The sulk was gone. So was the opportunity for teasing. He was serious now, almost---this was another Joyce thought-----like a kid who’d worn himself out with his tantrum. She shrank away from the memory of how she’d found it humorous. “No,” she said. “You weren’t with me. Ergo,no fun was had.”
“Were you convinced?”
“Polite or honest, pet?”
“Can you be both?”
“Never thought you bothered much for the one if it got in the way of the other.”
There was something rather complimentary about his vision of her, and she gave him one of the smiles that few other people saw, because too often they missed them. It was a small thing, really, that smile----only the slightest lifting of the corners of her mouth, but her eyes glowed with warmth, and the room vanished away.
“So my absence was felt?”
And your mood, she thought, but left that statement for later. He studied her for a moment, then continued on as if she’d answered him.
“And how do we fix that?” He asked, picking the topic. She aimed for girlfriend-like flirtatiousness, but she’d gotten out of shape at it.
“When’s your birthday?”
He cocked his head at her, brow furrowing with bewilderment. “Why?”
“Well, I have a present for you, and I need an excuse to make it legitimate, so---“
“Oh, God, pet, there’s no such thing as a bad present.” He was amused for a moment, then his eyes widened. “Unless it’s a studio portrait of Angel or something.” Her reaction was carefully neutral, and he dropped his chin at her----the better to show off his cheekbones, my dear----and studied her with the aplomb of a man who knew his girlfriend’s limits, if not his own.
Buffy, grabbing one of the bags, rolled her eyes but didn’t let it affect her stride.
The first thing to tumble out of the bag was Buffy’s present to herself: little red high heels with polka dots. The look on Spike’s face was worth the pang she’d gotten when the cost was reckoned at the cash register. Didn’t a girl need something medicinal to help her get over a nasty little you’re-not-as-retired-as-you-think-you-are jolt?
“Those are not for you,” she said loftily, snatching them up, face flushing as she bent and scooped and tossed. The look on his face rather indicated otherwise, as he raised one eyebrow---the scarred one, she saw-----and blinked at her skeptically. Damn the man, he could probably indicate sarcasm at the molecular level or something. She could just tell he was picturing her in those---and little else.
Dawn needs to make lots more friends so she can have sleep-overs, Buffy thought. And soon. Like tonight. Like this afternoon. Like this minute. “And besides,” she added, as if he’d made some statement that needed rebutting, they’re not your size.” She blew loose wisps of hair out of her eyes and stalked back to the bags in the hall, snapping them up with decisive grabs and dumping them at his feet.
He crouched down to poke cautiously into one, blue denim tempting him. She’d figured the basics would serve till he could be lured out of his hole to make up his own mind about who he was going to be now. She’d gotten jeans---not black-----and tee shirts---not black---and some shirts----not red. He had very nice forearms. She’d been seized, in the store, with the sudden mental image of what his arms might look like if he just rolled up his sleeves a bit---just past the wrist bones----so she could watch the tendons move and flick, and have an excuse to demand that he check his watch frequently. She’d even bought the watch.
Other bags held shoes---she’d gotten Nikes, despite a suspicion he’d turn up his nose at looking like a frat rat---and boots. Cowboy boots would probably make him roll his eyes, and Doc Martens were something he’d probably want to, well---steal---himself. She’d gotten work boots, figuring they were masculine enough to make a statement, but not so much that they ventured into parody. The fact that she’d formed that justification in her mind disturbed her a bit. Clothing wasn’t just clothing to Spike: it was shield and trophy and identity, all at once. When had it ever been just covering the naughty bits to him? She had to think for a second. “How did you get your clothes before?”
Spike had sunk down onto the floor, looking at the things in the bags and shaking his head in bemusement. “Nicked ‘em,” he said, not even thinking. “Souvenirs, you know.” He caught himself only after he couldn’t take the words back, and glanced up at her carefully.
Once she’d have flinched: now that was behind her. “How do you….” She probed for a word that wouldn’t hurt like someone feeling for a new cavity with their tongue. “…How do you feel about…this? Just buying them?”
“Ask me tomorrow, luv, maybe I’ll know then.” Now she knew what she’d seen in his posture, staring out over the balcony. Sadness.
“Could I get a preview of what I’ll face tomorrow, maybe?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.” His voice was soft. He studied her, his eyes lifting to hers. “Do you?”
Giles faxing that paperwork would be nice, she thought. Even nicer than those detectives getting eaten by Myrtle, the sales clerk who could bring a new whole meaning to the phrase, “sins of commission.” If there is such a phrase, Buffy’s mind added. It was a very Giles-like addendum, and she wondered for a moment where it had come from. She reached out and touched his face, wondering. It still didn’t seem real; it seemed like something that might have come from the same place as Marley’s ghost, something brought into existence from loneliness and boredom and loss. He turned his face into her hand, holding it there with his own. She studied him, wondering if it was possible to go through existence like that, always touching, always connected, like some emotional Siamese twin. There was something lost about it, the inability to put it into words. She didn’t have the words for it. When she touched him, it was as if the compass she carried inside herself suddenly righted itself. Is this what love is? She thought suddenly. He was her true north, the unmoving pillar of her existence. It was frightening to realize that she had long been his fixed point of reference, the pole around which he revolved. The idea that he might be feeling the same fear about her went straight to the pit of her stomach.
Not this, she thought. This is too scary.
“How do you feel?” She asked curiously.
Spike considered it seriously, sticking out his lower lip and devoting some serious thought to it. “Itchy,” he said finally. “It feels a bit like having indigestion.”
“Being human gives you an upset stomach?”
“More like an upset soul. Bad enough being a vampire with a soul, but a human with a soul----“
“You had one before, didn’t you?”
“That was a century ago, luv.” He shook his head at himself. “Not as if I did much with it, did I? What a prat.”
“What would you do with a soul, anyway? Take it out for walks? Teach it card tricks?”
Spike leaned back against the couch and rubbed his eyes. When he looked at her again, his eyes were serious. The notion that she had left the old Spike behind clutched at her heart again. All the new aspects to explore did not make up for the ache at the thought of all the little losses. “I was weak,” he said. “A---A---prat. A ninny. I was----God, Buffy, you should have seen me.” He snorted. “Angel certainly did.” And refuses to forget it, too, added a voice, but he ignored it.
She scooted over next to him and nudged up next to him so their shoulders touched. “Is that why you …..”She tried to find the right words. Changed your personality? Went through a total mental and moral makeover? Became a demon? “So…different?”
Spike looked down at all the bundles and packages spread around them. “Maybe,” he said simply.
“Is that where you think you are now? Back where you started?”
“Is that what you think?” he countered.
His voice was very, very thin when he asked that, Buffy noticed. Was it that simple? Men, she thought. “I just wanted you back,” she said finally. “As long as you’re you….”
“Not a vampire any more, luv,” he said. “Not sure how much you need another responsibility.”
She thought back to Myrtle, that weird sensation of having her spidey sense tingling in some way that was hard to identify. What was the problem there? Maybe she’d actually suffered from indigestion, and labeled it as something else. She thought back to the woman’s pointed teeth, her thick makeup, the sensation at the back of her spine, the pit of her stomach. “A responsibility?” She scoffed. “You’re not a responsibility. You’re…..You’re….what I want,” she finished lamely. “I was worried I was going to be your responsibility.”
“Because that’s the way it used to be,” she said. “That’s what it felt like, that year.” The year that I came back. The year that I’d like to erase. “I didn’t want to be nice, I didn’t want to be reminded of it. I especially didn’t want to be reminded of it by a vampire.”
“And what do I remind you of now? Just another human boyfriend in jeans and---“ He picked up one of the tennis shoes and flicked at it contemptuously. “Trainers?---I could be anyone.”
“No, you couldn’t be,” she said firmly. “You’ll always be Spike to me.” God, this was the time for delicate tact, and she just didn’t have it. “You’re not a vampire, but I bet there’s lots of people you could still frighten.”
“Don’t patronize me.”
“There’s physical fear,” Buffy said. “But there’s other fears, too.” I’m sure you could terrify meter maids and airheads very effectively, she thought, and mad giggles tried to escape. Stop. Must stop. Want to take on Myrtle for me?
“Have to appreciate the effort, luv, but promise me you’ll never take up poker as an occupation. You haven’t got the face for it.”
“Do you want to be a vampire again?”
Spike looked down at his lap, at the sweats. “That’s the thing, luv, I don’t think I do. I just don’t want to be….like this.”
“What do you want to be?”
“Anything but this,” he said contemptuously, and Buffy’s heart panged just a little bit.
“It’ll take time, Spike.”
“Time’s up,” he said shortly. “I have to do something. I’m going mad already.”
Buffy stood up and brushed herself off. “Okay. How about a walk?”
Buffy was certain that the detectives were lurking somewhere outside, waiting to pounce once they stepped out of the building, so while Spike dressed she slipped outside and did a quick sweep. She looked for short hair, large biceps, a certain swagger, and came up empty. When she got back to the apartment, she found herself confronted with Spike, glaring at himself in the hall mirror. Short hair, biceps, and a recent lack of swagger, she thought. Clad in jeans, one of the plain white tee shirts, and a loose white shirt, he could have been any ordinary office worker on a day off, trying to avoid cleaning out the garage and mowing the lawn. He jammed his hands in his pockets and stared at himself unabashedly, unaware that she was watching.
His hair seemed to grow in fits and starts, ranging from dark-colored roots to platinum streaks to the honey color that seemed to be his natural shade. Where was he when it was growing like that? Buffy thought, and shuddered. The same place that Angel went? Or better? She remember the glowing fire, the way their linked hands had flamed without pain. She doubted that wherever he went had been where she’d gone. It depressed her for a moment. How many places are there to go?
Spike abruptly noticed her and whirled, flushing slightly. She was struck, once again, with the idea that they had everything to rediscover, everything to rebuild. Now it seemed a little daunting. In his uncertainty, he did not remind her of Spike at all. Then he rallied. As she watched, he scratched the back of his neck and shrugged off her gaze. “What’re you looking at, pet?”
“Is that a trick question?” She reached forward and grabbed his hand. “C’mon, let’s go.”
Outside on the front step, Spike hesitated. The trip home had been in a taxi cab, and he hadn’t been out in the sun at all. “Afraid of freckles?” She teased.
“Afraid of sunburn,” he answered dryly. “You would be, too, if you were---“he hesitated----“English.” With that, she maneuvered them beneath a palm tree. The shadows on the sidewalk were sharp and black, the sun shining almost horizontally as it approached setting. Spike’s gaze flashed everywhere, and she was uncomfortably reminded of one of the detectives, eyeing everything without even being aware of it, taking in every last detail without missing a molecule. Spike clutched her hand tight, but barely looked at her, mouth hanging open, eyes wide. A girl in a bikini whipped by on roller blades and he raised one eyebrow, shaking his head.
He shrugged. “Put little wheels on boots and then wrap one’s bits in scraps of spandex in the hot sun?”
“You must have seen that before.”
“On the telly. Not at night in Sunnydale.”
“What did you think it was?”
“The tragic result of designer drugs?”
“You drank a lot of beer.”
“Beer doesn’t make you do that.”
“Was that a hint?”
“Beer’s a constant,” Spike said dryly. Then he leaned closer. “And the spandex would just get in the way, wouldn’t it?”
“Which explains why I’m not doing either.”
“Beer or wheelie things?”
“Either.” She looked closer at him. They were moving very slowly along the shady side of the street, protected from the glare. “So?”
“So?” He cocked an eyebrow, but his eyes were still trying to take everything in. She shook his hand a little. The first time they’d ever held hands in public, and he didn’t even seem to be aware of it. But everything’s new, she thought. It’s a lot to adjust to.
He looked around. Beautiful people moved up and down the street, all of them a shade too pretty and none with any rough edges. They looked like they’d been sanded till they were free of imperfections. He looked more relaxed than she’d ever seen him, eyes as wide as a schoolboy’s, but more than that, he looked somehow more real than the pretty people. There was something deliberate about the way all the actor/model/waiters moved around them, as if they had studied the art of walking and being noticed. All of them had perfect posture, perfect hair, perfect makeup, and perfect clothes. Spike’s jeans were stiff and new-looking, his shirt wrinkled, his hair oddly-colored. The pretty people stared straight ahead and tried to give convincing performances of people who didn’t want or care to be noticed. Spike stared around, trying to take it all in, and unabashedly gaped. For some reason, it reminded her of him as a vampire. Even Angel, she thought sadly, had not stood out that much.
“I’d be better with beer.”
They wandered along till they found a small café that didn’t look too ‘twee’ as Spike put it, and after some careful scrutiny, the waitress served them. Buffy took one sip and grimaced. Spike, however, swigged like a pro and then leaned back in his chair and crossed one ankle over his knee. Buffy eyed him thoughtfully. “So does beer make you cocky or something?”
“Beer does a lot of things, pet, but most of all it improves things on its own.” He took another swig, eyeing her bottle with a hint of his old mischief. Shades of arguments past, she thought, and grabbed the bottle possessively. He grinned at her, then took another healthy swallow.
He leaned across the table, reaching out and taking her hand. With it laid across his palms he studied it, his thumb rubbing the rough spot that was all that was left of the place where she’d had a splinter. Too many things flashed across his mind to capture just one and put it into words. More than that, it was too enormous to put into words. All he could do was sip his beer, and leave the things alone. Sometime soon, they’d have to be reckoned with, and he wanted to avoid so much as thinking about that. Why not enjoy this small moment like any ordinary man, having an ordinary beer in an ordinary café with an ordinary girl?
Except she wasn’t that. He leaned back and studied her, turning sideways in his chair to brace himself against the back. Capable of fighting vampires for hours, passionate, brave and just too pissy to defeat, Buffy looked more than a little uncomfortable out of her element and away from her weapons. He signaled over the waitress. “White wine?”
The waitress automatically eyed Buffy, then turned back to Spike. “Leave her beer?”
“She has a name,” Buffy said dryly. “And I’m sure he can drink it when he’s done with that one.” She waited till the woman was gone. “Are you laughing at me or something?”
“Buff, it’s nothing, it’s----“ So Californian, he finished, but knew that would have good results.
She attempted another swallow of beer, but the face she made would have been more appropriate glimpsed over the edge of a glass of castor oil. Spike was grinning openly now. “You’re such a lightweight, I wonder how you bested me all those times.”
“Oh, come on, your heart wasn’t it.”
“Was too!” Avoiding her eyes, he leaned back. “Well, at least the first few times it was.”
“Bloody right it was,” he muttered. “Who’s this little thing, thinks she can---Er.” He collected himself with some effort and went on the attack. “What about you?” he countered. “You could have dusted me just about any time you wanted. Why didn’t you?”
It was Buffy’s turn to look everywhere but him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You just had really good luck for a long time.”
“You could have killed me in that church, easy.”
“Too much debris.” She eyed her nails.
“Oh, yeah? Why didn’t you come after me later on? You had to have heard that I was laid up in that bloody chair.”
Buffy struggled to remember. “I don’t think-----I was too weirded out by Angel.”
Spike had no reply to that, and she cringed, wondering if she’d just set up an outburst. He took a thoughtful swallow of beer, and stared at her for a long minute. “I’d forgotten all that, you know,” he said quietly. “Hadn’t thought of that in ages, really.” He traced circles on the table top with one long index finger, a curl falling over his forehead. “I don’t wonder, pet. I don’t at all.”
The back of her neck was prickling. “What---what do you mean?”
A glass of Chablis thumped to the table in front of Buffy and they both looked up, startled, at the smirking face of the waitress. At Spike’s glare, the smirk disappeared as if slapped off and she whirled and fled. Buffy took a fortifying sip and found that it was much better than the beer, which looked like a urine sample and made her wonder if there had been some serious errors at the bottling plant. “What?” She squeaked. “What were you saying? About Angel?”
It wasn’t about Angel, he saw then. It was about her fears. This, then, was worse than the friends’ fear, than the one about being left or shut out. The way Angel had talked about her had done something to him, something he hadn’t admitted then, not even to himself. It had summed up Angelus for him perfectly. The Big Bad, undone by a girl, and reduced to graceless boasting afterward, mocking her naïvte, her inexperience. He should have expected it: God knows, long after Dru had first taken him he’d had to endure the knowing smirks of Darla and Angel. He cringed at the thought of the way he’d tossed that stupid puppy Abrams in her face. Just like Angel, he thought, except in order to keep people from talking about him behind his back, Angel would have no doubt killed them.
“You ever notice, pet, how some people think they’re talking about other people, but what they’re really doing is giving you a good long look at themselves? That’s what Angelus was like, that year.”
“What did he say?”
There was no way to win this, he thought, and more than that, there was the chance she simply wouldn’t believe him. Open mouth, insert foot, he thought. Bloody marvelous. “He should be the one to break that ice, luv, not me.”
“Oh, fine,” she said, and he realized he was probably going to be spending the night on the couch. He’d heard that word from various females of various species in various countries, and it never boded well. Both feet, he thought. That was both feet.
Buffy took a healthy gulp of her wine and leaned over the table, careless of the puddles of moisture from his sweating beer bottle. “Oh, like I didn’t know you had something for me, early on. I could tell, you know.”
“You couldn’t know because it wasn’t there. Early.” I’ll probably be sleeping out in the hallway at this rate, he thought.
“Oh, yeah, it was. You were always Mr. Flirty, all the time, with the way you walked and made those remarks----“
“Since when is, “I’m going to kill you” considered foreplay?”
“Hey, vampire, Slayer, opposites attract----It worked for, for-----“
She tossed back another gulp and hoped it was the alcohol that made her brain go blank. Who, exactly, had it ever worked for? The moments ticked by. Not a single name surfaced in her brain.
“We’re not opposites,” Spike finally said. “We have a lot in common.”
“Yes, we do.” Buffy eyed him hopefully. “Such as?”
They stared at each other across the table. “I’m drunk,” Buffy said slowly. “That’s why I can’t----“
Spike stared. “There’s lots of examples.”
“Sure there are. I just can’t think of any.”
“It’s been a while since I had beer.”
“And it’s been forever since I drank. Drunk. Er…”
“You don’t drink, period.”
“You’re a bad influence,” Buffy said, then cringed. “In a----good way,” she added desperately.
“That’s me,” Spike sighed, feeling suddenly neutered. Buffy gulped own what remained of the wine, then hiccupped slightly. “Next thing you know, I’ll need a cardigan.”
“It’s not that cold out.”
“Never mind, luv.”
And then it dawned on Buffy that she had to pay because as yet Spike had no money of his own. Flushing at embarrassing him, she tossed a bill on the table, then grabbed his hand. Only after a moment did she realized that she was overcompensating, clutching at him like he was a life-preserver. She flushed again, and relinquished his hand, only to realize belatedly that that must look like he had something on his hands.
Spike was eyeing her as if someone had replaced Buffy with the bot after pouring the leftover beer onto the motherboard. This was such a relief that once they were outside the restaurant, she leaned up for a kiss, only to find him looking down at her with a puzzled look on his face. “Slayer? Promise me you will stick to Shirley Temples from now on.”
“Because you panic faster when you’re drunk.” He softened the remark with a kiss on the tip of her nose, and she smiled up at him.
“I’m not panicked.” Buffy started walking again, then stopped in her tracks and considered the dilemma for a moment. “Am I?”
Mellowed by the beer, and the freedom, Spike was more laid-back than she’d ever seen him. “No, but you got sort of entertaining there for a while.”
“Why are you so okay right now?”
Spike faced her from three feet away, hands jammed in his back pockets. “Maybe it’s just that it’s me standing here with you.” The sun had faded to the point of being a mellow ball of orange in the sky. How many second chances do vampires get? He thought. How many second chances do Slayers get? He was feeling better than he’d felt at any point since waking up, and while it might not last, it was beyond anything he’d had in recent memory. It was worth experiencing fully. The fact that that was all the power he seemed to have at the moment made it all the more sweet. Then, too, he was human----and Angel was not.
Buffy wrapped her arm around his waist, and thoughts of the couch receded from his immediate future. “I thought I’d lost you,” she muttered.
“So did I. I mean, I thought you had. That I had. That I----“
“Oh, shut up already.” Head on his shoulder, arm around him, she managed to kiss him and walk at the same time, at least for a few steps. She stumbled over a crack in the paving, and pulled back with a smile. “Race you home.”
“No fair. Slayer speed and all that.”
“Make it up to you,” she said quietly, and suddenly his blood was going so fast he felt like he could beat Olympians. She dashed off into the twilight, and he followed.
It felt odd to be running, breathing heavy, sweating. He couldn’t recall ever having done that as a human, and vampires didn’t of course breathe of sweat. His muscles seemed more evident as a human than they had while he’d been a vampire, when by comparison he’d been a machine. He found himself getting out of breath because he kept forgetting to breathe. It was very odd. The sweat was another factor. He decided that showering would be first on the agenda once they got back to the apartment.
He found Buffy by running into her because she was rooted to a spot outside the apartment door. He peered around her, panting.
Detective Tate gave them the smile of a shark with blood in the water. “Well, hello, Miss Summers, Mr.----what was it again?”
“You’ll have to tell me, mate,” Spike said. “Amnesia, remember?”
“Oh, I imagine we’ll find out. Just like we found out the identities of those girls.” The detective’s grin grew even wider. “Would you like to come down to the station?”
Continued in Chapter 16