Still furious with Spike for the events of the night before, Buffy kicked in the door of his crypt ready to settle things once and for all. Even though she still hadn't quite figured out how, she was sure it would come to her. She had faith, along with the fury.
At first there had been shock, then hurt, then fury, followed by more hurt. That was just at having caught what he did with Anya on camera. When Xander had gone after him, there was big, big fear; and then Spike had said what he did and there was shame, and then fury again.
Buffy had been up all night, seething, but had to put battle mode on hold when Dawn jumped back from the suddenly flattened door, screaming at her surprise entrance.
Spike, acting on instinct, had jumped up from where he was sitting and took a defensive pose in front of Dawn only to slump back into his chair when he saw it was Buffy.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said. “So kind of you to knock. Come to beat me up again?”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed at him and Dawn gasped, looking between them.
“Stop doing that!” demanded Buffy, her eyes not leaving Spike, even if he was refusing to look back at her.
“What? A bit too much truth for you?” he snapped.
“You didn’t?” said Dawn, her voice still coming out as a partial scream.
Buffy cast her eyes to the floor before flicking them up again to lock Spike in another glare. “Keep my friends and family out of our drama.”
“Whoa!” said Dawn. “What the freak is happening here?”
Buffy turned to her. “Why are you here? Why are you always here, sneaking around?”
Dawn’s own eyes hardened. “Hey, you were the one pawning me off on Spike all last year when you couldn’t find anyone else.”
“Just go home,” Buffy sighed, rubbing her temple as exhaustion overtook adrenaline in her blood and her shoulders sagged.
“No,” said Dawn, crossing her arms.
“Niblet,” said Spike, the ire having turned to weariness in his voice, too.
“No,” she said to him as well. “Stop it, both of you.” Silence reigned for a beat, then Dawn said to Buffy, “Your Birthday. Spike had all the cuts and stuff. Tell me you didn’t–”
“Drop it, Niblet,” Spike insisted, more firmly. “Please.”
She frowned at him then looked at her sister again.
“It was complicated,” said Buffy, which made Spike snort. She rounded on him in a flash. “You’re the one that brought it up. You can’t do that and expect there to be no questions, and refuse to answer them.”
Spike tilted his head to the side. “You want me to answer them?”
Buffy’s hands went to her hips. “No. I want you to shut up and stop sleeping with my friends! I want you to leave me and my friends and my sister alone.”
Spike stood up and faced her, holding up a hand. “One,” he began, pointing at Dawn, “She came to me.” He pushed his finger down to his palm and held up the one beside it. “Two: don’t go pretending you care about Anya. You aren't friends, you only tolerated her because she was with Xander.”
Buffy clenched her fists but didn’t say anything.
“Go on, tell me I’m wrong?” he goaded, ignoring the rest of his list.
“It’s not the point,” she ground out, her voice softening when she said to Dawn, “You really shouldn’t be here. You don't need to hear this.”
Dawn hesitated but held her ground. “It’s obvious a lot has been going on. Seems to me like you need someone to mediate.”
“Not you,” said Buffy.
“There’s not even any point,” added Spike. “Not now, is there?”
Again, Buffy said nothing. Dawn sighed and turned from her to Spike. “Look, if you just apologise, maybe she will too and–”
“Hang on,” said Spike. “I may not be proud of what happened with Anya, but it’s not like it was technically wrong. She’s not with Harris any more, and that’s because of what he did.”
“Oh yeah,” said Buffy, “Well, what about what you said to Xander?”
Spike opened his mouth and closed it again, not finding words to match the sudden contrition on his face.
“Wait,” said Dawn, holding up a hand. “He didn’t cheat on you?” She was addressing her questions to Buffy again, but still looking between her and Spike. “I thought you guys were a thing, but the Anya thing wasn’t wrong? Were you guys, like, an open thing?”
“Dawn, please,” said Buffy, her voice desperate and eyes glossy.
Spike gave a resigned sigh. “We might as well tell her,” he said. “She already knows most of it, and anything she guesses or finds out the hard way is gonna be worse.”
Buffy bit her lip before quickly swiping at her eyes, only making them go even more damp and red. “I wanted to keep you from this,” she said to Dawn, her voice quiet. Broken, almost. After a deep breath, her shoulders slumped further and she said, “I broke things off. A couple of weeks ago.”
Dawn’s expression twisted into something halfway between confusion and pity. “So, uh…” she began again. “The thing with Anya?”
“It was a mistake,” said Spike. “Didn’t know it was gonna get a bloody public viewing.”
“Well, it was in public place,” Dawn started to say, but he stopped her with a look. She swallowed. “Anyway….” Her eyes clouded over as she processed the information fully. “It wasn’t cheating, check. I’m not even gonna ask why you guys broke up, because clearly mega, mega issues, but,” she paused again, turning back to her sister. “Buffy, why didn’t you tell me?” her voice hardened again as she added, “And why did you beat him up?”
“Your sis was in a dark place,” Spike answered, before Buffy could. “It wasn’t all her fault. I was pushing and–”
“No,” Buffy interrupted. “I need to take responsibility for this. Dawn, I….” Her voice wavered, but she pushed on. “Things were hard, when I came back. Spike was…. Spike was there, and he was nice, and he listened, and–” She levelled her gaze at her feet. “Yeah, okay, I wanted him. It just–”
“It’s okay,” said Dawn, reaching for her hand and giving it a squeeze, “I get that part.”
Buffy looked up at her, her eyes wet again. “You do?”
Dawn scoffed. “Uh, totally. Spike’s awesome.” Spike choked on his drink and she looked back around at him. “Oh, shut up.”
He gave her a brief bewildered look before concluding, “Things happened. It doesn’t matter now.”
“But it does,” said Dawn. “You maybe broke up or whatever, but things are clearly far from over. And anyway, even if they are, you need to get past it and hang out again.”
“Yeah?” said Spike, “And whys that?”
“Well,” said Dawn, “Selfish, I know, but I need you to be friends again.”
Spike snorted, reiterating his earlier, “Not friends,” comment.
“Since when are you such an expert on who my friends are?” snarked Buffy.
“Tell me I’m wrong,” he said again.
“Damn it, Spike!”
“I thought so.”
“Guys,” Dawn pleaded, “I’m serious. I need you both.”
Once more, the anger left their faces.
“Maybe,” said Buffy.
“We can try,” agreed Spike.
Dawn didn’t look especially reassured and had just opened her mouth to say something else when Buffy’s new cell phone rang – a gift from Giles that only he and the rest of the gang had the number of, to be used specifically in case of emergency.
After a brief but intense conversation, Buffy snapped her flip phone closed.
“We’re going,” she said to Dawn.
“What?” said Dawn, “Where to? What happened?”
“Now,” said Buffy, reaching for her arm to drag her along if necessary.
“What happened?” Dawn asked again, easily stepping out of her sister’s reach. “Buffy, who was that?”
“There’s no time,” said Buffy as Spike stood up.
Dawn crossed her arms once more and said, “You’re doing it again. Holding back. If you’d actually told me what was up, we’d be out of here already.”
Buffy clenched her fists before releasing a heavy breath. “It was Xander. He’s at the hospital with Willow. Tara’s hurt.”
Face pale, Dawn pulled the strap of her bag more tightly across her shoulder. “Okay,” she said in a shaky breath, her determination shifting focus. “Let’s go.”
In unison, all three of them moved towards the door before Buffy whirled on Spike. “Where are you going?”
“Giving you a lift, init.”
“No,” said Buffy, “You’re not.”
“You just said there was no time,” Dawn reminded her.
Grudgingly, Buffy swallowed down the rest of her objections and said, “Fine.” She was back to not looking at Spike.
Hating being backed into a corner, Buffy’s anger started to simmer again as unwelcome thoughts flooded her mind during the ride over, no doubt evoked by the same smell of bourbon and smoke that had been haunting her dreams.
She was in the front seat, beside Spike, with Dawn in the back. The same seat where they had done… things. Close enough to reach over and– her tongue slipped out from between her lips to wet them and she bit down on it, abandoning the rest of the thought. A different part of her brain wondered if Spike still tasted like Anya’s lip-gloss, or if he’d showered since they– nope, that thought was swiftly tossed away, too.
“Could you possibly drive any faster?” she snapped.
“Not if you wanna get there alive and without a police escort,” said Spike. “You were always the one telling me to slow down, and it’s not like I could kill some coppers to get them off our trail.”
“Sure, now he listens to me,” she said under her breath. With his advanced hearing, he still probably heard her, but thankfully said nothing.
Buffy sighed, releasing a portion of her frustration into the breath. She knew she was being unfair to him, and that Dawn was right about him having not technically done anything wrong, but that didn’t make her feel any better.
Thoughts and feelings all tied up, there was a fresh layer of guilt slapped on top as she thought about how selfish it was to dwell on her own drama while Tara was hurt. Again.
Unbidden, the memory of how she’d been after Glory rooted around in her head resurfaced. What it had done to Willow…. Buffy shook her head, hoping against hope that she’d never have to see her friend that broken again. She’d been doing better, lately, but Buffy had no doubt that if Tara died, or worse, it would send her off the deep end big style. If that happened, she may not be able to be brought back and, what’s more, Buffy wouldn’t even blame her.
Yet more unwanted memories swamped her, of her and Spike’s charged words when he’d heard about Tara the previous year.
I told Willow fighting Glory would be suicide.
I'd do it. Right person. Person I loved. I'd do it.
Buffy swallowed. Of course he’d fight to the death for those he loved. She didn’t doubt it for a second. The truth formed into something hard in her gut and she had to control her breathing not to gasp in pain. Spike loved her, and she’d beat the crap out of him. Why was the horror of that only hitting her now?
Spike switched lanes to avoid a line of cars waiting for lights to change and she realized something else; that she could be very easily making her way to the hospital to see Dawn if her sister had actually listened to her and went home when she’d told her to, or if Spike hadn’t protected her all those times, or–
Oh, god. Buffy leaned forward, clutching her stomach.
“You okay, pet?” asked Spike, glancing over at her and starting to slow.
“No,” said Buffy, her teeth gritted. “Don’t stop. I’m fine.”
Spike locked his eyes back on the road ahead, keeping the car at pace as her awkward choice of words no doubt brought echoes out of his memory, too.
Dawn’s hand landed on her shoulder. “What is it?” she asked, softly.
Guilt, Buffy was tempted to answer. “Warren,” she said instead. “He so needs his ass kicked.”
They went the rest of the way draped in heavy silence.
At the hospital, relief was almost a palpable thing as it flooded over Buffy at the news that Tara was awake and talking.
“She’s going to be okay,” said Xander, his voice choked.
Buffy hugged him tight, not letting go until his bones started to creak under the pressure. He flashed her a thankful smile when she released him and she gave him a guilty one in return. She’d gotten too used to not needing to fetter her strength with Spike and she missed the abandon.
What she didn’t miss was the sudden change in Xander’s demeanour. His face fell and eyes hardened at whatever was over her shoulder. It wasn’t hard to guess what, or who, he was looking at.
Buffy turned to see Dawn enter with Spike, his blanket under his arm. They’d finally found a parking space a non-lethal distance from the emergency room, it seemed.
“What’s he doing here?” asked Xander, his voice caustic, only to be caught off guard again when Anya showed up, moments later. She approached as the others hung back and Buffy went over to tell Dawn the good news.
After taking a moment to calm down, Dawn asked if she could see Tara. Xander told her that, yes, she was allowed visitors, but no more than two at a time.
“Willow’s in with her now.”
Dawn nodded and approached the door, giving it a knock. Willow opened up, hugged her, and then stepped past her out of the room when she saw everyone else stood in the hallway.
“Thanks for coming,” she said, a smile on her tear-streaked face.
“What happened?” asked Anya, the genuine concern in her voice surprising Buffy. Maybe she cared more than she’d previously given her credit.
“Warren,” said Willow, her voice catching. “He came to the house. I don’t know, it happened so fast. One second he was yelling, demanding Buffy come out and face him, and then he pulled a gun, waving it around when we said you weren’t home. Tara tried to calm him and she–” Willow broke off, sobs grabbing hold of her again.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Xander soothed. “She’s okay.”
“I know,” said Willow, “It’s just–”
“We get it,” said Buffy. “Don’t worry.”
Willow nodded, sniffing as she tried to control herself. “Warren,” she said again.
“I’ll deal with him,” Buffy assured her. “You okay to sit with Dawn for a bit?”
“Tara will enjoy the company,” Willow affirmed, telling Buffy to wait when she moved to leave.
“Something else?” Buffy questioned.
“Yeah,” said Willow, her red-rimmed eyes looking back and forth between Buffy, Spike, Xander, and Anya. “Tara said something to me last night.”
“Intel?” Xander questioned.
“No.” Willow shook her head. “Something more important. About skipping past all of the bad stuff and holding firm to the people you love.”
Awkward glances swung four different directions across the waiting room.
“This isn’t the time,” said Buffy, speaking on behalf of them all.
“It’s exactly the time!” said Willow, her voice raised. “You don’t get it. This time is all we have.” She took a breath to calm herself again before continuing. “We’ve all messed up. All of us. But nothing is guaranteed – we could all be dead tomorrow, or even later today – so we have to get up and move on. You might not get a second chance.”
“It’s not that easy, Red,” said Spike, who blinked and tilted his head when Xander said, “He’s right.”
“Yeah, he is,” agreed Willow. “None of this is easy, but I almost lost Tara today. Again. You know what would have made it worse? If she hadn’t given me a second chance, or I’d been too stupid to take it.”
Anya swallowed then turned to Xander. “I’m hurting,” she said, “So are you. I think it’s dumb.”
“Right about that,” said Buffy, grimly.
“Like a certain song once said, where do we go from here?” asked Spike.
Buffy blushed as the memory of exactly what happened at song’s end flashed in her mind.
“Hold firm,” Willow reiterated. “Deal with everything else one step at a time after.”
At the end of her stirring speech, Buffy followed her instinct and rehashed a different part of the gang’s musical number, literally taking hold of Spike’s hand and gripping it to her like a drowning woman clenching a raft.
For the second time that day, a wave of relief flooded her when Spike gripped back just as hard. He squeezed with bruising strength and Buffy was glad of it, sure she’d have been knocked sideways by the events of the day if he wasn’t grounding her. Like he’d always grounded her.
Xander and Anya both glanced at where their hands were linked then looked at each other and left without a word, though it was obvious big conversations were coming for them too.
“Wanna go beat up some nerds?” Buffy asked Spike, once Willow went back in the hospital room again, leaving them alone in the corridor.
“Don’t think I could land any punches without a migraine,” said Spike, “But I could hold them down for you, if you want.”
“Works for me,” said Buffy. “Guys like that, I never know if they’ve been bullied too much or not enough.”
Spike snorted a laugh before turning serious again. “And then–?” he prompted.
“Then…” said Buffy, giving his hand another squeeze. “Then we figure it out. Step by step, just like Willow said.” She refused to drop his hand as they walked back to the car, ready to end their mission and start the recovery process.
Despite everything, Willow was right. You weren’t guaranteed anything. The thought of maybe losing Spike, even if it was just him moving on and finding someone else? Buffy realized she couldn’t deal. And she didn’t have to.
A time would come when they’d have to air all their dirty laundry but, with honesty, effort, and a kid sister who refused to give in, they might just make it.