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“This is a diner,” Buffy said accusingly as they rushed from the sewer opening to the shaded entrance ahead. “I swear to god, Spike, if this is some kind of attempt at a date….”

“Cool your jets, Slayer,” Spike muttered, patting at the few wisps of smoke rising from his body. “Wouldn’t do that with the little bit in danger, and you know it. This is the meeting place. We’ll get you a bite to eat while we wait for Gloar’max to bring the RV. You’ll be able to protect Dawn better if you aren’t hungry enough to just eat the chit, yeah?”

“Yeah, because I’m the one with a history of eating people,” she said dryly, starting to relax a little. Glory knew about Dawn, but they had a plan. If putting that plan into motion meant a little bit of downtime, she could deal. Especially if it gave her a chance to eat something and clean up a little. “Go ahead and get us a seat and order something. I’ll find you.”

She veered off once they were inside, heading for the bathroom. After finishing her business, she washed her hands, carefully not looking in the mirror until she was done. She took a slow, deep breath and looked at her reflection. Tired. Hazel eyes a little dull. A young woman trying to balance the weight of the world on her shoulders.

How long had it been since she’d last seen the baby-faced cheerleader in the mirror? She’d been able to fake it for a while after being called, but even the hint of that girl was gone now. When had it happened? Before or after her mother had died?

She took another deep breath before turning the water back on and washing her face. A quick dab with paper towels, then a few moments of practicing a bland, pleasant expression. It did nothing for the haunted look deep in her eyes, but Spike seemed to be the only one who ever really saw that far, and he already knew everything that was going on. He wouldn’t ask her what was wrong or expect her to be cheerful.

Even knowing that, she considered just staying in the bathroom for a while, until Spike showed up either out of worry or to tell her that his poker buddy was there with the RV. Her brain and emotions both thought it was a great idea. Her stomach, not so much. It growled at her.

“Traitor,” she grumbled, staring down at it.

How long had it been since she’d eaten, anyway? She didn’t remember if she’d had breakfast that morning or not. Just that Glory’s arrival had canceled lunch time. She sighed and headed out into the diner, slipping into the booth Spike had chosen just as a waitress brought drinks.

A large mug of coffee and a glass of orange juice had been set down at her spot, and Spike was apparently having…. Buffy blinked, making sure her eyes were actually working right. He had a glass of milk. She knew he liked food. The hot wings and his obsession with flowering onions. But milk? Really?

There was also a pretty white cup with delicate blue designs sitting on a saucer.

“Here you go, sugar,” the waitress said, setting down a metal tea pot in front of Spike. “Piping hot, just like you asked.”

That’s when Buffy noticed the tea bags next to the saucer. Huh. Apparently, you could take the vampire out of England, but not the England out of the vampire. Or whatever.

“Thanks, pet,” Spike said with a smile. Then he focused on prepping his tea while the waitress went off to take care of her other tables.

Buffy worked on her own hot drink, doctoring up the coffee with cream and sugar. Then she stared down into the beige depths, as if the answers to everything could be found there. That would make life a lot simpler, wouldn’t it?

Coffee, coffee, in my hand, is there an answer in this land? She took a sip, but nothing profound occurred to her. It was just kind of subpar diner coffee. A little bit burnt and acidic under the taste of sugar and cream.

After a few minutes, Spike took the bags out of his cup, then poured in two packets of sugar and some of the milk. A quick stir, then a sip and a pained expression that was so much like Giles that she almost choked on her coffee.

He shot her a glare while muttering about “bloody Americans” and adding more milk and another packet of sugar.

“Piping hot not quite hot enough, huh?”

“Not even close. Why is it so hard for you lot to boil water?” he griped.

“My ‘lot’ can boil water just fine. But I worked in a diner for a bit. Close enough is generally considered hot enough. Hopefully the food will be better.”

As if her words had summoned it, the food came not even a minute later, covering a tray. A huge Belgian waffle with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream. A cheese and steak omelet with a side of bacon. A plate of toast. It was enough to feed a couple of people. Or one hungry slayer, which seemed to be what Spike had in mind. He also had a little plate of toast, along with a bigger plate of sunny side up eggs and some sort of big sausage link that looked kind of like a pale bratwurst. Looked pretty tasty, really. Maybe he’d let her have a bite, if she asked.

She shook her head, tucking into her own food and trying not to think. Thoughts trickled in anyway. Worry about Dawn. Fear that they wouldn’t be able to get away soon enough. Memories of Angel. She’d worked at that diner after….

She caught sight of Spike dipping a piece of toast into a runny egg yolk, then eating it with obvious enjoyment. Super spicy hot wings and fried onions were one thing – they fit the whole bad boy punk in leather persona – but something simple like toast and eggs? Angel had a soul, but she just couldn’t imagine him acting that… human.

“Angel always said vampires don’t eat people food,” she blurted out.

Spike didn’t answer right away. He just dipped his toast back into the egg, closing his eyes to savor it as he took a bite. He slowly chewed and swallowed, then opened his eyes, staring at her with an unreadable expression.

“Souled up or no, your ex has always had his head firmly up his own arse. Human food,” she winced a bit at the emphasis, “didn’t do anything for him. It wasn’t new and exciting. It didn’t scream or beg when he ate it. Even the fanciest bit of nosh wasn’t ‘artsy’ enough for him. And him thinking he’s the end all, be all of vampire kind….” He trailed off and shrugged. “Me, though, I like what I like. There was a bit of time where I tried to emulate my grandsire, but that didn’t last long. Told you back when we teamed up against him, I like this world and all the things in it. Not gonna pretend otherwise.”

She nodded jerkily, then stared down at her food. She’d demolished the waffle and half of the omelet already. The other half of it didn’t last more than a few minutes. She’d just started contemplating her bacon when she noticed Spike cutting off a piece of the sausage.

“Can I have some of that?”

He tilted his head to the side, studying her, then stabbed the piece with his fork and held it out to her. Not as if he was going to hand over the fork, though. Like he expected her to…. She slowly leaned forward and opened her mouth, letting him feed her while mentally screaming at herself. What the hell was she doing? They were having some downtime while waiting for the damn RV, not on some kind of date. She shouldn’t be doing this. She…

… closed her mouth over the piece of sausage, pulling it off the fork as she leaned back to sit comfortably. It was pretty good. Like really good breakfast sausage, but bigger and juicier. Maybe some more spices thrown in.

They lapsed into silence, then. A little awkward, but also kind of nice. He wasn’t demanding anything from her. Wasn’t questioning her decisions. He was just sitting with her, eating eggs and toast.

“Gloar’max is here,” Spike said, cutting into her thoughts. He put some money down on the table and stood up. “You finish up, and I’ll pop down in the sewers to get the keys and sort things all out.” He started to walk away, but stopped and turned back towards her. “Like I said, I like this world the way it is. Not gonna let some bitch of a hellgod ruin it. Even more than that, I’m not going to let her hurt you or the bit. You got that? Anything you need of me…. Anything, you just ask, alright? Right now, though, rest up and recharge. No telling when you’ll have another chance.”

Then he pushed his own plate towards her before walking away. He’d left her half of the sausage. That and the remains of her own meal would be enough to fill up all the nooks and crannies of a slayer appetite. Did she really have time for that, though? It’d only be a few minutes, but she could use those minutes to head out with Spike and… do what, exactly? All he was doing was getting the keys and making sure that everything had been set up so he could drive during the day. What possible help could she be with that?

She took a deep breath and went back to eating. This had been a nice little interlude, a whole eye of the storm sort of thing, but Hurricane Glory wasn’t finished with them, yet. She’d take this time to rest up and recharge, because there really was no telling when she’d have another chance.

 


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