She wasn't surprised that he was gone, and she wasn't sure where they would go from that point onward, but she was very grateful to him for the feeling of almost perfect satisfaction and contentment that coursed through her.
It lasted for another forty-five seconds, and then the phone rang. It was Riley.
"Buffy? You awake?"
"I am now."
"Can I see you this morning?"
"Not if we're going to argue again."
"No arguments. I promise. We...we need to talk."
"Yes, we do, Riley. We really do."
Then: "Meet you at the coffee shop in an hour?" He sounded very unsure of himself.
"See you then."
Her hard-won good feelings had shriveled. How did he do that in one short conversation?
Her gaze fell on the crow's feather next to her pillow, and she began to search the bedclothes and floor for something else. The bandana was missing.
Smiling to herself, she stripped the very used sheets from her bed and made her way to the bathroom.
The coffee shop was crowded. They found a table near the back. Riley ordered a large breakfast, complete with all the food-groups. Buffy ordered a glass of juice.
"That's all you want?"
"Yeah." She paused, not knowing how to begin the conversation. "Riley, I'm wondering if maybe we should take a break for a little while."
He looked shocked. "You're breaking up with me?"
"Did I say that?" She was instantly exasperated with him. "I just need some time...to sort some things out." How could she make him understand, when she didn't comprehend it herself?
"I don't get it, Buffy." It was his favorite phrase. "Why does everything have to be so complicated? I love you, you love me...let's just be happy already."
The waitress served them.
"I'm sorry Riley...it IS complicated. I can't just snap my fingers and PRESTO--simple life."
"OK, I know, the whole Slayer gig--but that's just your JOB, Buffy. That's not who you ARE."
She dropped her head to the table in frustration. He really DIDN'T get it. And she was running out of patience.
"That's just it, Riley, the Slayer IS who I am. It's not like I'm working at Dairy Queen, or the Gap. I'm the Slayer twenty-four/seven...in class, at the movies, in the showerand in bed."
He flinched when she said that. "Here we go again with the sex stuff. What are you, nympho-girl all of a sudden?" He'd meant it to come out as a joke, but it sounded bitter.
She could feel her temper rising. "You know, Riley, I was called when I was fifteen. It's not like I didn't exist before thenat least some of the stuff that's going on with me has to do with ME--not just the Slaying. Is it so unusual that I might want to experiment in the romance department a little bit...does that really make me a perv?"
He ignored the last part of her question. "OK, now I'm confused. First you're all about being the Slayer, and now you're telling me that some of it is you, separate from the Slayer--which is it Buffy? Don't you know?" His voice had taken on that patronizing, I'm-a-psych-major-and-I-know-you-better-than-you-know-yourself tone that she always found so attractive.
"Look, Riley, I'm asking you to give me some space. Can you do that for me?"
He was silent for several seconds. Then: "There's somebody else, isn't there?"
She startled inwardly, wondering if he could smell it on her
"God, Riley, THAT'S what you got out of everything I just said?"
"'Cause if there's some other guy, Buffy, you gotta tell me now."
She closed her eyes and had an involuntary vision of Spike's face. He was smiling at her, and there was a promise in that smile.
She took a deep breath. "Riley, what if there is some other guy? How does that change anything? We haven't been connecting for weeks--I'm not giving you what you need, and you aren't giving me--"
"Who is it? What's his name? Is he a student?" He had begun looking wildly around the coffee shop.
She nearly told him. The only thing that stopped her was the fear that he would do something stupid...and since a chipped Spike was a defenseless Spike, and a defenseless Spike was most likely a dusty Spike, and a dusty Spike could never again make her feel like she felt last night...
"It doesn't matter who it is." She grabbed his hand across the table. "Riley, listen to me. I...I care about you. A lot. I don't want to hurt you"
"It's a little late for that, Buffy."
She flinched at the wounded bunny look on his face. "I know. I'm sorry. I really don't know what's the matter with me. But you've got to understand...this...thing with this other guyit doesn't mean anything."
"How can you say that?"
"It's true! Really, Riley, it's just something I need to get out of my system. It's just" She felt her face begin to turn red, but she forced herself to continue. "It's just sex. That's all it is. It doesn't mean anything."
He just sat there, looking at her. She noticed that even with all the angst in their conversation, he'd managed to consume his entire breakfast. Her juice remained untouched.
"Buffy, I've got class. I gotta go. Wewe'll talk some more later, OK?"
"Yeah, Riley, we'll talk. I promise."
She watched as he paid the bill and left the shop. Then she dragged herself to class, feeling a strange mix of emotions: partly guilty, for how she had hurt Riley, and partly dreamy, because she couldn't seem to get her mind off Spike. Every time she saw a blonde male out of the corner of her eye, she nearly jumped out of her skin, although her common sense told her that Spike couldn't very well be strolling about campus in the bright morning sunshine.
The day was very long. The evening proved longer, as she slogged her way through three hours of study in a nearly deserted library, trying hard to concentrate and failing. After that, a quick patrol through the cemetery and
Well, it wouldn't hurt to just check on him. Make sure he hadn't seen Butch anywhere around. See how his day had been.
The crypt was empty, upstairs and down. She tried to convince herself that the feeling in the pit of her stomach was hunger, and to that end she stopped at the all-night grocery a block from her house and picked up some fruit.
Her head was down and she fumbled for her keys as she made her way up the steps to the back porch. He was sitting in the shadows, so stillonly a flash of dim light reflected on his teeth as he smiled at her alerted her to his presence.
She took a deep breath and set the small bag of fruit on the top step. "Spike."
"Yeah, you could say that." She sat down across from him and reached for the bag. "Everything OK?"
"Why don't you tell me?" Then she saw that in his hands he held her shredded blue bandana. He was playing with it, drawing it back and forth between his fingers. She felt a flush touch her face.
He heard her breathing deepen, her heart rate increase, and his body responded.
They looked at each other in the half-light, taking measure. Then she reached into the bag next to her and drew out something small, round and deep red.
Looking directly into his eyes, she whispered, "Wanna cherry?"
He laughed, a guttural chuckle that she could feel all over her skin.
"Wish I could've had your cherry, pet. Willin' to bet Angel didn't do half right by you, your first time." He shifted slightly and leaned forward. "I'd have broke you in right, an' make no mistake. Wouldn't have left you there to rot whilst I ran off and got exorcised of my soul, either."
"Swine." She smiled as she said it.
"Oh, rough talk, Slayer. " He held out his hand. She leaned toward him and dropped a single cherry into his palm and watched as he brought it to his lips.
Never taking his eyes off of hers, he extended his tongue and caressed the firm red flesh of the fruit. Then he sucked the cherry partway between his lips and gave it a small, tender bite. Red juice spilled out over his lower lip.
Her own lips parted and she could feel herself moving toward him without ever making a conscious decision to do so. Dropping the cherry away from his mouth, he pulled her close and gazed into her face. His voice was beyond seductive.
"Slayer...we've been crawlin' all over each other like ants on a cupcake...not that it hasn't been glorious, mind you. But I'm wonderin' what you'd say to a proper shag...an' a proper kiss..."
His head lowered with excruciating slowness. She felt her lips part again, ready to receive him. And just as they made contact...
"HOLY CHRIST!! Buffy, what the HELL?"
Riley. Standing at the bottom of the steps. Looking at them with murder in his eyes.
Still seated and leaning in toward one another, lips touching softly, Spike and Buffy froze. She heard the cherry he'd had in his hand drop to the floor with a tiny thud.
Then they were on their feet. The three of them stood there, staring at one another. Buffy struggled to speak first.
"Riley..." His mouth hung open. Kind of like a carp. A very big carp.
She heard Spike mumble, "Luv, that's what you call 'gob-smacked.'" He gave a small snort of derision.
"Shut UP, Spike." She hissed it under her breath, as if they weren't all standing four feet apart and able to hear each other whisper.
She felt Spike's hand tighten briefly in her shoulder and then drop away.
She tried again. "Riley...this isn't...I mean...don't get the wrong...um..." Nope. No way out of this one. Better just plow straight on through.
She lifted her chin. "Riley, I know what this looks like, and I understand why you might be upset--"
He seemed to awaken from a dream at the sound of her words. "UPSET! You understand why I might be UPSET! I find you making out on your back porch with a VAMPIRE and you think I'm UPSET?" His voice broke all high and squeaky on the last word.
"We were NOT making out...it was just one kiss...not EVEN one kiss..."
"Yeah, an' thanks for THAT, mate. Your timing is bleedin' impeccable." Spike's arms were crossed over the front of his duster, and his tone was relaxed, if sarcastic, but Buffy could feel the tension in him. She wondered if any of them would walk away from this unbruised.
"Damn it Spike, SHUT UP!" She turned on him and he flashed a smirk at her. He was enjoying this way too much.
"So THIS is the other guy you were talking aboutI can't believe this is happening to me." Riley dropped his face into his hands for a moment as if to clear his thoughts.
"You told him about us, pet? I'm right touched." Spike's hand was back on her shoulder. Buffy stood there, caught between the two of them, wanting to punch something very badly.
"Don't touch her, you scum-sucking piece of--"
"Hey! Now, Riley, you need to calm down. Spike, back off. Let's just try to get some perspective on the situation." Suddenly she realized that she sounded very much like Giles.
"I SAID take your FUCKING hand off of her--"
"Oh, this isn't my fuckin' hand, mate. I'm a southpaw, actually. Although I've been known to be ambidextrous when the circumstance calls for it." She allowed the meaning behind his words to distract her for a split second.
"You are SO dead, vampire." Riley took one step toward them. Buffy heard a low growl emanate from Spike and knew that she'd have to move fast to avert disaster.
"THAT'S ENOUGH! Riley, go home. We'll talk about this in the morning. Spike"
Riley cut her off by grabbing her wrist and yanking her off the porch. Spike immediately went to full game face, crouched and ready to spring. She twisted free of Riley and threw herself between them.
"I will kick the SHIT out of the first one of you who makes a move. I SWEAR I will." They stood there, the three of them, in a grotesque tableau. She could hear Riley panting, trying to maintain control. Spike continued to growl deep in his chest, his yellow eyes sparkling and rolling.
Finally, she felt Riley back away slightly. Refusing to look at Spike, he chose to address her. "So this is how it is, huh? A human male just isn't enough--you gotta fuck a vampire? That's disgusting, Buffy. I'm ashamed for you."
Her breath caught in her throat and she waited for the hurt to descend on her heart. It didn't come. Instead, she felt anger, outrage and utter irritation with this man and super-sized self-righteousness.
"What do you want the girl to say, Soldier Boy? You make her feel like dirt, she's gonna act dirty." Buffy looked up at Spike. His features had returned to normal, but his eyes remained rimmed with gold.
"I didn't do ANYTHING DIRTY!!" She wanted to shriek with frustration. This little testosterone-induced tug-of-war was getting way old.
"Of course not, luv, you an' I know that. It's the school-boy here that needs a lesson in what's shameful--as in the way he's treated you. Nothin' WE'VE counts as dirty, in my book."
Riley looked at Spike as if he represented everything that was wrong with the world. It was a look of contempt more extreme than any Buffy had ever seen.
"So Spike, how does it feel to be used like alike a living dildo? Except you're not even living. You're a dead dildo, aren't you? You're no better than something she could pick up at the local stroke shop--except maybe you save on batteries."
Buffy stepped toward him with a warning in her eyes. "Don't, Riley."
"Don't? Why not, Buffy? You said it yourself--it doesn't mean anything. It's just sex. That's what you said." A small smile of satisfaction appeared on Riley's face as he said these words.
She turned and looked up at the vampire on the porch. He was frozen in place, staring at her intently. One tiny muscle in his jaw twitched.
Then he was off the porch, blowing by her and Riley on his way down the street, his duster swirling behind him.
"Spike, wait..." It came out strangled, choked by pain. She'd seen his eyes.
That's when Riley grabbed her by the shoulders and propelled her onto the sidewalk for his version of a heart-to-heart talk. She allowed him to do it only because her mind was racing down the street after Spike.
"OK, Buffy, this is it. This is where it ends."
First things first. She looked him full in the face, then noticed where they were standing--directly beneath the large tree in front of her house. It was the same tree that had witnessed her little scene with Spike a few weeks ago--the beginning of a battle, although she didn't know it then.
"You're right, Riley. This is where it ends."
"Good. I'm glad you agree with me. I think the first thing we need to do is get you some help--real professional help. I think the college counseling office might be a good place to start."
"Really? You think so?"
"Yes, I do. Next--and I don't want you to argue about this--I think it's time we ended Spike's little reign of terror. I know you feel sorry for him since he can't fight back, but he's obviously manipulated you. I should have dusted him months ago, and I'm gonna do it for real this time. Don't worry, I'll make it quick--he'll never know what hit him."
Unfortunately for Riley, he DID know what hit him--the heel of Buffy's right boot, in a straight shot to his solar plexus. In a lucky break for him, she pulled the kick at the last moment, or he would have died right there on the sidewalk. As it was, he went down like the sack of wet cement he was at heart. Right before he passed out, he saw her standing over him. When she spoke to him, he believed her words, which was his second lucky break of the evening.
"Stay away from me, Riley. Far, far away. Don't call, don't visit, don't write notes. As for Spike, you'd better hope he lives a long and satisfying un-life, 'cause if anything happens to him--anything at all--I will hunt you down and break every bone in your body." He flinched, gasping for air, as she leaned over him to remove the cell phone from his pocket. She dialed a number and spoke curtly into the phone. Then she tossed it back to him.
"Your buddies will be here in five minutes to pick you up. Remember what I said, Finn." But he was already unconscious.
Then she took off down the street toward the cemetery.
Continued in Chapter Six