffy, and not a clue amongst them.
There was a crowd in front of the museum, and Sunnydale wasn’t exactly a big town for night time exhibits. An ocean of people-scents swamped him, like all different colors of ink whirling together down the drain, and he took a deep breath.
He knew she was there somewhere; he could smell her almost as easily as he could feel her presence now. The sensible thing to do was fade away before they had another Talk that left him scrambling for more Jack Daniels. Sensible, but the problem with sensible was that in his dictionary that meant merely going somewhere she was not.
He lit a cigarette to calm his nerves, and then nearly dropped it when she came out of the crowd, practically invisible because of her height. At the sight of her, he did drop it, but at least it gave him an excuse to look away. It almost seemed better to have her hate him, because at least then she wouldn’t have that tired, confused look on her face. Worst thing about it was everything he wanted seemed most likely to put that look on her face. It wasn’t that he liked her better happier; it just twisted his insides to see her so unhappy.
"’S okay, Slayer, I’m already leaving."
Buffy stood stunned for a moment, then shook her head. With some difficulty, her feet started moving, heading toward home. What was going on? After…that night….she expected another argument. Where was it? His lack of resistance sucked the wind right out of her sails and she floundered. Sarcasm she could cope with. Fighting she could cope with. Those were good things, familiar things. But without them, she had nothing to use her only skills against. When in doubt, use Joyce’s good manners.
"Um…I was—" her mind went blank "--going." Did he think she was leaving, because of him? She thought suddenly, panicking. "Really. Actually. All over. Here." She stopped, looking back toward the museum. "Yeah, it’s all over." She indicated this by waving a helpful arm in the museum’s general direction. "You can stay, if you want."
Big of you, he thought. He could only blink at her, fumbling to light another cigarette, worried now. Was she being nice to him? He searched her face intently. She caught his glance and crossed her arms, not having anything to do with her hands. Ah, yes. Being nice as long as they talked like polite strangers.
"Is there anything worth staying for?"
"Someone got frozen," Buffy said cautiously. She braced herself for the impending Serious Talk, but Spike merely raised an eyebrow and inhaled thoughtfully. Ah, carcinogens.
"Frozen," Buffy repeated. Definitely not a Serious Talk here, which was good. To indicate the absence of desire for a Serious Talk, she repeated herself. "Frozen!"
"Huh," Spike said speculatively. "Guess the Humancicle franchise has arrived in Sunnydale."
Buffy grimaced. "It didn’t look like a vamp to me." Vampires. Good. Just not this vampire.
"No marks," she agreed.
"Anything else there?"
"A big huge diamond got stolen."
"Better check out Frosty the Snowman’s alibi, then."
They both looked at the ground, terrified at the prospect of laughter.
"I’ll just have to hitch up Donner and Blixen and do that, then," Buffy said gamely.
"Uh…Well…" His mind was totally blank. Every word he’d ever learned in his life and unlife appeared to have evaporated from his head. Desperately, he tried to keep the awkward conversation going. "Say hello to Santa." Oh, Christ, he thought. Quickly, he forged on ahead to cover up his lapse into lameness. "And Dawn," he added with relief.
"You could say so yourself." Buffy blurted. They stared at each other. "Oh, shit," She said suddenly and he took a step back, certain she could hear his heart sinking all the way down to his boots. Once again, he sidestepped the opportunity for sarcasm, taking a deep breath, and saying something polite.
"No, that’s okay…"
"No, no, it’s just that I think she’s with Tara. You know, movie and stuff." Must say something about Tara and Willow breaking up, she thought. Except they were breaking up around us, that night, and if I mention that, I have to think about what… "Tara and Willow broke up."
"Did they? The magic thing?" She didn’t know how to take that. How had he seen that while she’d missed it?
"How did you…?"
He shrugged, lighting another cigarette, turning away from her so he didn’t blow smoke in her face. "Willow likes it a bit too much. Couldn’t believe she’d talk to Giles that way."
"Yeah, or anybody…" Buffy said quietly. She took a step away, smoothing her hair down.
"She hasn’t been saying things to you, has she, pet?" And then Spike flinched, having said precisely the wrong thing. They’d been talking while he’d gotten dressed, hadn’t they? Good thing to remind her of, no matter how obliquely.
"Oh." Buffy took a deep breath. "Well, you know…Good and bad stuff, you know." She looked at him out of the corners of her eyes. "Balances out, at least once I’ve gotten the good half to go with the bad half, you know?"
Where am I in all this? Spike thought. Am I the good or the bad? He dropped the cigarette and stubbed it out in the dust.
If there’s hope for a vampire, Buffy thought suddenly, maybe there’s hope for a witch, too. She stared at him openly. Sounds like a theory for a change, instead of an excuse. Is that what this is? Hope? She’d been tired ever since she got back, too tired just trying to form any emotion, much less go over the top and tackle the big emotions. It was like being starved for so long that one lost the sense of hunger with one’s strength. The pleasure of eating disappeared entirely.
"So…the good half is Dawn getting out of the house?"
"Well, yeah, I mean for her, it’s good. You know, get out more."
They both nodded at that. It was indisputable. And it was a conversation killer. "So!" Buffy exclaimed. "You, uh, never heard of a demon that, uh, freezes things? And people?"
Things were going so well as long as they kept the conversation neutral that he decided to try something daring---and slightly personal. "Well, Clem likes to freeze Milky Ways and----Ah, no."
"Um, maybe I should go check his place for diamond?"
"He’s more of a cubic zirconia type of demon, really." Spike debated lighting another cigarette because it gave him something to do with his hands. But what if the unthinkable happened, and there was kissing?
"Um…Do demons have, like, birthstones?"
"You mean…?" He bowed his head, but it was useless; a mental image of Clem with earrings had surfaced in his head, and he had to laugh softly at it. Buffy looked away quickly, crossing her arms again. The hairs on her arms were standing up. That low sexy laugh that he never seemed to use around the Scoobies—again. "There’s a thought."
"Yeah, there’s an opportunity."
Behind them, the ambulance pulled away slowly, the guard inside briefly visible through the windows. "If I were Frosty the Diamond Demon, I don’t think I’d pick Sunnydale for my base of operations," Spike said. "Doesn’t make much sense, does it?"
"No, it doesn’t. There wasn’t even, like, a trail of drops of water."
"Think it was humans?"
"But it’s so lame!" Buffy exclaimed. "If they just wanted a diamond, why not just…?"
"Why make it look like a demon?" Spike said dryly. "Unless, maybe….they wanted to, what? Scare off the cops? They’d fall for that."
"You know, if it were really Frosty the Demon, wouldn’t there be something weird about the ice?"
"Should be," Spike said. "Think you could, somehow…Find out what it is?"
"Willow could. You think it’s humans? Really?"
"Well, yeah, demons just tend to take the direct route. And they’re not jewelry fanciers."
"Just kittens," Buffy blurted. Oh, shit. That sounded flirtatious. See what happens when you get too comfortable? See? Stop!
He looked up at her slyly, head lowered, eyelashes dark against his skin. "I figured you were so drunk you’d forgotten that."
"Oh, you’re not that lucky," Buffy said dryly, then clapped her hand over her mouth. "Sorry…" She muttered. Undeterred, her mouth went on without her brain. "I’m just going to save that one till there’s the perfect opportunity for blackmail." Horrified, her eyes bugged out and she gulped. Rewind! Rewind!
"And I was going to apply for the night shift at the pound. Bloody hell." Buffy actually smiled at that, but it was followed by a shiver.
"So…" She swallowed. "Think it’s humans? Trying to look like demons?"
Spike shrugged. "Could be, but why? Not like it’s bloody Scotland Yard here."
"Sounds like somebody has too much time on their hands." He gave her a long look, then, and she flushed. "I mean…You know? Why not just take the diamond? Why try and make it look like a demon, when the cops are too stupid to even…"She chewed her lip.
"What’s the important thing here?" Spike asked reasonably.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, what have you got? Frosty the snow demon steals a diamond in eighty degree weather? And doesn’t melt in a puddle? When the bloody cops ‘round here couldn’t find their bums with both hands and---"
"Okay, well----Why bother if they just want to keep the cops confused? What if it’s not the cops they’re worried about? What if it’s…you?"
"That’s not making me feel better."
"Yeah, well, forewarned and all."
"Great," Buffy muttered. "It’s not the stuff I can see coming that scares me, you know? It’s the stuff I never expected." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she flushed miserably.
"There’s not just bad accidents, pet," Spike said quietly. His throat was so full he couldn’t look at her and choke out the words at the same time. There’s me.
"Accidents aren’t good." Buffy said quietly. Why did he have to do this? Why did he have to do things for her, little kindnesses, that she wasn’t even aware she’d missed?
In answer, he could only swallow his regret and gesture weakly at her house. Somehow, walking, they’d arrived at her walk without being aware of it. "Didn’t intend to walk you home, did I?" He asked with a crooked smile. She still wasn’t looking up from her toes. Finally, she swallowed and squared her shoulders, then turned her face up to him, her expression almost frighteningly like Joyce’s.
"And—" her voice was a spare little whisper. "----you didn’t intend to see Dawn, did you?"
"No," he said quietly, taking what he could get. "Didn’t you say…?"
"Well…She should be home soon, right?"
Why are you asking me? "And you?"
"I have to figure out Frosty."
"Which means…Dr. Seuss?"
Ah. And a good excuse to go to the Magic Box. Away from me.
They only just reached the door before it flew open and Willow stood in the doorway. "Hey, did you hear about the…Spike?"
"Yes," Buffy said gravely. "Yes, I have." Willow looked from Spike to Buffy, then back to Spike. He’d been less scrutinized at international borders.
Willow looked at Spike as if she couldn’t quite recognize him, then turned to Buffy. Abruptly, she realized she was staring, whirled around and headed back inside. Spike gestured for Buffy to go first, and not till she’d actually done it did she realize what a, well, date-like gesture it was. Goosebumps rose on her arms again and she wrapped them around herself. No one noticed. Leading them down the hall, Willow continued to chatter, as if stopping for breath would mean stopping for thinking, too. "I, uh, made some Koolaid, because Dawn likes it, and I baked some---"
"She back yet?" Spike asked hopefully.
"No." Willow said softly. "Out with Tara."
Is there such a thing as a comfortable silence? Buffy thought suddenly. "Well, so we’ll have cookies—"
"I didn’t even tell you that yet," Willow said quietly. Good old Willow, she thought. Predictable me.
"I could smell them," Buffy said, her voice small. "I love chocolate macadamia."
The two girls looked at each other, both big eyed and uncertain.
"I made red Kool-Aid," Willow said helpfully. "Dawn likes it. And Spike---it’s red."
Spike looked at her as if she’d sprouted a second head. "R—red?"
"Red, you know."
"Red." Inside his head, he could feel the last little bit of patience snapping like a matchstick. "Red?"
"Well, Dawn likes it, and I figure…"
"Oh, for fuck’s sake!" Spike exclaimed. "Would you bloody kiss and make up? It’s driving me fucking mad!"
"What?" Both turned to him, and both were annoyed. Well, good, he thought. At least that’s movement. "What did you say?"
"Just have it out already! Something’s bugging the two of you and I can practically smell it!"
"Ew, Spike. That’s---"
"Yeah, it’s…It’s…" Willow looked profoundly uncomfortably. None of the words that came to mind seemed appropriate. Perceptive? Accurate? And impossible? Damn Spike. She just didn’t have any more apologies left in her at the moment. Maybe one could regenerate over night, but right now, she was tired with of feeling sorry and uncertain.
Despite his mood, he had to enjoy the momentary feeling of accomplishment. He glanced from one to the other, gauging his success. Who knows, maybe if they were pissed off at him, at least they wouldn’t be pissed off at each other. Buffy, for one, had stopped looking uncertain and had started looking seriously pissed. "Chip, remember? Don’t hit me."
"Are you afraid of us?" She asked incredulously.
"Afraid of you two? No, I’m afraid if I laugh that much, I’ll hurt myself." He took a careful step backward, just in case. "But would you two just get over it? Or else, if you’re going to be mad at each other, could you throw things? Insults? Something fun to watch? Anything but this stuff."
"What do you know about it?" Willow demanded.
"I know what it’s like to want to say something," Spike said quietly. "Just say it, then. It can’t be worse than not saying it." He backed another careful step away, too. God help him if they ever got those synchronized periods he kept hearing about. Luckily, snagging a cookie gave him a perfect excuse to get further away from there. With his mouth full, he watched as the girls alternately looked up, down, and away. "Just don’t say it in front of me, that’s all I ask. I’m not in the mood for girlish confidences."
"Wow," Willow said finally. "That was just---" She shook her head at him. "That was so guy-like."
"Well, it was. You couldn’t have worked a jockstrap joke in there somewhere, too? That would have moved you up the scale to, like, actually obnoxious."
"No thanks, pet, not much in favor of head injuries." He hopped up on the counter, snatching another cookie as he went.
"Are you coming with?" Buffy asked.
"Are you guys doing research on Frosty?"
"And Dawn will be here?"
It just wasn’t possible that she’d let him stay in the house. It wasn’t. "Then…" he breathed, "I’ll just stay here and wait."
"Don’t eat all the cookies," Willow said.
"It won’t take that long, your research," Spike said disdainfully. "I’m telling you, I don’t think it’s a demon."
"What’s a demon?"
"Martha Stewart," Buffy said, grabbing a cookie. "Spike thinks it’s either somebody trying to look like a demon did it, or else…Or else?"
"Just my luck, there’ll be a drag queen demon I forgot about," Spike said. Another cookie down the hatch. "We didn’t bet on it or anything, did we?"
"No," Buffy shook her head, the slightest of smiles on her face. Probably the cookies, he thought. "No, you don’t owe me anything."
"Or vice versa," Spike suggested.
Willow glanced from one to the other, then shook her head just slightly and headed toward the front door. Buffy hesitated, looking down at the floor, then almost at him, then toward the front porch. "Don’t let Dawn eat all the cookies, okay?"
"Like she’d have a chance. These are pretty good. Got any beer?"
"Giles might have left some."
"Ugh. Giles’ taste."
"Giles’ money," Buffy said without thinking, and Spike, already opening the fridge, paused, all the light going out of his eyes. God, when he got that look on his face, it took all her Slayer strength not to---"…and, uh….uh…Giles doesn’t have enough money to, to, make up for----"
Spike took a swig of beer, then hopped back up on the counter. He didn’t try and stop her. He just wanted to savor the way she thought she’d hurt his feelings, and was trying to make it all better. "Slayer…?" Her mouth stopped moving mid-syllable, and she looked at him as if her train of thought had not just derailed, but crashed.
"If the beer’s that awful, I’ll just take it off your hands."
Oh, crap. He was doing it again. That low, caressing voice that she didn’t so much hear as she felt, like his lips at her ear, or his hand on her skin. She could feel herself flushing. And suddenly she was annoyed. He was using that voice on her, and it was about beer. It just wasn’t fair! She could reasonably avoid conversations about, well, sex, or whatever, but he kept trotting out that voice on her when she least expected it, on subjects that had nothing to do with sex at all. Damned vampire.
"You do that," she said lamely. "Protect the world from bad beer."
They were left looking at each other across the kitchen, till Willow gave an explosive sigh from the front door. "Buffy?!"
"Yeah, I’m coming." With another almost-glance at him, she hesitated a bit, and then headed out. He waited till the door slammed, then checked the kitchen clock. What were the chances she’d come back to check on him?
Minutes ticked by, and he ate another cookie; Willow’s preferred form of self-medication wasn’t all that bad, at least if you were a bystander. He looked around the kitchen. Nothing much had changed since Joyce’s death, and he wondered if that was deliberate. Still the same scrupulously neat kitchen, everything in place, as if Joyce herself would walk in the room and tell him to get off the counter or else hand her the tea while he was up there. He reached up, seized by a sudden idea, and pulled the cupboard open. Yes, there it was, those fruity herbal teas that Joyce had liked. So American, he thought, and with that he slid down off the counter. Probably gone flat after so long, because he doubted Giles would deign to drink such crap, and Buffy wasn’t a tea drinker.
He wandered down the hall, idly straightening a picture as he went, to look out the door. No sign of the Slayer or Willow, so evidently the Slayer hadn’t had second thoughts about leaving him alone in her house.
No sign of Tara or Dawn, either, so he settled down on the couch, remote in hand, and clicked on the TV. One thing a century could teach you would be the necessity of patience.
"What was Spike talking about?"
"Huh?" Buffy lifted her eyes from the sidewalk. Please, God, not another talk. I’ve got my limits.
"About the Frosty thing? What was that? Some kind of inside joke?"
"Whuh--? No, there was no inside joking going on. None. It’s just that there was something at the museum. They found the security guard frozen, and there was a big diamond stolen."
"Frozen?" Thank you, thank you, thank you, Buffy thought, watching as Willow went into Willow with-a-science-question-mode.
"Yeah, as in Frosty, you know, of tacky holiday TV fame."
"That’s sort of cute."
"But not for the guard."
"Of course, it’s sort of stupid, too. Was the guard, you know----" She raised her eyebrows.
"No. He might have a pretty bad cold when he wakes up, though."
"So you think it was..a demon? A frost demon in Sunnydale?"
"No, not really. Spike thinks it’s human."
"Why go to all that effort? It’s so pointless. They broke into the museum, and got the diamond, why not just leave?"
"I don’t know, yet," Buffy said with a deep breath. "But I’ll bet you one thing."
"Whoever did this, they are so male."
Willow grinned at that, and for a minute, nothing had changed. Buffy smiled tentatively, and then Willow threw up a hand at the door of the Magic Box. A shower of gold sparks opened the door for them, and Buffy’s smile faded away. "Research time," she said quietly. And Willow, behind her, was confused and more than a little miffed at the change. Now what? She thought irritably, but there was no asking that question. I’m sick of baking cookies, she thought. I’m just sick of this.
There were almost no customers in the shop at this time of night, and Xander and Anya were already at the table, coffee cups at their elbows. As the gold sparks dissipated behind her, Willow saw they had almost identical expressions on their faces, a slightly wary look. With a sinking feeling, she realized what she was facing. I’m sick of people not liking me doing magic, but what’s worse? My friends looking at me like this?
"It was so totally cool when that guy threw the knife and the other guy did that thing with the sword! I totally want to do that in real life. Like Buffy."
"Buffy knows how to use do that?" Tara asked curiously.
"Oh, yeah, she can use all sorts of weapons. Just probably not around you, all the time. But it looks like so much fu---Hey, is she home? The lights are on." Dawn tried to peer through the curtains, but all she could see was the light in the living room. "Huh." She opened the door, and was just about to call to her sister, when a grunt from the living room made her smile. Spike was surfacing beneath a pillow, blinking and with his hair sticking up in all directions. "Hey, Spike, what are you doing?"
"I was fine before you woke me up," he grumbled, yawning. He groaned and sat up, boots thumping to the carpet, while Tara hovered at the door, and Dawn came over to give him a hug. He submitted to being hugged, then shoved Dawn toward the kitchen. "There’s cookies, there, Niblet, if I haven’t eaten them all. Tara," he nodded at her. "I don’t bite. Well, not anymore."
"No, I know. You just look really irritable right now."
"Too many cookies," he said dryly. "Does it to me everytime."
"Something like that." He bowed his head and scrubbed his hands through his hair, blinking and yawning at the floor. When he lifted his head, she found herself noticing how blue his eyes. Blue as a human’s, she thought. "Heard about you and Willow. Shame about that."
She glanced up at the kitchen door before replying. "Yeah, it is." She looked down at her hands. "I don’t know what to think, really. I just knew what I had to do, though."
"How did you----?"
"Heard her talking to Giles when he came back. Didn’t really sound like the Willow I used to know."
"The one you tried to kill?" He looked so abashed at that, that she reached out and impulsively grabbed his arm. "Sorry, force of habit."
"Wonder if that had something to do with it, you know?"
"What do you…mean?"
"Well, what you said." He sighed again, staring across the carpet. "The old Willow, well, she wouldn’t have pulled Buffy out of heaven. She’d have dealt with it, she’d have grieved. This Willow---she wants things the way she wants them."
"Including me," Tara said softly.
"Dunno what to tell you, luv." He gave her a frank once-over with his eyes than on another man would have been crude, but on Spike seemed merely wicked. "Can’t fancy changing an inch, myself."
"Yeah, but to you," Tara said dryly, "I’m dessert."
Spike smiled then, and she wondered for a moment if she was seeing something that Buffy saw. "More like a meal."
"So how far do you want to take this metaphor?"
"I think it’s about done."
"So…" Tara sat down on the opposite end of the sofa. "How goes the Buffy thing?"
"The Buffy thing?"
"You two have been spending a lot of time together."
Spike turned and looked at her, then swiftly turned and studied the fireplace. "And..so?"
"Just asking, Spike. Maybe ending a relationship makes you curious about other relationships."
Spike cleared his throat nervously, but the fireplace offered absolutely no conversational inspiration. "What makes you think there’s a re----" The word caught in his throat. "---lationship?"
She studied her hands for minute. "Maybe I don’t, Spike. Maybe it’s stupid to think that I could know anything about relationships, after the mess I made of this one----"
"But I have eyes." He was all set to go into defensive, denial mode, but her gentle tone seemed to deflate his shell. "Maybe I’m just jealous."
"Why would you be jealous of me?" He waved that off without a second thought. "And Buffy? You don’t know the half of it. Slayer saves the world over and over again, doesn’t even get an allowance for it, has to work herself to death just to keep this bloody house going, and…What?"
"You worry about her a lot, don’t you?"
"Somebody’s got to," he grumbled.
"Maybe that’s something to be jealous of. Somebody who thinks that love means putting someone else first."
"Well, I don’t," he muttered. "Just think about her, that’s what I do. Don’t know what you’re going on about."
"Never mind, Big Bad," Tara said dryly, but she was smiling at him in a way that made him duck his head away.
"Never mind what?" Dawn asked. "Is there anything good on TV?"
"Ripley’s Believe it or Not?"
"Nada." Buffy put the book on the growing pile of Books That Were No Damned Help at All. The pile was depressingly huge and occupied half the table. Zippo.
"Again with the zilch."
"And…uh…that one?" Willow gestured at something under Buffy’s elbow. American Bride. Buffy grimaced.
"Lots of demons, but no Frosty." She thumped the book onto the loser pile, and sighed dejectedly.
"Well, I just didn’t find anything on the Internet, either…"Willow muttered, and looked accusingly at her now-closed laptop.
Uh oh, Buffy thought. Yes, Willow and the Internet. Willow had not, technically, done the searching herself; she had used magic to do so, after giving the three of them an almost defiant look. And really, it had taken just about as long doing it magically as it would have doing it any other way, so she had to wonder what the allure of the magic method was. Once again, she found herself avoiding Willow’s eyes, and thinking about their conversation earlier. If there’s hope for a vampire, maybe there’s hope for a witch…She winced, realizing she still hadn’t even brought up the subject of sex with Spike with Willow yet.
"So now what?"
"Giles?" Willow suggested.
"He’d still be in bed," Buffy said quietly. "I’ll have to call him tomorrow."
"Well…" Xander said. "Isn’t it important to find out what it is?"
"I think Spike’s right," Buffy said. "I don’t think it’s a demon. If it is, it’s probably melted by now."
"Spike’s right about something?" Xander said skeptically. "Excuse me, the world is tilting. What was he right about?"
"He, uh, thought, the demon was human, actually. Because there really isn’t anything like a frosty—frost," she corrected herself. "Because there really isn’t anything like a frost demon." She found herself looking into Xander’s eyes. "But I was thinking that myself anyway."
"Oh, you were? When did Spike tell you this, anyway?"
"Um, it must have been when we were conducting that wild affair behind your back, Xander."
"Hey, Buff," he said, raising his hands. "Just a little concerned here."
"He’s concerned about you spending so much time with Spike," Anya said helpfully. "And not us."
"Well, yeah," Xander said reluctantly. There was an exchange of irritated glances going back and forth. "I mean, you’re my best friend, you’ve been through a lot, and Spike, well, we know what he feels about you."
"It’s nice that you’re concerned, Xander, but…" But? She thought, and then her mind really and truly did derail. But what? Did she have something to explain to Xander? Did she have an excuse she had to make? What had she been about to say? "..But Spike has been a really good friend lately, and—and---"
"Well, you have to be careful, Buff---"
"Why?" She stood up and cracked her neck. Doing research in uncomfortable chairs never got any easier. Anya had in fact picked the chairs so that people would not find them comfortable enough to sit in for long, thereby speeding up their purchases, and exits. "What do you think he’s going to do?" Kiss me and talk to me, and---all the other stuff? She shook that thought off with some effort and tried to focus.
"I don’t know, Buff---chain you up, build a robot that looks like you, and steal your underwear?"
Buffy hesitated for just a second, something in his statement making her Slayer sense ping. Then the desire to fight back flared, and she forgot about it in the joy of the punch line.
"Or he could, you know, watch my sister for me, even after I died, get tortured by a God, and---" Kiss me and hold me and----
"Xander?" Anya said, taking his arm. "You’re losing. Give up, because I still need to figure out the bridesmaids’ dresses."
"Hey," Xander said, holding up his hands. "I’m just saying…"
No, you’re not, Buffy thought. You’re not saying anything at all. She looked around the table. All the disapproval that had been surreptitiously directed earlier at Willow was now focused on her, and the thought of confronting them as a group made her quail. "I have to go and check on Dawn." Meaning, she thought, I have to leave to go check on Dawn, even though I could just call her. The fact that Spike should still be at the house has nothing to do with it.
They all watched as she quietly closed the door behind her. "Good job, Xander," Willow said.
"That stuff about Spike."
"Well, am I wrong?"
"I don’t know," Willow said. "But she’s better when she’s around him."
"What do you mean, better?"
"She’s more…animated, I guess. More cheerful."
"He’s Spike," Xander said. "I wonder if she’ll mention that to Giles when she calls him."
"Xander, did you ever think that maybe Buffy’s not the only one who’s a little different, now?"
"What do you mean?" He glanced uncomfortably at Anya, then away.
"Well, Buffy’s been really, really quiet since she got back. Not good. And Spike makes her feel better."
"Did anyone go to a real bad place for a minute?"
"Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if we all changed a little." Willow said, quietly.
"Sometimes change is bad," Xander said softly. Anya spoiled it, however, by clutching his arm comfortably, and smiling.
"But sometimes change is good, too," Anya said. "I mean, look at me, human! And engaged."
"She’s our friend, Xander. " Willow said.
"She’s our friend who hangs out with a vampire."
"Yeah, because that’s so out of character for Sunnydale," Willow said sharply, getting up. She started gathering books together to put them away. "I mean, what’s next, Xander? Witches?" She looked pointedly at Anya. "Demons?"
"You know what, Xander?" She put the books down with a thump. "I just don’t care, okay? I screwed up bringing Buffy back, doing spells, I know that. I do. But when I find out what will make her happy, I’ll do it, or whatever, no matter what."
"Even if it’s Spike? You wouldn’t have a problem with that?"
"What I’d have a problem with is making Buffy unhappy." Willow said softly. "I’ve already done that once. Or more times, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I just want to make it better."
Xander got up, stepping away from the table. "If you really want to make Buffy happy, you might want to think about avoiding spells."
Buffy flopped down on her bed and pulled her pillow over her face. On hot nights like this, it made no sense to do so, but she liked the feel of the cool side of the pillow. It also served to protect her from further thoughts. The Buffy Summers form of therapy; self-smothering. Anything to protect her from thinking, from too many thoughts. Thoughts about Willow, thoughts about Dawn, thoughts about Spike, who had hovered uncomfortably only for a moment and then stepped out for a smoke. He’d been outside for a good fifteen minutes already, and the longer he was out there, the harder it got to put thoughts of Stalker Spike out of her mind. But what if he was just so damned uncomfortable with her discomfort that he couldn’t bear being around her?
A mature, home-owning adult would put it behind her, Buffy thought. That is all. I will put this behind me. We had sex, we didn’t sacrifice kittens or anything.
Her Slayer sense was pinging again, but that was all; she just couldn’t put her finger on what it was that kept nagging at her. It was like a word that was on the tip of one’s tongue; the more one kept pressing to remember it, the more it slipped away. And she was trying very hard, because it kept her mind off Spike. It seemed that took most of her mental energy.
She studied the water spot on her ceiling and had to close her eyes abruptly. The last time she’d paid any attention to that spot, it had been seen behind Spike’s shoulder as he slid inside her. When she closed her eyes, she saw everything again; the moment he stripped off his tee shirt, the way they’d both tried to shove his pants off and had wound up getting them only just far enough, and the way he stared into her eyes as he slid inside her. Just as she’d feared, she found herself replaying that moment again, the way she had stared down as his cock slid inside her, the way his muscles tensed all through his body as he tried to keep control of himself.
Her throat was suddenly, painfully dry.
Okay, so good sex, definitely. She’d had good sex, what was wrong with that? Good sex with the wrong person, that was what. Great, Buffy thought. I am now officially schizophrenic. I am having an argument with myself.
If that was good sex, what have I been doing? And if he was the wrong person, who with?
She rolled to her feet and yanked her clothes off, pulling on her pajamas with sharp, impatient movements. Her robe was still in the hamper after the..incident…but she grabbed a sweatshirt and pulled it on over her camisole. She hesitated at the door, watching the curtains ripple in the breeze. Was that smoke?
Just checking, she thought. That’s all I’m doing.
Spike was still standing up the tree, staring away from the house, a curl of smoke floating up. What was he looking at? The thought hit her, then, with a curious feeling of foreboding; he’s thinking about it, too. What happened if they wound up thinking about it at the same time?
Spike turned around and looked up at her, and she tried to compose herself. This would be so much easier if I hadn’t seen him naked, she thought. And now cannot stop thinking about it. He lifted a hand, but she had to hesitate for a moment before waving weakly, trying to act like someone who hadn’t just been picturing him naked.
Down below, Spike paused before re-entering the house, piqued by the look on her face. What’s wrong? He mouthed up at her.
Just like him to be worried at the exact wrong moment, she thought. She shook her head at him and turned away, hoping he’d take the hint, but at the door the sound of something brushing the windowsill startled her and she turned to see Spike nimbly hopping to the floor. He froze at the look in her suddenly wide eyes, then swallowed convulsively as she sagged back against the door. All the blood in his body seemed to rush to his head, then, and he couldn’t stop himself. Somehow they met in the center of the room, his hands on her face, hers on his chest, the kiss hard and urgent. For a moment, they were equal in desperation, tongues weaving and parrying, till Buffy pulled back with a gasp. "I can’t," she whispered. "I can’t." This might have been more believable if she hadn’t immediately kissed him again, winding an arm around his neck as she did so.
"Okay," Spike said raggedly. He touched his forehead to hers. "Why?"
"I can’t," she repeated quietly. "I just…this is awful."
Hurt, he stared at her, and then watched as her eyes suddenly swam with tears. "Buff? What?" He lifted his hands from her face and sagged back against the wall. "Is it..?" He swallowed, gesturing at the room. "…Is it this? With me?"
She stood a foot in front of him, practically wringing her hands. "No," she whispered. "Not you." She spread her arms in a gesture of utter frustration, looking at his chest. He wasn’t that much taller than her and she already knew how well they fit together in other ways. Standing in his arms, she’d noticed how nice it was not to be overwhelmed by someone’s size, unlike her prior experiences. She looked at his chest again, flushing as she remembered the way he’d laid his head on her breasts, wondering what it would feel like to just lay her head and her burdens on his shoulder for a minute. With a deep breath, she raised her eyes to his face again, knowing that if nothing else had aroused his sarcasm, certainly the idea of her bawling on his shoulder would probably do the trick. When she lifted her eyes to his again, though, there was no sarcasm in his face, nothing but worry. She knew that one of the things he liked so much about her was the fact that she was the Slayer. The fact that she was instinctively concealing her weak moments from him didn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that she liked being liked. No siree.
He leaned forward and kissed her again gently and she forgot about being Slayer strong. She melted against him, arms sliding around him as if they belonged there. He pulled back and leaned his head against the wall, looking down at her with an expression so sober that she wondered if she’d ever seen it before. "This isn’t easy for you, is it?"
"This?" She whispered.
"This," he repeated.
"No…No, it’s…not." She looked down again, feeling his lips against her forehead, letting herself drift with the feeling of doing nothing but leaning on him, as his thumb traced circles on her shoulder. It was so gradual she was barely aware of relaxing till her forehead rested on his shoulder. No thinking, she thought. I am absolutely not going to think about this.
Buffy stiffened abruptly. Had she really been standing there, with Spike, taking his comfort, letting him see her like that?
"Just a second, Dawn." She couldn’t meet his eyes, knowing what she’d see there. She kept her eyes on the floor when she went to the door, unlocking it and opening. She opened it enough to poke her head out. "Are you going to bed?"
"Yeah, you too?" Dawn looked at her. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, you know, just tired."
"Get some rest," Dawn said impishly. "I don’t want to have to be, you know, the mature one in the family."
With a sigh, she turned back to Spike, leaning silently against the window frame. "Hey, wait till I get PMS," she sniffed. "Mom and Dawn and I used to get it all at once."
"Do you miss her?"
"Mom?" She sniffed again. "Yeah, especially with the way things have been lately. There’s just some stuff you can only talk about with your mom."
"She was lovely," Spike said quietly. "You’re a lot like her, you know."
"No, I’m not---am I? She was so mature." It was some measure of her discomfort that the topic of Joyce, always sure to make her emotional, was infinitely safer than the topic of her being a crybaby.
Spike looked into her eyes. "She was decent," he said finally. "Even to me."
Buffy smiled suddenly. "You know? She liked you." She had to look down on the ground to keep her smile from becoming huge. "She never liked Angel much."
Spike grinned at that, shaking his head and looking down at his feet. Finally, he looked up at her. "Can you tell me that again tomorrow?"
Buffy had to smile at that, at the wicked gleam in his eye. Crisis successfully averted, she thought. "I’ll think about it."
He ducked out the window then, and she flopped onto her bed, hugging her pillow to her chest. I need new therapy, she thought resentfully. Mr. Pillow isn’t working anymore.
Continued in Chapter 3 1/2