WAKE UP AND SMELL THE POPCORN

DISCLAIMER: Joss' parts, my ride.

RATING: K+

SPOILERS: Everything up through Season 7, Dirty Girls...when Faith returns to Sunnydale.


They walked along silently for a while, each lost in their own thoughts, when finally the younger girl could take it no longer. "What's up B? You've been tense all night and we need to keep it cool between us what with everything comin' down."

Buffy kept walking. She didn't want to have this conversation. This was really the last thing she needed right now, another complication, another straw on her back.

"Okay, B, I'll start. It's about last night when you found me and Spike together. Isn't it?"

Buffy whirled on her and the backhand caught Faith off-guard. She landed hard.

"Yep, that's it all right," she mumbled to herself. Faith rubbed her jaw as she stood up and chased after the retreating senior Slayer. "Listen, B, I'm not looking for anything long term just now, it's just that I walk into your basement and see a half-naked…" She drew back as Buffy turned on her again, but kept her distance safely and continued, "really hot guy and…well, I'm human."

Buffy's glare should have stopped her, but Faith was too far into this now and as Buffy turned to walk away again, Faith kept talking. "So I strike up a conversation, pull a few moves and see that he's more than just hot, he's sexy through and through and now I'm really interested." Buffy walked faster. "And he's not runnin' away. But he brings your name up…sorta casual like and I remember the last time that you even THOUGHT I was interested in an ex of yours and I don't want that kind of trouble again."

Suddenly walking lost its appeal to Buffy and she stopped. They both stopped. Faith waited.

"L.A. was different," Buffy offered at last. "I was hurt, I'd been betrayed. Angel was protecting you and wasn't on my side for the first time since I…since he came back. I was confused…" Her voice trailed off. "I'm sorry," she admitted.

"No prob, B. Water under the bridge. Gone…but not forgotten. Which is why I'm askin' what's the sitch with you and Spike? He says you two have a past and I remember seein' you sulk around a lot lately, so I start to wonder what's really going on."

In a way, Buffy hated that Faith knew this about her, hated that she had been a friend to Spike, hated Spike for telling her about them. Still, for the first time she could look into the face of someone who knew what had happened, but who if they didn't actually understand what she had been seeking, they weren't hurt or angry or disgusted by it. "It's a very, very long story," she ventured.

"I've got all night," Faith offered.

Faith never knew what that night's conversation meant to Buffy. It was like the opening of so many emotional floodgates. Thoughts Buffy had been harboring to herself for the last year, for the last several years, came out. She explained about Spike and his level of devotion to Dru, about the Initiative and the chip, about how Spike had fought against her and then with her, about Willow's errant love spell. There were some difficult moments in telling Faith about Angelus, but Buffy found that Faith had met Angelus recently and so there was understanding there too.

She left nothing out, telling Faith Spike's faults too, about how he'd betrayed them to Adam, sought the Ring of Amara for his own purposes and harbored eggs for money. Then Buffy explained about the battle with Glory and how Spike had helped, had been there when she needed him in their escape to the desert, how he had promised to fight for Dawn and how he'd been there at the end.

When she told Faith about dying and heaven, Faith got very quiet and when she explained how hard coming back had been for her, Buffy swore that tears of sympathy shone in Faith's brown eyes. There were stories of forgetting, of singing, and of their first real kiss, where she'd promised nothing, and he had promised everything and found tears of regret on her cheeks again in the telling of her misuse of him that had followed. She described the look on his face when she'd called him "William" for the first time as she broke off their misguided relationship, of the woman she had driven him to and that in a final attempt to win her, he'd gone and earned a soul.

When, at last, she chronicled how he'd returned to the basement of the school and broken and triggered by The First, her decision to have the chip removed and the discovery of Spike's past by Principal Wood she stopped, emotionally exhausted.

They sat in the cemetery, facing each other, leaning back against opposing headstones; both Faith and Buffy in their element. Faith had listened attentively with probing questions here and there, but had been mostly captivated by the story she'd been told. Now they sat in silence. "Wow," was all she could say at first. "You go to prison for a three or four years and you miss all the good stuff. Wow."

Buffy looked up at Faith and was comforted to see no hatred there, no judgment, no anger or criticism. She wiped her own tears away and managed to agree with a nod, "Yeah, I guess, wow."

After another moment of silence, Faith shook her head, "B, I gotta tell you, no one in the world would believe all this, except us. It's some kind of crazy storyline."

Buffy laughed in spite of herself. "I'm sure you're right. Sometimes I wonder about what life must be like for the rest of the world."

"They've got their own demons, trust me. Still, I wouldn't trade our lives with any of the "normal" people I've ever met."

"Why?" Buffy wondered. "Wouldn't you rather have had a normal life with slumber parties, movie nights and career choices, instead of battleaxes, stakes and always wondering if tonight is going to be the night you lose?"

"Aw, that ordinary stuff looks great on the surface, but I bet it'd be boring after a day or two. I'll take the action."

"Action is okay, but I'd rather it be with someone in the back seat instead of with some demon in a dark alley. Besides, there's all the other stuff too: the training, the pain, the blood, the suffering, the dying, and not just my own, so many others, my friends, my family, people I never even knew."

"The others could leave any time. The people in Sunnydale choose to be blind to what happens here. Even Spike chooses to stay of his own accord. He didn't have to come back after Dru left him. He didn't have to help you. He didn't have to go and get a soul. He chose those things himself. And hey, you didn't force any of your friends into anything. They have free will. They chose to stay. Once any of them made that choice, those lives were their own responsibility, not yours."

"But I am responsible. I've led them, they trust me, they expect me to win but I don't know if I can this time. I…"

"I, I, I…Listen, just because we've been chosen, this isn't all about us. Life is bigger than that. It's bigger than demons and Slayers, bigger even than good versus evil. It's comes down to needin' each other and finding each other and caring for each other. I was locked up alone for a long time and let me tell you, I'd trade that for a house full of misfits like yours any day of the week." Faith looked off into something she'd never have and Buffy found herself drawn to the other Slayer's words.

Shaking herself free from her thoughts, Faith continued, "B, I could use a good old fashioned roll in the hay, but I need a relationship right now about like I need flippers. So listen up. You and I have always been different and no matter how much you don't want it to be true, no matter how much it doesn't fit being a Slayer, you need somebody in your life. Guess what? It's Spike." Buffy opened her mouth to argue but Faith continued, undaunted. "Think about it. He knows your secret identity, he's seen you at your worst, he's fought the good fight and he comes back for more. He's bidin' time waitin' for you in your basement when he could be out ravishin' the world. Hell, what more could a girl ask?"

Buffy took stock for a long minute before answering. "I could use better timing."

"You've got that right," Faith laughed. "B, let me offer you a little sisterly advise. This," she looked around the graveyard, "this is business. I hear love is different. And if it's right, it's right. Five by five. Whenever. Whoever. Ya know?"

"But Faith, I can't. I couldn't. Not now. I can't be weak now in the middle of this fight."

"Weak?" the younger Slayer shook her head sadly. "Buffy Summers, I gave you way too much credit. You are an idiot. Don't you see how much stronger you'll be once you've put things right between you two? Leaving stuff unsaid is killing our two strongest warriors just as surely as any battle could. If you tell him you love him you won't have to worry about never getting' the chance to say…about regretting things undone. You won't leave him hangin' and wonderin', questionin' himself. Hell, it'll do him a world of good too. Men in love are tigers."

Buffy smiled knowingly. Spike could be a…no, not going there. But Faith caught the look and nodded appreciatively. "B, I gotta tell you, you really do get the best vampires. Angel is charming, but Spike…he's just…damn." Buffy's smile broadened. "Still, I'd tell him soon, if I were you."

"Why?"

"Cuz he's lonely and hurt and that heart he wears on his sleeve for you is vulnerable to any little vulture that might come along."

"Like you?" Buffy challenged.

"Yeah, like me." Faith rubbed her jaw again and said, "It won't be me. Still, maybe the next one won't be able to take a punch. Take care of yourself B and the rest'll come."

Spike sat in the cold dark of the basement. The dryer thrummed across the room as it always did. A houseful of women made sure it was running nearly 24/7. He'd thought he might like to kill it, but then he'd probably have to hear the dripping of half-wet underwear hanging on clotheslines instead and those visions, and the clotheslines, struck him as dangerous alternatives.

So instead he closed his eyes and imagined being far away, being far away with Buffy.

Since he'd gotten his soul, his dreams had been startling realistic and now he imagined the two of them entwined somewhere on a vacant beach, gentle waves lapping at the shore, their white ribbons of foam appearing out of the night. Stars shone overhead more numerous than possible and Buffy lay in his arms, staring up at him, hazel eyes reflecting starlight in the afterglow of their lovemaking. "Spike," she'd croon softly, "Spike."

"Spike! Wake up!" Buffy was shaking him awake. "You've fallen asleep with one of your bloody cigarettes hanging out of your mouth again. When are you going to quit this filthy habit?" She took his cigarette from his lips and crushed it on the floor. Spike closed his eyes again, preferring his other Buffy, when suddenly something dawned on him. Had she really said "bloody"?

He opened his eyes again and looked at Buffy. She was beautiful in her righteous indignation and he smiled as she continued. "You're going to burn my house…what's left of my house…to the ground, with me and the girls inside…. What are you smiling about?" she challenged.

He shook his head as his gaze fell from her face to the floor. Long experience had taught him that he wasn't going to win this one. "Sorry, pet. I do need to be more bloody careful."

Buffy's first instinct was to snort and leave. He'd taken his cues as always before, had fallen into line, and would at least pretend to adhere to this new Slayer Edict for a while. But she stopped herself this time. Instead she took a moment to look longer at the man before her.

Spike sat on the cot she'd assigned him long ago. For some reason she'd set it aside for him, even after the Potentials had started to arrive. It was just his. The wall behind him, had a high window to keep out the sun and the raw concrete at Spike's back exuded cold along with the faint aroma of earth, and older things.

The unused iron chains hanging from the wall spoke worlds of their troubled past and mocked the newborn hope she'd nursed within her, hope that she might return to him and together they would find some kind of happiness in the mess of their existence. The resolve she'd found in her earlier conversation with Faith nearly crumbled, but then he looked at her and once again she drew from the strength she found in his eyes. "That's it," she finished. "Tomorrow I'm buying you a patch."

Within him, Spike found a spark of humor left, enough to wonder out loud if a patch would work on someone with no circulation.

"That'd be just our luck," Buffy admitted.

"Our luck?" Spike questioned. He sat up and reached out a hand to her, trying hard not to look surprised when she took it.

"Our luck hasn't run to the good lately, has it?" Buffy asked, sitting down next to him.

"Nope. More the run-out-of kind, I'd say."

Buffy settled back onto the cot, unable to look at Spike. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her words. "Faith's pretty amazing, isn't she?"

Spike looked up as though he could see the other Slayer through the floorboards. "She's something all right." Then he looked at Buffy suspiciously. "But not my type."

"She's exactly your type, Spike; fun, exciting, living on the edge."

He smiled, "Too much like me then, I guess."

"Oh? You're looking for Susie Homemaker? Cuz, have you tried my pancakes?"

"Those rocks?" Spike laughed with her. He shook his head sadly over the quality of her cooking before turning serious. "I'm not lookin' for anybody, luv. I've found just what I want." He squeezed her hand, "Someone remarkable, with power and integrity, beauty and passion, who…"

"Spike, I…" Buffy began softly.

"I know," he sighed. Spike looked away again, used to this routine, and intoned, "You're not sure."

"I…."

"You're not ready."

"No, I…."

"This is killing you," he mimicked.

Turning toward him, Buffy shouted, "Spike, let me finish!"

"Your career…"

Still shouting she went on, "I love you!"

"You lo…." Then he stopped. "You what?"

"I love you." The words, when they had come, were, as Faith had put it five by five. They felt right. In fact, Buffy wondered why she had denied the necessity of saying them for so long. "I. Love. You."

Other than his eyes, which now searched hers, Spike was motionless, afraid to move, afraid he hadn't really heard it, that in acknowledging it, this moment would escape.

Buffy reached out deliberately and pulled his chin toward her. "I, Buffy Summers, love you, Spike…um…William…uh."

"William Waltham," Spike offered.

Buffy tried it out, liked the name on him and repeated gently, "William Waltham."

That name, his name, so long unspoken, resounded in Spike's new soul. "Wh…," was all he could get out.

"Why the change of heart?" Spike nodded, that was his question. "Not a change of heart, just a kick in the butt from a friend. I think I've felt this way for a long time, but there was always some crisis happening or something I was angry about stopping me from admitting it to myself. Then seeing you with Faith and being on the receiving end of some friendly …um…advice last night convinced me I'd better say something now, before…before I lost the chance."

"Faith? Buffy, you were jealous?" Spike smiled incredulously and she refused to meet his questioning glance. "Pet, Slayer Jr. and I were just talking."

"Shhh. I know that now. But I didn't know then and it…it tore my heart out to see you together."

"I'm sor…," Spike began before Buffy's kiss interrupted him. He had missed the feel of her lips on his. But this was different than it had ever been before. Behind this kiss there was no anger, no self loathing, no bitterness. This kiss was gentle, loving and filled with desperate longing.

When their lips parted, Buffy said, "Don't apologize. I trust you…after everything I trust you and I've finally realized I love you…after everything."

Fighting hard to keep back the tears of joy that threatened to fall, Spike slipped his arms around Buffy and melted into her welcoming embrace. And, failing miserably to keep his voice under control, he said, "Okay, Buffy. But the only one who can ever call me William is you, and Waltham goes with us to our graves."

Buffy stared into her true love's eyes for a moment, lost in thoughts of futures that might be. Before she kissed him again, she agreed to the compromise adding, "If we ever have any that is."

As silence fell in the basement, Faith leaned on the doorframe at the head of the stairs. She had been the only one to overhear the two lovers share words of love for the first time. It struck her that there was more to being a Slayer than she might have thought at first. Maybe there was happiness to be found in a calling made of death and destruction. She shook back her hair and walked confidently into the living room full of Potentials, calling out, "OK, kiddies, turn the sound up and pass the popcorn."

FIN