Chapter Eighteen-Would You Lie With Me and Just Forget the World?
Chapter Eighteen: Would You Lie with Me and Just Forget the World?
The car ride back from the hospital had been ominously quiet, with neither Buffy nor Willow wishing to discuss what they had just learned about the newest player in the apocalypse. They didn’t want to acknowledge that like all prior encounters of potential world inhalation, this incident would initiate a chain reaction of trials and tribulations which would eventually lead them to the Final Battle. The painfully obvious fact that their little reprieve from all things concerning the big, scary First had inarguably come to an end would not even be alluded to. The countdown had officially begun, but wild horses couldn’t even drag that much of an acknowledgement out of the mute pair.
So instead, the Slayer and the Witch remained in distracted silence, both completely aware of what was being left unsaid between them, neither verbalizing the presence of the giant Armageddon elephant that was sitting in the backseat.
Making their way across the front yard, Buffy finally turned to her best friend. “Anya and the girls should be back by now,” she informed the redhead, as she glanced at the dark night sky.
‘When had the sun set?’ Buffy offhandedly mused as her hand came to rest on the door handle.
“Can you just make sure they’re all back in one piece? One visit to the hospital was enough today. I don’t wanna have to rush a bunch of teenagers to Emergency for Tetanus shots because they were digging around in rubble…” she caught herself when she realized that she was talking to the very person who had reduced their former meeting place to a giant trash heap. “I mean…” Buffy backpedaled.
Willow smiled reassuringly. “It’s okay, Buffy. I was there too, ya know. After all, I was the one that made the place go Ka-Blooie.”
The Slayer stared at the Wicca in fascinated disbelief. “You’re all with the cool acceptance,” she noted.
Willow shrugged. “I’m taking a page outta the Book of Oz.”
“Monosyllabic stoicism?” Buffy asked, still a little baffled.
“No. Not that,” the Witch chuckled. “I was talking about his whole ‘you gotta face your demons if you’re ever gonna control them’ philosophy,” she explained before adding, “and I can’t do that if I go all ‘eek’ whenever someone brings up last year.” She emphasized the last remark with a frantic wave of her hands.
What Willow decided not to mention, however, was that since the apocalypse had now officially been set into motion, sooner much rather than later her mighty witch skills were going to be in high demand. She might have recently become comfortable enough to dish out a hefty dose of magic without going all evil and veiny, evidence to that being her recent trip to L.A., but what lay ahead of them called for something far more demanding than just breaking a hidden mystical jar. She was going to have to step up to the plate if she was going to be of any use against the First. And to do that, she needed to make peace with her past. “That Oz. Always the sage,” the Slayer reminisced before her amused smile transformed into a frown. “We could probably use some of that wisdom right about now,” she added somberly.
Willow looked on concernedly at the blonde. “Buffy? You okay?”
The Slayer nodded. “Yeah. I just need some time to think,” she said softly. “You’ll check on the girls? And can you make sure Anya got her demon eggs or whatever?”
The Witch nodded. “Sure,” she replied. She didn’t have to ask what her best friend needed to mull over. Willow knew Buffy had some major decisions to make before the meeting could even begin.
They both stepped into the house quietly, Buffy heading for the stairs as Willow went to go find Anya to see just how fruitful the afternoon pillaging had been.
The Slayer stopped midway up the steps, her gaze landing on the group of girls already gathered in the living room, eagerly waiting for the big, important slayer meeting to commence. The keen ones, those that had been the first to take up sanctuary at her house were all there, moving furniture around to make space for the crowd that in an hour or so would be crammed into the room.
Watching them move about with a notable inflexion of excitement in both their steps and voices, Buffy wondered which of them would see the light of the next day. Did Rona, Molly, Amanda, Vi, or even Kennedy consider for even a second the possibility that tonight could be their last? For as much as she didn’t want to drag these girls, these barely trained teenagers, into a battle they weren’t ready for, Buffy didn’t have much of a choice.
She knew this wannabe preacher’s clearly ambiguous message was a probable set up. A man dressed in black minister’s clothing tells her he has something of hers and she’s supposed to what? Wait until he starts picking off her girls one by one like he had done to poor Shannon, who was still bound to a hospital bed? She couldn’t do that. They needed to attack soon; it would give them an edge. It would give the Potentials a fighting chance. Even if it was a trap.
The likelihood that the First’s most recent recruit was the ‘man in black’ Giles had warned her about, or the infamous ‘Tainted One’ Spike was supposed to kill wasn’t a concept lost on the Slayer either. So if in the end they were going to take this guy out, what was there really to sweat?
How about the number of lives this inevitable victory was going to cost them?
The sound of Dawn’s infuriated scolding over some unknown matter and Andrew’s indignant whine brought Buffy’s attention back to the living room, catching sight of the SITs egging the geek on as he theatrically described his encounter with Faith while her sister sighed in aggravation.
Buffy felt so displaced from the scene playing out before her. She was only a few feet away but it might as well have been miles. She wished she could share in their sweet ignorance, to not have all their lives in the palm of her hands.
It figures too that just when she’d realized that her place was training these girls, the apocalypse finally decided to rear its ugly head.
She’d been given one morning to truly train the Potentials, to get to know them beyond their names and fears. It hadn’t been enough. A few hours teaching the art of meditation and sharing important survival tips was all that she would really contribute to their training. They weren’t ready and even if they’d been trained for years, they would never be ready. And now she had to lead them to uncertain death for their own good. Talk about psycho slayer logic.
Buffy sighed as she continued up the steps. She needed to think things through, weigh out the pros and cons to falling for the stranger’s obviously damning lure. She had to come up with a plan and a contingency plan if that one failed. The Slayer had to go to work.
God, she felt so tired. So utterly worn out.
Pushing the door to her room, she walked in to find a vampire lying on her bed, reading a book. Upon further inspection she realized Spike was perusing through the copy of Sonnets from the Portuguese that Angel had given her on her eighteenth birthday. ‘Huh. Spike likes poetry. Who knew?’
Despite her distraught mood, she smiled at how cozy and welcoming he looked. What she wouldn’t give to just slip into bed next to him and have him read to her from the collection of prose.
‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,’ she internally recited with dejected yearning.
“So how’s the First buggerin’ us this time ‘round?” the vampire asked glancing up from behind the pages of the classic anthology. “Pet, what’s wrong?”
Tossing the book aside, Spike jumped to his feet, worriedly walking over to the Slayer. “Buffy?”
She stared up at him in confusion until she felt the first tear trickle down her cheek. Shaking her head, she wiped at the unexpected dampness. Buffy’s mouth seized up on her, her airways closing as she fought back the sob that threatened to escape.
Spike instinctively pulled her to him and she willingly buried her tear soaked face into his chest, her arms slipping around his waist. He hugged her close, ignoring how her shoulders trembled as he peppered her face with kisses. He pushed down the rising sense of distress and murmured words of comfort into her hair.
Exhaling loudly, accented with a few soft sniffles, Buffy relaxed her near crushing grip on the vampire, bowing her head in embarrassment at her little meltdown.
“He’s here,” she hoarsely informed before clearing her throat of all emotion. “The man in black. He’s in Sunnydale.”
“Didn’t realize you had such an aversion to Johnny Cash, luv,” Spike replied with a smirk.
Buffy’s brow crinkled at first, unsure what the hell country music had to do with anything. Then she realized he was poking fun at her. “Spike! This is serious,” she scolded as she smacked his chest, fighting off the smile that threatened to ruin her annoyed demeanor.
“I know,” he sighed, his hand coming up to stroke her cheek. “Can’t blame a bloke for tryin’. Had me a lil’ worried back there.”
“Don’t apologize,” Spike harshly whispered as he cupped her face with both hands. “Never be sorry for openin’ up. Remember, ‘s just us, pet. You don’t have to be Super Buffy ‘round me,” he tenderly reminded her as he took one of her hands in his.
Buffy returned his gentle squeeze as she blinked back the newest set of burning tears. Biting her lip to suppress further sobs, the Slayer nodded wordlessly.
Leading her to the bed, Spike pulled Buffy down to sit next to him. “Tell me what happened, sweetheart,” he lightly insisted, stroking her back in large circles.
“The girl, Shannon, the one that Willow and Faith found but never told us about until the hospital called, she was attacked by this Caleb guy, posing like some Bible thumping minister, except, you know, evil,” she murmured shakily. “He pretended to help her. Then he stabbed her but not before telling her to pass on a message.”
Spike’s brow quirked slightly. “To you, ‘m guessing.”
“Who else,” she answered despondently, shoulders sagging with the weight of the world pressing down upon them. “He said he had something of mine,” she added softly.
“Sounds like a bloody trap if you ask me,” Spike immediately provided his two cents, not liking where this was going.
“Yeah, it probably is,” Buffy sighed.
“Am I gettin’ that you’re actually gonna take this wanker’s bait?” the vampire asked incredulously.
“I have to,” Buffy whispered, her voice void of any conviction, looking completely hopeless. “If we don’t find him, he’ll come for us.”
“You don’t know that,” Spike brusquely argued.
“If he’s the Tainted Guy like all the signs are pointing to, there’s gonna be a showdown sooner or later,” she replied, becoming slightly annoyed by his discouragement. “Even if he isn’t doing everything he can to find us, he’s a bad guy and they always have the worst possible timing. If we go after Caleb now, we’ve got the element of surprise on our side and it’s on our own terms.”
“‘m the one who’s s’posed to take this tosser out, yeah?” Spike not so much asked but compellingly stated. “Let me go alone.”
Buffy shot to her feet. “Are you nuts?!”
“‘S in the prophecy, pet,” he stubbornly countered, staring up at her with stifled impatience.
“I don’t care,” Buffy adamantly refused. “Caleb is working for the First, which off the bat means he’s no lightweight. And from what Shannon told me, he’s also got the Bringers at his beck and call, which already means you’re outnumbered.”
“I can take on a few measly Bringers, luv,” he stubbornly gritted out.
“Oh, like you did when those so called measly Bringers kidnapped you?!”
“I was chained to a sodding wall! Couldn’t really fight the buggers off now could I?!” he retorted, his voice rising as he stood up.
“Whatever. You’re not going alone. End of discussion,” she firmly declared, her stance unwavering as Spike stepped into her personal space, a clear sign that this little face-off was far from over.
“‘m not one ‘f the scared lil’ girls downstairs, Buffy,” he stated in a hushed tone, staring down at her in a manner that harked back to his soulless, Slayer hating days. “Never was one ‘f the gang neither. ‘m not jus’ gonna fall in line.
“I love you, yeah, but you can’t stop me. So tonight, after the Watcher’s finished his lil’ song and dance, ‘m goin’ after our friend Father Faithless. And that’s final.”
Buffy stared back at him, eyes narrowing as she refused to give into his skewed reasoning. “Fine!” she harshly snapped. “Get yourself killed.”
Spike’s jaw clenched and nostrils flared at her infuriated brush off, stretching the muscles in his neck as he restrained the instinct to blow up at the woman before him. The staring contest lasted for a few more silent seconds, and for a moment he almost caved, but when she turned her back to him, unbeknownst to him, to hide her brimming tears, Spike followed suit, pivoting on his heels, his stubborn pride compelling him to leave the room. Yanking his duster from off the end of the bed, the vampire made it for the door, his steps heavy and gait tense.
He would have left too, if it were not for his heightened sense of hearing picking up on a low, cacophonous sound, just like that of a muffled cry. Glancing over his shoulder, Spike watched as Buffy’s body wracked with repressed sobs, undoubtedly waiting for him to leave before permitting herself to fall apart.
Just watching the sporadic convulsing of her body as she silently wept had Spike kicking himself.
‘Way to go, you stupid prat,’ he inwardly reprimanded. ‘She was reachin’ out to you, bloody well breakin’ down those emotional walls of hers, doin’ exactly what you asked her to do. Then you go and bugger it all up. Pretty much make her regret the second she confided in you.’
With wide, determined strides, Spike moved across the room, spinning her about and taking her back into his arms. “God, pet, ‘m so sorry,” he genuinely lamented.
“Please don’t go,” she whimpered as the tears continued to stream down her face. “I can’t lose you,” she whispered into his neck, her hands latching onto his cotton tee, as if holding on for dear life.
The desperation in her behavior unsettled him. It had been a while since he’d seen her so distressed, so lost and vulnerable. Not since her return from the demon possessing dimension and the emotional breakdown that had subsequently followed had he seen her like this. And even that episode seemed inconsequential when compared to what he was currently witnessing. Never had he seen her like this.
It terrified him to the core. Not because she was venting to him. Buffy was human; she had a right to be afraid, and aggravated and exhausted. It was just the underlying impression he was getting from her, a niggling feeling deep down that his Slayer was walking the razor’s edge, just one calamity away from completely giving up.
It was probably why he had flown off the handle like he had. He couldn’t understand her blinkered logic. Why should she risk her life, her sanity, and the lives of all the Potentials when the Poncy Priest’s fate was already cemented in stone?
Spike just wanted to protect her from foreseeable devastation. He just never considered the possibility of failure. Never thought he’d be the one to push her over the edge. All he had seen was her trying to tie on the leash again. Boy was he an idiot.
Spike subconsciously hugged her tighter.
Buffy shook her head frantically. “You can’t…” Hiccup. “Find Caleb alone,” she said with a sniffle as she tried to calm herself down. “I know you can take on the Bringers and hold your own. God, out of everyone you’re the last person I worry about whenever all hell breaks loose,” she rambled, exhaling loudly. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like you’re a sucky fighter. A-and I really didn’t mean to go all control freak on you either. I…I just can’t lose you, Spike.” The last part was said in a small, childlike voice.
“Not gonna lose me, luv,” he whispered into her golden hair. “Jus’ can’t stand seein’ you like this, is all. Not when the solution starin’ me in the bleedin’ face.”
He winced as Buffy’ nails dug into his shoulders. “No. Don’t go.”
“I won’t,” he reassured her, trying to get a reign on the emotions that were warring within.
Spike wanted to be there for her, to be her rock in all this madness. He just wasn’t sure if that was truly for the best. Buffy needed to be strong, to be prepared, both mentally and physically, for the inevitable. And this bleary eyed girl before him was anything but emotionally equipped for the proverbial battle between good and evil.
Spike was a vampire. He followed his blood, which didn’t always flow in the direction of his brain. It made him rash, impatient, and left him with a hair trigger temper that could rival that of a pestered bull. He was also loyal; one could even say to a fault. He had stayed with his Sire for over a century, spent nearly half of it tending to her because of her illness. So naturally, when it came to those he loved, he was a rottweiler, fighting fang and nail to protect them.
And as he gently ran his hand over her head, he wondered if maybe his blinded devotion had somehow ruined his Slayer. Perhaps these past months had made her too dependent on him, made her weak. Now that he had finally attained the coveted position in her life, now that he was finally her confidant, her friend, her once and returning lover, it terrified him to think that he had spoiled her. Spike didn’t want to be the rock that she finally smashed herself up against.
But what could he do? Spike couldn’t cut himself out of her life; abandon her in a time of need. He refused to. It simply wasn’t in his nature. And no matter how gently he did it, he couldn’t push her away either. Buffy needed him. That much he was sure of. But that was where lied the moral quandary. Where exactly did the line between needing support and total dependency exist? Spike was enough of a man to admit that he hadn’t a fucking clue.
Buffy abruptly broke through his musings with a melancholic chuckle. “This might sound really insane, and I might regret saying it later, but I kinda miss the wannabe evil geek squad.”
“You mean the Sundance Kid downstairs and his dead chums?” Spike asked, tilting his head at her out-of-the-blue remark.
“Yeah, I mean, before Warren went all gun toting maniac anyway,” she replied softly.
Spike noted how her body was becoming slack against his, her previously bone crushing grip was loosening as she continued on with her tangent.
“Don’t get me wrong, for the majority of the time they were more a pain in the ass than actually dangerous. But when those losers were the biggest threat in this town, Dawn, my friends, they were safe,” she went on. “Yeah granted, I was a total mess and we were all beyond dysfunctional, but for most of it, everyone was safe.”
Unsure as how to respond to her bittersweet confession, Spike returned to the matter at hand. “Us adults can take on the Preacher all on our own, pet. The kiddies can stay home,” he suggested.
“No,” she firmly replied. “As much as I wish it wasn’t the case, they have to come with us. We can’t just keep avoiding the inevitable, Spike. They’re gonna have to go out and fight sometime. At least this way their first taste of battle won’t be against the Ultimate Evil.”
She paused, putting space between herself and the vampire. “If these girls don’t come out of this alive, what good are they gonna be against an army of Uber Vamps? I’m not doing them any favors by keeping them under my wing.
“If I keep coddling them, if I keep holding back and never take any risks, I might as well spare them the misery and kill them all in their sleep. Because that’s what I would be doing, Spike. If I took them to face the First without single battle under their belt, I’d just as well be leading them to the slaughter.”
“No,” she adamantly refused to hear out whatever sympathetic argument he had. “I know what I’m talking about. I wish I didn’t if that’s any conciliation.”
“‘S not,” Spike mumbled under his breath.
Buffy ignored the comment. “I have to take them with us,” she repeated firmly. “They have to know what it’s like. They need to know how to cope. The shellshock. The chaos. The fear. The temptation to just throw in the towel. The girls need to feel it, know it, fight it,” the Slayer fervently rattled off before lowering her voice to a whisper. “And maybe even love it just a little.”
Spike’s brows instinctively shot up at the statement. He quickly relaxed his stunned expression as the logic of it sunk in. After all, hadn’t he been the one to enlighten her on just how much in love she was with the prospect of death? His now famous ‘death wish’ theory. Never in his unlife had he hated being right as when he had found Buffy’s body at the bottom of that tower nearly two years ago, when she had lived up to the suicidal Slayer stereotype.
Buffy continued on with her strained rant, ungracefully flopping down on the bed. “They gotta get used to having blood on their hands, to actually fight a demon and have the guts to kill it. I have to get them ready. I have to make them hard. I have to,” Buffy’s voice quivered as she finished, her glossy eyed gaze looking up to meet with Spike’s.
The vampire slowly took a seat next to her, silently taking her hand in his. “I know, pet.”
Buffy nodded and then shook her head, not sure if he really understood. “You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everybody killed,” she muttered, staring down at the floor.
Gently clasping her chin, Spike lifted her averted eyes to align with his. “I know,” he firmly restated, dropping his hand when he felt her ease slightly.
Buffy exhaled haggardly. “I just need to figure out a plan so I don’t actually get everyone killed,” she rasped.
Yanking her hand out of his, she slammed her fists at her sides, making both the mattress and Spike jump at the unexpected physical outburst. “God, I hate this!” Buffy exclaimed in frustration. “Why do I gotta always be the one to decide who lives and dies,” she pitifully whimpered.
“‘S all part of the Slayer package,” he sadly stated. “Suspect it’s in the fine print,” he lightheartedly added.
Buffy glanced up at him and smiled. “Think I should sue?”
Spike smirked. “Don’ think there’s a court in this dimension that’ll take your case.”
“Stupid human courts,” the Slayer muttered with mock dejection. “I never signed on any dotted line,” she added indignantly.
“Neither did I,” he softly mentioned, giving her his best supportive smile. “Jus’ the lot we’ve been dealt.”
Buffy watched as the vampire stood up and looked around the room. “Best start on that brainstorming, pet. The troops are waitin’ for their General,” he said as headed to the door.
The vampire turned at the sound of his name. “Yeah, luv?”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Spike returned her puzzled look. “Thought you needed to suss out the particulars for tonight’s mission?”
“And that requires your not being here, why?” Buffy wondered.
“Figured you needed some space,” he answered without hesitation. It wasn’t as though his assumption didn’t have precedent. When it came down to it, the Slayer gig was a solo one. And Buffy had played the part to a tee. She always made the tough decisions on her own. It was how she did things. How she functioned.
“Not from you,” she whispered pensively. “Stay?”
This time he hesitated. She wanted him to stay and play the part of sounding board to her brainstorming. She wanted his advice. The Slayer wanted his reassurance.
Spike paused, rendered motionless as his rational mind engaged in a tug of war with his heart. If it hadn’t been for her little breakdown moments before, he would’ve done as she asked without reservation. He could never deny Buffy anything. And that was the problem. Again she needed him and again his concerns of her dependency resurfaced.
Buffy’s small voice broke through his ruminations. “Can you just stay and help me pretend it’s not all on me?”
The vampire tensed. The whole situation was just so alien to him. Buffy never shirked her responsibilities and she was never one to share the burden. Yet here she was, bringing him into the fold. Maybe that’s what it was, the uncertainty. Maybe it was simply because he was on uncharted grounds.
“But it is all on you, luv,” he countered softly.
“I know,” she hoarsely admitted. “I know. But can we just pretend? Just for a while?” she requested with gentle urgency. “Can you just hold me?”
Those were the magic words. That and the desperation in her sparkling hazel eyes. Without further prompting, Spike took his spot next to the Slayer, pulling her into his arms as they reclined against the array of pillows at the head of the bed. Buffy snuggled against his chest, her head lightly propped on his shoulder, her warm breath tickling his neck.
Soon after becoming comfortable, Buffy began to voice her plans, her back up plans and every minute detail that crossed her mind.
As Spike listened on, providing the obligatory hums and grunts as indication of his participatory listening, his mind was distracted by his ongoing moral debate. Was Buffy really just opening up? Was she breaking through the protective Slayer shell? Did she understand that though he would always love her, support her, Spike could never really lighten the weight that was her sacred duty? Was she really ‘just pretending’?
“Buffy wanted to know if you got the Ghora eggs?” Willow asked as she entered the kitchen, spotting Anya at the sink, her back turned as she was seemingly washing a few dishes.
The ex-vengeance demon tensed at the unexpected intrusion, her tight posture sagging as a weathered sigh escaped her lips.
“Yeah. And I already paid the demon off. So you can tell Buffy she no longer has to be inconvenienced with Anya and her unseemly underworld dealings,” she informed the witch bitingly, vigorously scrubbing an already clean plate.
Willow flinched at the other woman’s acidic disposition. ‘Geesh. What’s gotten into her?’
“Okay….” the redhead replied, backpedaling. “Buffy just wanted me to touch base, but clearly I’ve come at a bad time. So I’ll be going…somewhere else.”
Anya placed the gleaming plate on the drying rack, wrangling with a tea towel to dry her hands as she spun on her heels, narrowed eyes boring into the sheepish looking Wicca. “Actually, I changed my mind. Don’t say anything to Buffy. I wouldn’t want to burden the Slayer with my lowly problems what with all the teens she has to neglect to train, and the up and coming battle with the First she hasn’t even prepared for. It’s amazing Buffy can even find time to repress all that mounting sexual tension that is on the verge of sending poor Spike back over the cuckoo’s nest.”
Willow paused at the underlying accusations. “Hey,” she uttered disapprovingly. “I know I speak for Buffy when I say…Hey!”
The ex-demon abruptly threw her arms up in the air. “Of course. I state the obvious and get nothing but denial and recriminations.”
Willow sobered and held up her hands defensively. “Whoa. Okay? Let’s just calm down. Clearly, you’re upset.”
Anya’s brow arched as she shot the witch a dubious look. “You noticed? Well that would be a first.”
“What are you talking about?” Willow asked, becoming slightly annoyed with the forthright ex-demon.
Anya’s inflamed indignation suddenly deflated as she shook her head in defeat. “Never mind,” she murmured. “It’s not like you care.” Her feet started to take her out of the room, but she was impeded by Willow’s unexpected grip on her arm.
“Anya? What happened?” the redhead inquired, genuinely concerned.
Anya yanked her arm out of the other woman’s grasp. “What happened was I spent an afternoon digging through the debris that was once my happy life. You remember, that little shop I partly owned? The same profitable and gratifying business you ran to the ground with your need for vengeance?”
Sensing herself about to cave into another guilt cycle, Willow took in a deep breath and stood her ground. She wasn’t going to apologize for something that she was beginning to make peace with. She was about to inform Anya that maybe it was time for her to let go of the past as well when the other woman continued on with her tirade.
“And who did Buffy, in her infinite wisdom, decide to leave me with to assist in my search for demon contraband? None other than Xander. Wasn’t that considerate of her?” she added, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Willow sighed. “Anya, Buffy and I had to go to the hospital…”
“I know. You guys rushed out of here so fast you couldn’t even be bothered to leave the rest of us a note,” Anya said, cutting the witch off. “I had to find out from Faith that you guys had left. Faith! ”
That had been the part of the whole insulting situation that had bothered her the most. Did she mean so little to these supposed friends of hers that a fugitive, a once mortal enemy, the Scoobies’ own freaking Judas Iscariot held more clout than she did? After everything they’d been through together, after all she had suffered in her futile attempt to be one of them, after giving herself completely to Xander only to have it thrown back in her face, after all that, Anya was not even worth a common courtesy.
“So is this what your hissy fit is all about?” Willow asked, incredulously. “Because we didn’t tell you we were leaving? God Anya, what are you like five years old?”
The ex-demon scowled. “No. That’s not it.”
“Well then tell me. What is this about?!” Willow snapped back. “Because I am really close to going back on my new good witch oath and turning you into a…” she faltered, unable to think of something that would intimidate a millennial ex-demon. The witch smirked when a relatively innocuous yet malicious thought came to mind. “A bunny. A fluffy, floppy eared, button nosed bunny rabbit.”
Anya gasped, utterly horrified. “You wouldn’t.”
“Oh. I would,” Willow said resolutely, giving the other woman her patented resolve face. “So spill.”
It was Anya’s turn to heave out a sigh. “I had to spend a whole afternoon with Xander, which wasn’t exactly the best way to give him space after I’d delivered him one hell of an ultimatum this morning. It was quite awkward.
“And Buffy knew. She knew that a day of Andrew videotaping me and Xander rummaging through the shambles of our past with about a dozen teenage girls acting as our own live studio audience would be extremely unbearable. Buffy knew and she didn’t care.” Anya stared steadily at Willow, who was a little lost for words.
“It’s not that she doesn’t…she…Buffy’s just got a lot on her mind right now. You can’t expect her to be on top of everything,” Willow struggled to clarify, excusing her friend’s behavior.
“So I have to just accept the fact that I’ve become nothing more than an afterthought to you people?” Anya asked, appalled by the news.
“You’re not an afterthought,” the redhead disagreed.
“Oh no?” Anya instantly retorted. “So tell me Willow, what exactly did Buffy want to touch base on other than the Ghora eggs?”
A remorseful expression crossed the witch’s face. “She wanted to make sure the Potentials were okay.”
Anya nodded, not surprised by Willow’s answer. “I never really was one of the gang. To you, I was just Anya, Xander’s loveably strange yet tactless girlfriend. And even though I made you all a part of my bridal party and allowed you to loiter for hours on end at the Magic Box, we were never really friends.”
“That’s not true,” Willow countered.
Anya shook her head. “Yes it is,” she sternly insisted. “So it might hurt a bit, but I guess I should be used to being overlooked.”
The guilt that had been mounting within the Willow since she had stepped into the kitchen intensified tenfold. “Anya…”
She went on, her voice rising with aggravation. “Xander, on the other hand, is one of you. He’s an original Scooby. So I get why Buffy brushed my problems off like they were nothing. But what about Xander?! Do you have any idea what it was like for him today? Having to be with me when he had very important thinking to do?”
Willow blinked, twice. “That’s very…umm…considerate of you to say, Anya,” she said wondering who the hell this woman was standing before her because it surely wasn’t Anya. For as long as Willow had known her, the world selfless had never been used to describe the ex-demon.
“Who’s being considerate?” she asked, slightly bemused. “Having him hang around me all day means it will take Xander an extra twenty four hours before finally coming to a decision, which also means I have to spend another day with this insufferable feeling of angst,” she declared, throwing her arms up in exasperation.
‘She had me going there for a second,’ Willow thought as the world as she knew it returned to normal. Well for the most part.
The redhead couldn’t help but reflect on how some of Anya’s not so altruistic ramblings had brought up a good point. She understood that Buffy had enough on her plate than to deal with the ongoing soap opera that was Xander and Anya. What worried her was that if Buffy had known that something was up with Xander, why hadn’t she asked him about it? Or why hadn’t the Slayer even come to her so she could do a little best friend snooping of her own?
Willow wasn’t sure if she was being fair to Buffy. The First was the biggest thing they’d ever gone up against. And if anyone knew it, it was her. Willow had, after all, tried to play conduit to the Ultimate Evil, hadn’t she? Didn’t that ever blow up in her face.
The witch knew Buffy had issues about letting people in, but this wasn’t like that. There was something off; her not checking up on her friends, her not seeming to truly care. In the past, even with the pressure of saving the world Buffy had still been there for her and Xander. When Tara had been brain sucked by Glory, Buffy had still been supportive. Hell, it was their friendship, their strong emotional bond, tested only hours before the fall of the Initiative, that had managed to defeat Adam.
So maybe that was it. Maybe this time around it was too much for Buffy to bear. So much so that some other aspects of her life were kind of trailing behind.
‘Then explain Spike and why that relationship isn’t lagging?’ the small, annoying voice piped up in the back of her head.
Willow rubbed at her temples as she glanced over at Anya who was staring down solemnly at the tiled floor.
Could it be that Buffy was replacing her and Xander with Spike? Is that why she acted like she didn’t care? Willow dismissed the notion immediately. It wasn’t fair of her to think that. Someone could argue that she was committing the same friend substituting crimes as Buffy, but with Kennedy as her main distraction. She knew that her relationship with the Potential was different than with what she had with her friends. She figured Buffy felt the same way.
Perhaps they were all a little guilty of neglect when it came to their friendships.
“Tell Buffy the girls are all accounted for and that they are all in one piece,” Anya said, making her way out of the kitchen.
As if pulled from a trance, Willow’s gaze followed the other woman. “Where are you going?”
Anya shrugged. “I haven’t had a chance to look through the stuff we brought back. I thought I could get Dawn to help me sort it.”
The witch nodded, finding her answer acceptable.
As Anya entered the living room, her somber attitude melted away to that of confident delegations. “Since there’s no point in wasting a potentially productive hour sitting around waiting for Buffy to grace us with her presence, why don’t we all get up and help me sort out these boxes,” she announced, gesturing to the half dozen large cartons of supplies in the room’s far corner.
A groan filled the room as the Potentials reluctantly assisted in the sorting, with Dawn and Andrew taking inventory.
Willow couldn’t help but smile at Anya’s dictatorish ways. The ex-demon had been wrong about at least one thing. Willow would consider her one of the gang, a friend.
Sensing someone enter the kitchen from the dining room, the redhead turned her head and saw Xander, standing uncomfortably with his hands in his pockets.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” she softly returned. Walking up to him, Willow wrapped her arms around her despondent best friend.
“How much of that did you hear?” she asked sympathetically.
“Everything from right about the time you threatened to turn Anya into a rabbit,” he dismally admitted. “Gotta say though, it was kinda funny.”
Letting go and taking a step back, the redhead gave him a comforting smile. “Want me to make you a sandwich? Maybe you could fill me in on the latest Anya debacle?”
Xander nodded, returning the smile. This is what he needed. Some Willow issued perspective.
It wasn’t until he started in on his love dilemma that he realized just how much he missed the closeness he and Willow had once shared before life and growing up had slowly drifted them apart. They had come a long way since yellow crayons and aquaman underoos but they were still just Xander and Willow.
So even though Anya was technically the source of his current state of misery, he had to be grateful for her spazing out on Willow since it had given him his best friend back. That and it brought him one step closer to finally making a decision.
A stream of grey smoke cut through the brisk night air, diluting the blackness of the clear evening sky. Faith was perched out once more on Buffy’s front porch, elbow propped up on her knee as the other leg languidly swung back and forth on the opposite side of the railing, taking long, lazy drags from the cigarette she had swiped from Spike’s duster when the vampire’s back had been turned. The racket of overly stimulated teenage girls was a mere muffle on her side of the front door, the crickets acting as the unknowing minstrels to her few magnificent moments of solitude.
Earlier that afternoon, once Andrew had finished taping her part in his End of the World documentary, the Slayer had gone back into the house. But not before using the film geek as her own personal scout, checking to see if the coast was clear of deranged ex-fiancés, so she could get back inside to rustle up some grub.
After a quick breakfast of store bought cookies and kool-aid, Faith abruptly found herself taking over for Buffy in training the Potentials. The blonde Slayer had been pulled away from the combat drills to race over to the hospital with Willow to check up on that girl that had nearly gotten herself run over when she’d been left for nothing more than road kill. So there Faith had found herself, with at least twenty girls looking to her for guidance, and Spike and Giles giving her none. It had been tense, and even a little surreal, to say the least.
Having had a pretty bizarre afternoon, she had opted to wait for the ‘big meeting’ outside, deciding that she had spent enough of her life in close confinement with estrogen tripping females. The nicotine and the wonderful sound of near silence were her only company until she was to be called back inside.
The heightened sense of awareness that being a slayer and three years in the joint had granted her, unexpectedly drew her attention to the porch steps.
A dark brown gaze met hers.
“Hey,” she replied nonchalant, trying to repress the smile that was involuntarily coming to the surface at the sight of her new Sunnydale ally.
“You know those things will kill you,” Wood said, gesturing with a nod of his head to the cigarette she had in her hand.
Taking another drag, she shrugged apathetically. “In my line of work, the big C, not exactly what you would call life threatening.”
“Can you put it out anyway?” he asked in his High School Principal voice as he took a seat next to her.
Faith blew out whatever smoke was left in her lungs, stomping out the just lit cigarette with embellished irritation. “So you gonna give me detention?”
Wood laughed softly. “Nah. You’d be a bad influence on the other students.”
This time Faith allowed herself to smile. “You really know how to talk to a girl.”
He flashed her a big grin. “I’d rather shower her with gifts.”
A brown paper gift bag appeared before her, almost as though he had produced it out of thin air. “Here,” Wood said, handing it to her.
“What’s this?” the Slayer asked warily. Faith didn’t get gifts. Ergo, the suspicion.
“Just open it,” he insisted with a boyish giddiness that was bubbling beneath his cool and collected exterior.
Faith sighed in compliance and opened the bag, roughly reaching in and grabbing at whatever was inside.
Pulling out a baseball cap, the brunette quirked her brow. “Don’t know howta break this to you but hat hair doesn’t compliment my look,” she quipped.
Turning the hat over to read the emblem on the front, Faith dropped the gift as though it burned to the touch. “You son of a bitch!” she hollered, eyes flaring with indignation at the man beside her, who was finding her outrage utterly hysterical.
“You’re sick,” Faith shot at him, completely disgusted.
Picking up the Yankees baseball cap from the porch floor, he brushed some dirt off its pristine black fabric. “You don’t like my gift?” he asked with mocked affront, though the mischievous gleam in his eyes gave him away.
Faith crossed her arms. “If I accept that thing, they’ll never let me back in Boston,” she informed him.
“What if I throw in two tickets?” he wondered, pulling the bait from his coat pocket.
Faith eyed him skeptically. “You got tickets for a Yankees game?”
Wood was about to reply when she cut him off, waving her hands and shaking her head. “Wait! What I mean is you actually paid for tickets for a game that might never happen?”
“A little inspiration never hurt anyone,” he explained, looking unexpectedly bashful when compared to the smugness he had been sporting moments ago. “And I got us season tickets since we don’t really know when our schedules will open up.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Faith said under her breath as she took the tickets from his hand, ignoring the sparks that nearly crackled when her fingers brushed against his. “Season tickets, huh? Guess being principal of Hellmouth High’s gotta have some perks. Never thought you’d be rolling in this kind of dough.”
“The seats aren’t that great,” he confessed, strangely feeling the need to downplay his gesture. He was afraid his gift might backfire on him and inevitably scare the Slayer away. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe he was totally screwing things up.
“Wouldn’t we have to go to New York?”
“Yeah,” he nervously whispered, rubbing the back of his bald head. “I figured it would give us a chance to get to know each other better.”
Faith could feel a blush creeping its way to her cheeks. “I’d like that.”
Wood flashed her another huge smile, his short lived worries fading at the sight of the pink hue that was presently tinting her cheeks. “Great. Now all we have to do is save the world.”
The Slayer snorted at his casual stating of the obvious. “Easier said than done.” She paused to rethink her remark. “Unless you’re B.”
Grabbing the hat from his hold, she looked it over cautiously.
“You gonna try it on?”
Faith shook her head. “No way.” She placed the cap on his head instead. “Keep it. I’ll bring mine to the game.”
Wood’s eyes widened comically. “You wanna wear a big, red B on your head at a Yankees game?”
“Nah. Hat hair, remember?”
He visibly relaxed at the clarification.
“I’ll just wear my fave Sox jersey instead.”
“Faith I don’t think that’s such a great…” he started to protest.
“Or the whole thing’s off,” Faith stipulated, interjecting with a smirk.
“You know we probably won’t see even them play,” Wood argued, trying to get her to see reason.
“I know,” she assured, an impish grin plastered on her face. “But I gotta root, root, root for the home team,” she sang with a giggle.
“You’re gonna get us killed,” he groaned, rubbing his forehead.
“Just the price you gotta pay to ride the Faith fun train,” she impudently replied.
Wood balked, brow arched, caught off guard by her double entendre. Sure, up until this point their interactions had been wrought with mild flirtations but this, whether or not intentional, was a bit more forward than the usual teasing and banter.
The Slayer grimaced. ‘Way to sound like a skeazy ho’ bag,’ she inwardly berated.
“So…ummm…we have a deal?” Faith asked, quickly moving on from the subject of ‘being ridden’.
Wood dropped his baffled stare, sensing her uneasiness but still hesitant to respond. “Only the jersey?”
“And you wear a jacket over it?” he requested, his only proviso.
“Alright,” the Slayer agreed. “Wussy.”
He shrugged. “I’m comfortable with who I am,” he countered. “As long as I’m not being torn limb from limb by crazed Yankees fans.”
“New York will never take you back now, you know,” she informed him.
Wood shrugged. “That’s alright. We can both be hometown exiles…together.”
Faith’s face was starting to hurt from all the coy smiling. Nowadays, it was so rare for her to flash anything resembling a happy countenance that her grinning muscles, being as out of use as they were, were starting to cramp. And she loved it.
“I could deal with that,” she whispered, suddenly feeling a pull toward the man beside her.
Wood had his gaze locked on her face, glancing back and forth between her shimmering eyes and her glossy lips. “Yeah?” he rasped, edging his way closer until he felt her warm breath on his face.
He was so close, just a few millimeters away, a feather’s breadth from pressing his luscious lips against hers. Faith’s eyes fluttered shut in anticipation. She should’ve known better than to think it could be this easy.
The front door swung open, revealing a stone-faced, back to business Buffy. Not even flinching at the sight of Wood and Faith in near kiss, she called out to the other slayer. “Faith. Meeting’s starting in ten.” It was all she said before doing an about turn and marching back into the house.
The dark Slayer’s head dropped, releasing a long haggard sigh. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she muttered to herself, keeping her line of sight anywhere from meeting with Wood’s no doubt equally mortified gaze.
Clearing his throat, Robin nodded, getting up to his feet. “We better head inside,” he said, deciding to not comment on what had almost happened between them.
Faith was unsure whether to be grateful or offended by his avoidance of the issue. The uncertainty was enough to resurrect her protective, bad girl bravado.
Taking a step toward him instead of making her way to the front door, she gave him a coy smile.
Robin stiffened as she neared him, watching her with apprehension, waiting for the Slayer to slug him for his not so smooth moves.
“Uhhhh…yeah?” he warily replied.
Wood nearly jumped out of his skin when she laid a hand on his chest.
“There’s something you gotta do before we can go in,” she surreptitiously informed him.
“Yeah?” he repeated, a little more intrigued, a little less fearful.
Faiths hand traveled up his hard chest, nails grazing against the soft material of his shirt. His eyes fluttered shut at the sensation.
“Faith…” he whispered, not sure what he wanted to say.
Her hand continued on its path, past his shoulders, fingers skimming over the skin of his neck. Wood’s eyes snapped open when he felt her palm finally linger against the base of his head. He could swear she was pulling him down for another try at their first kiss.
Man was he ever mistaken.
Before Wood could even budge an inch, the light pressure from the Slayer’s hand was gone, suddenly snatching the Yankees cap he’d completely forgotten about from off the top of his head. He staggered back when she shoved it against his chest.
“The Principal isn’t supposed to wear a hat indoors,” Faith stated, taking a poignant step back. “What would the kids think?”
She smirked and spun around, strutting confidently back into the house, leaving a flummoxed Robin Wood to stew just for a second in his own juices.
He released a ragged breath. He deserved that.
A smile crept across his face. At least now they were even.
A/N:This chapter goes out to my awesome beta, Darkezza.
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