The Ring Talks
Part 1: Taking Initiative
Chapter 4: Hush Hush
I lean on Giles’ kitchen counter, watching my friends stare at the television through the pass-through. The TV is the only source of human voices we have. Behind me, the microwave beeps, and I hear Spike retrieving his mug of pig’s blood. A moment later, he’s leaning beside me, appearing to watch the TV from a distance with me while he sips from his mug. But he’s noticed why I’m in the kitchen with him. I feel his cool hand rest on mine, and his finger taps on his ring. From the corner of my eye, I can see he’s stealing questioning glances at me.
I turn my head just enough to make eye contact, but not enough that I can’t pass for idly watching the evening news from the kitchen. I don’t know what the look on my face says to him, but he looks concerned. He pulls a blank page from Giles’ shopping list pad and snatches the purple pen Willow left sitting on the other side of the pass-through with her notebook.
‘What’s wrong?’ he writes, in surprisingly elegant script.
I take the pen and reply, ‘R kissed me.’
He takes the pen back. ‘That a problem?’
‘Don’t know if it was because he couldn’t talk.’
‘Words are no substitute, sometimes. Likely meant it.’
‘Don’t know if I did.’
He frowns at me for a moment before writing, ‘Not a kiss that makes you want to dance in the living room with him?’
‘Not a bad kiss. But no.’
‘What are you going to do about it?’
‘I don’t know. Try again, I guess.’
‘Don’t seem too optimistic.’
‘A real talk? When this is over?’
Giles shifts in his chair, turning to glance over at us. We barely get our eyes back on the TV screen in time to not look suspicious. As soon as he turns his attention back to the TV, Spike puts Willow’s pen back where he found it, and our conversation disappears into the pocket of his jeans. His nod is all the answer I need.
I take off the ring and return it to my pocket. I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying it with me, so I have it if I decide I’m in the mood for a nighttime visit to Giles’ place, and don’t want to run back to the dorm. As of just now, keeping it with me has officially paid off.
My throat is a little raw from that scream, and I should probably rest my voice, but I’m in dire need of someone to talk to, and I kind of have a talk date, anyway. I crouch down to tap on the little basement window with the ring I’ve just put back on. Then I sit down in the Harris’ backyard to wait.
A couple of minutes later, Spike comes around the side of the house. He holds out a hand to pull me to my feet. “Not here. The pizza delivery whelp might wake up.”
I give him a nod and we start walking in silence, eventually ending up in my own backyard, nearly a mile away. I lock the gate behind us and join him on Mom’s garden bench. “Thanks for meeting with me. I know this isn’t our usual ‘late night reruns on the couch’ thing.”
“Figure you’ve got a lot on your mind if you’re willing to wear my ring in front of people to get it out. Sure as hell got my attention.”
I twist the ring on my finger. “Can we keep doing this? You know, so long as we aren’t going to be doing the ‘mortal enemies trying to kill each other’ thing? Even if you stop being a sort of prisoner?”
He chews on that thought for a minute, then reaches out to touch the ring. “You’ve never worn this while we’re enemies, right?”
“I guess not.”
“Let’s just stick with that, then.”
“And it’s like a cone of silence thingy? You aren’t going to tell anyone? I mean, I know you haven’t so far, but…”
“Like I’m gonna tell the world I’m having late night chat trysts with a slayer.”
“Good point. …And thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. To anyone. …Now what’s bugging you?”
I pretend not to notice his hand is still resting over my own, covering his ring. He probably just likes the heat he’s getting from me, the big, fangy lizard.
I take a deep breath. “Spike, something happened tonight. Something big.”
He chuckles and leans back on the bench, drawing his hand away. “Figured that much out for myself.” He looks over at my serious expression. “You’re not talking about the Gentlemen, are you? This about Riley shoving his tongue down your throat?”
“Ugh. Do you have to be so ugly about it?” I wrinkle up my nose. “What’s wrong with just saying he kissed me?”
“How about that I got a note in my pocket right now that says you aren’t too thrilled about it?”
“That’s no reason to…” I sigh. “Never mind. That’s not the point. No, it isn’t about the Gentlemen, or the kiss. It’s something… bigger.”
“Spit it out, Slayer.” The tone of his voice tells me I’m starting to try his patience, and I have no idea when I got to know Spike well enough to be able to read that much from him. I guess I have heard his voice in a lot of different moods. I just never really put much thought into it.
“Promise me you won’t fly off the handle if I tell you?”
Yikes! That’s a scary expression on his face. I think his fangs are less ominous. “What is it?” he growls.
I fidget with the ring. “I found out something tonight, and I don’t know what to do about it.” I take a slow, deep breath, gathering my nerve. “Spike, Riley is one of the commandos.”
He’s on his feet and bellowing, fangs bared. “What the hell are you up to, Slayer? If this is some kind of trick–”
I stand to face him. “Would you shut up?” I point to the house. “You’re going to wake up Mom!”
He takes a minute to calm himself, shaking back into his human face. “Are you sure?” he asks at a more reasonable volume.
I nod. “I’m apparently dating your worst enemy.” I hold up my left hand and give him a meek smile. “I guess you want this back now?”
He raises an eyebrow and then flops back onto the bench. “You dating my enemy is nothing new, Slayer. And you and me playing nice behind his back when he turns out to be your enemy, too… Well, it’s not unfamiliar territory.”
I sit back down, too, turning on the bench to face him. “That’s the thing, Spike. We don’t know for sure if they’re the enemy or not.” I shake my head at his low growling. “Obviously, they aren’t totally good guys. Between what happened to you and that crazy raid on my dorm room, something is definitely up. But… I don’t know. Maybe, whoever they are, they can be allies.”
“What I wouldn’t give to be able to punch you right now,” he grumbles. “Those soldier boys are nobody’s white hats, Buffy. Dark grey, at best.”
I bite my lip. He’s probably right, but I’m not going to say so. “I like him, Spike,” I eventually whisper. “And he seems to like me. …Maybe I can change things for him, lighten the shade of his hat?”
He scoffs. “Yeah, ’cause that didn’t backfire the last time.”
“I can at least get more information, find out what that lab place you were in is all about, find out who the commandos are, who they work for.”
There’s a long silence. “You’ll keep me in the loop?”
“You want me to help you find a way to fix it, don’t you?” I frown at his nod. “So you can go back to hunting. And to trying to kill me. Why would I do that?”
“Make you a deal: You help me get free of the soddin’ headaches, and I’ll get the hell out of Sunnydale. For good, this time.”
I’m struck with a sudden feeling of impending loss. Sometime in the last two months, since he showed up at Giles’ on Thanksgiving Day, I’ve gotten used to having Spike around. He’s said he wouldn’t be back before. Twice, actually. And yet here he sits. He kept coming back. And I realize that I don’t really mind. Not counting the ‘almost fights to the death’ we keep having, that is. Kept having. Until he couldn’t fight me anymore.
But he should be able to fight me. That’s the natural order of things, right? Slayer versus Vampire? Of course, most slayers don’t sit in their mother’s backyards, having secret talks with a vampire while wearing his ring. The natural order of things is kind of a mess right now. And I guess it has been since the night I invited him into the house. Spike and I apparently suck at following the rules with each other. I look toward the house, biting my lip again.
“I’ll keep you in the loop. That’s all I’m going to promise for right now.”
He nods. “Good enough.”
I’m still looking at the house. “Your invite still stands, you know. I’ve never had it removed.”
He follows my gaze. “What’d you have in mind?”
“Hot chocolate? And maybe something fun to do? After the crappy day I’ve had, I could stand a good distraction.”
He chuckles, and I realize what I’ve just implied.
“Ew! No! You’re such a pig! I meant like a board game. Or cards. Something like that. Also, something quiet, so we don’t wake Mom.”
An hour later, we’re sitting in the dining room, sipping on our second round of hot chocolate and playing poker with mini pretzels for poker chips. Spike is stomping me, winning nearly every hand, calling my bluffs without even blinking. He’s probably listening to my heart rate or something. But I don’t care. I’m getting my revenge by eating his winnings.
He growls as I snatch another pretzel from the pile in front of him.
I giggle at his glare. “What are you going to do about it, Big Bad?”
“Had any sense, I’d take that ring off your finger and tell the world you’re unloading your Dawson’s Creek drama on some poor, crippled vamp, bringing shame to the entire slayer line.”
“Hey! I’m not unloading. If I were unloading, I’d probably be all weepy and mopey, ’cause I apparently can’t attract a normal guy.” I fall back in my chair. “There’s something wrong with me, isn’t there?”
“Now you’re unloading.”
“Shut up, Spike.”
He shakes his head at me while he shuffles the deck. “You know what your problem is, Slayer?”
“I know you’re about to tell me.”
“The problem is, you think snuggling up to some human’s gonna make you like one of ’em, that you can hide what you are. Count Angel as a fluke, and brush it away.”
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to brush that away. Or the slayer thing.”
“And I don’t think you want a bloke you gotta lie to. God knows, you’re terrible at it.” He nods to his pile of pretzels as he deals the next hand. “There’s the proof. So what’s the middle ground?”
I think about that for a second. “Someone who knows who I am, but isn’t evil?” I wrinkle up my nose. “I think that leaves me single forever.”
“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence.” I steal another pretzel from him. “I hate you, and your stupid advice.”
He grabs a pretzel from my pile and adds it to his own. Then he takes another one. “And that’s the fee for the advice… bitch.”
I take one back. “That’s for giving advice when I told you I didn’t want it.”
He scoops up most of my pile and adds it to his own. “That’s for putting up with you.”
I reach over to try to take back all the pretzels. “In that case…”
We’re both laughing by this point, but his hand on mine stops us both. “Hush, pet. I think your mum is waking up.”
I drop back into my chair and stay very still, listening with him. I don’t hear anything. “What do you hear?”
He holds up a hand for silence, and I wait until he drops it to speak again.
“She’s settling back down, but we oughta get out of here, unless you want her to catch us.”
I look around the table, strewn with pretzels and playing cards, with the two of us and our mugs of hot chocolate on either side of the mess. I shake my head. “I really don’t know how I could explain this. To anyone.”
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