Rating: PG 13 for now. NC 17 in part two. Coming soon to a Gutter near you.
Spoilers: Post-"Get It Done"
Summary: As much as I loved GID, I'm tired of waiting for them to get on the stick here. Decided to take matters into my own hands.
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
Special thanks to Kelly, who saw the draft, and Chris, who helped hammer the final elements into place.
Colleen, hon, this is a prezzie for you... SURPRISE!
"What happened last night?"
Spike was sitting on a chair near the washer, chest against the back of the chair, facing the wall. "Could ask you the same thing," he said slowly, as he glanced casually over his shoulder. She was standing at the foot of the basement stairs, hand draped over the banister. He could see her tension and discomfort like it was branded on her forehead. She was wearing slippers and a pair of pajama bottoms with a hooded top zipped over a strappy camisole. So. No work today, he thought. "You weren't real talkative, as I remember," he continued.
He sounded almost... disinterested. Frowning at his tone, she bristled a little. "I asked first."
"Right. Well. I was just doin' what you wanted," he answered coolly, as he turned his face away.
The absence of any endearment stood out. No 'love,' no 'pet,' not even a 'Slayer' or 'Buffy.' She shifted her feet and looked down.
Taking a deep breath, she took a step toward him. "I was... harsh yesterday..."
Spike didn't turn. "Needed to be said." His mild answer surprised her.
She glanced at her feet. "Okay, maybe it needed to be said, but not like that?"
"Just like that," he chuckled ruefully, turning back to her and running an appraising eye up her body, taking in the language there. His gaze stopped on her face. "Pussyfootin' around just isn't your style. Better out and in the open."
Buffy looked away and eased further into the room. Her eyes fastened on the length of worn, black leather that was carefully draped across the cot. Crossing the space, she walked to the makeshift bed and leaned down, running a light finger over the grain. His duster. "When did you dig this out?" she said conversationally.
"Belatedly." His answer was curt and distant.
She tilted her head, mouth tightening into a grim line. Finally, she shook her head. "You're mad at me."
"You?" He turned, eyes widening slightly. "No, not really." After a moment, his eyes shifted, a harder look replacing his surprise. "Maybe." His eyes hardened even more. "Yeah. A bit."
She let out a breath. "Okay. Well, that's good, I guess. I think. Yeah. Okay."
He raised an eyebrow. "That's 'okay,' is it?"
"Well, everybody else is miffed, except Willow, so you might as well be, too," she said flippantly, as she started up the stairs.
"Not mad about what you said," he said loudly, voice echoing in the basement.
His voice stopped her on the fourth step. She turned back to him slowly.
He was standing in the middle of the basement, weight square on both feet, shoulders straight, jaw firm, looking up at her challengingly.
"What?" Her voice matched the tone of his.
Mad about what you didn't say, he thought resentfully. "Talkin' my private business with your precious principal. Marchin' me out like some talkin' pony. 'Vampire with a soul'," he said sarcastically. "That's what brassed me off," he said deliberately, chin high.
He was throwing down the gauntlet.
"That's totally unfair. We need all the help we can get here."
"Granted," he conceded. "But m'not much for this sharin' thing that California breeds like fashion fads," he continued. "The soul is..." he chuckled wryly, "well, *was*... personal." Sarcasm dripped from his next words. "Wanted the world to know, I'd've phoned the New York Times. Given 'em a right interestin' interview. Made a little cash, even."
His voice was cutting across the basement. Buffy glanced up at the door. It was open.
Her eyes never left him as she went up the stairs and firmly closed it.
"Now," she said as she walked back down. "Maybe you can tell me why you'd be so ashamed for him to know?"
"Ashamed?" His eyes flashed as he drew himself up, meeting her at the bottom of the stairs. She stopped two steps above. "You just don't get it, do you?" he said, looking up at her in disgust.
"Oh, I think I get it all right. It's okay for me to know, but you're ashamed for anybody else to. Unique? More or less? Isn't that what you said? What is it you call Angel? The great pouf? I think that's the real problem."
"Well, it's what you wanted, isn't it?" he asked bullishly.
"Is it what *you* wanted?" Her voice was hard. Merciless.
"Yeah," he said without hesitation, eyes narrowing dangerously. His words were like daggers. "Yeah. Yeah, it was."
"Then start acting like it," she said coldly. "Stop moaning and groaning." She turned away and started up the steps, certain she'd made her point.
"Go on, then!" He was frustrated and angry. "Leave! Run off! S'what you're good at, anyway."
Her voice was dangerous as she turned slowly back and looked down the stairs. "Did you forget? This is *my* basement."
Kennedy must have gotten up early. Sometime during the night, Willow had slipped into the room and almost tripped over her sleeping form. The witch had shaken her head. Well, better now than later for rude awakenings.
Moving down the stairs, Willow bypassed the living room and went straight to the kitchen through the hall. She found Xander there, waiting with his typical brand of patience for the coffee to finish dripping into the pot completely. She rolled her eyes.
"She's up," her friend commented, as he fiddled with the jar of non-dairy creamer. "Still in her pajamas, but up and moving around."
"No." A beat. "Buffy." He looked at Willow curiously. "Where's Kennedy?"
Willow pushed her hair off her face and pulled her robe more tightly around her as she sat down on a stool near Xander and the coffee. "The bathroom, I guess. I didn't check. Just came straight down. Things are kinda... well, you know..." She made a wonky face. Between she and I. Since last night."
With a nod, the man acknowledged that and turned to the coffee pot, pouring himself a mug and reaching into the cabinet to pull down a cup for Willow.
"It was kind of trippy for a novice like her," he conceded. "The whole power suck thing."
She nodded glumly. "Yeah. Kind of put her in Instant Scooby mode."
They raised their coffee, mug and cup, at the same moment. In the companionable silence, Willow heard noises coming from the basement. Her head swung around, and back to Xander.
"Yeah," he sighed. "She's down there. Things got a little... heated... between the two of them a few minutes ago and she shut the door. Went right back down though. Until then, you could hear 'em clear as day."
Willow raised her eyebrows knowingly. "Little fallout from last night?"
"More like a whole new meltdown," he confided. "And I'm not so sure it was about last night. I'm just up here in case Buffy needs the DustBuster crew to come down and clean up."
She smiled. "He did good last night."
"Yep. He delivered. For demon delivery, call Spike," he said jokingly in an announcer-type voice.
Worriedly, she shook her head. "Those two have some real issues."
In a flash, he was at the cot, flinging the duster up and sliding his arms into it in one easy movement, born of years of habit. "Yes," he said tightly. "It *is* your basement. And I'm vacating it now." He patted his pockets and looked around for anything else he might want to take with him. Not a bloody thing. He had everything he needed. "Let me know if you need a demon fighter, Summers. Otherwise, sod off!"
She was down the stairs and in his face by the time he turned around, standing toe to toe. He forced his shoulders to relax and raised an eyebrow, looking down at her stiff form in disdain.
"You're not going anywhere," she said firmly, voice quivering slightly. Was it anger? Fear? Did he really give a tinker's damn right now?
"I'm not?" He laughed in her face. "Watch me, Slayer." He went to step around her.
She blocked his path, forehead knit into a frown. "I told you," she said stormily. "I'm not ready for you not to be here."
"Too bloody bad. You're gonna have to be a little less cryptic than that to keep me around, 'pet.'" His sarcastic spin on the endearment sparked anger in her eyes. She grabbed at his arm.
Spike looked down at her hand and slowly looked up into her eyes. "Don't even think about it, Buffy." Her hand dropped away as if his arm had grown too hot to touch. "Done with bein' everyone's punchin' bag. Yours, most of all." His eyes grew harder. "Besides, I'm bloody sick of lookin' at your new beau already."
Her eyes took on a triumphant look, as if she'd been delivered from disaster. "You're jealous," she stated, voice a little shrill.
"Yeah? And so what? Unlike some people, I can admit it. Won't keep me from walkin' out of here, now will it?"
She shook her head, eyes clenched. "You can't go."
"Why the hell not?" He'd lost his temper at last, voice bordering on a bellow. "So you can keep your options open?"
"There *is* no option!" Her face was red with anger, chest heaving.
He stared at her, expression shifting from anger to shock. Catching her by the shoulders, he took a deep breath. "Care to explain that?" he said a little more quietly.
"No." She twisted away from him and ran up the stairs.
He pushed out a disgusted breath and ran his hand through his hair. "Fine!" he yelled, taking the stairs two at a time behind her. "We'll do this with an audience! You seem to like that! Twenty other people and you're a regular public speaker!"
Dawn waded through the living room, blearily trying to avoid the assortment of out-thrown arms and legs that were attached to the scattered bodies of sleeping girls. Hearing low voices in the kitchen, she continued on, finally able to clearly navigate her way there.
Kennedy, fully dressed, was coming in the hallway door. She and Dawn's eyes met, then slid to Xander and Willow.
"What's up?" Dawn asked rhetorically, voice hoarse with sleep.
"Morning, Dawnie," Willow said perkily. She ventured a glance at Kennedy, who smiled a little and sat down on the stool beside her. The witch patted the young woman on the leg. "You okay?" Kennedy nodded, not speaking. Willow turned back to Dawn. "Are you feeling okay? After the whole hocus pocus thing last night?"
Dawn nodded. "Yeah. Body achy, but okay. Thanks for bringing Buffy back, even if she is a colossal pain in the ass."
Pleased, Willow straightened a little on the stool. "Yeah, well, it's my..."
Yells were coming from the basement. Dawn looked at Xander.
"Your sister. And Spike. I heard a little bit earlier, but she shut the door. I was thinking about getting a glass, doing a little eavesdropping, but..."
Without a word, Dawn swung her legs around and slid off the stool, grabbing a glass off the drainer and heading for the basement door.
"Xand, fix me some cereal. Just in case I have to look nonchalant real quick," she said airily.
No sooner did she have the glass to the door, than she spun around and headed for the refrigerator in a dead run. "Quick," she squeaked, as she seized the milk. Xander quickly grabbed a cereal box as Willow captured a bowl and spoon, setting it on the kitchen island smoothly. There was yelling coming from the basement. The man and teen simultaneously poured milk and cereal into the bowl as feet thudded up the stairs.
The basement door flew open and Buffy emerged, breathing heavily, face red. She stopped stock still as she realized that she'd walked into a Summers household breakfast. Spike was yelling behind her, words recognizable even over the pounding of his boots on the steps.
She looked back and scooted across the kitchen. Spike popped out of the basement, duster flapping around his legs, and into the room, eyes fastening on Buffy and ignoring everyone else.
Xander looked down. Last night had been bad enough. Buffy had whacked Spike's balls off and left them lying on the living room floor. Xander was sick to death of the damsel in distress routine himself. He almost cheered when Buffy told him he was holding back. Still, by the time she'd finished with Spike, it made a man want to reach down and protect himself, wincing the whole time. He'd wondered at first if that emergency kit that Buffy had mentioned might be something to stick the vampire's balls back on with.
*So* didn't want to see a repeat of last night.
Dawn spooned cereal into her mouth, filling it quickly so that she wouldn't be expected to talk. Also, it made her look innocent of wrongdoing - like trying to listen in on her sister and her 'ex'.
Because, and Dawn had realized it last night, he really was an 'ex.' It hadn't been anything casual - even if it hadn't been all hearts and flowers.
Which seemed pretty boring to her anyway.
Kennedy leaned back on the stool, eyes clear and appraising. She wasn't going anywhere, no matter how the thing with the First turned out. Might as well get in the loop.
She'd been impressed in spite of herself when Spike had dragged that dead demon into the house. After all, the thing had shrugged off two swords, some ninja gear - and Spike - the first go round. She'd really expected to find his half-eaten body crawling around somewhere later.
Today, she thought she'd cut him some slack.
Willow slid in front of Spike warningly. "Spike... ?" Her tone was mild, but the steel behind it was not. She was Buffy's best friend. Buffy, who was going through a lot, and had had a real bad night. Spike was going to have to go through her to get to Buffy.
Spike barely glanced at the witch, keeping his eyes locked on Buffy's. The slayer was standing at the entrance to the living room staring back, eyes flat.
"What's going on, Spike?" the witch asked.
The vampire's eyes stayed on the woman across the room. "That's what I'd like to know. Tryin' to move out of here and she says 'no.'" He glanced down at Willow, eyes hard. "You tell me, Red. Why the bloody hell not? What am I here for, anyway?"
Confused, Willow looked over her shoulder at Buffy, who was still frozen in place. With a nod at Spike, she stepped away, moving back to Kennedy's side.
"Give me a reason, Buffy. A real reason why I can't go."
Xander's eyes traveled to the slayer. Somehow, the refrigerator had gone off along with the heat pump. The house was dead silent. Dawn had even stopped chewing, eyes as wide as saucers. The man opened his mouth to speak. Closed it when he realized he didn't know what he was supposed to say.
Spike and Buffy continued to stare at each other across the room. The tension was becoming unbearable as almost visible sparks flew back and forth between the two. No one was speaking. No one was backing down. Finally, he came up with a reason. He cleared his throat, but no one looked at him. "It's the trigger, Spike," he said loudly. "And The First. She's keeping you close because of the trigger. So you can't go," he concluded.
Spike pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth, chin coming up as his head tilted to one side. "That right, Slayer? The trigger what all this is about?"
Buffy glanced at Xander, Dawn and Willow. Her eyes swept past Kennedy to return to Spike. She stared at him some more. Finally, she broke her own silence. "No. It's not the trigger." There was the faintest whiff of defeat in her voice.
Spike's face lost some of its harsh edge, softening slightly. "Don't you think it's time you told me why, then?" He began walking slowly toward her, careful to make no sudden movements. After five steps, he stopped in front of her. The two were suspended in time. "Tell me."
Buffy's chin bobbed up, eyes glinting. "I hate this," she hissed under her breath. She looked around at the expectant eyes of everyone in the room. "I love you," she spat out.
In a moment, they heard feet flying up the stairs and the slam of a door.
The collective breaths of five other people were expelled at the same time. Xander looked over to see Anya standing in the doorway by the basement stairs, totally hypnotized by the scene.
Spike's back was to them, so they all saw him roll his neck and put a hand up to ease the strain. Then, his head sunk to his chest. A mighty exhalation broke the silence. Slowly, he turned around to face the room at large.
"Well, then," Spike said to no one in particular. "I'd say that's reason enough to stay." He rocked back on his heels, reflecting on the moment. Then, he drew in a breath and pushed it out. "Still, had about enough here," he said. "In fact, I've had more than enough." He looked at Willow. "Clear the bloody house for the day. Get 'em up and get 'em out. Don't care if you dump the lot of 'em in the Hellmouth - just do it."
Xander stepped forward protectively. "But..."
Willow put a hand on Xander's arm. "Buffy's made her choice," she said quietly. "We all heard it. Let's just do what Spike says. Make like a tree and 'leave'. Frankly," she said conspiratorially, "all this UST has been playing hell with my inner balances big time." She smiled. "Not such a good thing for the recently evil."
"UST?" Xander heard Dawn twitter and looked toward her in confusion.
"I'll explain in the car," the witch assured him.
The man registered a low, extended 'hmmmph' coming from his ex-fiancee and glanced at Dawn, who had a wicked expression on her face. Looking back into Willow's soft green eyes, he grinned, covering his disappointment at the way it was all turning out. Like Giles, Xander had always hoped that Buffy's Cinderella story would end happily one day. He should have known better. "Yeah, okay. Besides, I've had enough public displays that should have been private to last me a while. No reason to hang around for the next one."
Walking past Spike to the door of the living room, the man called out, "Breakfast at McDonald's. And it's on me!" He looked at Spike levelly. "I'll have 'em out in twenty minutes. Don't screw this up, Deadboy."
The vampire's face was solemn. "Thanks, Xander. I won't."
Continued in ~Two~