Spike wasn’t sure how he’d gotten here or how to feel about it; he was getting convinced that it was all a weird dream due to whatever had been in his blood the night before.
His days at the castle had been getting more and more routine-like. He trained with the slayers, stopped himself from flirting shamelessly with the capital-S Slayer, joked around with her pals — and how weird was it, that now saying ‘her’ pals instead of ‘their’ sounded somewhat wrong? — and all around had a good time. Their occasional trip to the country to hunt for demons gave him the chance to show off in front of Buffy and any other slayer who joined, which resulted in endlessly amusing flirting from their part. (Not from Buffy, though, which was depressing, but at this point he’d decided to enjoy any and all attention.)
They’d even started working with Tùrtik, which turned out to be Chief Goblin’s name. He hadn’t been wrong: not all of his pals were convinced that working with the slayers was a good idea; just as not all the girls had been happy to know about the extra care they had to put into their slaying efforts now. Buffy and he did their best to warm them up to the concept, though. To their credit, so did Satsu, Leah and Rowena, never showing anyone else the unease they’d talked about at their initial meeting on the matter. It was complicated but the efforts were going forwards; November was over, the last week of December drifting ever closer, and with it the carnival’s opening.
All in all, life was good. He had contacted Beck and told her she could have his LA apartment for the time being; in answer, he’d received the boxes he’d left there, accompanied by a handwritten note wrapped around his little Angel-plushie, which came with its noose all coiled around his felt neck:
Take care of the plushie git, see that he doesn’t come alive and start killing people. I’ll keep an eye on Big Forehead in the flesh here, check that he doesn’t summon literal, bloody hell on us all again.
P.S.: next time you bugger off and leave the sodding continent without coming to say goodbye in person, I’ll bust your bloody nose in. Prat.
He’d shaken his head with a chuckle, which had made Dawn feel obliged to nick the note and read it too, since she’d been helping him setting his things in his tiny room. She’d given him a dubious look but he’d just shrugged off her concern while he hanged little Angel to his lamp, just to cheer up the place. She’d been full of questions about this Beck and he couldn’t help but feel very close to gloating at the thought that she was jealous of his friend. In the end, he’d caved and told her about Beck, enjoying every second of attention his tales got. God, but he was a sucker for Summers women.
All of this was more than all right by Spike, since he was feeling more and more at home in the castle and like he’d finally found his place. Still, the fact that he was in a pub with Xander Harris and Rupert Giles of all people, without Buffy or Dawn there to help him accept his situation as a Scooby — because who was he kidding, he was a part of the merry gang of buffoons by then — well, that was still just bloody weird.
"You gone brain-dead on us, too, dead boy?"
Xander's voice broke his reverie and he sent him a narrow-eyed look.
"Our mate here is feeling out of place, Xander. Do be a gracious host and be sensitive with him."
Giles sported his usual smug smirk and Spike had to bite back the urge to growl at him. Wouldn't do to show his tension.
"Very funny, old man. Very bleedin' gracious."
"You know, you are far older than me, Spike. I've been researching your history, as a matter of fact, while I'm here. It turns out that your —"
"I don't give a bloody good damn about your watcher blabbering, all right? It's all insipid bullshit anyway —"
"That your story," continued Giles with an unconcerned sip of his fancy-ass whiskey, "is much more of a mystery than I expected, even with in-situ material. In fact, I only learned that you were turned in 1880 in London, nothing more precise than that." He seemed to look at him with very discerning eyes, and Spike gulped down some of his own whiskey to avoid showing any interest in his words. "One presumes that you were nothing but a thug from one of the lowest parts of the city, considering your accent and dubious taste of clothing."
Spike took another sip of his whiskey, glaring at the watcher. He seemed far too smug for his taste and he wasn't exactly comfortable enough to share that particular part of his past with him: something told him that Giles’s words were no more than a ruse and that he only meant to get Spike to talk about his past. He didn’t like it one bit.
"One presumes that you should mind your own sodding business instead of prying into others' stories, yeah?"
"All right!" Interrupted Xander, raising his glass of beer between Spike and Giles and breaking their eye contact. "As riveting as this British standoff thing is, I gotta stop you guys. All the testosterone here is risking to go to my head, never mind the risk to any lady's life in this pub."
Spike sent him a grin, glad for the change of focus.
"Getting too much for you to handle, Harris? Wanna call one of the slayers to help you out?"
"Oh, I can handle you all right, mister," said Xander with an easy smile. Spike raised his eyebrows while Giles let out a delicate cough. "OK, no, now I hear that. Let's just pretend I never said that particular sentence, all right?"
"You did mention I could have a piece of you whenever I wanted, Harris…" Spike couldn't help but tease him more, letting one of his hands trail down his chest and towards his belt. Xander visibly tensed and leaned back, sending a nervous glance to Giles.
"Ah-ah, yes, ah, you know me, always the funny guy…"
Spike burst out laughing while Giles coughed again, before they both got another sip of their whiskeys.
"Remind me why I'm wasting my time here with you children…"
"Yeah, Harris, what's this about?"
"Oh, come on, you guys, I told you! The girls have decided to have an all-girls night in as long as Willow’s here," he said, tilting his head to one side, "so we're having an all-guys night out to ourselves!" He finished, tilting his head to the other side. Then his expression turned pleading. "Please. I never thought that being constantly surrounded by women would be this exhausting. Please let's play best pals tonight, all right?"
Spike let him stew in his desperation for a few seconds, then he decided that there was far too much real vulnerability in the boy's eyes for his comfort.
"Yes, by all means let's have a night out and get wasted," said Giles, tilting his glass towards the two of them. Spike and Xander both clinked their glasses with his and Spike settled in to have a 'night out with the boys'.
"So, Spike," started Xander, while he took another sip and thought about the next drink he wanted; "when are you going to ask out Buffy?"
Spike spewed out half his drink on their table, the other half getting lodged in his throat.
"There, there," said Giles in a mild tone, patting him lightly on the back. Xander just blinked at him with an innocent expression.
"I'm just saying," said Xander nonchalantly, "you've been here for around two months now, and I haven't seen you make a move yet. Hell," he added after taking a sip of his beer, ignoring Spike's bugged eyes, "you've been alone outside the castle multiple times, have even gone for drinks… and nothing? Where's the unending love we all loved to hate, Spike? Where's the star-crossed, impossible love story of vampire and vampire slayer?"
“I was expecting something a tad quicker too, I have to say,” said Giles, and Spike moved his bewildered gaze to him. “You’re really keeping us all on our toes, here.”
“I’m pretty sure the slayers have started a tab,” nodded Xander, his face maintaining his innocent, mildly confused expression. “There’s a few of them who’re taking your flirts for real, while others have totally seen through it.”
“Dear Lord, some of them actually believe there’s any chance with him?” Giles scoffed and Spike felt something too close to a roar of rage building in his chest. “I’m worried about the safety of anyone those girls will ever have to protect…”
Xander laughed and Spike had had enough. He stood abruptly, slamming his glass on the table and clenching his hands into fists, willing himself not to bury them into these two’s faces.
“Enough.” He was seething, and Harris and the watcher had the gall to look taken aback at his rage. “Fuck you. Both of you,” he said, staring at both of them hard. Then he turned and strode out of the pub, certain that he’d commit a murder he might regret in the morning if he stayed any longer — or two.
“Spike, where are you —”
“Fuck off, watcher,” he barked, without turning to see the man who’d followed him out of the pub.
“Wait, let me —”
Spike turned and grabbed the man by his shirt, slamming him against the wall of the pub. He distantly registered Giles's glasses wobbling on his face, his eyes wide in shock, and his own face vamping out.
“I said fuck off,” he snarled. “Not in the mood for being played for a fool, watcher.” He jerked him against the wall once for good measure, then moved back and started to turn.
“We’re sorry, all right!” Spike stopped, looking back at him with narrowed eyes. “We didn’t… mean it as an insult.” He seemed honest enough, but Spike still wanted to punch his face in, so he just sneered at him.
“Sure you didn’t. What, you just play at being friendly so you can find new ways to make fun of the resident vampire?”
Giles blinked at him, one hand going up to adjust his glasses and then his shirt. He couldn’t believe how much it stung, to be treated like a laughing stock by this man and the other idiot inside; he clung to his fury, refusing to think of any other emotion he might have been feeling about it.
“Spike. Listen to me.” Spike just glared at him, refusing to let his vamp face recede. “We were just… well, joking around I believe is the more apt term.” Giles moved his gaze to the side for a moment, his voice going less sure. “We… clearly stepped over a line. I’m sorry.”
“So am I,” came Harris’s voice, who was then reaching them through the door of the pub. He raised his hands towards Spike, who’d turned to glare at him too. “Seriously, pal. I just thought we could have a laugh about the good… well, fairly bad old times.”
Spike sneered at him.
“Yeah, cause you’ve always been so bloody supportive of it. You, reacting like Buffy was a fucking monster for ever touching me, and you, trying to get me bloody killed because she didn’t stake me herself.” He spat, suddenly feeling like everything they’d been through these past two months was a huge pile of steaming shit. “You don’t get to laugh at me, you assholes. I can play nice, but I’m no one’s lapdog. Don’t care about your precious, fucking friendship.”
Harris visibly jerked at that, a look of shame and hurt on his expressive face. Something in Spike’s stomach seemed to rebel at his own words, but he ignored it and concentrated on his rage.
“T-that was… that was a long time ago, Spike.” Xander swallowed, his voice getting a bit firmer. “I’ve learnt a lot since then, about… about a lot of things, actually.” Xander swallowed again, his gaze flicking to the ground before going back to Spike’s. “And I thought we were starting over, clean slate and all?”
Spike narrowed his eyes. He felt his rage slipping farther from him with each of the young man’s unsure, hopeful words, and he felt something nauseatingly similar to regret rising from his guts.
“What I did was reckless towards the cause, dishonest and disloyal towards Buffy, and ultimately a bloody idiotic thing, considering how vital your part in the war turned out to be.” Spike turned to Giles, his vamp face receding in shock at the man’s trembling words. “I’ve talked to her since and admitted my faults, and though it took me longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve realised my mistake. It was monumental, and it has taken me time and effort to regain Buffy’s trust, however much of it I have managed to regain.” Spike just blinked, ’cause what the hell was he supposed to say to that? “I don’t know if I am ever to gain yours; but know this: I don’t see you as the dangerous liability that I once thought you were, and you are far from the creature that you once were. And,” he added with an increasingly trembling voice, now visibly shuddering, “I’m sorry.” Spike just blinked at him, again. What? “Now, could we please get inside? I’m worried about hypothermia.”
Right, the bugger had followed him outside in a rush, without stopping to put his coat back on. Spike couldn’t really understand what was going on but Giles seemed intent on staying outside as long as Spike did — so naturally he did get back into the pub, following the two humans, because he couldn’t very well let him die out there. Buffy and his Nibblet would be furious, after all.
They found themselves back at their table, where Xander helped a trembling Giles back into his coat. Spike just stood there, feeling dumb and useless and just a tad like he’d been plunged into a parallel dimension. What would happen next, giant talking bugs?
“All better, watcher-man?”
“It will be as soon as you stop calling me that,” the man muttered while sitting back down.
“Sure, G-man,” Xander said with a wink. Giles glared at him. “So, who wants a refill?” Giles sniffed and just handed him his empty glass. Xander took it and then pointed to Spike’s almost empty one, nodding to the bar behind him. “I’ll take one for you too?”
God, was the git smiling at him hopefully? Spike felt like a prick. This was ridiculous, and he should get back to the sodding castle already and leave these two sorry asses on their own…
He ignored the urge to punch himself in the face and just slumped in his seat instead, looking at Xander while he ordered their new drinks. He could feel Giles looking at him but he didn’t know what to tell him, so he kept his eyes resolutely fixed on the boy. Which was of course a mistake, since as soon as he turned with their drinks there he was, grinning goofily back at him from the bar.
“So, like…” Xander started, after having sat down and clinked his second beer with their glasses. “Do you mind if we talk about it? No jokes this time, promise!” Spike raised an eyebrow at him. “OK, minimum amount of jokes possible. Whaddaya say?”
He just stared at him for a few seconds and then settled his gaze on the opposite corner of the pub. The silence stretched for a few more instants, until Giles broke it.
“Are we wrong in assuming that all the flirting with the other slayers is, in fact, just amusing and that you’re not giving any real thought to any of them?”
Spike snorted and took a long drink from his whiskey. He saw Giles smirk out of the corner of his eye, just as he could hear Xander chuckling.
"Thought so," said the boy in an easy tone. "You might not have made any move, but I think anyone can see the truth."
Spike felt his fingers tighten into a fist and paid dutiful attention to not breaking the glass he was grasping with his other hand — so that he could keep himself from punching something. Or someone.
"I think," said Giles in a pacifying tone, "that Spike doesn't want to talk about this. Don't insist, Xander."
He shot the other man a look, but Giles was just looking at his drink in a bland way. He felt a rushing sense of gratitude towards him — which in turn made him feel like hightailing it out of there, fast.
"No, yeah, sure. I mean, I just… it's just that…" Harris shook his head and gave a frustrated huff. "Never mind."
Spike looked at him for a few seconds until finally giving in with a sigh.
"I mean," he started, all pretence of letting it go disappearing in a half-second, "she's right there. She's alive, and well, and yeah, you've screwed up, you've screwed up bad, but now you have the opportunity to do something about it, right? You still care about her, because of course you do, how could you not, and she's right there, why would you miss the opportunity, any opportunity to give it a shot? Because we're all so safe and sound here, and nobody's life is ever in danger in our line of work, no sir! So what are you waiting for, the right moment? Because let me tell you, the right moment won't come, it will just be the late moment, when it's too late and it's all over and you can't give it any kind of shot because she's not there anymore!"
He'd worked himself into quite a bit of rage, his face red and his eye suspiciously shiny. There were a few more moments of silence between the three of them.
“To projecting our own feelings onto others,” toasted then Giles with a little kind smile. Spike couldn’t help but clink his glass with his, while Xander’s cheeks got even redder and he hid his face behind a big gulp of his beer.
“Whatever,” he muttered, and Spike couldn’t help a grin.
“Well, mate… I’ve seen you making wistful eyes at that dark-haired bint, actually. What's her name, Renee?” Xander seemed to blush even more, his ears seemingly one centigrade away from self-combustion. “Why aren’t you asking her out, if you’re all about that carpe diem?”
Xander sent him a glare, then he moved his glass to the side and thumped his head on the table.
“Ah, of course. Sound reasoning,” nodded Giles, and Spike couldn’t help a chuckle. He felt like it was acceptable to pat the young man on the shoulder, at that point — not that he wanted to show too much support or anything, but Harris did look too desperate.
“Come on, she can’t be that bad.”
“She’s brilliant,” came his muffled response from against the table. Then he said something unintelligible.
“I’m afraid Spike and I still can’t speak table, Xander, you’ll have to switch back to English.”
“I said,” he answered with a glare in the watcher’s direction, “that that’s probably why I should steer clear.”
“Very sensible choice,” nodded Giles again with another little smile. “Heaven forbid you should actually learn from your mistakes and become a better man through them.”
Xander just glared at him some more.
“’Fraid I have to side with the watcher on this one, Harris,” he said, and yeah, his tone might have been a tad too kind for a big, bad vampire.
“So, you’re going to ask out Buffy too?”
Spike rolled his eyes to hide his intense discomfort.
“The hell’s up with you two and this, anyway? I thought you of all people would be chuffed as hell to see me not gettin’ all cosy with the Slayer.”
Giles and Xander exchanged a look, then they both looked away from him. He almost felt disappointed at the fact that they weren’t somehow defending his case — and that , now, was the real kicker.
“Well, we all know it’s different now,” said Xander, while Giles gave the slightest nod, swirling the whiskey in his glass with a gentle twist of his hand. “And, well, I guess I just think that you shouldn’t waste time chasing some perfect moment, when…”
“There is no such thing,” finished Giles, his brows slightly furrowed. Spike gave a sigh and resorted to take another long sip from his drink, his eyes fixed on the wooden ceiling. He would not spill his guts like a sodding woman; he’d had enough of bloody self-reflection with the sodding fish already, thank you very much; he wouldn’t make a fool of himself with these two…
“Jus’ wanna be my own man, is all. Grown sick and tired of trailing after someone like a lovesick puppy with no self-respect.”
… he was such a prat.
There were a few more seconds of silence and then he stared down at the two, ready to punch them in the face if they so much as smiled his way. But Xander was just looking at him in surprise, while Giles seemed to consider him like a newfound mystery.
“That’s surprisingly mature of you, Spike.”
He scoffed, feeling in no way pleased by the sentiment behind the words.
“Thanks ever so, watcher.”
They stayed silent for a while more, each contemplating his drink, before Giles spoke again.
“I don’t know why you feel it is impossible to have a… self-respecting kind of relationship with Buffy, Spike.” The vampire squirmed in his seat, intensely uncomfortable and with his gaze fixed on his drink, his jaw clenched. “But for what it’s worth, I do find it wise to try for your own self-actualisation before starting anything that you’d deem damaging.”
Well, fuck but the guy wasn’t scared to call things by their names. But how could he tell him how he’d yet to have a healthy relationship in all his years on the sodding planet? How could he let him know about just how bad it had gotten between him and Buffy, back then — even before the attempted rape? And how could he admit out loud that he felt like he’d never be able to have anything healthy with her the moment he touched her in any sexual way?
He bloody well couldn’t, was what it was. So he just stared at his drink in silence, feeling like if the night went on like that any longer, he’d be extremely violent on the slayers the following afternoon, if just to release all the damn, stupid tension he felt rising in his chest.
“Well, I suppose at this point there’s nothing else to it.” Giles’s voice interrupted his panicking thoughts while the man calmly stood up, taking his coat off again and picking up his whiskey. “The pool table is free. Are you two ready to be floored?”
Spike found himself slowly smiling.
“You’re on, watcher.”
He stood, giving the blinking Xander a hard pat on the shoulder, and followed the grinning watcher to the pool table. Hopefully, they were over the bleeding pouring-out-of-heart part of the evening and he could get back to good ol’ bickering and teasing.
“Hey, wait for me!”
“Don’t worry, Xander, you'll have plenty of time to lose spectacularly.”
“Especially to me, boy.”
Yeah, this was definitely more like it.
“So, when are you and Spike going to start dating?”
Buffy took a deep breath. Do not kill your little sister. You’ve just made massive steps in sister bonding. Do not kill your little sister…
“Er, Dawnie, maybe Buffy just wants to relax tonight…”
“Thank you, Wills. Weren’t you going to tell us about that guy you liked, Dawnie? Who was it, Ken?”
“Yeah, Ken, totally cute guy, but I want the scoop. You solved the whole DC thing together, and got a drink together while doing it, it’s like you’ve already been on your first date!” Dawn stopped talking to take a sip of her coke, fairly bouncing up and down, cross-legged on the carpet where the three of them were sitting. “So when’s the next?”
Buffy internally debated whether choking her till she lost consciousness would be acceptable. It wouldn’t involve killing her, right?
“Oh, come on, Willow! You should side with me, don’t you wanna know when these two are gonna just drop the act and smooch happily ever after?”
To Buffy’s horror and dismay, Willow smiled an uncertain, curious smile. Not you too, Will!
“Well, I was wondering if…”
“That’s it, then. Come on, Buffy, spill.”
Buffy looked at the eager expression on her little sister’s face and then at the hopefully curious — and betraying — one on her best friend’s.
She groaned and let herself fall back on the carpet.
“I hate you both.”
“Spill, spill, spill! What are you waiting for, Buffy? He’s back, he’s souled, he’s cute…”
“He seems very stable, too. Hell with Angel must have done him good — and boy, is that a sentence I’d never thought I’d utter.”
“Do you even hear yourselves?” Buffy muttered, covering her face with her hands.
“Oh, come on! What’s stopping you?”
“Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, I prefer staying single?”
There was silence for a few seconds and Buffy braved a look at the other two girls between her fingers. They were staring at her like she’d just told them she wanted to move to the woods.
“Sure…” drawled Dawn, and she groaned and covered her eyes again.
“Nope, you promised a girls’ night and we’re staying right here.”
“Technically, I didn’t promise so much as you decided it, and all I could do was nod…” Buffy moved her hands away in time to see the look of hurt in Dawn’s eyes and she sat up immediately. “Just kidding! I love the idea, and I love to have you both to myself, it’s just that…” She couldn’t help a sigh, feeling like a drama queen about it. “Spike-talk isn’t exactly of the relax-making.”
Dawn looked genuinely confused now and Buffy couldn’t blame her. Why, indeed?
“Do you like, like him?” Willow asked, looking confused as well.
“Do I think he’s hot, walking sex on a stick? Yes.” She blushed furiously at the words that she hadn’t been able to stop and at the smirks on the other two girls’ faces, but then she shook her head. “Do I think we have a horrible history together and that we’ve brought the worst out of each other, and does that make me terrified? Hell yes.” She crossed her arms then, suddenly annoyed. “Also, he keeps ignoring me and flirting with every girl who sends a smile his way, which — pretty much every single straight slayer in here.”
Dawn laughed at that and Buffy moved her glare to her.
“Oh, Buffy, I don’t think he’s serious about that,” said Willow, who had this stupid kind smile on her face and couldn’t they just listen to her?
“Definitely not serious about that. I bet he’s just trying to make you jealous,” nodded Dawn.
“No. He’s done that before, and he was so obvious about it. Actually, he told me out right, that time… this is completely different.”
“He is very different, though.” Buffy moved her stare to Willow and she raised her hands. “Just saying!”
“Look, I don’t get it. Explain it to me, really. You like him, he likes you, you live together, work together… what’s the problem here?”
“Actually,” said Willow with a little grimace, “maybe the whole living and working together thing isn’t the best.”
“Exactly!” Nodded Buffy enthusiastically, while a little — traitorous — part of her broke at the words.
“I mean, it can get hard, for a relationship that’s just starting out.”
“But you wouldn’t be! You have history!”
Willow grimaced some more and this time Buffy did too.
“No, Dawnie… if I had to consider what I have with Spike like history that is in any way relatable to the present… I wouldn’t even consider starting anything.” She let out a sigh, her gaze going down to her hands. “That’s… that’s kinda what’s been stopping me from considering it, I guess.” The words left her in a rushed whisper and she couldn’t believe she’d said them. She decided there and then that looking down at her hands for the rest of the night would probably be a brilliant idea.
She ignored her sister, keeping her stare down. Which made it impossible to ignore Willow when she put her hand on hers, squeezing them gently.
“Buffy, I mean it when I say that he’s changed. And so have you.” She paused, but Buffy refused to look up at her — she didn’t want to see compassion in her eyes, or worse, hope. “If you really wanted to, I think you could at least try to make it work.”
“Yeah, Willow’s right, Buffy.” Dawnie’s voice had lost much of her excitement and was sweet — but what did she know about all the hell that had happened between her and Spike? What did either of them? “I think the real question is… do you want to try it?”
Buffy flicked her gaze up for a second, just in time to see Dawn and Willow’s kind expressions. Her hands were definitely easier to look at, yessir.
The silence stretched for a minute until finally Buffy gave a sigh, giving up on her hope for a sudden attack on the castle that might get her out of this conversation.
“Look,” she started, not knowing how to continue. She fluttered her hands, letting go of Willow’s and looking up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t… I just don’t know.”
“You don’t know if you want to try or —”
“I don’t know!” Buffy interrupted Dawn, fluttering her hands some more. When had she become this stupid? Oh, yeah — she’d always been this bad with words. “I just — what if it doesn’t work? We’ve never been so good together, and now we’re friends, that’s telling something! What if that’s the best we’re ever gonna be? And don’t get me wrong,” she continued, standing up and starting to pace, “this friendship is great. Great! ‘Just’ friends my ass, whoever said that clearly didn’t have any good friends. But that’s just it,” she said, stopping short and letting her arms fall to her sides. “What if this is the best it’s ever gonna get? What if anything else just… ruins it?”
She didn’t have the strength to look at her friend and sister’s face, so she just looked down at her feet. Call me extremity girl here, I’m all about those hands and feet.
“So… you’re not even going to try?”
Dawn’s voice was small, almost disappointed. Great. Just what she needed. She took a deep breath and met her sad gaze.
“Honestly? I’m not even sure he wants to try anything.” Dawn seemed ready to scoff at that and Willow gave a little grin, so Buffy held her hand up. “Seriously. When we were in that pub after finding the DC meeting —”
“Which was totally a first date.” Buffy glared at her little sister and her innocent-looking eyes.
“When we were there, there was this moment…” she huffed, sitting back down in front of the other two. “Well. I totally thought he was gonna kiss me.” Dawn gave a gasp of excitement and Willow perked up, making Buffy roll her eyes. “But then he didn’t. He moved back and broke the moment — it was all him. He didn’t want to kiss me.” She smiled, sure that it had to be the saddest smile she could manage. “That, and then he flirts with every girl who gives him the time of day — except for me… a girl can get a message.”
There were a few moments of silence until she gathered enough courage to look up. Dawn’s eyes looked a bit heartbroken — You’re telling me, sister — but Willow seemed pensive.
“You know, Buffy…” she started, and she couldn’t help but feel a little spark of hope at her considering tone. “Have you ever thought that maybe he’s thinking the same things you’re thinking? That what you have is good, and that he doesn’t want to risk it by going for more?”
Buffy felt the spark grow into a small fire and had to fight to keep it down.
“Well, that’s dumb. He clearly doesn’t want me enough, if he’s not even willing to try!”
Willow gave her a look and she felt herself blush.
“Well, I think you’re both being doofuses.” Dawn had considerably perked up, since now her expression was closer to haughty than depressed. “You should stop wasting each other’s time and just get on with it already.”
“Get on with..?”
“Smoochies, Buffy. You should get on with the smoochies, the snogging, the sex —”
“So not wanting you to think about that, Dawnie!”
Her sister gave her the mother of eye rolls and Willow snickered from beside her.
“Oh, grow up. If I do get with Ken, what do you think we’re gonna do, hold hands until we’re married?” Buffy didn’t even try to stop her expression of horror. “Seriously, though,” Dawnie continued, ignoring Buffy’s stunned state, “just kiss him. Ask him out. Ask him for some coffee in your bedroom, tell him he can use your bathtub —”
“What? There’s so few of them in the castle…”
Buffy just kept looking at her in horrified shock. Then the younger girl burst out laughing, and so did Willow, and Buffy felt like she needed to slap them both on the head. A bit of Slayer strength wouldn’t hurt them too much, would it?
“I’m sorry, it’s just too easy to mess with you,” her monstrous little sister said, wiping a tear from one of her eyes. The brat!
“I think she has a point, Buff,” said Willow, still smiling. “It’s great that you two have managed to build a beautiful friendship. As long as he doesn’t run for best friend role, I am all for it!” Buffy smiled at that and Willow beamed before turning to a kinder smile. “But seriously. If you think you could be happy with him… you should give it a try.”
“But what if he doesn’t want to —”
“First of all, that’s ridiculous. It’s Spike, come on.”
“Dawnie, let’s be real. He disappears for a year without a word, then he comes back and keeps it clear as day that he wants a friendship from me.” She shook her head, smiling sadly. “Why should I think differently?”
“Because of your history,” came Willow’s quiet voice. “Buff, you’ve been through so much — and so much of it was shitty. I’m not surprised that you’re both feeling pretty scared to do anything.”
Buffy furrowed her brow.
“I’m not scared. I’m…” she looked at the two girls and their raised eyebrows, huffing. “I’m cautious, that’s what I am. Caution girl, ready for… inaction,” she finished lamely.
Dawn and Willow exchanged a glance, then Willow straightened up a bit. Here we go…
“Buffy, can I be honest?”
“Well, actually, I’d rather go back to our original plan of eating ice cream and watching Daniel Craig movies…” She sighed and relented. “OK. Shoot.”
“I think… I think you should make the first move.” Buffy started to protest, because he was a guy and was she supposed to do everything around here now, but Willow raised her hand and stopped her from voicing her thoughts. She frowned at her but let her continue. “What happened between you two… before he left for Africa.”
Buffy felt the blood drain from her face at her friend's soft words. She hadn't talked much about it to anyone, but both Willow and Dawn by now had heard the shortest possible version of the events… enough to understand at least part of the context, and certainly enough to understand just how much Spike had regretted his actions, and how quickly. She could easily admit that those conversations had been among the scariest moments in her life — and the most important ones too, when it came to her understanding her own past better, and maybe one day finally moving on.
"After that…" continued Willow, her voice still kind. "Honestly, I think he’s never gonna make a first move, of any kind. I don't even know if it's a conscious thing or not, but I just don't think he will. If you want something to happen… I think you’ll have to try.”
Buffy stayed silent, unable to say anything to that. She was shaken from her shocked state by Dawn’s hand, light on hers.
“For what it’s worth, Buffy, I think you two would be great together. I really do. But if you really don’t want to try… well, I guess I’ll stop bitching about it,” she ended with a crooked smile. Buffy felt a rush of gratitude and, without even realising how, she found herself hugging her little sister tight.
“Oh, hey, I want in on the hug too!”
Buffy didn’t let go of Dawnie while sticking out an arm and crashing Willow to them too, who gasped and let out a little laugh — until the three of them were all laughing together, and Buffy could feel her eyes moisten but didn’t care, because this right here was her family.
She didn’t know what to do, but knowing that she had their support whatever she decided warmed her heart in a way she could have never expressed into words.