The preparations for the carnival had been attracting more and more demons to the United Kingdom and the slayers by then had daily run-ins with them all over the country. The day had finally arrived: the following evening would be the start of the carnival and Buffy had decided that she’d lead a contingent of slayers to stay in Edinburgh for the first four days; they would then come back to the castle and be replaced by other slayers, taking turns to cover the festival throughout its whole duration until the second week of January. She'd still be available at any time for anything they needed, but she'd decided that, unless the situation called for it, she wouldn't stay at the carnival herself for the whole duration. It was clear that she felt she could count on Satsu, Leah, and Rowena to be leaders there, and knew they'd love the opportunity to be the head of their own contingents.
Buffy had also decided that Spike would accompany her and the other slayers for the first turn. She’d even tried to blindside him with the news while they were sparring — again — but this time he’d made a slightly smaller fool of himself and had managed to keep it cool and stay on top of his game. Which meant that it took her another ten minutes to beat him to the ground… but he really couldn’t complain. Spectacular view, from beneath…
Spike sighed and rubbed his face for what seemed like the millionth time in the last few days. Truth was, the idea of traipsing around a carnival next to the slayer was exhilarating, terrifying and mind-boggling all at the same time; he couldn’t wait for it and dreaded the very idea. He’d have to stop being his usual pillock self and force himself not to treat it like a date; but how could he resist the temptation to do so, to charm her off her feet, maybe coax her in a dark corner and —
Spike sighed again and rolled his eyes at himself. He took a long drink from his beer, stopping himself from muttering out loud about how pathetic he was.
“You know, I’ve heard that drinking by yourself isn’t a good sign.” Xander’s voice made him look up in time to see him join him at the table in the mostly empty dining hall. He gave him a crooked grin and clinked his own full glass with Spike’s. “So let me join you, let’s be night owls together.”
Spike couldn’t stop a grin of his own, as much as he wanted to.
“You worried about tomorrow evening, Harris?”
“Nah, just an average beer craving in the middle of the night.” Spike raised his eyebrows and Xander conceded. “OK, yeah, I am. I hate that Buffy wants me to stay here.”
“Makes sense. You and the boss watcher can keep an eye on everything from here with your fancy communication thingies.”
“‘Fancy communication thingies’. You know, I’m starting to think Giles is right, when he insists that you were a sophisticated nobleman and not just a regular, ignorant thug as a human…”
Spike scoffed and drank more. He had no intention to confirm any side of the man’s damned hypotheses, although a traitorous, still-Victorian part of him was flattered that he’d think he’d been a nobleman. If his Mum’d ever heard of it, she’d have been over the moon.
They drank in silence for a little while and Spike couldn’t help but enjoy the company. He would never admit it out loud but Harris had turned out to be an all-right bloke — and the watcher as well. After the unpleasantness at the pub they’d both steered clear of the whole Buffy-and-him deal, which had left him grateful and, in a maddeningly confusing way, just a tad disappointed.
He decided that some good ol’ teasing was much better than thinking anything along those lines.
“Noticed you’ve been talking more to that dark-haired chit, lately.”
“Renee’s not a chit!” Exclaimed Xander, before giving him a suspicious look. “What’s a chit?”
“Never mind,” he smiled, gesturing towards him. “You gonna take her out or what?”
Xander sighed a very dejected sigh and Spike reeled in an eye roll.
“But what could I even offer her? I mean —”
His voice was too whiny and he had to interrupt him with an exasperated sound.
“Get your head out of your arse, man! Just tell her you’ll bring her to see the carnival and treat her to a fun night!”
“I thought I was fundamental at comms control here in the castle.”
This time Spike didn’t stop the eye roll.
“Well then, wait for the first couple of weeks to pass and go towards the end of the festival, when we’ll be more relaxed about it all. Do I have to do everything for you here, mate?”
Xander looked at him with narrowed eyes before taking a long sip of his beer.
“You’re being strangely helpful, Spike.” Spike scoffed but Xander’s expression didn’t change. “I know what’s going on here… you’re trying to help me out so you can stop thinking about how much you want to ask out Buffy.” Spike scowled at him. “Yeah, that’s totally right! You wanna live vicariously through me! Well, mister, let me tell you that I am having none of your —”
“All right, I’m off,” announced Spike, his voice raising over Xander’s before he finished his beer in a few long gulps.
“Wait right here! You gotta own up to your own —”
“Gotta go to bed now, need to rest and keep my energies — see you tomorrow, whelp.”
He ignored Xander’s protests as he turned and waved at him without looking back, his stride sure and confident and not at all rushed.
The boy clearly had delusions, he pondered while quickly — but reasonably so — climbing up the stairs that led to the upper levels and bedrooms. He was not living vicariously through anyone, bloody hell, let alone a little scrap of a boy like Xander Harris. He scoffed, turning down his hall and reaching his bedroom fast. He shook his head while stepping inside and throwing his coat on his chair.
It was ridiculous! He didn’t want to ask Buffy out because it would be idiotic to do so. Because he didn’t want to go out with her, they had such a good friendship and what if she misunderstood, or what if she didn’t and they went on a date, an actual date, and then she’d just sleep with him and he’d go back to his usual helpless, hopeless self and then they'd fall back on old, horrible habits and Christ, I am such a fucking, bloody pillock!
He crashed on the bed and buried his face in his pillow, his hands fisting on either side of his head.
Christ, he couldn’t wait for this shit to be over and for the moment when he could really, finally start moving on already.
The next evening came and so did the moment for Spike, Buffy and a group of five more slayers to leave for the carnival. This time it was one of the little slayers driving, while Buffy rode shotgun; this left Spike to sit in the back of the car, surrounded by the girls. He found himself sitting right between two young Europeans who kept on shamelessly flirting with him, while the two Brits on the back laughed along the scene and spent most of the ride leaning forward to talk with them and snicker at the boldest moves of the other two. He felt like his arms were constantly being touched between the two of them and couldn’t help but chuckle at all their lame jokes and ‘Oh God’s and ‘please tell us more!’s.
It was hilarious — only made sweeter by the fact that the more they teased him, the more he laughed about it, the more Buffy’s eyes seemed to narrow. He didn’t want to make a big deal of it, so he left her to her silent glaring at the road ahead. It was somehow thrilling, to know that he still had some kind of effect on her even though she wasn’t really interested. Not that he was really giving the girls any hope, and he figured they knew that perfectly well too. So he just let them smirk and grin and smile and blink their eyelashes at him, all the while wishing he could fully enjoy himself with all this attention, instead of wishing it came from somewhere else.
When they arrived Buffy was the first to climb out of the car, walking quickly to the main entrance of the carnival. As soon as he got out of the car too he had to admit to himself that the demons had done a brilliant job: the main colours of the place were red and black, which was more than all right by him, and the design seemed reminiscent of a mix of different European styles. He’d expected a gaudy, tacky, and loud look; what he found was instead a style that reminded him of the soft, intricate, and natural-looking lines of the Art Nouveau current that he’d pretended to ignore while traipsing all over Europe in his Scourge days. If that current had had a much darker, scarier streak, that is.
He was interrupted from his wonder by Tùrtik and his little goblin mate — whose name he hadn’t cared to memorise and whom he’d discovered was his brother, and poor Tùrtik for that. They were already talking with Buffy about the places were the slayers and witches would be. After a lot of debating they’d agreed on four of the slayers being stationed at the two entrances while the remaining slayer would join Buffy, Spike and the witches in wandering through the carnival, to make sure that any trouble could be stopped as soon as possible. At the same time, Xander and Giles would keep their communications open and have access to the cameras that were spread throughout the place.
That had been a hard sell with the demons, but in the end they’d accepted it as it would help with keeping the situation under control — and with defending any innocent bystander from being attacked by anyone without visual proof of it. The demons had demanded that they have their own access to the live footage; Spike snickered whenever he remembered Tùrtik’s embarrassed face when he’d admitted to Buffy that some of his pals expected the slayers themselves to attack unsuspecting demons. He knew her, so he knew perfectly well how much she’d wanted to punch something at that accusation — which made him all the more proud of the way she’d handled the rest of the conversation, with grace and firmness, if a bit of steel in her voice. Of course, it helped that she’d had him to pummel afterwards, to relieve that tension. He smiled at the memory of that particular tumble and at how hard it had been not to slam her to the nearest wall and fuck her right in front of all the slayerettes in the courtyard, thoughts of friendship and moving on be damned.
“Spike, you with us?”
Buffy’s clipped tone roused him from his thoughts and he did his best to wipe his dorky grin off his face.
She scowled but he bit back a smile when he saw that her lips were fighting to stay down.
“All right, so it’s settled. You’ll be patrolling the place with me and Johanna, while Mary Anne, Francesca, Katharina, and Sara will stay at the entrances.” She glanced at her watch, her brows furrowing. “The witches should get here any minute now.”
“Don’t sweat it, boss, give ’em a few minutes and we’ll all be here to take your orders like the good lil’ soldiers we are.” She just raised her eyebrows at him and shook her head but he knew he was close to making her smile, so he kept on nabbing her for the following few minutes. She’d finally cracked a grin when the witches did reach them, Willow exiting the car first and going to hug Buffy briefly.
Buffy gave instructions to them too and then it was on: they all separated to go their different ways throughout the carnival until it was just the two of them, walking next to each other and looking at the spectacle around them.
They went on walking in silence for a while and Spike missed the easy, comfortable silence that he’d learned to experience with her over the previous months. Now she just seemed distant, avoiding him, and like she was a tad annoyed too.
“You know, ’s much bigger than I expected,” he said in a light tone, trying to get her to acknowledge his presence. She hadn’t looked at him once since the witches’ arrival, and he was starting to almost miss the stupid belly butterflies she always seemed to incite in him.
Buffy just nodded without saying anything, her eyes roving the different stands and attractions that surrounded them. Her gaze then locked on the right bend of the path they were walking. Spike looked too and saw a large stage where different demons were setting up what looked like a show of horrors and tortures, a few of them dressed in what looked like costumes of slaves. He couldn’t help but be impressed at all the preparations.
His attention turned quickly back to Buffy though, just in time to see her eyes leaving his face. He sighed, exasperated.
“Slayer, what’s wrong with you?” She sent him a narrow glance, clearly irritated, and he raised his eyebrows. “Well? Why the sullen silence?”
She scoffed lightly, looking back to the stage, now right next to them.
“What, I’m not flirty enough for you, Spikey?”
Spike just blinked before barking a laugh. Her brows furrowed.
“What, you still hung up on that, pet?” She crossed her arms and he laughed for real. If she weren’t so precious, she’d be downright ridiculous. “Come on, they were hilarious and you know it. What, you want me to flirt with you, now?” He couldn’t help it, he nudged her arm with his elbow, and fought to stop a delighted smile at her little laugh.
“As if, Spike,” came her easy answer, her head turned to look to the other side of the path. He couldn’t help another laugh even as some little flicker of hope died inside him — but he concentrated on the sweet sound instead.
“That’s right, more like what I thought.” He kept grinning because yeah, she didn’t want him, but she was still smiling with him. “Besides, they knew it was useless, too. Girls just wanted to have some fun with the most attractive bloke they got any hope to see, at that castle of yours.”
She turned to look at him with an ironic wide-eyed stare and he just wiggled his eyebrows — God, he loved the smile that crept up on her lips even when she tried to push it down.
“Mother Theresa called, Spike, she wants her humility back.”
He grinned widely at her.
“Can’t help it, pet, I’m bloody irresistible and you know it.” He winked, enjoying her eye roll just as much as he couldn’t help a little pang of sadness at how very non-irresistible he was to her. He crushed the pang, annoyed at himself.
“So,” she drawled, looking at him briefly before looking back at the demons working on the attraction they were walking by then — some sort of gigantic dollhouse full with person-sized dolls of human- and demonkind. “They knew it was useless? The flirting?”
He sent her a sideways glance, his lips pursed in a tiny smirk.
“Yeah… think it was pretty obvious, pet.” She nodded, looking like she wasn’t understanding at all, and he let himself smile slightly, if not sadly. “Pretty clear that I’m not interested in fun times with ladies, these days. Enjoying being my own man and all.”
It was the first time he broached this topic with her and he felt something tug lightly at his chest. He had to force himself to look at her again instead of just looking back at the disturbing dolls that were now behind them.
He just had the time to see her thoughtful expression before their attention was drawn by one of the witches and the other slayer roving the park, who met them at a fork in the path. He stood by while they exchanged brief comments with Buffy on everything being all right, increasingly uncomfortable. By the time they’d separated again, he was scratching his neck and trying desperately to look nonchalant. Probably worked, too, if by ‘nonchalant’ one meant ‘stressed as fuck’.
The silence stretched for a while and he kept sending her glances, trying to gauge her reaction. Her face remained set on the same thoughtful expression, maybe just a tad concentrated, and he was going crazy with it.
“You all right there, Slayer? Seems like you’re solving Fermat’s last theorem, or something.”
There she was, back with her adorably confused expression, and his discomfort receded a speck.
“Never mind. Is it that hard to grasp, that I might wanna be my own man?”
Was that anger, in his chest? Would that be better than the discomfort of not knowing her opinion on him?
She looked at him then, a serious expression on her face.
“I guess I haven’t…” She blinked, shook her head slightly, then gave him a small smile. Something in his heart seemed to move. “No, Spike, it’s not so hard to grasp. You might still make stupid mistakes, but you’re a champion — and a great man.” He blinked at her, his feet almost stumbling on nothing. Then she wrinkled her nose in that absurdly cute way. “A great vamp? A great vamp-man?”
He smiled slowly, looking at her and her confused expression and her bright eyes.
“You’re as bad as ever, Slayer.”
“All right, that gets you downgraded to decent man, vampire.”
“Mediocre man, you vamp,” she sniffed, and he couldn’t help a little laugh. God, but he loved this woman.
After that they kept their conversation much lighter and much more prone to barbs and jokes, which in turn kept his heart much less flip-flopping. But he couldn’t complain, not when he got to enjoy her warmth and smiles and laughter.
When the carnival finally opened to the public, Spike was sure that the preparations had been finished a scant few seconds before the crowds started entering the place. He and Buffy followed the first wave of patrons from the main entrance and went back to patrolling the carnival’s paths — but this time, they had to move through a seemingly never-ending crowd of visitors. The carnival had definitely started with a bang: there were more demons than Spike had ever seen together, with the exception of the übervamp party underneath the Hellmouth. And together with the expected, harmless races — he could see Loose-skinned demons, Brachens, Parasite demons among many others — there were a lot of demons of much more aggressive and violent races. And even more surprising than that, there were humans milling about: some of them looked quite violent themselves, but mostly they looked like people who were either stunned by what they were finding around them or eager to discover anything and everything about this strange world.
For the first hour or so he could feel Buffy tense next to him every time she spotted one of the more violent races of demons, just as he could feel his own posture switch to a defensive stance, ready to counter any attack. But none came. After a while, both he and Buffy started to relax and, even though they didn’t stop roving their eyes over the crowd, they ended up chatting while doing it. They were lightly exchanging jokes about the dragon-looking beastie that was somehow dancing on a stage they were passing by when the sound of Buffy’s phone interrupted them.
“Yes?.. Yes. What? Oh… OK. We’re coming.” Spike raised his eyebrows at her and she sent him a worried glance. “There’s a vampire trying to get in. And she’s brought humans.”
Spike’s eyebrows rose even more but he didn’t comment as he followed her, quickly dodging demons even twice her size to get to the entrance. When they got there, Spike witnessed one of the weirdest scenes he’d ever seen: a group of young humans, boys and girls who couldn’t be older than eighteen, accompanied by an older woman, all vehemently defending what looked like a sixteen-year-old girl from the two slayers at the entrance. Tùrtik, poor little fellow, seemed intent on stopping the older woman from using her sturdy-looking bag on the slayers.
“What’s the problem here?”
Buffy’s voice held as much authority as ever these days and the older woman turned immediately to her, lowering her bag but still looking murderous.
“And you are?”
“I’m Buffy Summers, ma’am.”
“Ah, yes. You’re the boss slayer, right?” She had a European accent, but Spike couldn’t place it. Maybe Italian? He looked at the vampire after a cursory glance at the group of angry kids and noticed she was staring at him in surprise. “Well,” continued the woman, “I was told that this carnival was open to demons and humans. Why are we being held back?”
Spike could hear hesitation in Buffy’s answer for a second but he didn’t move his eyes from the vampire, who was still staring at him.
“No one’s being held back, ma’am. The girls just wanted to let me know about the situation.”
“Right. Because one vampire could destroy the whole place here, couldn’t she?”
The girls and boys snickered behind the lady and Spike heard one of them murmur ‘racists’ under his breath. But he didn’t stop looking at the vampire: she hadn’t blinked once, just kept staring at him with an intense expression. He felt his head tilt in curiosity.
“Miss Summers, please,” came Tùrtik’s voice, clearly eager to let these potential clients through without any more fuss. “They know about the security measures. Everyone does. And,” he added in a pointed tone, “they’re humans . You know how important it is to the whole world that we start moving along the path of cooperation, and quickly too. That’s what this is all about, after all.”
Spike broke his stare contest to spare him a glance: his eyes were as determined as usual, the little guy looking at Buffy almost with defiance in front of her worried expression. Bless him, but he really did believe in all this.
He looked back at the vampire, who was still staring at him.
“Yes, of course it is.” Buffy’s voice sounded still worried but he felt her shift closer next to him, leaving the humans and their vamp more space. “Please, keep in mind that some demons have venomous… appendages. And can be pretty bulky. Keep an eye out.”
Spike moved his gaze again to look at the angry woman, who now had narrowed eyes but was gesturing the group of kids forward.
“And from now on,” said Buffy, this time looking at the slayers, “if there’s vamps who want to come in, just remind them to keep it cool. And that whoever starts violence in here will have little hope of leaving on their own legs, or ever coming back here again.”
“Come on, then,” Deadly Bag Lady said in a clear voice, while the group of kids moved after her through the entrance gate.
Spike turned to look back at the vampire — and found her right in front of him, close and still staring at him unblinkingly. He raised a brow.
“You got questions, pet?”
Her own eyebrow went up at his pet name but the rest of her expression remained schooled in neutrality.
“You’re William the Bloody. ‘Spike’.” Her voice was beautiful, her accent only vaguely Italian too. Her big, brown eyes kept staring at him and now he could see some kind of hunger that he couldn’t understand in them.
“And what’s your name, pet?”
“You’re the one who got back his soul.” The non-sequitur left him speechless for a second while she just kept staring at him, her eyes hungry and expectant.
“Didn’t realise I was that famous,” he muttered, feeling a mite uncomfortable at being looked at so intensely.
“Oh, I’ve read a lot about you.” Her eyes swept his form, for a moment the hunger in them close to just old-fashioned lust — before switching back to that intense longing he couldn’t decipher. “I have a lot of questions to ask you.”
He stared at her, suddenly acutely aware of the slayers' eyes — Buffy's included — on the two of them. He frowned and narrowed his eyes.
"What's your game, here?"
She kept looking at him for a long second before answering in a neutral tone.
"My game is to enjoy a night out with my friends.” She kept her big eyes on him, unblinking. “Tonight, as any other night.”
He considered her, looking her up and down: this vampire that looked at him like he was a wonder, with her little-girl eyes too full of intensity for such a young body. How old was she? What was her story?
“Maria! Don’t hang back, stay with the group!”
The voice of the older woman came in a firm tone, but Spike kept his eyes on the vampire in front of him. She didn’t move hers either, giving him a little smile.
“Come talk to me, please,” she said in a low tone. Then she yelled a ‘coming!’ to the woman and, with a last lingering look at him, she turned and strode quickly towards the lady and the group, already inside the park.
He saw her go; saw her exchange a smile with the fierce lady, then join the group of kids; saw her smile at something they were saying, her eyes now sweeping the different sights of the carnival.
And in that moment, he remembered his first day back at his human home after being vamped; he remembered how he’d still cared for his mother, how he’d wanted to protect her. How he’d fallen for Buffy, and then for the Summers women, ready to do anything for them, even when love was still only a pale imitation of what he was capable to feel now, now that he had a soul to give it new depths. He looked at one of those human girls smiling at the young-looking vampire, just before they turned down the path, and wondered what it would have been like, if the Scoobies had given him a real chance, instead of treating him like dirt. If someone had been giving him a chance since the very beginning, instead of having Angelus and Darla and Drusilla to look up to.
“Spike? What the hell was that about?”
He couldn’t help it: he gave a sigh, putting his hands in his pockets and staring after the bend of the path where they’d disappeared.
“Spike?” Came Buffy’s voice again, seemingly tense. He flicked his eyes to the side and looked at her wary expression, then gave her a sad grin.
“I think she wants my help, Slayer.” She narrowed her eyes at him then looked at the bend of the path too. He sighed again, hoping to avoid going back to discomfort and annoyance between them. “Do you trust me, Buffy?”
She was silent for a few long seconds and he felt something in his chest sink down low. He looked at her and she still seemed weary and tense, until she shook her head slightly and turned to look at him again. Her eyes were wide and tired.
“I do, Spike. I really do. I just hate thinking that now I’ll have to worry about ‘good’, dangerous vampires too.”
He couldn’t help but smile sadly at her.
“Don’t think she’s good, luv. Just think she wants to try and stay with the people she cares about.” Buffy continued to look worried and he suddenly remembered about the other two slayers; they’d gone back to watch over the new patrons entering the carnival but he could feel their attention on him too. He decided he didn’t care. “I don’t know that soulless vampires can be good, Buffy. And their version of love is…” He looked down, unable to sustain her solemn gaze. “Poorer than the other one. Like a black-and-white painting, full of shades of grey, and possibly even beauty. But without so many shades of colour, and sometimes that’s what makes things clear, you know? The light.” He shook his head at himself, exasperated at his own inability to express what he meant. “What I’m sayin’ is that she might not be good, but I think she can still care about people. Deeply, even. Why else follow a group of kids otherwise, right?”
He gathered the courage to look up and met her gaze, still solemn, her eyes wide and dark in the reddish light from the carnival.
“And I think she wants help from the one vamp in all the world that decided it wasn’t enough to keep things as they were; that he needed to go and get himself a soul.” He grimaced for a second, annoyed that his personal business had apparently become quite less than personal. “Think that takes guts, all in all.”
They stayed silent for a while more, both looking at the carnival, and Spike could feel the gaze of the other two slayers on him. He wondered if this changed their perspective on him, if they’d still be eager to flirt and joke around with him from now on; if Buffy and the slayers’ lives and mission were destined to become ever more complicated with time.
“You still think this is the exception, not the rule, though?”
He looked at Buffy, his face relaxing in a small smile.
“Yeah, luv. I’ve lived a long life as a vampire and have met more than you’ve staked, and that’s saying something. So let me tell you: this is an exception. She’s an exception to the rule.”
“You were an exception.” She looked at him steadily and he swallowed hard. What could he say? But then she sighed and gave him a small smile. “OK. OK. We can do this. More caution, less prejudice — this is about growing up as slayers, isn’t it?” His little smile became a grin. “Come on, let’s get back inside before you start picking up every demon around here."
"Oi! Wasn't picking up anybody!"
“Yeah, and she wasn’t making moon eyes at you, was she?”
Spike snorted, the two of them already through the gates and onto the main carnival path. He’d sort out his situation with the other slayers another time; for now, he could only hope they'd show more of the acceptance they'd shown him until then.
“I’ll have you know I like ’em a bit less baby-like around the edges, Slayer.”
“Sure. She definitely looked at you like a baby would…”
God, jealous Buffy was among his top-ten favourite Buffys.
They kept on trading barbs for the rest of the night, which was blessedly uneventful. If you didn’t count the way they started trying to outdo each other at winning little competitions at the various carnival games, that is. Which, in his book, was pretty darn eventful — Buffy Summers laughing and wheezing for two full minutes at the way he fumbled through a bloody dart game, of all things? That was something he’d never, ever forget.
(In his defence, the darts had been messed with and had all sorts of weird imbalances and magicky twirls to their flying trajectories, specifically meant for them to be a challenge for supernatural beings. But really, he’d gladly suffer worse humiliations to see tears of laughter in her eyes.)
The park closed doors around four in the morning, with the last few demons bellowing garbled, drunken songs at the last humans, who were happy to bellow back what seemed like stadium choruses. The disbelieving amusement in Buffy’s eyes at the spectacle of coexistence they’d witnessed all night managed to sneak into Spike’s chest and warm his heart, for some unfathomable reason.
Somehow though, it had been beaten by her unmistakable jealousy at seeing Maria, the wannabe good vamp chick, coming to say bye to Spike before she and her pack of loyal humans had left the park for the night. He hadn’t been able to help himself and had thrown a wink and a grin her way, just to preen at Buffy’s increasing annoyance, while he’d given her his number and promised to help her out with ‘these bleeding humans mucking up our nighttime fun’.
By the time the little girl-lookalike sent him a final, lingering glance before leaving the park, he could feel Buffy seething next to him, even though she was clearly doing her best to maintain a neutral expression. But it was all in the set of her shoulders, the corners of her mouth turned slightly downwards, the thin stretch of her lips — his slayer was jealous, even though she tried to cover it up.
He’d lit a cigarette and inhaled hard, trying to hide his smirk. Somewhere deep inside, he could feel some irritation at her reaction — why’d she think he was hers, when she wouldn’t ever be his in return? Why be jealous, when she wouldn’t give him a second thought as a possible lover?
At the same time, though, he couldn’t help but find it plain hilarious. And to be quite honest with himself, he was downright fed up with being frustrated at her not loving him.
So, instead of looking too closely at his annoyance, he’d just decided to smoke in her face, chuckle at her wrinkled nose and challenge her to yet another carnival game, by then one of the last few that had still remained open. Unsurprisingly, she’d won, and they’d gotten back to their easy, sweet camaraderie.
Now, though, the place was finally closing down for good. The two of them met with the other slayers, the witches, and Tùrtik with his nastier brother, who was actually sporting what was dangerously close to a pleased expression.
“Brilliant first day, wasn’t it?” The little chief goblin was beaming, his wide mouth stretching in a huge smile that still managed to look sweet and heartwarming instead of creepy. “I told you it’d work out, peaceful cooperation is possible!”
“Well, it’s only the first day, so let’s not lower our defences yet… but yeah,” conceded Buffy with a smile of her own. “It really did go well.”
“And so many people — I mean, human people came, too!” Willow’s voice was tired but still excited, she was clearly ecstatic. “I really didn’t expect to have to go through the whole speech of ‘yes, the supernatural does exist, yes, those are demons, no, they’re not going to hurt you’ so many times. It was lovely and exhausting and I’m honoured to be part of it, Tùrtik!”
If possible, the little demon’s smile widened even more. All right, now it’s getting slightly creepy.
“I’m honoured too, Ms Rosenberg. I think this is the start of something big!”
Spike couldn’t help but smile at the two of them, while Buffy congratulated everyone on their good work and gave everybody an appointment for the next day, at six pm sharp, so that they could oversee the final preparations for the opening once more. Then she and Spike said goodbye to the remaining demons and to the witches, and together with the slayers they went back to their van.
The ride was much more silent than the one to get to the park. All the slayers seemed tired and ready to get to bed, but Spike couldn’t help thinking that a bit of their silence was due to his conversation about vampire nature with Buffy. He kept his eyes on the road though, trying to avoid the thought of their judgement and the pang of sadness that it brought along.
It all was very quick in any case because they were staying at a hotel near the outskirts of the city, not too far from the festival site. Buffy had decided on this so that any slayer that was on duty at the carnival would be able to reach the premises quickly even on off-duty hours. So it was that he found himself in front of their rooms, after having said goodnight to the other slayers: apparently, Buffy had decided to get a single for him and one for herself, on account of the fact that he was a guy and she was the undiscussed boss.
“Had a nice night, Slayer.”
Was his voice as pathetic as it sounded in his head? Probably worse, really.
“Actually, me too.”
“So glad to know you were so certain that I’d entertain you, pet.”
“That’s not what I meant, you doofus.” She answered his teasing grin with a smile, making his stomach flip as per sodding usual. “If it keeps going so well, I’m looking forward to this work-related holiday, you know?”
He smiled at her.
“Always thought you deserved a holiday, pet.”
“And I’m glad I get to spend it with you — too.” He blinked at her, surprise and delight at her words making his stomach flip again, hard. “Well, anyway, am I beat! I think sleep is definitely on the doctor recommendation list for this slayer. Hope you have a good night!”
And then she did something else that struck him dumb — gave him a quick peck on the cheek, smiled at him widely and scurried off inside her room.
He stayed staring at her door for a full two minutes, astonished. She kissed him? And on the cheek?
It was probably the cutest, sweetest, most ridiculous thing she’d ever done to him.
He found himself touching his cheek lightly before shaking his head at himself and finally getting in his own room, speechless, mind reeling.
She’d kissed him!
First the bloody show of jealousy, now this… was she just trying to get him back to his older glory of pining after her, a dog leashed to her every whim? It was hard to believe she’d be such a cruel bitch, but maybe she didn’t even mean it. Maybe she just reacted badly to leftover jealousy — God knew he couldn’t throw stones, in that department.
He shook his head for what felt like the fifteenth time in the last minute and a half.
The thought crossed his mind that she might harbour some sort of real interest toward him… but as what? Her boyfriend? The concept made him snort. Fat chance of that. And even if there was a kernel of truth to it, would it really matter? He remembered what it meant to hang from her every word, searching his salvation in her eyes, longing for a look of approval from her, for any kind of affection. He might still love her, but he didn’t want that. The fish had been right in something, among his stupid ramblings: a relationship based on adoration like that was never gonna work. And if he was honest with himself, he’d never had any other kind of relationship… before now, with all these friendships the bleeding Scoobies had coaxed him into. And he didn’t want to destroy the one he and Buffy shared now, not for something like that.
And hell, maybe Buffy was just considering the idea of having him as her lover again. He did know how to make her scream, after all.
He grimaced, disgusted with himself. He’d certainly known how to make her scream ‘no’, that was damn sure. And then…
He sighed, exasperated at himself. No use thinking about his past misdeeds. She’d said she’d forgiven him, he had to respect her enough to believe her; after all, he’d be mightily pissed off if she didn’t consider his forgiveness worth her trust. No, there was no point in thinking about that, or any of this, really. Buffy Summers was a sweet woman, beneath her Slayer-hardened shell; she was kind, and adorable, and prone to showing affection to her loved ones in weird, unexpected ways, when she came around to it.
He’d thrown himself on the bed by then and he was staring at the ceiling when he blinked slowly. Loved ones. He was one of her loved ones.
The thought would have sent his mind reeling just a couple of years before, made him drunk with pleasure and mad, uncompromising hope. He wouldn’t have stopped at anything and anyone — including her, as he’d shown time and time again — to get a chance to have more from her.
But now… as it was, what he felt was a soft warmth in his chest. Yes, he was still a pansy, getting all smiley-faced at the idea of her affection, friendly as it was. But he was a pansy with something like peace in his heart, and that was enough for then. More than enough, really.