Buffy was officially worried.
She'd scoured every one of Spike's haunts and kept coming up empty. No one had seen or heard from him all day. "You know he's a vampire, right?" one bar owner had asked. "They can't travel around in sunlight."
"Spike can," Buffy had said.
At her wit's end, she figured she'd check in at the magic shop. Ask about Spike, apologize for flaking. Kill two birds.
Pushing past a few customers, Buffy sidled up to the cash register.
Anya looked uncomfortable. "Hello, Buffy. If you're buying something you'll have to go to the end of the line."
"I'm not. Buying anything. Just -- Did Spike come by here today?"
"No. But we ran into your ex-boyfriend, Riley. He's alive," she announced. "We told him to stop by your house."
"Yeah. Thanks for that," she said, confident that Anya wouldn't catch the sarcasm.
"You're welcome." She grinned. "You should leave now. There are paying customers on line."
"In the back."
She walked into the training room and saw Giles poring excitedly over that book. Evil book.
"Oh, hello, Buffy." He removed his glasses. "How are you?"
"I'm fine. Sorry about the book."
"It's quite alright. I'm more concerned about you. I spoke to Dawn--"
"Yeah." She sat down next to him. "Riley. Momentary freakout. No concern necessary."
"Are you sure? I must say you seem a little out of sorts."
"Yeah. My sorts are... out. A little. But I'll be okay."
"It must have been very hard to see him again. After all that's passed."
Buffy sighed. "Understatement." She got up. "But let's not talk about that. Find anything in the book?"
"Yes, actually, I've just discovered--"
"Did Spike come by here?"
"Today. You didn't see Spike, did you?"
"Okay. Just wondering. Go on. New discovery."
"Y-yes." He looked at her and replaced his glasses. "Ah, Willow. Perfect timing."
"What'd you find?" Willow said. "Hey, Buffy."
"I believe I've found a way to get our Zuxugnas home."
"Great!" said Willow.
"Finally," Buffy said, biting a nail. "I'm sick of being their bitch."
The two looked at her. Buffy cowed and said, "Go on."
"We'll start with the location spell..."
Buffy missed several important demon-banishing details as Giles filled them in.
Her mind was on someone else.
* * *
"Buffy," Willow said once they were alone. "I heard about Riley."
"What did you hear?"
"That he's back," she answered innocently. "And that he went over to your house, and, and you freaked a little."
Good. The PG version. "Yes. Freak-o-rama."
"Oh, god. Just... everything." Buffy's eyes welled up. Talking to her old friend and confidante made her want to spill completely.
"What? You can tell me."
"Um," she wiped a tear away. "It's not -- This isn't just about Riley. I mean, not really."
Willow searched her friend's expression.
"When Riley came to see me," she ventured, "Spike was there?"
Understanding flooded Willow's features. "Oh..."
"And... and we were... we were..."
"In the middle of something?"
Buffy nodded, unable to look at Willow's reaction. "And I was just so freaked I said all this stuff I didn't mean. I told him to get out of my house. In daylight..."
"And he left?"
"Uh-huh." She peered at Willow through her hands.
"We're talking about Spike, now, right?"
"Yeah." Willow didn't look the least bit surprised. "I guess you knew, too?"
"I kinda figured it out."
"How?" Buffy dabbed at her eyes.
"Well," Willow started cautiously, "there's the whole horny demon thing and, how you'd only patrol with Spike to kill them. That was kinda an indication. The jibes, too? Not so jibey lately. More... jokey than jibey. Oh, and your wardrobe has pretty much gotten Spike-friendly--"
"Okay. I get it." Buffy pouted. "I thought we were being so sneaky."
"Not really." Then she added helpfully, "But sneaky is fun, even if you just think you are."
"Guess the fun's over." Buffy suddenly looked frightened. "Does everybody know?"
"Well, Giles can't group you two in the same sentence anymore without... wincing."
Buffy blanched. "Great. And Xander?"
"Well, he's pretty much clueless unless you put on a three-act play in front of him."
"No, he just pretends he is. Oh!" she moaned. "I keep falling in love with vampires! You must think I'm totally sick."
"No, Buffy!... You're just following your heart." Willow leaned in to her friend and touched her arm. "It's not like it was a while ago when it wouldn't have made any sense for you two to have something. So much has changed in such a short time."
"You can say that again."
"Me and Tara were talking about this a few days ago. We were saying that, in a way, Spike's a lot like Anya. They sometimes wish they could get their powers back, but... I don't think either of them would trade it for what they have now."
"Granted, Spike's still got a monster somewhere in him, but, I don't know -- who doesn't?"
"But what if," she leaned in close. "What if I like the monster?"
"Wh-what do you mean?"
Buffy looked around to make sure they were alone. "What if I like it when he's all... vampy? And... bitey. In... bed."
Willow knit her brow. "Is that what you're worried about?"
"No?" Buffy lied.
"Buffy. Don't ever feel guilty about what... turns you on. It's all, you know," Willow did a little raise-the-roof dance in her seat for emphasis, "for a good cause."
"Plus, if you love him? No shame in that game." She flicked her wrist. "Go team."
"Love?" Buffy asked defensively. "Who said anything about love?"
"You did. Just a, a minute ago."
"I did?" Buffy moaned and dropped her head in her hands.
"Buffy, it's okay to love him," Willow said. "He's been... good for you. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but Spike seems to really... make you happy."
"Then why do I feel so miserable right now?"
"Because you miss him?"
Buffy mock-scowled at her friend's insight. "Stop being so smart."
"Willow, I can't find him anywhere."
"Practically the first place I looked." She rolled her eyes. "I know -- my boyfriend's an alcoholic."
"Only when he's got the love problems," Willow smiled.
"What do I do now?"
"I'm sure he'll turn up, Buffy. We all know he can't stay away from you for long. He might just need some alone time. You know, to reflect on the terrible yet truthful things I'm sure he said."
"Got that right."
"Anyway, it was just a fight. You'll be kissing and making up and playin' 'Bite the Buffy' in no time. E-except without him biting too much and you biting back. That could be bad."
Buffy laughed. "Thanks, Will." She hugged her best friend. "You're the best."
"Remember, when all else fails, grovel."
"Puttin' on my grovelin' shoes."
* * *
"Bitch wants me to grovel? Wants me to come back begging?"
"That's not right," said the naked woman who was riding Spike's clothed, prone body.
Spike watched red lights bounce off a mirror ball onto the four walls surrounding them. "Yeah. A bloody demon whore, she is!" He closed his eyes to stop the spinning.
The girl laughed. "That's a new one."
"She is!" He looked at the girl on top of him. "I'm a vampire, you know."
"Really?" she asked with mock interest.
"Yeah, I'll show you." He tried to change his face, but nothing happened. He was totally stewed. "Oh, bugger me backwards."
"What am I gonna see?" she said, expertly containing her laughter.
"Nothing. You'd get all scared anyway. You'd run, 'AAAA!'"
"I would, huh?"
He smiled wistfully. "She doesn't run. Doesn't get scared."
"Buffy! She's a slayer, for god's sake!" Spike slurred.
"Your girlfriend's name is Buffy."
"Not my girlfriend. Not my bloody girlfriend. She'll never be that."
"I'm sorry," she said with little emotion.
"Likes monsters but she won't admit it. Why won't she just bloody admit it?"
"I don't know, baby," she said, leading his hands to her breasts. "Good girls always go for the bad boys."
"That's what I'm sayin'!" he agreed, kneading at her thick brown nipples. "Just 'cause I'm a vampire and she's the bloody Slayer, just 'cause I never got cursed with a bloody soul like the bloody poofter--"
"I don't know what you're talking about but I still like the sound of your voice."
"Must be new in town," he surmised.
"Just moved here six months ago."
"You'll be someone's lunch soon enough," he sighed.
"Yeah. But," he looked at her and touched her hair, a sentimental wave crashing over him, "I like you. I don't think you should get eaten."
"Well, me neither."
"Listen to me, pet. Don't come down here with anyone," he took her hand to his face, "with skin cold as mine."
She frowned at him, bemused.
"I'm serious. Take that bit of advice and you won't get killed."
She nodded. "Thanks, I think."
"See what she's done to me?" Spike said with a laugh. "She's given me a bloody soul."
* * *
"Riley?" Buffy approached him cautiously. "What are you doing in Spike's crypt?"
"I'm waiting for him."
"So I can kill him."
"You're not killing anyone."
"He and I had an understanding," he said shakily.
She rolled her eyes. "Riley. This is not between you and him. This is between you and me."
"We have nothing to talk about."
"We have a lot--"
"I don't want to hear it."
"Oh, you don't?" She continued angrily, fists clenched, "Well, hear this. My world has done a one-eighty since you left. My mom died, all of my friends almost died, and some bitch-god cut up my sister to open a portal to every hellish dimension in existence." She took a breath. "But guess who's been at my side through all of this, willing to fight to the death."
"Yeah. Spike." She glared at him. "So don't come back here, expecting to take up shop in my life again, busting in on me in my private moments and deciding to kill the one person I need more than anyone because it'll make you feel better."
"No. You know what? You're right. We have nothing to talk about."
She walked out and slammed the door.