"I always liked the way Angel did his hair," Buffy replied. Another offer for a credit card? Into the trash it went. "Besides, it's a bit shorter now, so he doesn't need to use as much."
Dawn laughed, a pleasant sound Buffy couldn't remember hearing in a while. "Maybe he could lend some to Connor...or get him a hair cut."
"Or a personality," Buffy muttered under her breath.
More laughter from Dawn. "I heard that! So I take it he didn't improve with acquaintance."
"Not at all." She tossed the last of the junk mail into the trash and shifted in her chair, resting her arms along its back. "It's a sad situation, Dawn. Angel's been given this gift that he never dreamed he could have...and it's turning out to be more of a curse. Connor hates him -- wants him dead, really -- and there's this whole ugly situation with Cordelia."
"Yeah, Willow told me a little about that last night while you were eating. Ewww." Dawn picked at the comforter. "How'd Angel take the news about you and Spike? Did he get extra-broody?"
"You really don't like Angel, do you?"
"What can I say? When you two were together, it was always this big angst-fest where you acted like everything was the end of the world. It's the duty of a younger-yet-taller sister to despise such things and give her older-but-shorter sibling grief about it."
"You weren't taller then...and are you ever going to stop reminding me you got the tall genes in the family?"
"Nope. And you're not going to tell me what happened between you and Angel, are you?"
Now it was Buffy's turn to laugh. "Call it Big Sister's prerogative."
Dawn tilted her head to one side, considering. "You look happy. It's nice."
"Everything's good in Buffy-land at the moment. I don't know how long it will last because, well, you know me and happiness is always a prelude to world-ending disaster, but I've decided to enjoy it while I can. And speaking of disaster..."
She sighed as she levered herself out of the chair. "You're in on the Scooby meeting tonight; we've got to talk about where to put the Potentials. Giles says there are more coming and we can't keep cramming them in here."
"Does it mean I get my room back? Or, at least, get fewer roommates?"
"That's definitely on the agenda. I think it'd be better for all of us if we weren't doing sardine imitations."
Xander was the first one to present an option for solving the potential housing problem. "The Crawford Street mansion -- it's still standing and it might take a little work, but there's lots of room there. Does Angel still own it or whatever?"
"Considering it was Angelus who moved us in, I somehow doubt the legal niceties were observed," Spike pointed out.
"Not to mention Buffy and I both have very unpleasant memories of that place," Giles added.
"Um, make that three of us." Spike looked uncomfortable. "Not a great time for me, either."
Xander looked around the table, tapping the plans under his hands. "Okay, not the odds on favorites. Let's not just dismiss it out of hand, though. It's got space, which we are sorely in need of, running water and electricity...and if we can get our hands on it, it'll certainly solve our housing problems."
Buffy had to admit Xander had a point, though she didn't like the thought of it. As Giles said, too many memories. "We'll count that as one option. Any others?"
Others were pitifully few. There was Xander's apartment, but that wouldn't do much to ease the situation and his neighbors would likely be far quicker to react to overcrowding than Buffy's, who seemed to have become somewhat immune to the sight of strange goings-on over the years. The idea of setting the basement up dormitory style had its own problems, including losing one of their workout areas. Reluctantly, Buffy asked Willow to track down who owned the mansion in the city archives. If Angel did somehow hold the deed, he'd probably be more than happy to let them use it.
"Not the easiest place to defend," Spike said after she'd made the request. "Sure the minions were especially stupid, but I made it in and out of that place with no one noticing. Several side entrances that I know of, and I never got to explore it fully."
"Why I pulled the plans," Xander said. "Thought you and I could take a look at them, go over the weak spots. If we end up using it, we'll need to do a walk-through, figure out where Willow might be able to help us with some magical defenses."
Willow didn't look incredibly thrilled by Xander's assumption, but Buffy could have hugged him at that moment. He'd said he'd make an effort with Spike and he was. Even Spike recognized it, cutting back on the snark slightly and actually calling him "Xander" once.
It wasn't the best of decisions, but it was forward movement. They needed to do something to relieve the situation; she just wasn't sure this was it. Then there was the question of what they'd do with the girls after all this was done...assuming any were left standing.
The meeting broke up and Buffy decided it was time to make an effort to at least put names to faces with the new girls. Ellen, Kate, Tina and Tracy. She kept repeating the names in her head, hoping she'd remember them somehow.
The girls were the mixture of eagerness and nervousness she'd come to associate with most of the potentials and Buffy found herself remembering her own fear the first time she'd come face to face with her first vampire. She'd been thinking of that a lot lately, watching her life come full circle as she trained the girls. No matter what happened to her, the slayer line would continue. It might take a while, what with Faith being a guest of the State of California, but it would go on.
Once the conversation was done, she looked around the living room for Spike and discovered he wasn't there. Wandering into the kitchen, she found Xander with the plans to the Crawford Street place spread out on the island, making notes. "You're really serious about this," she said as she joined him.
"We've got to do something. We're living on top of each other here, Buf, and that's going to do as much to kick our ass as the First. Tell me it wasn't nice in LA not having to wait forever to take a shower."
"Or stepping over sleeping bodies. It was nice...not that we actually had time to enjoy it. I thought Spike was going to go over this with you."
"He was, but Giles snagged him, said he wanted to talk. They're down in the basement."
It took all of Buffy's willpower to keep from heading straight for the basement door. She might not like it, but Giles was going to talk with Spike sooner or later...and it wasn't like the situation with Angel where she had to worry that they might happily do each other physical damage. At least, she hoped it wasn't.
She opted to stay in the kitchen, talk with Xander about ways the mansion could be used to the best advantage. Her eyes kept straying to the basement door, though, one ear cocked.
The sound of voics raised and angry, then feet pounding up the stairs. The door opened and Spike stepped into the kitchen, face dark. He paused for just a moment, barely enough time to make eye contact with Buffy and then stormed toward the front of the house. Buffy was after him immediately. "Spike?"
"Going out," he said over his shoulder, not breaking stride. The front door opened and slammed shut behind him with a bang that had heads in the living room turning to look. Buffy stared at the closed door for a moment, then turned to find Giles standing in door between the kitchen and dining room. "I'm afraid we had a disagreement," he said by way of explanation, the calmness of his voice doing little to mask the tightness underneath.
"Just great." She headed for the foyer, fully intending to grab her own jacket and go after him.
"Buffy, don't." Giles' voice was insistent.
"You think I should just let him storm out of the house like that?"
"I think the fact he didn't ask you to accompany him indicates he might want to be alone for a while."
"When he's pissed off and angry? Wouldn't this be a perfect time for the First to try the trigger again?"
Giles glanced at the audience watching them from the living room and reached out to draw Buffy aside into the relative privacy of the dining room. "From everything you've told me, it sounds as if the trigger works on Spike when he's relatively weak, unfocused. Much as I hate to say this, the renewal of the relationship between the two of you has clearly given him the focus and purpose he was lacking when he fell under the influence of the First."
That was somewhat encouraging, but Buffy still found her eyes sliding toward the door, feet starting to move. "Buffy, you spoke this morning of trust. If you are going to have a relationship with Spike, then you are going to have to trust him, not feel required to go running after him every time he's upset. You need to give him his own space, acknowledge his separate identity. For my part, I have no doubt he'll come back through that door within a few hours."
She looked at him, looked at the door, looked back at Giles. "I hate it when you're right. But if he's not back in two hours, I'm going after him."
By the time ninety minutes had elapsed, Buffy was sitting on the front porch, waiting. She did trust him. It wasn't a matter of trust. She was worried about him.
She was worried he'd gotten so angry he'd walked out the door with no intention of coming back...just like all the other men in her life.
Giles was right; she needed to trust him. He said he'd be at her side, so she should believe it. Spike was the one who'd always come back, who wouldn't go away even when she wanted him to. Why should she think he'd leave her after a simple argument with Giles, which was hardly the first -- and certainly not the last -- they'd had?
Sighing, she wrapped her arms around her legs and bent forward to rest her head on her knees. She'd gotten through the first few hurdles of this new relationship just fine, but there were more to come. It'd be so easy to screw things up, she didn't even want to think about it.
A familiar tingle at the back of her neck and she looked up to find Spike coming up the front walk, hands shoved into his jeans pockets. This wasn't the swaggering, sexy gait she knew so well, but something more thoughtful.
He didn't saw a word as he approached, but settled next to her as if he'd just been out for a stroll around the block. "Everything all quiet?" he asked.
"Relatively. I thought we were going to have a slapping match with Andrew when Vi declared that The League of Gentlemen was juvenile."
Spike chuckled. "Never a dull moment."
They sat silently for a while, watching the night sky. Various noises drifted out, the normal sounds of a house filled with teenaged girls. Buffy sneaked a look sideways at Spike, taking in the line of his profile. Tomorrow was Saturday, one week that they'd been together. Thinking of everything that had happened, it felt much longer.
As if he knew she was watching, he turned his head slightly so their eyes met. She saw mixed emotions there, still some anger and hurt, but predominant was love and affection. "I left because I felt a sudden urge to snap his neck," he said quietly. "Nothing to stop me now, no chip to hold me back. Figured it'd be better to get out and cool down before any violence happened."
"I wanted to come after you; Giles convinced me I needed to give you some space."
"The bastard's a wise man. Glad you didn't. I would have wanted you to take sides and that's not what you need to be doing."
He wasn't going to tell her what they'd said to each other. She asked Giles, practically demanded it, but he'd refused, saying Spike could if he chose. "I wish you two could get along."
"Oh, don't worry. We won't break into open warfare; not our style with each other." He snorted. "The marvelous irony is that we actually both want the same thing: for you to be safe, happy and cared for. We just feel very differently about how it's to be accomplished."
She slid closer to him and let her head droop to rest against his shoulder. "Maybe we can convince him."
"Maybe." He didn't sound hopeful, but he slipped his arm around her and having him here was enough for the moment.
The rest of the weekend passed in relative quiet. Giles and Spike were civil and highly British toward one another. Anya led another successful raid on Costco, finding bargains no one else seemed able to ferret out. Research on the First and other topics continued, including who actually held the deed to the Crawford Street place. There seemed to be some confusion in the records and Buffy tried calling Los Angeles to ask Angel what he knew, only to get the company answering machine, cheery message provided, ironically enough, by Cordelia Chase.
Chores and training, patrol at night, looking for further evidence of what the First might be planning. It was the now familiar rhythm, different only in the fact that she no longer drifted off to sleep alone in her bed. All too soon it was Monday morning and she actually had to pay attention to the alarm clock instead of letting Spike's nuzzling of her neck entice her to stay in bed a little longer.
"You've been out of town seeing Dad," Dawn reminded her as they drove into the parking lot. "Principal Wood asked me about it Thursday, wanted to know if I'd heard from you."
"Checking up on me, eh? Did he show any signs of evilness while I was gone?"
"You mean, other than the fact he's the principal and therefore viewed as the enemy by the students? Nope."
Buffy slide the car into one of the spots reserved for faculty and staff. "Keep your eyes open. I'm sure he's up to something."
She was just putting her desk in order when Wood strolled by. "She returns. Have a good time in Los Angeles?"
Buffy shrugged casually. "It was okay. Lots of business with Dad. We got through everything, though."
"Good. You'll probably have a full schedule today; we had more than a few incidents while you were gone and I should warn you that some of the complaints are of a romantic nature. Things get hairy close to Valentine's Day, I guess."
She'd totally forgotten Valentine's Day was that Friday. "You know how it is with kids; they don't have anyone or see the person they want involved with someone else, they get all over-dramatic."
Now it was his turn to shrug. "It's kind of hard not to feel that way when you see all the advertisements and are flying solo. I try not to pay attention, but it feels a little funny not being part of a couple this time of year."
"Yeah, I know how that goes. Been there myself." Wait a minute. Was that an announcement of his dating status?
"I was wondering, maybe if you're not busy, we could have coffee one evening."
Oh, God, he was flirting with her, asking her out. Maybe it wasn't serious; maybe he wanted to get her away from school, try to get information out of her.
He paused, considering. "Actually, dinner would be nicer. If you're not doing anything Friday, maybe we could do dinner? Talk about our current state of singleness? At least, I think you're single; I thought you mentioned something earlier about not seeing anyone at the moment."
It wasn't just information; he was asking her out on an honest-to-God date. A part of her was tempted to say "yes"; she could use the opportunity to find out more about him, try to discover what he was up to, because he was definitely up to something.
But if she accepted, she'd be lying, pretending she was available. The idea of lying to Principal Wood didn't bother her so much because he was, after all, quite possibly evil and therefore probably lying to her. She'd be going out on a date, talking and laughing and flirting with him, pretending she found him attractive. If she could determine once and for all he was up to something nefarious, that would be great and she could let the end justify the means. But what if she didn't find out he was up to something? What if he wasn't up to anything at all? What if he asked her for a second date? There was Spike. How would he react? He'd probably put a good face on it, but he'd feel hurt at the idea of her spending the evening with another man, especially on Valentine's Day.
No, no more lying about her relationship. There'd been too much of that in the past. She could find another way to discover if Wood was truly evil. Ooh, she and Spike could spend Friday evening together and break into the school, search his office. Valentine's Day, slayer style. Smoochies and fighting evil.
Aware he was waiting, Buffy let a regretful smile cross her face. "I was single, but I am seeing someone now..."
January 30, 2003 - March 23, 2003