A/N: "It's Not Easy Being Green" by Joe Raposo, "Mommy's Little Monster" by Social Distortion

Chapter 9

Buffy sat across the table from her mom. It seemed like forever since they'd had a heart-to-heart talk. With Dawn currently safe and plans and back-up plans in various stages of progress, it was safe to act like a normal mother and daughter for a while.

"I had a dream." Buffy stirred her tea and looked at her mom. "Remember how I told you about that first Slayer, the Rasta chica with a bad make-up job?"

"I remember. She sounded rather frightening." Joyce recalled how Buffy and her friends and Watcher had been unnerved for days after dreaming of that one the previous year.

"Well, in this one she was telling me how I was full of love, but that I was always rejecting it. How love is pain and that a Slayer forges strength from pain." Joyce's brows rose, but she remained silent. "She said I had to forgive and also had to risk pain. She said love would bring me a gift."

"Interesting. Is this one of your Slayer dreams, dear?"

"I'm not sure. It felt kinda real but not real at the same time." Buffy bit her lip. "I guess I have had trouble trusting, you know, guys ever since…."

"Angel?"

"Yes. My judgment was so off on that…and people died. I just can't risk that again. I think I'm supposed to just fight the fight and then move on, 'cause I can't seem to make it work with a regular guy and the supernatural ones are a big no-no!"

"Maybe you do need to forgive and risk the pain as she told you."

"How so?"

"Well, you can forgive yourself for one thing. You made a wrong choice in Angel for many reasons, some not even involving his being a vampire. You can forgive him too, while you're at it. You can't move on while you are holding that burden. As for the risk of pain…well, honey, all of life is that! Pain is part of life. To not risk pain is to not live."

"I guess I kinda get that."

"As for love bringing you a gift-love IS a gift! It is one to treasure, even the loves that don't work out. Sweetheart, relationships all require work. You know the old saying 'men are from Mars and women from Venus'? It's always true, even between regular old humans."

Buffy cleared her throat and took the plunge. "I've been sorta drawn to Spike lately and before you say anything, I know in my head that is the road to major disaster!"

"How do you know what I'll say?" Joyce laughed at Buffy's expression. "Actually, I like Spike, always have. I wouldn't have ever wanted him for you if I hadn't had my eyes opened recently, but now they are wide open and I can see nothing but advantages for you if you let your heart lead you in that direction." She reached over and put a gentle finger on Buffy's jaw, closing her daughter's mouth opened in an 'O' of shock. "I wasn't going to nag you, but I suppose you've noticed my gentle pushes in his direction?"

Buffy blinked. So it hadn't been her imagination, even though it seemed so unlikely. "But Mom, Spike is a vampire. I've been there and done that."

"No, you haven't. That is like saying that Riley was human, so all humans are off limits. You can say 'been there and done that' with humankind too. Angel and Spike are both vampires, yes, but that is about all they have in common, aside from their feelings for you, of course. Tell me, would you have trusted Angel, even with a chip, to care for Dawn if he had no soul?"

"Spike has done terrible things, Mom. You only see his good side."

"Perhaps you need to forgive him as well?" Joyce shrugged. "He's changing; you know that."

"So how did you get all 'Team Spike' all of a sudden?"

"Looking death in the eye. I know you do it every day, honey, but I suffered from the same thing most humans do: the inability to recognize my mortality. This is going to sound like a lecture and I don't mean it to."

"Lecture away! I'm all College!Buffy, I can handle it."

Joyce laughed. "Here goes: The hardest part of life is living. The day to day struggle of it all. Sometimes it's unbearable. Trying to do it alone just makes it all the harder. Dying, giving up? That's easy."

"A death wish, you mean." Buffy heard echoes of Spike's lessons in her mother's words.

"In a sense," Joyce nodded. "You need someone, just as everyone else does. You cannot let your life become just fighting the fight. You do that and you'll not make it to the end of college!" Joyce shuddered at the thought of losing Buffy. "You are more than the Slayer, Buffy; you are a young woman. A woman filled with love and in need of love.

"Do you think it's easy for me? I have two girls to raise alone and, believe me, I'd give anything for someone else to share my life, my burdens. I fear losing you every night. I stay up waiting for the other shoe to fall, to get that call from Giles that you've died. You already did that once and I would never have known why or how it happened! Knowing isn't better. It's not easy being the Slayer's mother."

Buffy felt her eyes fill with tears. Her mom had put up with so much and been so good once she finally understood what Buffy's life really was about.

"I won't lie to you, honey, there was a certain lure to just giving up when the doctors told me all the terrible things that could happen…beyond just dying from that brain tumor and the aftermath. I fought to live, I chose to live, just like I hope you do each day. I also chose to be practical and part of that has been to push you to see Spike as a possible partner, ally, maybe more. I want you to hedge your bets and give yourself the best possible change to survive, to keep on surviving."

"But how? I keep messing up any love –life I've tried."

Joyce did laugh then. "Honey, you're young! You're also not the first woman to have some false starts."

"How'd you get so smart?"

"Well, I'm not going to say age! Not only am I not old, but wisdom doesn't just come with years. Looking eternity in the face can smarten one up though. Knowing I might not be there to protect or guide you really made me think and look around. It became clear to me that if you are to have a chance to get to at least my age you will need assets. You have Giles and your friends and they've gotten you pretty far. It seems clear to me that Spike can get you the rest of the way. He's your equal and he does love you."

"Why Spike and not Angel?" It had always bothered Buffy that her mom had practically sent her first love away. No, that wasn't fair; he didn't need any help in hitting the road.

"Angel isn't Spike. I still feel Angel was all wrong for you, and not the vampire part. The vampire part, if he loved you, could have helped. No, it was the man that was wrong…off somehow. His personality was too much like Hank, too controlling. I don't believe he ever really saw you for the person you are, the woman you are becoming. Spike sees you. It was the man that wasn't right for you."

"Angel said that once, that it was the man and not the demon."

Joyce raised her eyebrows at that. "Seems he was a bit more introspective than I ever gave him credit for being, I guess."

They both laughed at that.

"But Spike has no soul. How can I take that chance?"

"Souls only do so much. Lots of people have souls and do terrible things, even more terrible than a vampire. You have to trust him, forgive him. Take each day at a time as you help him find his way."

Buffy thought about the chip being removed and chafed at the idea of all that responsibility for keeping Spike in line being on her. "What if I'm not there?"

"You're always there in his heart, honey. Make sure of that and he'll come through; he has so far. He's a smart man and will learn quickly."

"Trust is so hard!"

"Like all relationships, you just take it one day at a time. There are never any guarantees. Just take one step toward each other-small steps are fine-but before you know it, those steps will be side-by-side and headed to the future you choose to make together. A long one, I hope."

"There'd never be any fat grandbabies, you realize."

"Fat grandbabies are highly overrated."

Ben stormed out of the hospital, having picked up the last of his personal items from the doctors' lounge locker room. His being fired was all Glory's fault, one more sin among many. "I didn't ask for any of this. I just want to be normal."

A man appeared from the shadows. "We all play the hand we're dealt."

Ben narrowed his gaze and tried to place the older man. Finally, he remembered him as one of the Slayer's friends. Her Watcher, he thought.

"Do you know why I wanted to become a doctor?" Ben didn't wait for a reply. "To be close to people, to witness their lives and deaths. To be a part of everyday humanity."

"We know about who you are, what you are." Giles said softly. He was not immune to pity where the young man was concerned.

Ben was startled by that. He was pretty sure there was magic covering his identity. Somehow they had found a way around it. "I'll keep her buried. Drugs will help. I'll push her down deep."

"You know that will never work. She's a god; she's what is real. Sooner or later, she will control the life-force and cease to be contained." Giles approached relentlessly, driving Ben back toward the bushes. "She will never stop looking for her Key and another chance to use it to open the door home."

"She gets the Key and I cease to exist," Ben agreed. "I don't want that either. Think I'm thrilled to look at the prospect of just blinking out? This is my life and I plan to keep it."

Giles looked at him in speculation. "Could you do it? Take an innocent human life with your own hands?" He pictured Dawn in the desperate young man's merciless hands and all pity for this vessel left him.

Ben stumbled a bit as his back met the hedge behind him. Startled, he didn't feel the cool hands of the vampire as Spike grasped him by the head and gave his neck a powerful snap.

Giles and Spike looked down at the body collapsed at their feet. The look of utter shock would likely haunt Giles in time, but there had been no choice, not really. Right now he was merely grateful that Spike was able to kill the man in spite of the chip. "Quite efficient," he nodded at Spike.

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something," Spike quoted softly, not taking his eyes from the corpse.

"Throreau. Appropriate." Giles agreed. "I suppose we should take every precaution with the body. We cannot risk those minions finding a way to re-animate him and Glory along with him."

Spike looked up at the Watcher. "Thinking a cremation maybe? I know a bloke who'll turn a blind eye."

"Yes, you would, wouldn't you?" Giles grasped Ben's feet as Spike lifted the man's upper torso and they headed for the red BMW convertible. "I'm thinking that a drive into the desert to scatter the ashes would also be in order."

"Leave nothing of that bitch for anyone to reassemble, yeah?"

"Precisely."

To say the gang was relieved to know all the danger had passed would be an understatement.

Joyce would sleep soundly for the first time in months, knowing her babies were both safe-at least for now. She was heartened to notice Buffy's rather pointed looks at Spike earlier too. Maybe all those pushes were finally going to pay off and there would be many a restful sleep to come.

Buffy frosted the 'Welcome Home' cake her mother had insisted on baking as they awaited the return of the teen-aged menace also known as Dawn Summers. The whole gang was there to celebrate the end of the threat to the former Key and the end of a hellgod on a mission of world end-age.

Angel was bringing Dawn home and she was babbling about some big adventure that she couldn't wait to tell them all about. She had also begged Buffy to go over to Janice's house and borrow her karaoke machine for some reason.

Buffy heard the car pull up just as Spike joined them in the kitchen and offered to help.

"They're here!" Willow opened the door and started giggling at the sight of Dawn arm in arm with some green demon with red horns, both singing with good cheer.

"It's not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that

It's not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green's the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean, or important
Like a mountain, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be."

The giddy pair skipped up the stairs and joined Willow's mirth. "You must be the powerful witch. My name's Lorne and I'm going to miss my little green friend here." He squeezed Dawn tightly with much affection.

He turned to Dawn and smiled at her warmly, "You have a lovely long life ahead of you. I see you really achieving more than you can imagine and saving the world yourself in your own unique way. You've many gifts yet to discover, little Miss Green Ball of Energy!"

Dawn blushed and explained, "Lorne is an empath. He reads people and demons when they sing for him. That's why I wanted the karaoke machine." She saw the group blanch at the idea. "It's fun," she insisted. "Besides, we won't have to listen to Angel sing; he's already been read."

Angel scowled at them and muttered, "There's nothing wrong with Barry Manilow. He had lots of gold records."

"So do the Backstreet Boys, but that doesn't make it worth a listen," Spike noted.

Buffy suppressed a giggle at the growl Angel directed at Spike.

She welcomed the odd demon into her house, trusting that he was safe based on Angel and Dawn's clear acceptance of him. "I hope you aren't wanting me to sing into that thing!" She pointed to the microphone attached to the karaoke box in the living room.

"Yup!" Dawn popped the last consonant just like her big sister often did.

"MOM!" Dawn threw herself into her mother's arms and hugged the stuffing out of her.

"Careful, Dawn!" Buffy warned.

"It's fine, I'm fine. I have my girls and I'm just perfect."

Dawn launched into a story about some dimension called Pylea and how people were kept in barns and called cows. She made everyone laugh at the way Angel enjoyed the sunlight that didn't burn him and drew sympathy for Lorne with the story of his beheading.

"So cutting your head off doesn't do the job, eh?" Spike was fascinated. A good beheading usually always did the trick.

"Luckily for me, no." Lorne would have been unnerved by the question, but having gotten a glimpse of this particular vampire while reading Dawn, he knew he had nothing to fear from him.

"I can SO see Cordy eating up being a princess!" Buffy's assessment inspired a nod from Willow. "She was born for that role. I'm surprised she let you bring her back from there."

"There was the Groosalugg, don't forget! He was really hot too," Dawn reminded her audience about the warrior she had already mentioned.

"I think Dawnie has replaced you as her crush, Xander," Anya teased.

"What kind of a name is Groosalugg?" Xander grimaced.

Dawn grabbed the song list and look around the room hopefully. "So who's ready to sing for Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok clan?"

"I don't suppose there's any way you're gonna let this all just slide, is there, Bit?" Spike grumbled.

"Not a way in the world." Dawn smirked like a professional. "In fact, I completely insist you and Buffy sing. I even made sure there's some punk junk in there."

"Fine, but no bloody microphone." Spike grabbed the list from her hand and began to sort through the choices. "Let's get it over with then." He gave a leer at Buffy, then began,

"Mommy's little monster dropped out of school
Mommy's little monster broke all the rules
He loves to go out drinking with the boys
He loves to go out and make some noise
He doesn't wanna be a doctor
Or a lawyer getting fat and rich"

Angel rolled his eyes and plugged his ears, but everyone else laughed along with Buffy. Since when had Spike become part of the group anyway? Angel would have to have a word with Buffy before he left.

Buffy chose "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys and stuck her tongue out at Spike as she announced her selection. He felt his blood heat as she looked at him when she sang the words, "the one I desire". Could he really hope it was more than a bit of play on her part?

Everyone else had a turn. Lots of show tunes from the Scoobies with only Giles taking a turn at classic rock with a killer version of "White Room" that even Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton would have approved.

"Well done, old man," Spike offered sincerely.

Lorne was having a fine time. So many paths this group would travel and travel together.

He looked from Buffy to Spike and grinned widely. "Well, don't you two just take the cake! Bet you set the Powers on their ear."

"What's that mean?" Angel demanded.

Lorne read the petulance and jealousy in his friend's tone of voice and decided to downplay some of his reading. They'd do fine without knowing what lay ahead anyway. "Just that I've got a feeling that we all dodged quite a bullet somehow. Seems things could have taken a very bad turn without some outside influence." He smiled softly at Buffy. "The Powers really like you two." He patted her hand. "Just enjoy each other," he whispered.

"Buffy, can I see you for a minute?" Angel glowered at his friend and took Buffy's hand from Lorne's, leading her into the dining room.

"Buffy, about Spike…I know I'm in LA and you have a handle on things here, but you can't let yourself forget for a minute that he's evil. Without that chip, one of us would have to stake him-who am I kidding, even with the chip one of us might have to. He has no soul."

Buffy sighed deeply. She had a feeling this was coming. No way would she let Angel know the chip was in the past. That would be worse than telling the Scoobs or Giles.

"No soul, no nasty surprises," Buffy threw back at her former lover.

Angel was going on, "I know him, have known him for a century-"

"How much of that century have you really known him, Angel? You left when you got your soul, didn't you? I've been around him for several years now. I know who Spike is right now in 2001; you don't."

"Still, Buffy, without a soul he'll never be worthy to even be called your friend."

Spike had followed. How could he not? Seeing Buffy and Angel hand in hand leaving the room had been impossible to ignore.

"Ahem," he cleared his throat loudly. Spike looked directly at Buffy, completely focusing on her to the exclusion of Angel. "I'll get a soul if you need it to feel safe with me around. Do whatever you want or need me to do to be with you. This wanker didn't even try to find a way to sew his soul to his foot like Peter Pan did his shadow. Lots of magic out there to make it permanent."

Angel seethed. "So you're what? Offering to kill someone so you'll get cursed too? That'll make Buffy happy. You just proved my point."

Spike turned his gaze on Angel at last and scorched him with the fury etched there. "No, you great git! Read about this demon someplace in Africa when I was researchin' the Gem of Amara. Figure a bloke could ask for his soul instead of some cheap jewelry once he'd passed the tests. No gypsy curse for me, or some fly-by-night easy-come, easy-go soul."

Buffy was stunned. Had Spike just offered to go and actually seek his soul just to please her? Just to reassure her of his trustworthiness? What kind of demon did that? His kind, she supposed. "No, Spike, you don't need to do that. I already trust you. If you ever just want your soul back, or if things get too hard…maybe later, we'll see. If you ever do it, though, it will be because you want it for yourself. I'm fine with you as you are. I hope you know that."

"You're both crazy!" Angel stalked out of the room fuming. This was bound to lead to disaster. Well, Buffy could never say he hadn't warned her.

The party broke up soon after all the fireworks. Giles kept staring at Spike in speculation, having overheard, as had everyone else, his incredible offer. Spike dreaded the questions the wanker was bound to have eventually.

"So, cupcake, keep in touch. You have my number." Lorne hugged Dawn again then turned to join Angel in the already running car.

Tara and Willow were both still talking about Lorne's delightful prediction that, with proper training, they would become a powerful force for good with years of love and laughter in their future. They waved good-bye and promised to come for a visit one day. "Might pass on Angel, though, he's a bit…um…dour," suggested Tara.

"That's our Angel," Willow agreed. "Not much with the party spirit."

"Most of the party was fun anyway," Anya licked a bit of icing from her finger. "The cake was especially good."

"All cake is good," Xander agreed.

"I'd better get Xander home or he'll eat what's left."

They stood side by side on the back porch. It felt natural to her having him there.

"That was some offer you made there," Buffy ventured.

"Meant it. I know you've kept it a secret about the chip and I also know why. Don't want you worried about me too. If a soul will make it easier on you, why shouldn't I just fix the problem?"

Buffy had no words. That was Spike, wasn't it? Whatever it took to please the one he loved was okay with him. He would become what was needed, do what he had to do to give his woman what she wanted and needed. He didn't even think twice! He didn't demand any changes from her. Accepted the whole Buffy package. He didn't leave either.

Spike was looking up at the endless stars in the cloudless sky as Buffy shuffled her feet a bit in nervousness. Without looking at Spike, she broke the companionable silence. "So…how do you feel about walking?"

"Walkin'?"

"Yeah, you know taking steps, one foot in front of the other, that kind of thing."

Spike thought back to his endless days in the wheelchair not all that long ago. "I'm for it. Good to be mobile."

Buffy grinned. "Me too. Wanna give walkin' together a try?"

Spike was baffled. "How about givin' a poor sod a clue, pet?"

"Mom pointed out that life is easier and better…not to mention longer…when you have someone to walk through it with. I was wondering if you'd be interested."

Spike was gobsmacked. "Buffy, I'll walk with you, run with you-hell, I'll carry you if you want-as long as I'm with you."

"Small, slow steps, Spike. I want to get this one right."

Spike took her hand and felt as if his heart would burst from his chest. Gently, he uncurled her fingers, placing a soft, reverent kiss on her palm as their eyes met and held. "Slow and steady it is then. Lead on, Buffy."

~fin