Buffy spun around and pushed the rough wooden stake deep into the heart of her foe. He exploded in a fluttering pile of dust, leaving the Slayer panting and unsatisfied at the fight. After a long and boring sweep of all the cemeteries in Sunnydale, Buffy had dusted a whopping total of three vampires and one demon of unknown origin. It was probably the demon which had set her bad mood, having been particularly goopy; her outfit was mostly ruined from the thick orange substance. Add that to the fact that the three vampires were nothing more then fledglings and had been dusted quickly, and it made for a decidedly not-happy Buffy.
‘I should go home - there’s nothing all world-save-y tonight anyway.’ her mind reasoned with her, but Buffy trudged on anyway. She figured it was the last shreds of her Slayer duty telling her to make sure one more time, and Buffy at least knew better then to go against her instincts by now.
Then her Slayer sense kicked in, and Buffy was acutely aware of the vampire watching her. Mostly because he had been waiting for her, and because she had been waiting for him. The minute she turned around and saw him, Buffy knew she was going to take him down. This would be it.
Spike dropped his cigarette on the ground and quickly snuffed it out with his boot. He caught Buffy’s glare and smirked, knowing that look all too well. Of course, he had no clue what he had done to piss her off this time, and he was pretty sure that she wasn’t about to tell him either. “Hullo, Slayer.”
Buffy stood there in a kind of stunned shock; she had expected that he would know when she was going to kick his ass by now! He’s teasing me - he has the nerve to tease me!? “Spike,” she all but growled warningly.
Spike took several long strides until he was right in the Slayer's face. He cocked his head to the side and fringed puzzlement, hoping that maybe he had just caught her at a bad time and she would be more interested in a bit of rough 'n tumble that didn't involve fighting. “What’s that then, pet?”
“You know what,” Buffy responded haughtily, wanting nothing more then to smack that look off his face. ‘Or…’ a not-helpful part of her mind suggested none-too-subtly.
Spike grinned, obviously ready to make some snappy comeback, but Buffy got there first. The part of her mind that was edgy and frustrated and got distracted by his cheekbones and lips and other things beat the rational part of her senseless. It wasn't a fair fight. She grabbed the collar of his black leather duster and pulled Spike down for a kiss, once again noting that his mouth could be put to great uses when he wasn’t making snarky remarks.
Spike met her lips enthusiastically enough, throwing himself into snogging Buffy and only pausing when he remembered that she needed room to breathe, having almost forgot that little detail about her being human. She was about to pull him back, for which he was more then happy to oblige, when he caught the telltale snap of twigs and stepped back with a harsh whisper, “Someone’s coming.” Heightened vampiric senses caught the movement in the dark, as always, the predator on high alert.
Buffy, who would have found right-here-right-now perfectly acceptable - a good way to get rid of pent-up energy, even if she would never admit it to anyone - let out a frustrated groan. She paused in mid-mental-ramble and listened to see if he was correct. Sure enough, the telltale sound of human footsteps echoed and, as they got closer, Buffy could make out distinct voices. Very familiar distinct voices. Grabbing Spike’s arm, she rushed the amused vampire towards his crypt, hissing, “Shh, they’re getting closer.”
Spike fringed horror just because he knew it would irritate her, and his second favorite emotion from her was anger. “Ruh-roh - it’s the Scoobies - run!”
Buffy showed her disapproval with a glower, fighting the urge to whine because that would be a frighteningly familiar action to express with Spike. “I’ll pretend you didn’t say that,” she struggled with quietly opening his crypt door - she was so used to just kicking it in, “if you’ll open this thing!”
Spike rolled his eyes, muttered something about being ‘slayer-whipped,’ and moved to open the bloody door himself. However, the door had suffered far too many times - it had been kicked in, knocked down, and stormed out of - so that opening it quietly was taking some effort and finesse.
Fate was not on Buffy’s side tonight.
Just as the door was creaking open, voices could again be heard, and Buffy realized with a twinge of horror that her friends were coming in her direction. ‘Just great!’ She hauled Spike to the ground next to her behind some of the many graveyard bushes that always seemed to be conveniently (and prickly) adorning the cemetery.
Spike thought the cloak and dagger more than a bit of a laugh and shifted his position so that he could watch the scene unfold. When the Scooby Gang came into view and he discovered that they were heading quite decidedly to his crypt, however, his amusement faded. Spike bent his head to Buffy’s ear, careful not to make any noise loud enough for human ears, and whispered, “What the bloody hell do they think they’re doing at my crypt!”
Buffy shrugged and made a stabbing gesture with her free hand, while giving a death glare to her companion. A universal shut-up-before-I-stake-you made unmistakable. However both the vampire and Slayer paled when the gang found the door unlocked and slightly ajar -thanks to their earlier attempts to get inside- and walked right in. Spike muttered angrily, “Soddin’ gits!”
Buffy ignored Spike, shut her eyes, counted to ten, and willed patience. She figured that if they stayed too much longer she would remember that sleeping with an evil soulless vampire was bad, would punch Spike, and go home frustrated. Not the plan she had for her night. ‘Of course,’ she scolded herself, ‘sleeping with Spike wasn’t in the plan either. And here I am more worried that something will stop the whole sleeping-with-Spike plan. That was a bad plan. And, hey, when did that become a plan?’ Cutting off her mind's rambling, Buffy opened her eyes - after what had been more like counting to a hundred - and shrugged. “Doesn’t look like they’re coming out. Maybe we can sneak back to the-“
Buffy stopped as she turned and realized that she was talking to herself. Spike wasn’t there anymore. ‘When the hell did he leave?’ Sighing, she quietly got up from the uncomfortable position flat against the ground, made her way back through the cemetery, and back to her house, repeating half-heartedly, “The annoying, evil, pig of a vampire leaving is a good thing,” and lamenting that it was clearly not her night.
Slowly, the world came back into focus. It was sunny, bright; birds were chirping and… that was it. ‘Where is everyone?’ Buffy thought groggily as she rolled over and faced her alarm clock. It was well past noon and everyone should have been up and making way too much noise for her super-Slayer ears.
‘Huh,’ Buffy crawled out of bed, opened her door, and wandered down the empty and silent hall. ‘Think. Think… where is everyone… Last night, at Spike’s and then…’
Having reached the doors of each of her housemates in turn, the Slayer realized that none of the beds appeared to have been slept in. In fact, the house looked exactly like it had when she had entered the night before and promptly gone to bed, seeking to avoid any awkward Spike-related conversations with her friends.
That led to an even more disturbing idea, and possibly the only likely conclusion, ‘Unless they all bunked over at Giles’ or Xander’s, they’re still… oh god, they’re at Spike’s still?!’ This prospect proved to be something more disturbing than the thought of Giles becoming a computer nerd, which had been the spotlight of her dreams the night before.
Speaking out loud because the silence was starting to make her spider-sense get all super-sense-y, which was making her kind of edgy, Buffy yawned, “I need juice. Giles as a computer geek and the gang at Spike’s - I hope this isn’t a prophecy because this might be too much word-endiness for one Slayer to handle!” Stifling a laugh-at-your-own-joke giggle, she sighed, “And why do people never hear my good jokes. Or, if they do, they get all dusty?”
The Slayer briefly entertained the thought of going out to search for her friends to see if they were being held captive somewhere, but there didn’t seem to be any sign that would indicate people in danger. If they were with Spike, they were fine. Or yelling. But not about-to-be-sacrificed-to-some-creepy-demon-cult, at least. And besides, she was in her comfy white sushi pajamas. ‘Mental note: slaying in sushi pajamas not a good way to inspire fear in the demon community.’
Satisfied that if the world was ending it wasn’t happening this afternoon, or even if it was it could just end without her, Buffy grabbed her juice and settled down on her living room couch to watch Saturday morning cartoons and await the return of her friends and the inevitable lectures to follow. ‘Whatever they were doing at Spike’s - everybody - it can’t be good. No, no, no goodness there.’
“Right,” she announced in as cheery and sing-song voice as she could muster, “so, it’s waiting to find out what joke the powers of goodness have decided to play on my life this time. Fun, fun.”
She was definitely not pouting.
It took several hours for a sufficiently TV-brain-fried Slayer to process that her friends had not yet come home, and it was getting late. “Like, five o’ clock, late. As in, almost sunset,” her brain and mouth helpfully supplied without first consulting her, causing Buffy to give a little start.
“Okay, watching the four hour Bugs Bunny marathon, not of the good for the whole thinking process,” giving a little yawn, Buffy picked up her half-eaten bowl of cereal and brought it into the kitchen, dumping it regretfully into the garbage and putting the bowl in the sink with her previously finished orange juice glass.
Having used the even more brain-numbing commercials for getting dressed, bit-by-bit, Buffy was now almost completely dressed and accessorized, sans earrings and shoes. She hadn’t had time to rummage for either, but now that time didn’t matter in terms of ‘I’m going to miss the show,’ she found appropriate sets almost immediately.
Yawning once more - even though she had gotten more sleep than she probably had in the last month combined - Buffy took this as a sign that she was now supposed to greet the world. Grabbing her purse, equipped with stakes and keys, Buffy marched out the door. “Okay, world, here I come. All greet-y-like.”
Doing a quick assessment of where her friends were most likely to be and where she had the best chance of being able to sneak out, should they look all lecture-happy, Buffy decided to hit the Magic Box first, knowing that Anya leaving her money unattended for a whole day was highly unlikely. ‘Not to mention the loss of potential customers with cold hard cash to spend on frivolous items,’ Buffy recalled a line from one of the ex-demon’s many speeches on the topic of money.
Yet, upon reaching the store, Buffy found a sight that sent a shiver of fear down her spine. The Magic Box was indeed closed, the unusually cheerful sign that read ‘come in, we’re open,’ turned to the ‘sorry, we’re closed, please come again.’ The Slayer studied this phenomenon in abject horror for a moment before turning around and marching towards the cemetery.
‘There is no way they can still be at Spike’s! Still… better check, maybe he knows what happened to everyone if they aren’t there?’ She felt odd, clutching her purse, stake where she could reach it, prowling the cemetery in broad daylight. ‘Oh, god, if someone sees me here… I’ll look like such a creep!’
For once in her life, Buffy opened the door to Spike’s crypt quietly, trying not to make any noise so that she could just leave if she wanted. Instead of finding the usual sleeping vampire, bound to throw obscure British curse words at her for waking him up in the daytime, she found a huddled mass of bodies packed onto the couch and apparently picnicking on the floor.
On the couch were Dawn and Xander, who appeared to be in the midst of a wrestling match over something on the television. Anya was sitting with Willow and Tara on the makeshift picnic blanket, but was keeping a sharp eye on Xander and Dawn as if she were mentally saying 'I'm not jealous as long as they follow lots of gratuitous rules'.
However, to Buffy’s great joy, Giles was nowhere to be seen. Which was perhaps the only reason she didn’t turn on her heels and bolt when Xander looked up from the headlock Dawn currently had him in and squeaked out, “Hey, Buffster.”
Meekly, Buffy smiled, still confused as to why it was apparently open-crypt-day and where Spike had gotten to that he’d managed to avoid all this. “Hey, guys. What’s with the new meeting digs?”
Rising from where he had apparently been sitting just outside of her immediate view, Giles stood and spoke up, “Actually, Buffy, we have something we would like to discuss with you…”
Already halfway in the room, the Slayer wondered how her ex-watcher still managed to both surprise her and sneak up on her in equal measure. Giving into the very lecture-like tone of voice, Buffy began, “Uh… talk away…”
“Actually,” Giles continued, seeming unaware of the insecure blush that had crept to Buffy’s cheeks the minute talking was mentioned. “It’s about Spike… You haven’t seen him about anywhere, have you?”
"No-o," Buffy replied too quickly, fighting a rising tide of panic. "Seen Spike? Why would I have seen Spike? There is no seeing of Spike here." She cut herself off awkwardly, aware that she was babbling in a doth-protest-too-much sort of way.
Giles took off his glasses and began to clean them, always an ominous sign. "Yes, well, the thing is..."
"We saw you two shagging on the Magic Box cameras," Anya helpfully interjected, while Buffy felt her expression freezing into some sort of blind horror.
Xander laughed nervously, clapping his hands over Dawn's ears and ignoring her attempts to shake him off. "Whoa, Anya, not with the Dawnster present."
Finally prying her head free, Dawn rolled her eyes. "I'm not a child. I know Spike and Buffy have been shagging. It's totally obvious."
Giles' glasses looked like they were about to shatter from the pressure of their cleaning. Buffy glanced around and hoped a demon would kindly interrupt whatever this was or that the earth would just swallow her up. "We're not - it's not - what cameras? And, hey, we're in Spike's crypt with my baby sister discussing this why, exactly?"
Willow and Tara, at least, looked guilty at that. Willow winced. "Xander thought maybe there was another spell or, or a new Buffybot or something and wanted to check Spike's crypt? We thought we'd better tag along and everyone was already at the Magic Box and we didn't want to leave Dawn alone and Tara and I were worried and Giles was there and... well, then it was kinda a picnic... and are you sure you're not brainwashed or bespelled or anything? We can check!"
Blinking rapidly and cursing the fact that demons never were around when she needed to pummel one into the ground - especially one particular bad, evil demon who talked her into things like getting naked in her friends' store - Buffy narrowed her eyes at her sister. "Dawn. Home. Now. Someone take her. I don't want her hanging out in crypts."
Giles looked momentarily torn between his concern over Buffy's mental state and his desire to avoid awkward conversations. Thankfully, the latter won. "Quite right. I'll take her. Come along, Dawn."
"Aww, but it was just getting interesting - and this isn't really a crypt, it's just Spike's place and -" the teen trailed off at Buffy's not-impressed look, grabbing her book bag and grumbling loudly.
The silence in the crypt after Dawn stomped out, Giles following her with a last look that promised the conversation wasn't over, was pointed and awkward in the extreme. Buffy turned to the rest of her friends and tried frantically to think up a plausible excuse. "Look, whatever you think you saw, it wasn't-"
Once again overly helpful, Anya volunteered, "Oh, we know what we saw. It was very graphic and detailed, with a variety of positions that really are a credit to vampire stamina."
Xander cut smoothly across her, looking ready to be ill. "Really, really don't need the replay. Let's just say that we know what we saw and it's going to take a lot of alcohol and therapy to recover." He frowned, shuddering. "Actually, Ahn, maybe you should go open the Magic Box, while the rest of us work up the stomach to ever go back in there again?"
Anya frowned as well. "You just want to get rid of me. Well, fine. I could be making money while you all mope about Buffy's pleasingly active sex life."
The ex-demon grabbed her purse and stalked out of Spike's crypt before anyone could manage to formulate a reply. Xander looked like he meant to go after her, but he stopped himself.
Clearly, interrogating Buffy was the top of everyone's To-Do List today.
Sinking weakly to the couch, as far away from her friends as possible, Buffy tried, "It was a one-time thing..."
"Three times," Willow looked apologetic, but she never could resist accuracy. "Sorry, Buffy. We were reviewing the tapes to send for insurance claims, what with the frequent demon break-ins, and... yeah."
There was more awkward silence.
Finally, Tara tried, "Are you all right? I know - I know it was hard, when you first... got back, but Buffy..."
"We're all really worried," Willow finished.
Perhaps confiding in Tara before had been a terrible mistake because, reflecting on the few times her and Spike had 'shagged' in the Magic Box, she could see how it looked. "You don't need to be. I'm fine. No spell or robot or other creepy Hellmouth happening. 100% Buffy!" She felt the false cheeriness fade as quickly as it had appeared. "Look, things have just been different since I got back and... can we please not talk about this?"
"So there's a this to talk about," that was Xander, sounding resigned and as miserable as she felt.
Buffy shrugged, not sure what she wanted to say. She could barely admit to herself what kept her coming back to Spike's bed. Not that they ever actually made it to the bed. 'Oh, god, they all watched the tapes!' She put her head in her hands. "Oh, god," she moaned from between her fingers.
"You don't have to feel trapped," Tara tentatively touched her knee. "Or... is he hurting you?"
She didn't have to look up to know the horrified expressions that would be on her friends' faces.
"I'll kill him." That was Xander, sounding very, very serious. "He's just a walking pile of dust - I'll -"
From behind her hands, Buffy could feel her careful façade starting to crack. She didn't want to deal with this. She didn't know how to deal with this. How had she let herself get in this position? Sleeping with another vampire. An evil soulless one. And hiding it from her friends.
A sob escaped.
"Xander," Willow chided him.
Warm arms wrapped around Buffy that were unmistakably Willow-arms, and suddenly she was sobbing, right there in Spike's crypt, and somewhere in all that she managed to admit the one horrible truth. "I think I'm hurting him." The tears were impossible to stop now, and she was ruining Wil's sweater.
The sound of her sobbing echoed in the crypt, highlighting the stunned silence of her friends.
Willow shushed her, rocking her like a baby. "Hey, now, I'm sure that's not true."
"It is," Buffy sobbed, "I came back wrong. I'm a monster."
"Not possible," Xander's earlier anger had deflated like a punctured balloon, leaving a bewildered sort of conviction to his voice.
Buffy managed to sit up, wiping at her eyes with the sleeves of her shirt and probably smearing her mascara into major raccoon eyes. "I'm sleeping with Spike," it felt suddenly real, to say it out loud like that. Like she'd been trying to pretend it was all someone else and not her, Buffy. Which was kinda impossible with her friends gathered around her with their most Concerned Serious faces on. "How do you not all hate me? I hate me."
Ever to the rescue with damage control, Willow looked helplessly at the others and then took a deep breath. "Hey, Spike's not so bad. He's been good with Dawn, and he helped out a lot while you were... away... and he hasn't tried to kill any of us in years, really. Which is probably because of the chip... but did I mention the helping?"
"Oh yeah, Spike's just a swell guy, for being evil and undead," Xander muttered, throwing up his hands and pacing away.
"Not helping!" Willow made her frowny face at Xander's back.
Tara bit her lip, watching Buffy carefully. "Are you sure this is what you want, Buffy? Because before, it seemed a little... dangerous."
"I don't know," Buffy shook her head miserably. "He's just the only person I've really been able to talk to since..."
"And whose fault is that?!" Xander spun back around to accuse her, his hands clenched tightly at his sides.
She barely noticed Willow flinching away. A spark of her own anger flared to life, as wild and unpredictable as it had been since she'd been ripped from Heaven. Buffy was on her feet before she even realized she meant to move. "Oh my god, this is so not about you, Xander!"
"Of course not. I'm just your friend. Who is worried about you and wants to help. Why would you want to talk to me?"
"Because, despite what you always seem to think, who I'm in a relationship with is not any of your business!"
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Willow's face fall. "Relationship? Buffy, how could you not say anything?"
Deflated by the hurt in her two best friends' eyes, Buffy sighed heavily. "Because you both were busy with your own things and I didn't want to do this - the what's wrong with crazy Buffy game. You want to know why I'm with Spike? He doesn't expect me to be anything. You all want so desperately for me to be normal again, and I'm sorry that I'm not who you expected me to be."
Looking even more pained, Willow tried, "We don't expect you to be all normal, Buffy."
"You kinda do," Tara bit her lip and glanced at the three friends staring at her. "Sorry, I know it's none of my business, but Buffy's been through a lot. And maybe we can't understand and, if Spike can..." she got up from the picnic blanket, gathering it up to keep her hands busy and giving Buffy a hesitant smile, "then, I'm happy for you." Tara gave Willow's shoulder a comforting squeeze. "I'm gonna go. Let the three of you talk. Don't - don't be too hard on each other?"
Stunned into silence, Buffy offered Tara a grateful smile and tried to wrap her mind around the idea of someone else being happy that she was with Spike when even she wasn't sure how she felt about it. She glanced at Willow and Xander. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys. I didn't - I don't know how to explain, what to say."
After a terse moment, Willow came and sat next to Buffy again, Xander following her until it was just the three of them on the old couch. Willow was wearing her resolve face. "Just start at the beginning?"
"Leaving out all unnecessary and graphic details," Xander begged.
Buffy felt a laugh bubble up as she reached out gratefully and took her two oldest friends' hands. Just like that, and for the first time since her resurrection, it felt like maybe everything really might be okay after all.