Chapter 5: Fair Trades
The next time Buffy entered the Magic Box, she had to feign surprise at the sight of Mr. Bogarty’s body, but not too much surprise. The only shopkeeper who would ever have any longevity there would be the one with a slayer in the back room, and he was only beginning to think of buying the place.
She was kind and patient with Riley when they went out that night, having realized she was already on the point of driving him away. She had a plan to execute where he was concerned, and timing was critical. She couldn’t afford to blow it by being careless.
She sat on the kitchen counter and giggled when she was told Harmony was trying her hand at being a Big Bad, for once finding it easy to do what was expected of her. She turned abruptly and appropriately serious when told Harmony had been invited into the house, and hopped off the counter, instinctively responding to that bit of old news.
But Buffy's instincts had changed over the years. She knew she had ranted to Xander and Riley about Dawn while gathering weapons the first time around, but this Buffy couldn't understand why she had done that. Instead, she tapped on Dawn's bedroom door frame as she stepped into the room.
“Dawnie, I just heard what happened tonight. Are you ok?”
Dawn, seated by her window, writing in her journal, looked up in shock. She had fully expected her sister to come in yelling. “Um, yeah. I'm fine.”
“You really should be more careful with your words. You know better than that.”
“I know.” Dawn was still wide-eyed at Buffy’s low volume. “I won't do it again.”
“See that you don't,” Buffy replied sternly, but still quietly. “Xander is calling Willow to ask her to come over and fix your mistake. Don't you think you should have something for her to say 'thank you?' Maybe something that Xander and Anya would like, too?”
Buffy smiled. “Dawnie, you know my friends. They love sugar. It's not too late for a batch of cookies.”
Dawn's face lit up. “You're going to let me bake? Really?” she squealed the last word, her voice high enough to elicit a wince from her sister.
“Yes, but you will follow a recipe. None of your weird variations. All the dishes you dirty need to be washed before Mom gets home. And you will accept supervision if Xander or Anya think you need it.” Buffy stood up to leave. “I have to go take care of some baddies. Do we have a deal?”
Dawn gave her sister an impulsive hug. “Thanks!” She ran out of the room, bound for the kitchen.
Buffy let loose a satisfied grin as she headed to her own room to dig through her weapons chest for a good stake. “I guess that's one minor crisis averted.”
She met Xander on the stairs a minute later. “I'm going to see if I can get rid of Harmony's little friends. Are you ok with staying here for a while?”
“Yeah, we'll be fine. Willow is on her way over to undo the invitation. That's what I was coming up to tell you. Dawn said you okayed her making cookies. Are you sure that's safe?”
Buffy chuckled. “Not entirely, but I'm sure you'll survive it. I'm teaching her the Willow method of guilt management.”
Xander nodded in understanding. “Ah, the school of 'if I bake for you, you'll forget I'm a screw up.' Yeah, I like those kinds of lessons. Chocolate chip?”
“That's up to the baker. Don't let her burn the house down. I'll be back soon.”
She headed toward the back door, expecting at least one of her targets to be waiting in the yard. “Remember, Dawnie, those cookies are a gift and an apology, they're not for you to pig out on,” she said as she passed through the kitchen.
She opened the back door, ready to fight, but was met with silence. No one jumped out at her, nothing stirred. She walked out into the middle of the backyard and turned slowly, reaching out her senses. At first, there was nothing to be felt. Then, just as she was about to give up and start walking, a familiar signature came into range. She relaxed her stance, put her stake into the back of her waistband, and went to wait on her mother's garden bench at the far end of the yard.
Spike sauntered into the yard a minute later. “No worries, love, I got 'em all.” He sat down beside her.
“Nah, didn't have the heart for it. She's too dumb to be scary, anyway. Told her she only had one chance at making something of herself, and that would be to go to her old friend Cordelia for guidance. She'll be in LA by tomorrow night, I'd wager.” He snickered. “Peaches is gonna have a fun week.”
For the second time that night, Buffy fell into uncontrolled giggling. “If I ever said you weren't evil anymore, I totally take it back.” She gasped for air. “Angel is going to have a fit!”
They laughed together in the still night air, theories about Angel and Cordelia's responses to having Harmony under foot fueling their glee. It was a silly, stupid thing to be doing, Spike knew, which is why he later realized he shouldn't have been surprised when they got caught.
Riley Finn stepped out on to the back porch looking for his girlfriend, wondering why he'd not been invited to join her on this mission. He hadn't even been told she was leaving the house. He felt utterly forgotten. When he heard laughter coming from the other end of the darkened yard, he followed the sound until he was close enough to view the pair on the bench.
Spike noticed Riley's approach before Buffy did. His demeanor turned suddenly tense. “Well, Slayer, looks like I'm off. Give Joyce and the Bit my best.” He stood to leave.
Buffy wiped her eyes, calming herself. “What? … Oh. Hey Riley. Spike was just telling me what happened with Harmony's little gang.” She stifled a lingering giggle. “We don't have anything to worry about now, do we?” She turned to Spike for confirmation.
“All taken care of.” He took a step back, thinking it would be best to disappear before Finn had time to come up with a response to the scene he'd stumbled upon. Hopefully Buffy would grab the boy and tow him off to the house before that happened.
But Buffy seemed to be going in the other direction. She stepped toward him, her hand extended. He shook it cautiously, not sure what her goal was. “Thank you, Spike. I owe you one.”
He pulled his hand back and shoved it into his pocket. “We're even, if this covers the debt collecting.”
“Consider it covered. Thanks. Goodnight.” Only then did she take the hand of the dumbstruck Riley and lead him back toward the house.
Spike could hear Riley finally finding his voice as he slipped into the shadows. “Buffy, I'm really confused. Are you trading favors with that thing now? What did he mean about debt collecting? And what was so freaking funny?”
Buffy's voice still carried the echo of a smile. “Spike has his own issues with Harmony. He took care of dusting her little gang and came by to let me know. And, well, laughing at Harmony never gets old.”
“And the debt?”
“He owed me a favor because I stole Dracula's wallet-thingy for him. Drac owed him money. I had a chance to collect it for him, so I did it. And now we're even. All's good.”
“Uh-huh.” The skepticism in Riley's voice was evident. He brought them to a stop at the base of the porch stairs. “So you didn't go out to kill the vampires, but to meet up with one for a chat?”
“It wasn't like that.” Buffy became defensive. “I was heading out to find them when Spike found me.” She shrugged. “We had a laugh about it, that's all. I don't know what you're so bothered about.”
“Well, let's see. You sneak out on a mission without me, when I'm right there in your living room. Instead of actually out looking for the vampires, I find you whooping it up with the evil undead who claims to have done the job for you. No, that's nothing to be bothered about.” He pulled away from her in disgust. “What is wrong with you? Why are you even taking his word for it?”
“Riley, I'm going to make this very clear to you, so I only need to say it once. My home and my family were threatened. If you think I take that lightly, even from a joke like Harmony, you don't know me. If I had one shred of doubt Spike hadn't done exactly what he said he did to stop that threat, I'd still be out there, hunting. Spike said he took care of it and I believe him.”
A voice came from the porch above them. “And Spike doesn't take chances with this family. He's my friend and Mom's, and he knows Buffy would kick his ass if he got us hurt.” Buffy and Riley looked up at Dawn, who only smiled back at them, the unrepentant eavesdropper as always. “I could hear you guys from inside. You're kinda loud. Also, cookies are almost ready!” She bounced back inside.
“Don't forget the dishes!” Buffy called after her as the door closed.
“Friend?” Riley asked incredulously.
Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, he stops by and hangs out with them occasionally. It's a little weird.”
“A little weird! It's stupidly dangerous! Buffy, that chip is a prototype. If it fails...” Riley shuddered. “I can't believe you've let him be invited into your house.”
Buffy waved off his concern. “Oh, I invited him in long before he got the chip. He won't hurt them.”
Riley shook his head. “I don't believe what I'm hearing. How could you be so reckless? Let's go inside. Willow can de-invite him while she takes care of Harmony.”
“Whoa, hold up there, Take Charge Guy. I said it's ok. No need to change the locks on Spike. See me? Slayer? Actual resident of the house in question? If I say it's fine, it's fine.”
“I don't understand this, Buffy. It's bad enough Giles puts up with him traipsing through his apartment, but at least he's aware of the danger and doesn't have any kids to worry about. This,” Riley waved a hand toward the house. “This I don't get at all.”
“What's to get? Spike cares about my family. He won't let any harm come to them. It's not difficult.”
“He's a soulless monster. He doesn't care about your family. He's just waiting on his chance to --”
“Riley, I think you need to go home instead of finishing that sentence. I don't think I can stand to hear you questioning my judgment or how much I value the safety of my family anymore tonight.”
“I mean it. Please go home before we have a conversation we regret. Goodnight.”
She sighed as he walked out of the backyard, his shoulders tensed and his steps those of a man trying to stomp out his anger. Once she was sure he was gone, she walked back out to the bench, far away from the porch light's glare. “Can you do me a favor?” she asked the darkness.
“Anything, you know that.”
“Go to the safe house tonight. I don't think you want to be at your crypt for a day or two.”
“Already planning to. Bloke might find his plastic stake sooner this time, mood he's in. See you there?”
“Mm, I doubt it. I'm kinda beat. I think I’ve got a good chance at getting some real sleep here tonight, for once. I’ll definitely see you tomorrow night, though.”
“Alright. G'night, Buffy.”
“Goodnight.” She turned and walked back toward the house, to see her friends off and get Dawn to bed before her mother came home.
Joyce came home to a kitchen that still smelled like chocolate chip cookies, care of Dawn, and a broken front window, care of Harmony. A few cookies and assurances that Xander would help Buffy replace the window pane had been all it took to get her to bed. Her evening had been an exhausting one, and she complained of a headache.
Buffy was restless. A hot shower hadn't been adequate to soothe her worried mind, and she was growing irritated at her inability to sleep. It was nearing sunrise when she finally gave up. She threw on some clothes and climbed out her window.
The basement of the old house was dark and silent, but she could sense Spike's presence. She didn't reach for the flashlight, opting instead to creep slowly in the dark until she made her way to the table, where she lit a candle.
Spike, asleep on the low bed, stirred when the flickering light struck his face. His hand reached across the mattress, seeking something. “Buffy,” he mumbled, not opening his eyes.
“Yeah, I'm here,” she replied.
“Not here.” He pulled the extended hand back, dragging it across the empty expanse of mattress. “Come sleep. Need your rest. Big fight coming. ”
Buffy squinted at him as realization dawned. “Spike, are you awake? Do you know where we are?”
“Basement,” he mumbled. “Quiet upstairs. Girls all asleep?”
She smothered a chuckle. He was definitely asleep. He had his basements mixed up, and his timelines, too. “Yeah, everything's ok. I couldn't sleep at home... upstairs, though.”
“Come sleep,” he mumbled again. “Cold without you.”
Buffy looked from his face to the pile of blankets he'd kicked to the floor. “Cold, huh?” She wanted to laugh at him, but his invitation was what she had hoped for. She kicked off her shoes and curled up beside him, pulling a blanket over them both.
Spike's arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her close. “Better.”
“Better,” she agreed, and quickly fell asleep.
Around noon, Spike woke to find himself with an armful of sleeping slayer. At first, he was confused. He was sure she hadn't been there when he'd fallen asleep. But he took his time enjoying the moment, taking in her scent, the heat of her body against his, the pleasant surprise of her presence. Eventually, his conscience got the better of him, and he resigned himself to the inevitable withdrawal. He kissed her shoulder and whispered in her ear. “Love, I don't think you wanna sleep the day away.”
“Buffy,” He kissed her shoulder again. “It's midday, love. Time you were up and moving.”
“Kennedy will keep the girls busy with drills,” she mumbled. “I can stay another hour.”
“Wish you could, General, but you're supposed to be Year 2000 Buffy, remember? Finn's girl?”
“Finn? Oh...” She opened her eyes and took a moment to gauge her surroundings. “Wrong basement.”
“Don't remember you showing up last night. Not a complaint, mind you.”
She rubbed her eyes and sat up. “I couldn't sleep without you, after all. I guess I needed...”
“You’re not the only one got spoiled to it those last couple weeks, love.”
She gave him a wry smile. “I didn’t even know what a habit it was until I tried to break it.”
“There are worse habits. What kept you awake?”
“Mom. The headaches are coming more often. And there's the Riley stuff. And Glory is going to be in town really soon. And...” She took a shaky breath. “You'd think I'd be used to all this by now, especially since we've been through it once already. I'm just… not ready to lose her all over again.”
He held out an arm, and she took the invitation, sliding down to rest her head on his shoulder. He let her cry quietly for a few minutes, gently rubbing her back, but saying little.
When she sat up again, it was with an apology on her lips. “Sorry. I'm a mess.” She wiped her tears off his bare chest with her shirt sleeve. “And I'm really cutting into your sleep time.”
“It's fine, love. You know I don't mind.”
“No, it's not fine. I came here so you could help me sleep, and now I'm unloading my baggage on you, and it just seems... like I brought another habit with me. You know?”
“Not hearing any complaints, are you?”
Buffy smiled in spite of herself. “With you, with us, that's not much of a guidepost. I don't want to just take from you.”
“Fine, then. You give me a few hours to sleep, and we'll call it a fair trade, yeah? Now go, keep up appearances. Scurry off to your watcher and your mates like a good slayer.”
“That's not what I meant.”
“Will do for now. You'll come back later?” At her nod, he closed his eyes. “Good enough, then.”
Buffy stared at him for a moment, then stood up, put her shoes on, and was about to leave when she impulsively returned to the bed. She knelt down to give him a gentle kiss on the forehead. “Sleep well, Sparky,” she whispered. “I'll see you tonight.”
Buffy had just exited Shady Hill cemetery when she became aware of someone behind her. She continued on, her stride unchanged, listening carefully to the quiet footfalls, reaching out her senses to assure herself the stalker was not a vampire. Once confident on this point, she stopped suddenly and whirled around. “Xander! What are you doing out here? Shouldn't you be at your new apartment, putting up curtains or something with Anya?”
Xander answered with a shrug. “Hey Buff. Nice night for a stroll... downtown?”
“You're going toward downtown. Home is that way.” He pointed over his shoulder.
“Oh. I was just... Well I thought I'd enjoy a little off-duty walk, since patrol was easy tonight.”
Xander looked skeptical, but let it pass. “Uh-huh. Anyway, would you mind a little company?”
Buffy began plotting to casually change course from her destination before she even nodded her assent.
They walked in silence for about a block, until Xander mustered the courage to say why he sought her out. “Why are you still dating Riley?”
“What? What kind of question is that?”
He sucked in a breath, resolving to finish what he'd started. “You're pretending with him. I know you guys have been fighting a lot lately, but I don't know why. What I do know is that you're lying to him every time you're with him. I can see it. You're faking it.”
Buffy was caught completely off-guard by this conversation. This didn't happen before, she thought. What's different this time? Oh. Me. I'm different. And Xander noticed. Oops. Aloud she said, “I really think you're crossing a line here, Xan. Any problems Riley and I have are between us.”
“The last time I checked, you and I were friends. Also, I'm kinda buds with Riley. I'd say your relationship matters to me. But let's keep it simple: You're my friend. I care about you. Why are you in a relationship you don't want to be in, friend-I-care-about?”
“What makes you so sure you're right?” Buffy deflected.
“Hmm, it could be that you don't even smile at him like you mean it. That’s a pretty good giveaway that you aren't happy with him. It could be that you come up with some excuse almost every time he suggests you two spend some time alone together. It's starting to look intentional. That solo date the night Harmony stopped by was one of the few you've had lately. Not that Ahn and I mind the double date movie nights, but being the audience for the nit-picky fights is a little awkward.”
“Um, ok. Sorry? I'll try not to argue with Riley around you anymore. We good?”
“That's not what I'm asking for, Buff. I want the truth. What's up? Is there another guy or something? Someone downtown, maybe?”
“Xan, I love you, but you're way out of line.”
“It's amazing how much that sounded like a 'yes.' So that's it, huh? You're just going to shut me out like you've shut out Riley? Funny, I thought we were friends. But that's fine.” Xander threw up his hands and stopped walking. “Go on, break the guy's heart, a little piece at time. Lie to your friends. Let's see how well that works out for you.” He took a step backward, turning away.
Buffy was thinking fast. She couldn't tell Xander the truth, but she couldn't afford to alienate any of her friends right now, not with Glory's arrival so close, and her mother's illness besides. “Xan, wait.”
He pivoted back to face her, but said nothing.
“I don't mean to shut you out. I just...”
“I only want to know why, Buff. Why don't you just end it with him and stop pretending?”
She sighed. “Soon, Xan. I'm going to break up with him very soon. Happy?”
His expression softened. “I'm sorry. I'm not trying to break you guys up. I was actually kinda hoping you'd tell me I was wrong and everything is ok... but I guess it's not.”
“No,” she answered quietly. “We're not ok.”
“Is there someone else?” Her expression darkened, so he quickly backpedaled. “Wait! Don't answer. Let me change the question: Is there anything I can do?”
“Just be there for him. He might need a friend.”
“What about you? Don't you need to -want to- talk about this?”
Buffy smiled sadly. “I'm ok with it. From Riley's perspective, I guess that's the problem... I think I'm going to finish my walk alone. Are you alright to get home?'
“Yeah, I'll be fine. Goodnight, Buff.”
“Sleeping in someone else's bed again, Goldilocks?” Spike whispered in her ear.
Buffy stretched and sat up, pushing the mismatched blankets to the floor. “Good, you're home. I was wondering if you would be here tonight.”
Spike stepped across the room to restock his cooler, checking the lids on styrofoam containers as they went into the fresh ice. “I don’t call this home, but yeah. Did some shopping, saw the banker, just running some errands. Had Clem over to the crypt for drinks earlier. Turns out he might be alright with the soul stuff. Good demon, that one.”
She shook her head, wondering for a moment if she were still asleep. “Wait. Back up for a second. Banker? At night? You have money? Do I need to go back to sleep and try to wake up again?”
“There's a lot you don't know about demons, love.”
“Enlighten me,” she demanded.
“Well, first off, demon banks are open at night. You can guess why. And yeah, I have money. Been investing in land and houses for over a century, leasing them out, mostly.”
“How have I known you all these years and not known that? And why am I finding out now?”
“'Cause we're gonna need to crack open the piggy bank soon. Unless you have some other plan for paying the mortgage and putting the Nibblet through university?” He raised an eyebrow, waiting for an answer he knew she didn’t have. “Not gonna turn down the help this time, are you?”
She shook her head absently. Her mind was busy dealing with the reality he was thrusting in front of her: She was about to lose her mom... again.
Spike studied her for a moment, taking in the slouched pose and distant expression. He moved to sit beside her on the mattress. “Sorry, love. Shouldn't be talking 'bout that.”
Buffy shook her head again. “No, no. You're right. We need to think about that stuff, and plan for the future. We can't waste the advantage of knowing what it is we're planning for.” She let loose a hollow laugh. “Mom's going to love the idea of you taking care of us. I remember how worried she was right before her surgery. She was afraid Dad would take Dawn away and I'd be living on Giles' couch. She'll be thrilled to know you're able to help... and she'll have a good laugh about it.”
He looked away. “Don't know if I should tell you this, but... never mind.”
“Oh, you can't just tease me like that, Spike. Spit it out.”
“The first time around... your mum knew... how I felt about you.”
“Well yeah, after I pulled your invite.”
“No, before that. Maybe even 'fore I did. Not really sure when she figured it out.”
“She never said anything to me.”
“Which is why I counted -count- your mum a friend.”
Buffy sat on that thought for a minute. “Yeah, good friends keep your secrets. Mine always interrogate me about them.”
She briefly recounted her conversation with Xander from earlier that night. “I wasn't lying to him, not much, anyway. It's going to be soon, just before the symptoms of his heart problem become obvious. I don't want him to die, but I don't want him to think I'm dumping him for someone with superpowers, either. The best way to make that happen is to break up with him right before the Initiative surgeon gets to Sunnydale, so I can make sure he goes... and you can waylay the doctor on his way out of town.”
“Sure ‘bout the last bit, love? Last time the bugger cracked open my skull, I got nothing to show for it.”
“I'll be there for your surgery. The chip's coming out, if I have to threaten that doctor and the whole U.S. Army to make it happen. I won't wait two more years to watch you in constant agony and near brain-death because I didn't take care of you when I had the chance. Not again.”
The stern resolution in her voice surprised him, but he chose not to comment on it. Instead, he recalled something she'd said a few moments before. “Someone with superpowers?”
Buffy blushed. “Um, yeah. I guess I never told you about that. When I was trying to get Riley to go to the doctor the first time around, he implied he didn't want to go because they might make him normal, and he wouldn't be strong enough to be with me anymore. And I said...” She paused, taking in a deep breath. “I said that if I'd wanted someone with superpowers, I'd be dating... you.”
Spike cringed on Riley's behalf. “And when he came back to town a year later...”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Oh, bloody hell!” Spike fell back onto the bed, his expression alternating between glee and guilt. “And I told him he wasn't the long haul guy because he wasn't monster enough for you. Damn. I feel sorry for the poor bloke now. Why'd you tell me that?”
“Um, sorry?” Buffy gave him a playful smile. “Maybe if I have to suffer a bout of conscience, you get to suffer with me?”
Spike shook his head. “Never should have gone to Africa. If I hadn't, this would just be funny.”
She fell back onto the mattress with him, and flipped onto her side, so she could study his face at close range. “Do you ever regret it? Going to Africa, I mean?”
“Every bloody day. Between the nightmares and jumbled up emotions, it changed a bit more than I'd like.”
“So don't go this time. Make the nightmares stop.”
“What do you mean, ‘this time’?”
“I had a talk with Giles before we left our time. Not a conversation he wanted to have, I assure you. But I asked him what would happen to your soul if you came back in time with me. He said that if it made the trip at all, you might have to go back to the shaman who restored it by the time you originally got it, or you'd lose it, because you'll have never made any moves to get it in the new timeline.” She shrugged at the confusion on his face. “It didn't make much sense to me, either. I just know you have until the summer of '02 to decide if you want to keep it, because there's a chance it will leave you again if you do nothing.”
“Gotta keep it, love. You know that.”
“No, I don't. It isn't necessary. It's my fault you thought it was in the first place. You're still you, with or without it. I guess I didn't see that until I lived with it for a while.”
Spike studied her eyes for a moment, his expression unreadable. “We'll see.”