Buffy ignored the concerned voice and stared up at the ceiling of her dorm room. You know, if you squinted funny at the paint swirls, you could make out the shape of a mermaid doing the tango with a shark. Or maybe it was an octopus. Buffy couldn’t tell. Either way, debating that was easier than doing something crazy like dealing with the world. Paint swirls were so much easier to interpret than your own feelings.
“Buffy, I’ve let you be all avoidy since you came in. Now it’s spill time and you know it,” Willow chided gently. “You’ll feel better once you talk about it. I mean, body snatching is sorta big with the issue causing. And talking about issues makes issues better……or at least that’s what they tell me……”
Buffy rolled over, deciding that the paint swirls had nothing to do with underwater and instead made one big shooting star.
“Buffy? This is the part where you start talking.”
“Do I haveta?” she whined.
“Yes. You’ve gone through like the topsy turviest twenty-four hours ever.”
“Not *the* topsy turviest. Pathetically enough, I’ve had worse,” Buffy remarked as she turned to face Willow on the other bed. “Of course, it’s a close contest at the moment.”
Willow nodded sympathetically.
“I mean, sending Angel to hell will probably hold the place as Worst Ever. And I really, really hope that never changes. But Faith’s little game – ” Buffy cut herself off abruptly, fists clenching as she thought of the other Slayer. Through gritted teeth, she said, “Faith’s little game is running a close second.”
“Body switching does do that.”
Buffy let out a humorless laugh. “Faith didn’t leave it at body switching. She didn’t even leave it at playing skanky ho in the Bronze.”
“Omigosh, did she kill someone?” Willow asked, panicking.
“Well, that’s good,” she offered awkwardly.
“She had sex with Riley instead.”
Okay, Willow wasn’t expecting that. “You sure?”
“Spike is. And I believe him. Not to mention, there are,” Buffy’s hand trailed up to a sloppy hickey marring her neck, “marks.”
“And you’re sure those aren’t ‘marks’ from any other extra-curricular activities?”
“Yes,” Buffy answered without hesitation. “The other ones, they, ah, they tingle.” Her eyes got a distant look as she thought of the only thing that had gone right recently. Spike had offered to stay with her after the Faith incident, but she had refused. Mostly on account of the very real possibility that she would have given into his suggestion of finding Riley and punching the daylights out of him, just because she needed someone to punch.
Willow got a gleam in her eye. This was a perfect segue into the question that had been burning in the back of her brain since the night before.
“About those tingles……”
“I thought we were still on a Faith is Evil rant.”
“We can go back to that. So. Spike and tingles?”
Willow settled herself in, eyes sparkling. “C’mon. Details.”
Buffy smiled a little. This switch into classic girl talk was just what she needed for the moment. “It was – wonderful. I mean, yeah, when we were under the spell we well, you know, but this was completely magic free. I mean, magic magic free. But there was still – ”
“Another kind of magic going on?”
“Yes. Everything just felt……right. Like now was the time. Of course, I didn’t feel the same way the morning after, but while we were together, it was perfect. Not to mention,” Buffy added impishly, “Spike can be *very* creative.”
“Creative, huh? How so?” Willow teased.
“I thought a lady isn’t supposed to kiss and tell,” Buffy teased back. “Though can I say that a century of experience? Definitely of the good.”
“So he’s a keeper?”
Buffy thought a moment. “I don’t know if this is a forever thing, but even with the screwed up mess that is my life, I’d say that having Spike there is one of the better accidents that have happened to me. We’ll see what happens next.” Her eyes softened. “But I think it’ll be good. When I was freaking out about going too fast, his libido’s disappointment aside, it sounded like he was willing to slow down. Not in a bad way, but in an I-want-to-have-a-real-relationship way. And that says a lot for him.”
Willow nodded. “It does.”
They sat quietly for a moment.
“You know you’ll still have to talk to Riley about Faith.”
“I know. Not looking forward to that.”
Buffy stared at Riley, standing across the room stacking students’ papers. Psychology class was over and only a few stragglers were left behind chatting as they slowly migrated towards the door. At that moment, Buffy wanted to run and bury her head in the sand, pretending nothing had happened.
As if sensing her friend’s faltering courage, Willow gave her an encouraging push in the TA/Secret Agent Man’s direction. Reluctantly, Buffy approached him.
When Riley saw Buffy coming towards him, his face became covered in an enormous smile. “Buffy!” He moved to kiss her. “Buffy, I missed you.”
Buffy swallowed, avoided his lips, and imagined driving a spike into Faith’s skull for making her do this. Or getting Spike to do it for her. “Riley, we have to talk.”
He nodded. “Sure.”
There was a pause. Buffy wondered what was the best way to tell an ex-boyfriend that the last time he saw her (and had sex with her!) she had been somebody else. There should be how-to guides on stuff like that. On the hellmouth, it could be a big seller.
Riley noticed Buffy’s awkwardness. She must be nervous, especially after her declaration of love last night. But it was okay. Soon she’d see how wonderful everything was going to be. All he had to do was explain it to her.
“Buffy, last night was amazing. You have no idea how happy I am that you came to me like that. I’m so proud of you for breaking whatever sick hold he had over you,” Riley said earnestly. “And I promise you that if you have any problems getting rid of Spike, I can help. The resources of the Initiative are at your disposal.”
Buffy cringed inside at his words. This was going to go even worse than she’d thought.
Riley continued his speech. “We have a chance to build a relationship here. As soon as Hostile 17’s out of the way, we can forget your lapses and really start something. Who knows? If Forrest’s willing, maybe you could even move in with me, if that’s what you want. I understand that you might want to wait a few months before that, but – ”
“Riley, I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“Whatever you thought you heard me say or do last night, it wasn’t me,” Buffy tried to be as gentle as possible. “An enemy of mine did this spell – she switched our bodies. I looked like her; she looked like me – ”
Riley stared at her. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that it wasn’t me. It was someone who looked like me, sounded like me, but she wasn’t me.”
“What? It was you.” His expression crumpled for a moment, before becoming angry. “You, you came onto me. Said you and Spike were through, that it was a mistake you were done with. We had sex! You, you,” he paused, unable to speak for a moment. “You practically said you loved me!”
“Riley, you have no idea how sorry I am about this.”
“It’s always a spell with you, isn’t it? Always some reason why whatever we share is meaningless. It’s always nothing. In the end, I’m the idiot left behind as you turn around and go back to whoring for that vampire. You’re still with him, aren’t you?”
“It’s not just that. It’s not just some other spell gone wrong with him. With me, the spell’s always an excuse to end it. Not with him. You want it. You want to give yourself to a demon. I can tell. You make me sick.”
“Riley – ”
“Don’t. Just don’t.”
He turned and left, leaving Buffy standing there alone, desperately wishing for something to kill. Preferably Faith. Possibly Riley
“How did it go?” Willow asked, as she quietly came up to her friend’s side.
“About as I expected. Turns out Faith didn’t just screw him, she said she loved him.”
And the Understatement of the Year Award goes to Willow Rosenberg.
Riley stormed back to Lowell House, his gut churning with rage. At whom, he didn’t know. A tiny, rational part recognized that this was the fault of Buffy’s unnamed enemy. But in the maelstrom of emotions that swirled inside, that part was forgotten. To him, this was the last straw.
Walsh had been pressuring him to turn in not only Hostile 17, but the Slayer as well. But no, he had argued with a superior officer on Buffy’s behalf, saying that despite a lapse in judgement, she was still a good human. That even though she bound herself to a monster it didn’t make her one as well. Hell, who knows. Maybe this whole roller coaster she’d taken him through has just been a game to screw with him. Demons did that, didn’t they? Mock the mortals of the world.
And when you got down to it, a Slayer must be like a demon. No real human should have that kind of power. Just like the witches and werewolves that the Initiative occasionally studied, Slayers had to be like them too.
What did Walsh call them? Humanoid, but only just. Not the real deal.
His anger and confusion congealed into a single mass of hate. To the Slayer who screwed him over and the demon who helped her do it. Maybe now was the time to take Walsh up on her offer.
Buffy had a funny déjà vu feeling. Once again, she found herself staring at the ceiling searching for patterns. And once again, it was easier than making sense of her life.
Riley had been crushed by her revelation. Everything else Faith had done had been survivable, but her little encounter with him would screw things up for who knows how long. Buffy certainly didn’t. She hoped he wasn’t going to be correcting any of her tests any time soon.
With a bit of luck, she could avoid him. Avoidance was always a good strategy when dealing with yucky problems.
A niggling voice in the back of her head said avoidance wouldn’t cut it. Some of Riley’s speech – even if she had slept with him, chosen him over Spike (as if she would), would have bothered her.
But now wasn’t the time to worry about that. Her plate was full enough today and she hadn’t finished digesting it yet, thank you very much. Buffy’s plan was to spend the rest of the night digesting (aka vegging) in an effort to get her life under a semblance of control.
As she lay there, finding pictures in the ceiling plaster, someone knocked on the door. Buffy sat up slightly. Willow had slipped off to get appropriate snacks and wouldn’t knock on coming back.
The door swung open, revealing Spike standing there, a pint of ice cream in one hand and a box of chocolates in another. He stood there uncomfortably a moment before crossing the threshold. “Red passed me in the hall and told me to bring’em up……” his voice trailed off uncertainly as he gestured at the food.
He walked over, handing her the ice cream. Buffy ripped it open and started searching around for a spoon. Spike spied one and gave it to her, a smile playing on his lips as she dug in. “How are you?”
“Better now that I’m back in my body. But still feeling crappy after trying to clean up Faith’s little party-o-fun.” Buffy ate a spoonful, not wanting to dwell on that. “Where’s Willow?”
“I think after she saw me coming along she decided to give us some private time.” He shook his head slightly, chuckling.
“Just surprised one of your friends trusts you alone with me. Especially the one who I’ve actually threatened a few times before.”
“If it makes you feel better, Xander would freak if he knew.”
Spike settled beside her. “Thanks.” He produced a spoon of his own and stole a bite. Buffy mock glared at him and punched him in the shoulder. “So, what fascinating things are you – ” Spike broke off, noticing a distinctive gleam on her left hand. He reached out and captured her wrist, fingers lightly caressing the golden band. “When did this come on?” he asked quietly.
She smiled. “This morning. I don’t know yet if it will stay on, but as long as we’re married, I think I’ll keep it.”
“You recognized me when no one else did. I think that’s reason enough to admit I’m married, right?”
He nodded and placed a gentle kiss right above the ring, his tongue dancing a quick pattern on her skin. “Good enough for me.”
Buffy blushed and pulled her hand away. Spike let her go.
“So,” he said after a moment, “what are you doing to entertain yourself?”
“Not much. Just staring at the ceiling and seeing if there are any pictures in the plaster,” Buffy admitted.
“If you’re that bored, luv, I know some games we could play,” he said with a wink.
“Spike, do you ever think of anything besides sex?”
“Who said I was? You’re the one seeing all these innuendoes,” he teased.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Only ‘cause you put them there.”
The two were practically in each other's face, eyes flashing with the fun of a good fight.
“Did not – hey!” Buffy scowled, realizing her slip.
Spike leaned back with a smirk. “I win.”
She relaxed against him, muttering, “Did not.”
Spike let it go. They sat there a moment, just cuddling. Then Buffy started pointing out her mermaid and shark dancing in the plaster. Of course, Spike saw something completely different.
“Where are you getting an elephant from? Can’t you see the mermaid’s tail?”
“At least I can see, as opposed to some people, Slayer.”
“Yeah right, you elephant spying vampire.”
And the argument continued, the playful banter going back and forth. Neither would have it any other way. Peaceful cuddles were okay for a little while, but no fun in the long run. What they needed was the zip and zing of a proper match.