A/N: Lines borrowed from Episode 92, "Crush", and 110, "Wrecked", where appropriate.
Buffy looked up to the doorway, where Tara stood, bathed in light. "We, um... we have a Scooby meeting in a few minutes. I was wondering if you wanted to walk with me."
"Oh! Oh, sure, I..." Buffy swung her glance to Riley, whose disappointed face suggested that Scooby meetings were something to which he was Not Invited.
"Thanks for the talk, Riley. I really appreciate it." She squeezed his hand. "I'll... well... you should call me!"
"Duty calls," Riley smiled, standing and pulling her towards him. "I understand. I love you..."
Oh, God, the synonym-for-goodbye "I love you", the one that meant that you said it to each other so often it had become a form of greeting, the kind that you really couldn't stop saying without having to Have A Talk later...
"Love you, too," Buffy choked, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
Pain flashed through Riley's eyes, and Buffy's stomach flipped. "I... Riley, things are weird, with the amnesia and the... the stuff..."
"Sure. Good. I understand." The stiff upper lip from the brave little soldier.
Tara to the rescue. "I bet you guys have a lot to catch up on. And that's what this meeting's all about; getting Buffy's memory back... and the sooner we do that..."
"Right. See you around, Buffy. Goodnight, Tara."
Buffy waited until Riley was out of earshot. "But the band's not even done playing yet."
"I thought maybe you and I could talk. There really is a Scooby meeting... just not for an hour or so."
"Oh." Buffy silently fell into step alongside Tara, their shoes clicking in tandem on the sidewalk.
"So," Tara smiled, "You weren't dating Riley in the world you remember."
"Will told you?"
"Will didn't need to. It was written all over your face -- and your aura."
"Yeah... I wasn't. I mean, I was... but it was long over."
"You were with Will, weren't you?" Tara asked quietly. "In the other world?"
"It's okay." Tara touched her shoulder. "I was kidding about that evil witch thing."
"You're... you're not mad?"
"That depends. He was really tense when he got to the Bronze. Did you... try something?"
"No! A world of no. I told him what he was in the other world."
"He wasn't my boyfriend. He was a vampire."
Horror flared over Tara's face. "Oh. Oh. Y-yes, that would have upset him."
"Because of what happened to Xander."
Tara nodded. "He told you?"
"No, Riley did. Tara... why does everyone hate Riley so much?"
"It's not that..." Tara broke off, biting her lip. "It's just really difficult to trust him. I mean... almost every one of us is considered a HST by the Initiative. I mean... you've got two werewolves, a vampire, a demon, an ex-demon... it makes us a little jittery, y'know?"
"Who's the demon?"
"You said two werewolves, a vampire, a demon, an ex-demon..."
Tara laughed. "Oh, that's me. Was I not a demon in your hallucination?"
"Oh! I know this one! You're not really a demon, Tara, your family just made you think you were! See, in the other world, Spike has a chip and he hits you and proves you're not a demon..."
Tara's eyes suddenly glittered, changing color to an iridescent green. Green streaked her hair and tinged her skin, her lips, cheeks and eyelids darkening with it. "Oh, really?"
"Oh," Buffy said.
The green melted away, leaving Tara looking normal again. "I guess the other world was a lot different."
"I'm finding out more and more by the second," Buffy laughed weakly, following Tara around the corner. "Hey -- where are we going? This isn't the way to the Magic Box."
"We don't meet at the Magic Box anymore. We have somewhere a lot more secure. You'll like it."
Tara reached into her jeans pocket, pulling out a keyring... and rounding into the doorway of an upscale apartment complex, smiling at the doorman.
"Miss MacLay, Miss Summers," the doorman nodded.
Buffy halted at the sight of the opulent, art deco lobby. "What the...?"
"Will inherited the penthouse from his mother," Tara said, steering her into an elevator and sticking her key into a lock inside. "It's great, a lot better than the Magic Box for meetings. The elevator won't go to the top without the key, it's twelve stories up, which takes care of a lot of the baddies-crashing-through-the-window, and... private residence, so no non-Xandery vampires."
Tara smiled. "Plus, I've got it warded seven ways to Sunday."
Buffy shook her head. "Sorry, it's just... in the world I remember, Will lives in a crypt."
"Crypt, huh? Xander thought about getting one of those. Will insisted he come stay here, though. Will, Oz, and Xander all live here."
"Oh, God... the bachelor pad? Decorated in Early American Pamela Anderson?"
Tara grinned. "Not quite."
The elevator doors opened, and Buffy followed Tara through a tiled foyer, smiling a little as Tara worked the locks on the huge mahogany double doors... then gasping in shock as Tara pulled them open.
The apartment was gorgeous... masculine, clean-lined and welcoming, from gleaming hardwood floors to soaring ten-foot ceilings. Xander's beloved vintage horror-movie posters were framed in dark wood, their muted warm colors repeated throughout the room, glowing in the soft golden light from scattered mica lamps. Built-in mahogany shelving -- Buffy recognized the fine Harris craftsmanship -- ringed the huge living area, perfectly encasing tributes to the dichotomy that was their lives.
Huge, we-are-boys-who-like-shiny-things flatscreen TV? Check.
Assortment of scary-looking weapons? Check.
Oz's vinyl collection of enormous size? Check.
Hundreds of priceless, ancient manuscripts? Check.
Playstation 2 and a ridiculous amount of games? Check.
Relics, artifacts and Olaf the Troll God's Hammer? Check.
There was an open kitchen to the right, full of gleaming kitchen appliances that probably did something kitcheny to do with food... a massive fireplace, fire laid but not lit; cream-colored candles artistically arranged... nice to see at least one thing about Spike hadn't changed. Everything clean, smelling faintly of wood soap, orange oil and cloves.
It was like a library. But... a sexy library. A sexy, cozy, welcoming library that made you want to curl up in front of that fire and not move for a week or two.
In the center of it all was a massive dining table with seating for twelve, piled high with books and scrolls.
"The war room," Tara said with a smile.
"No way," Buffy laughed. "No way the boys live here. It's too clean."
"You want the tour? Once you see their bedrooms, you'll believe they live here."
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Scary boy bathrooms?"
"Okay, so maybe not the full tour."
Oz's room was as colorful as his hair, mismatched and charmingly messy, every square inch of wall covered in posters, flyers, photographs, and other odds and ends. Bright tie-dyed tapestries were draped from the ceiling, and the bureau mirror was a nest of little Oz-bits.
Xander's room... oh God.
"I don't even want to know about that bed, do I?" Buffy giggled.
"Not if you want to keep your sanity and avoid the mental pictures of what he and Anya use it for," Tara smiled.
Buffy's stomach rolled when Tara opened the last door. Oh, she knew whose room this was. An eye on Tara, Buffy willed herself not to gulp the air.
More candles. Of course. Scattered persian rugs, the whole room a hedonistic symphony of color and texture; darkest brown, cream, black and blood-red, velvet and silk. Buffy found her eyes fixated on the bed, heavenly-looking pillows piled at the head of it, satin sheets peeking out from below a velvet duvet cover, imagining how it would feel to be dragged naked across all that skin-caressing softness, propelled by the cool, hard weight of Spike as he lay atop her, thrusting into her, sending her sinking ever deeper into that pile of pillows, his lips searing her neck...
"You okay?" Tara asked.
"Yeah, I... sorry, I was... this is really different."
Only it wasn't. It reminded her of his crypt, that night he'd shown it to her...
You should see the downstairs, too, it's quite posh.
God, she... how weird was this? She missed him. Spike. The real Spike. Annoying, incomprehensible, stupid old Spike. Only he hadn't seemed quite so stupid that night, wrapped in blue shadows, his eyes wide and appealing...
Dozens of times, lots of different ways ... every night I save you.
William was better, of course. Human. Had a soul. Everyone liked him. Didn't smoke or drink or bite people or gamble for kittens. Much better, much more acceptable... like... like low-fat ice cream. Y'know, cause it was bad to eat a whole pint of ice cream, but if anyone caught you doing it, you could say hey, it's okay, it's low-fat ice-cream. No need for the guilties. Know what I'm doing. Have a plan. It's low-fat.
Except that the real stuff tasted better, of course. Decadent and sinful, creamy and sweet, sliding across your tongue and cooling your mouth, cold and delicious and...
Okay, now she was just thinking about Spike again. What the hell was wrong with her?
"Oh! Sorry, Tara, I was just..."
Fantasizing about having sex with the dangerous, leather-clad, vampire version of your boyfriend...
"... woolgathering. That's me; big with the shepherd. Baaa."
"Right," Tara nodded, giving Buffy a strange look. "Well, I think I just heard the guys come in..."
Faint voices from the main room, footsteps, and... argh!... there was Spike, coming into the hallway, pulling his shirt over his head... all sinewy and lean and muscle-definitioney and shiny-sweaty...
Tara took a step towards him, and Spike stepped back with a smile, raising his hands defensively. "You do not want the touch right now, love. Think they had heatlamps and humidifiers runnin' in there... I'm off for the shower."
"Need your back washed?" Tara replied playfully.
Spike grinned at her, his tongue running over his teeth. "Might be late for the meetin'..."
"'Spect they will," Spike's arm shot out, grabbing Tara by the wrist, swinging her up into his arms.
"Eeew," Tara giggled, tracing his collarbone with a finger, "You're right, you're all sweaty and yucky..."
"Good thing you're about to shower," Spike replied, eyebrow soaring naughtily.
"Good thing," she agreed, wrapping her arms around his neck and letting him carry her towards the bathroom.
Buffy stood, frozen, watching as Spike carried Tara away, watching as they laughed at something too quiet to hear, watching as Spike kicked the bathroom door open, Tara's head leaning back with laughter as he twirled her through the doorway.
Gross. Gross. So gross. So insanely gross, so horribly wrong, so utterly nasty... how dare he look like that at someone who wasn't her? That was his her look, with the head-tilting and the tongue-maneuver, he was supposed to do that to her, and then she could punch him in the nose.
In fact, she'd never wanted to punch him in the nose more.
Punch him in the nose, grab him by the lapels of that stupid leather coat that he by-god ought to be wearing, throw him into a wall, and kiss him until he screamed for mercy...
"They're inspirational, aren't they?" Anya said from behind her.
Buffy whirled. "Huh?"
"Well, it's a well-known fact that in long-term relationships, the frequency of sex tends to dwindle. Will and Tara defy that statistic; I find it very heartening. Not to mention that Will has very well-sculpted abdominal muscles. Not that I'd trade; Xander gives me many mind-blowing orgasms a day. You know what they say; once you go vamp, you never go back."
"I-is that what they say?" Buffy whispered, still staring at the bathroom door.
"Oh, certainly. I know you're more of a slay 'em than lay 'em kind of girl, but vampires have many sexual advantages. The benefit of the stamina is obvious, of course. Not requiring oxygen is another. But did you know they can largely control their own blood flow? Goodbye, refractory period! It's fantastic. You should have Xander turn Riley. Many nights of orgasms await. Plus, it'd be funny."
"Anya? Do you think if I drew you a picture of a necklace, you'd be able to determine if it was a vengeance demon's amulet?"
"I don't know, Buffy. You're a really terrible artist. What did it look like?"
"Um... round, kind of oval-y. Silver, maybe platinum? Had a blue stone in it... with little red fleckies."
Anya's eyes flew wide. "You killed Hallie?"
"No! I didn't kill her. I think I... I think I made a wish to her."
"What did you wish for?"
"That's the thing. I'm not exactly sure. I remember some of what I said, but... well... I was kind of drunk."
Anya laughed, shaking her head. "Hallie. She doesn't change. Loves the drunk ones. So, who'd you eviscerate?"
"I didn't... well, it looks like people died because of it, but I didn't mean to kill anyone... I wasn't mad at anyone in particular... well, I guess I was mad at Spike... I mean, Will... I was more sort of, um, generalized whining... and then when I woke up, everything was different."
"Ohhh," Anya nodded knowingly. "Alternate universe. Back in the day, I was so good at those..."
"Like the one you did for Cordelia."
"Cordelia? Oh, Xander's dead ex? I did a vengeance wish for her in alterna-world? Was it cool? I was really good at those. Always exactly what the person asked for, in a way that totally screwed them over... ooh, is that what happened to you?"
"Sort of. Kind of. I mean, some things are great here. And some things are worse..."
"That's Hallie. She likes the moral dilemma. Big knife-twister. Me, I'm more of a straightforward girl. So, I guess that demon venom was a built-in cover story?" Anya smiled nostalgically. "She does beautiful work."
"So... how do I get her to undo it?"
"Do you want her to undo it?"
"I... well... I... this isn't real. That has to be wrong... right?"
Anya shrugged. "It's real now. And let me tell you, getting a vengeance demon to undo a wish... not pleasant."
"But it can be done?"
"It depends. We're not supposed to do it. The occasional exception can be made. The bigger the change, though, the bigger the consequences. To turn back a big enough spell, the demon has to sacrifice herself, body and soul. And let me tell you, I know Hallie. She will not be up for that."
Anya patted her on the head. "Look, hon, the best thing you can do is just suck it up and learn to live in this world. Like you said, a lot of things are great here. So, yay! You got your wish! Enjoy it!"
"Anya... don't tell them."
"Buffy, everyone in that room is about to waste hours, and probably weeks or months, researching a way to get your memory back. You owe them the truth."
"That this world isn't real? That they're not real? That they're all really different people?"
"Honey... this world is real now. The one that you remember... it might as well be a hallucination. Wave bye-bye to it. This is reality. And when everyone knows what really happened, they can help you adjust to it. C'mon."
Anya hauled Buffy by the elbow into the main room, Buffy blinking in shock at the number of people. Since when did Mom come to Scooby meetings? Or Dawn? Or... Jonathan Levinson? Or that geeky-looking little blonde guy with him?
"Everyone!" Anya called. "You can put the boring books down now. The mystery of Buffy's memory loss has been solved!"
Giles removed his glasses bemusedly. "Is that so?"
"She made a wish to Halfrek, a vengeance demon. The whole Glarghk Guhl Kashma'nik thing was a cover story Halfrek built into the wish to cover Buffy's confusion. Buffy's 'delusion' was the real world... well, until yesterday. So we'll never get Buffy's memory back. It's not there to get. So, no need to research. But I think we should still order pizza."
"Good lord," Giles gasped. "Buffy, is this true?"
Buffy shrank into herself under the weight of the eyes upon her. "I... I think so. Anya recognized the pendant on the woman I talked to at the bar. I never meant for this to happen... I thought she was just a really good listener..."
"What did you wish for, specifically?"
"I... I can't remember. I was drunk. I was just... I was just complaining about life in general."
"So the other world was worse?" Xander asked.
"In some ways. We were all... everyone was kind of miserable. You knew it, Xander, more than anyone, you've always seen more than anyone... you'd just summoned this musical demon to try and cheer us all up... only we just all ended up telling the truth, and it made everything worse... and then Willow tried to fix it by erasing our memories..."
She stared at the sea of shocked faces, gulping. "The thing was... in the other world... I died. And you guys... mostly Willow... brought me back from the dead. You guys thought I'd been sucked into some hell dimension, like Angel... but... I was in heaven. I was happy. So... so happy."
She took a deep breath, steeling herself. "And when I got back, I hated it. Everything was... compared to the heaven I'd just been in... the real world was hell. And Mom was dead and Giles left and there were all these financial problems and pressure and stress and full copper re-pipe and something was messing with me and everyone was fighting and I... I didn't want to be there, I tried to let the musical demon burn me up, but Spike... Will... wouldn't let me kill myself... and nothing made sense and I..."
"Honey," Joyce murmured, rising to wrap Buffy in her arms, "It's okay, you don't have to talk about all of it now, it's okay..."
"I missed you so much," Buffy gasped, tears stinging her eyes. "Mom, I missed you so much..."
Joyce stroked her hair. "Honey, it's okay. Whatever happened in that other world... it hasn't happened here."
"Kinda does sound like you traded up, Buff," Oz said.
"That's what I said," Anya beamed.
"Have you indeed 'traded up', Buffy?" Giles asked quietly. "You certainly don't seem as happy as someone would who'd suddenly been given her fondest wishes."
"Things I changed... had consequences," Buffy said.
"In the other world... Will wasn't your son. He was a Master Vampire named Spike, over a century old."
"You're kidding," Xander said uncomfortably.
"I'm not. He was one-fourth of the Scourge of Europe. And not having him around... changed history. How much, I don't know yet. But I think... I think it might have been a lot."
"Spike... prevented a lot of things from happening. Some stuff I know about. There's probably more I don't. There's no telling how much has changed."
Giles was polishing his glasses with a vengeance. "So... William was a good vampire? Like Xander?"
"Uh... that's... well, most of the good stuff he did, he did by accident. Like saving Angel by killing that Slayer. He hated Angel. He just liked to kill Slayers. That was kind of his. Um. Thing. And he saved Xander and Willow because he kidnapped them."
"So I was an evil Master Vampire. The Big Bad."
Buffy whirled. Spike leaned against the wall, wet from the shower, glaring.
"Well, you... you did a lot of good..."
"Not all of it! Once you got the chip in your head, you... well, actually, it was later, 'cause you tried to get Adam to kill all of us..."
Xander leapt to his feet. "Will wouldn't do that! He's the one who figured out how to stop Adam!"
"Honey," Anya said consolingly, "Didn't you hear her? He wasn't Will, he was a ruthless, evil killing machine."
Spike startled, and Anya pasted on a smile. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
"Perhaps we should adjourn the meeting," Giles said nervously. "Tempers are running high, and really, this information is irrelevant now..."
"No, Dad," Spike said, pushing himself off the wall and advancing on Buffy. "Let's hear it. Let's hear about all the innocent people I killed and the evil I did. Don't I have a right to know who I really am?"
"Will..." Tara pleaded, reaching for his arm. Spike shrugged her off.
"C'mon, Buffy," he growled. "Let it out. Tell everyone how evil I am. You've been wanting to tell everyone for years. Let's hear it."
"Will, honey..." Joyce begged. "We know you. We love you. It doesn't matter."
Spike spun on his heel, grabbing his jacket. "I'm takin' a walk."
"Son..." Giles began.
"Not now, Dad."
The massive double-doors slammed behind him.
"What was that? Why would you do that?" Xander cried, so angry that the eyes that met Buffy's were nearly yellow. "Why in the hell would you tell him that stuff? Did you just want to hurt him?"
"Jeez, Buffy," Willow added, frowning. "Rip out hearts much?"
"She was just being honest..." Anya tried.
"There is a difference between honesty and cruelty, Anya," Giles said. "Really, Buffy. Whatever William did in the other world... here, he is your brother, who cares for you."
"That was kinda cold," Oz murmured. "Guy's been through a lot."
Buffy looked from face to disapproving face. "I... but... you all hate Spike..."
"Gotta say, Buff," Xander spat, "He's really not the one I'm feeling the hate for at the moment."
"Y'know, maybe it was a delusion," Willow said angrily. "You've always been jealous of Will. So you make a fantasy world where everybody hates him. It kinda makes sense."
"What? I'm not jealous..."
"Buffy, I don't think you're being entirely honest with yourself," Giles said.
"I'm not jealous! Why would I be jealous? I'm the freakin' Chosen One!"
"And you never let us forget it, do you?" Xander spat.
"Do you think I don't know how you look at me?" Xander cried. "Like you're always wondering if I'm up to something evil? You think I've forgotten how you tried to stake me? If Will hadn't stopped you, I'd be dust now."
"And what about me, huh?" Willow pointed her finger around the table. "What about all of us? How do you think it makes us feel when you're sleeping with a member of a shadow organization that thinks we're all freaks, huh? That wants to put mind-control devices in our heads? That tries to kidnap us? And you think we should just take it because we're not human? What's so freakin' great about being human that makes you better than us?"
"Yeah," Xander added bitterly. "We're lower than you until you want our help, and then it's Scooby Freaks to the rescue. You know, Will's more human than you are, and he never looked down on us."
"I don't look down on you! And you guys are both human! It's just this wish..."
"Oh, did you hear that, Willow? We're both human in the other world! I bet Buffy saved us from our horrible fates and got lots of glory. Oh, wait, who was that? Glory? The evil hellgod who wanted to kill Dawn? But oh no, Buffy couldn't kill her human host, Buffy's too sainted to kill humans, so once again, Will had to do her dirty work, and once again, he got crapped all over for it!"
"That's not what happened! I died in Dawn's place!"
"Oh, how noble," Xander sneered. "The untouchable white princess getting her martyr on. And then we brought you back from the dead, I heard that part. Ripped you out of heaven, poor little you."
"Xander, that's quite enough," Giles snapped. "Insulting Buffy isn't going to make Will feel any better."
"Oh, well maybe we should go get him so he can hear more stories about how evil he is! 'Cause everybody knows, vampires are all the evil undead!"
"Or maybe Buffy could go talk to him," Oz said. "She was talking about him in the present tense. That means she didn't dust him. That means he wasn't all bad."
"He wasn't," Buffy said. "He really wasn't..."
"Not the one you need to tell that," Oz replied, jerking his head towards the door.
"Will!" Buffy cried, racing down the street. "Will, please stop!"
Spike continued walking, hands shoved in his pockets, head down.
"Will, c'mon! I need to talk to you! I want to apologize!"
She put on a burst of Slayer speed, grabbing his arm and throwing him into a wall. Will bounced, his head cracking against the brick.
He brought his hand up, rubbing the back of his skull. "Yep. Feels just like a Buffy apology."
"You want to know about the Big Bad vampire you were, Will?"
"Can't say as I do," he muttered, trying to walk away.
She pushed him back again. "You want to know how much I miss him? How he saved my life? Saved the world? How he always had my back? How seeing you is killing me because you're not him? How he was the only one I could talk to, the only one who understood me, the only one who let me just... be... when I came back from the dead?"
Spike blinked, crossing his arms. "Go on."
"He was my protector. And Dawn's. And yeah, he was evil, but... he was trying to be good. Trying really hard. For me. Because he loved me. He loved me so much, in his own... weird way. The things he went through for me, they were... amazing. And I... I cared about him. I cared about him a lot. I just... do you realize why you are the way you are? Human? Giles' son? Apparently the most beloved member of the Scooby Gang, as big of a freak-out as that is?"
Spike shook his head, looking at her intently.
"Because part of me... I wanted to able to be with him. That's how this whole stupid wish got started. Because I cared about him, I... I wanted him, and everything between us was always wrong because he was a vampire and I was the Slayer. I wanted him... you... him... whatever... to be easier."
Spike tipped his head, regarding her solemnly. "You were... what, in love with him?"
"No. I wasn't... I wasn't in love. I cared, though, I... I couldn't let myself be in love with him, because of what he was. It would have been wrong. If he'd had a soul... if he'd been human... anyone else who did those things for me, anyone else who was... like he was... I probably would have been in love with him."
Buffy took a deep breath. "I could be in love with you. I think... I think I am in..."
"Don't," Spike's face contorted in disgust. "Don't say it."
"Oh, come on, Will... we need to talk..."
"We don't need to do anythin'! Okay, there is no we! Understand?"
"Will... the whole point of this whole world... the reason it exists... was for us to be together."
"Oh... oh no. Are you out of your bloody mind?"
"Look, it's not so unusual! We're not related by blood! Feelings develop!"
"No! No, no, feelings do not develop. No feelings!"
"You're him. He's you! You can't deny it. There's something between us."
"Please! Buffy, you're my little sister."
"God, like that matters?" Spike backed away from her, hands raised. "Look, Buffy. I'm sorry things weren't easy enough for you in whatever world you came from. But I love Tara."
"You love Tara because of a wish I made! I wished she'd find someone nice! These feelings you think you're having for Tara... they're not real."
"They're real to me," Spike said quietly.
"She can't... look, I love Tara too. Not that way. But Spike, she's gay. It's who she really is. You need to let her be who she really is!"
"And why won't you let me be who I really am?"
"I'm trying! This isn't you! You don't hang with the Scoobies! You hate the Scoobies! You sit in your crypt and you watch Passions and you drink blood and you play kitten poker and you follow me around..."
"So you want me to be a lonely, friendless soap opera addict puppyvamp for you to kick about? Honey, I'm touched."
"Spike... you love me."
"As a little sister, yeah. And bloody well stop calling me 'Spike'."
"I just..." A tear rolled down Buffy's cheek. "I miss Spike. I want to talk to Spike."
"Well, Slayer, whoever he was, you wished him into oblivion. You made this world... and now you've got to lie in it."
"See? Mixing the metaphors... he always did that... you're so close to what he was, Will... and I look at you, and I see him..."
"I'm not him. Look, sorry n' all that you lost your vampy boytoy that wore my face... but I'm your brother. It's all I'll ever be. I belong to Tara... and that's just the way it is."
"She can't... she's Tara, Will. She can't be your equal. Not like I can. She can't understand you, what drives you, like I can. She can't hold her own with you like I do. It's part of what you like about me, the Slayer thing. Slayers get you hot."
"A Slayer got me hot," Spike growled. "One. But she's gone. You're just..."
"God, why am I even... what is this? What do you want me to do here, Buffy? Pretend I'm not in love with Tara? Pretend I'm not your brother? Let Xander vamp me so I'm the right bloody temperature? Nothin's going to get you what you want. And need I remind you that you have a boyfriend, who despite bein' a horrid git loves you more than life itself?"
"Riley," Buffy whispered.
"And that would be his name. Look, go dunk him in an ice bath and take your sick fantasies out on him. I'm gonna go home and... scrub my brain or somethin'."
"Will... can we at least... can we at least be friends? We were friends in the other world, and I miss it... I really miss it, I don't know if I can make it here without you..."
Spike deflated. "Buffy, I'm sorry. But every time I look at you... all I can see is Faith. I try to let her go, try to get past it, I think I've done a pretty good job, but... it hurts. She was the first person I ever loved, and..."
Buffy seized his left hand, holding it up to the streetlight. "What... what is this?"
"Claddagh ring," Spike shrugged. "Faith gave it to me. The, uh, hands are for friendship, the crown is for..."
"I know," Buffy whispered. "I know what everything means."
Spike tore his hand back from hers. "Then why'd you bloody ask?"
"Buffy." Spike took a deep breath, his jaw clenching. "Thank you for the apology, such as it was. But... you'll get over this. You have to get over this. Move on already."
And he turned away from her, walking down the street, disappearing into the shadows.
That's a good-looking piece of man you just kicked in the tenders... want to talk about it?
Oh, no. No, no. She didn't want to remember this now...
Buffy staggers back to the bar, her eyes deliberately not on Spike as he tries to stalk out of the Bronze with some dignity intact. She throws herself onto a barstool, orders a rum and coke, and notices that the brunette next to her is watching her... an intense, calculating look on her face that quickly dissolves into a friendly smile.
"That's a good-looking piece of man you just kicked in the tenders," the brunette smiles, watching Spike's pained retreat. "Want to talk about it?"
"Nothing to talk about," Buffy grimaces. "He's just a big bleachy pain in my ass."
"You two seemed cozy earlier."
"I had a bad day. I had a bad week. I've had a bad resurrection. Where's my drink?"
"Friend of yours?"
"Not a friend. A stalker. An evil, creepy stalker. Everything would just be so much easier if he didn't love me."
"Is that what you want?" the woman replies, her smile widening.
"I don't understand him. He makes no sense to me. No. Sense. Maybe if I understood him, knew how he felt, what it was like to be him... then maybe..."
"That's not difficult to accomplish."
"Oh, you don't know him."
The brunette titters. "Well, actually..."
Buffy sank to the sidewalk. Oh, God.
Everything would just be so much easier if he didn't love me...
Maybe if I understood him, knew how he felt, what it was like to be him...