If there was one thing she knew, it was that Spike couldn't be trusted. Punched, kicked, beaten to a bloody pulp, and heck, even dusted, but never, ever trusted. Trusting Spike was tantamount to taking a cobra to bed and expecting to wake up alive in the morning. Only an incredibly, no, ridiculously stupid individual would even consider placing the words Spike and trust in the same sentence without the buffering comfort zone of not or never or some other negative in between. The mere idea was laughable, pure insanity.
And so, Buffy thought with no small amount of irritation, I am either incredibly insane or ridiculously stupid. Perhaps both.
Yet the truth of the matter remained; somewhere in the span of the past few minutes, something inside her brain had undeniably shifted Spike toward the trust category. Not unconditional trust; Spike may have proven himself today, but this trust in him was a new thing, something to be handled with care. She couldn’t afford to throw all her faith into him blindly, but she knew now that she could count on him, at least as far as Dawn was concerned, and that was more than enough to induce one major wiggins — all the more significant for the fact that she hadn’t even used the word in years.
Her brain struggled to process this as she wandered, by rote, back toward the Magic Box. Something niggled at the back of her mind, trying to call attention to itself, and she had the sneaky feeling that this elusive something had been patiently waiting for her to notice it for some time. Was it a coincidence, then, that it should decide to take offense at being ignored at the precise moment she realized what Spike had done for her? Buffy scoffed. Of course it had something to do with Spike. She’d learned over the years that such things rarely amounted to happenstance.
Her impending revelation had yet to coalesce into conceivable thought, though, and from experience, she knew she could not force it. This something-I-already-know-but-haven’t-realized-yet had proven tenacious enough to draw her attention. It would find its way out and she would have her epiphany, but in the meantime, she would have to resign herself to living with its whispering, intrusive, wake-me-from-a-dead-sleep-when-I-finally-figure-it-out presence.
She reached the Magic Box without remembering the journey. The jingling of the bell at the doorway jarred her into full awareness, and she met the collective, anxious eyes of the assembled group, now minus one robot. Buffy lingered in the doorway a moment, meeting their searching stares.
“So...?” Dawn’s question, tentative, fearful, broke the strained silence.
Buffy sighed. “He didn’t tell.”
They came immediately to life with a flurry of words; expressions of doubt, declarations of relief, all loud and noisy and blurring together and making her head ache. It had been a thoroughly exhausting day. She so did not need this.
“Guys!” she shouted, voice as edgy as she could manage, cutting through the din of their chatter. “He. Did. Not. Tell.”
Clearly, they wanted to start up again, but the look on her face — she was reasonably certain she was glowering at them — held them in check. They faced each other in a standoff of sorts, until Buffy relented. “Giles?”
The Watcher had his glasses off and one hand pinching the bridge of his nose. “Are you certain, Buffy? It’s imperative that we know for sure.”
Buffy slipped into the chair across from Giles. “I’m sure,” she assured him, casting a glance toward the other members of the group, knowing her expression carried her confidence. She had no doubts, and they needed to see that.
“So he...fell for the Bot thing?” Dawn asked.
“Yeah,” she replied. “Didn’t realize it was me until...later. But I saw when he did, and Spike’s not that good of an actor.”
Tara and Dawn were nodding quietly, while Willow looked contemplative. Xander hadn’t quite bought it yet, judging by his scowl of disbelief. Giles merely looked inquisitive, cleaning his glasses slowly.
“When I...as the Bot...offered to go and tell Glory myself, he made it abundantly clear that she could never find out,” Buffy continued, recalling Spike’s adamant insistence that Dawn’s secret remain that way. “Probably would have fallen off that sarcophagus and crawled after me...it...if I’d insisted.”
“I don’t get it,” Willow remarked, leaning up against the counter with her arms crossed over her chest. “Why would he do that? To let Glory torture him...even a vamp can only stand so much.”
“Gotta say, Buff, it doesn’t make much sense,” Xander agreed.
Buffy sighed and sent Xander a meaningful look.
He understood at once, and his expression of doubt shifted into the angry, offended one he affected whenever the topic of Spike loves Buffy came up. “Oh don’t tell me you think it has something to do with this...obsession of his?”
She so did not want to deal with this, and sighed heavily. “Knock it off, Xander.”
Xander set his hand on her arm. “Buff-”
Buffy patted his hand and then slipped her arm away. “Yeah, it’s about me,” she admitted, speaking quietly, feeling reluctant to both admit to knowing how Spike apparently felt, and to talking about it. “Whatever I think about that doesn’t matter right now.”
Xander scoffed. “I kinda think it does, Buffy.”
This earned him an eye-roll and a scowl. “He did something pretty good today and I think he deserves a little credit for it,” she snapped, realizing that she had moved from merely reassuring them about Spike to defending him from them. “So knock it off, please.”
Xander shook his head and started to open his mouth to continue, when Anya’s arm disappeared under the table and Xander’s face scrunched into an entirely different expression altogether. Buffy quickly averted her eyes and silently thanked Anya for her inappropriate, if timely, interruption.
“She has a point,” Tara said, coming to stand beside Buffy, one corner of her mouth turned up in amusement.
Leave it to Tara to just accept the truth behind something, without letting others’ opinions or preconceived ideas get in the way. Buffy appreciated the show of support, and she and Tara exchanged a brief smile.
Giles had replaced his glasses onto his face, and turned to look at Xander, who was now scowling at Anya instead of Buffy. “As much as it pains me to say so, I-I have to agree.”
“Well, I knew he wouldn’t tell,” Dawn insisted, though Buffy knew she’d had her doubts as much as any of them.
“I’ll admit, I thought he would’ve,” Buffy added. “Kinda throws me more than a little that he didn’t.”
“Yeah,” Xander muttered, “me too.”
Conversation fizzled then, and Buffy’s thoughts drifted back to the battered vampire, and a flash of concern flickered through her brain. It brought her no little sense of unease to be feeling concern for Spike, but what he’d done for her today hadn’t been merely good, it was down right noble of him. He deserved some concern. He’d earned it.
While she pondered what all this meant, that niggling in her brain reminding her constantly of its presence, the others resumed conversation around her. She tuned them out, aware of it but not its subject, staring off into space in the vague direction of the centre of the table.
She snapped her gaze up toward Giles, who, judging by the look of distress on his face, had been trying to get her attention for some time. “Sorry...just thinking.”
Giles repeated his offer to order them all some take-out, as it had been a long day and they were undoubtedly hungry as much as tired. Buffy nodded unenthusiastically while the others piped in with their dinner preferences. They settled on Chinese, and while Giles headed to the telephone to place the order, Buffy stood and wandered into the training room.
She felt the urge to hit something, inspired, no doubt, by the conflicting thoughts and feelings, all revolving around Spike. Everything she had ever been taught about vampires, Spike had just thrown in her face, laughing all the way. That Spike would allow Glory to torment him for so many hours, enduring the agony of torture and the humiliating loss of control, when he so easily could have given her the answers and walked away unscathed pointed to just how much the vampire had changed.
And as her fist connected with the punching bag, realization exploded inside her brain. She dropped her fists and the bag swung back, knocking her off-balance and sending her tumbling into the mat.
She felt her cheeks colour with embarrassment, realizing by the amused upturning of Giles’s mouth that he’d witnessed the punching bag getting the better of her. She tore her thoughts away from the brink of her epiphany to smile wearily at her Watcher. “Lucky shot?”
“Of course,” Giles replied, thankfully saying nothing more on the subject. “It seems that after the incident involving the Erlach demon last month, the Chinese place will no longer make deliveries to the Magic Box.”
Rising to her feet, Buffy cringed at that unpleasant memory.
“So,” Giles continued, stepping toward her now. “I have reluctantly agreed to hold this impromptu dinner party at my flat...if you’re interested in joining us.”
Suddenly, the idea of being alone with her thoughts left her eager for the company, and she nodded. “Let’s go get us some of that eggrolly goodness.”
Visiting the robot in the Magic Box’s basement to exchange clothing for the second time was more than unsettling. Looking into its dormant face with its vacant expression sent disturbing chills down her spine. Despite what she’d said earlier, it was an exceptionally good copy. Thinking of the things that Spike had done with it...well, she tried very hard not to go there.
It was with no small amount of relief that, while undressing her electronic doppelganger, she saw the precise mimicry did not extend to the areas normally covered by her clothing. The many subtle differences offered her the comfort that at least Spike — and Warren, who had undoubtedly made the abomination — hadn’t completely invaded her privacy. The bot’s nakedness was its own; it wasn’t hers.
Buffy wasn’t stupid. She knew exactly why Spike had wanted this...thing. What didn’t make sense, however, was the extra steps he had taken to give it personality...to make it her. It had knowledge of her friends, Xander and Anya had seen it fighting vampires, and when Giles called out her name for help, the bot had abandoned its attempt to reach Spike and gone to him. It believed it was Buffy, and it was in love with Spike. Spike hadn’t created a Buffy-shaped thing to act on his twisted sexual fantasies. He had tried to create Buffy. A Buffy to love him, and yes, to participate in endlessly disturbing sexcapades — but he had wanted her, not just her body. While the whole concept remained obscenely distressing, this small insight helped ease some of her concerns.
Her mind still reeled with the magnitude of her training-room brainwave. Spike had changed. Everything she knew about demons, about vampires, told her that it was impossible for them to change their nature, but Spike, ever the rebel, had irrefutably done so. The chip helped; she suffered no disillusions over that fact. It forced him to adapt his way of life, and adapt he had...but now that she thought about it, he had done so in startlingly unexpected ways.
Until recently, Spike shared his crypt with Harmony, and yet she couldn’t count the number of times she’d barged in to find him supping on cold pig’s blood. He could have been feeding off Harmony’s victims, but experience told her that the night Drusilla returned to Sunnydale coincided with Spike’s first taste of human blood in more than a year. Chances were this initially came about as a matter of pride — Spike was too proud a creature, too independent, to have to rely on the likes of Harmony for nourishment. She had seen his shame, those weeks after his chipping, in admitting he needed help, from his enemies no less. That something like pride could stand in the way of bloodlust — that he would willingly choose pig’s blood, the taste of which he did not precisely enjoy — it spoke of just how unique Spike truly was.
She remembered, too, the scene not long ago when Spike, tending to the comfort of an injured woman, looked up at her and told her that she need not worry; he would refrain from sampling the freely flowing offerings of Olaf the Troll God’s Bronze balcony victims. She had considered the whole thing repulsive at the time, thinking it ridiculous that he should want credit for something so...disturbing. He had told her he wouldn’t in order to earn him points, but what he hadn’t mentioned was the sheer willpower it must have taken him in order to do it. The chip didn’t affect his bloodlust. To any other vampire, the situation would have amounted to a free-for-all smorgasbord. But not a taste for Spike.
Spike gathered no minions to do his evil bidding, something so basic Buffy wondered why she hadn’t before considered the possibility. After the last abortive attempt to rid himself of the chip, he had actually been helpful. Without even waiting behind to take credit for it, he had killed one of Glory’s Lei-ach demons, and proved Tara ’s ultimate humanity with a very pulled punch. He’d suffered the headache and she’d been left without a mark. He had protected her sister on more than one occasion, even before this latest Glory debacle. The night he’d told Buffy about killing slayers, and she’d shoved him to the ground and tossed her handful of money at him as though he were nothing more than a lowly beggar, he put aside his rage and humiliation in the face of her anguish to offer comfort. Comfort she had accepted. Comfort she rejected only days later from Riley.
That thought stalled her ponderings a moment, and she wondered, why did I accept it from Spike, but not Riley?
Because Riley wanted you to be helpless, whispered the second voice, still her own, playing devil’s advocate to herself.
I’m not helpless, Buffy protested, the insanity of arguing with herself so completely not lost on her.
And Spike accepts that you’re not.
That, at least, was true. Spike hadn’t offered his comfort in order to play the role of the man, the protector, to the distressed damsel. He’d simply known that she needed it, with the underlying acknowledgement that one moment of unexpected but much-welcomed solace didn’t render her dependent or weak.
“Huh,” she remarked aloud, pulling her brown t-shirt over her head. “Changed and insightful.”
This train of thought was becoming stranger by the moment, disconcerting in the manner of realizing something that truly felt better left unacknowledged, because the truth of it stung worse than the slowly disintegrating illusion. The chip may have required Spike change his ways, but what he had done with that requirement astounded her, now that she recognized it. The changes in Spike were phenomenal, and she hadn’t seen it, because despite the fact that he had always been a vampire, she had come to judge his actions based on her expectations of a human. When she factored in his vampirism, the depth of what he had done, what he was doing, with his existence nearly took her breath away in the physical, completely un-clichéd sense.
So what does this mean? she asked herself. It meant Spike was doing the impossible, and what that meant...God, I can’t even imagine.
She was trying really, really hard not to be all space-girl. It was bad enough being tortured by her own thoughts; she didn’t need the others noticing her extreme bordering-on-brooding pensiveness. She had hoped that digging eagerly into her dinner would provide enough of an excuse to cover for her lack of talkage. Apparently, she’d failed to laugh at one or two obviously funny Xanderisms and missed enough conversational cues that they had noticed anyway.
“Earth to Buffy,” Xander taunted, waving chow mein laden chopsticks in front of her face. “The cookie called and it’s missing its fortune.”
“That’s his way of telling you that you’re gaping off into space like the village idiot,” Anya clarified, nodding cheerfully.
At this, Buffy managed an indignant scowl. “I am so not gaping!”
“As a matter of fact, Buffy, I rather think you’d be catching flies if your jaw were to drop any lower,” remarked Giles, grinning around a forkful of fried rice.
Buffy fell heavily against the back of Giles’s couch, eyes rolling up toward the ceiling as she sighed softly. “I don’t know...I guess I’m kinda distracted.”
“Thanks for the revelation, Captain Obvious,” Dawn teased.
“We had noticed,” added Tara, with a shrug and a hesitant smile.
“Yeah, and you completely missed Xan’s Howard the Duck joke,” Willow continued, refilling her plate with a generous helping of beef and broccoli.
Dawn nodded emphatically, as though this fact alone indicated just how far away she had been. “Not even an eye roll or one of those crinkle-nose faces.”
“Hey, that joke’s a classic!” Xander protested.
Giles rolled his eyes this time. “Yes, and about as inane as the cinematic brilliance which inspired it,” he drawled.
Xander waggled his chopsticks in Giles’s direction. “You mock that which you don’t understand, Watcher Man.”
“I mock that which is absurd,” Giles corrected. “Really, a giant talking duck?”
Buffy chuckled softly as Giles and Xander went on to discuss rather animatedly the various shortcomings of each other’s taste in movies. With the focus away from her, Buffy felt her mind wandering again but didn’t bother to try to follow the conversation. They already knew she was distracto-girl; why fight it? The sooner she got to the end of this seemingly endless mental character study, the better.
Questions filled her thoughts now, one inner voice providing them, and the other whispering answers that she did not always like. She had circled around some of them, her refusal to acknowledge the truth bringing her right back again. Spike had changed, was continuing to change. This she knew, accepted, no matter how bizarre the whole thing seemed. But why?
Why is he changing?
Because he loves me.
She hated that thought, rejected it, though the darker of her two inner voices — the one steadfastly refusing to play by her much-cherished rules of denial — kept returning to it with vehemence that shocked her.
Lighter Buffy protested. He doesn’t love me. It’s just...lust.
He loved Drusilla. I know he did. That was more than lust.
Vampires can’t love.
Just like they can’t change?
The words robot and Buffy tugged her attentions back to the present, but not before she grudgingly acknowledged the significance of that final thought.
“...just in case it could be useful later,” Willow finished, glancing apologetically at Buffy. “I know it’s kinda creepy...but...you never know.”
“Just as long as Spike doesn’t get his hands on it again,” Xander grumbled, rubbing at his temples. “I mean, you guys didn’t see it...with the straddling and the—”
He stopped short at the simultaneous protests from Buffy, Willow, and Giles, the latter of whom jumped up from his seat mumbling something about finding a spatula for the sweet-and-sour sauce and needing Dawn’s assistance.
“Whatever,” Dawn muttered, rolling her eyes with flourish while following the Watcher with clear reluctance. “Let’s pretend that I don’t know anything about Spike’s Buffy-shaped sex robot.”
“It’s in here somewhere, I’m fairly certain!” Giles called, head popping into view through the cut-out in the kitchen wall.
Xander glanced over his shoulder at Dawn’s retreating back, then leaned in conspiratorially. “And Spike’s bed-hair? Oh my God, that is huge!”
From within the kitchen came a clattering of metal and a snort from Dawn, followed shortly by under-his-breath mutterings from Giles.
“Please never say the words Spike and bed-hair in the same sentence again,” Willow deadpanned, though beside her Tara was chuckling into her hand.
“This obsession of his is getting out of hand,” Xander added, eyeing Buffy. “First sex-bots, then what?”
Does he love me?
“D-did anybody else notice that he tried to make it b-be Buffy, not just look like her?”
Thank you, Tara.
“I noticed,” Buffy answered softly, prompting Xander to stare at her with mixed irritation and incredulity. “Xand...I know you’re concerned, and I appreciate it, but I can handle Spike.”
I think he does.
“Right Buff,” he answered after a moment, and she knew he remained unconvinced.
Buffy didn’t blame him, exactly. Xander harboured a deep-seated sense of protectiveness that flared with particular intensity in matters related to Buffy’s love life. She knew this originated with Xander’s more-than-friends feelings of years past, and had grown out of a desire to keep her from getting hurt and likely some unrecognized hope that if the others went away, he might have a shot. He had really only approved of Riley, and Buffy wondered if that was because Xander could see himself in Riley where he could not with Angel, and certainly not with Spike. Once the connection, however one-sided, between Spike and Buffy revealed itself — after he stopped laughing about it — this side of Xander came rushing to the surface with startling force.
And while she truly did appreciate his concern in the it’s-nice-to-know-he-cares-enough sense, at the same time, she resented that he seemed to think he knew better, or that her way of dealing with something was the right way only as long as he agreed with it. He had been in full intervention mode when he thought she was having sex with Spike, and granted, Spike-related groininess aside, the Buffybot was acting very strangely. But something about being told that what she was doing was wrong, without them even listening to her side of the story, truly rankled.
“I-I think he was just...lonely,” Tara said, meeting Buffy’s eye.
Another crash sounded in the direction of the kitchen, and Buffy glanced over to find Dawn standing in the doorway, clearly listening to the conversation and ignoring Giles, who was now hauling random items out from the drawer below the oven. Dawn smirked far too knowingly, and for once Buffy hadn’t the energy to pretend her sister was completely ignorant about these things, as Dawn liked to say.
Willow’s face scrunched with distaste. “Maybe so, but a robot?”
“Well, if he couldn’t have the real Buffy—”
“That was just Spike being Spike,” Buffy interjected, starling herself and the others with her easy dismissal. At their slack-jawed stares, Buffy sighed and set her plate down on the coffee table. “Okay, I know the robot thing is gross and way too...ick to think about, but he just got finished letting himself be tortured to protect Dawn.”
“So you’re what, just gonna let him get away with it?”
Typical, Buffy thought, setting her jaw and shaking her head slowly. Apparently, Xander had exhausted his sympathy for the battered vampire with those few words about it back at the Magic Box. “Says he who almost suggested earlier that we give the robot back to him. Yes, I’m gonna let it slide. The stupid robot is nothing compared to what he did for us today.”
Can he love me?
He can love.
“A-and he did something good for me, too, remember?” added Tara, squeezing the hand Willow placed into hers.
So what does that mean?
What do I want it to mean?
Xander scoffed. “Yeah, by hitting you!”
It’s disgusting...disturbing...it’s . . .frightening.
“He hardly used his full strength, Xander,” Anya reminded him, her tone patronizing.
“It didn’t even bleed,” Willow agreed.
Because...he doesn’t have a soul. Because if he really does love me, it means he can love without a soul.
“Okay, okay, I get it. Spike’s a hero,” Xander snapped, setting his plate down heavily on the table. “Can we please ease off on the love fest?”
And Angel can’t.
Whoa...so not going there!
Willow winced at the sound of the plate and the sharpness of Xander’s voice. “I didn’t say hero...”
I’m so there. Spike is...
“Aha!” Giles cried, appearing in the doorway, triumphantly waving his fervently sought spatula.
Spike loves me.
Spike loves me.
“Bloody hell. ”
Only when she noticed everybody staring at her again did she realize that she’d spoken aloud. Then, her brain caught up with her and she remembered what she’d said and why, and her cheeks darkened with sudden embarrassment.
“What? Um, uh, nothing, I was just...nothing.”
Nice, Buffy. Real casual.
“Great,” Xander snorted. “First she’s defending him, now she’s channelling.”
This was so not going to go well at all, Buffy realized. She took in a deep breath, counted to five, and let it out before speaking again. “Guys, sorry, I just have a lot on my mind, what with the death-is-my-gift and then, like, the whole mental rollercoaster of today.”
“Perfectly understandable,” said Giles. “Perhaps you and Dawn should head home? You could probably both use some rest, I’d wager.”
Yeah, ‘cause I’ll rest really well when I can’t think of anything but Spike...who’s lying beaten and defenseless in his crypt...
“Actually, I think I’m gonna patrol,” Buffy replied, looking toward Willow and Tara. “You guys mind if Dawn crashes?”
“Ooh, slumber party!” Dawn chimed in, apparently pleased at the prospect.
“Of course, Buffy,” Tara answered, grinning broadly at Dawn, who flopped down enthusiastically next to her.
Buffy smiled in gratitude. “Thank you. Giles, thanks for dinner...I think I’m just going to go, so...see you all tomorrow?”
The room responded with a collective yes of varying descriptions, and each occupant offered her a farewell. Buffy grabbed her long coat from the hook by the door and, slipping it on, reached for the handle.
She looked over her shoulder to find Xander standing behind her, hands in his pockets and a hint of contrition on his face. “Yeah?”
He smiled hesitantly. “Be careful, okay? With Glory all pissed off and everything.”
There was that gently caring friend, and her heart flooded with relief. Despite his faults, his tendency to hold grudges and blind himself with stereotypes, he cared about her, was one of her closest friends, and she’d hated to leave the evening on such a sour note. “Thanks Xand.”
“See you tomorrow?”
Buffy nodded. “You will.”