It had been a mistake. That was all there was to it. Her and Spike’s relationship? The years at a distance and then the years in close proximity? It had to have been a mistake. They should have known it would go nowhere, always, and end in tears. Even if now she could look back fondly at that time after 25, it was surely obvious and plain to everyone that they could never go back there again. It would only end for another time.
It wasn’t her fault that he was still hot, though, was it?
“Buffy,” her sister told her. “Stop staring.” If Dawn had said it with disapproval – any disapproval at all – Buffy might have listened. But Dawn just sounded amused, so Buffy couldn’t stop, not yet.
It was just… It had been a few years, and now Spike was back from the stupid mission he’d chosen over their relationship and she was feeling nostalgic. And mellow. And a lot less picky now she’d met the rest of the dating pool.
“Buffy!” Dawn snapped.
And with a blink and a shake of her head, Buffy was back in the room. Or, even, garden. It was summer. Dawnie had invited everyone around for no more reason than her housemates were on holiday and she liked to have people with her. The party had been going since six, but now the sun was dipping steadily behind violet clouds and the embers of the barbecue had given way to an improvised version of the punch.
There weren’t that many people here, but they were all in the know. Mostly friends from the Council, which underneath the stuffy administration apparently these days had an underbelly of young researchers. Giles was holding a beer by the honeysuckle bush, laughing at something one of the older researchers had said. She looked about forty-five; she made Giles look fifty.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Buffy said, focusing back on Dawn. Dawn was looking pretty these days; all grown up in a lacy Victoriana sundress, the first couple of laugh lines around her eyes. The two of them, if they didn’t keep doing the dumping, Buffy would have thought they could keep a man. “I just didn’t realise you were inviting him,” she continued, eyes dropping from her punch to Dawn’s sandals on the patio. Her toes were painted emerald green; Buffy’s were silver. “You could have said something,” she challenged, just to go on the offensive, raising her head again.
Dawn quirked an eyebrow. “You know,” she said, swirling her ice with a straw, “I didn’t think it would be an issue.” One innocent slurp of punch. “I mean, how many times have I heard, ‘I’m over him, Dawnie! I’m so over him! I’m zen; I’m mindful; I’m calm.’ Hmm?”
The only possible response Buffy could make was to roll her eyes. “Oh, please.” Like Dawn didn’t know that was all a front. “This was so obviously a set-up; you could have at least warned me.” Dawn smiled, shaking her head like it had been nothing of the kind. “I was stuffing my face with cheese puffs,” Buffy complained. “Worst reunion ever.”
Because of course it had been sunny, so Spike had arrived late and not yet come outside. Buffy had been hungry for snacks; she had a high metabolism. It was inevitable she was going to go inside at some point; what else could she do? She’d honestly thought the tingle had been someone opening the refrigerator.
“Hey, look,” Dawn changed the subject, glancing back to the honeysuckle bush. “Giles is gonna say hi.” And he was. The researcher woman had wandered away, because apparently there were three of them who couldn’t keep a date, and Giles had spotted Spike just inside the backdoor, where he was gesticulating to one of Dawn’s hotter, but thankfully male, friends. He hadn’t even come back from the other place with a new scar, which Buffy thought was what was meant to happen. “Isn’t it nice how they both grew up?”
“Sure,” Buffy replied, eyes narrowing as the two men nodded their acknowledgement. Spike was stepping into the shade of the house, boot on the back step. “Why not?” He and Giles had a lot in common, of course, but they didn’t acknowledge all that much of it – apart from her. Buffy couldn’t help but feel worried.
“Spike!” the Watcher’s voice corralled him. He nodded in the right direction, trying to keep half an ear on what Dawn’s friend was saying. As it was, he was having a hell of a time trying to keep his eyes off Buffy, whose beady little gaze he could feel burning him across the way.
“It should have been Brazil’s, is what I’m saying,” Tom, Dick or Harry, whoever he was, kept going on. “It was their year and the semis were just a bloodbath.”
“I’m with you, I am,” Spike muttered, not entirely sure how he was going to get rid of this stupid sod. He had a plan, and this prat was fucking it up. For a start, he wasn’t nearly as distracting as he should have been. “Rupert!” he declared as Giles came up them, edging as far as he dared towards the sun. “What d’you reckon about the World Cup, then?” He tried to signal with his eyes, Save me. Please. Dear God in heaven; save me.
Thankfully, Giles could always be relied upon for some of the most boring repartee imaginable. “Well, I think one of the most interesting things to come out of this tournament is the impact of the group stage on the final result.” He said it earnestly, as if he did in fact care. Mickey the Muppet was pausing on the last swallow of his beer. “Statistically speaking,” Ripper continued, hammering the last nail in the coffin, “Croatia should have in fact done a lot better than they did. Had they not been placed with Brazil, the entire scope of the competition would have been quite different. The goal difference alone… Well.”
“Right,” Spike agreed, almost impressed by the level of lightly researched bollocks the man could come out with. He turned to Dawn’s friend expectantly, trying to hold back a grin. “It’s always been like that, hasn’t it? If you go back to France ‘98…”
“Yeah…” the bloke came back with, suddenly a rabbit in the headlights now he was faced by their serene, stats-minded grins. “Hey,” he interrupted himself, looking down at his empty beer. “I’m gonna get another drink.” It came out a touch too quickly. “Do either of you want anything…?”
They let him go, happily. Spike almost breathed a sigh of relief. “You did all right there,” he acknowledged, raising what was, unfortunately, the end of his beer. “Where’d that shit come from?”
Giles tutted wisely, a glimmer of humour in his eyes. “Ah,” he confessed. “I once came to a party like this with no resource to shut down those particular conversations.” He took a sip of San Miguel. “Never again.”
“Fair enough,” Spike replied, his gaze now damnably free to drift down the patio once more – to an excessively ravishing Dawn and the bane of his existence. “What d’you do during transfers season?” he said for something to say.
Immediately, however, Giles affected a put upon sigh, playing to the gallery. “Yes; you’re right, you’re right...” he quoted himself, sounding jaded, pragmatic, and all the other necessary emotions. “Mourinho’s a bloody fool – but… We need him!” Apparently cursing the lesser of two evils, Giles sighed and repeated, “We need him.”
Spike nodded, sympathetic despite himself. Because you couldn’t argue with that, could you? Buffy was laughing at something Dawn said; it was drawing his attention.
But then he remembered that he and Giles weren’t actually having that conversation. “That’s sodding brilliant!” he exclaimed, amused despite himself and rewarding Giles with a grin.
The man shrugged, a picture of self-deprecation. “What can I say? Anyway…” He turned back to where Spike hadn’t really stopped looking, where Buffy was putting one regal hand to the waist of her floral all-in-one number, chin all perky above its prim scallop collar. This outfit… The legs he liked – they were all tan and bare and long – but the rest of it seemed to him like she wanted to appear inaccessible. “How exactly is Dawn’s plan coming along?” Giles continued, seemingly on-side since he wasn’t calling it Spike’s. How strange. “Have you spoken yet?”
Spike shrugged, feeling the breeze waft along his arms. He’d left the coat at home, trying to look like he fit in at least a little. It was a concession! “I ran into her in the kitchen earlier,” he said, because apparently he was going to tell someone. “Didn’t say much, though. She was eating a packet of Tesco Wotsits; couldn’t get away from me fast enough.”
He was a bit bummed about it, if he was going to be honest. What was a bit of cheese dust when you had what they’d had? It looked like she’d been keeping her hair short as well; honestly, it was as if she hated him.
And, all right, even he could imagine the slap Dawn would give him for that one. “Not sure she wants to talk to me,” he tried instead, rationalising. “Water under the bridge and all that. We had our time, so maybe…”
“Maybe you should try again,” Giles finished for him, as if he was merely rounding off Spike’s sentence, not suggesting anything at all. His eyes were following a moth. “Give it some slightly more rarefied circumstances.”
“Hmm…” Spike mused. To think, all he’d ever needed was a little time in a hell dimension and order of things would miraculously reverse itself. Still, the Watcher had a point. “Maybe.”
Giles said nothing, absently shaking his empty bottle. Spike looked down, thought about making his way over.
Yeah… He needed another beer.
“If you wanna talk to him, why don’t you make the first move?” Dawn was haranguing her now, quite seriously, but Buffy found it hard to concentrate. She could tell Spike was looking at her. Finally. This playsuit had the shortest shorts she owned, for god’s sake. “I mean, come on, Buffy, you didn’t even make the first move when he came back from the dead. It’s rude.”
Buffy sighed. What could she say? She had a plan for how this was gonna go. Any moment now, they were going to get attacked by some sort of demony thing, which for some reason all the capable magic users and combatants at the party would fail to handle, so she and Spike would have to leap into action. There would be quippage, and synchronised slayage, and ultimately they would congratulate each other on a job well done, before they arranged to meet up for a date – if they didn’t just do it in the closet off the hallway. But she couldn’t explain all that to her little sister, could she? “I’m waiting for my moment,” she said instead, vaguely.
Her punch was finished now, so as Buffy slurped ice cube off-melt she snuck a glance surreptitiously to where Giles was guarding the back door. Her – intended – had gone somewhere else, it seemed, but he’d be back soon, Buffy knew. Even as Giles let people flow in and out of the house around him, she knew she couldn’t get by for more sweet and alcoholic tastiness without catching his and therefore Spike’s attention. Or worse: looking like she’d come their way intentionally.
“You know what?” Dawn said suddenly, cutting into Buffy’s thoughts. She looked pissed off, had a hand raised to say, whatever. “I actually give up. You’re on your own.” And then, before Buffy could even register her surprise, her sweet, darling, hellbound sister was walking away, heading over to a group of young women who were standing on the grass. Apparently she didn’t even spare a single thought for the fact that the grass was still in direct sunlight, kind of, so there was no way Buffy could go out there… Just in case.
“Dawn!” Buffy hissed after her, glancing quickly to try and find someone else to talk to on the patio. The party hadn’t been going on that long; this wasn’t fair. But now she’d been abandoned. “Dawn!”
And then, in an instant, Spike was there behind her. She spun to face him. He’d brought her punch.
He was an idiot. Reckless. Criminally fucking stupid. Spike knew all these things, tried to watch out for them, and yet here he was.
This hadn’t been the plan. Not that he’d sketched out many of the specifics, but he’d thought a little about the best way to approach things. The idea was that something would attack them, because something always attacked them, and then they’d get their motors revving with a fight before neither of them could resist a quick shag for old times’ sake in the downstairs loo. And then he’d ask her for a drink.
No one had been told the plan, but Giles seemed to have gathered enough of it, because before Spike had gone for more beer he’d mentioned that Dawn had put a lot of effort into some protective wards for the party. Anything evil or even the least bit nasty-looking was going to be kept away all night. Spike hadn’t let the news alter his stride, but his mind had been turning the whole way to the fridge. World Cup Wanker had been lurking behind the formica, eating sausage rolls, but Spike had summarily ignored him.
In the end, it had still been the plan to just get a couple of beers. But then he’d popped the caps, and – before he could think about what he was doing – he had a plastic pint glass in one hand and a lump of stuck-together ice cubes in the other. And that went in the glass, followed by a ladle and a half of something that smelled not actually too much like vodka, but also cranberry juice, Lilt and something else, possibly lychee. Once the straw had gone in his path was set.
Giles had taken his beer with a knowing look on his face. Spike had shot him a glare to keep his trap shut. And then he’d found Buffy, hissing after Dawn, who with perfect timing had wandered off onto the lawn.
His beloved stared at him like he had three heads. “You brought me punch,” was all she said.
Spike looked down, first at the cup in his hand and then the cup in hers. She seemed to have finished the last lot, so it couldn’t have been too bad an idea, could it? “Thought you might fancy a refresh,” he said, before he had a chance to curse himself. Freud was laughing from the grave.
Buffy looked down, as if to take in the offer. “Uh… Sure.” His heart leapt; she ducked to dump the empty cup on the paving slab beneath her, before she took the new glass of pink from his hand. “Thanks.”
“No worries.” Spike sipped his beer, trying to appear nonchalant.
Around them, the party continued. Dawn and her friends chatted with that particular tittering undercurrent of squeals and giggles which put him to fight or flight; Giles had found his toygirl again, so they could talk in the low-pitched tones of experience; most of the blokes were ladding it up by the back fence. Darkness was closing in and the cool of it, at least, was soothing.
“So,” Buffy began. Spike was surprised she had anything to say. “Sorry about earlier?”
For a moment Spike thought she meant the six months of rows. Then he realised she meant earlier back in the kitchen, when she’d dashed off, Wotsits in hand. They’d barely said more than this. “I’ll get over it,” he replied, not about to hold a grudge for that one.
But then… She had a certain vulnerable look on her face, which meant Spike couldn’t help but wonder: maybe she did mean all the business of before. Because this would of course be the day. “Are you sure?” she even added, forehead all scrunched up, and it really did seem like the question.
What could he say? “Buffy, I spent eighteen months on a wild goose chase, drinking synth in a world without oxygen with only ten minutes a day of human contact.” And before that had been the training up at the Pole, with no one but Council wankers and a bleeding, broken heart. “In the end, it gives you something of a different perspective.” Honestly, he’d been waiting for years to get back into the mindset where he could just do what he needed to do, take one day at a time. He was his best self when he could think that way.
“Well, sure,” Buffy agreed. She might have been the one to break up with him, but even at the time Spike had known she had regrets. It had been a no-win situation: she was doomed then as she was now for soon expiry, needed someone who could be around and live her life with her; he’d wanted to be that bloke, but also knew he’d lose her respect, at least his own self-respect, if he didn’t help out when there was no one else to take the case.
But fuck it; that was done with now. It was a balmy summer’s evening after a hot summer’s day and he had a Summers, who, last he checked, was quite good at seizing the moment. “So I was thinking; at some point we might go for a drink?”
“Well, it’s either that or the hallway,” Buffy replied immediately, apparently talking to herself. She glanced at him; he glanced at her. “Never mind,” she didn’t explain. He just imagined. But then, quite suddenly, her eyes brightened and a smile spread across her face. His throat seized up. “What I mean is I’d love that; that would be great.”
Spike nodded, trying to play it cool. Not a bad result for him, in the end.
It didn’t take until the drink. Buffy wasn’t sure why any part of her had thought it would. Once they got talking, there just seemed so much more to say, and eventually everyone went home and Dawnie went to bed; they left the cleaning for tomorrow and stayed chatting on the back step with the promise that they’d lock up.
“… And so I told him – Romeo, if you wanna take me out on a date, there’s only one way you’re allowed to describe my outfit. A few options in the vocab, sure, but otherwise ‘something my kid cousin would wear’ isn’t gonna cut it.”
Thankfully, she got the timing on the punchline right, because it made Spike laugh – with that boyish little giggle he had that went straight up his nose, made his eyes all small and sparkly.
Buffy’s heart swelled to the size of a melon. “Please don’t leave me again,” she said, before she could stop herself. The words were definite, even in the early morning, and she couldn’t hold them back.
“Believe me,” Spike replied, giggles settled but the sparkle never gone. “That’s the last thing on my mind.”
“Good.” Buffy nodded, even though she knew it wasn’t quite a promise. That was only fair; she couldn’t ever promise to wait either, promise not to go herself. Which was, it had to be, a little pathetic. “God,” she realised, wrinkling her nose. “Do we suck or do we suck?”
There was a siren in the distance, stars above their heads. Spike was looking at her, and she could tell he was thinking the same thing. People her age were getting married, having children. They got all their friends and family in a room, dressed like they were going to a virgin sacrifice, cut the cake and made promises to be together forever. Her, on the other hand; she had the guy, the friends, the family, could get the cake… And yet she knew it wasn’t gonna happen.
Probably it was all the childhood trauma, but in any case Buffy knew the ceremony would always seem too cheap. Both of them would always ignore it if and when something bigger came along.
She tried to vocalise, because that much at least she did try to do. “I think the mission seriously owes us, you know? We should get a vacation. A free one.”
“And what exactly would we do on this vacation?” Spike asked, drawing the word out to make it sound dirty. Which it probably would be. Distracted by that, Buffy watched as he leaned back on his hands, beer long gone and his lap incredibly inviting. “Mission already takes us round the world, sets us up in a nice little homestead. It’s not a bad life.”
No, it wasn’t. “But I’m selfish.” She just was. “I want it all.”
Spike shrugged – because, of course, it wasn’t like he didn’t. “Not trying to jinx it or anything,” he said, “but what’s the likelihood that it’ll come round again we get a call to somewhere only one of us can go?” And, yeah, that was true. “More likely one of us’ll go for real. Got 3:1 odds there.”
“Let me guess?” Buffy snarked, giving into temptation and laying her head in Spike’s lap. She breathed out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. “You usually play on a lot worse?”
A strong hand stroked her hair, fingers twirling curlicues. “When the stakes are worth it,” he told her, “you’ve got to.”
Buffy closed her eyes. It was true, she decided, whatever they were saying. Beneath her, the concrete leeched warmth from her skin, but it took with it her regret.