Chapter Notes:

Some mirrors only reflect what isn't the same.


Chapter 26: Familiar Roads

February, 2001

“So where is Giles, now?” Dawn asked, between bites of cereal.

“Somewhere over the Atlantic, is my guess. Got himself teleported home to pack a bag. Said he'd fly back in as soon as he could get a plane ticket.”

“He's mad about the whole marriage thing, isn't he?”

Spike pulled his mug out of the microwave. “Shocked, is more like it. Didn't say much after that. Nothing coherent, anyway. There was a good bit of stuttering. When he got his wits together, he asked Buffy if she'd talk to him later, and told us what hotel he'd be in when he got back.”

“But he's coming back. That's a good thing, right? It means he and Buffy are good again?”

“Not sure yet. The two of them didn't seem to hash out much in the way of old wounds last night.”

“I think that's why he was here, though. To patch things up.”

Spike's gaze narrowed on the girl. “What do you know, Bit?”

“Hey, he left it on the coffee table, where anyone could read it.”

The mug of pig's blood was abandoned on the counter.

When Dawn came into the living room a few minutes later, her book bag over her shoulder, Spike was leaning back on the sofa cushions, rereading the letter. “I like Lydia even more now,” she said.

Spike refolded the letter. “Me, too.” He looked up at her. “You're running early for a change.”

“Yeah, well, I think the demon alarms going off at one in the morning messed up my sleep.”

He waved her toward the kitchen. “Your mum will be down to drive you to school any minute. Go get her a cup of coffee. Her travel mug is in the dish rack.”

“You're trying to get rid of me.”

Spike got up and reached for the phone on the desk. “Take the hint.”

When Dawn walked by the living room a second time, right behind her mother, he was speaking quietly into the phone. “Was just about to call it a night, actually. Couldn't do it 'til I talked to you... Wanted to say thanks, pet. May not matter much to me, but it'll matter to her.”

A few minutes later, he crawled into bed beside Buffy. He gave her a nudge.

“Hmm?”

“Shouldn't you be up by now?” he whispered.

“It's Saturday. No classes.”

“Love, it's Friday.”

Her eyes popped open, and she rolled out of bed. “Is Tara up?”

“Heard her upstairs, moving around.” Spike glanced over at the alarm clock. “Figure you've got about fifteen minutes 'fore she's ready to leave for her morning classes.”

He watched her run over to the wardrobe and grab some clothes. “Ok... Quick shower, a couple of weapons...” She looked over at him. “Go to sleep. She's going to put the glamour on this afternoon, so she'll need to get to the twins.”

“I'll sleep as soon as you're on duty.” He waved her toward the stairs. “Go.”

Buffy stopped at the bottom of the stairs. “You know, I was kind of hoping you'd wake me up early again. You know, since we don't have a lot of other opportunities...”

“Yeah? Enjoy the early wake up calls, do you?”

“I think you know that answer to that.” She bit her lip. “Don't you?”

He shrugged. “Crumbs are better than starving.”

“That wasn't a 'yes,' Spike.”

“Wasn't a 'no,' either.” He waved at her again. “Don't make Glinda have to leave without her escort.”

*~*~*

“So shiny!”

“Can I touch it?”

“Pretty green shimmers!”

Tara closed the door to the Psyche ward. “I know those comments a little too well. I think it's safe to say the spell is working.”

Buffy's eyes scanned the corridor. “Good. Let's get the hell out of here.”

“Are you worried about running into Ben again?”

“Or worse.”

*~*~*

Just after sunset, Buffy and Tara returned home. Spike met them at the door. “Gonna fetch Nibblet from Janice's and drop her off home. Then I got an errand to run. Glinda?”

Tara nodded. “I'm officially Decoy On Duty.”

“Good.” He gave Buffy a kiss on the cheek as he passed her. “Be home in time for you to patrol.”

As the door closed behind him, Tara looked at Buffy. “You know, I thought something was weird when you two barely spoke to each other this afternoon.”

“You were busy with a big, energy hog of a spell. We didn't want to interrupt.”

“As if something like that has ever kept you two from talking. Remember all the arguing and flirting at the vineyard, when I was trying to track the energy from the twins?”

“Well, that was before...” Buffy shrugged. “Things are different now.”

Tara shook her head. “I'm not buying it, Buffy. There's something else. The cracks are starting to show, aren't they?”

“I like you less when you're right.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

Another shrug. “I guess we'll have to start acting like real married people. You know, a peck on the cheek, 'Hi, honey, I'm home,' and a lot less fun.”

“Why do I get the feeling you're only humoring me, and nothing's going to change?”

Buffy leaned against the front door. “Because... I like it when he makes the distance go away, makes me forget there's something missing.”

“And you're totally ok with loveless sex. Because you don't learn from your mistakes.”

“It's not loveless... Not totally...”

“That's kind of the point, Buffy.” Tara sat down on the bottom of the staircase, facing her. “The more you pretend to give, the more obvious it becomes to him that you are just pretending. Would you please, please consider taking my advice? Back off on the sexcapades and focus on the relationship. If you don't, I'm not sure you'll be the one to vote for the suppressant when renewal time comes around.”

Buffy looked panicked. “No way. He wouldn't.”

Tara stood up. “I'm going to call the shop to see if Lydia, Anya, and Xander can be on duty tomorrow night. We'll go over to their building. You're going to ask your husband for a date.” She gave Buffy her sternest expression. “A real date, complete with cutesy hand-holding, but with clothes on.

“You're the worst Dr. Ruth ever.”

“I love you, too, Buffy.” Tara started up the stairs, then turned around. “As for the thing with Mr. Giles--”

“You know, Whistler told me to get a shrink. He didn't tell me he'd assigned one to me already.”

“I'm living with you two walking disasters. It's right in my face.” Tara shrugged. “Also, I'm bored.”

Buffy sighed. “I can't wait until Willow comes home.”

*~*~*

Giles opened his hotel room door. “I just checked in, not an hour ago. How did you know--?”

“You're not the only watcher I know.”

“Miss Chalmers gave you my room number.” Giles stepped aside. “Come in.”

Spike stepped inside the room and chose a chair while the door was closed and locked behind him. “Lydia's a good sort. Fond of me, too. That helps.”

Giles sat across from him. “Which is why you and Buffy requested her, isn't it? You knew she had studied you.”

The vampire nodded. “Agreeing to take on a watcher was Buffy's best chance at getting on the Council payroll. Lydia was the only one we knew of who wouldn't balk at my presence.”

“You seem to have made the right choice. She sings the praises of the entire group.”

“I know.” Spike pulled Lydia's letter out of his coat pocket and returned it to its owner.

“You've read it?”

“A few times.”

“Buffy doesn't seem to think it's important that I know about the truce.”

“Buffy also thinks not needing you for the job and not needing you for herself are the same thing.” Spike looked the watcher in the eye. “Think you might stay on for a bit?”

“Ah. That's why you're here.” A strange look crossed Giles' face, but he shook it off.

“What I told you, not long after we came back to this time... about Joyce...”

“'Soon,' you said. But that was months ago. I thought the surgery...”

Spike shook his head. “After. 'Soon' has a different meaning at this juncture.”

“I'll stay in town, then. But only if Buffy welcomes me to do so.”

“Stay even if she doesn't, Rupert. It'd be a favor. I'd owe you.”

Giles was silent for a minute. Then he got up and began rummaging in the minibar. “I never thought I'd hear myself say any such thing, but I think the role suits you.”

Spike accepted a tiny bottle of whiskey. “What role is that?”

“Husband.”

*~*~*

“Would you stop looking at me like that? I'm trying to drive, and that stare is distracting.”

Spike forced himself to look out the passenger's side window instead. “Could always tell me what you're up to. Might cut down on the staring.”

“I told you. Patrol. I got us the night off Key and Faux Key duty so we could patrol together.” Buffy shrugged. “It's been a while since we've done a team patrol. I think we're due.”

“Don't usually take your mum's Jeep for patrol. So what's the real story?”

“You'll find out soon enough. Now shut up and enjoy the ride.”

After giving her another hard stare, he fell into silence, not speaking again until the car pulled into a dead end alley beside an old warehouse. “I know this place.”

Buffy grinned. “Open the glove compartment.”

He did, and pulled out a flask. With another glance at the alley, he burst into laughter.

“You have to say it, or you'll ruin all my fun. I know you remember.”

Spike struggled to contain his laughter long enough to say, “Is this a date?”

She fought back her own giggles. “Do you want it to be?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good.” The Jeep went into reverse, backing out of the alley. “Any preference on where we go?”

“Anywhere you want.”

“Well... We have the car... Let's head up to Galvin's Tavern, off the interstate.”

“Slayer, that's a demon bar.”

“I know. You're not the only one with stories from when the other was gone for a whole summer.”

“Oh, yeah? And what drove you all the way out to Galvin's?”

“Mostly, the beer cheese and soft pretzels. But the first visit? I was looking for you.”

“And you kept coming back for cheese?”

“It was nice to get away. Galvin's was the only place I found where it felt ok to be missing you.”

“Couldn't miss me anywhere else?”

She shook her head. “Not freely. At Galvin's, I could have a cocktail, chat with a stranger, listen to a local band, and be just another lonely barfly. No explanations. No funny looks about who I was missing. No judgment.” She fell silent for a moment, watching the road. “My visits there felt like mini-vacations, escapes from everything that was complicated, full of memories, or just plain shitty.”

Spike put his arm across the back of the driver's seat and played with her hair. “And this visit?”

“Have you had their beer cheese and pretzels?”

“Actually, no.”

“Oh my god. So, so good. Worth the drive.” She stole a glance at him. “And it would be nice to not be lonely at Galvin's for a change.”

“But it's mostly about the cheese, is that it?”

Buffy looked meek. “A little. ...I'm a terrible date, aren't I?”

He smirked. “Not like I didn't know you're always thinking with your belly.”

“Says the vampire. Pot, meet Kettle.”

“Doesn't make me wrong about you.”

“And it's worked in your favor before. Or don't you remember getting me hooked on Thai food and sneaking me out for drunken noodle dates?”

Spike leaned against the head rest. “Some of the best moments of that entire bloody year. I miss that, some nights. Stealing you away from all the chaos, seeing you relax a little, and just talking.”

“You know, in my head, we went out bunches of times, spent a hundred hours talking in that corner booth. But really, it was only what? Four, five times?”

“Four, I think.”

“Four dates... There should have been more.”

“That what tonight's about? You making up for lost time?”

“More like taking advantage of found time.” Buffy paused, sorting out her thoughts while she drove. “I know we do everything all wonky and backwards, and I'm usually the reason we do. This might be the closest we ever get to a second chance to do things right.” She took one hand off the wheel long enough to touch her necklace. “Or third, or fifteenth. I'm really not sure. We keep starting over, and I keep messing it up.”

“A bit past a true fresh start, love. Only thing standing between us and the biggest commitment two demons can make is Glinda, and she was so reluctant, we may have to threaten her to get a renewal.”

“I'm not looking for a fresh start, Spike, just a chance to do the steps I keep forcing us to skip. Right now, we have that chance. As soon as the suppressant stops working, that chance goes away.”

“Dating?”

“Uh-huh. You know, when we can get out of our obligations for it.” She glanced at him again. “Do you think we could do it again? Sneak out for late night dinner dates? Talk in a corner booth for hours about everything and nothing?”

“You wanna relive the best part?” He shrugged. “I'm game.”

“It was pretty much the only part I didn't manage to screw up.”

“Wait a minute... You said 'when the suppressant stops working.' You not planning on getting her to renew it?”

“Honestly? That depends on when round one wears off. But I'm seriously hoping we don't have to. Feeling like we're not much more than friends still sucks, even with the fun benefits.” Buffy fell silent again, pretending to focus on her driving.

He sighed. “A lot of this, these days. Reminds me of before... A bloody lot of silence.”

“I know.”

He waited for her to say more, but she kept her focus on the road.

“I miss you, too,” she eventually whispered. “I miss us. And I shouldn't have to make the drive out to Galvin's to feel ok with saying that.” She bit her lip. “I want it all back, Sparky. The long talks. The loud arguments. The fun fights. The flashes of insight. The warm feeling in my belly when you touch me. The buzz of excitement when I sense you close, knowing I'm about to see you...”

“So what you're saying is--”

“I want to be in love with you again.”

“Pull over for a second, love.”

She frowned. “Why? We're less than a mile from the exit. Galvin's is right down the road.”

“'Cause I don't think I can wait another mile to snog the hell out of my date.”

*~*~*

The scarred sign above the wall of wide, deep cubbyholes read 'On your honor or with your life.' Buffy smiled at the sight of it, already feeling the comfort of an old, familiar sanctuary. She dumped the stake and dagger she carried in an empty cubbyhole, and waited for Spike to do the same.

“Don't know why they're so sure that'll work,” he grumbled.

“Mostly because the staff is almost entirely Chorbra demons. They can sense deception, among other things. You haven't really been here much, have you?”

“Eh, once or twice, years ago. More for local haunts than roadside ones.” They settled at a booth. “Got taken to the cleaners playing poker with a Chorbra, once. Bugger called every bluff. End of the night, he told us what he was, gave the whole table back half our losses as an apology for toying with us. Good bloke, but I wanted to strangle him there for a bit.”

Buffy was still chuckling when a young waitress approached their table. She gave Buffy a funny look. “The Slayer?” Buffy nodded. “Did you disarm?”

“On my honor.”

The waitress turned to Spike. “And you, Vampire?”

He ran the tip of his tongue slowly across his teeth. “Much as I can, pet.”

The young woman struggled to tear her gaze from his mouth. “Um, yeah... Of course. I-- I should get your drink order.”

“Captain and Coke, please.”

Spike leaned toward her slightly, looking into her eyes. “Jack on the rocks, if you can, pet. What did you say your name was?”

“I'm, um, Jasleen,” she answered, blushing.

“Tell you what, Jasleen, you bring the lady here some beer cheese and soft pretzels, and maybe you and me will have a chance to... talk while she eats.”

“I-- I can't. I'm working.” The blush on her cheeks grew impossibly dark as she backed away. “I'll go... put your order in.”

Spike winced at the kick from under the table.

“Good god, you're laying it on thick tonight. You're taking waitress flirting to a whole new level.”

He leaned back in the booth. “Figure I gotta make an impression, if you like the place so much. Might be here more often. Should start establishing relationships.”

“There are ways to earn the treatment of a regular without implying you're going to take her out behind the kitchen for a little break time fun,” Buffy hissed.

“Speaking from experience, are we?”

“Put that smirk away, Spike. I'm trying to be mad at you.”

“Yeah, well, keep practicing, Slayer, 'cause that looks a lot more like jealousy than temper.”

She threw her hands up in the air. “Now he can tell the difference. It figures.” She brought her hands back to the table and looked him in the eye. “Let's get one thing straight: If you take anyone behind a restaurant kitchen, it'll be the same woman you used to.”

“That a hint or a promise?”

Buffy broke eye contact, her blush beginning to echo Jasleen's. “I'm trying to behave myself, you know. With the dating and the trying not to get too stuck in old habits that make you miserable...”

“Like the dating. Like the idea of spending a bit more time enjoying where we are.” He leaned in close to her across the table, drawing her eyes back to his. Under the table, one booted foot rested against her side of the booth, between her knees. “Also like bringing out the animal in you,” he said in a low growl. “Making you forget. ...Forget everything.”

Buffy focused on her breathing, trying to keep it calm and even under his intense gaze.

“Been a while since you wanted that, wanted me to wipe the world away for you like that.”

“I-- I didn't think you liked the reason for my... different approach.”

“Didn't say I did. Doesn't mean I'm not finding a silver lining.” He took her hands in his. “All kinds of middle ground to be found, love. You wanna take the time, go out for drinks, have a bloody midnight picnic, or whatever else, I'm there. Happily. Nothing says we can't have a rough shag after.” He tightened his grip. “We're still us. Still drawn to each other's demons, and still gonna bugger up what's expected of us, no matter what. Finally starting to make my peace with that. It's about time you did the same.”

Jasleen returned with their drinks, looking from one to the other with curiosity as she placed them on the table. “Captain Morgan and Coke. Jack Daniels. The pretzels will be up shortly. Do you want to order anything else?”

Spike looked up at her with his most charming smile. “Thanks. You're a gem, pet. And a beauty to boot. Should've met you when I was single.” He looked at Buffy. “How're the hot wings here?”

“Drool worthy.”

“Alright, Jasleen, we'll do that, too. ...Unless you're due for a break? Still thinking about a little... talk?”

“You... But you're...” The young woman's gaze went to their joined hands. “You just said you're not single... and that's the Slayer.”

Buffy shook her head at Spike. “I really shouldn't take you out in public.” To Jasleen, she said, “I'm sorry. I'll leave you something extra for putting up with him.”

“It's ok... It's just...” Her voice dropped to a shocked whisper. “Slayer, I think he's sincere.”

“He is,” Buffy grumbled. “He sincerely wants to flirt with you, proposition you, and make you blush.”

“And that's ok?”

“That's the other cost of putting up with him.”

Jasleen looked uncomfortable. “I think I'll go, um, put in your order. How hot do you like your wings?”

“Very,” they said in unison. They were smiling at each other as she walked away.

“So, were where we?”

“Pretty sure you were 'bout to throw your ideals out the window and give in to your baser nature.”

“Again.”

Spike broke his hold on her hands to grab his drink and lean back in the booth. “It's what we are, Slayer. Who we are. Only ask one thing of you.”

“Name it.”

“Eh, maybe two.”

“Don't push your luck, Sparky.” She grinned around the rim of her glass, then took a sip. “What?”

“For one thing, when you stop needing me to make you forget what you're feeling, you remember how fun it is when you let me try.”

“Definitely an arrangement I can live with. Next?”

He nodded to the band warming up at the other end of the bar room. “Dance with me?”

“You're really ok with letting me string you along for a while?”

“Way I figure it, we're not gonna stop dancing this time, just change up the music. Not ideal, but I can live with it.”

“And if the music stops? There's still a chance I'll have to j--”

“Not gonna happen. You're mine, Slayer. It's only a matter of time.”

*~*~*

“So... you didn't tell me how your date went.” Tara gave Buffy a playful nudge as they folded the laundry.

“Well, for starters, the King of Flirting has added to his harem.”

“Oh, dear. Another waitress?”

Buffy nodded. “So now there are five members, and that's just the ones I know of.”

Tara counted off on her fingers. “Jenna, Mae, Lydia, this new waitress.... and?”

“The other waitress. Trixie. You remember her from Willy's? Wait, make that six. Lucy Varnes, his middle-aged estate agent.” She sighed. “All the men in the world, and I had to hook up with a vampire who thinks making women stammer and blush is an important life skill.”

“You roll your eyes, but you're still smiling. You enjoyed the show.”

“Maybe a little. Meanwhile, we did manage to finally find the middle ground on something, for once.”

Tara looked pleased. “Really? That's great. So you're going to take advantage of this time to just date?”

“Dating... with benefits. Eddie got thrown out of the bunker last night.”

“Dammit, Buffy!”

“Tara Maclay! I think that's the first time I've ever heard you curse.”

“You'd drive a saint to it.”





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