Chicago - late June 2005
Buffy stood near the exit watching the people dance. She had danced plenty that evening, but was not ready to go home. Colum had gone to get his car and she and his friend Jenny were waiting in uncomfortable silence for him to drive up to the curb. They had been fine inside the club and on the packed dance floor, but now Buffy had no idea what to say to this person she had just met a few hours ago.
It was times like this Buffy wondered how she could ever pull off being normal. She had no idea what typical twenty-something year old women talked about. Her life had been all about apocalypses, slayers, vampires, demons, watchers, witches, and werewolves. Once upon a time, she could have gossiped and primped with the best of them. But that was so long ago Buffy sometimes thought it was made up to make it seem like she had not had the weight of the world on her shoulders for so long. She was glad the music at Excalibur was too loud to make conversation it left her off the hook until they got outside and into Colum's car.
It was Colum's idea to come out tonight, Buffy had been content to stay in and just be. His friend was in town for the Fourth of July and he seemed really pumped about Buffy meeting her. He had been so good to her the past few months that she could not say no.
Colum had asked questions about Buffy and her past at first, but stopped when it was clear her life before Chicago was not an open book. What could she tell him? There was little she could say without building lie on top of lie that would one day just unravel. If she had learned anything over the years it was that lies always caught up with the liar.
She had spent some time in Europe at Giles' suggestion after their defeat of the First. And the destruction of Sunnydale, California that came with that final battle. She had mixed emotions about the last part. She had met up with The Immortal while in Rome, but she found out that someone had put him up to hooking up with her. She was beyond game playing and he always seemed to treat her as one of several unless it suited him to treat her special.
The law firm Angel worked for had put The Immortal up to seeking her out as soon as they heard she was in Rome. It had never been because he wanted her beyond adding a Slayer to his notches. Unfortunately, she realized this too late and had not escaped the relationship without her ego battered and bruised. The relationship had not lasted very long, longer than Parker but not much longer.
She had learned much after the fact that Angel could have used her help. No one had told her he had been in Rome. She had returned to the States over a year ago determined to make her way to LA. She needed to know if he had survived along with Wesley and his other friends. She had gotten sidetracked along the way and had spent the past ten months in Chicago somehow.
She had a job teaching ice-skating through the park district. Most of her students were children, most girls, but there was the occasional adult or a boy who wanted to learn to skate for hockey. She did not make a lot of money, but for the first time in her life Buffy was responsible for no one but Buffy. With a bunch of other slayers out there she was off the hook for a while anyway. It was nice being in a city where no one knew her and where evil did not pop up at inopportune times.
She had met Colum during the winter session classes. His nephew, Jesse, was one of Buffy's students, one of the most adorable ones she had. He brought him to class every week. One thing led to another and soon he was giving Buffy a ride home. It helped that he was a very attractive man who was good with children.
"There he is," Buffy said, pointing in the direction of Colum's Grand Prix. It was a nice car, but not real flashy. Colum worked as an investment broker and from the things she saw and he said she gathered he was a successful one. He did not flaunt it, but it was obvious he was doing well for a twenty-nine year old man.
She and Jenny walked towards the car. "I can sit in back if you want," Buffy offered as Colum got out and walked to the passenger side of the car.
"No, that's fine," Jenny said.
"Okay," Buffy said.
"Hey, Babe," Colum said as he opened both passenger side doors. He leaned over and gave her a kiss, making Buffy stiffen a little.
She was not big on public displays of affection or the term of endearment thing. She never called Colum by anything but his name. Whether or not he noticed she had no idea. It made her especially uncomfortable tonight because she could not shake the feeling that she was not alone. She shook her head slightly realizing she was starting to be as paranoid as Fox Mulder.
"Hi," she said with a fake smile.
Like Angel and Riley, Colum was much taller than Buffy. Like Spike, Colum had chiseled good looks and loyalty going for him. It was hard not to compare him to anyone else, but she was no longer living in the past. Or at least she thought she was not. She pulled away from Colum and glanced up and down the street. She felt someone watching her, knowing the feeling well. And for the first time in a long time she was on alert.
No one in Chicago knew who or what she was, it was not possible. She shrugged off the feeling, dismissing it as paranoia. It was hard to believe she had gone over six months dating Colum without the whole thing blowing up in her face. That was all it was, insecurity that something would go wrong sooner rather than later.
"Ready to get something to eat?"
"Sure," Buffy said, unable to completely shake the feeling.
"Sounds good to me, too," Jenny said.
Coming out of the Denny's Buffy once again felt as though she was being watched. It was annoying and beginning to get creepy to the point that she wondered if she was going crazy. Maybe over a year of trying to pretend she was no longer the Slayer was catching up to her. Maybe knowing that she very possibly let Angel down and by doing so contributed to his death was making her incredibly paranoid. She was tempted to ask whoever it was to show himself, but she was not alone so she did not.
"Is there something wrong, hon?" Colum said, his arm at her waist tightening ever so slightly when she stopped in the parking lot.
"No, I'm fine. Sorry, I just thought I heard something."
"We're fine, Buffy, this isn't a bad neighborhood."
He drew her closer and kissed her on the cheek, just shy of her ear. "I'm going to drop Jenny off at her hotel first, okay?"
"Sure, that's fine." She and Colum had yet to have sex, though he had spent the night at her apartment a few times. As much as she vowed to put the past behind her and move on she had yet to stop equating sex with sadness or bad things coming to pass. Colum was surprisingly understanding about it, taking her for her word that she had not had good experiences and just needed some time.
They arrived at her apartment, which was actually located just outside of Chicago in Des Plaines. It was a rather ugly studio apartment, but it was in a perfect location above a coffee shop just down the street from the train stop. So every morning she could grab a big cup of java and be on her way to work. The thing she liked most about the place was that it had come furnished so she did not need to invest any money in things like a bed, table and chairs, couch or anything like that. When she came to Chicago she barely had two nickels to rub together, so furnished was of the good. Gradually, she had added a TV, microwave, toaster oven and a stereo but for the most part it looked no more personal than it had when she moved in.
The light on her answering machine was blinking in a demanding fashion and she punched the PLAY button while Colum sat on the couch and grabbed the remote control. She walked through the curtain that separated her sleeping area from the living area to change into sweats and a tank top since she was in for the night. She smiled as Giles' voice came over the speaker.
"Buffy, it's Giles. Would you give me a call when you get a chance? It's nothing urgent but it is of some import."
"Who's that?" Colum asked her through the curtain.
Buffy closed her eyes and cursed her stupidity. She knew better than to play her messages back in front of anyone, but Colum would most likely spend the night tonight since it was after two o'clock in the morning. Her friends knew not to leave anything incriminating on her machine, but there was the chance someone would forget and say the wrong thing.
"A friend of mine from California."
"Do you need to call him back?" Buffy glanced at her clock. It would be about eight o'clock in England. She could call him back, but decided she was too tired to deal with anything that had to do with the things that go bump in the night. Giles would not call her so late, the message had been left at eleven fifty-nine, if it was every day conversation.
"Nah, I'll wait until morning. I haven't talked to him in a while so we'd likely talk for a while and I'm too tired to do that tonight," she said as she washed her face before brushing her teeth and returning to the living area. "Are you going to spend the night?"
"I thought you'd never ask," he said with a smile. He had one of the most heart stopping smiles Buffy had ever seen. His green eyes reminded her of the ocean, not quite completely green. He was Irish he had told her, not that with a name like Colum McGuire it was difficult to figure that out, and he looked it. He wore his sandy blonde hair short and had a body to die for. He had played hockey growing up, which was why he was the one responsible for getting his nephew Jesse into skating so early.
"You know you don't have to wait for an invitation."
"Well, I know tonight wasn't what you had in mind. I'm sorry."
"Hey, no problem," she said as she sat next to him on the couch, curling one leg underneath her. "Jenny seems real nice and it would seem if we're going to be spending so much time together that I should meet your friends."
"But you don't have any for me to meet." He was probing. It was something he did every once in a while, gave a little push to see if she was going to start talking. She imagined he was hoping that this time she would be willing to open up to him about life before Chicago.
"I don't have any in Chicago, no. My friends are scattered all over right now, so there isn't anyone for you to meet."
"Will I meet them if they come here?"
"Of course, Colum, why would you think that?"
He shrugged. "I'm sorry, Babe, I shouldn't doubt you. I just feel like I don't know you. This man calls for you tonight and I have no idea who he is. Obviously someone important or he wouldn't have called close to midnight."
She stood from the couch and walked to the window overlooking Northwest Highway. Even at this time of night there were a good number of cars on the street. She had forgotten how busy the city could be after she had moved from LA. She rested her forehead against the windowpane and sighed deeply. Was she being unfair to him? Was she unintentionally doing what she had done with Riley? Would she end up driving him away by keeping secrets and keeping him at bay?
"Colum," she said as she turned to face him. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned her back against the window. "I'm sorry if I don't talk about myself before I met you and if that bothers you, but I'm just not like that. There's just not that much to talk about."
He stood and walked toward her, taking her into his arms. She felt comfortable here, safe and cared for. She breathed in the scent of him, Tide detergent, Bounce fabric softener and a cologne that she did not know the name of. For all the times he had spent at her apartment Buffy had yet to spend the night at his condominium. Since he drove her home after their dates he stayed here.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to push. I just find it hard to believe."
"You're not, you've been so good, Colum." Too good, she realized. How long would this ideal man put up with kissing her and sleeping together without their relationship evolving to the next level? She did not want to lose him, he was good for her.
She reached up and kissed him, her hands cupping his face to bring him lower so she could kiss him fully like she wanted to. She was done putting this off, done worrying that the world would end or that he would leave her tomorrow morning. She had not rushed into anything and was not acting rashly. She wanted this, wanted him, wanted a normal life. They had kissed and petted just shy of all out sex before now, but he seemed to be able to tell the difference in her kiss tonight. She would love to be able to blame alcohol, but she had not had an ounce tonight.
"You smell so good," she whispered as she kissed his neck, inhaling his scent. Her hands reached under his shirt, felt his abdomen and chest muscles flex as she caressed him. She had forgotten how exciting this game could be, especially when the man she was touching felt as good as this one did.
"So do you," he whispered in return before kissing her again. His hands roamed along her body through her tank top, evidently careful not to move too fast. It just endeared him to her all the more; most guys would be all over her about now unable to get her clothes off fast enough.
She had no idea how long they had been standing there kissing, touching, and exploring one another but the blare of her telephone from the bedroom startled her, ruining the moment.
"Who the hell is calling you at three in the morning?" Colum was obviously annoyed and Buffy was too. He had spent the night with her enough not to think it was another guy. At least she hoped that was not what he was thinking.
"I have no idea, maybe it's Giles even though he said it was nothing urgent."
"Do you want me to get it? In case it's a wrong number, I mean."
Buffy scoffed at that, forgetting for a moment that he did not know that she was more than capable of defending herself. Her mind drifted briefly to the feeling she had gotten over the past week or so and particularly tonight of being watched. Was she imagining it or was something going on? Maybe she should have returned Giles' call tonight after all. Had he been calling to warn her about some big bad in town?
"No, I got it," she said with a deep sigh. She walked to her room, pushing the divider curtain aside. She took a minute to collect herself, checking her appearance in the mirror just off to the side of her bed before answering the phone.
She took a deep breath and picked up the phone and punched the TALK button just before the machine picked up. "Hello," she said, not bothering to pretend as though she had been sleeping. "Hello?" she said again when there was no response. "Giles?" She removed the phone from her ear and took a deep breath, annoyed beyond all reason now. "I'm hanging up now," she said without bringing the phone completely against her mouth again and disconnected. If it was a wrong number, chances were they would not call back. If it had been Giles or Willow or someone and they had lost their connection they would call back.
"Who was it?" Colum asked from the entryway.
She sat on the bed after she returned the phone to its carriage. She was not completely able to meet his gaze because the mood she had been in moments ago was gone. She no longer wanted Colum to spend the night let alone to have sex with him. If she did not know better she would think that whoever had called had known full well what they were interrupting. "I don't know. A wrong number I guess." She stood and walked toward him. "I'm sorry, Colum, but I think I want to be alone tonight."
"What?" he asked, obviously and understandably confused. She would be, too, if the situation were reversed.
"I just," she sighed softly. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him lightly. "I just need to be alone. I'm sorry."
"You know, Buffy, I'm trying to be understanding and not push you, but it's getting a little old."
"I know, Colum, I do. I wasn't trying to be a tease, I just," she sighed again. "My life is complicated and I've tried to explain to you before my relationships have gone a little crazy when I throw sex into the mix."
"So what was that out there?"
"I want to, really, I do. Please don't push me. You've been more than nice, more than patient but I'm just not ready."
He backed away, holding his hands up with a shake of his head. "Please don't accuse me of pushing, Buffy."
Buffy could almost feel him retreating from her life and she cursed under her breath. She cursed her inability to move on even though she truly wanted to. Would she ever be able to? Would she ever be ready for a real relationship? She had hoped she was when she returned from Rome. Her time with The Immortal had taught her what she did not want and had taught her what she did not deserve.
"I'll call you in the morning," he said as he walked to her front door.
He was not even going to give her the opportunity to kiss him good night. She closed her eyes and thumped her head against her door once she had closed it behind him. "What am I going to do?" she asked quietly. It was the tragedy that followed her relationships that was the most difficult to get over. Other than Scott Hope, Buffy did not have a proven track record for a relationship ending well. She and Angel fought more than they did anything since he had left Sunnydale.
Oh sure, he had come offering to help in their battle against the First but she did not want to have to worry about him. She sent him away with the lame excuse of wanting him in LA as a line of defense in case they failed. It was not entirely a lie, but the truth was she could not bear to see him die.
And then what happened? She had to watch Spike not just die but burn into oblivion before her eyes. It was earth shattering to realize that Angel had wanted to wear that amulet. It was supposed to have been Angel that burned into nothing. She could not decide how she felt about the fact it had been Spike and not Angel. That thought, that indecision, was what led her to Europe and a year's sabbatical. She still had no idea how she felt about it.
She had not asked Giles about Angel. She realized when she found out about the Slayer in LA that Andrew and the others had gone to rescue from Angel's clutches that Giles was back to mistrusting the vampire. Buffy had offered Giles and Andrew a few choice words after that mission had been carried out. She was to be advised of all slayers found regardless of their state of mind and regardless of how they were handling their newfound strength and ability.
Realizing she was not going to be able to sleep for a while yet, she slipped a stake into her purse on the off chance she would need it and left her apartment. There was a small diner less than a mile from her apartment that was open all night. She was not really hungry, but decided a piece of pie or something might not be so bad. There was nothing a good sugar buzz could not fix and the waitress who usually worked the night shift was nice.
Buffy set her purse next to her at the booth and pulled the menu out from behind the condiments. She did not know for sure if there was a Sally behind Sally's Diner, but she had never had a bad meal here.
"I'll be right with you, hon," Kim said from the other side of the restaurant where she was wiping down a table.
"No problem, Kim," Buffy said with a smile. She liked Kim even if she was a few years older than her. They had gotten together a couple of times to see a movie or whatever since they first met a while ago now. Why had she never introduced her to Colum then? Buffy shrugged as she perused the menu, trying to decide if she wanted something beside pie unsure of the answer to that question. She had brought him to Sally's once before and Kim had waited on them, but she had not introduced the two of them in any formal way.
She glanced around the diner. There were a few other customers there, but it was pretty slow. Kim said the restaurant did not get too much of a bar rush.
"How you doing tonight?"
"I'm fine, you?"
"Well, I'm working so I guess I'm better than you."
Buffy frowned at that. "Why do you say that?"
"Shouldn't you be home snuggling with that hunk of a man you got?"
"He went home."
"If that don't beat all. You didn't get into a fight, did you?"
"No," Buffy said, unsure what exactly had happened. He had left unhappy, that much was clear, but it was not an all out argument.
"Well, that's good then. You should bring him by again, he seems like a real nice guy."
"He is." In fact, unlike Angel, Riley and Spike she had yet to find a dark side to Colum. He did not get moody. He did not seem to have a confidence problem. He seemed to legitimately want to be a part of Buffy's life and meet her friends. What was more, Buffy did not have to worry he would turn on her or her friends and try to kill them. That was definitely a bonus.
"Obviously, you've got something besides chit chatting on your mind, hon."
"No, I'm fine, just couldn't sleep."
"Did you want something to eat or just coffee?"
"I was just going to get a piece of apple pie with ice cream, but I decided on a cheeseburger with fries. Then maybe I'll get the pie."
"You can get away with that."
"Eating like that this late. If I were to do it, it'd go straight to my hips," she said, gesturing to the only part of her that Buffy would say was flawed. "You get to be my age and you start filling out in places that aren't so great if you know what I mean. It used to go straight to my chest, but now it's finding other places to settle down in."
Buffy laughed lightly with a shake of her head. "You look great, Kim. Really, you do." Kim was average really in appearance and shape, but she was so nice and so happy all of the time that it made her seem prettier than she was. She had black hair and gray eyes and was only an inch or so taller than Buffy. Sure, she was a little heavier than Buffy, but she was by no means out of control.
"I'll put your order in, hon. It's going to be a minute, because I just put in about three orders right before you got here."
"That's fine, you know me, I'm never in a hurry." Buffy remembered impatient customers from her stint waiting tables, so she tried to be courteous.
"I know and I appreciate it. Did you bring something to read? I've got the latest People in back if you want it."
"That'd be great." Buffy sometimes brought a magazine with her when she came here, but tonight she had not really thought about it when she left.
"You bet," Kim said with a wink and sauntered off in the direction of the counter.
When Buffy had started coming to Sally's she used to sit at the counter, but she did not like having her back to the door so she had quickly taken to sitting in a booth in the back. It was left over paranoia from her life in Sunnydale, but she did not like giving anyone an advantage. The only way they could get to her sitting at this booth was through the window.
A few minutes later Kim returned to Buffy's table with an empty coffee cup and a pot full of coffee. At this time of night the waitresses were not supposed to provide pots of coffee, but Kim had begun making an exception for Buffy a while ago. She never drank a whole pot, but it was a nice gesture. "I'll be back in a bit with your burger," she said and set the most recent People on the table.
"No hurry," Buffy said as she took the magazine. It had a picture of Brad Pitt on the cover. What else was new?
"Oh, honey, you don't mind if I just drop your burger and run, do you?"
Buffy laughed, because the chances of Kim doing that were pretty slim. Kim's mouth was the reason the two had become friends. "Why do you have a lot of side work to do?"
"No, but I think the man of my dreams just walked in the door."
Kim was single, had never been married and was not dating anyone. Buffy could not understand it. The woman was clearly interested in men. She had made a point of mentioning Willow and Kennedy once or twice so that if she was interested in women she would know Buffy would not be bothered by that.
"And he's walking this way."
"Oh?" That got Buffy's attention as she glanced up and let out a surprised cry that came out sounding more like a wail. The entire restaurant turned to stare at her as she stared at what she was sure was a ghost.
"He is a fine one, isn't he?" Kim continued on, not realizing the reason for Buffy's reaction. The man was definitely a fine one. Buffy thought he was probably one of the finest men that had been created in over one hundred years.
His hair was a little longer, the roots brown leaving only the ends the platinum blonde that had been his trademark since she had known him. He was wearing a leather coat, but it looked different than the one he had worn before. The one that had belonged to Robin Wood's mother.
He cocked his head to his left as he approached her table. Had she even breathed since she first saw him? She had no idea. "Close your mouth, Pet, you look a little ridiculous with it hanging aghast like that."
"I," she stammered. "How? I mean. You." She turned to look at Kim, unable to miss the look of disappointment on the woman's face that Spike had not seemed to even notice her.
"I have some orders up," Kim said, seeming to take the hint that this was an uncomfortable enough situation as it was.
"Slayer," he said, his voice a husky whisper.
"You're dead." She was thrilled to see that he was not dead, but she did not understand it. He died, he burnt up and she saw him begin to turn to ashes.
"But how? When?"
"A while now, about a year and a half or so give or take. You mean the geek didn't tell you?"
"Andrew? Why would he tell me?"
"He saw me. Twice now. Once in LA when he was picking up the crazy slayer and once in Rome."
"You were in Rome?" He nodded, his eyes telling her he knew about The Immortal, too. "I didn't know. He never told me."
Spike shrugged. "I guess he had a bit of admiration for me, maybe figured if I wanted you to know I would have told you."
"You've been here for that long and are just now getting around to coming here?"
"Can I sit down, Luv?"
"What?" she asked, confused. "Oh, yeah, sure. I ordered a burger and some fries, you can have some if you want."
He smirked as he took a seat across the table from her. "Thanks, not particularly hungry."
"How did you find me?"
"Not too difficult, Pet."
"How long have you been here?" she asked, growing confused at his short answers.
"A little more than a week."
"It was you."
"What was me?"
"The past week, I've felt like I was being watched. And it was Slayer awareness."
"Probably was me then."
"Why have you been following me?"
"Just watching to see how your life was. I wondered if The Immortal had come with you."
"No," she responded quickly.
"I gathered that when I saw you with Preppie Boy."
"His name is Colum."
"Colum. I should have known, you and your Irishmen."
Kim returned to the table carrying Buffy's plate, so Buffy moved the magazine out of the way. Kim also set a second coffee cup on the table. "In case your friend wants some, hon."
"No problem. I'll be back in a bit to check on you, but I'm guessing you won't need much." She did not hide the fact that she was appraising Spike. Spike gave her a wink as he reached for the coffee pot.
"Thanks for the cup," he said charmingly.
"Sure thing," she said and walked away.
"Do you love him?"
Buffy poured some ketchup on her plate and thought over Spike's question. Did she love him? "No," she said simply. "I want to. He's a good guy."
"I'm sure he is."
"You asked the question."
"What are you doing here, Spike?" she asked. Why were they talking like this? Why were they bickering? The last time she saw him she told him she loved him and he was acting as if she had never made such a confession.
Spike sat across from Buffy unable to get enough of her. He had known where she was for a while but had continued to put off seeking her out. He lied to her when he said he wondered if The Immortal had come with her. He knew he had not, knew that Buffy would not have returned to the States unless the relationship had ended.
The past week had been hell, being so close to her yet not able to talk to or touch her. He was fully aware she had picked up on being watched. The subtle clues she gave off were obvious to him that others might have missed. Until tonight he was going to take the coward's way out and leave town without so much as a hello. Until tonight he thought he could take the high road and remain out of her life. She seemed to be doing all right.
Tonight, everything had changed. Tonight he came to the realization that he was on the verge of losing her for good. The Immortal was a fluke, he knew that even when he saw her dancing with him in Rome.
Tonight he stood outside her apartment building and watched as she snogged with her latest honey. There was a big difference about this honey and that's when it hit him. Spike had witnessed enough to believe he might just be the long haul guy. He had baited Finn relentlessly about how that position was not his, but this fellow very well could be. He could tell even from his vantage point outside standing on the street that she was kissing him with an urgency that could only end one way. In bed with him.
"I needed to see you were all right."
"I am," she said quietly as she bit into a fry. She had pushed the plate closer to the middle of the table so that he could help himself. The only thing was Spike did not want to help himself to French fries, he wanted her. Over two years had gone by since he had seen her last. He could not count that brief moment in Rome as seeing her. He still wanted her. But had he waited too long? Was he too late? She admitted she did not love the other bloke yet, so maybe not.
"And this latest love. Is he good to you?"
"Colum? Yeah, he's great," Buffy said. The emotion in her voice did not quite match the words she was saying.
"I can't believe you're here," she said. She placed a hand over his and Spike took a deep breath. "I mean, I had dreams but always I woke up and you were still gone."
She had dreamt about him? He tried not to let the pride he got from that thought show on his face. "It feels like I never left."
"Why didn't you find me sooner?"
She was hurt that he had not come to her before now. He could see it clearly in her eyes. Eyes that no matter how hard she tried to put on a strong front always betrayed her true feelings. To him anyway. "I'm sorry, Pet, I," he shrugged. "I was going to, more than once."
"And what stopped you? Why now? Why did you have to come now, Spike?"
His lips curled up into a smile as he glanced at her hand still over his. "I don't know, Luv, I just don't know."
"Buffy?" Buffy's hand withdrew from his very quickly and Spike glanced over his shoulder to see the boyfriend.
"Colum," she said, unable to wipe the guilty look off her face.
"What are you doing here?"
"Having something to eat?"
"Who the hell is he?"
Not long ago, Spike would have enjoyed seeing the Slayer put on the spot like this, he would have gotten off on her stammering to come up with an explanation. Not now, he did not enjoy it at all. "I'm Spike, mate, just an old friend of Buffy's," he volunteered in an attempt to appease the bloke.
"Are you who called earlier?" the man asked. Very astute, though he would never be able to prove it. "You told me it was a wrong number."
"Did you call me?" she asks. He smiled widely at the obvious sound of hope in her voice. Another bolster to Spike's ego, two in one night was definitely a good sign.
He nodded simply, unable to tell her that he was spying. And that his spying had led to his feeling jealous like never before. Angelus moving in on Drusilla had pissed him off more than anything and after that it was more of the same rage at her antics. Tonight, watching Buffy kiss this man with such enthusiasm made him want to go up there and drain them both dry.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
He shrugged again. "Listen, Pet, I should go."
"No, Spike, don't go," she said. He could see the fear in her eyes, fear that he would not come back. He had disappeared on her twice now, she did not believe he was going to come back a third time.
"I'll see you soon."
He gestured to lover boy still standing by the booth. Now was not the time for her to wear her normally reserved heart on her sleeve for everyone to see. He stood from the booth, picking up the coffee cup to drain it dry. "Excuse me, mate," he said as he moved to stand next to Buffy. "I'll see you tomorrow, Slayer," he said in a low voice and placed a kiss against her temple. "Hope I didn't cause any problems, Luv."
He walked toward the counter where the waitress sat, rolling tableware up in napkins. He gave her enough money to cover Buffy's bill. "Make sure she's all right when he leaves, will you?"
She beamed at his request, her smile clearly meant to gain his interest. He could tell when she knew he was not interested and was relieved she caught on so quickly. "I sure will. Buffy's a sweet girl, I always look out for her. She comes in here so late and while this neighborhood isn't all bad this is still Chicago. But I don't think you have anything to worry about from him," she said, glancing at the young couple. "He's crazy about her."
"Is he now?"
"But so are you," she said.
He simply nodded, that was answer enough.
"And you have a past?"
"You could say that, a pretty colored one at that."
"Well, I like Colum, don't get me wrong. He's the type of guy every girl dreams of marrying one day. He's got a nephew, Buffy raves about how he dotes on that boy. But I've never seen her react to him the way she did to you tonight. For what it's worth. Far be it from me to interfere with anything, but Buffy's a good kid."
"She's no kid."
"Oh, I know, hon, I just," she shrugged as she gathered a fork, knife and spoon together to wrap another set of tableware in a napkin. "I consider her a friend, that's all. She's a private one, though. But I can tell she's got a checkered past. Do you have anything to do with that?"
"I've always gotten the impression she's on the lam or something, but I can't imagine who would be after such a sweet girl." If he was expecting him to confess any of Buffy's deep dark secrets, she was way off base about him. He betrayed her trust once, he would never do it again. It was why he had stayed away for as long as he had. A part of him still found it hard to believe she had forgiven him for the things he had done.
Spike chuckled lightly and drew the cigarette from behind his ear. "Well, thanks, Luv, for looking out for her. Have a good night," he said. He realized as he glanced at the clock behind the counter that even if Buffy's boyfriend had not come into the diner he would have had to go. The sun was due to rise in about thirty minutes. Luckily, he had a place to stay close by so he would not turn to dust again.
"You too, hon," she said with a smile. "And good luck. Whatever you decide to do."
"Thanks," he said with a wave as he left. He glanced at Buffy before he left and hoped he would have the chance to see her tomorrow. If Lover Boy said the right words, Buffy might not give him the chance to see her again. Chances were, he realized as he walked down the street, once the novelty of actually seeing him again wore off Buffy would be furious. What else was new? Spike could not count how many times he had dealt with a brassed off Buffy. It had led to some of their steamiest sex, but that had led to a lot of badness in Buffy's life as well as his life. It would be nice to find out if they could put the steamy sex together with genuine caring for one another. He hoped he had not ruined his chances of being able to find out.
Kim was at their table before Buffy could say anything to Colum. They had sat in uncomfortable silence until Spike left Sally's altogether. Buffy did not want to talk with Spike nearby, vampire hearing and all and she suspected Colum was waiting for her to start.
Kim took Spike's empty coffee cup, replacing it with a new one for Colum. "Here you go. Do you need anything to eat tonight?" She was acting as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Buffy had been privy to many situations as a waitress and there were times she had to work at controlling herself when people were acting like idiots.
"No, thanks," he said. At least he was still polite. She was not sure he was going to be very polite to her right now.
"No problem. If either of you need anything, you know where I'll be." She gave Buffy an apologetic smile and Buffy understood it to mean that she would not return to the table unless she needed to. Buffy had seen Spike give Kim money, so she was not surprised when Kim did not set a ticket on the table.
"So," Buffy said, blowing her bangs out of her face as she dipped a fry in ketchup. She really did not know what to say. To start talking about Spike was to open up something huge that she would never get to the bottom of. It was hopeless.
"Are you going to tell me who that was and why I saw you holding his hand?"
"I," Buffy looked away from him, unable to meet his eyes. Eyes that until now she had loved looking into. It had been so refreshing to look into eyes that had not seen endless death and destruction, that did not know anything about her past. "He's an old friend."
"Who just happened to be here in Sally's at four in the morning when you were?"
"I guess," she said. "I can't tell you why he was here, Colum."
"Why didn't he say anything to you on the phone?"
"I don't know," she said, frustrated. What was she? An expert on Spike and his behaviors? Hardly, otherwise she would understand why he waited over a year and a half to tell her he was alive. Well, alive in a figurative sense.
"Buffy, I think I've been more than patient about not asking you questions you obviously don't want to answer. I haven't pushed you as you call it. I have friends telling me you're playing some kind of game because we haven't slept together yet."
"You talk to your friends about us?"
He sighed visibly and drummed his fingers against the side of his coffee cup, which was still empty. "Yes, Buffy, I do, because I don't understand you sometimes. Like tonight. We were having a good night. I thought we were."
"We were," she said adamantly. They were. She had been uncomfortable around his friend Jenny, but she had made the best of the situation.
"And then something changed. You got a phone call and it's like there's a different person in the room with me. My girlfriend's gone."
"I'm sorry, Colum, really. I wish I could explain what happened tonight. I just freaked a little that I got a hang up. I mean, my number is unlisted and no one ever calls me. Just you."
"You had a message tonight."
"Yeah, from Giles."
"Was this guy Giles?"
"What?" she asked confused.
"The guy in here tonight?"
"Spike? No, why?"
"Oh well, not all Englishmen sound alike, you know. Just like people from different parts of the States sound different."
"I know, I was just asking."
"You thought I was seeing someone else?"
"Well, yeah. It's been brought to my attention that you might have a guy on the side."
"What?" she asked, thoroughly confused by that. When did she have time? She taught her skating lessons, saw him, and worked out. When she was not doing one of those things, she was at home getting adept at computer skills and the Internet. She could type close to sixty-five words per minute now.
"My friend, you know Jim," he said and Buffy nodded. She did not care for the man much. He was one of those weightlifter types who struck Buffy as having more brawn than brains. He was a scary guy, which was saying a lot considering Buffy was not often scared of humans. "Well, he mentioned that some girls. Women, excuse me, have a little game they do. They pick a guy like me, one who's the marrying kind and holds out with them for sex."
"I am so not holding out on you, Colum."
"I want to believe you, but then I see you with this guy. And he's a good looking guy, even I can see that. So, Jim's comment comes back to me. What if you're not sleeping with me because you want to marry me, but you're sleeping with someone else, this guy Spike, so that you aren't going without sex."
Buffy stared at him, her eyes wide because she was unable to blink. "Did you really just say that?" He did not respond and Buffy shook her head, maybe she was hallucinating. It was possible, because she still could not fathom just how Spike had come to be alive again. She saw him burn beyond being a crispy critter. He was en route to being dust when she left the school basement.
Suddenly, she felt like throwing up the part of the burger and fries she had eaten. His words revolted her. "Do guys really talk like that? You sit around and say awful things about the women in your life?"
"Buffy, I didn't believe it. I mean, I don't want to believe it, but I come in here and you're holding his hand."
"I wasn't. I mean, okay, I was and I don't believe I'm defending myself to you when you just insulted me. Did you stand up for me when your so-called friend basically called me a hoe?"
"Of course I did."
"Why don't I believe you? You guys always stick together. And you talk about women toying with men. What about you guys? Don't tell me that you don't go out with a type of girl hoping to score with her because you haven't been with a blonde or a brunette or a flying midget before," she said, realizing she was really getting out of hand now. Colum was not The Immortal, Colum had never come across as being anything but sincere.
"Buffy, please," he said.
"I'm sorry if I'm not going fast enough for you, Colum. I've tried to explain it to you without giving you my entire life story."
"But I want your life story, Buffy. I want to know everything there is to know about you."
"No, Colum, you don't," she whispered. He would sit and listen to her talk about vampires and slayers and walk away from her for good, dismissing her as nuts. She knew it with every fiber of her being.
"Tell me who he is."
"The last time I saw him, I thought he was dead, Colum."
"He looks pretty good to me."
"I thought so, too," she said softly. And he had looked good. In fact, there was something different about Spike, a confidence Buffy had not seen since he first came to Sunnydale. She saw evidence of the old, cocky Spike who was not going to be Love's Bitch. What had happened to him since his return that he was able to get that back? Better question. What happened to begin with that he had lost that? Buffy was suddenly curious.
"Did you date him?"
"Yes," she said simply.
"Were you in love with him?"
"Yes," she said simply, realizing that there was no past tense about it. She loved him, she still did. She liked Colum and she enjoyed getting to know him, but she wanted to learn things from Spike. She wanted to lay in bed with him and listen to him tell her about life before her mother was alive. The night before their final battle with The First, Buffy believed that if anyone was capable of making the world go away for her it was Spike.
"Are you still?"
She shrugged slightly. "I don't want to," she said.
"I guess that's better than an outright yes. Do you love me?"
"Not in the way you want me to, no. I don't know you well enough yet, Colum."
"It's been six months, Buff." She cringed slightly, whenever someone called her that it made her think of Angel without his soul.
"I don't know if I can trust you," she said evenly.
"Trust me? What have I done that says you can't?"
"Trust is something earned, Colum. I'm sorry if I can't give it to you as quickly as you'd like. I've told you I've been hurt."
"You looked pretty chummy with him if he was the one who hurt you."
"He did, but he wasn't the only one and we had gotten past it. My entire experience with guys has been one big hurt, Colum. I vowed this time I'd be careful."
"What does he want?"
"I don't know. You came in before we had the chance to talk."
"I'm sorry to interrupt."
She scowled at him. "That's not what I meant." For all she knew, Spike was here to tell her about a big bad somewhere he needed help with.
"I went back to your apartment and you weren't there. So I knew you were here. I felt bad the way I had left. I try to understand, Buffy, really. But I'm only human and I love you."
"Oh, Colum, don't say that. Please."
"But I do love you. So it's natural for me to want to be with you."
"I can't handle this right now, Colum. It's just too much."
"I thought that's what you wanted, Buffy. I thought you wanted a relationship."
"Just not with me. Is that it?"
"Oh God, Colum, I don't know. I do, I think I do."
"But you have to see what this other guy wants?"
She lowered her gaze, clutching her now cool coffee cup between both hands. "Yeah, I do."
"Well, can I ask you to at least let me know what's going on?"
"I don't know, that's what I'm trying to say."
He smiled at her then and she wondered what in the hell she was doing. He was a perfectly good man and she was pushing him away. "I meant when you decide. When you work things out."
He stood then and walked to her side of the booth, giving her a gentle kiss. "I do love you, Buffy. I'd like to marry you one day. I hope that will be taken into consideration when you make your decision, but I don't want to be someone you settle for. If you think you love this guy that much, figure it out. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."
"You'd do that?"
"For the girl I love? I'd be crazy not to."
"Some would say you're crazy to."
He laughed and ran a hand through her hair. "I probably am, but you need to figure this out. I can tell and if I stick around you right now I'll push and that would mean I lose you."
"You're a good man, Colum McGuire."
"Thanks," he said softly and left the diner.
"Not a good night, hon?" Kim said as Buffy walked to the door shortly after Colum left.
"You could say that."
"He's a good man."
"I know. I don't deserve him."
"I don't know about that. Seems to me everyone deserves a good person."
"Yeah, I've always thought so. Good night, Kim."
"Night, sweetie, take care."
The next day was routine for Buffy. She worked, worked out and then went home where she ate a rather dull meal for one and played on her computer. It was sort of neat to be able talk to Willow, Dawn, and Xander without having to pay for long distance phone calls.
Sundays were busy at work because she taught three skating classes. It was a popular day for skating lessons, one day a week parents did not have to rush to and from work to get their kids there. She looked forward to her evening of indulging in watching TV, popping some popcorn and drinking a Mike's Hard Lemonade. One thing about no longer being an active slayer, she could have a drink or two without worrying about it impairing her too severely.
Being Sunday there was not much on TV, but she left it on while she painted her toenails. She had just finished when the buzzer rang. She sighed, hoping it was not Colum changing his mind about giving her time and walked to the window. There was a car parked out front with its windows blackened to the point of zero visibility. "Three guesses for Buffy who it is," she whispered, apprehensive about seeing him. "And the first two don't count."
She pressed the button allowing him into the building and stood at the door leading to her apartment listening to the sound of his boots on the steps as he walked up them. He was whistling something, thankfully not the song The First had programmed him with. If Buffy never heard that song again she would die happy.
"You shouldn't stand there with your door open, Slayer, you never know who might be calling."
"I don't know anyone else in Chicago with a car with its windows blackened out."
"Still, you never can be too safe. This isn't Sunnydale anymore."
"Are you accusing me of being helpless?"
"Never that, Luv, but you never know what type of big bad you might encounter here. And you're all by your lonesome. Do you even have your weapons?"
"I have weapons."
He chuckled lightly. "Besides your fists?"
"Yes," she said with a pout.
"Aww, don't pout, Pet, I was only teasing," he said as he stood in her doorway.
"Well, are you going to come in or not?" He cleared his throat and just looked at her with those blue eyes. "Oh, sorry, come in, Spike," she said.
"Has it really been that slow for you?"
"I haven't slayed a vamp in over a month," she said.
"Looks like you picked the right place to settle down in then."
"I never said anything about settling down here."
"You sure looked pretty cozy with your beau last night."
"Until you interrupted."
"Are you upset that I did?"
She would love to tell him that she was and that she never wanted to see him again because of it, but she would be a liar. She suspected he knew that. "No, in a way I'm glad you called."
"I don't think I could have watched you go at it there and then, Slayer. So it was either interrupt you with an untimely phone call or break into your apartment and kill him on the spot."
"And you would have been able to break into my apartment how?"
"A minor setback."
"And you've gone back to killing humans since when?" She frowned then. "You do still have your soul, right?"
"Yes, Slayer, I'm the same as last time you saw me. I'd like to think I'm the new and improved Spike. You know, Version 2.0 and all that crap."
"I don't think the old Spike was too bad."
"You say that now."
"It just took me a while to realize it, that's all."
"So, this is where you live?" he asked, his eyes scanning the room.
"This is it," she said softly. Buffy was suddenly embarrassed by her humble apartment. It never bothered her to have Colum here, but the point of her no longer being THE slayer was so that she could have a life for a change. This apartment, the fact she had no car and had to work weekends said little about her succeeding in living that life.
"You're talking to a man who lived in a crypt, Luv."
"True," she said. "I'd give you the grand tour, but with the divider curtain pulled back this is the grand tour." How pathetic was she?
"Why do you need more than this for now anyway?"
"Reading my mind."
"Not hard to do, at least not right now. Why are you so nervous?"
"Don't lie to me, Slayer, I can smell it."
"What that I'm lying?"
He scoffed at her then. "You know what I mean."
"Have a seat. I don't have any blood to offer you."
"No problem, I'm set," he said sitting on the couch. It was the obvious place for him to sit, given the only other chair in the room was rather shabby looking.
She glanced at him then, unable to wrap her mind around the fact that she had not seen him in two years. It was the longest they had gone without seeing one another since they had known each other. It was too long as far as Buffy was concerned. "I've got some frozen hot wings I could cook or something else I'm sure."
"Buffy, quit acting like June Cleaver and sit down with me."
She sat, choosing to sit next to him on the couch rather than the shabby chair that she was not confident would not collapse if someone did actually sit on it. She had never put it to the test because other than Colum she had never had a guest in her apartment before.
"How have you been," he asked.
"Since last night you mean? How do you think I've been? Colum probably won't talk to me again and he thinks I'm cheating on him in order to trap him into marrying me."
"I meant in general, Luv, but what are you going on about? Because if I know one thing about you it's that you're a one guy at a time woman."
She shook her head. "Never mind, it's not important. Why now? Why did you come back now, Spike?"
"When I found out you were back in the States I knew you had to have finished with The Immortal."
"He finished with me was more like it."
"It was part of some plan to get Angel to Rome."
He laughed heartily, draping an arm behind her on the back of the couch. "You're kidding me?"
"What is so funny about that?"
"I'm sorry, Luv, but one thing I can say is that if you weren't of interest to The Immortal to begin with no one could have convinced him to do anything."
"Sure, and the only reason I was of interest was because I'm a slayer. He said he'd never been with one before."
"Oh, Pet, you're hurt because that bloke pulled a Parker on you?"
"No," she said softly, knowing she was not convincing.
"Buffy," he said gruffly. "Look at me."
She did not want to look at him. If she did it would be her undoing. He was seeing her during a vulnerable moment and he knew her far better than anyone else. She did, though, glancing into his eyes coyly, hoping he would not ensnare her in his web. She realized too late that he already had long ago. "What?" she asked pouting again.
"There is a reason I'm here."
"I knew it," she said, pushing herself out from under his arm. He grabbed a hold of her, though, his arm encircling her waist preventing her from standing up.
"No, I knew it. Did Giles send you?"
"Bloody hell, Slayer, no. No one sent me. I came here because I was going to say good bye for good. I was going to move on with my life, without you in it. But I had to see you were happy and all right before I did it."
"I was happy."
"I know you were, Luv, and I'm sorry if I threw a wrench in it. But I realized as much as I wanted to and as much as I said I was going to I can't just give up like that."
"Spike," she interjected softly, relaxing against him.
"I mean, I went to the ends of the earth to get my soddin' soul for you, I wore that amulet and helped saved the world but I wouldn't have done it if you didn't have a chance of surviving and seeing another day."
"Spike," she repeated. She was no longer mad, no longer believed that he had come to her only to tell her he needed the slayer not Buffy.
She looked at him and offered him a smile. "Do you want me?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"Of course, I never stopped wanting you. Christ, just because I stayed away from you, for you, doesn't mean that I didn't want you every second of every day. The past few years have always been about you, Buffy."
She held up her hand and shook her head. She did not want to hear about his quest or how everything he had done had been for her. She believed that Spike did those things for his own benefit, too. He certainly had not come back to Sunnydale and pushed for another chance with her.
"Just shut up and kiss me, Spike." She thought for a moment he was not going to. She was surprised that she had come right out and said it so boldly. He was looking at her, seemingly surprised as well. And then his mouth found hers, fitting perfectly as he had when they first kissed under Willow's spell. Her arms went around his neck, drawing him to her, deepening the kiss. She was suddenly very glad he was in her life again. She found it hard to believe she was willing to settle for someone who did not arouse the feelings in her Spike did with hardly any effort at all.
There was no apocalypse, the world was not ending and yet Buffy felt the world as she knew it slip away. He was here and she no longer wanted to be with the safe guy. She wanted this, wanted to be taken away from everything with a simple kiss even if the guy doing it was the bad boy who would lead her back into a world full of death and darkness.
She drew away, looking into his eyes for any indication that this was a joke or that he was not here to stay. She could not bear it if he left her again, no matter the reason. If the world was going to end again, she would let it go away with him right there with her watching its demise. She did not think she could do a repeat of sending her lover to hell in order to save the world. She saw nothing there but the same relief she felt that they had not missed out on the opportunity to be with one another.
"I think he knew I was going to choose you."
"He'd be a bloody idiot not to. I'm way better looking than he is."
Buffy laughed at that. "You are way better looking than most men period, Spike."
"Forgive me for waiting so long?"
"I was just trying to give you some time. I knew you needed it to be sure."
"Yeah," he said almost hesitant to admit that.
"I love you," she whispered, placing a light kiss on his mouth. "Please believe me this time."
"I do, Luv, I do. Of course, if you wanted to try to prove it to me by showing me just how much I'd be game."
"You would, would you?"
"Most definitely, slayer."
"Well, how about a good night's sleep in Buffy's bed?" His scarred brow arced in question at her suggestion. "I'd like to start off the way we finished before. As friends."
"Anything you want, Pet."
"This is it," she said before kissing him again.