DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course, and the chapter title comes from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet IV.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Xander’s managed to help Havi get away from Baltozar, Esme has asked Baltozar to do a job, and Buffy has pulled Spike out to relieve some stress after being forced to start tutoring with Robin…
The night began with a promising start. When Buffy asked Spike to drive her to the nearest cemetery so that she could start patrolling early, he didn’t balk, taking her directly there and even offering her one of the few weapons he had tossed in the back seat. He went a little funny when she asked why he wasn’t storing them in the trunk, but then they were there, and he was kicking her out of the car, saying that he would catch up with her as soon as the sun had finished setting. He even gave her a quick kiss that left her humming, both literally and figuratively, as she hopped over the graveyard’s wall.
She saw the trio of vampires coming out of the crypt just as the sun dipped below the horizon. The blonde was obviously the leader, sniping at the two young male vamps---who looked way too much like Laurel and Hardy if they’d been stoners in college---emerging behind her. While Buffy couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, it was impossible not to miss the kick in the stomach the girl vamp leveled into the gut of the heavyset one, or the elbow she jammed into Laurel’s throat when he began sniggering at his buddy’s pain. She had “bitch” written all over her. It was exactly what Buffy decided she needed to work out some of her frustrations.
That is, until the blonde vampire noticed Buffy approaching. And proceeded to open her mouth to speak.
Her heavily made-up eyes swept over Buffy in disdain. “Thank god for the freshman fifteen,” she complained. “I’m starving.”
Maybe it was the complete boredom with the situation that threw Buffy, or maybe it was her raging insecurity about everything at the moment. Either way, Buffy stopped in her tracks, frowning as she looked down at her stomach and chest.
“What’re you talking about? I’m not fa---.”
Fingers tipped in crimson and black darted out and wrapped around Buffy’s wrist, twisting her arm out and away with an audible crack. The cry that escaped Buffy’s throat was more from surprise than pain, and she deftly wrenched away from the vampire’s hold, bending at the waist to duck the next blow swung in her direction.
“Well, now, that’s just rude,” the female vamp complained, picking herself up from the grass. “After what I’ve had to put up with today, the least you could do is die like a good little dinner.”
“Oh, don’t get me started on bad days,” Buffy countered. She tucked her hurt wrist into her side. She had a strong suspicion it was sprained if not broken, but she couldn’t let on to the weakness in front of an adversary.
“Were you locked in a crypt with Tweedledum and Tweedledee all day?”
“No, mine was more along the lines of the bitch professor from hell.”
“Oh, please,” the vampire scoffed. “You’re in college and you’re on the Hellmouth? What else did you expect?”
“Maybe a little consideration,” Buffy bristled. Her irritation about her encounter with Dr. Walsh was returning. “It’s only the second week. She hasn’t even given me a chance yet.”
The female vamp pretended to pout. “Is it just too hard? Does it make you want to cry?”
Before Buffy could protest the mocking, Hardy decided to reassert his presence and tackled her from behind. They landed on the ground with a deep thud, the air knocked solidly from her lungs and her hurt wrist trapped painfully against her stomach. Normally, it wouldn’t have been difficult for Buffy to recover. But, her injury combined with the fact that the vampire was probably three times her weight, slowed her responses, giving him the opportunity to drool against her neck.
A roar came from nowhere, and both Buffy and the vamp twisted their heads in time to see a dark figure vault toward the group, an eclipse against the blackened sky. He landed directly beside them and grabbed Hardy as if he was tissue, tossing him aside and relieving the weight off Buffy’s back.
She rolled her eyes. Though part of her was glad to see Spike, another part was just a little annoyed at the grandstanding entrance. No wonder he loved wearing that stupid coat so much. With it on, he looked like some kind of superhero swooping in to save the day. The girls probably fell for that one, hook, line, and fang.
“Excuse me!” the female vampire shouted. “We’re in the middle of dinner here!” She grabbed Buffy by one arm but was stopped from pulling her away when Spike grabbed the other.
“This one’s mine,” he said casually. “So let’s say you just toddle off and find your own Slayer, OK?”
Her eyes widened at hearing Buffy’s title. “Really?” she said with a wide grin, and then her nose wrinkled. “She’s not very good, is she?”
“I’ll show you good---,” she started to say, but was cut off by the tightening of Spike’s grip around her injured wrist. It didn’t hurt, but when she glanced back at him, she couldn’t miss the warning he shot her before turning his gaze back to the blonde.
“You know who I am, pet?” he asked.
She seemed to take his question seriously, frowning as she scrutinized him up and down. It was Laurel, standing behind them, that broke the silence.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed. His golden eyes glowed as he came around to Spike’s side. When he leaned in to examine him more closely, Spike countered by leaning back. “It’s William the Bloody, dude! Right on!”
“Get outta here!” Her attention in Buffy vanished, all bright eyes and delighted smiles now trained on Spike. “I didn’t know you were back in town!”
“Yeah, just got in a few days ago.”
For a moment, Buffy thought Spike was going to lose it. His jaw tightened, but then almost immediately relaxed as he shrugged. “Got bored with her,” he said nonchalantly. “The crazy thing’s only fun for so long, you know? Thought I’d see what the grass was like on this side of the fence for a change.” His eyes slid seductively over the female vamp, so blatant that Buffy felt like gagging. “Maybe try a blonde this time.”
If it wasn’t for Spike’s firm grip, Buffy would’ve stumbled for as fast as the bitch vampire let her go. Sidling to Spike’s side, the vamp pressed into his lean body, running her taloned fingernails down his chest. “My name’s Sunday,” she said, licking her lips. “If you want to share this one, I’d be willing to…talk it over.”
Buffy’s jaw dropped when Spike let her arm go and said, “Now, that sounds more than a mite appealing.”
Together, the two vamps strolled a few feet away, and Buffy could only watch as their heads bowed together conspiratorially.
“Hey!” she shouted when she realized she couldn’t hear what they were saying. “Are we going to fight or what?”
“Save your breath.” That was Hardy, come up on Buffy’s left side. “If he’s bothering to give her the time of day, we’re going to be here all night.”
“Yeah,” Laurel agreed from her side. “Sunday’s got serious hero issues.”
She glanced at the two vampires who were flanking her. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“No way,” Laurel said. “I mean, dude! Every time some new badass decides to take over the world, Sunday’s right there, offering to give him head.”
“And none for us,” Hardy groused.
Buffy grimaced. Her wrist was starting to throb, she was stuck listening to these two, and now her boyfriend was flirting with some skanky vampire ho who just wanted to get into his pants. This was so not how she’d wanted this night to go.
As she watched, Sunday laughed, her fingers running over Spike’s leather with come hither written all over them. The rumble of Spike’s voice was followed by him slipping the coat from his shoulders, and when he held it out for her to try on, Buffy’s jaw dropped. What in hell did he think he was doing? She didn’t really think he was being serious about this Sunday, but…was he?
Anger mixed with the bile of betrayal. She couldn’t believe she’d fallen for his act. But…he’d said all the right things, been so sweet and so supportive, how could she not? But no. He’d gone from one vampire ho to another vampire ho. All Buffy had done was change his taste in hair color.
She was about to charge forward and stake him herself when Sunday turned her back to them, ready to take his offering of the coat. Before Buffy could react, Spike dropped the leather to the ground, unmasking the stake he must’ve palmed from his pocket. A split second later, the stake was buried in Sunday’s back, her dust already clogging the cooling night air.
Buffy didn’t waste time listening to the surprised gurgles from the duo at her sides. Sweeping her leg, she sent Laurel sprawling to the grass, then grabbed her stake from her waistband to finish the circle by driving it deep into Hardy’s chest. She didn’t wait for his dust to settle before turning back to the downed vampire, finishing him off before he could even rise from where he’d fallen.
“Not exactly what I had in mind,” Spike said, his duster dangling from his fingers as he sauntered back to Buffy’s side. A pleased grin split his features. “But not a bad way to start the---ow!”
He howled in pain when Buffy’s good fist shot forward and slammed into his nose, forcing him to drop his coat to the ground as his hands came up to his face. He glared at her in disbelief. “What in bloody hell did you do that for?”
“I can’t believe I fell for it!”
“Fell for what?”
“You! Do you really think I’m that stupid? You couldn’t at least have tried making time with her when I wasn’t around?”
Spike’s hands fell from his face. The blow had been mostly reflexive, not even at full strength, but it had served its purpose to infuriate him. “That’s not---. I was savin’ your ass!”
“My ass was just fine!”
“Oh, yeah, ‘cause you always do your best slaying with a broken arm and a two-ton gorilla on your back.”
She lifted her chin defiantly. “As a matter of fact, I do. You should’ve seen me when that demon zoo came to town.”
Spike snorted, shaking his head. “Give me your arm.”
“No.” She deliberately tucked it into her body, taking a step away when he frowned at her.
“You’re hurt,” he said. “I just want to see how bad it is.”
“Please. You lost one blonde to feel up, and now you’re just going back to your old Slayer standby. That’s not going to happen this time, Spike.”
“Are you actually listening to what you’re sayin’, luv?”
“Stop calling me ‘luv.’ You don’t get to do that, not when you act like this.”
Shaking his head, Spike stooped to pick up his coat. “You’ve gone completely starkers, you know that, don’t you?”
“What? You’re the one who was all, ‘Oh, look at my manly muscles! Aren’t I the sexiest vamp you’ve ever seen?’ You even took off your coat to show the bimbo! It looks to me like I’m the one of the two of us who still has all her clothes on.”
“That’s not what starkers means, you dozy bint.” He pulled his leather back on. “Now, stop bein’ a baby and give me your arm.”
“It will be.”
“Why do you even care?” she snapped.
His eyes glittered. “That’s a bloody daft question and you know it.”
“I know that two minutes ago you were more interested in being treated like Elvis than trying to help me dust those jokers.”
“I was interested in you not gettin’ hurt any more than you already were.”
“By macking on the ho right in front of me? Yeah, because that doesn’t hurt at all.”
His head tilted as he contemplated her words. “You’re not jealous, are you, pet?”
“What? No! Don’t be ridiculous!”
There was a softening around his eyes as he watched her through sooty lashes, and Spike took a step forward. “’Cause you know there’s no reason for you to be.”
“Do I have to write you a letter to prove it to you?”
His accent was smoothing, his tone gentling, and the reminder of the box full of his devoted words only served to exacerbate the guilty pangs that stabbed in her gut. She was starting to feel foolish, but clung stubbornly to her frustration, even as she watched him continue to approach.
“You goin’ to let me look at that arm yet?”
God, didn’t he know they were in the middle of a fight here? Why was he changing the subject on her?
“Know what you said.” Then, he was in the space before her, and Buffy realized she hadn’t made another move away since he’d started advancing. Strong fingers curled around hers, prying her good hand off her hurt arm. “Also know what my nose tells me.”
She involuntarily winced as he began exploring the injured tissue. “I’m not that dumb, you know. I know you can’t smell a broken bone.”
His fingers massaged at the sore muscles, temperate and probing in defiance of their moods. “Didn’t say I could. Smelled your fear.”
Her head jerked up to stare at him, but Spike’s gaze was still lowered, concentrated on examining her arm. “I wasn’t afraid,” she argued.
“Not even for a moment?” His voice was coaxing, persuasive. “Not even in that split second before I showed up when that prat was slobbering all over your neck?”
She held her tongue. So, maybe he had a point---a small one. There had been that moment, but it had lasted for only a fraction of a second, not even long enough for Buffy to feel its full effects or register that it had happened until analysis after the fact.
“You goin’ to tell me how she got her hit in?” he asked.
Buffy answered him with great reluctance. “She said I was fat.”
His hands stopped their massage, his eyes looking to hers in disbelief. “And…?” he asked.
She flushed and pulled her arm away. “And…she said I was fat.”
“That’s what all this is about?” Incredulity was starting to seep into a broad smile, one that Buffy couldn’t help but itch to slap off his face. “You birds start throwing potshots at each other about your weight, and that’s how we get to this place?”
“It’s not like that. I thought…she said it, and my first thought was…” She exhaled loudly, shaking her head. “Never mind.”
He stopped her from marching past him by grabbing her shoulder and whirling her around. “Just bloody spit it out. It’s me, remember? There’s not anything you can say that’s goin’ to make me love you any less. Might piss me off for a minute, but you know that I can’t stay mad at you, even when I want to.” He paused, blue eyes liquid as he tilted his head. “It’s me, luv,” he repeated. “No reason for you to be holding back now.”
Buffy cradled her injured arm close to her body. “I thought she was talking about the baby,” she admitted. “When she said it, the first thing that went through my head was that I must’ve been showing and all you guys were just being nice and telling me I wasn’t. And it…threw me off.”
She skittered away from his consoling touch. “You don’t get how hard this is for me,” she continued. “All of this. I’ve only known about the baby for six days now, Spike. And then with everything else…what was I supposed to think when you didn’t stake her right away? So, OK, maybe I don’t always go for the wood before the quippage, but at least I’m not flirting with what I’m trying to slay. I thought…and then you…” Taking a deep breath, she calmed the runaway nerves that suddenly seemed beyond her control. “I’m not perfect, Spike. I’m not even close. I get knocked for a loop now and then, but I’m trying the best I know how. It’s just…it’s just…”
She couldn’t finish the sentence. Strong arms pulled her into a close embrace, and she felt the hard muscle of his chest against her cheek as he began stroking her back. “You have any idea what was goin’ through my head when I saw you pinned beneath that pillock?” he said. “My world stopped. Got it fixed that, yeah, life for a Slayer on a Hellmouth isn’t all peaches and cream, but knowin’ it and acceptin’ it when it’s staring back at me are two entirely separate things.”
He smelled so good, and the circle of his arms had never felt so welcoming. It was getting harder to remember why she’d been annoyed with him in the first place. “Do you always try to Casanova your way into a kill?” she asked quietly.
“That wasn’t what that was about. She was the one with the power there, pet, and you weren’t exactly up to scratch. I just wanted to get her away from the other two so you didn’t have to worry about her in the scrap.”
“And get your ego stroked at the same time.”
“You’d rather she was stroking something else?”
Buffy laughed, in spite of everything. “I guess we both have our issues to work through, huh?”
“That, we do.” Gently, he pushed her away, holding her at arms’ length. “You goin’ to let me tend to that wrist now?” Spike asked. “’Cause I’m callin’ it a night for you, whether you like it or not.”
She nodded, and then bit her lip. “Can we…?” she started to ask. Except, she felt silly for wanting it, and clamped her mouth shut as she flushed in embarrassment.
“Can we what?” he prompted.
Ducking her head, she almost whispered the words. “I want to go see my mom.”
She glanced up in time to see the corner of his mouth lift. “Think that might be just what the doctor ordered,” he said, looping his arm around her waist. They’d only gone a few feet back toward the cemetery entrance when he added, “Does she keep that hot chocolate on hand all the time or just for special occasions?”
When she caught Xander looking back at her from the doorstep, Havi averted her eyes, focusing on the neighborhood to which he’d brought her instead of the curious question about why he was doing it in the first place. The street looked like something out of all the American movies she’d seen in her lifetime, typical suburbia with lumbering trees shading the street and abandoned bicycles forgotten in front lawns. It was a lie, she knew. These were people accustomed to evil living amongst them, but like so many others around the world, they chose to cling to their innocent beliefs. Demons were myth to them. It was easier to blame the other causes---the gangs, the drugs, the addiction to television---for so many deaths. Havi wasn’t certain yet if it was better to know of the shadows that lurked just outside the door, or to choose to be blind to them, following a strictly guided path through existence. Only time would tell.
The front door of the house opened, and Havi watched as Xander began speaking to the woman who answered. She was older than both of them, probably in her late thirties, attractive and smiling at Xander with the ease of familiarity. When he gestured back toward the car, Havi had to stifle the urge to shrink into her seat. She did not like charity, and she liked even less being thought of as pitiable. She wished he’d allowed her to join him as he made his plea.
She pretended to be playing with the radio when he tapped on her window.
“Everything’s cool,” Xander said with a wide smile. “Mrs. Summers said you can stay for as long as you need to.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Enough.” With a sigh, he folded his forearms so that he could lean against the door, bending so that he could lower his voice. “It’s not just that she’s Buffy mom. Mrs. Summers…well, she’s been through a lot. It’s not that I think she understands completely what you’re going through, but let’s just say, when it comes to men, she’s had her share of jerks.”
Havi nodded in understanding. She now knew why he’d chosen this particular avenue to help her. From what she’d gathered from the few caustic gibes he’d made about his own family, this was likely one of the safest havens he knew.
Though she held her head high as they walked up to the porch, she hung back behind Xander as he made the introductions. It wasn’t until Mrs. Summers smiled into her eyes, stepping aside to allow them to enter, that Havi felt the first stirrings of peace begin to return.
“Thank you,” she said when Mrs. Summers closed the door behind them. Her fingers gripped the strap of her pack tightly. “I don’t wish to be a bother.”
“Nonsense.” Another warm smile. It was disconcerting to be greeted so affectionately by a stranger. “Xander knows where the spare bedroom is, so why don’t you go make yourself comfortable. Are you hungry, or thirsty, or anything?”
They had yet to eat dinner, but she wasn’t about to admit to her hunger. “I’m fine,” Havi tried to say.
“I’m not,” Xander announced loudly. “Could we order a pizza or something, Mrs. Summers?” He rubbed his stomach. “Growing boy, you know.”
Mrs. Summers laughed. “I think that could be arranged.”
They were silent as they climbed the stairs, and Havi waited for Xander to open the correct door on the upper landing before brushing past to drop her bag. The room was bright and sunny, much like how she imagined the rest of the Summers’ household to be, and for a moment, she felt a pang of sadness at how out of place she felt in those surroundings.
Xander misinterpreted the melancholy in her eyes for something else. “Don’t worry,” he said, shutting the door so that they could speak in privacy. “Your boyfriend didn’t follow us. I kept an eye out just to make sure. You’re safe here.”
“I…thank you.” She didn’t know what else to say. She just wasn’t used to this level of accommodation.
He was shuffling in place, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his baggy trousers. “You don’t mind that I’m sticking around, do you?” he asked. “I’d just feel better knowing you got to sleep tonight without having another encounter of the macho kind.”
“Why?” She blurted the question without thinking, and then colored as she turned away. “Never mind. I didn’t mean to---.”
“No, it’s OK. Why what?”
But she couldn’t ask. She’d floundered enough for the day and she was weary of getting answers that seemed to satisfy him but left her confused. Instead, she asked, “Will you have problems when I don’t fulfill my lease application?”
Xander made a “psh” sound in denial. “The way people come and go from this town, nobody will think twice about it. And if something does get said, I’ll just mow her lawn a few extra times to make up for it. Not a big deal.”
“It is.” She swallowed, taking a step closer to him. What she wanted was to clear the slate. Though she suspected he wanted nothing in return, her feeling of indebtedness was growing beyond comfort levels and she had to do something about it, whether he would ask or not. He wouldn’t take money; she’d already tried that earlier in the day. That left only one thing of value Havi thought she could offer him.
His dark eyes flickered over her as she approached, his tongue darting out to nervously lick his lips. “Nah, it’s not, really. A little grass, a little chop chop, and---holy mother of pearl!”
Xander’s sharp gasp was followed almost immediately by him falling backwards, trying to get away from where she’d settled her hands at his waistband. Havi frowned, starting to kneel at his side so that she could continue, only to freeze when he crab-walked backward to put more distance between them.
“What’re you doing?” he squeaked.
“Saying thank you for helping me.”
“With your hands?”
This wasn’t the response she’d been expecting. “I thought…when Baltozar asked you, you didn’t deny being attracted to me. And just now, I felt---.”
“That’s OK. I know what you felt. I’m intimately acquainted with it, trust me.” His color was deep, his breathing suddenly erratic. “What I don’t know is why.”
“Because you helped me.” She didn’t understand what was so hard for him to grasp. He was aroused, and she wanted to pay him back for his aid that day. It seemed simple to her. “I wanted to show you how grateful I am.”
There was a long moment of silence, and then Xander sat back onto the floor, leaning up against the wall. “Havi,” he started, and his voice was deeper, more modulated as his breathing returned to normal. “Look, I’m not going to pretend to understand how things worked between you and---.” He broke off, seemingly unwilling to voice Baltozar’s name in front of her, and took a deep breath before trying again.
“You don’t have to do that,” he said.
“But I owe you.”
“Then, buy me a donut or something, but really, as hard as it for me to believe I’m saying this, anything that involves touching body parts is completely unnecessary.”
She just stared at him, bewildered by this change of events. She’d been so sure. The only reason he could be turning her down had to be because she’d been mistaken, in which case…
Shame coursed through her veins, and Havi ducked her eyes as she retreated back toward the bed. “My apologies,” she mumbled. “I thought…after everything, it seemed that you…I’m sorry.”
She flinched when she felt his hand on her shoulder, and he immediately pulled it away again. “Stop it,” he said quietly. “There’s nothing for you to apologize for, and if you do it again, I’ll tell Mrs. Summers to eighty-six the hot chocolate.”
What was there for her to do at that but nod?
“It’s not…” He was still talking. “…look, that boyfriend of yours said a lot of things, and, maybe, not all of them were completely off-base. But that doesn’t mean I expect anything to happen. It just means that I’m a nineteen year-old male with fully functioning parts that happen to have a mind of their own in the presence of the opposite sex. Especially if that particular member of the opposite sex looks like you.”
Nineteen. She’d forgotten he was younger than she was. Sometimes, he seemed to have the history of the whole world in his eyes. It was easy to forget four years when she saw the glimpses of it.
And why was he still continuing to speak?
“…not why I did all of that. I just want to make that clear. I don’t want you thinking---.”
She shut him up the only way she could think of at the moment.
He actually continued talking for a few moments after she pressed her mouth to his. Then, he just stopped. The kiss itself wasn’t a passionate one. Chaste. Nothing parted, nothing was exchanged. But…Xander didn’t move away, probably more from shock that she was kissing him than anything else, she realized. And there was a slight sugary sweetness to the taste of his mouth that made Havi glad she’d chosen to silence him this way instead of doing something else.
His eyes were wide open when she pulled back.
“Thank you for being my friend, Xander Harris,” she said solemnly. “It…it has been a long time since I could call someone that and…mean it.”
The sound of the front door opening and closing downstairs saved her the uncomfortable conversation she was sure to follow, and Havi stepped past him to open the bedroom door again. “We should eat before it cools,” she said. She tilted her head and braved her first smile since arriving at the Summers home. “Come. You can show me that trick with the pizza you were telling me about at lunch time.”
Without waiting for a reply, she left the room, content that she’d done what she could to salvage the situation. She still didn’t understand Xander’s behavior, but she wasn’t going to bother questioning it any longer. Answers enough would come in time.
She was halfway down the stairs before she looked up and realized it wasn’t a pizza delivery person standing inside the door, now staring up at her in confusion.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” Buffy demanded.
To be continued in Chapter 29: Blunting the Fine Point…