Chapter 28: Inevitable Spin
Spike stood in Tara's bedroom doorway, watching as Buffy held a bright pink top up in front of her and performed a series of unnaturally wide smiles and exaggerated pouts for her reflection in the vanity mirror. “Think I've changed my mind. I don't want to know what goes on in that head of yours. Best tell Glinda we'll be needing a round two, and soon.”
She looked up, finally noticing him. “You're kidding, right? If anyone should be worried about getting an all-access pass to Scary Brain City, it's me. And what are you doing here, anyway? Don't you have a date with Xander? It is Wednesday, isn't it?”
“Told the blokes I'd catch up later. Mum's making lasagna.”
“And the smell is driving me crazy.” She frowned. “But you don't usually skip Jack for Emeril.”
“Time's running short, love. I don't need the food as much as I need...”
Buffy sighed. “Yeah, I'm trying to take advantage of every minute with her, too. Just in case. I'd be down there with her right now if she weren't having some kitchen-bonding time with Dawnie.” She gave the top one last critical look before tossing it into a small cardboard box on the bed.
Curious, he stepped over to the bed and picked up the shirt to study the other items in the box. Piled inside were pictures of her and note cards listing facts about herself and her friends, along with a familiar pleated skirt. As realization dawned, he turned to her. “No!” he roared, throwing the shirt on the floor. “You're off your nut if you think I'm going to that bastard to have him build that thing again!”
She jumped to her feet in response to his anger. Returning the shirt to the box, she said sternly, “It will be useful, Spike. You can't deny that. A pair of decoys is better than one.”
“No. We'll find another way!”
“I'll go to him myself, if I have to!”
“You'll do no such thing! I don't want you anywhere near that bloody maniac!”
“I will! And you have no say over who I deal with!”
“The hell I don't! Stay away from him, Buffy.”
“What are you going to do if I don't? Divorce me?”
“I'll knock you on your ass so hard, you'll think you're trying to stop me handing myself over to the bloody cops.”
She gritted her teeth. “That's a low blow, Spike. Bitter and low.”
“I'll do it.” He leaned in close to her. “I'll break a lot of bones, if that's what it takes.”
She stepped closer, bringing herself nearly nose to nose with him. “The last vampire who dared to threaten me was a fucking Turok Han. Do you remember what happened to him?”
“You dusted him, General.” Spike nearly spat the last word.
“You're damn right, I did. Trying nearly got me killed, but it was worth it, because I got you back.” Buffy picked up the shirt again, and shook it at him. “This isn't half as serious! Doing this doesn't get you kidnapped and tortured... Unless of course you want to fuck it in the middle of a cemetery!”
“Hell, why not? It'll be warmer than the ice queen I have at home!”
She shoved the shirt against his chest. “Then place the damn order and get me my decoy!”
A loud whistle drew their attention to the doorway. “That's enough!” Tara stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. “I was hoping you two would start arguing again. I thought it might mean you were getting back to normal. ...But this is not what I had in mind. I've never heard you be so vicious to each other.”
“That's 'cause there weren't witnesses to most of it.”
“Well you have them now. Joyce and Dawnie are wondering what's going on up here. They've certainly never heard you two out for blood like this. I'm just grateful they can't make out all the words from the kitchen, because the dirty laundry hit parade is on full display tonight!”
“Doesn't matter.” Spike threw up his hands and turned to leave. “The general does whatever the hell she likes, no matter what anyone says.” He tried to brush past Tara, but she put a hand to his chest to stop him.
“You're right,” she said in a low tone. “People told her to leave you to be dusted -or do the job herself- how many times? And here you stand.” She turned to Buffy. “And you! Don't think I don't know what you're up to. I already told you, we don't need the bot. And I seriously doubt handing Warren a bunch of personal information about yourself is going to do any of us any favors later on.”
Buffy sucked in a breath. “You think that had some bearing on how things went?”
“At the very least, it told him where to put the cameras.” Tara followed the looks they gave each other. “And I should not have mentioned the cameras while you two are in such a dirty pool mood.”
Buffy waved a hand. “No, it's alright. We'll behave.”
“Yeah, one of these days,” Spike scoffed. He dropped his volume to a whisper. “He's dangerous, love.”
“That's a long time from now.” Buffy said. “Right now, he's just a guy with a really creepy hobby.”
“Still the same man. Don't want you near him.” Spike glanced at Tara. “Either of you.”
Buffy picked up the box and offered it to him. “Then you'll have to place the order yourself.”
He refused it with a shake of his head. “Don't need it this time. Got some foreknowledge going for us. And the twins, and glowy Glinda, here. Can do without. Won't need it after, either. We'll still have you.”
“We will if we pull out all the stops.”
“But Dru said--”
“Dru didn't say squat about whether we'd need the bot to prevent the jump. ...Stop growling. You know I'm right. It's a good decoy. We know it will help. We should use it. It really is that simple.”
“What's simple is that the bloody bot's not too far from the top of my list.”
“List?” Tara asked.
“Stuff I buggered up.”
After a moment's thought, Buffy put the box back on the bed and returned the pink top to the closet.
“Thanks, love. Appreciate it.”
“You still have to see him, you know. Someone has to lead April to Warren, so she won't hurt anyone. And I can't go. I have to make certain I'm home and awake early the next morning, so I'm not going out that night at all.”
“Can't change that, he said.”
She focused on clipping the skirt to its hanger. “I don't care what Whistler said. I have to try.”
Spike leaned against the vanity table, letting his thoughts wander through the tense silence. “If I'm gonna have to get involved, anyway, it's time the three of us have the conversation we've been avoiding. ...Bot or no bot, dealing with Warren's the bigger issue.”
Tara gave him a sideways glance. “You mean Willow.”
“No, I mean me.”
The women looked at each other, momentarily speechless.
“The bastard put bullets in both of you. Doesn't need a second chance at it.”
“You'd regret it,” Buffy whispered. “Do you really want Warren haunting your nightmares?”
“Be worth it.”
“Spike...” Tara seemed to be struggling for words. “I can't stop you, but I-- I don't think I can support it. What if things go differently this time? He might end up a better person, or at least not a...”
“A murderer,” Spike finished. “Yeah, sure, he might not end up actually deserving what Red did to him. Or you might end up dead in her arms across the bloody hall.”
Tara winced. “In her arms... I'd never thought about that.”
“That's the story went around, anyway.” Spike's casual shrug clashed with his hard expression. “Not up for a second round of that, are you?”
She took a deep breath. “I'm willing to take the chance. I-- I can't endorse a pre-emptive murder. Buffy, back me up.”
“No,” Buffy said quietly. “I'm sorry, Tara. I can't.” She looked up at her friend's shocked face. “I know there's a lot of murky grey territory between a death that should happen and a death that has to happen, and this puts us wading right in the middle of it. In my gut, I think he needs to go, the sooner the better.” She held up a hand to stop Tara's pending interruption. “But honestly, I don't give a damn about him. He could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or live to be eighty, for all I care.” She turned her gaze on Spike. “You I give a damn about. Tara's right to call it a pre-emptive murder. It isn't clean and simple. It isn't a fair fight, or an honest hunt. I'm not sure you can live with it.”
He shrugged. “Still say it'd be worth it.”
“I'm not so sure. You barely survived becoming aware of the minion sires the First forced you to make, even knowing you had absolutely no choice in the matter. You aren't the same vamp anymore, Spike. You can't just shrug off a fresh body like you used to, and I don't think you'd be as good at pretending you can as you seem to think.”
“So what's your vote, Buffy?” Tara asked. “Yes or no?”
She shook her head. “No vote. This is between Sparky and his conscience.”
“Alright,” Spike said slowly. “Make you ladies a deal: The boy lives, for now. If he's still going the same way later, we have this talk again, before he starts killing girls. Say, around the turn of the year, before Katrina?”
Tara took another deep breath, then nodded. “I can live with that.”
Spike looked at Buffy.
“Can you?” she asked.
“I can if you can.”
“We'll talk about it at New Year's.”
“Won't that be a bloody wonderful anniversary.”
Dawn knocked on the door as she opened it. “Hey. You guys went from screaming to quiet pretty quick. Mom said to tell you dinner's ready, and you can eat if you promise you aren't going to kill each other. What are you talking about, anyway?”
“What our first anniversary will be like,” Buffy answered. “Tell mom we'll be right down.”
“Those are some pretty serious faces for massively early party planning.”
“Go on, Nibblet. We'll be right behind you.”
As Dawn ran down the stairs, Buffy glanced at the outfit she'd returned to the closet. “Tara...”
“They'll be in the next charity box, and the back of the closet until then.”
“Thank you.” Buffy took Spike's hand as she passed him, leading him toward the stairs.
Behind them, Tara shook her head and made a mental note to restock her suppressant supplies. The bond between slayer and vampire was already beginning to regain its glow.
Spike came down to the basement to find Buffy sound asleep, with one hand resting on his pillow. He kicked off his boots and stripped off his t-shirt. He moved her hand out of the way and slid under the covers to join her. To his amusement, she put her hand back where it was, effectively slapping him on the cheek.
His quiet snicker was enough to stir her awake. “Hey,” she whispered.
“Honey, I'm home?”
“You smell like a distillery. What time is it?”
“Oh, god. Anya's going to kill Xan.”
“Don't worry 'bout poor little Harris. He went home hours ago.”
“Good.” She snuggled close to him. “Sleep now? I have to get up early to go to hell.”
“They call it the DMV, but I've visited a hell dimension. It's not that different.” She yawned. “I need to update my license.”
“Sleep in a minute, love. I wanna say something, first.”
“Owe you an apology, for that crack about the cops.”
“No, you don't.” She sighed. “But I owe you one for that thing about you and the bot.”
“Call it even and pretend it never happened?”
“Sure. Besides, technically, it didn't. Like, none of it.”
Spike chuckled and bent forward to kiss her forehead. “Love you, Slayer.”
Her body tensed against his for a moment, just long enough for him to regret his words. “You haven't said that in a while.”
“Sorry. Just a slip of the tongue.”
“No, it's ok. I think I like hearing it, getting a piece of what's been missing.”
“Alright if I remind you once in a while, then?”
“Sure, as long as you don't mind waiting for a reply.” She reached over him to tap on the red leather book on his nightstand. “That's the best I can do right now.”
Dawn picked up her empty ice cream bowl and stood up from the vanity chair. “I hate to look like the grown up, but it really is past my bedtime.”
Tara, who was stretched out on her stomach on her bed, frowned. “Uh-oh. I think we're in trouble. The world is already ending.”
Buffy, sitting on the floor beside the bed, looked up from the magazine she was flipping through. “Well, that sucks. I was hoping to paint my toenails before that happened.”
“Very funny, guys. I'm just tired, ok?” Dawn reached for the doorknob.
“Vampire,” Buffy murmured, turning her attention back to the magazine in her lap.
“Huh?” Dawn opened Tara's bedroom door just as Spike raised his hand to knock. She jumped in surprise and immediately turned to glare at her sister. “Thanks for the warning, Super Senses.”
“G'night, girls.” Dawn stepped out into the hall. “Just so you know, your wife is evil.”
“Why did you think I married her?” Spike gave her shoulder a squeeze as she passed him. “'Night, Bit.” He closed the door behind him when he entered the bedroom. “Thought this was a party for four?”
“Joyce went to bed an hour ago,” Tara explained. “That's when we moved up here. But we had a good night. Funny movies and lots of popcorn. Operation Happy Memory is coming along nicely.”
“I still say it's preventable, if she's not here alone. Dawnie could have a lot more time for a lot more happy Mom memories. All I have to do is be here.”
Spike turned the vanity chair to straddle it, facing the women. “Love, you need to...” He shook his head. “Never mind.”
“I need to what? Let you have your contingency planning?” Her hard stare was a challenge.
Tara's voice was a warning. “Don't start this again. Either of you.”
Buffy tilted her head back against the side of the bed to give her friend the same stare. “Don't think I've forgotten who his partner in crime with this Happy Memory crap is.”
“Slayer, we've known for months this was coming. You acted like you accepted it...”
“The only thing I accepted was that it was likely. You two are acting like it's certain.”
Tara softened her voice. “Buffy, sweetie, even if you're right, there's no harm in what we're doing. We had fun tonight, didn't we?”
“Yeah,” Buffy answered reluctantly. “Dawn and Mom seemed to enjoy the girls' night in.”
“See? And no matter how things go, Dawnie gets to have this night to remember.” She looked back and forth between slayer and vampire. “Also this is a constructive way to deal with the worry and tension, which is more than I can say about anything you two have managed lately.”
“We haven't been that bad, Glinda.”
“No, of course not. You've just been at each other's throats at the drop of a hat for days. Things have been going really well, guys. Don't blow it just because you need a target for your stress.”
Buffy looked up at her again. “Why do I get the feeling that was mostly directed at me?”
“I'm an equal-opportunity nag. I mean both of you. The sooner you take a step back and remember that neither of you married a punching bag, the happier I'll be.”
“Dr. Ruth strikes again,” Buffy muttered.
Tara reached down to give her a playful slap on the top of her head. “Then stop giving Dr. Ruth a headache.” She looked up at Spike. “You, too.” She sat up on the bed. “So how was patrol?”
“Not bad. Dragged the fledge along for part of the route. Doubt he'll want to make a habit of it.”
“You were really easy to convert on that score.” Buffy shrugged. “But then, you were pretty starved for a little violence by the time you tried it.”
“Not much of the predator instinct in that one. No real love for the fight.”
“And not enough skill to back it up if he did.” Buffy climbed to her feet. “So how about some of that constructive tension relief?”
He stood to join her. “Suits me.”
The said their goodnights to Tara and went downstairs. She followed them as far as the upstairs hallway and listened for the back door to close, expecting them to go outside to spar. Instead, the door she heard closing was the basement door. She rolled her eyes as she returned to her bedroom.
“It's fine, Tara,” she said to herself, in a mocking version of Buffy's voice. “Wild sex instead of talking through our stress always works out so well!” In her own voice, she grumbled, “Why do they insist on making things more complicated than they have to be?”
Joyce stopped spinning. “So is anyone going to talk about my dress?”
“It's lovely,” Tara said from the sofa.
Dawn, sitting beside her, grinned widely. “I like it.”
“Are you sure? It's not too mom-ish?”
“Oh.” Dawn seemed sorry to disappoint her mother. “That was why I liked it.”
“You're both crazy. It's not mom-ish at all. It's sexy. It screams, 'Randy sex kitten, buy me one drink and I'll...'” Buffy frowned. “Oh, wait, that's not really good either. Tara? A little help?”
“Well, I think it falls somewhere in between. You know, sexy without being easy or cougar-ish.”
“Cougar-ish?” Dawn asked. “What's that mean?”
Buffy threw a wide-eyed silent reproach at Tara. “Nothing!” she answered quickly. “So how old is this Brian guy, again?”
“He's only slightly older than me. He works for a publishing house. He's a nice, normal guy.”
“I think I've heard of those,” Buffy grumbled.
“Maybe you read something in Cosmo.” Dawn laughed. “Speaking of the serious lack of normal in Buffyland, what's Spike doing?”
“Enjoying the easy life of a nocturnal creature who gets to nap freely whenever I'm home and awake.”
“Honey, wake him up for me. Please? I want a man's opinion on this dress, while there's still time to change.”
“Mom, it's not even 4:30. You have tons of time before seven. Also, do you really want your son in law checking you out in your sexy dress? That's creepy.”
Joyce frowned for a moment, considering this. “Yes, I think I do. He'll be honest, and he won't make me spin around until I feel like a ballet dancer, unlike some people in this house.”
Tara and Dawn fell into giggles. Buffy went downstairs. She returned a few minutes later, with a somewhat sleepy vampire in tow.
Spike leaned against the door frame. “Alright, Mum, let's see it.”
Joyce turned to face him and held her arms out to display the dress. Behind her, Dawn and Tara made spinning motions with their fingers, prompting him. “What do you think? Will Brian like it?”
“Don't know, yet.” He smiled. “Give us a spin.”
The girls on the sofa fell against each other, laughing. Beside Spike, Buffy was struggling to maintain her composure, and failing.
“Buffy Anne Su-- Pratt! You told him before you brought him upstairs!” Joyce whirled around to face Dawn and Tara, failing to hide her own smile as she reproached them. “And you two! What were you doing while my back was turned?”
Spike's chuckles drew nearer, and made her turn back to face him. He took her hand in his, and put his other to her waist. “Looks like a dancing dress to me.”
As he led her around the living room floor, Tara began to hum in time to their steps, giving them background music. Dawn soon joined in, intentionally speeding up the rhythm, a little at a time, and nudging Tara to join her. Buffy sighed and took Spike's place against the door frame, smiling as she watched.
When Joyce began to struggle to keep pace, she threw a playful glare at the sofa, and the improvised music ended in another round of giggles. She pulled away from her dance partner. “You knew what they were up to, and you helped.”
“What's the point in having a houseful, if we're not keeping you on your toes?”
“I don't know. All I know for sure is that all four of you have made it pretty clear you think me having a real date is just a big joke.” She shook her head in mock sadness. “My heartless, ungrateful children.”
“Children?” Dawn laughed. “Tara's brand new to the family, and Spike hasn't been a child since Lincoln was president.”
“Close enough.” Joyce waved a hand. “My point stands.”
The 'ungrateful children' exchanged glances. “Wrinkle the dress?” Spike asked Dawn.
She nodded. All four of them pounced on Joyce, surrounding her in a crushing group hug.
“Ok! Ok! I surrender!” Joyce said from the middle of the group. “I love you goofballs, too!”
Spike stepped out of the alley as the cheerful looking girl passed by. “Are you April?”
She turned around. “Yes. I'm April. Do you know Warren?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” Spike held up the small, metallic bag he carried. “Sent me to give you this.” He stepped closer to the robot. “Warren's worried 'bout you. Says your battery pack won't last long enough for you to get to his place, and you've no place to charge up. He gave me a spare, and sent me to find you.”
Her smile was impossibly wide. “Warren's a very good boyfriend. He takes care of me.”
“Well, today, he's taking care of you through me. He's too busy to come looking for you, but he'll be home when you get there. Alright?”
“But Warren says no one else knows how I work.”
Spike gently guided her to a bench. “Warren gave me instructions.” He pointed to a spot near her waist. “Battery goes in right here. Open the panel, switch it out, close it up. Quick and simple. Am I right?”
She tilted her head at him as she sat down. “Yes... I guess he did send you. No one else knows where my battery pack is located.”
“Alright, then? We'll get you all charged up so you can get home to Warren?”
April nodded. “Ok.” She undid some of the middle buttons on her dress, and pressed a hidden pressure panel in her abdomen, opening the battery compartment.
Spike yanked the battery out. He pulled a deck of cards out of the metallic bag, shoved it in his coat pocket, and put the battery in the bag. He closed the empty battery compartment, re-buttoned the dress, and scooped the robot up in his arms. “Was really hoping to never touch one of these things again,” he mumbled to himself as he carried April and her battery to be dropped at Warren's doorstep.
“911. What is your emergency?”
“My mother. She's just collapsed. 1630 Revello Drive. Hurry!”
“We're sending someone out now. Is she breathing?”
The frantic female voice dropped to a stunned whisper. “No... I don't think she is. ...Oh, god. She's already...?”
The dispatcher heard the phone hit the floor.
An accented male voice came on the line a minute later. “You might want to send for the coroner.”