When Spike, smoking and swearing, burst through the kitchen door, no one seemed surprised to see him.
“Thanks for leaving that door unlocked, Joyce,”he said, smiling at her. “Not sure how my blanket would have held up if I’d had to be out there any longer.”
“Buffy unlocked it,”Joyce said. “She seemed to think you might be needing it.”
He looked at Buffy, who was studying her plate of pancakes.
“She did, did she?”he said, moving closer to her. She still ignored his presence, pretending to be very interested in the designs she was making in her syrup. “Does that mean I’m forgiven for…”He remembered where they were and who was listening. “For that thing that happened that wasn’t remotely my fault and that I had no control over?”
She peeked up at him, then stared back at her pancakes. “So did you find a way to control it?”
“Think so. Nigel seems to think it’s all sorted now.”
“And he’s okay with it?”
“Seems to be.”
“So we can stop pretending?”
“Don’t think we were foolin’anybody, pet. Lydia was fooling herself, but even she’s up to speed now. That’s everybody, ‘cept maybe Harris. He lives in the same river Ms Chalmers swims in.”
Buffy snickered. “I’m pretty sure Anya will straighten him out, if she hasn’t already.”
“So, we’re alright then?”
She sighed. “We’re fine. I know you didn’t have anything to do with that…. situation. I just had to get out of there before I broke my rule about killing humans.”
“What are we missing?”Joyce’s question was on the heels of Dawn’s “What don’t we know?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”Buffy put her bowl in the sink. “Do we still have any blood in the freezer?”As she spoke, she went to look and pulled out a container of pig blood. Without asking Spike if he was hungry, she put it in the microwave and turned it on.
“So, what’s the plan for today?”Joyce was helping Dawn with her backpack and walking her to the door.
“I’m going to school. You probably don’t want to know what they’re going to do,”Dawn said, laughing and bolting out the door before Buffy could get to her.
Joyce smiled at Buffy’s flaming face, and Spike’s sudden interest in getting his blood from the microwave, then heaved a sigh.
“If I can speak seriously for just a moment,”she began, noticing how they each stiffened. She shook her head. “I have no intention of telling you what to do, I just want to know that you’ve both given this…whatever it turns out to be…as much thought as possible. I’m no longer as naïve about Buffy’s calling as I was when I was sure she was throwing her life away with Angel—“She smiled at Spike’s automatic growl. “And I do understand that a normal life is probably not possible for her. At least not one that involves marrying a normal human man and having normal grandchildren for me. And, even as my heart breaks for her, the advantages of having someone in her life who understands it and can help her survive long enough to live it, is not something I’m foolish enough to reject. I just want to know that she is in this for the right reasons.”
Joyce turned her gaze on Spike. “I know you love her. I’ve been able to see that for a long time. But I don’t know if—”
“Mom!” Spike touched Buffy’s arm to stop her complaint. “Let her talk, love. You need to think about what she’s saying.”
“She’s saying I’m only with you because it’s easier than having a human man in my life and because you can fight with me.”
“A fair thought, Buffy. But, unlike your mum…”He smiled at Joyce. “I don’t think you have to love me back, not just yet. Don’t really expect it. I’m a monster. You, the Bit, and Joyce treat me like a man, but I know what I am. And it isn’t something The Chosen One should be in love with. I’ve made my peace with that. You don’t have to love me for us to be together.”
“What if I do?”Buffy said softly, once more staring at the counter in front of her.
Joyce tiptoed from the kitchen as Spike asked, “Do what? Want us to be together? Was kind of hopin’that’s where we are now.”
“No.”Buffy raised her eyes to his. “What if I do love you?”
He grew very still. “You don’t have to say that.”
“But what if I do? Why are you so sure….”
In a position that was becoming familiar to them both, he dropped to the floor in front of her, his head tilted back so he could look up at her face. He took her hands in his as he spoke.
“I’m sure because it took me a long time to get here –even allowing for my not realizing it right away, it still took a good while. I didn’t fall in love with you the first time I saw you.”He gave a small grin. “Lust, maybe. Can’t deny that, but loving you took some time. Time I had to watch you, to learn who Buffy Summers is and why she should be loved.”
He paused and stood up, pulling her to her feet. “There’s nothing about our history until just recently that’s given you any reason to have feelings for me that aren’t due to a spell gone wrong. If you think you could…someday…I would do my best to see you never regret it. But I don’t expect you to suddenly decide you love me just because I love you.”He gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Trust me when I tell you, if you never do, you won’t be the first woman in my life to feel that way.”
Buffy’s lip came out in a pout. “What if I want to love you?”
“Wantin’and doin’aren’t the same thing. Don’t worry about it. Give it time. You’ll either fall in love or you won’t.”He wiggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated leer. “Either way, I’ll be around to remind of what you’ll be missing if you don’t.” He whispered in her ear. “Could remind you now, if we can find some privacy…”
She giggled and pushed him away. “Behave. We’re in my mother’s kitchen.”She raised an arch eyebrow. “Anyway, there are some parts of you I’m already pretty crazy about…you don’t need to keep reminding me.”
“It’s not exactly hard work, you know. Reminding you all the time….”
“Well…. maybe we should plan for you to remind me every day. I’ll let you know when you’ve done it often enough that I’m sure I’ll remember what I won’t have if you go away.”
“Ready when you are,”he said. “Just say when.”
Buffy laughed and shook her head. “Drink your breakfast. I’m going to get changed and help Mom with the house a little bit.”She hesitated. “You could stay here, or sleep downstairs, or….”
He set his now-empty mug down and shook his head. Taking her hands in his and bringing them to his lips, he said, “Or I could take myself out of here and let you and your mum have some time together.”
Buffy nodded and squeezed his hands. “Have I told you how much I appreciate it that you don’t try to smother me?”
He chuckled. “Not stupid, pet. And I got to watch how you react to that sort of treatment right up close. I know better. Want to be with you all the time, make no mistake about that, but only if and when you want me there.”
“Who are you and what have you done with Spike? Blond guy, about your size, used to live to make my life miserable?”
“If I was willing to admit it, I’d probably say a lot of that was me behaving like a kid who pulls the girl’s pigtails because he doesn’t know how to get her attention any other way.”
“If you were willing to admit it?”
“Which I’m not. Nope. No attention getting here. Just trying to bag another slayer.”
“By driving her crazy?”
“Hey! When they pulled my fangs, I had to do something, didn’t I?”
They stood in the kitchen, smiling at each other until Joyce came back in to ask, “If you’ve settled things, do you think we could start on the cleaning?”
“That’s my cue to take my manly self elsewhere. Good job that your daughter is super strong and you don’t need me to hang around for the heavy lifting.”Spike picked up his mug and set it in the sink, filling it with water before putting the blanket over his head. “I’ll catch up with you tonight, Buffy. Scooby meeting?”
“I guess so. Probably around 7:30? So we can get a patrol in?”
“Got it. Take it easy today, Joyce. Make her do all the work.”He waved at them and was out the door and out of sight before Buffy could respond.
“Isn’t that dangerous? Running around in the daytime?”
Buffy shrugged. “It is, but he’s been doing it for a long time, so I guess he knows his limits. I’m not worried.”
Joyce gave a small smile. “But you would be if you didn’t think he’d be fine.”
Buffy sighed. “I’d be terrified,”she admitted, then raised her eyes to Joyce’s. “Do you think that means I love him?”
“Only you can answer that question, honey. But it says he’s become very important to you. And that’s a good start.”
“It is, isn’t it?”Buffy smiled and stretched. “Okay, let me at that vacuum cleaner.”
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