Buffy clasped the handles of her purse nervously, standing on the hotel's curb and glancing down the driveway with an anxious eye. Black, large-framed sunglasses shielded her eyes from the late morning sun and her black blouse heated uncomfortably. A few more minutes and she'd break into a sweat. But she needed to be out here, to show Spike that she'd wait for him. Buffy patted the back of her neck with a frown, feeling for the silver chopsticks that secured her upsweep. She should've worn her hair long – he'd loved it that way. Loved it so much she'd hacked it off to spite him, as though she could amputate his love with the beautician's shears. A desperate, rebellious move, it had only succeeded in a new haircut and further proof that Spike's love for her had run deeper than the length of her highlights. She had to keep reminding herself: "had run," "had loved," past tense. A past she dearly wished to revisit.
No, scratch that. She wanted Spike now, him with his soul, tempered and humbled after his struggle with incorporeality; him with somewhat of an amends with everything he'd seen and done. Especially with the low gleam of his sacrifice, his success, shining in his eyes. "See?" his stare seemed to mock her. "Told you I could do it." As much as he chastened her with his very existence, Buffy realized that she'd rather have this Spike, with his pride of accomplishment, than any previous incarnation.
"Although adding that madly-in-love-with-me accessory wouldn't hurt," she mumbled, blowing a cooling breath on her sweaty chest. She checked her watch. Almost fifteen minutes late. So much for him racing over to fetch her.
Just as she decided to turn back to the hotel and get out of the sun, Buffy was startled by the whine of a motor and crunch of tires on the driveway behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw a lean, black sports car purring in wait. The car glimmered in the sunlight, its finish polished to a mirror shine and the glass tinted impossibly dark. She hesitated and took a curious step toward the car, bending over to squint through the passenger side window. Other than the motor, the car remained still.
Her hand reached out to touch the glass. "Spike?"
The window slid halfway down, causing her to spring back in surprise.
Buffy caught her breath. "So it is you."
"Told you I'd be here."
"And almost on time, even," she added.
"Beggars can't be choosers, love," he said lightly. "You want, I'll turn around and go back to my regularly scheduled program."
"No, please don't go," she implored. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I said that."
"Because you're you. Now get in before the sun shifts."
While the window buzzed upward, Buffy scrambled into the car and shut the door quickly. He'd squired himself again in black, now to match his vehicle: black t-shirt, jeans, and leather jacket. Not the duster. A new, shorter and more fashionable style that she realized he'd never pick out on his own.
She smiled gratefully. "Thank you for doing this, Spike."
His expression behind his own black sunglasses remained impervious, and he grunted in return. "Driving ain't that hard. It's the trip that's the bloody nuisance." Her mouth dropped open. "Damn well take us all afternoon." Her mouth clamped shut.
"I know," she nodded. "Thanks for doing this."
"You said that."
Frowning, she aimed the car vents in the dashboard at the floor and tried not to shiver.
"No, I'm good."
"You look cold."
"Well, I'm not."
"Buffy, if you're cold, bloody well fix it. Fiddle with the knobs. Don't freeze to death on my account."
"I'm fine," she snapped, then took a breath. "Really. Thanks."
"Suit yourself," he muttered with a small shake to his head and turned the car on to the highway.
After a few quiet minutes, she reached over to the console, every movement closer to him like crossing a chasm.
"I guess maybe I could cut the AC down a little. You know, to save on gas."
His mouth twisted into a grin. "Might as well settle in, put on some background noise."
"What's in the CD player?"
"Nothing for you. Radio's yours if you can stay off the talk stations."
Flipping through the satellite feed's two hundred channels wasted a few more dragging minutes, though each "beep" from the receiver seemed to clench Spike's jaw tighter.
"This bothering you?"
"I've had worse."
Latin jazz – beep—classical – beep – the blues – beep. No one had prepared her for what would be the ideal soundtrack to return to the Hellmouth with Spike. Romantic love songs – BEEP…
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Spike erupted at last. "Just bloody pick something!"
Buffy stopped on alternative rock and sat back in her seat. Spike took off his sunglasses and stabbed them on to the top of his head, then stared at the radio as though it had insulted him.
"That's what you want to listen to?"
"You said pick something."
"I meant something halfway decent."
Buffy sighed, resting her arm on the passenger door. "Put in a CD, Spike. I'll listen to anything."
"Why? Is the player broken?"
"No," he said evenly. "Just ain't your sort of music."
"Spike, I don't care. If you like it, then it's fine with me." Perhaps this is how they'd find their way back to each other, discovering shared tastes previously undiscovered. Over music! So simple and yet, so meaningful.
"You don't get it," he said tightly. "It ain't for you to hear, Slayer."
"What?" She turned in her seat to glare at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"They're not…I don't…they're only for…oh, balls. I don't play 'em for anyone else. They're for me. Me and Fred."
Buffy leaned back, deflated. "Oh."
"Know it sounds daft. But," he shrugged, hands gripping the wheel tightly. "Wouldn't be fair to Win. One thing drivin' you all over creation. Start playin' our music for you, too, well, that's off the bend."
She chanced a look at him. "Spike."
"I'm not budging on this, Slayer."
"No, no, I don't expect you to. You have this to share with Fred. I get it, really. It's what couples do," she added wistfully.
Buffy had forgotten how to read his sarcasm. She could've sworn she heard a question behind his words. Even after their public displays, could he possibly be unsure of Fred's affections?
"Your take on couple behavior. We got hours in a car together. It's as good a topic as any."
With a gulp, Buffy drew from her reserves of international diplomacy that European living had foisted upon her and plunged forward.
"If you're asking do I believe that you're worthy of all the love and support that Fred can give to you, of course the answer's 'yes,' Spike. There's no reason why you should ever feel lonely or inferior with whoever you choose to be your partner."
"You copy that answer straight out of Headshrink 101?"
"It's not psychobabble," she argued. "It's what I feel and I mean it and I'm going to keep saying it until you get it through your thick skull. You're worthy, Spike, of course you are."
"That a fact?" He raised an eyebrow at her. "So all I had to do was burn up from the inside out to get that outta you."
"Spike, you know that's not what I meant."
"No, I see the meaning 20/20. I offer a general conversation on couples and you bring it back to me and you."
"Well, that's what I think about. What I'm always thinking about lately," she mumbled.
"All of two days?"
Her head whipped to face him. "Since I watched you die!"
His hands gripped the steering wheel tighter and Buffy became very still.
But instead of a reply, he brought a hand to the breast pocket of his jacket, removed a cigarette, and stabbed the car's push button lighter in.
"Italians finally get you to smoke?"
"No." She waved a hand. "But they made me more used to it. Go ahead."
Every calm action from him told her that he would've regardless.
Spike breathed smoke in and out, shifted in his seat, finally spoke. "I was curious on what you reckoned made a couple tick, seein's how I damned well never saw it come from you."
She smirked. "I'm guessing it takes more than mix tapes."
"Mix CDs," he corrected.
"Whatever!" she shouted back.
"If you weren't starin' down the barrel of Fred hangin' over me, you'd be singin' a different tune."
"Staring down the barrel of Fred hanging over you? Care to cram a couple more metaphors in that mix?"
"Sidestep the issue much?"
"I'm not…" Buffy rolled the thought on her tongue before voicing it. "Jealous, if that's what you're thinking."
"Ho no!" he chuckled. "No, not you."
"I'm really very happy you're with Fred."
"'Course you are, love."
"You deserve every happiness."
"Beyond the telling of it."
"And if Fred can provide that, then great."
"Here it comes."
Buffy bit her lip. "If she does."
"I knew it!" he crowed. He pointed an accusing finger at her from the steering wheel. "You think she's too brainy for me."
Her lips parted in surprise. "Uh, no, not even close."
"I did actually read a book or two in that crypt. Poet here, remember?"
"And what about," he cleared his throat. "'I died, so many years ago…' That song? The spell be buggered, I made those words up straight off!"
"Spike!" Buffy cried helplessly. "This doesn't have anything to do with you being smart! It doesn't have anything to do with Fred, either!"
"Me, Spike! I'm here, I'm finally here and you look right through me! I lied to you, all right? About being jealous. I am jealous," she admitted, looking at her feet. "But not because you're something I want to win away from another girl, like a prize. But for you. To just have you."
"Have me. You don't even bloody know me."
"I don't, I haven't, and I want to."
Spike glared at her in dark triumph. "There's the magic word! You want, so let's go about makin' it happen. Where'd I be without you, Buffy? You wanna know where? Back home with Winifred, where I fucking belong, that's where."
"Then why keep me here? Why draw this out when you know that your confession means that I leave? What the hell are you waiting for?"
"Not for you, Slayer. Put a right end to that."
Buffy tried to close her eyes from the burning smoke, wishing that she could likewise shut out his words.
"Means more than just a confession anymore, yeah? Means me on trial. Which means I got to take a kind of care with how I word things to you, don't I? Or I'll find myself needin' to check on my last passport stamp."
"You won't need one, the council will send a private plane," Buffy said automatically.
"There's a comfort," he snorted. "What I want to know is, who decides if my story passes muster or not?"
"Well, there's an inquiry committee…"
"There's a committee now?"
"I'm faxing them all of my notes. All two pages of them, so far. I'd add your statement and they'd let me know which witnesses they would need to come over for the hearing."
He looked over at her hopefully. "So you're saying that there's a chance I could give you my run-down, you fax it in, and we're done?"
"Yeah, sure," she sighed. "It's a definite possibility."
"All right then, pet," he smiled at her, his first real smile since they started driving. "Got paper and pen?"
"Oh. Lemme see." She picked up her purse and rummaged for a few moments. "I, uh, hmm. No."
"What do you mean 'no?'" he demanded. "Thought that was your whole diabolical plan: trap me in the car until you got your soddin' confession."
"There wasn't anything diabolical about it. I guess in light of where we were going, I sort of… let it slide." She shrugged and tried not to look at him. "Pretty lousy Watcher I'll make, huh."
"Cut yourself a sliver of slack," he rumbled, stubbing out the cigarette. "Reckon you'll make out all right in the end. If it's what you really want."
"Right," she said softly. "Thanks."
"Buffy…" He paused and she managed to drag her eyes over to him, cringing at what she knew she'd see: that apologetic, appeasing, damnably peaceful look.
"Look, about this trip. Only a handful of us who're left, yeah? Me being the only one in the city limits. Angel wouldn't give it a toss, I'd wager, else you would've asked him. The Bit would've made your best passenger."
"Are you kidding? Dawn never wants to see this place again."
"Harris then. Point is, we're gonna get there, you're gonna see there's an empty hole in the ground, and it's gonna hit you, where you really are. Don't let it blindside you, all right? Don't make more out of it than there is, love."
Spike reached out and clicked at the radio control, settling on a classic rock station with music soothing in its familiarity. Pointedly, he turned up the volume at a level not earsplitting but loud enough to bar conversation, leaving Buffy to mull what exactly she shouldn't make more out of: the Sunnydale crater or his presence by her side.