Joyce was cleaning the casserole dish with the news turned on in the other room, the volume high. She wondered why she bothered cooking big meals when it was just her. She usually ended up throwing the last two servings away because they went bad. It might be a good time to start looking into those frozen dinners for one she saw in the supermarket.
" - in local news, authorities have determined that the recent rash of animal attacks were due to a rabid coyote. Animal Control will capture it any day now, they assure - "
She smiled. A few years ago, she would have fussed a bit and wondered about getting a rabies shot. These days, she knew better. In Sunnydale terms, 'rabid coyote' meant 'vampire'. Though this was the first time Animal Control had gotten involved. Probably just a new addendum to the standard newscast, all for increasing the level of denial enjoyed by her neighbors.
Joyce put the dish away. Okay, not all her neighbors. Mr. Gaiden from two houses down was part An''kl demon. He came over for coffee occasionally and tried to convince her to come join him and his buddies for poker. She always refused. Gambling for kittens just sounded wrong, no matter how good the company was.
Dishes done and kitchen clean (relatively), she settled down to watch some TV.
"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups..."
Detective Lenny Briscoe was interrogating the suspect. The suspect looked like he was about to crack any second now. Joyce leaned in closer, the better to hear, as the big plot twist emerged when -
"Mommy!" Buffy shouted upon entering the house. Spotting her mother in the living room, she bounded over to sit next to her. "Mommy, I need help."
Joyce sighed and cast her eyes to the sky for a moment as she turned off the TV. Of course, the only thing that could bring her baby home was a Mom-class problem. Hell, she had done that in college.
Without missing a beat, she stretched her arm around Buffy and pulled her close. "What's wrong?"
"What kind of everything?" Joyce raised an eyebrow at her daughter. "Is this a Slayer everything or a Buffy everything?"
It had better be a Buffy everything. There were parenting books on those. But no matter how many times she checked the shelves at Barnes & Noble, there weren't any on being the mother of the Chosen One.
"An Everything everything."
"Oh." She tried on her I-am-the-wise-mother-who-knows-all look. It had worked for *her* mother, hadn't it? "Tell me about it."
Joyce noticed Buffy started avoiding her eyes and finding the wall very interesting. If there was one thing her daughter excelled at, besides killing things of course, it was avoiding the issue. It didn't really matter what the issue was; Buffy could always be counted on to deny its existence.
"Are you pregnant?" she opted for the shock value question, inwardly praying that it was wrong. Joyce thought she had done very well dealing with her daughter's calling. She wasn't ready to be a grandmother, as well.
"NO!" Buffy protested. "Where'd you get that idea? No pregnancy here. No sirree. Uh-uh."
"Then what is it?"
Buffy pouted and scowled all together at once. "Big messy confusing long story that's kind of embarrassing and I should have told you before but didn't and - "
"Buffy, I survived learning you were the Slayer. I survived learning that you died - "
"That was only for a minute."
" - and I survived learning that you had sex. Honey, just explain the problem to me and then I can help."
Joyce blinked. Not what she was expecting.
"When did this happen?"
"Maybe two months ago?"
Joyce's mind whirled. "And you didn't tell me? Are you living with him? When did he come back here? Who did the service? Why didn't you invite me?"
Buffy stared at her mother. This was not the reaction she had been expecting. She'd been expecting an I-can't-believe-you-did-this lecture, leading into a conversation where her mother told her the best way to get rid of Spike once and for all. Instead, her mom seemed more upset about not being informed about the wedding and wanting details.
She jumped off the couch and started to pace.
"It's not the married part that's the problem. Willow did a spell and we got married and I'm getting a divorce but that's not the problem either. Well, in a way it is because Spike doesn't want a divorce and he's acting all romanticky about it and you know, Slayer/Vampire equals bad and I don't know what to do and why are you smiling like that?"
Joyce quickly tried to hide her smile. Okay, so she wished she had been told about the marriage earlier. And Spike wasn't exactly her first choice (all right, given the list at the moment he was, but she'd been hoping for some more entries). But she couldn't help feeling a hint of satisfaction that her daughter was in something that could approach a stable relationship eventually. With some work, of course.
"Slow down and start from the top."
Buffy took a deep breath and spilled everything. From meeting Riley to the chip to Willow's spell to Spike's oddly possessive attitude to the Lowell House incident and finally to Spike's plea for a chance.
" - and I don't know what to do, Mom," she finished. "He's making everything all confusing and complicated."
Her daughter never did anything halfway, did she? Joyce sighed as she tried to sort out the onslaught of information. In a calm voice, she asked, "Well, Buffy, what do you want to do about this?"
Buffy whined and stuck her face in the couch cushion. "That's just the thing. I don't know what I want."
That much was obvious.
"It sounds like Spike likes you. Do you like him back?"
"This isn't high school, Mom! Hello, mortal enemies here. Hell, he tried to kill me only a month or so before we got married!"
"You're avoiding the question."
Buffy slouched in her seat. "Sometimes I do. When he's not being a really big jerk or all evil or something."
She continued talking, "I mean, it's not like he's full time evil like a lot of vampires, right? And he can be nice when he wants to be. Willow says he was super supportive when she was being all depressed about Oz leaving. Of course," Buffy reconsidered, "he was trying to bite her at the time."
Joyce made no comment. She sat there silently, waiting for her daughter to work this out.
"But that's just Spike being, you know, Spike." Buffy worried her lip for a moment. "He did say he'd lay off if I proved to him that we so didn't work in a married way. So if I give in and it all goes to hell in a handbasket (in a not literal sense) then I can just say I told you so and he'll go away."
Feeling far less confused and much more resolved, Buffy bounded up off the couch. "Thanks for talking to me, Mom."
Joyce's lips quirked up. She hadn't actually done much of the talking - only listened to Buffy's ranting. But that's what mothers are for. Listening.
"Where are you going?"
"To ask Spike out on a date and prove how wrong he is!"
Joyce leaned back into the couch as she watched her daughter leave the house. You'd think after nineteen years she'd be used to how Buffy's mind worked.
Well, there was nothing much to do but turn on the TV and offer the mismatched couple her best wishes. Buffy could do worse. Okay, maybe not much worse from a maternal viewpoint, but at least he wasn't a complete loser. And Joyce knew what a loser looked like. After all, she had married one.
After leaving her mom's house, Buffy headed to Spike's crypt. Her plan was to burst in, tell him she was willing to date him, watch said date collapse in disaster, and go home with all freaky Spike feelings gone and start checking out the cute guy down the hall.
When she reached his crypt, Buffy stood in front of his door for several minutes. To enter or not to enter, that is the question. If she went in, that could lead to all around badness. But if she didn't, she'd be a big fat scaredy-cat.
You know, when you get down to it, scaredy-cats know what they're doing.
"Make up your mind, Slayer! I haven't got all day!"
Forgot about that vamp sense thing. Spike knew she was here.
Well, there was no hiding now. Buffy gave the crypt door a push. Being a heavy door it didn't budge. She gave it a harder push. It slid open a little, then got stuck. She pushed again. Nothing. Frustrated, Buffy kicked the door. Hard.
It flew open and cracked on the opposite wall. Jagged door pieces made a dusty pile on the ground. Oops.
"What was that for?" Spike demanded, getting up from his seat on his sarcophagus. He waved his hand, trying to clear the disturbed dust and dirt. Through it all, he could see the outline of Buffy, standing in the doorway with an embarrassed look on her face. "You smashed my damn door!"
"You should have oiled the hinges or something! It got stuck!"
"I got it open just fine!"
"And then you shut it too tight."
"You're saying the door that YOU broke is now my fault?"
"But you're the one who kicked it!"
"Well - " Buffy paused. They were not getting off on the right start. "Okay, I broke your damn door. Happy?"
"My door's still broken."
"Here's an idea. Get a real house. An apartment, a straight - "
"Funny British word for an apartment."
"That's a flat, luv," Spike sighed. Anya told him to be patient with Buffy's faults and not judge, otherwise he was being a 'vengeance worthy example of masculinity'. And Anya, he had no doubt, was fully capable of performing vengeance for wronged women if so moved.
"Flat, straight, still makes no sense."
"Like your mind, Slayer." Hey, arguing is an integral part of their relationship.
Buffy scowled. "Hey! Listen, Spike, I came here to - "
"Break my door," he supplied helpfully.
"No, actually, I had a moment of temporary insanity and came here to ask if you wanted to go the Bronze. But obviously you're too big a jerk for that to work." She turned around to storm out. Pity there wasn't a door to slam for dramatic effect.
Spike watched her go, glaring at her back. Stupid bitch, breaking his door - wait a second, what did she say? He hurried after her.
"Wait! Buffy, what was that?"
Buffy pretended she didn't hear him and kept walking. She doubted it would work, but it was worth a shot.
"Buffy!" Spike finally caught up with her. "Forget about the door - "
"It's not the door. Spike, we can't be in the same room without fighting."
"So, that's bad."
"Luv, that little spat was no different than what any other couple goes through. You can't blame it on Slayers and vampires or anything else." Buffy didn't respond. "You owe me a date."
Buffy stood still a moment after Spike finished talking. Her reasonable, rational self wanted to say forget it and keep walking. Instead, she turned to him and asked, "You buying?"
"Only if you don't ask where the money comes from."
Buffy made a face. "I should. But I won't."
"Step in the right direction."
"Actually, it's a step backwards."
Bickering, Buffy and Spike walked to the Bronze, side by side, blonde heads bobbing in animated argument.
While Anya babbled about something (undoubtedly important to her) Xander sipped his beer and watched the dancers on the floor. Anya had tried to drag him out there earlier. However, he had promptly tripped and struck a very big football player. Said football player had taken offense and tried to separate Xander's important parts from other important parts. Anya had successfully intervened (and therefore wounded his masculinity). Xander wasn't going to risk dancing anytime soon.
As he tuned out his girlfriend and nodded at the right moments, he could have sworn he saw Buffy dancing with Spike out on the floor. He choked on his next sip of beer.
"Xander, are you okay? Breathing is good for you. You should start doing that again."
"Uh-huh. Ahn, how many drinks have I had?"
"One and a half," she supplied helpfully. Then a look of horror crossed her face. "You're not too drunk to have sex tonight, are you?"
"What? No! I just thought I saw Spike of all people dancing with Buffy."
Anya turned her head in the direction he was looking. "You did." She cocked her head, considering the couple. "I am pleased to see they are finally giving in to their mutual attraction."
"What attraction?" Xander stood up. "Will must have done a spell again. 'Cause there's no way Buffy would let Spike near her. Especially touch her like - " He stood up as he saw the vampire's hands start to wander.
"Hands off, Dead Boy!"
Spike turned around. The whelp stood there, glaring at him. He shrugged and turned back to face Buffy.
Unfortunately, Buffy wasn't willing to continue dancing.
"Xander, what are you doing here?" she asked, her face getting that tense, tight expression people get when they're trying to be polite but are really upset inside.
"Anya wanted to go out. Buffy, what the hell are you doing with him?"
The him in question started growling. Buffy gently put a hand on his arm and gave him a look, silently telling him to let her handle this.
Spike fought the urge to mark his claim. Instead,
"I'm getting a drink. Want something?"
Buffy shook her head. He left, for the moment.
Spike safely gone, Xander started to let loose. "Buffy? Is this a spell? Can you explain?"
Buffy restrained the desire to shout, 'Why do I have to explain myself to you?!'. Instead, she merely said, "No spell. Spike and I are married. We decided to see if it can work. It probably won't, but I'm willing to try and so is he. End of story."
"No, not end of story! Last time you were under a spell, you were all 'no, I'm the Slayer, I'm immune'."
"That was different."
"It felt different. Xander, I can assure you, this is spell free." Xander huffed at that. Trying another tactic, he said, "But Buffy, Spike is a vampire. Vampire equals evil. Remember?"
"I'm the Slayer. It's not like I can forget."
Xander raised an eyebrow. "Then what's up with you and the ungrateful dead?"
"I don't know. But I want to find out."
Xander really, really wanted to yell at her some more. Tell her to stake the monster and get it over with. But he had known Buffy long enough to know when she was determined. Like now. Buffy was mimicking Willow's resolve face. Resolve face meant no further discussion under pain of, well, pain of something bad. He had never tested Willow to find out. Given how strong Buffy was, he wasn't about to test her either.
"I won't make a fuss. Just promise me one thing."
"When this reaches critical meltdown, let me be there to watch you dump him. It'll give me a happy."
Buffy's lips quirked up. "When I dump Spike, I promise you can have a seat."
With a nod, Xander left. Buffy let out a sigh. One roadblock dealt with. For now. She wasn't looking forward to the blow-up that would occur if she decided to drop the divorce.
Since when was she acknowledging that possibility? Buffy frowned slightly. Her whole plan hinged on Spike proving himself a total jack-ass. They date, they fail, she dumps. That was the plan.
Only, Spike had been charming, witty, and a good dancer. He hadn't made any crude remarks, gestures, or been at all vampire-y. In fact, if Buffy hadn't known better, she would have thought she was on a date with a perfectly human guy. Why did Spike have to confuse her like that?
"The whelp leave like a good little boy?"
Speak of the devil. Wow, let the irony flow.
"Don't call him that. He has a name, you know."
Spike snorted. Buffy mock glared at him. "You should be nicer to my friends."
"When they're nicer to me, I will be," was his retort. Setting down his drink, he pulled her back to the dance floor. Spike smiled as Buffy slid into his arms easily and joined him in moving to the music. That her conversation with Xander had been negative was a sure thing in his mind. But the whelp had left without causing any trouble and she was still willing to dance. He had caught the tail end - Buffy was still planning on this to fail. Spike decided not to hold it against her. His girl never gave into anything without a fight. That's what he loved about her best. Loved? Spike thought a moment, then grinned. Yes, loved.
"That Riley's old girlfriend?"
"Looks like." Forrest watched the dancing couple. "Never could see what he saw in her."
Graham checked out the blonde from his vantage point at the bar. "She's hot. Have to give him credit for that."
"True. But she's a risk."
"And a paranormal being." Graham frowned slightly. "Is that Hostile 17 with her?"
Forrest studied the man opposite Buffy intently. "Yes."
"Shouldn't we call the unit, prepare for a retrieval?"
"No. We should report to Walsh, let her decide. She might have something special planned."
"Can't believe the so-called Slayer is dancing with an HST."
"Failures like that are why our unit exists. The old ways are not effective."
"Science, not superstition," replied Graham, quoting Walsh's primary directive for the Initiative.
The soldiers left the Bronze, ready to report to their superior their observations. Buffy and Spike continued dancing, unaware of what was being planned.