Chapter 17: The Mall
Buffy couldn't help but reflect on all of those times Spike had told her he was evil and she hadn't believed him. But now she knew that he'd been telling the truth the whole time. He'd lured her out from the relative safety of The Center back into the real world with tales of epic battles and glory and honor. What she got instead was homework.
"I can't do this," Buffy said in frustration.
"Yes, you can," Willow told her. "Look, you won't have to actually figure out how to hack into the Initiative's computers; I'll be telling you what to do. But you have to know enough that you don't look out of place in Professor McDonnell's computer class."
"But if you know how to do all this hacking stuff, why do you need me?" Buffy asked.
She didn't really like Willow, or know how to talk to her, and she got the feeling that the young vampire hated teaching her as much as she hated learning. Not to mention that she got this distinct feeling when she was around Willow or Riley that they saw her as lunch.
"Because Professor McDonnell's office is protected by a highly sophisticated set of motion and heat sensors," Riley explained. "No vampire can get in there without setting off alarms that would bring the whole Initiative running. But you're not room temperature so you won't set off the alarms. McDonnell is the systems administrator for the Initiative, which is why his office on campus is the only computer outside of the Initiative compound that is part of the network. It's our only chance of getting into the Initiative files without having to actually break into the base."
Buffy sighed as Willow directed her attention back to the computer screen.
"Now, start by bringing up a shell window," Willow told her.
It didn't take long for Buffy's eyes to glaze over. Just when she thought she couldn't take one more Unix command, Spike strolled into the impromptu classroom.
"That's enough of that for tonight," he declared. Both Willow and Riley started to protest but he waved them off. "Doesn't matter how smart you make her. If she shows up on campus looking like Xena's sidekick, no one's going to believe that she's just another student. Time to do a bit of shopping."
Buffy's face lit up at that. If there was anything she missed about the real world it was the mall. And nothing was better for recovering from learning than a bit of shopping.
Willow and Riley were obviously unhappy with the suggestion. Buffy didn't understand everything that was going on in this vampire world she'd stumbled into, but she did know that Spike had a lot of power here, and that both Willow and Riley resented it.
Not that Buffy particularly cared. If it came down to it she would side with Spike over Willow and Riley any day.
Right now she wasn't worried about any of that. She was just excited by the prospect of shopping. Not to mention that this would give her some alone time with Spike; something she'd been wanting ever since he'd come back into her life.
She hurried through the strange set of tunnels that made up the vampire lair to her 'room'. It was actually a cave, but all things considered a rather comfy one. The truth was it was better furnished than her entire house in The Center had been, and Darla was constantly asking if she had everything she needed. Buffy found that a little creepy. It was almost as if she was some exotic pet lizard who needed a carefully constructed habitat.
Buffy quickly changed out of the leather armor that felt like a second skin into the more normal clothes she had bought for the night out she and Spike had shared. She always felt a bit naked without the protective leather, but she knew Spike was right. She'd didn't exactly blend. And she was too nervous and excited to really care.
As she left her room, she found Spike waiting for her, but much to her disappointment he wasn't alone. Standing next to him was a perky blonde vampire.
"Oh, hi. Harmony, right?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah, that's right," the blonde beamed. "Are you excited? I'm so excited. It's been simply forever since I've been to the mall. I mean, I don't think I've had a single pair of new shoes in the last three months. Three months! Can you believe it? But Darla's all, it's too dangerous up there and you might get caught by the Initiative, which would suck, although maybe not so much if they're all as hunky as Ril-"
"Harm! Quiet." Spike barked. "You ready, Slayer?"
"Yeah," Buffy told him as they headed out to the surface and the Sunnydale Mall.
Despite his orders, Harmony couldn't keep quiet for long. After his third attempt to shut her up, Spike apologized to Buffy. "Sorry about blondie here. Thing is, I know more about undressing than dressing coeds."
Harmony giggled at that, and suddenly Buffy wondered if Spike and Harmony were sleeping together. Just like that, Buffy became aware of the fact that Harmony was much more endowed than she was, and wondered if maybe they could add a push-up bra to her new wardrobe.
The thought made her blush, but Spike didn't notice–he just kept on speaking.
"And Darla said Harm's up on all the fashions and whatnot. So here she is. Sorry about all the chatter."
"It's okay," Buffy told him. "I don't mind."
She hated how meek and conciliatory her voice sounded, but it was true. She didn't mind Harmony's constant chatter. For one thing, it meant Buffy didn't have to think of anything to say. And she suddenly realized that as much as she wanted to spend time alone with Spike, she had no idea what she would say to him.
But it wasn't just that Harmony effectively filled all awkward silences. Harmony's incessant talking was kind of familiar. In fact Harmony was a lot like Buffy's old friends from L.A. As they moved through the mall putting together Buffy's new wardrobe, she began to feel comfortable, like she was back in her element in a way she hadn't felt since she'd first been kidnapped and taken to The Center.
When Buffy had tried to reintegrate with her old life after gaining her freedom, she hadn't been able to stand the chatter of her old friends. It had seemed empty and hollow. Or at least that was what Buffy had told herself. Now she realized the problem had really been that at every moment Buffy had felt like she was playing a role. Like she had to hide who she really was, because she knew her friends and parents would think she was crazy if she let anything about The Center slip.
But Harmony more or less knew about all of that. She was, after all, a vampire, and so Buffy didn't feel like she had to pretend to be someone else. Somehow, that made it feel okay to just be a girl again.
Although Harmony vetoed the first few things Buffy chose for herself, it didn't take long for Buffy to start to get a feel for what was in again. As they went from store to store Buffy found herself slowly inserting herself into Harmony's running dialogue.
"Are we done yet?" Spike complained as they left their third shoe store. Considering he was the one stuck carrying the numerous shopping bags they had accumulated, Buffy couldn't blame him.
Harmony sighed. "I suppose the mall will be closing soon. And since Darla said we couldn't st- I mean we just have one more store we need to go to. But you have to wait here," she told Spike.
"Yeah, that's not happening," Spike told her. "Someone has to keep an eye out, in case any solider boys show up."
"Well, we're going in there." Harmony pointed at a lingerie store and Buffy could feel her cheeks starting to burn. "So you're just going to have to keep an eye out from here."
Spike laughed. "Yeah, I'm definitely not waiting out here. Someone's got to tell you if it fits or not."
Buffy was suddenly sure that her face must be as red as the lace bra and panty set the display mannequin in the window was wearing.
"Oh my God!" Harmony gasped as she slugged Spike in the shoulder. He straightened up and Buffy thought he was about to drop everything and hit Harmony back, when Harmony continued. "Have you been paying any attention tonight? I so almost had the hidden cool girl out of Buffy, and now look, she's all embarrassed and freaky shy girl again. We are so hitting two more stores now. And you are waiting here."
Spike shrunk back down and looked apologetically towards Buffy, which only made her feel worse. She was absolutely horrified when Harmony pointed out her embarrassment; however, she didn't have much time to dwell on it because Harmony grabbed her hand and roughly pulled her into the lingerie store.
"Don't mind him," Harmony assured Buffy. "He's just such a guy. Now let's see what we can find to maybe make those study sessions with Riley a bit more fun?"
"Riley? I don't think. . . I mean. . ."
Harmony laughed. "I know, I'm kidding. Sure he's got that sort of football player cuteness about him, but that's so High School. So. . . who is it?"
"Who is what?" Buffy asked, even though she was pretty sure she knew what Harmony was getting at.
"You know. Who do you like? I mean now that we have you some proper clothes the guys are going to be all over you."
"You think?" Buffy said nervously. She didn't really want the guys to be all over her–well maybe one guy.
"I know. So who do you have you eye on?"
"Well, I mean, I guess Spike is kind of-"
"I knew it!" Harmony interrupted with a little clap of triumph. "He is kind of hot, isn't he? He is supposed to be some major bad-ass too, but I also hear he can be a total sweetie. He used to date this girl, Drusilla, who was like a total psycho. But I guess he was always taking care of her. Of course he's a total fixer-upper. I mean hello, just because you're a creature of the night doesn't mean that you can only wear black."
Buffy nodded in agreement, grateful that once again Harmony didn't need her to actively participate in the conversation. On the other hand, there was a lot of trying on of stuff. Buffy didn't really know her bra size anymore, and Harmony wanted to be sure that everything fit her correctly.
Buffy did end up with more than one push-up bra, although she wasn't sure if she would really be comfortable wearing them, since she felt like her chin was about to hit her breasts when she was wearing one.
Soon they had a large pile of lacy things.
"Don't you think this is enough?" Buffy asked.
"Just one more thing. You know, just in case," Harmony said as she pulled Buffy further into the store.
In case what? Buffy wondered, until Harmony brought her to a stop in front of several bustiers hanging on the wall.
"Isn't that a little. . ." Buffy wasn't sure what it was, but she couldn't imagine actually wearing the black 'corset' she was looking at.
"Oh, not that one. That's way too Willow. I mean talk about having something to prove. No, I was thinking something softer, something more like this."
Harmony directed Buffy's attention to another bustier which was much frillier than the one she had first seen. It was also mostly pink although the ribbing and the laces were black. As Harmony searched for Buffy's size, the Slayer wondered if she really could get away with wearing something like that, and what Spike would think if he saw her in it.
Darla could hear the excited clack of Harmony's shoes and the rustling of bags long before the young vampire appeared in her chamber.
"Thank you so much Mistress for letting me go out. It was such a blast. And Buffy, she's kind of cool. Or at least she could be if she doesn't spend too much time with Willow."
"I take it everything went smoothly?" Darla asked.
Harmony kept digging through her bags as she answered. "Completely. And you were so right. Ah here they are!" Harmony triumphantly produced a shoe box and handed it to Darla. "I saw these and I was like, Darla would look so love these."
Darla took the gift, knowing that it was better to let Harmony get to the point in her own time.
As she opened the box, a huge smile broke on Darla's face. The new Prada heels that Harmony had picked out really were fantastic. The girl did have great taste when she wasn't shopping for herself.
Darla eagerly slipped on the new shoes to try them out.
"Those would look so good with your black dress. You know, the lacy one," Harmony said. "Anyway, you were right. Buffy has a complete crush on Spike. Of course, I think she's too shy to really do anything about it. When we-"
Darla smiled, only half listening to what Harmony was saying. Since she had first met the Slayer she'd been fairly sure that the girl had some romantic notions about Spike. Still it was good to have it confirmed. It was a dangerous game having a slayer in the midst of so many vampires. But if the girl was busy day dreaming about Spike she was less likely to cause any trouble.
The only thing that worried Darla was that the feelings might go both ways. The Slayer was a valuable, but ultimately disposable weapon. But Darla wasn't sure Spike saw her that way.
Darla had expected Spike to take his place in her bed when she had made him her champion, but he hadn't. What's more, he hadn't taken up with any of the other vampires. She hoped that he was simply pining for Drusilla. That was, if not normal for a vampire, at least understandable.
But Darla was beginning to be afraid that Spike's plan was less about defeating the Initiative, and more about finding an excuse to be around a certain young blonde. And there was too much at stake to allow Spike's latest obsession to undermine all their plans.
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