Chapter 17: Tipsy Truths
Faith sat down and picked up the phone receiver, staring hard at the woman on the other side of the glass. “What do you want?”
“Ok, so I guess we’re skipping the ‘how are yous.’”
“If you were going to come to gloat, you’d have done it sooner. And I know you didn’t drive all the way out here to check on me. So what do you want?”
“Your word as a slayer,” Buffy whispered into the receiver. “I need to know you’ll be on the job, that you’ll fulfill your destiny. You know… if…”
Faith’s glare faded into something Buffy thought might be genuine concern. “What’ve you gotten yourself into?”
“Hellgod. She’s laying low right now, but it’s going to get bad before it gets good again. I might not live to see summer. I need to know Sunnydale will be guarded after I’m gone.”
“B, have you noticed where I am? You remember why?”
“I remember that you’re a slayer, and there’s a Hellmouth right down the freeway, one that will need you if things don’t go right. I need your promise. I need to know you’ll get out of here and do your job if you find yourself the ‘one girl in all the world.’”
Faith scoffed at the quotation. Then she leaned close to the glass. “Wait… You really mean it, don’t you?”
“I do. Get your head on straight while you still have some down time. If any of the Scoobies come to see you, get the hell out of here and go home with them. Replace me.”
Faith didn’t respond.
“I need to know you’ll be on the job,” she said again.
Faith nodded slowly. “Alright. I promise. But I have to know: Why do you trust me with this?”
“Because you’re a damned good slayer, and I happen to know you’ve got leadership potential. You’re the current Chosen One, Faith. Not me. I’m the spare slayer.” Buffy’s gaze drifted to the phone cord she’d been fidgeting with throughout the conversation.
“What else is on your mind, B?”
“I have another request. And you don’t have to promise me this one. I just want you to think about it.”
“Uh… Ok. Shoot.”
“If it’s me that comes to see you, will you consider coming back, anyway?” She stood up quickly, making sure Faith didn’t have a chance to answer. “I have to go. Hopefully, I’ll see you before summer. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck, B.” Faith watched Buffy hang up the receiver and walk out of sight. “Merry Christmas.”
Joyce stepped out onto the front porch at the sound of her Jeep in the driveway, leaving the door open behind her. “How much higher will my insurance rate be next month?” she called to the driver.
“The car is fine, Mom.” Buffy rolled up the window and climbed out of the Jeep. “And so am I, thanks for asking.”
“She’s holding up ok.”
“It was very kind of you to pay her a Christmas visit, after all she’s put everyone through.”
“She’s a slayer, Mom. She may have gone off the deep end, and royally pissed me off more than once, but she’s still a slayer.” Buffy joined her mother on the porch and handed her the car keys. “Thanks for the loan.” She peered into the house. “It’s awfully quiet in there. Did you have to tie up your elves?”
“Dawn has just locked herself up in her room to finish wrapping gifts. Spike helped us all afternoon, but he left a few minutes ago, as soon as the sun had set.” Joyce fidgeted with the keys. “Honey, he seems to be very upset about this trip. Did you fight about it?”
“The 150 year old man is having another childish tantrum, that’s all.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Is there time for me to find him and coax him home before he ruins Christmas?”
Joyce looked down at her watch. “If you hurry. The guests will be here by eight.” Buffy’s feet had hit the sidewalk by the time she looked back up.
When Buffy walked into Willy’s Bar, she was surprised to find it packed. Willy gave her a significant look, his eyes darting around to some of the unfamiliar faces. “If you’re here for information, Slayer, I got nothing to offer you.” He put down his bar towel. “Except a Christmas drink? On the house?”
Buffy played along with the ruse, knowing a good relationship with a slayer could prove bad for Willy’s health with some demons. “Sure, I’ll take a bribe. Just this once, for Christmas.” She pointed down the bar to her destination. On receiving his nod, she went in that direction. When she reached the far end of the bar, she tapped a brunette woman on the shoulder. “Excuse me. You’re in my seat.”
The woman turned away from the man she’d been talking to. “No, I’m not, Slayer.” Her eyes flashed golden. “Find your own seat. Preferably in another bar.”
“You’re wasting your time, you know. He’s not going to go home with you.”
“Yeah? How do you know that?”
“Because he’s going home with me.”
“Sure he is.” The brunette snorted. She turned back to face the bar, and resume her flirting.
Buffy tapped her shoulder again, causing her to whirl around with another golden-eyed glare. Buffy matched it with her own angry expression. “I’m done playing nice. Get away from my boyfriend or you leave here in Willy’s dustpan.” She reached under her jacket to the back of her waistband.
The brunette’s hands went up. “Ok, ok. I’m gone.” She grabbed her drink and edged away, keeping one eye on Buffy until she had reached a corner table.
Buffy took the vampire’s seat just as Willy delivered her rum and Coke. “Thanks.” She glanced at the vampire the brunette had been flirting with. “Hi.”
“There’s that B word again,” Spike muttered, his eyes on his drink.
“It seems like an appropriate word… Do you disagree?”
“What’s it matter if it’s only for five more months?”
She propped her elbows on the bar and dropped her forehead into her palms. “Can we please not have this argument again?” She was careful to keep her volume as low as his. “They’re called contingency plans, Spike. I’m not going to drop them. If you recall, contingency planning is a big part of the reason you’re even here.”
“That’s what you thought. I never had any intention of letting it get that far.”
She looked up to study his profile. “No matter what we do, jumping is still a possibility.”
“No, it’s not. Got a contingency plan of my own, if it gets that bad.” He sipped his whiskey. “Told you not to go out there to see her. No need for it.”
“We could have dozens of contingency plans and still have things blow up in our faces.”
“Not impossible.” She took a drink. “Will you at least look at me?”
He finally made eye contact. “I’m not gonna let you jump. I keep telling you, and you won’t listen.”
Buffy bit her lip. “I’m listening. I hear you, loud and clear, every time you say it, subtext and all.” She looked back at her glass, her voice dropping even lower. “And I love you, too.”
There was no reaction from the neighboring stool, only stillness and silence. She slowly brought her gaze back to his.
He was staring at her, dumbstruck. Eventually, he reclaimed his composure with a shake of his head. “It’s about bloody time.”
“That wasn’t the response I was expecting.”
“Seems like the response you deserve.” Spike drained his glass and set it on the bar. “Right then, Slayer. Go ahead. Stake me now, and be done with it. You’ll never get a better chance to catch me off guard.”
She leaned in close. “Can I tell you another secret? I was bluffing when I reached under my jacket. Where I was today? You can’t take weapons in there. I’ve got nothing on me.” She sat up straight and resumed sipping on her drink. “So who was the little vamp tramp, anyway? I don’t recognize her.”
“Eh, just some young thing looking for a good time. Very young thing. Couldn’t see past the sense of power she got from me.” He gestured to Willy for a refill.
“Ah. Hence the flirting. She didn’t notice the spark.”
“Or that I smell like a bloke who shares his bed with a slayer.”
“Not too bright, huh?”
“She stood up to you, at first. Points for that. Was older than her when I first stared down a slayer.”
“Great. In another century, she’ll steal your title.”
“The hell she will!”
Buffy smirked. “Ego, much?”
“Feeling pretty good just now, love. Don’t ruin it.”
“Last Christmas sucked. Worst. Christmas. Ever.”
“Oh, yeah? You got tortured, too?”
“Ok, so yours was worse. Hey, Willy? Another?”
“What are we gonna do about this Christmas?”
“Enjoy it. Glory’s not up in our faces right now, and Mom… you know.”
“I mean about the bloody Scoobies. Red and Rupert, mainly. Harris may’ve taken the edge off his hate, but Willow’s still looking for answers, and I think your watcher wants me gone. Again.”
“I think it’s me -you know, this version- he really wants gone. But they can both suck it up and behave themselves. I’m a resident of the hostess’ house, and so is my date. Thanks, Willy.” Buffy took a sip of her fourth drink. “Besides, she’s leaving in a week and a half, and he’s not my watcher anymore. So screw ’em.”
“Won’t work out too well if you go in with that attitude.”
She looked at him, her eyes wide with surprise at this reproach. Then she noticed his poorly hidden smile. “You like it when I get bitchy, don’t you?”
“Not directed at me, now, is it?”
“I sometimes wonder if you like that, too.”
Spike ignored that comment. He caught Willy’s eye and nodded toward his empty glass. “You know, I was beginning to think you’d never get around to actually saying it.”
“Yeah, well… Me, neither.”
“You gonna make a habit of it?”
Buffy shrugged. “Probably not. You ok with that?”
“Wouldn’t mind being reminded once in a while.”
“I think I can manage that.” She took a gulp of her drink.
He watched her, shaking his head. “Some days I still wonder what happened to my slayer making faces every time she had a drink stronger than apple juice.”
“She discovered mixers. I still have no idea how you tolerate any of this stuff straight.”
“Practice. And a lot of years of self-loathing.”
“You’re in an honest mood. I should take advantage of it.”
“Still not drunk enough to quote you any poetry.”
By the time Buffy and Spike got home, the living room was full of Scoobies. “Bloody hell. We’re late.” He called toward the kitchen. “Joyce! You need any help?”
“Spike! Thank god! I thought you’d be gone all night.” Joyce sounded stressed. “Get in here!”
Buffy slipped out of Spike’s coat, and then out of her own thin jacket, hanging both by the front door.
Willow joined her in the hall in time to see this. “He loaned you his coat?”
“Chivalry died sometime after William did.” She shrugged. “But then, he also made a stupid vampire comment about it being an historic moment. This coat hasn’t seen a slayer’s shoulders in really long time.”
Willow wrinkled her nose. “Does that mean what I think it means?”
“Yeah, Wils. It’s a trophy.” Buffy ran a hand along the leather. “Her name was Nikki,” she whispered. “She loved this coat. She fought in it, and she died in it. It took Spike two tries to bring her down, and she still didn’t die until she was ready to go.”
“Uh-huh. I’m sure that’s how he tells it.”
“I know the feeling. Every slayer does, if she lives long enough. When I’m ready, and I’ll leave something with Spike, too. Just like his other slayers.”
“Buff, you’re scaring me. Do you think Spike is going to kill you one day?”
“I just know I’ll have to leave something for him, that’s all.” Buffy snapped out of her reverie. “I’ll be right back.” She grabbed the keys to the Jeep from the foyer table and ran outside. She returned with two small boxes. “It’s no slayer trophy, but it will do for now. I just need to make one little addition before I wrap it. The other one is for you.” She called into the living room. “Dawnie, is the wrapping paper still in your room?”
“Yeah. Do you need help?”
“No, thanks.” She rooted around in Spike’s coat pockets until she found a stake, which she tossed to Willow. “Guard the stairs. I’ll be right back.”
Willow frowned at the weapon as Buffy ran up the stairs. “That must be a pretty serious gift.”
A few minutes, later, Buffy returned with the boxes, now wrapped in festive paper. She smiled smugly. “Twenty-four hours ago, I had zero ideas. But tonight, I’m so getting the award for best gifter. I am officially awesome. Just wait until you see yours.” She took back the stake and returned it to the coat. “I’m assuming you didn’t have use that.”
“No… But Buffy? You’re acting a little weird.”
Buffy chuckled as she led them into the living room. “I’ve had a weird day. FYI, being groped by a prison guard? Not fun.”
“Well, it really depends on the guard,” Anya said from the couch. “Male or female? Hot?”
“Female. And no.” Buffy sat beside her after putting the gifts under the tree. “What did the doctor say?”
“My x-rays look better than expected. She wants to take the cast off this week.”
Xander leaned forward from the other end of the couch. “Can we go back to the ‘Buffy with a female prison guard’ part of the conversation?”
“Did you miss the ‘not hot’ part, Xan?” Buffy laughed. “I went to see Faith. She’s got a bit of a reputation in there, and no record of visitors. They were suspicious, so I got pawed at.”
“I didn’t think you’d actually go through with it. You know, with Spike being all ‘grr’ about it.”
“You knew I was going?”
Giles spoke up for the first time since Buffy had entered the room, unwittingly rescuing Xander from his slip up. “What possible purpose could visiting Faith serve?”
“Guys, I just wanted to talk to her. Why is everyone looking at me like I beat up a puppy?”
“Because you went to visit Faith,” Willow said slowly, as if explaining something to a child. “Why would you even want to talk to her?”
“Um, because she’s a slayer?” Buffy looked around the room. “Did anyone else notice the Hellgod running around town? The one who beat the crap out of me, had us all attacked by marrow-sucking demons, and threw Anya into a wall?”
Willow’s nose was still wrinkled. “So?”
“Glory is easily strong enough to kill me, and since her target is someone I’m willing to die to protect, it’s not an unreasonable to consider that she might. If she does, Sunnydale will need a slayer, and there will only be one left in the world.”
Giles fidgeted with his tie in the ensuing silence. “Buffy, do you really think this is the appropriate time and place for this discussion?”
“I sure as hell don’t.” Everyone looked up to see Spike in the doorway, holding a tray of appetizers.
“I know that look,” Dawn said. She glanced at her sister. “And that one. Make room, everyone. They’re about thirty seconds from hitting each other.”
“No, we’re not.” Buffy crossed her arms and settled further into the couch cushions. “We are not having this argument again, William.”
“It’ll stop being an argument when you admit you’re not actually over it.”
“Oh, bite me!”
“One of these days, Slayer, I just might.” Spike’s eyes glinted with amber.
“I dare you to try.”
“Don’t think I can’t. I’m not that out of practice.” He put the tray on the coffee table. “So what else are you lying about tonight?”
Buffy was suddenly on her feet with her fists clenched. “You son of a bitch. Don’t you dare imply–”
Dawn jumped between them. “It’s Christmas, remember? Goodwill towards men and mortal enemies?”
Joyce stepped into the doorway behind Spike. “Outside. Both of you.”
They didn’t move.
“Fine. Let’s go.” Buffy brushed past them and headed for the back door. Spike followed, detouring briefly to grab his coat.
“Don’t come back until you’re ready to act like civilized humans!” Joyce called after them.
“One of us doesn’t qualify!” Buffy called back.
“He’s not the one I’m worried about!” Joyce turned back to face her guests. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into them tonight.”
“Rum, I think.” Anya said. “I could smell it on her breath when she was sitting with me.”
“He smells pretty boozy, too,” Dawn said. “And they’re usually so good about keeping their arguments downstairs and their fights out of the house.” She shrugged. “Well, sometimes.”
Tara abruptly stood up. “I’ll be right back.” The back door closed behind her a few seconds later, drawing the attention of the pair in the yard, who looked like they were about to prove Dawn right. “Hey! You two need to sober up and behave yourselves,” she said, walking toward them. “Another little display like that could raise questions none of us want to answer.”
“Then tell this woman to make up her bloody mind! One minute, she’s acting like we’ve got all the time in the world. The next, she’s practically planning her funeral. Been going back and forth like that for months, but this…” He looked at Buffy. “This is probably the worst you could make it.”
“I’m a slayer, remember? If I’m not expecting it, I’m a really, really stupid slayer.”
Tara shook her head. “I have a feeling the subtext here is none of my business, so I’m not going to ask. I will say this, though: You’re both stupid.”
“Hey!” they objected in unison.
“Spike, no one knows slayers like you do. No one knows Buffy like you do. You know she has to prepare for the possibility, especially since we know when and where that possibility is. And Buffy, you know Spike needs to know where you stand. You never like to say what you’re thinking, and nothing good ever comes of it. So just say it, already.”
“I already did.”
Tara looked back and forth between them. “Ok, so I found the subtext. …But that’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
“I know.” Buffy took a deep breath. “There’s a difference between expecting it and wanting it, Sparky.”
“And what happens when you cross from one to the other? It’s a thin line, love.”
“Make it a quick talk, guys,” Tara said, turning back toward the house. When she got back to the living room, she returned to her chair with a proud smile. “Mrs. Summers, your demons will be back in a minute, behaving themselves.”
“Buffy’s not a demon!” Xander objected.
“Technically, she is part demon,” Anya said with a one shoulder shrug. “All slayers are.”
Willow frowned. “Maybe so, but it’s not enough to call her one.”
“Guys, guys! I was speaking metaphorically…”
Outside, Buffy allowed the soft, time-worn leather to be draped over her shoulders for the second time in an hour. “I do know it isn’t likely anymore, but I still feel compelled to prepare for it. Tara’s right–”
“On both counts, I’d say.”
“I should be more upfront with you. You deserve frequent reminders that I’m not looking for it.” She sat down on the garden bench. “And maybe other frequent reminders.”
“Guess I should know better than anyone that you’re gonna expect it. …Just afraid you’ll start to want it again.”
“How the hell did we survive without Tara around to keep us in line?”
“We barely did.” Spike joined her on the bench. “You don’t want it, do you?”
“I meant what I said to Althenea. I’m over the death wish. But that doesn’t mean death won’t find me.”
“I’m not gonna let you jump.”
“I hear you.” She sighed as she looked toward the house. “I should’ve said it sooner. I’ve been holding onto that for a while.”
“Figured that part out on my own. Any special reason?”
“There’s never a good time to say stuff like that. There’s always a Turok to hunt, a war to be fought, time travel spells, or something going on.”
Spike leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “Before we left. Suspected as much.”
“Last Christmas was when it hit me. Until then, I wasn’t even sure I’d forgiven… what happened. But when I couldn’t get to you, couldn’t get you out of there, I realized I was way past forgiving. The dreams were the big giveaway.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Every night, I saved you.”
“Further back than I thought.” Spike clenched his jaw. “A whole bloody year, and you never said…” He shook his head. “Taking everything I’ve got not to knock you off this bench right now.”
“It’s only been about nine months. For us, anyway.”
“And that’s so much better.” He threw her a glare.
She gave him a pleading smile. “Will you forgive me if I promise to remind you sometimes, and not die until I have to?”
“I’m gonna hold you to that.”