They were talking about nothing much and watching TV – their Sunday night ritual of Dexter and pizza, followed by whatever had been good on TiVo the rest of the week. Sometimes they went out to kill things after, sometimes not. Tonight they were both pleasantly full and a little bit sleepy, so it was probably going to be not. Spike was sprawled on “his” chair, and Buffy was tucked into the corner of “her” sofa. They’d been swapping Dawn stories – comparing notes about what she was and wasn’t telling them.
“Oh!” Buffy said, laughing. “So now Dawn’s found some questionnaire thingy that’s supposed to make you fall in love!” Almost as soon as she’d said the words, she regretted them. There was a painfully long moment of frozen, awkward silence, in which she convinced herself that she’d crossed one of his lines – again – and that he was going to bolt. Again.
But to her great relief, Spike just smirked and said, “From Cosmo, is it? Swear that mag is written by sadistic man-haters. Have you seen their suggestions for a better blow-job?”
“Dawn wouldn’t be caught dead reading Cosmo,” Buffy said, semi-indignant but smiling in relief. She snuggled a little deeper into her nest of blankets and pillows. “It’s all legit and science-y. From that psychology class she’s taking.”
He scowled. “She needs to stop applying that class to real life.”
“Oh, god, yes,” Buffy said, groaning. “She keeps trying to fix my ‘daddy issues’.”
Spike put on a serious, thoughtful expression. “To be fair, somebody really ought to.”
Buffy threw a pillow at his head, and their conversation passed on to other things. But the thought of a questionnaire to fall in love stayed with both of them.
A few days later, they were waiting in a bar to meet a contact about preventing a maybe-apocalypse. It was someone neither of them knew, but they’d been assured she/he/it would know them. The place was beyond a dive – Buffy suspected the nicotine stains were the only thing keeping the walls up – and its clientele stank of hopelessness. Normally, this would be an opportunity to play her favourite bar game: human or about-to-be-slayed? But they were both feeling a little more like talk than action that evening.
“So did you ever, uh, look at that questionnaire of Dawn’s?” Spike asked. His voice was steady, but she saw the way his fingers twitched around the bottle of beer he was oh-so-casually holding.
“I did.” Buffy replied, a little too quickly. She looked guilty.
Spike gave her a sharp look. “They tell you somethin’ ‘bout this meet they didn’t tell me?”
“No!” she said huffily. “You know everything I know.”
He looked deeply sceptical.
Buffy sighed, and pulled a worn piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to him. “There are three sets of twelve questions. This is the first set.”
He raised both eyebrows. “How long’s that been in there?”
She curled her feet around the bar stool and twisted herself away from him. “Eversincewefirsttalkedaboutit.”
He licked suddenly dry lips. “You been planning out all your answers, then?”
“No!” Buffy said. “I, um, I haven’t actually read it.”
Now he looked even more sceptical.
“I didn’t!” She shrugged. “I mean, what if I accidentally have the conversation with someone I don’t like and it works?”
Spike laughed. But his fingers were shaky as he unfolded the paper carefully, so only the top line was showing. “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
“Mom,” Buffy said.
“Can’t say that!” Spike scoffed. “Too serious. You need to pick someone like, oh I dunno, who’s that git you moon over?”
“Angel?” she asked, completely deadpan.
Equally deadpan, he reached over and yanked on a strand of her hair. “Bitch.”
She stuck out her tongue at him and they both laughed.
To Buffy’s frustration, Spike still refused to tell her anything except funny anecdotes from his stint in LA. But whatever crazy shenanigans he and Angel had got up to, it had laid foundations for something that could almost be described as friendship. On their better days, anyway. The confidence looked good on Spike.
Spike let go of her hair and his hand dropped back to the counter, a little bit closer than it had been before. “Meant the new Bond.”
“You want me to want to have dinner with Daniel Craig?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Stop being wilfully obtuse.”
She giggled. “Who would you pick?”
Spike turned thoughtful. “Byron.”
Buffy’s eyebrows went up. “Not your precious Sid?”
Spike snorted. “Jam with him, yeah, course I would. But he was high all the time – hardly brilliant dinner conversation. But meetin’ the original ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’? That’d be somethin’.”
“Huh,” Buffy said. She took a sip of her drink. “I still think I’d rather have Mom.” She held up her hand when Spike opened his mouth to speak. “I never got to know her as an adult – without all the mother-daughter-y power dynamics. There are things I’d like to hear her opinion on now, things I never even thought about asking. I want to tell her about my life – really about my life, now I’m less terrified she’ll be disappointed.”
“Wouldn’ mind sitting in on that,” Spike said softly. “Had a lot of time for your mum.”
“Who says you’re invited?” Buffy said, grinning.
He mock-growled at her, then returned his attention to the paper. “Next question: Would you like to be famous? In what way?”
“Already am,” Buffy said uncomfortably.
Spike grinned. “So’m I.”
Buffy snorted. “You have, like, one fangirl. Hardly famous. What was her name again?”
“Linda somethin’?” he said, screwing his face up in thought. “But she wrote a thesis on me! Must’ve been others writin’ ‘bout me before that.”
“I guess,” Buffy said doubtfully. “Plus there is Andrew.”
Spike made a face of deep disgust. “I was famous before you were born!”
She sighed. “Fine.” She glared at him. “Slayer-killer.”
Spike dropped the list. “Not convinced these questions’re gonna make anyone fall in love.”
“I think it’s more about intimacy.”
Their eyes met briefly before darting away again.
Buffy snatched the paper up. She copied Spike’s earlier movements, carefully unfolding only the next question. “Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?”
“Fuck, no!” Spike said, laughing. “Bonkers thing to do.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Of course you wouldn’t. That would involve planning.”
He narrowed his eyes. “You do it, don’t you?”
Buffy tensed. “No. Why would you think that?”
“S’posed to be honest here,” Spike chided.
“Fine,” Buffy sighed. “Yes. Pretty much always.”
“Why?” There was genuine curiosity behind the snark.
Buffy shrugged. “I just – I don’t want to get it wrong.”
He stared at her for a few seconds. “Even orderin’ pizza?”
She nodded, shamefacedly.
He laughed. “You’re nuts, Buffy.”
She nodded again, slightly less shamefacedly. Then she folded down to the next line: “What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?”
Now Spike looked uncomfortable.
“Hey,” Buffy said gently. “Doesn’t have to be heavy.” Their eyes met. “I know what mine would be. First, I’d get to sleep in as long as I want. Then when I woke up, I’d be brought breakfast in bed – something involving pastry and lots of chocolate – and then I’d be driven to a spa where I’d spend the whole day getting massaged and pampered—”
“You’d be bored out of your tree.”
“Would not! And don’t interrupt me, I’m not done yet.”
Spike went to take another swig of beer, realised he’d already finished it, and signalled for a refill.
“After a day at the spa, I’d go to one of those mom and pop diners for dinner. I’d get the biggest, greasiest cheeseburger on record, with chilli cheese fries and onion rings and maybe a salad on the side. And I’d get one of those chocolate milkshakes that’s so thick you need a spoon and where you get that second metal cup on the side that’s mostly just ice cream. And then after all that I’d have pie.”
Lips twitching into a smile at the mental image, Spike asked, “What flavour?”
He was surprised. “Never once seen you eat blueberry pie.”
“It was my favourite as a kid, but I stopped eating it ‘cause it makes my teeth purple for, like, a whole day after. But if it’s my perfect day, there will be no calories, and no stained teeth.”
Spike laughed. He was surprised by the normalcy she was describing. He’d thought she was past all that. “Sounds … nice.”
“Still not done,” Buffy said, slightly sing-song. “After I eat, I will waddle home to the accompaniment of the perfect sunset.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “You all by your lonesome on this perfect day of yours?”
“Did you miss the part where someone made me breakfast and drove me to the spa?”
He thought about asking more. But they didn’t do that these days. He didn’t do that. And this whole conversation felt like a soap bubble that would burst into nothing if he breathed too hard. He held his hands out to her in invitation to continue.
“Maybe two minutes’ walk away from home, something big and scary-looking pops out of the shadows, and there’s that perfect fight – you know the kind – where it’s hard enough not to be boring, but easy enough that you pretty much know you’ll win?”
“And then whatever-it-is dusts so there’s no clean-up and my clothes are still perfect.” She paused. For a moment, it looked like she was going to keep going, but then she changed her mind. “And then I’m home. The end,” she said brightly. “Your turn.”
Spike took a long pull at his beer. “That sounds great an’ all, but … all my best moments’ve pretty much been bookended by my worst ones. To have a whole day that’s perfect?” He shook his head. “Can’t quite bring myself to believe in it.”
Buffy pursed her lips. “Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never jam today?”
“She actually listens,” he said, smiling. “Be still my beating heart.”
“Your heart doesn’t beat.”
“You wouldn’t want to be pampered?”
Buffy blushed, but didn’t answer.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d said something like that. And he’d never seen her react that way – almost pleased. It terrified him. Spike grinned at her, wide and bright and not even close to reaching his eyes. Then he snatched the list out of her hands. “So…. When did you last sing to yourself?” The smile slipped from his face. “To someone else?”
Their eyes met. “Sunnydale?” she asked.
“What about singing to yourself?” Buffy asked.
“Today,” Spike muttered, looking more than a little embarrassed. “Shower.”
Buffy exploded into peals of laughter. “Me too!”
Spike folded back the next question. “If you were able to live to the age of ninety and retain either the mind or body of a thirty-year-old for the last sixty years of your life, which would you want? Well that’s just bloody stupid.”
“You’re only saying that ‘cause you’ve never aged beyond twenty in either.”
Spike preened slightly.
“How old are you, anyway?”
He frowned. “Somewhere between one hundred and two?”
“Don’t you know?”
He shrugged. “Does it matter?”
Buffy thought about it for a second. “Guess not.” She paused. “I’d want the body, I think. I’d go nuts with osteoporosis and not being bendy anymore.”
There was a slightly awkward silence in which they both focussed on their drinks and avoided any kind of mental image whatsoever.
Spike folded back the next question and went totally rigid. “Maybe we should call a halt to this.”
Buffy frowned. “Why?”
“Not sure ‘bout this one, ‘s all.”
Buffy held out her hand.
After a second, he gave her the list.
“Number seven: Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” Buffy looked at his anxious eyes and she laughed.
Spike looked like he’d swallowed a lemon.
It only made her laugh harder. “Oh, come on! It’s totally a funny question.”
“Not to me,” he grumbled.
“I have a secret hunch I’ll either go down fighting or in some kind of stupidly noble world-saving sacrifice.” She gave him an arch look. “And so do you. Next question.” She folded down the paper. “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”
“Bad dye jobs?” Spike said teasingly.
She kicked him.
“Random bruises,” she said.
“A certain … fondness … for leather,” he said quietly.
They smiled at each other.
Buffy folded down the next question. “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”
But before either of them could answer, their contact showed up and Buffy shoved the list back into her pocket.
The contact had given them a location and a thing to kill. It had been fun – seriously mucky, but fun. And, bonus, potential apocalypse now averted.
As they were walking back to Buffy’s place, squelching and looking forward to showers, Spike stopped. “It’s you,” he said.
“That last question – what I feel most grateful for. It’s you.”
“Don’t expect you to feel the same way,” he said quickly. “Really. And it’s not—” He laughed. “It’s got nothing to do with….”
Her face fell, but he didn’t see it.
“Spike, I was gonna say Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie FroYo.”
He grinned – all the way to his eyes. “You would.” He reached out and pinched her hip. “You still don’t eat enough.”
“Hey!” Buffy squeaked and batted his hand away.
They walked in silence the rest of the way back. As she put her key in the lock, she stopped, turned to him, and said, “I’m not really most grateful for frozen yoghourt. Even if it is almost orgasmically good.”
He leaned back against the wall, but almost immediately lost his balance from the slick goo coating his back. She grabbed onto his arm, keeping him from falling over.
“Smooth,” she said with a giggle.
This was new, too. Straightening, lips twitching, Spike cocked his head to one side. “So?”
Buffy realised she was still holding onto his arm. She dropped her hand. “I think I’m most grateful for being called – chosen – whatever.”
“Never thought I’d hear you say that,” Spike said, visibly surprised.
“Never thought I’d say it.” Buffy shrugged. “But for all the pain and the dying and the betrayals and – okay, maybe I’m not quite so grateful as I thought.”
They both laughed a little – nervous laughter.
“Let’s get cleaned up, hey?” Spike said gently.
Buffy grabbed a shirt and jeans from the cache of clothes Spike kept at her apartment, and cracked open the bathroom door to drop them inside. For the first time since they’d started doing this, she actually thought about maybe opening the door a little bit wider – sneaking a peek.
“Somethin’ wrong, pet?” Spike called out above the noise of the water.
“No!” Buffy yelped, slamming the door and almost running back to the sofa.
Ten minutes later, he came out, hair every which way, damp and un-gelled.
“Forgot I ran outta gel last time,” he said awkwardly, still trying to flatten his hair with his hands.
“Meh,” Buffy said lightly. “Not like I haven’t seen it before.”
“Right,” he said, eying her warily.
She held up the list of questions. “Ready for a few more?”
Spike’s eyes darted back and forth between her and the door. “Uh, yeah,” he said finally. “Alright.”
“If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”
Spike sat down on his chair, tucking one knee up against his chest. “Dunno, really. Long time ago now…. Forgotten a lot of it.”
“I thought all you old people were supposed to have perfect recall of your childhoods.”
Spike smiled. “Remember there was too much death.”
“Everyone,” Spike said grimly. “But that’s what it was like, then.”
“So, less death for you?”
Spike shrugged. “Might’ve liked to’ve met my dad. But … can’t help thinkin’ my past is what brought me here an’ … not sure I’d risk changin’ that.”
Buffy nodded. “I know what you mean. There are times I’ve wished that my parents never divorced. Or that Dad had, y’know, cared. But either one of those things might’ve meant no Sunnydale – or at least a lot less of it.” She shuddered. “I can’t even begin to imagine who I’d be without that.”
“I wonder, sometimes, what would’ve happened if Mum’d sent me off to school like she should’ve – ‘stead of keepin’ me home.” He gave Buffy a wry smile. “Might’ve been less wet.”
Buffy’s face went serious. “Why did you tell me about what you were like then? There are so many things you won’t share. Why that?”
“Self defence,” Spike said quickly, lightly. “Didn’ want you to hear it from someone else first.”
She smiled at him. “I would’ve never accepted it from anyone else.”
He scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Don’t believe a word of that, but … thanks for saying it.”
Buffy flinched, wondering if he realised what he’d just said. She cleared her throat. “Um, next question?”
“Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”
“No,” he said firmly.
“Agreed,” Buffy said, equally firmly. “Last question: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?”
“You should want to be able to cook,” he said, eyes dancing with imminent laughter.
“Hey! I’m way better now.”
“You’ve stopped burnin’ the water when you boil it. I’ll give you that.”
“I’ve never been that bad!”
Spike burst out laughing. “You bloody well have!”
“If I have to learn to cook, you have to learn to do dishes.”
“I clean up after myself!”
Buffy snorted. “I wish!”
“You like doin’ dishes. Helps you think.”
Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Kinda how you like feeding me?”
“So what ability would you want – seriously?”
Spike pursed his lips. “Being able to lie convincingly might come in useful.”
“Like that’s not creepy at all.”
“Would you rather I wanted extra strength to beat you at arm wrestlin’?”
Buffy was caught between laughing and frowning. “That all sounds kinda … evil.”
Spike shrugged. “Power is as power does. ‘Sides, what else is there?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Patience, maybe?”
Spike laughed. “You think I’m impatient?”
“You have the attention span of a gnat.”
“Hey, pot, let me introduce you to my good friend the kettle.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I mean, I get the hypocrite thing, but – never mind. I’d like to stop feeling like I need to say only what other people want to hear.” She watched his expression shut down: thinking-face. Her heart sank. Oh, Spike. Please don’t bolt.
“Never noticed you doin’ that with me,” he said carefully.
Buffy frowned. “You really don’t get it, do you?”
“You are the only person I have ever known in the whole of my life that I don’t tie myself in knots trying to please.”
“An’ I should be happy about this?”
Buffy huffed in frustration. “My God, you’re stupid sometimes.”
“Why are you making me say this?”
“I’ve no idea what you’re sayin’!”
Spike let out a sharp bark of laughter. “Safe? Me?”
“It’s like I was saying about phone calls. I always plan them out in advance. Always. Except when I call you.”
Buffy would have given anything to be able to read him just then. But he was still so guarded. She got that she probably wasn’t saying it right, but she didn’t know what she was supposed to do to make it better. She sighed. “You know – back when I thought you were dead – if I was worried about something, I’d just ask myself what you’d say.”
He looked like he was bracing for impact. “What’d I say?”
She laughed, hard and brittle and sharp. “Usually it was ‘you’re stupid and you’re gonna die’.”
His mouth twitched. “Sounds about right.”
“Other times you said stuff about when I could have jam.”
Then Buffy’s eyes did that freaky thing where they seemed to grow big enough to fill up half her face. He had to fight not to lose himself when they did that.
Wavering slightly, she started: “That last year in Sunnydale—”
“Buffy….” He’d meant to sound firm and decisive. It came out like whining.
And then he bolted. He did it less brutally than he had the last time, but he totally, totally bolted.