“That’s not as funny as you probably meant it to be….”
Buffy looked up and pushed her plate away.
“Don’t,” she said. “Don’t even think about—” She remembered his expression when she’d caught him staring at her. She shook her head vigorously. “No. We’re not going there.”
Ignoring her obvious reluctance, he said, “ I’m not saying you remind me of somebody I used to have in my life. You look nothing like my ex-wife. You are nothing like her. But there’s just something….” He shook his head. “Sorry. I guess it’s my turn to apologize.”
“Ya think?” she said, glaring at him.
“Is it so terrible? All I’m saying is I feel like… like I’ve known you longer than just today.”
“You don’t know the world I live in, Bill. You don’t know the kinds of things that are possible in that world. And the things that aren’t possible. You… you can’t be Spike. He didn’t dust until… did I mention he was a vampire?” She gave a soft laugh when his eyes went wide. “Why’d you think I wanted to drag you into the sun?” Her laugh was gone as quickly as it came. “Anyway, he dusted long after you were born. You probably would have been…. I don’t know. Somewhere in your 20s, I guess? So if you’re thinking reincarnation, that’s not possible because he wasn’t dead yet when you were born. His soul wasn’t available to go to somebody else. And that would be the only possible explanation. If I believed in reincarnation. Which I don’t. So. Don’t. Start. With. Me. You’re not him, you’re just somebody who kind of looks like him and likes the same brand of booze.”
He held up his hands in surrender. “I could switch to scotch,” he offered helpfully.
“He drank that too! He just didn’t buy it; he stole it from Giles. And oh my God, it’s just getting worse.”
“Are you through with your meal?” He changed the subject, and Buffy gave him a grateful, if suspicious nod.
“I am. And it’s a school night, so I should…”
He nodded, raising his hand for the check. “You should. And I have papers to grade tonight.”
Buffy kept sipping at her wine, wondering how many glasses she’d had and if it mattered. Bill was quiet as he put money in the check packet. When he’d closed it and put it down on the table, he raised an eyebrow at her. “Ready?”
“Yep.” Before she could push her chair back, he was up and behind her, pulling it out for her. She smiled up at him as she stood.
He kept one hand in the small of her back as he guided her through the tables and to the door. Buffy tried to be annoyed that he thought she couldn’t find her way out, but it felt too good to have a man’s hand on her body, especially one that seemed to have no nefarious designs.
They stood on the sidewalk outside, neither one able to think of anything to say that wasn’t going to be awkward. He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, giving her a rueful smile.
“So, all things considered, is there any chance you’d like to repeat this sometime? Sometime soon?”
“All things considered, I’m kinda surprised you want to,” she said.
“Yeah. Well. Glutton for punishment is what I am. Always have been.” When Buffy closed her eyes for a moment, he swore and raised his gaze to the stars above them. “I fucking did it again, didn’t I?” He didn’t apologize for his language, just stared at her with a mixture of anger and confusion.
“Don’t say it. I’m sorry I’m causing you distress, and you’re sorry you can’t hide that I am. It is what it is, Buffy. Let’s just assume mutual apologies and—”
“Mr. Patterson! How nice to see you? What are you doing here? Were you looking for someplace to eat? I was just on my way in here. I’d be happy to join you for dinner… or drinks. Maybe you’ve already eaten?”
The breathless girl staring up at Bill hadn’t even noticed Buffy yet. Completely unfazed by his embarrassed expression, she caught her breath and continued.
“You remember me, don’t you? I’m Sally. Sally Jennings from the history department? We met at the teacher meeting at the beginning of the year? I’ve been hoping to find you at lunchtime, but I guess we’re on different shifts. Anyway, isn’t it great that we’re both here in front of the Golden Goose at the same time? And we’re alone, so we can—”
Torn between wondering how many shades of red Bill was capable of turning before he exploded and sympathy for him, Buffy interrupted. She gave Sally her best cheerleader smile.
“Bill, honey? Is this one of your colleagues? Why don’t you introduce me?” Buffy had managed to take his arm and was clinging to it while she beamed at the surprised girl. She felt him flinch when she first grabbed him, but he was now pressing her hand into his arm with his free hand.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said smoothly. “I didn’t mean to be rude. Buffy, this is Ms. Jennings. She is one of our newly minted teachers.”
“How nice to meet you,” Buffy said, keeping Bill’s arm pressed against her side and pretending she didn’t know that her breast was touching his bicep. “It’s a shame you weren’t here earlier, you could have joined us for dinner.”
Sally looked back and forth between them, her dismay evident. “Oh. Hi. I didn’t know he… I mean everybody says he’s….” She summoned up some manners from somewhere and finished, “It’s so nice to meet you. I hope to see you again some time.”
“Oh, I’m sure you will. My daughter goes to your school.”
“Daughter?” The expression on Sally’s face reminded Buffy that, thanks to slayer healing, she looked nothing like her current age.
“Yes. Joyce Summers? She’s a sophomore.”
“You must have married very young,” Sally said, with narrowed eyes and no indication she was trying to flatter Buffy.
“Oh, I’ve never been married,” Buffy said, giving the girl a look that dared her to keep talking. “And I was quite grown-up when I had Joyce. But thank you,” she finished with a smile. Before Sally could say anything else, Buffy turned to look up at Bill – who’d been taking the whole thing in with a bemused frown on his face. “We should get going. You’ve got those papers to grade, and I’ve got….”
“Yes. Indeed. We have places to go. Things to do. So nice to see you again Ms. Jennings. Enjoy your evening.”
They hurried away, waiting until they had turned a corner to fall against the building laughing. Buffy had released his arm as soon as they were out of sight, but found herself missing the warmth. She noticed him rubbing his bicep and smiled at him.
“So, are we awful or what?”
“On the contrary. You were magnificent, and I may hire you to follow me around to discourage scenes like that.”
“Does that happen often?”
“Well. No, not quite as… enthusiastically… as that. But you’d be amazed at how bold some of these women can be when they sense weakness. They come right in for the kill.”
“Sense weakness, huh?” Buffy grinned at him. “So you’re not exactly hard to get?”
“No! Yes! I am. I mean, I try to be, but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I really don’t want to make someone angry at me.” He shuddered. “I made that mistake once already. A woman scorned and all that…”
Buffy laughed again. “So do you need me to protect you from all the predatory women you have to work with?”
He shrugged and gave her a smile that made him look like a little boy. “Well, you certainly were amazing back there. I was quite impressed.”
It was Buffy’s turn to shrug. “I went to high school with Cordelia Chase and Harmony Kendall. Professional bitches – both of them. Any time I can’t shut down an amateur like that….”
He laughed with her, then peered out onto the street they’d been on. “I think she’s gone,” he said in a stage whisper. “The coast is clear.”
Buffy joined him on the corner. “Well, we really should be getting home. I’ll just hail a cab—”
“You’ll do no such thing. My car is just over there.” He gestured across the street. “I’ll take you home.”
She paused, then nodded. “Okay.” As they walked to the car, she asked, “Does that make this a real date then? If you drive me home?”
“I hope so,” was the short reply as he opened the door for her.
Buffy gave Bill directions to her home, which turned out to be in the same general direction as his apartment.
“Really?” She tried not to sound overly suspicious, but he laughed at her.
“Really. If I’m going to start lying to you, I’ll make it about something more important than where I live.” He peered sideways at her as he added, “Anyway. I might want you to know how to find me. Wouldn’t be able to do that if I’d steered you in the wrong direction, would you?”
“Point. Okay, so you live near me?”
“On this side of the city,” he replied. “My apartment building is a little closer to downtown. Probably a mile and a bit to the east.”
“Oh. That’s not far.”
“Nope. Not far at all.”
At Buffy’s direction, he pulled into the driveway of the little bungalow she and Joyce were living in.
“So, we’re here. I mean, I’m here, cause I live here and you’re just giving me a ride home, and…. “ She sighed. “I’m not usually this incoherent when a date brings me home. At least, not that I can remember from back when I actually had dates….”
“Did your—whatever he was—Did he make you incoherent?”
“Spike? No. He was always easy to talk to. Even when we were enemies.”
Buffy smiled at him. “Vampire? Vampire slayer?” She shook her head. “Not the best set up for finding the love of your life.”
“Ah. No, I suppose not. But you obviously got over it,” he said, nodding toward the house where Joyce could be seen silhouetted against the light behind the window she was trying to peer out.
“We did. And I guess that’s my signal to go in. Thank you for dinner and the ride home. Sorry for freaking you out with what Joyce and I are.”
“You’re welcome. It’s been a lovely, if somewhat unusual evening.” He reached for her hand before she could open the door. “I would really like to repeat it sometime soon.” He hung on to the hand until she turned back to face him.
“I… I’d like that too. And I promise not to notice when you do or say something… something Spike-ish.”
“And I promise not to… well, I guess I can’t promise not to do it because I don’t seem to know when I am. But I can try to be more like I used to be. Maybe that will help.”
“More like you used to be?”
He shrugged. “I had a serious head injury years ago. According to my family, I’ve been getting more and more different ever since. But all the doctors said I was perfectly fine with just maybe some new personality quirks. ‘Not uncommon,’ they said.” It was his turn to shrug. “I’m not crazy or anything. Just… different.”
Buffy smiled at him as she withdrew her hand. “Well, since I didn’t know you a long time ago, I won’t know or care if you’re different from what you used to be. You didn’t need to tell me that.”
“I just thought… maybe I didn’t used to be so much like… Spike?” He made a face and Buffy glared at him. “Sorry. It’s just not a very…. Forget it. Obviously a nickname, so it’s not like his parents named him that, is it?”
“No,” Buffy said softly. She bit her lip, then raised her eyes to his. “His parents named him…. William.”
“Fuck.” Bill didn’t even look at her as he swore. Just stared straight ahead through the windshield.
“Still want to do this again?” Buffy asked with a wry smile as she opened the door. “Why don’t you think about it for a while?”
He turned his head and studied her face for a few seconds, then nodded. “I don’t need to think about it, but I do need to do some… research. I’ll get in touch with you when I… when we’ve both had time to think about… things.”
Buffy nodded, her smile fading. She’d grown used to being dumped by men who couldn’t handle what she was. She’d been hoping Bill would be different, but it didn’t seem like it.
“Sure,” she said. “That sounds good. Thanks again for a nice evening.” She closed the door and without looking at him again, walked to the door. She felt his eyes on her, but didn’t look back until she was already in the house and closing the door. She took a quick glance at the immobile car and raised her hand in a wave. The horn gave a short toot before the car backed into the street and Bill drove away.
“Well?” Joyce was standing just inside the living room, hands on hips. “Did he kiss you good-night? What were you doing out there for so long?”
“No. We did not kiss. We were… talking.”
“Not so much. Although, I did tell him about us, and he’s fine with you making up assignments if and when you miss one.” At Joyce’s happy smile, she added, “Which doesn’t mean you can blow them off. If you can, you do them when they’re due. Did you finish the one you owe him?”
Joyce nodded and waved her hand. “Never mind that! You told him what we are? About slayers?”
“He kind of guessed. He has a relative… niece or something… who was a potential, but turned us down when she was recruited. Of course, he thought she was making it up until tonight.”
“So, are you going to see him again?”
Buffy sighed. “I have no idea. I think he’s a little freaked out right now… and so am I, to tell you the truth.”
Joyce raised her eyebrows.
Buffy sighed again and shook her head. “I think it’s time to tell you some stuff… probably should have done it before, but…. Anyway. Not tonight. But tomorrow after school. We’ll talk about your… your father.”
“Seriously, Mom? And you think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight? Or pay attention in school tomorrow?”
“Trust me. You’ll do better thinking about it now than you will once you know it. Tomorrow’s not a school night, so it won’t matter if you’re wound up the whole weekend.”
“This is so not fair!”
“Life’s not fair. Get used to it. And go to bed.”
“Boy, if I’d known going out with my good-looking teacher was going to make you so grumpy, I wouldn’t have let you go!” Joyce flounced past Buffy and up the stairs to her room.
“If I’d known he was going to remind me so much of Spike, I wouldn’t have gone,” Buffy muttered to herself as she went into the kitchen and began checking doors and turning off lights. She sent a text message to the woman who supervised the small group of slayers currently in residence for advanced training, telling her she wouldn’t be in the next day and to have the girls work on their normal school stuff.