"Lock the door," Spike said.
"She did that," Buffy answered. She turned around in the living room and looked at him. "I need to take a rain check."
"Rain check?" He said. He blinked. They both looked rather startled---had she ever turned him down before?
Once, she thought.
Once, he thought.
They both found other things to look at. "Why?" he asked.
"There's something I need to check out, and I don't know if your former vampiness might set it off. So until I'm sure, I have to go by myself."
"God, I should have snagged Niblet," Spike said. "Could have taught her how to cheat at poker at least." He sat down disgustedly. He couldn't say what he really thought, which was even more annoying: I'm a liability now, aren't I? It gave off a distinct whiff of self-pity, and that was Angel's forte, not his----at least, not while sober. He rather doubted she had booze in the house.
"Spike?" Buffy said. "Remember the part where I said get over it? Now would be a good time to start."
Spike stared at her for a second. "Who died and made you relevant again?"
"I did," she said, not affected in the slightest. "And so did you. Could you remember that more often?"
"But you came back with your party tricks intact. I didn't."
"Are we going to compare? Because we can do that later."
Spike winced. "Why not now? I'll ask my personal assistant what's on my schedule for today."
"Spike, can you stop? Something's going on and I don't know what it is and until I do I will tie you up in this apartment to keep you safe if I have to, okay?"
Spike raised both hands in a placating gesture but compromised the gesture by raising one eyebrow. The degree of sarcasm inherent in the latter gesture made Buffy shake her head. How does he do that? It's just an eyebrow! "Well………….." he said thoughtfully. "You could just tie me up, you know. That might help."
Buffy whipped around at the door. "What?"
"I said, you could just tie me up."
Buffy stared at him. Tying him up. Oh, my. How was she going to concentrate? Bastard. "You did that deliberately," she said slowly.
He shrugged, raising his hands in mock surrender, but then he shifted, nonchalantly shrugging his hands behind his head and crossing them. "Maybe," he said. "But if I have to be babysat like a bleedin' plant, you can just believe I'm going to give you something to think about."
"What if you make me get distracted and---"
"Buffy," he said disgustedly. "You never get distracted." After a moment's pause, he smiled. "Or do you?"
"I'll show you distracted," she threatened, but the door remained closed. "Just wait, Mr. Smug."
"Go," he said dryly. "You have to go and then get home before Dawn does."
"Relax," she said. "Blackmail and extortion are time-consuming. She won't be home before dinner."
"Well, I was hoping you would be, too."
She looked down at him, at a disadvantage but unsure of how to regain her footing. Damn the man. Him and his small butt and his blue eyes and that infuriating ability to make weaken knees.
"Leather or rope?" she asked pertly.
"Surprise me," he said lazily, lazily studying her. "Lady's choice."
"I'm going to get your for that," she said.
"I hope so."
The door slam didn't sound very victorious after that.
She walked for a while and then caught a cab back to Beverly Hills, wondering if it were possible for her to accomplish her mission and somehow have the crashingly bad luck to run into either her dad or her dad's new wife. That would just make the dysfunction fest complete. She found a nice little Thai café across from the department store, took a table near the window, ordered some coffee, pulled out her cellphone, and laid it on the table. After a few sips, she had enough courage and caffeine to dial the number. As it rang, she tried to think of something intelligent and compassionate to say, but when he finally picked up her mind was blank.
"Hey, Buff," Xander said. His voice had a peculiar quality to it: something measured and deliberate, as if only certain words were allowed. "How are you?"
"That's what I want to know about you," Buffy said quietly.
"Well…" Xander said. There was a long thin pause during which he seemed to hold his breath. "I'm glad you called. I wanted to bury something from the store with her. I think she'd like that."
"That's a wonderful idea, Xander." She sipped her coffee. "What were you thinking of?"
"I don't know," he said despairingly. "I can't find the store." He held his breath again. "I, uh, drove up there. They're still not letting people down. Too many----bodies." Strange how this was so different from all the bodies they had seen, all of strangers and monsters. This was different. Mom, Buffy thought, and her throat ached.
She gulped. Coffee's too hot, she thought. That's it, and I'm clinging desperately to my first rationalization of the day. "I'm sure---there's got to be something around. Um…" she searched for a change of topic. "We could go up there, you know. It is your property now."
"You, uh, want to go with me.?"
"Sure," Buffy said, pausing. Carefully, she mustered her enthusiasm. "Sure I will." They sat in silence for a while, and they each thought of a morgue building, and a dry hot parking lot.. "So---any other news?"
"They haven't found my folks yet, if that's what you mean."
"Yeah, I guess they haven't gotten as far as excavating Lucky's Saloon," he said. "If they do, I'm wondering how I'm going to fit Mom and Dad's favorite barstools in their coffins."
Buffy smiled into the phone but her throat ached suddenly. "You could always use them as headstones, you know."
"Yeah, it'd be cheaper than stone. Plus, you know, Lucky was too cheap to spring for metal, so in case anybody needed slaying, they could just break them off and---you know." They both fell silent, then. The world was different now. There were many Slayers now, many little groups of friends congregating in the graveyards. The days of the vampire were numbered.
"You need any---other help?" Buffy asked.
"With the funeral?" She wondered where he was, and mentally kicked herself for having stayed away----out of respect. How stupid, she thought.
"Yeah, I don't know what I'm doing. If I did it the way An would want it, she'd have a send off with kazoos so as to not spend the money, and her dress would be made out of dollar bills."
Buffy winced, but Xander kept going. "I've thought about it, but I don't know if people would understand that. She was like a kid with marbles. You can't do much with 'em but collect 'em, but money's different. It was a toy for her, you know? I want to make sure she's got some with her. It'd, um," his voice bobbled. "It'd make her feel safe because I can't----I can't---go with her. And I wasn't with her, either, and I think if I could just kind of make that up to her----" He sniffed and Buffy pressed her hand over the mouthpiece to keep her sniff from reaching his ears.
"Xander, don't do that. I will come over there and I will---I will---do something to you, I swear."
"Would you?" he asked. "I've got some videos. I'd like---not to be a grownup for a while."
"I can do that," Buffy said gently. "When?"
"Right now too soon?" he said gamely. "Yeah, I know, there's the lack of Willow, but you could bring the kid sis along."
She noticed he'd omitted mention of Spike. "Dawn is blackmailing Angel."
"Dawn is---Oh, wow." He sucked in his breath. "On second thought, can we just go down there and watch?"
"I'm trying to keep the phrase 'plausible deniability' in mind," Buffy said.
"What is she doing to him?"
"Not sure. If I don't find out, I can avoid all the nasty overtones of revenge and sisterly vengeance, stuff like that."
"How are she and Spike getting along?"
"It's sort of a truce---I guess," she added. "They used to be such good friends."
"Yeah," Xander said. "Funny how that happens." Buffy waited for the inevitable reference to that thing, but it didn't come. She puffed out her breath. That alone told her how down he was: he could never resist taking shots at Spike, even though his own hands weren't exactly spotless, either. When he's this decent about Spike, I worry, she thought, then felt guilty.
"So---You want to do videos or something stupid?"
"Well…I kind of can't do it today."
"Oh," he said.
"There's something going on, Xander."
"Yes," she said simply.
"Need some backup? Just like old times, huh? Oh, wait, where's my cane, I sounded like Giles for a minute there….."
"It's just that…." Buffy squirmed, and the server, who looked about fourteen, hurried over with more coffee. "It's just that I don't know what it is yet, and I want to find out before I expose anyone."
"Jeez, Buff, what is it?"
"It's weird, whatever it is. Not good weird. This is weird where I seriously hope I just need medication weird."
"What kind of medication?"
"I'm thinking either that anti-depressant stuff, or something that'll take the paranoia away."
"That bad, huh?"
"No," Buffy said firmly. "Totally not that bad. That I know of. It's just not knowing that's weird."
"Yeah, it's the stuff that you don't know that bugs you," he mused. "Or the stuff that doesn't end."
"It'll end, Xander," she said quietly. "It does get better."
"I hope you're right, Buff. Because this is worse than one of those apocalypses."
And to that she had no answer. She settled in for a long watch, for the woman that should not have set off her radar that way.
Spike had kept his crypt rather neat but something about picking up bits and pieces in the flat just bugged the hell out of him. It was one thing to pick up after one's self, but what was he now? A maid? He was halfway dressed before he realized he didn't even have a key to get back in the place. Effectively he was trapped.
He showered, laid on the bed for a while then paced. He clicked through channels on the TV restlessly. Another good thing about being a vamp---you slept through all the crap daytime TV. Had TV gotten worse? He squinted disgustedly at some awful show that seemed to involve very large women tossing pieces of furniture at one another while two men smirked from opposite sides of the stage. One man looked like a tenth-rate pimp; he was both scrawny and flabby, with a mustache that failed to cover the sores that came from serious drug use. The other one was smoothly surgically-preserved, with a brightly-colored suit and an unctuous manner, rather like a game show host moonlighting as a funeral director. Spike turned the TV off in disgust and tossed the remote aside as if it were unclean.
That left food.
He padded out into the kitchen. The fridge was full of green things, nothing that you could really zap in a microwave and eat with your fingers. Everything looked depressingly healthy. It would have to be chopped and diced and measured and combined with other healthy things. That was entirely too many steps. He was hungry, dammit. He just wanted a snack, not a gourmet meal. Why did it have to be so bloody complicated? He stared into the fridge sourly. Good old days, indeed. Why, when you were hungry, you just found a likely-looking neck and you didn't even has to press any buttons. No muss, no f-----
Someone knocked at the front door, and Spike's heart fell to his bare feet. The police. They had come to arrest him. He glanced around wildly for a hiding place, then caught himself and banged his head against the freezer door. William the Bloody looking to hide, he thought.
Think, he thought. Think, think, think. They couldn't break down the door, although the one probably would do it if he thought he could get away with it. Even so, not likely. You're safe. Nothing to worry about . But when he eased cautiously toward the door, he grabbed a butcher knife to take with him.
The door had a spy hole and after a moment, he raised up and looked through it. What he saw was so startling, he dropped the knife and nearly skewered his own foot.
Angel stood outside in the hallway.
Continued in Chapter 20