Xander was pretty sure there was some kind of bro code about not narcing on a guy to his girlfriend if he was caught cheating. Of course, since he mostly hung out with women and an old British guy, he wasn’t exactly in on a lot of “bro” type things. Riley was, though, and the former commando was his friend. Right?
Not really, Xander admitted to himself as he slipped into the Magic Box with the usual Saturday morning box of donuts. Buffy was his friend, and he only knew Riley through her, as her boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend now. If anyone deserved any bro action from him, it was her, which meant he needed to tell her about the vampire hookers before confronting Riley about it. If it was even his place to confront him at all.
He put the donuts down on the research table, closing his eyes for a moment as he tried to figure everything out. He felt disillusioned. Like he’d pulled away the curtain to find out that his hero was just some old guy using smoke and mirrors to seem more powerful than he was. Riley was fit and strong and competent. A natural leader at the ripe old age of twenty-five or so. Really manly, but not afraid to be sensitive and caring.
Or at least, that’s what Xander had always thought about him before. He was just a shlubby nineteen-year-old, and the other man had seemed like the perfect model of what he should strive to be. Not the intelligence of Giles that he could never hope to match. And not an out-of-shape, drunken mess like his father.
He forced the thoughts away, slapping on a happy smile when Anya looked his way after finishing with a customer. Her return smile lifted his spirits enough to make his genuine. A quick glance around turned it into a frown, though. Other than himself and Anya, the only ones there were Giles, Dawn, and Tara.
The shy little witch was looking pretty miserable as she poked through the box of donuts. Since he’d been sure to get plenty of the lemon cream filled ones she liked, he was betting it wasn’t the pastry selection bothering her. Before he could ask about it, Buffy and Spike came up from the basement.
“Ah… Senka,” Giles said, a book in one hand and jelly donut in the other. “We’ve –”
“Buffy,” she interrupted with a wan little smile. “It’s…. I’m not fully….” She stopped to take a deep breath and grab Spike’s hand, then continued. “You all can call me Buffy now.”
She did seem a little bit more herself now, though the handholding with the undead was seriously un-Buffy. Except for when it had been Angel. Or that one time when Willow’s spell had made her and Spike all disgustingly lovey-dovey.
He wished he could dismiss what he was seeing as another spell gone wrong, but this seemed more real. Something deeper with them both getting what they needed from each other. And that was really terrifying, considering Spike had neither a soul nor a chip to keep him in line.
“It’s good to have you back, Buffster,” Xander said. “But, um… time to address the bleached elephant in the room, don’t you think? Spike is a vampire. And not a cute, neutered little puppy of a vampire anymore, either.”
“Um, maybe it isn’t such a good idea to say things like that now that he isn’t chipped,” Anya pointed out as she came over to him.
“That… is a very good point that my brain really should have thought of before letting words out of my mouth,” he admitted, “but what I said remains valid.” He shot a glance towards Spike. The vampire looked annoyed, but not like he was about to attack or anything. “Spike is a vampire, and vampires eat people.”
He expected Buffy to try to defend why Spike was there and all undusty. Or maybe to say he was right and send Spike away with a warning that he’d be staked if he ever came back to Sunnydale. Instead, she just rolled her eyes.
“Spike, are you going to start back up with killing and eating random innocent people?” she asked, sounding bored and vaguely annoyed.
Spike eyeballed Xander before answering. “Tempted to show the li’l boy why you should never pull a tiger’s tail, but no, I won’t be killing any humans. Not even him.” Then he muttered, “Don’t mean I won’t box his ears right proper if he gives me too much sass, though.”
“See? Not a problem. Now, we need to –”
“What is it about vampires?” Xander blurted out, interrupting Buffy. “You with Angel and now Spike, and Riley with vampire hookers….”
Buffy’s eyes widened slightly at the words he hadn’t meant to say – not like that, anyway – but she seemed more confused than upset as she looked over at Giles. “Vampire hookers? What?”
“Not hookers,” Spike said in obvious disgust. “Suckers. That lot goes about biting people for money. Harmless for the most part, though sometimes you get a wolf in with the sheep.”
“He’s right about that,” Giles confirmed. “I, uh, wasn’t aware that we had any here in Sunnydale, but I probably wouldn’t have bothered to mention them if I had been. They mostly stay together in, ah, brothels. It can be quite dangerous, but they do tend to self-police against those who break the rules.”
“Huh.” Buffy shrugged and shook her head. “Later. We have more important things to worry about right now, but after all of this key stuff gets figured out,” she tossed a reassuring smile towards Dawn, “I can meet with the vampires running the brothels. Make sure they keep me in the loop about any bad little vamps in need of a staking.”
“That’s it? That’s all you’ve got to say about this? Riley is getting it on with prostivamps, and you’re just shrugging it off?”
Buffy sighed, sounding tired. “Six years, Xander. Six. Years. From my point of view, Riley and I haven’t been together for a long time. I’m with Re…. I’m with Spike now.”
“Which is good, ‘cause Riley’s a skeevy jerkface,” Dawn muttered.
“But why?” Xander demanded. “What do you even see in him?”
Okay, so Riley had turned out to be not all that great, but he was at least human. What was it about vampires that she apparently couldn’t resist? Was it even a vampire thing, or some sort of Spike thing? As much as he hated to, he had to admit that the other man was all nicely compact and muscle-y. Like a leopard.
“I imagine the sex is pretty good,” Anya commented. “Vampires have a shorter recovery time, and –”
“Ahn!” he shouted, his voice mostly overwhelming Dawn’s nervous little giggle. “Okay, first, so not the time and place for this. And second, Buffy and Spike are not….”
“Pretty good doesn’t even begin to cover how awesome the sex is,” Buffy said with a fond little smile that was seriously making Xander kind of queasy. “But that’s something to talk about later when there aren’t kids around.”
“Hey, I’m fourteen,” Dawn protested. “Not a kid.”
Buffy ignored her, eyes fixed directly on Xander. “I’m the Slayer, and this is my town. That means all of the vampires here are mine and what happens to them is my decision. If you don’t like it, then you’re welcome to leave.”
She didn’t sound upset or defensive, just firm. Xander wanted to believe it was some kind of brainwashing, but he knew better. This was how Buffy always got when she was pushed into a corner and had to dig deep down to draw on her core of strength. The only difference was, right now that strength was right there, bubbling under the surface within easy reach.
“Well, what’s it going to be? Are you in this with me, or do you want out?”
Xander closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. He didn’t like Spike, and he didn’t want him anywhere around Buffy. But Buffy was his friend and deserved his respect and support. So, the question here was, did he hate Spike more than he cared about Buffy?
Buffy wandered through the cemetery closest to the hospital, lost in thought and absently twirling a stake in her hand. It had been a long time since she’d last been part of a Scooby meeting. She’d spent less time as an active Scooby than she had as a slave. Fitting back into her role just wouldn’t have worked, so she hadn’t even tried. She’d taken charge, putting Xander firmly in his place before telling everyone what they would be doing. Mostly research, with Tara taking Dawn to see Mom at one point while Buffy and Spike had a nap in the training room to make up for the lack of sleep.
Now that it was dark out, the soft-spoken woman was keeping Dawn company at home while Buffy and Spike patrolled on their way to the hospital before visiting hours were over.
“I treated them like house slaves,” she said quietly. “This is how I want it done. You do this bit of research, and you do this.”
Spike snorted in obvious disagreement and shook his head. He was right beside her, keeping to her left so they both had their dominant sides clear.
“No, love. You’re the Slayer, not them. It’s your calling to keep the nasties at bay. They want in on that, they need to bloody well do it on your terms. Even the Watcher is meant to be a support system, not your keeper, despite what the Council of Stuffed Suits seems to think.”
He had a point there. She was the Slayer and the Scooby meetings were slayer business. So maybe it had been less like an owner making demands and more like a boss declaring how the company was going to run. Like she’d told Xander, any of them could have left if they didn’t like how she was doing things now. Thinking of it that way eased some of the tension she was feeling.
“I’m never going to be the Buffy they remember. Not entirely. I’ve grown up too much. I’ve….” She shuddered and had to swallow to moisten her throat before she could go on. “I’ve been through too much. I can’t….”
Spike stopped and gently grabbed her shoulder. “That’s enough of that, love. Life is change. Sometimes you grow, sometimes you become less, and sometimes you do both at once. Either way, you’re moving. Being. And anyone what doesn’t want you to do that can sod off and go bugger themselves, because they don’t really give a toss about you.”
“What about you?” she asked, feeling oddly vulnerable. Angel had said he loved her, but looking back with older eyes, it seemed like he’d wanted to wrap her up in cotton and put her on a pedestal, unchanging. And Riley…. She didn’t think he’d ever actually truly seen her as she was. “I’ve changed since you fell in love with me. And now I’m changing again.”
“Yeah, so? Told you, life is change. I want a living, changing you, not some bloody statue.” He pulled her close, then twirled her around, dancing with her in the middle of the cemetery. “A good spot of violence will do us both some good. We’ll find something to kill, then go visit your mum. Sound good?”
It sounded wonderful.
Ben was outside having a much-needed fresh air break when he saw Buffy come out of the hospital, hand in hand with a white-haired man in black clothing. Poor girl. It was tough, dealing with a sick loved one. At least she seemed to have a good support system. That was absolutely vital in situations like hers. He started towards her, intending to offer some reassurances about her mother’s chances, but vague flashes of memory stirred.
Glory’s scabby little minions at the zoo. Buffy trying to interfere. A giant snake that never came back. He tried to fight it, but his thoughts swirled and broke apart as the hell god within rose to the surface.
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January 17, 2021 22:02