The Ring Talks
Part 1: Taking Initiative
Chapter 2: Midnight Blues
I’m wandering through Restfield cemetery, staking fledglings as I find them, but my mind isn’t on my work. I have to go play a fun little game of ‘tell the almost-boyfriend something lame to explain the weirdness of Buffy’s life’ tomorrow, and I’m kind of dreading it. I keep running scenarios through my head, trying to get my story straight. How am I supposed to tell him I’m not actually engaged without sounding like a total lunatic? And why can’t I concentrate on writing myself a believable script?
Ugh. Willow is going to be paying for this for years, or however long it takes for me to forget I spent an entire afternoon in Spike’s lap, being ridiculously happy about marrying him. Also, there was kissing. As in, lots. Hello to the weird. Riley is never going to understand.
I give up on my patrol and head downtown to knock on the only alley side door any smart Sunnydale merchant will open after dark. Jack gives me a little lip about keeping a prisoner, then slips me one more pint than I paid him for, as usual. So I guess he doesn’t really mean it.
From there, I go to Giles’ place. When I let myself in the front door, I find Spike sitting on the couch, not even tied up, watching late night TV with the volume super low.
He looks up as I enter. “Lovely. Someone here to put me back in my chair.”
“Giles let you loose?”
“I got nowhere to go, and he knows it. Safer in here than out where the commandos might snatch me up again. What brings you, Slayer? Want me to go wake up the watcher?”
I shake my head and hold up the paper bag I brought in with me. “Hungry? I stopped by the butcher’s shop on the way.”
He eyes the bag nervously. “It’s poisoned, isn’t it?”
“No. It’s… It’s a bribe.”
“What is it you want from me? I got nothing else to tell you ’bout those commando types and their shiny white lab.”
“I want to talk to you. That’s all.”
He still looks like he doesn’t trust me, but he gestures for me to sit. I put the bag in the refrigerator before I join him on the couch. He turns off the TV, but he’s still staring at it when he says, “This is about that bleedin’ spell, isn’t it?”
“Sort of.” I’m nervous, and I know I’m doing a really bad job of hiding it. I turn my focus on the blank TV screen, too, thinking that maybe not looking at him will make it easier. It does, but only a little. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“You need to put a leash on that witch of yours.”
“I don’t mean that.” There’s a long silence before I manage to force more words out of my mouth. When I do, they come out in a rush. “Spike, why were we happy?”
He turns to look at me, drawing my eyes away from the TV. “Uh, maybe ’cause we were engaged?”
“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you weren’t a child of divorce?”
He shakes his head.
“And your parents weren’t drunken or hyper-analytical freak shows?”
He shakes his head again, slower this time. I think he’s starting to think I’m crazy.
“Did they ever dance in the living room?”
He raises an eyebrow. “What the hell are you on about, Slayer?”
“Just something someone once told me about a happy marriage, an idea of what a happy relationship could look like. And then this happened. And we were having fun. We were mostly arguing about wedding details, but we were being silly about it. I didn’t think having fun together was a requisite for marriage. At least, it doesn’t seem to be.”
He shrugs. “Maybe it should be. Me, I’d hate to spend my eternity with someone who didn’t make me laugh.”
He looks back at the TV, and I’m suddenly aware I’m stomping on sensitive ground like a wild elephant.
“Sorry. I guess that’s none of my business.”
“Sometimes,” he answers quietly. “And the Grand Poofter?”
“Angel? Pretty much never. Harmony?”
“Laughing at isn’t the same as laughing with.”
I can’t help but smile at that. “True.”
“What about this new bloke you were talking about?” he asks, the tension leaving his jaw.
“Riley? Not so far. He’s a really nice guy, but I think I’ve blown it.” I bite my lip. “I ran into him earlier. During the spell.”
“Heard you mention that to Red while she was baking. What’s the rest of the story, Slayer?”
“He caught me standing in front of a store window, staring at wedding dresses.”
Spike’s burst of laughter fills the quiet room, and I find myself joining him. The entire situation is ridiculous. And if I can’t laugh about it with the person who went through it with me, who can I laugh about it with?
“So, yeah, I’m not sure there’s any saving that almost-relationship. I mean, I can’t tell him the truth. He’s Joe Normal. He’d never get it.”
“So you’re gonna lie to him? That’s a fine start.”
“I am not going to listen to dating advice from anyone who has hooked up with Harmony Kendall.”
“Says the notch on that Abrams boy’s bedpost.”
“I hate you.”
“Just playing fair.”
“Well, don’t.” I lean back on the couch cushions, crossing my arms over my chest. “You’ll… You’ll ruin your reputation. …Or something.”
“I’m sitting in a watcher’s flat, having a chat with a slayer who bought pig’s blood for me as an excuse to talk about how much fun we had planning a wedding together. If there’s anything left of my reputation, it’s circling the drain.”
“It wasn’t an excuse.”
“Anyone ever tell you you’re a bleedin’ awful liar?”
I return my focus to the blank TV screen. After a few minutes, I whisper, “What did you do with all the notes we made?”
He nods toward the table beside the chair we shared during the spell. “Still over there. My ring?”
“Still in my pocket.”
I expect him to ask for it back, but he doesn’t. So I dig it out of my pocket and offer it to him.
“Thanks, Slayer.” He slips it onto his finger, then takes it off and hands it back. “Keep it ’til after you talk to the boy. You decide to back out of cleaning up the mess Red made, you’ll need it.”
I frown at this offer, but accept the ring. “Ok. Um, thanks.”
He smirks. “Shame you’ll be seeing him during the day. Would pay to see the look on his face, no matter how it goes.”
“Oh, god! I know! There’s no possible way I can get through this without looking like a nutcase.”
“Figured out what you’re gonna say?”
“I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’ve accepted that the whole thing is probably a total no-go. What would you do, in my place?”
He’s giving me that look again, the same one he gave me when he thought I was delivering poisoned blood. “I thought you weren’t looking for advice from the likes of me?”
I shrug. I don’t really know why I even asked. “I guess I’m not.” I stand up and head toward the door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I flop down on Giles’ couch and kick off my shoes. “Please, please tell me I’m not the only freak who thinks the phrase ‘cartoon ball and chain’ is funny.”
Spike turns off the TV. “And hello to you, too, Slayer. Weren’t you just here a few hours ago?”
“Yeah, but everyone was around then. I didn’t want them to know I still had your ring. They’d think it was weird.”
“Like any of them has room to call anything weird. While you’re all flitting about and chattering, you’re leaving me to listen. Still haven’t figured out why I never managed to kill the lot of you. You’re a bleedin’ mess.”
I laugh. “I really, really wish I could argue with that.” I pull the ring out of my pocket.
“Does that come with a story?”
“Sure.” I tell him about my conversation with Riley, and he laughs at the ‘cartoon ball and chain’ line.
When I finish, he’s shaking his head. “Serious type, is he?”
“Yeah. He didn’t even chuckle. And I had a big, goofy grin on my face the whole time. Like this.” I give Spike my best Vacant Valley Girl smile.
He cringes and puts his hands up in front of his face. “Bloody hell, woman! Put that away! Thought you didn’t plan to torture the defenseless vamp?”
I fall back against the couch cushions, giggling. “So now I know how to get you when you can fight again and we go back to trying to kill each other. Thanks for the tip, Spike.”
“And now I know to guard against it. Still an even match, Slayer.” He reaches for my hand, which had closed around the ring while I was telling him about Riley. He starts to open my fingers, then stops himself, pulling his hand away. “So you’re done with the ring, then?”
I’m a little slow to answer, still wondering why I didn’t pull my hand away when he reached for me. “Um, yeah.” I give him the ring, then jump to my feet. “I guess you want me to get out of your hair.”
“Yeah. You know, got my reputation to consider.”
I smile. “Definitely a concern.” My smile disappears when I notice something. Spike looks like he’s not happy to see me leave. That’s odd. I bite my lip, trying to figure it out. And then it hits me. “The nights are kinda long these days, aren’t they?”
I reach for his hand, and take the ring back.
He doesn’t resist, only looks up at me, confused. “What are you up to?”
“Giving us an excuse for another late night chat sometime.”
“Just know this: I get back to my old self, I’m coming for it.”
I shove the ring into my hip pocket. “Sounds like a plan.”
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January 10, 2022 23:24