So they’re doing the friends thing, and it’s working out pretty well. It feels good to have a friend again—she’s felt isolated for so long. She hasn’t been able to really talk to Willow in what feels like forever (plus, there’s the whole “I drained the universe of the magic that you’d built your identity around—sorry ‘bout that!” thing that’s making things feel strained between them) and as great as Dawn is being about having her big sister live on her couch, things are still a bit weird sometimes with the whole Xander thing (not that she resents Dawn and Xander. It makes a whole hell of a lot more sense than her and Xander, for sure, and if she’s being honest, which she’s trying to be nowdays, she’s self-aware enough to admit that that momentary static brain fuzz of thinking she could ever be anything more than friends with Xander came from feeling desperately lonely. Still, she can’t help but remember rejection, and she’s never been good at handling that. Or maybe she’s too good at it. Either way, it pretty much sucks). And the Xander thing…makes Xander not her first choice to confide in (“Hey, remember that time you had a mad crush on me for years, then you got over me and when I decided to give you a chance, you rejected me for my little sister? Fun times!”).
She’s still trying not to think about Giles.
(Mostly she manages during the day—staying busy is good for pushing away all the emotions: guilt and grief and fear and guilt, all scrunched up into little balls like a wadded-up t-shirt shoved to the back of a drawer. But the nighttime’s a different story. A horrifying, endless nightmare of a story.)
Anyway, she and Spike are friends (she’d forgotten how good of a friend he can be, but it’s all coming back now—the way he could listen and tease and tell her the truth that she needs to hear and make her feel like she was totally and completely accepted—yeah, he’s very good at this). And if she sometimes spends more time fascinated by his eyes (or his lips, or his hands, or his muscles, or his tongue) than a strictly-platonic friend really should, and if she still has dreams (about him) that leave her sweaty and breathless, well, that’s just what happens when you’re really good friends with an incredibly attractive man (and also when you aren’t getting any—the brain latches on to the nearest available object to construct fantasies around, and since she and Spike have a history and she knows exactly what he’s capable of, it makes complete sense that she would be dreaming like this, and the fact that dream!Spike whispers and gasps and groans and shouts that he loves her again and again--it doesn’t mean a thing. Not a thing. Not even a little bit. At all). No siree, none of that means anything.
It also doesn’t mean anything that she gives (what Dawn has dubbed) the Buffy Bitch Eye to the other girls at the coffee shop when they ogle and titter and flirt whenever Spike drops in (and that time Sadie was practically in his lap and ended up with a lapful of her own of lukewarm coffee even though Buffy’s never dropped anything before—well, that was just an accident. Could have happened to anybody, really).
And it means less than nothing that she finds herself taking more care in getting ready for patrolling (on nights when she knows he’ll be there—or nights where he’ll probably be there—or nights when there’s any possibility whatsoever that he’ll be showing up) than she has since she died for the second time (she’d forgotten just why she always did this: that applying the makeup, each sweep of the little brush or the slide of the wand of lipgloss, feels like putting on her war paint, getting ready for battle) and that the miniskirts and high heels make a reappearance (she’d gotten used to jeans those last few years in Sunnydale, and, like, mostly heavy clompy boots, too—practical but anything but stylish unless the early nineties grunge phase is coming back and she really hopes it isn’t—Xander doesn’t need another excuse to wear flannel) and that she’s wearing her hair down and bouncy again (it can’t have anything to do with him. Because he’s seen her at her absolute worst—every single hue and facet of it—and he loved her anyway, but he’s clearly moved on now and stopped waiting around for her to love him back, so there’d be no point in trying to impress him, even if she knows how much he always loved her hair. She’s growing it out for herself, okay?).
The way her stomach seizes up (with anticipation) when she knows he’ll be stopping by or the warmth that shoots through her when she (accidentally—accidentally!) brushes against him or how they fall into perfect synchronicity in battle (just like they always did in bed)—all of those are friendly feelings, okay? (And the fact that she never felt that way about, say, Xander, even when she was so desperately lonely that she thought she might as well give him a chance…well, maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that Xander isn’t a vampire? The warmth and the stomach swirlies could just be a variation on her tinglies, right? And of course he’s never going to be able to move his body the way that Spike can—vampire! Duh!).
They’re just friends. Really.
And look—a Buffy romance would be bad. She and Dawn had girls night in one night—kicking Xander out to go play pool with the guys and then ensconcing themselves on the couch with massive amounts of bad movies and bad-for-you snacks—and in between Bring It On and Spice World and around a mouthful of Oreos and peanut butter, she announced that she was swearing off guys. Dawn laughed so hard she snorted (there may have been massive amounts of boxed wine, too), then scoffed her patented “Suuuuure, Buffy,” but Buffy meant it. She did! Buffy plus romance equals badness. Simple equation, right? even if it’s one it’s taken her way too long to master (she never would have passed trig if it hadn’t been for Willow; she can admit that math is not one of her strengths).
But the truth speaks for itself. Or, more like, screams out loud in all capital letters, italicized and bolded with multiple exclamation points at the end. Parker? Ha. (And doesn’t that seem like a thousand years away, the result of an innocence and naiveté that she doesn’t even remember having even if she knows she did.) Riley? Seemed to work out okay until the whole vamp-whore-sucking and returning with a wife before ascending up INTO THE SKY. (He’d always seemed like the least drama-queen like of all of her…romantic interests, but the sky thing was a bit much, you know?).
As for Angel, well—
(Angel is firmly relegated to the list of Things She Doesn’t Let Herself Think About, second only to Giles.)
And Spike himself? BIG ENDINGS. There was the night in the bathroom and there was the blaze of glory—followed by the years of not getting in touch with her after he came back from the dead (after she mourned him and missed him and cried over him, the big idiot!).
Neither one gives her the greatest confidence that anything could actually work between them (even if she sometimes finds herself gazing off into space during the slower hours at work, daydreaming about what it might be like, an actual full-fledged relationship with him: it looks a lot like that last year in Sunnydale with the supportiveness and the comfort, only with the banter and the fighting side-by-side from the Glory-era days…and the sex from the year after she came back. And if that sounds…perfect, well the one time she experienced perfect, she got ripped right out of heaven and spent a year mired in the hell of depression. She doesn’t really trust perfect anymore).
Besides! Friends! That’s what they are! He’s made that clear, and so has she. Friends. The end.
No more guys for Buffy, then. She even goes so far as to buy herself a vibrator, feeling more than a little daring (which is ridiculous after all she and Spike have done), and downright impressed with herself when she actually uses it (and she can’t help but think of how proud Anya would be that she’s taking her sex life into her own hands—kind of literally). Dawn’s made a couple of hints about hitting the club scene and finding some one-night-only fun, but Buffy just doesn’t think she’s wired that way. Maybe it’s because of that first night with Angel, maybe it’s because she knows death so intimately, maybe it’s just her personality, but sex always means something to her, something heavy, not just momentary pleasure (even all those nights in Spike’s crypt meant something—a whole hell of a lot of something, actually, though she told herself it didn’t. That something may have been dark and self-destructive and near-suicidal, but it definitely had meaning).
So she’s decided that while it doesn’t hurt to flirt back with the cute guys who come into the shop (she’s always been very good at flirting, and she’s pretty sure that all the years of battle banter have just made her better at it—honestly, the line between the two became a bit hazy after a while, and that’s yet another thing she can chalk up to Spike and his uniqueness), that’s as far as it will go.
And she’s good with that. Really.
She doesn’t even mind fielding endless questions. Mostly from the girls at work—Sadie (who Buffy actually does like when she’s not forcing her to empty coffee into her lap) and Tia (who Buffy thought would be way, way too cool to ever like hopelessly-beach-bunny-Buffy but whose skin art collection and collection of various piercings are deceptive: she’s one of the nicest people Buffy’s ever met) and Blake (who she totally thinks of as one of the girls, even if he’s 6’ 6” and makes Riley and Angel small—he’s got a fondness for musical theater and kung fu movies that endears him to her right away, in addition to fashion sense that Cordelia wouldn’t have been able to fault and an encyclopedic knowledge of comic book heros).
Once they decide that they like her, the bug her endlessly about whether she’s seeing anyone (relationship drama is the main topic of conversation around the Pick Me Up: Sadie’s on-again-off-again boyfriend, Tia’s string of conquests, Blake’s endless search for true love—and they expect her to contribute. There’s no way she’s going to open that can of worms, but oh, the stories she could tell!). Then they move on to the trying-to-set her up thing (Tia’s cousin, Sadie’s boyfriend’s BFF, Blake’s bi ex-boyfriend, not to mention every cute guy who enters the Pick Me Up), which she just laughs off—thankfully she manages to extricate herself (fancy acrobatics! Slayer flexibility’s good for lots besides fighting) from any blind dates before they actually get scheduled.
But all that is before the night she works late and Spike drops in to pick her up for patrol. Tia’s eyebrows fly up to her neon blue-streaked bangs, Sadie’s jaw drops open, and Blake wolf whistles. Spike actually blushes at the cat call (and no, she didn’t know vampires could do that either. How does that even work?), but struts it off. He’s gallant as anything and charms them all within seconds, and after that whenever he drops in, he makes sure to flirt with Sadie and have music recommendations for Tia and wink at Blake, and of course they all love him. Of course. (He’s easy to love. If you don’t know he’s a vampire and he doesn’t spend years trying to kill you or if you don’t have horrible debilitating clinical depression and more baggage than an airport luggage claim.)
They absolutely don’t believe her when she insists that Spike is just a friend (as it turns out, Sadie’s just as good at the “Suuuure, Buffy,” as Dawn ever was). Eventually, it comes out that they used to have a thing, but it’s over! Totally over! Years and years in the past! So dead it’s dusty! (They don’t pick up on the joke, of course, but Buffy’s gotten used to being her own audience—comes of years of fighting demons who didn’t understand English.) After lots of knowing laughter and teasing, they start to plan a “reunion” (“Why the hell are you not hitting that, girl? Don’t worry; with us on your side, you’ll be back to it real soon.”) And it would probably work, too—those three? They probably are to match-making what the Scoobies are to world-saving—but they finally give up on it once Buffy begs them not to try anything (she knows she must sound really, really desperate, because they don’t even tease her anymore after that, at least not much, and she sometimes feels Tia’s concerned eyes resting on her during the less hectic shifts, searching but not probing, like Willow in the old days).
( The idea of anyone setting up her and Spike terrifies her. Their relationship was always something intensely private, and she’s never really talked to anyone else about it. Not just because she started out so ashamed of it, but because no one else could possibly understand all the things they are to each other. They aren’t simple stereotypes acting out a script, and they never have been. They are anything but a romantic comedy. If their story was a movie, she wouldn’t be played by Kate Hudson and he definitely wouldn’t be Hugh Grant. Instead the roles of Buffy and Spike would be taken on by obscure indie actors from movies Buffy’s never even heard of, the kind that might as well have subtitles for all the sense they make to her. Maybe directed by that Nolan guy Xander fanboys so much, with lots of weird time-jump cuts. Or Aronofsky—Dawn likes him. With a side order of Tarantino-like action, of course. Their story? Wouldn’t ever get greenlighted. No. Way.)
But honestly, it’s never all so confusing as when she’s with Spike himself. Sometimes he makes her head spin, he really does. And not just when he’s speaking in his most obnoxiously British slang (she’d swear he makes up half of those ridiculous phrases. She always meant to ask Giles, but….). But the way they’ll just be walking along teasing each other in all the regular ways or tossing quips back and forth with all the skills of professional jugglers while battling a hoard of demons and then—boom. There’s an explosion of emotion she can’t explain:
His smirk will go all sexy, his tongue curled behind his teeth, tossing off a double entendre and sending heat coursing through her. Or she’ll say something that doesn’t seem like a big deal to her and he’ll give her that awed, worshipful look that steals her breath away. And for a second, she’ll know, absolutely know that he loves her still, and the possibility of them will be so tangible she can almost see it playing out in front of her like a movie (she’ll give the weird indie movies this: they usually have more believable love scenes than chick flicks), and she wants it so bad it makes her ache.
But then the moment will be over, as abruptly as it came, and he’s back to his friend mode, where any hints of love or sex or romance or anything else more than platonic is tucked inside a glass case, untouchable again. She’ll sway in place or blink rapidly, trying to regain her equilibrium: it all happens so fast that she feels it’s a big accomplishment that she doesn’t fall right over. And if she’s a little subdued for the rest of the evening, a little wistful, maybe, he doesn’t say anything, and she’s reminded for the thousandth time (today) that it didn’t mean anything.
They’re just friends.
And love. It’s overrated, right? Well, not regular kinds of love, like how she feels about Dawn (equal parts affection, protectiveness, shared memory—real or not, she’s long past the place where that mattered—and exasperation) or about her friends (the way she feels sixteen sometimes when she looks at them, but in the best ways—unafraid and hopeful and sure that life’s going to turn out to be wonderful—and the profound comfort that comes from knowing that they’ve stuck with her for this long) or how she felt about her mom (time has mellowed her memories until she almost doesn’t even remember the sting of the ultimatum that sent her off to L.A. right after killing Angel—when she thinks of Mom, she thinks of the nights curled up with her and Dawn on the couch and watching black and white movies and eating popcorn and feeling…safe) or Giles (nononononodon’tthinkaboutthatdon’tthinkaboutthatnononono). That’s the kind of love that makes the world go ‘round (and not so fast that she gets dizzy and needs to get off, like a tilt-a-whirl—we’re talking about a nice, pleasant carousel-in-the-park kind of spin, cotton candy in hand and the sound of kids laughing mixing with the music).
She’s talking about romantic love. It’s either just kind of warm and squiggly-stomach-times and pleasant, but nothing really to write home about (see: Finn, Riley). Or it’s (what was that Spike said?) burning and consuming and not-brains-children-it’s-blood and that ends in absolute and total badness (badness. remember?). She doesn’t really need it. Sure, sex would be nice, and so would someone to cuddle with, but she still has her vibrator for one and Dawn for the other, and the rest is totally not worth the heartache.
Things are better when you don’t drag in words like “forever” or “only” or “everything.” Things only get complicated when you try anything more than that. Especially her and Spike. They only end up hurting each other, over and over again (by this point, she’s pretty sure they’ve covered every single conceivable way two people can hurt each other, and you’d think that that means that they’ve moved past them completely, but no: she’s pretty sure that these kinds of pain only get worse with each repetition).
(Sometimes, though? It is so hard to remember that. Like when they’re fighting back-to-back and they still anticipate each others’ moves, moving like extensions of each other, like they’re one being, like nothing will ever, ever be able to defeat them. Or when she’s giddy with the power of coming up with an exceptionally snarky comeback that shuts him down and he gives her that teasing grin and shakes his head and she can’t help how wide she’s smiling. Or when they’re sitting in silence on the fire escape the way they used to do on the back porch back at Revello Drive and she remembers what it’s like to feel totally outside of time. Those times…yeah, it’s hard.)
She really should have known. She’s never been called a quick study, really (and Dawn, in some of her less charitable moments, has been known to flat-out say that her older sister is the most emotionally oblivious person alive and has to be hit in the face with things repeatedly before they sink in. Buffy shoots back that hitting is what she knows), but she would have thought this one lesson she would have aced back in high school.
She should have known that Spike would come along with his stupid eyes and his stupid smile and his stupid ability to understand and accept her no matter what and completely upend her life. Oh, yeah. He was born for this kind of destruction. Never mind years of slaughter and debauchery across Europe. Never mind killing two Slayers and then being the first and only vampire to ever go and fight for his soul. His biggest talent, his biggest accomplishment? Sauntering into her life when she’s finally got things in a semblance of order and then wreaking havoc like a drugged-up rock star in a hotel room.
He never stays where he should. A proper vampire sleeps during the day, or at least stays tucked away safely where the sun can’t get to him—but Spike’s always tearing around from sewer to doorway, just at thin layer of fabric separating him from a dusty end. A proper vampire wants to end the world, thrilling in absolute destruction—but here comes Spike, wanting to make a deal with a Slayer just because he likes soccer and cigarettes. A proper vampire would stop at nothing to get a violence-zapping chip out of his head—but Spike stumbled into her Thanksgiving feast-turned-battle and never really left, and somewhere along the line fell in love with the Slayer. A proper vampire would never, ever want a soul anywhere near him—but Buffy’s seen Spike’s, streaming up and out like focused sunshine, and she’s felt it, setting flaring around her hand in a burst of flame that burns so sweet the memory of it makes her want to weep.
(Spike? He wouldn’t know how to follow the rules if he tried, and he tossed out his script as soon as they handed it to him: he lives for improv) His life story is one chapter after another of unexpected things, things no one would have called, things that cause chaos, things that drive her absolutely crazy.
Like making her love him.
(Oh, yeah, we’re getting to that.)
And the most infuriating part is when he does it without even knowing it! It isn’t some big gesture, not this time, though God knows that he’s fond enough of those (drama queen? Spike? Surely you jest!).
No, this time it’s simple and stupid and she hates (read: loves) him for it.
They’re patrolling, of course, because this is her life, and that’s what they do. And it’s an average sort of night in Frisco—staked a couple of vamps in leather and chains down near one of the seedier clubs, stabbing a demon that spouts (she swears she’s not making this up) rainbow-acid blood (this breed’s obviously been in San Francisco for way too long), made a sweep through one of the cemeteries. And now they’re just sort of wandering the hilly streets, looking for stragglers (well, that’s allegedly what they’re doing. Really, they’re just taking a walk, enjoying each others’ company, and the whole patrolling thing is just an excuse. But she’s not quite ready to admit that).
And she says something. Something simple and silly and so completely inconsequential that afterwards she doesn’t even remember what it is (which she kind of hates, because she should remember something like this, her big catalyst-driven epiphany of a moment, all the little details, and especially what prompted it. But on the other hand, there’s something fitting about it, that it’s just this everyday kind of moment, because it’s for the everyday—not just the times when the world is falling down around her, probably literally—that she wants him. She wants him for always).
Whatever it is, it makes him shake his head and say, “You daft bint. Most ridiculous woman I ever met, you know that?” But his eyes are half-teasing, half-adoring, his tone fond, and it’s all there in his face: their whole long history and how it led them to this place and how he glad he is that they’re here (together).
And that’s when she realizes.
(Okay, so not-a-quick-study? Might be a bit of an understatement. The obvious could be a three hundred pound Churrago demon making like Yma Sumac—and dancing like Mata Hari—and she probably wouldn’t notice it. So it took her a while to get here. So sue her.)
He loves her. He really, really does.
(That shouldn’t be terrifying: it’s been one of the laws of the universe for a while now: the sky is blue, demons are ugly, and Spike loves Buffy. But somehow it’s always seemed so big, so heavy, that she’s sure she’ll stumble under the weight of it—or worse, that he’ll figure out one day that she isn’t worthy of it, and he’ll take it back. It may be big and heavy, but it keeps her warm.)
And she loves him, too.
(And no, it doesn’t feel like it did with Angel. She was so young then, and emotions got twisted and stretched like reflections in a funhouse mirror—hormones and too many responsibilities for someone so young and, most of all, youth making everything seem Epic and Forbidden and Fated. It doesn’t feel like Riley, either, pleasant enough and comforting but just a little bit too bland—tapioca instead of chocolate. It doesn’t even feel like it did with Spike himself before, that last year in Sunnydale, because that was tentative and weighted down by her absolute terror, not to mention squeezed into a corner by the bulk of her responsibilities. It might have grown to be this, sure, but they didn’t have time to get there.
This, though, is….It’s real. It’s comforting and exciting and ridiculous and wonderful and more than a little bit messy. But it’s theirs).
It doesn’t take him long to notice her gaping at him. “What?” he demands, a bit defensively, but maybe he’s got the right—she’s probably staring at him like she’s never seen him before.
Her mouth snaps shut. She takes a deep breath. Then opens it again.
She’s half a block away, running towards home, before she even realizes she’s moved.
She’s pretty sure her brain has lost all connection to her hands, because her fingers are scrolling through her contact list and pressing the button and there’s ringing and then Faith’s voice groggy and threatening immanent pain on whoever’s waking her up before the buttcrack of dawn and this better be really freaking important (okay, so she forgot about the time difference. She’s having a crisis here!).
“Faith! I think I fell in love with Spike!”
There’s a long-suffering sigh tinged with the slightest bit of amusement and a whole lot of exasperation. “Um…duh? Coulda told you that years ago, B. The way you looked at me when you walked down into the basement and found us all comfy on his cot? I thought you were gonna pull out another dagger and reintroduce yourself to my guts. Always convinced I’m after your boys, aren’t you, B?”
If Buffy wasn’t pretty sure she was having an emotional meltdown, she’d say something nasty about how she’s convinced of that because Faith really was always after her boyfriends. (And probably still is—Spike’s hot, okay, and Faith’s never been one not to notice something like that.) But right now she’s too deep in the freak-out zone to even go there. “No! I’m in love with him now! I mean—again! Or—still, I don’t know!”
Now the amusement’s out full-force. “And you’re just now figuring this out?”
“So why on earth are you calling me? Why aren’t you getting bouncy with your boy? Didn’t think you were up for the threesome thing, but hey, next time I’m in town….”
“What? No! Faith, that’s—that’s gross. And I can’t!”
“Have a threesome? I was just teasing, B.” She may or may not hear a muttered, “Mostly,” before Faith continues. “You don’t gotta freak out about it.”
“No, I mean, I can’t get bouncy with him. Or do anything with him!”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because…because we’re just friends! And things are good with us right now! And he didn’t tell me he was back for, like, ever. And we’ve hurt each other so much. And he lives in a flying Pokemon ball with bugs now! And every time I sleep with anybody, it ends up bad. Like, world-ending bad. And—“
Faith’s matter-of-fact tone cuts her right off in the middle of her babbling. “Bullshit.”
Buffy gapes. “What?”
“That’s all bull, B, and you know it. We both know that that boy would do anything for you. I got no doubts he’s just been waiting for you to come around. As for the world ending thing—with all the magic gone, I don’t think that’s really an issue anymore. Besides: no soul to lose, right? You’re just scared. You’re just scared because you think you being happy is a sign of the apocalypse. But B, the sky isn’t going to fall, not with this guy. There’s no universal force pushing you to get with him. He’s not a human you can scare off. The worst thing that might happen is that it doesn’t work out. And if it doesn’t—who cares? You’ll at least have had some great sex and given it a try.”
Faith doesn’t let her finish. “Pull your head out of your rear, B. Hang up the phone, go find your boy, tell him you love you want him you need him blahblahblahblah, take him to bed and don’t let him go till neither of you can walk,” she commands. “Now I’m hanging up and going back to sleep. Good. Night.”
Buffy’s hands are trembling as she shoves her phone back into her pocket. She almost wants to laugh, hysterically, because the idea of Faith being so totally and completely right is ridiculous.
Instead, she closes her eyes.
She takes a deep breath.
Then she opens them, and she turns to face the way she came.
And starts walking.
(Towards him. At this moment, she knows exactly where she’s headed.)