Part 4: The Plan
Spike picked up his duster and grabbed the cell phone. Buffy made an impatient noise. "You with your cell phone and your daytimer and your appointments. And your 'party planner," she grumbled.
Spike turned to Buffy, daytimer forgotten. "Have you forgotten you strong-armed me into this, Slayer?" he asked curiously, wondering what she expected anyway.
Buffy threw her arms in the air. "I didn't expect you to take this on like it was Prince Andrew's bachelor party."
Spike smiled. Then frowned as he saw her face darken. He didn't have time for a Slayer meltdown right now. They had patrol and he had lots of things to finish up. "Slayer..." he warned.
All her insecurities slammed into drive.
Buffy's eyes hardened. "Let's cut to the chase, okay? I've been up against you more times than I care to think about right now. And I have to give you a round of snaps in planning and execution. Your schemes have always made some kind of twisted sense. And you've almost gotten the better of me more than once. So forgive me if I'm feeling a teensy bit paranoid."
Spike stared at Buffy. He sure hadn't seen this coming. He should have known she gave in too easily about Cordelia and Fred and .... Frantically, without betraying it on the outside, he wondered how he could get her outside before the crypt got irreparably trashed.
He wasn't even listening to her. "Spike. Have you heard a thing I've said in the last three weeks?"
"Don't call me that. Or pet, or Goldilocks or even Slayer. Buffy. My name is Buffy." She took a deep breath and let it out.
Spike tried to figure out where they were headed with this conversation. But he was busy dealing with an overwhelming sense that fists and feet were imminent. And although he liked a good brawl as well as the next bloke, he did not want to fight with Buffy.
Buffy continued. "You know, I haven't had to second guess you in a long time now, Spike." She sighed. "I am so out of practice. And it's just too much effort."
Spike opened his mouth to speak, but a gesture from Buffy made him decide he'd better shut it. Besides, she was talking. Really talking.
Buffy laughed wryly, but it had a slightly broken edge to it. "I have racked my brain, going over everything in my head a dozen times. Every tidbit of information. But I don't have a clue." She took a deep breath and set her shoulders, looking levelly and honestly into Spike's eyes.
"I give," she confessed.
Spike's surprise was etched across his face. She bit down and chewed on her lip. "I give up. I cave. I surrender. 'Uncle.' The L.A. crew will be here tomorrow and I need to know what your big master plan is. " Despite her flat emotionless voice, her whole body was betraying her tension.
"Your plan." Buffy stated in a reasoning tone. "Whatever bent little confrontation or revelation or whatever your reason is for inviting Angel here. I need to know."
"It's okay. You've pulled it off. ProActive Buffy is no longer in the building. All I can do is react at this point, you know."
Spike slowly smiled and stepped forward, taking Buffy's shoulders in his hands.
"Buffy," he chuckled softly, "there is no plan."
He felt her shoulders slump, as she dropped her eyes. "I knew you wouldn't tell me," she muttered.
Spike shook her, just a little, so she'd look up at him. He smiled encouragingly. "Buffy, it's true. There is no plan. Just a party."
The miserable look on her face morphed into something sharp and glittering. "Don't. Don't 'Buffy' me in that soft 'bed' voice that makes me even more ...crazy. Why else would you have invited Angel and taken the chance that..." She stopped abruptly. Took another breath. "I've got to figure out how to feel ... " She dropped her eyes in surprise at her own words. "Uh, deal. Deal with it."
"Buffy, look at me. Buffy..." And risking unlife and limb, he caught her chin and lifted her face so that she was looking in his eyes. "There is no plan," he assured her again. "In the beginning, there was the spark of a plan. More like a glimmer, actually. But the last few weeks, I've taken turns both kicking and congratulating myself for making that bloody call to Angelus.
"Buffy, this party has made me see things a whole lot differently." he smiled. "Especially myself. It's been a long time since I had a purpose that wasn't directly tied into you. I needed that, I think. The last few weeks, I've felt almost ... alive. And believe me that's something to savor and not overthink when you've been dead as long as I have."
Buffy tried to wrap her mind around his words to absorb the meaning.
She breathed out in a whisper. "There's no plan?"
And she slapped the living hell out of him.
The slap only rocked Spike back a step or two. His hand absently went up to his cheek. Startled, he looked at her stiff stance, the fighting glint in her eyes. Took it all in. His face changed with his body language, as he drew himself up and raised an eyebrow to disguise the hurt. "Oh. I see. I was confused. I forgot it was exclusively All!About!Buffy."
"So. Angelus is on his way back to Sunnydale with his extended family unit. There are no big nasties to kill or heart-crushing deaths for you to lay on his big broad shoulders this time. Just a party. And a wedding. Joyous times," he said muttered thoughfully, turning and presenting Buffy with a very attractive target.
He reached the table, slowly picking up cigarettes and lighter. The lighter snicked open. Lighting the cigarette, still not turning to face her, he said quietly and calmly, "Seems to me you've got some thinking to do." He slowly turned around. "What is it you want?" He looked her over in that hungry, predatory way he had that made her knees weak. "Or rather, who?"
Buffy swiftly dropped her eyes, looking intently at a spot on the floor.
"Put your mind at rest. There will be no big public confessions, revelations or confrontations. This is between me and you, pet. Not you and me and Angel. Not you and me and the Scoobies. Nor Dawn. As of now, this discussion is on hold until after the wedding.
"Xander and Anya have been planning this for a long time. I've worked damn hard to make this party the grand send-off that he deserves."
"This time, Buffy, it's not All!About!You. I'm sorry about a lot of things, Buffy. Your mom, your responsibilities, your best friend, your Watcher. But ... someone needs to tell you that it's someone else's turn. And I guess, as usual, I'm elected."
Buffy didn't look up. Tears were fighting to escape, but she wouldn't let them. She wouldn't sniff, either.
Spike walked toward the stairs to his room. Spike stopped. "You know, it's early yet. I'll catch up with you later for patrol. Got a few things to do first."
His parting words cut across her and left her bleeding.
"You can let yourself out, right?"
Tara took a deep breath and relaxed back into the chair as she checked the last item off the list. She felt so much better now that the party stuff was all done.
When Buffy had come by yesterday to ask Tara if she could move Anya's party to the night before the wedding, Tara had been stunned. And embarrassed.
"Gee, Buffy, if the Bronze is available -- the balcony, I mean -- it shouldn't be a problem. I'm just sorry I put you in this position."
Buffy had just laughed. "I don't know what we were all thinking, leaving the Hellmouth undefended a whole night. The wedding's going to be bad enough. And I hoped it wouldn't give you as much trouble as it would Spike."
"If I can get the balcony at the Bronze, everything else is easy." Tara assured her. "I'm just so sorry, Buffy."
"Don't be. I think we've all gotten a little giddy over this wedding. They're the first of us, you know. Maybe the last. Who can tell? Do you need any help? Anything I can do? See if the stripper's available on the next night?"
"No, no." Tara said quickly. "That's okay. I think I can manage. I'll call if I need help, though."
"Spike's going to do patrol the night of your party. Maybe take Angel and his boys with him. But the night of the bachelor party, I could use a little backup." Buffy grinned in invitation. "Want to go patrol with me?"
Tara grinned. "Haven't had to do that since you got back. I hate to say it, cause it sounds a little sick, but yeah, it'd be fun."
"We'll all go. Drag Cordelia along, too. Leave Dawn and Fred with the baby. Besides, it'll take our minds off what's going on at the bachelor party." Buffy chuckled.
Tara hadn't thought about it too much at the time. She had had to call Anya, the Bronze, and Anne and the guests. But now that everything was all set, again, she sat back and thought about it. Going on a full patrol would take them all right past Willy's. That area was a well-known Hellmouth hot spot.
Tara's eyes gleamed a little. She'd never seen a real live bachelor party. Maybe they'd peek.
Buffy's eyes were still wet when she got home. Spike had been right. It was still a little early for patrol. And she needed the quiet of her room right now. She almost bumped into Willow as she headed for the stairs.
"Whoa!" Willow involuntarily grabbed Buffy's arm when she saw the look on her face. "Buffy, what's wrong?"
Willow's voice was so warm, so caring, so Willow, that Buffy blurted out the first words that came to mind.
"I hate him! Hate him!" And there was a fresh onslaught of tears following this revelation. Willow pulled Buffy against her and pushed her head down on her shoulder as Buffy quietly sobbed.
"Oh, Buffster, it's okay," Willow murmured. "Buffy ... shhh." Willow thought about it for a minute. "On second thought, honey, boohoo all you want." Willow felt better about Buffy than she had in months.
Buffy pulled away a little from Willow abruptly to look at her. "Will, it's not always just All!About!Buffy, right?"
No, Willow thought sadly, looking at Buffy, lately it's been All!About!Willow or I would have known something was wrong. "Well, you've had a lot to deal with lately." Buffy's chin began to quiver. Willow grabbed her and hugged her. "No, of course not." But who would have.... Willow suddenly had a thought. Oh. Oh!
She took a chance. "Spike tell you that, sweetie?" she probed gently. Buffy nodded miserably into Willow's shoulder. "You two have a fight?"
Buffy looked up childlike into Willow's eyes. "Uh huh. I wanted to know why he invited Angel and he said..." she gulped. "He said..."
"That everything wasn't always AllAboutBuffy. And he told me to leave." she whispered.
Willow looked into Buffy's swimming eyes and wondered how or when she could ever thank Spike for this gift. She pulled Buffy's head back on her shoulder and let her cry herself out.
Buffy, her best friend Buffy, was back.
Willow sighed. Buffy had cried and then pulled herself together, announcing that she had to patrol. When Willow asked her if she needed help, Buffy shook her head.
"You really don't need to patrol all by yourself right now," Willow reasoned. "Dawn's at Janice's and we could ..."
"It's okay, Will. I won't be alone." And that was all Buffy said.
As night deepened, Willow left the house and found herself on Crawford Street. She walked up the steps, wondering idly at the open front door.
Willow took a deep breath and walked inside, her eyes falling on a lone figure who was crouched down stuffing a t-shirt into an old battered duffle. Her breath caught.
Oz's head came up and he smiled. "Thought that was you." At Willow's puzzled look, Oz indicated his nose and sniffed.
Willow grinned, "You smelled me comin'?"
"You must have been a little nervous about seeing me, I guess. I wanted to come and see you, but Spike seemed like he wanted me to keep a low profile. Everyone else is somewhere eating."
God, it was good to see him. And it didn't hurt a bit. It felt ... well, good.
Oz got up and walked over to Willow. His eyes were warm and soft, his look appraising.
"Been having a rough time, huh?"
Willow suddenly knew how Buffy felt. It was hard hearing it like this. Especially from someone you'd loved once and hadn't seen since all the bad things had happened. Tears pooled in Willow's eyes. She blinked them back.
Oz walked over quickly and put his an arm around her shoulder. "It's okay. Sometimes life just gets ... hard."
Continued in Part 5: Surprise