“Vampire, remember?” He poked her in the stomach so unexpectedly that she snorted ungraciously. He laughed—very softly---into the back of her neck.
“So the secret weapon that you’re going to unleash on the First is the awesome power of---noogies?!” She finished incredulously. She coughed to keep from making more noise.
“Oh, no. I’m going to give them Indian rope burns.” He leaned over her shoulder to demonstrate on her left arm. She looked at him as if he’d suddenly been transformed into Geekboy, the Superhero of Nerds the World Over, before her very eyes.
“Where did you get that from?”
He shrugged, stretching out on his side behind her again. “Dawn.”
“Not exactly,” he said softly. “She was doing it to Andrew.” His tone lightened, with an effort. “I took notes.”
“Don’t worry. Once this is over, I’ll lock you two in a room together and you can work it out.”
“It’s not bad.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“She’s not a puppy you can house break, Buff.”
“And you’re not a vampire who should get anything less than---“
“Besides,” Spike said dryly, “You’re going to have to lock me and Angel into a room, too. You’ll need a schedule for all this locking and unlocking.”
“Well, I don’t think that’ll happen.” Buffy said comfortably. “God, you two. You’re like me and Dawn, fighting over the bathroom! I’m so glad there’s no reflections involved, otherwise it would get really ugly.”
“I’m not the one with that---hair.” She should feel him give a mock shudder.
“Yeah, you don’t have hair issues at all.” She leaned against him for leverage and patted his hair. “I like it better without that stuff.” He stiffened, then pulled her hand away.
“I like that stuff,” he muttered defensively. Then, he cleared his throat, and asked, very casually: “You do?”
“Yeah. You knew that.”
“No, I didn’t. You never told me.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did!” She wriggled over till she was on her back. “Did too.”
“Vampires have very good memories, Buff, and I don’t----“ She leaned into him, then, and kissed him, her hand falling comfortably on his chest.
“That’s how I told you,” She said firmly.
“God, vampires----“ She flounced back over on her side, but he spoiled her mock irritation by pulling her back against him, and locking his arm around her waist. Without even being aware of it, her hand began to stroke up and down his forearm, back and forth, back and forth. “I didn’t mean you, by the way.”
“Oh, of course not.”
They lay silently for several minutes, the hum of some mysterious piece of machinery soothing them with its monotony. “Should have done this earlier,” Buffy muttered sleepily.
“Make up for it later.”
“All the time,” she whispered. “Just like this.”
“Hm,” Spike sighed into her neck, and then he was asleep.
Asleep, he breathed, something he’d never given up. In the silence, she sleepily stroked his arm, and listened to the noises of the Potentials settling down to sleep. His body relaxed against hers, and her eyelids started to feel heavy. Some small bit of tension remained, though, something nagging at her. Her eyes snapped open and she studied the darkness. The phone was ringing, and she knew it was the First, trying to discomfit her in her sleep. She couldn’t sit up, though, because that would wake Spike up and he’d earned his rest. After all, he’d sacrificed himself----
Her eyes snapped open.
Bright sunlight, not the dim shadows of a basement, made her squint. The phone was ringing with angry persistence, and she sighed with irritation. It’s always the good dreams that get interrupted, she thought resentfully. “DAWN!”
“What am I?” Dawn demanded grumpily, stalking toward the phone. “The hired help? Why are you on the couch, anyway? Hello!” She rolled her eyes and held the receiver up like it was something greasy. “It’s Angel,” she said with revolting sincerity.
“Wow, you are so not a morning person,” Buffy grumbled, but Dawn tossed a look over her shoulder that would have boiled steel and staggered back to her room.
“You know, if you stayed here, you’d have a chance of avoiding her,” Angel said dryly. Buffy curled into a sitting position and tucked her feet beneath her. Her eyes were dry and felt swollen from heavy sleep, and she rubbed her eyes with her fists. “There’s a lot of rooms to hide in.”
“The thought had occurred to me.” She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. “I was so not like that when I was her age.” Thump! Buffy thought, as Angel hesitated for a moment. She could almost hear him biting his tongue, and she wondered if she’d done it deliberately. At Dawn’s age, she’d already died once, had sex for the first time with her boyfriend—namely, Angel---and thereby set his evil alter ego loose to try and destroy the world. She’d also run away from home. Dawn had…shoplifted. It caused Angel some discomfort, she was certain, but she wasn’t sure precisely how much. Nor did she know if she was doing it deliberately. Spike would have snorted and nailed her for it. Angel, however, sighed and stepped around it.
“Well….” He said cautiously. “She sure got the tall genes.”
“Oh, yeah? Bite me,” Buffy said perkily.
“So I guess the concept of irony has pretty much been erased from your brain, huh?”
“At seven o’clock? Oh yeah it has. So what’s up?”
Once again, he bit his tongue. “Giles called. Said he was worried about you.”
“Did he? He offered me a job.”
“You’re already a Slayer.”
“There’s lots of Slayers now. They really don’t need many more of them.”
“So…what was it?”
“Oh, don’t worry Angel. No flipping burgers for me---in LA. He thinks, ah, I could be a Watcher.” She waited for him to say something skeptical, and her tension caused her another one of those uncomfortable little moments. His opinion mattered to her, somehow, some way, and his disapproval hurt. Ever since they’d arrived in LA, she’d felt nervous around him, but she really couldn’t point her finger at any specific reason.
“That would be…interesting,” Angel said cautiously. “Giles would like that.”
“I don’t know. I think it might or it might not be interesting. And Giles? He’s got some idea he’s not telling me. I could see him becoming sort of manic over it, you know? “
“Well, what do you think?”
“I never thought I’d say this, but---Slaying is boring now. Watching would be…different.”
“You’d have to have a chapter in the history books,” Angel said. “All by yourself.”
“I don’t care about that.” I just want to do the stuff that gets you into the history books, not read them or anything, she thought. I want to do something again. “You know, it’s just….I tried to have a life when I was a Slayer, but it never really worked. And now I can have a life, and I just don’t care. What’s living? Shopping? Shoes? That’s like---like decorating the tree isn’t Christmas. It’s like Valentine’s Day isn’t love. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m going through delayed puberty.”
“I don’t know, Buffy.” Angel said quietly. “It’s been so long for me…But I don’t think trying to go jumping into something is a good idea. It’s only been---what?”
“A few weeks,” Buffy shrugged.
“You act like someone’s got a gun to your head, demanding that you make a big huge decision.”
“It just feels like I can, all of a sudden,” Buffy said quietly. “And I don’t know how to do it. Unless there’s pointy sticks and danger, I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s not, you know, good and evil any more. Unless Dawn is listening to Britney Spears or something.”
“Do you really want danger?” Angel asked reasonably. “It wasn’t fun for you, before. You just got used to it. Maybe you think you miss it, but that’s just because it was all you had. You didn’t really have anybody who could….really take on as much as you could. Who could back you up.”
“There’s all the Slayers now,” Buffy said softly. She heard Angel sigh loudly. Then she gulped---That wasn’t what he’d meant, was it? “And that’s a good, good thing. Really. But…now what?”
“It almost sounds like you want to be the only Slayer again.”
“Just an observation, Buffy,” Angel said. “Now you know what it’s like, getting turned. Your world’s gone. You can’t just…adjust to it, suddenly.”
“Okay, I know, really.”
“But you can’t run away from it, either.”
No, Buffy thought, that’s your job.
There was a commotion in the background, and then she heard a rhythmic electronic beeping. “Xander!” Angel shouted. He gave an immense sigh. “Xander’s cooking.”
“I’ll let you go,” Buffy said gratefully.
“Just relax, Buffy.” Angel said quietly. “You’ve got all the time in the world.”
She hung up the phone and stared at the blank TV set. The screen was dusty, testament to its infrequent use. LA’s morning shows were nausea-inducing in their perkiness, but she’d whipped through her library books again, and there was something nagging at her about her conversation with Angel. She tried to recapture the dream his phone call had interrupted, but it had vanished, leaving her clutching at wisps of comfort---Spike’s chest against her back, his breath against her neck. She pointed the remote at the TV set, muted the volume, and shuffled to the kitchen to make tea. Damn Giles, she thought grimly. I’m even drinking tea now.
While the water boiled, she looked around the neat little kitchen, and then finally caught herself looking at the palm trees outside the window. Palm trees, so Californian. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe going to England would be just what she needed, to get away from all the memories. She was stuck halfway between her old world and her new world, with nothing to bind her to the past but her own reluctance. Leave the shreds of what was left behind her, and she could move on.
The phone rang, and she jumped. She turned down the water so it wouldn’t boil over, and then skidded into the living room to grab the phone before it could ring again.
“No, this is her clone. Hey, Xander.” Then she realized her perkiness was misplaced. He took a deep, shaky breath. “Xander, what is it?”
“They, uh----“ He couldn’t go on for a second. “They found Anya, Buffy. I have to go identify her. It looks like they found some of the Potentials, too.”
“Oh, God, Xander, I’m so sorry.”
“Nope, nope, I’m----I was hoping for this to happen, you know? I can give her a decent send-off now. I’m going to get a really fancy headstone, with all sorts of---“ He sniffled miserably, and then regrouped. “I still have the rings, you know? She’d want those with her. It’s the least I can do.”
“She’d like that, Xander.” She sank into the sofa, and clicked off the silent TV without glancing at it. “Do you want…company?”
“Could you, Buff? I’d really appreciate the backup.”
“Like you have to ask. Should I come over there?”
“Yeah, Wes would like that.”
“Sure. I’ll just shower and all that.”
“Okay. Thanks, Buff.”
“What for? Best friends, Scoobies and all that. Hey! Maybe we should get tattoos.”
“We could do that. We could make all the new Slayers do that, too.”
“That would be cool. In a biker kind of way.” She paused, looking around the sunny room. “Just wait for me. Don’t you worry about anything. I’ll be right over.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Xander said with a sniff. “Don’t think I can.”
She hung up the phone gently, then went to tell Dawn.
Continued in Chapter 4