“Oh sweetie,” Willow’s tone was full of parental condescension and accusation, as if scolding a child for a repeated blunder. With a lowered voice, mindful of the snaking line of ice cream shoppers close enough to their table to eavesdrop, she continued, “Tell me you didn’t feed Spike your blood.”
She might’ve said, “Tell me you didn’t sleep with Angel,” because the implication was the same: Buffy was misbehaving, Buffy was Exhibit A for poor judgement, Buffy could not be trusted with members of the Undead, Buffy needed her friends to point her to the path of righteousness and keep her there, lest she go astray. Because Buffy the Vampire Slayer just donated blood to save an unlife (all without the legitimacy of the Red Cross as go-between), which just proved that even in her freak show performance of a life, she kept falling off the stage.
So it was natural that Buffy fell into step and regressed into the role of a rebellious child with her response. “Yeah, kinda,” Buffy flashed her friend a too-bright smile, all false cheer and bravado. She might slay demons whose names she couldn’t pronounce without batting an eye, and save the world from apocalypses every May like clockwork, but she also craved the favorable opinions of her friends, who served as the only consultable reference for normal in her world. One such friend currently narrowed her eyes at her, her lips pressed into a thin line of disapproval.
Buffy applauded herself for having known that this would be the kind of conversation that required ice cream as emissary. “OK,” she waved her ice cream spoon as if it held the truth, and leveled with her, “You didn’t see Spike after we rescued him from Glory. He looked like a used crash test dummy, except not so much for a vehicle collision as for a torture chamber. He was beaten to a pulp, Will, almost beyond recognition, and--”
Willow made a face, while Buffy let her gaze sweep the ice cream shop in a once over. Satisfied with their apparent privacy, Buffy continued sotto voce, “and yet he managed to keep his mouth shut about Dawnie.”
Willow had the good grace to look contrite. “Yeah, that’s...remarkable. I get that you feel indebted to him, I do. Even Xander feels bad for him, and you know it takes a lot for Xander to sympathize with a vampire. It’s just that--” She let her voice trail off, then stirred her melting cup of Rocky Road, lost in thought.
Buffy let the silence hold. In her mind, she counted off all of Spike’s crimes, those notorious enough to earn a mention in one of Giles’s books, and those in recent history she witnessed first-hand. Some of them were aimed directly at her and hers, at Willow. It wasn’t so much a checkered record as one ginormous blot. Redacted to a G-rating, there’d be nothing left to recount. Balanced against this one noble act of loyalty and self sacrifice, they tipped the scale the other way, all the way.
Buffy sighed. She was on thin ice. Even her Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip ice cream was doing the symbolic melting thing. Stupid metaphorical ice cream. She understood Willow’s hesitation, but she also needed her best friend, her oldest ally and an increasingly powerful witch in her own right, to buy into the idea that Spike had changed, as he had beseeched the group to admit. Creature of the night that he undoubtedly was, she needed their developing alliance, and dare she say it, friendship, to be able to withstand the scrutiny of the cold light of day.
For this to have a chance, whatever this was, it had to take place in the open, without a hint of shameful dealing kept on the down-low. For him (and her) to not have to constantly watch his back, she needed to secure for him at least a begrudging acceptance from the Scoobies before enfolding him into her circle.
After all Buffy and Willow had gone through, Buffy couldn’t twist her arms; her friend simply had to come around on her own. And if she didn’t have Willow on her side, could she muster the courage to come clean to Xander and Giles?
“Still, Buffy,” Willow broke the silence, “Slayer blood? That’s gotta do stuff to a vampire. And not just any vampire, this is Spike: unsouled, undoubtedly-evil-until-recently-chipped Spike. Steal-your-sweater-to-make-a-shrine Spike.” Her eyes widened in remembrance, stream-of-consciousness taking over, “Kidnap-you-and-chain-you-up-until-you-admit-you-love-him Spike”. By now Willow was back to looking terrified, “Lurking-and-stalking-and-sneaking-and...”
“Whoa, Willow, easy!” She put a comforting hand on the witch, who had started to hyperventilate.
“Sorry,” Willow took a deep breath, and exhaled a shaky laugh. “I think I got a little carried away. I--I’m OK.”
Buffy waited for Willow to calm down before she replied, “He’s changed, Will. The way he swore to protect Dawn with his unlife when he thought he was talking to the BuffyBot, the way he bore all of Glory’s torture without even looking to score brownie points with me--he wasn’t pretending, he wasn't trying to game us. This isn’t a scheme or a trick. It’s real.”
Willow was chewing on the ends of her hair, a nervous tick, “But Buffy--”
“I wasn’t going to make a habit of it, alright?”, Buffy quickly added, her voice pleading, “I told Spike as much. He was losing blood like a...a leaky vampire, white as a sheet. Except,” her brows furrowed as she remembered, “his actual sheets were soaked with blood from his injuries, so...not so white. Anyway, it was an emergency, I had to make a call.”
Their eyes found each other. Buffy’s gaze was intense, as it often was when she had a cause. Willow looked pale herself, but relented, “Is he going to be OK?”
It was Buffy’s turn to fidget with the spoon. “I--I hope so. And fast. I’m counting on him to help with Glory. None of us is a real match for the hell bitch, but I’m hoping together, we can last a little longer.”
“You really trust him?” It boiled down to this, didn’t it?
Buffy weighed the question, but there was only one answer, “I do.”
A slow, meaningful nod from Willow. “OK,” she said solemnly. “I hope you’re right about him, Buffy. Because if he’s still in love with you--”
A blush, a secret smile, flushing cheeks, lowered eyes, absent-minded ice cream stirring. Willow caught on right away, words tumbling out in alarm, “Oh no, I know that look. You can’t, Buffy! Is it the blood? Like once you’ve fed a stray puppy, you just want to take it home with you?”
“Or...I know!” Willow’s eyes widened in remembrance, like she just figured out a challenging test question, “It’s what you said about thinking that real love and passion going hand in hand with pain and fighting, right?” In a small voice, she practically begged for Buffy to deny it, “You’re not in love with Spike, are you?”
“In love?” Buffy echoed Willow’s intonation with a nervous little laugh. “I’m not even sure I like him all the time.”
Without warning, images of a naked Spike of a very inappropriate nature flashed before Buffy’s eyes, steady and relentless like a slideshow stuck on fast forward, overwhelming her sense memory of the vampire in question: Bloody gashes and angry welts and purple bruises and swollen eye superimposed on, then melting away from, gleaming alabaster skin and tight lean muscle and lithe powerful body, half reclining in a bed of velvet sheets or swaggering onto a bursting dance floor or striking out against a retreating demon twice his size. Whoa. There was much likeability there.
Buffy blinked as the slideshow decelerated into a downtempo of even more alarming display: his hands, meant to comfort, patting awkwardly on her shoulder that night on the porch; his voice, passionate baritone, as he swore to protect Dawn; then his body again, vibrating with power and seeming so alive in a fight… She could argue they were friends and allies till she was blue in the face, but the fact remained that something had been brewing for a while now, something beyond platonic comradery. She had, simply, begun to notice Spike. Really notice him.
Off of Willow’s “not buying it” look, she thought, might as well go for broke. Who knew when she’d feel all about the sharing again? “But there is something. An understanding. Common ground. Sparkage.”
“There’s sparkage?” Willow fidgeted, holding up her gooey Rocky Road. “I rather think a relationship with a vampire would be like me getting involved with ice cream…”
“That it’s refreshing on a hot day and comes in many flavors?” Buffy was confused, then perked up as an odd thought popped into her head: Mmm, lickable Spike--
“No! That you’re yummy, delicious, and have a very short shelf life! Buffy, you’re the ice cream in that equation! Think about it! Vampires are immortal, and eat humans. Rocky Road is good and all for ice cream, but as a metaphor for a relationship? That’s all kinds of bad!”
“Ouch, Will! There’s no relationship, OK? But there is…intrigue. Maybe some kissing. And I am the Slayer after all. Vampires, expiration date--your typical day in the life of Buffy Summers.” She dismissed the concern with a wave of her spoon.
Did Willow look convinced? She sounded bewildered. “And now there’s kissage. Kissage and sparkage. Oh, Buffy, I’m willing to believe that Spike’s changed for the good, but promise me you’ll think this not-a-relationship through?”
Even as Buffy nodded and promised and resumed small talk that ice cream was good for the soul, she realized she’d been fighting a moot battle. They didn’t get it; they couldn’t. The normal life that everyone, Angel included, had dangled in front of her like a carrot, as if a reward for model behavior, was never within her grasp.
She only pretended to be normal, emulated normal, like a child playing house. Other girls her age might have ice cream with their BFFs and go back to the dorms and fret about upcoming finals, whereas she, once her ice cream break was over, must return to her lifelong mission fighting demons the world over. That she had to, as of late, take on protecting a dimensional Key of a sister from a hell god intent on bleeding her dry and ending life as they knew it, as well as an army of medieval knights that came fully costumed, horses and all, was just the icing on the cake. After all, everything always fell on her shoulders, everyone always relied on her to save the day. What did they know about being in her shoes, even her friends? How could she even begin to explain? Best to just play along.
“Thanks for your support, Will.” Her sentiment was sincere, even if the smile was stilted--she simply felt wrung out these days, physically and emotionally. She drew her friend in for a tight hug, “It means a lot to me.”
“Oh, silly Buffy,” Willow smiled back, “What are best friends for?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There was one more showdown after this at the Magic Box, when Buffy, bolstered by Willow’s turnaround, appealed to the rest of the group for Spike’s induction to the united front against Glory, as an ally, extra muscle for the fight. Predictably, there was the shrill of celebration from Dawn (whose single-syllabic utterances would remain unquoted, thank you, as Buffy’s ears were still ringing from the after-effect), much simple-minded protest from Xander (“But Buffy! The Evil Undead is evil! And undead!”), rhetorical preaching from Giles following some rigorous glasses-polishing (“Do you think it wise, inviting the fox to guard the henhouse?”), and off-topic, off-color tangent from Anya (“Was BuffyBot right? Did seeing Spike naked change your mind?”). Altogether, the summation was more heated yelling than intelligent debate, but that was per their modus operandi, so everything was good, right?
Much to Buffy’s relief, Willow did hold up her end of the best-friend bargain by seconding Buffy’s proposal, and thank goddess for sweet Tara, who also backed up Buffy by volunteering her observation on Spike’s altered aura. It had taken on a pleasant sunrise mixture of orange-pink, explained Tara, signifying a real change of heart for the good.
So when every argument was finally exhausted, and Buffy had outlasted everyone to emerge as the de facto winner, and she had thrown the back door open to pull a sheepish Spike from the alley into the shop, the confrontation was anticlimactic. Anya, ever the pragmatist, neutrally took in the scene and greeted Spike as usual. Some male posturing and threats of the dusty kind from Xander and a calculated, silent nod with pursed lips and watchful eyes from Giles were offset by an eager hug from Dawn and smiles from the rest of the group: Willow’s was tentative, Tara’s warm, and Buffy’s hopeful.
And that was the day Spike became one of the Scoobies.
~ The End ~
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