Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 6

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series Seven Stages to Clarity
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Title: Seven Stages to Clarity

Author: Pfeifferpack

Medium: Fiction

Rating: PG

Summary: When facing eternity, a good mother will try to put all her affairs in order. That means getting real, seeing clearly and putting your own heart’s desires on hold, your dreams in perspective, letting your brain control your advice. Now if only those you love will just cooperate! Joyce looks to her daughter’s future as her own mortality becomes an issue and comes to some startling conclusions. Can Joyce convince Buffy to forget all that she has been telling her, all that everyone has been telling her, thereby easing Joyce’s own worries before facing the hospital and possible death?

Setting: S5 and begins to go AU at the end of “Fool For Love” (written by Douglas Petrie). I am using bits of dialogue from that episode in the beginning of the story before it goes a very different direction.

A/N: Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified a grief cycle (her initial number of stages was five) that occurs when people deal with death or grieving. The current feeling is that there are more like seven stages, hence my title. Those stages encompass: Shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression and loneliness (or a period of reflection realizing the full impact of the loss), an upward turn of adjustment, reconstruction of life with the change, and finally acceptance and hope.
This season’s theme was “head vs. heart”. Oft times what appears logical and right to any sane person–your heart’s desire, as it were–is not the correct choice after all, not when facing your own exit.

Disclaimer: Some info such as doctors’ names and Joyce’s medical condition were taken from “Shadow” (written by Dave Fury) and “Listening to Fear” (written by Jane Espenson) and a wee bit of Riley attitude paraphrased from “Into The Woods” (by Marti Noxon). The characters in this story do not belong to me and are being used for amusement purposes only. All rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the original writers of the episodes, books and other licensed products connected to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, particularly Twentieth Century Fox, WB, CW, and UPN, all rights reserved.

(see previous post for links to chapters 1 – 5)Chapter 6 of Seven Stages To Clarity
A/N: “Crush” bits of dialog (written by David Fury)
Joyce speaks of an interesting study on the growth of our brains, especially the frontal lobe area and the impact on young people’s reasoning skills and judgment among other things. One article can be found here although there are several available.

 

~*~*~*~
Chapter 6
~*~*~*~

“You need to talk to your daughter!” Buffy huffed.

“What do you want to talk about, honey?” Joyce repressed a grin.

“Not me! I mean the other one–the short, annoying one.” Buffy shook her head. “You would NOT believe what craziness she has going on in her head now.”

Joyce closed the freezer door and leaned against the cabinet. Her energy levels still weren’t what they should be and Buffy noticed immediately.

“Why don’t we get some tea or something while I rag on my sister. You go and sit down and I’ll bring it,” Buffy offered.

Buffy had become so very solicitous since the surgery. Joyce didn’t much care for being treated like an invalid but accepted graciously nonetheless.

“Not tea; Spike has spoiled me for tea made properly I’m afraid and it’s put me off of the bagged dipping we call tea.” Joyce noted the slight frown at Spike’s name. “Maybe some cocoa?”

Buffy took her mom gently by the upper arms and steered her towards the door. “Fine, hot chocolate it is. Go forth and sit!”

The chocolate was rich and creamy, just like they both liked it.

“Now, what has Dawn done this time?”

“You know how she’s spending all her spare time in the basement with the house vampire?”

“Yes. I think Spike’s been good to her and it’s nice that he likes her well enough to put up with her high energy.”

“Good?!” Buffy sputtered, falling into old patterns of dismissing anything about a good side to Spike. She saw the disapproval on her mother’s face and reconsidered. “Okay, I can see some good. Who knew Spike could speak French?”

“I did, for one. Anyone growing up where and when he did would have had some background in French; add to that time spent there over the years and it seemed logical to me that he could help Dawn get that grade up.”

“Still wrapping my mind around Spike as something other than just a vampire made from a street thug, I guess,” Buffy admitted. “Anyway, the problem isn’t what Dawn’s learning; it’s what she’s assuming.”

“What’s that, dear?”

“She’s got it into her head that Spike is in lo–,” Buffy could not choke the word out. “That he kinda liii–.” She rolled her eyes in annoyance with herself and muttered, “She says Spike’s in love with me.”

Joyce sipped her chocolate and mulled it over. Yes, she could see it herself; had for some time, if she were honest about it. Just weeks earlier the thought would have terrified her, but now she had a shock of approval go through at the thought. If Spike did love Buffy…well, his history showed that he didn’t cut and run even if things weren’t easy. He was loyal and strong.

Buffy broke into her mom’s thought process. “Yeah, I was speechless too. I can just imagine the way the gang will react–that is, if there’s any truth to it. Giles will insist we kick Spike out or stake him and Xander will be right beside him.”

Joyce blinked. “This is my house, Buffy. I decide who has an invitation. If your Watcher or your friends don’t approve, they don’t need to drop by. As for the staking, I would hope that I raised you to be a better person than that.” Joyce shook her head at the thought that no matter how Spike had tried to help them or how hard he had been trying to be more human, they still seemed to look for reasons to reject him.

It was Buffy’s turn to be silent. She remembered how traumatic her love life had been when she had adored Angel. Her mom wasn’t so protective of him! They were both vampires, but Angel had a soul! Why didn’t her mom see the difference? It seemed the only differences she did see were ones where Spike looked better for some reason. It didn’t make sense.

“Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter. I’m not in love with him; never will be.” Buffy set her mug on the coffee table. “I loved Angel so much. I will never love anyone like I loved him.”

“Well of course you won’t!” Joyce sighed deeply and reminded herself again of how young Buffy still was, in spite of all her responsibilities. “First love is all about the emotional roller-coaster…the angst and pathos. In the case of Angel, all the other aspects just magnified that beyond the normal.” Seeing the look on Buffy’s face, it was probably best not to attack the idea of that rose-colored love. “Sweetheart, do you really think you could have met your one and only love at the age of fifteen? How many teenage romances become life-long relationships? A few–a precious, rare few—might, but not many. You grow up, grow apart. Statistics don’t favor that kind of connection working out.”

“I’m the Slayer. I have a short shelf life. I mature faster than most girls.”

Joyce held back evidence of that being a fallacy.

“Sweetheart, even medically you were at a disadvantage. I was reading an article while I was in the doctor’s waiting room. It was about a study done on the brains of teens and adolescents. They’ve discovered that the prefrontal cortex doesn’t even fully function until the twenties at least, maybe later. Your decision-making skills, inhibition control, all of those abilities using your frontal lobe are not able to work well enough to make life-long decisions.”

She could see that Buffy wasn’t buying any of it. “Why, my first love was Harvey Duckworth.” She nearly laughed at the look on Buffy’s face. “Ace and I dated throughout high school. He was the football captain. I almost turned down my scholarship to USC so I could join him at Northwestern.”

“I would be Buffy Duckworth?”

“Oh, no, I hear he named his girls for the women of Middle Earth. He always loved Tolkien. I think his eldest is Luthien or maybe Galadriel.” Buffy shuddered at the thought. “His son is Frodo, I believe.”

“Anyway, I have never loved another like I loved him. He was my first love, my first lover.” Buffy gasped and gave her that TMI look. “Oh, the heady feel of it all!” Joyce smiled as she remembered. “Then came your dad.”

Buffy wasn’t sure she wanted to hear about him either.

“I was crazy about him. We had so many years, good years, where we built a life together. I’ll never love another like him either. Even with how it ended, I wouldn’t trade a day. We grew up and for a while grew together. We struggled and enjoyed life and made two beautiful daughters.” She hoped Buffy was starting to catch on. “You never love any two people the same way and we are all fully capable of loving more than one person in our lives. You don’t take away from one to give to another.”

Buffy had never looked at love quite that way before, but she could kinda see it. Still… “But Spike…”

“Spike will never love again like he did Drusilla. He loved her through many bad times for over a century, you know. But like your love for Angel, it’s a good thing he won’t love like that again, that neither of you will. Those loves made both of you less than you really are. You both tried to mold yourselves into what best pleased Dru and Angel and both of you lost a bit of yourselves in doing that. Being what another person wants you to be is not love, honey, and it’s not healthy either.”

“But Angel never asked me to be different,” Buffy defended.

“You were never happy. You can’t tell me you miss all the tears and insecurities.”
Joyce remembered the muffled crying. She had known at the time it had to be boy-related, even if she hadn’t met Angel at that point. “While you’ll never love like that again, you can and will love in a way that will be better, healthier, happier, even more passionate, because you are becoming a woman now and not a little girl.”

“But Mom, Spike?”

“I don’t know if it’s Spike or not, but you might want to weigh the benefits of giving him a chance.”

~*~

Well, it always took two to tango, as her mother had always said. Joyce waited for Buffy to head out to her classes before she ventured downstairs with a wake-up cup of the butcher’s finest pig.

Spike’s predator senses, ever on the alert, rang like the best of alarm clocks. “Joyce? Somethin’ wrong?’

“Well, yes and no.” She didn’t know how she felt about interfering directly like this. It had seemed necessary with Angel and she wouldn’t have dreamed of any conversation like she was planning now had she not recently looked death in the eye. “I understand you’re in love with my Buffy.”

Spike looked like a landed fish. How had the clever bint figured that out?

“You don’t need to look surprised, Spike. Everything you feel is right there on your face. All it takes is looking.” That and the desire to read what you saw there.

“Where’s your trusty axe then?” Spike sat up and glanced around, actually expecting his friend to be toting a weapon of some sort. “Or just plan to run me out of town intact?”

“Neither,” Joyce admitted, much to his surprise. “Oh, I’ll admit that a few weeks ago I would have probably bought you a bus ticket as far away as possible from my daughter. I’ve had a lot of time to think, though, and a lot of truths to face.”

“That so?” Spike spoke softly and slowly, trying to figure out just where this conversation was going.

“More than anything, I want Buffy to live a long life. I always had typical mom dreams for her that involved a nice suburban house and respectable husband who would adore her. Maybe a couple of children–I’d love grandbabies!” Spike nodded in understanding encouragement. “When the doctor confirmed the diagnosis, I had to realize that my time might be up pretty soon. I started to look at things a bit more realistically. Buffy will never have a normal life; she is the Slayer. I’m told by everyone that she cannot have a long life either for that reason. I plan to see to it that she has the best chance possible to defy those odds.”

“And I fit in how?” Spike wasn’t sure if he should let the bubble of hope build or not. It almost sounded like Mrs. Summers wouldn’t be pulling out a stake any time soon; might even be in his corner.

“You’ve lived over a century. You’re strong and smart and skilled.” Joyce looked deeply into his eyes. “You have the makings of a good man in there and nothing helps bring that in the open like the love of or for a good woman.” Joyce nodded, sure of her decision once more. “You and your love for Buffy could be the key to keeping her alive to old age and that’s much better than any of those old unrealistic dreams any day.”

“Think you’re the only one seein’ a man of any kind, good or bad, Joyce.”

Oh, she knew how Buffy’s friends were concerning Spike. She’d watched all their interactions from the sidelines for years. “You let them goad you, bring out your worst and then Buffy only sees the big, evil former Big Bad. She worries that without the chip you’ll go right back to the same villain she met at the first. The one you threaten them with out of your anger.”

“They treat me like I’m nothing, pet. Like I have no power or strength or dignity.”

“Yes and you put those fires out with gasoline, Spike. Every time you open your mouth with threats, you play right into their hands.” Joyce tried to think of how to explain her thoughts. “Imagine you are a decent person and you see someone being bullied. Naturally you side with the victim, you see his side of things, even take his side. But suppose you then see that victim bullying others. Suddenly all sympathetic urges stop.”

“So I should become a doormat? Impotent, like they call me?” Spike was beginning to feel a combination of frustration and anger, two things he had never felt towards this woman.

“No, Spike. No one should expect that of anyone. I do think it would be prudent if you’d think first before you speak. Make it clear to all watching just who started things, who is in the wrong. If it’s just childish nonsense like Xander spews, just let it slide. By reminding everyone that without the chip you’d cheerfully rip his head off, you make him look sensible in his contempt and fear of you.”

“That boy drives me nearly as mad as Dru. He pushes all my buttons.” The Watcher was no fan of his either, but at least he wasn’t constantly needling him the way Xander did.

“Oh, I do understand. Xander could drive a saint to violence.” Joyce laughed a bit. She had eyes and ears, after all, and knew how bad it could get, especially when Spike was trying his hardest to change. “Spike, I’ve heard Giles say that vampires are just animals with no feelings and not too many thoughts. He makes it sound like you are only interested in maiming, killing and eating. I think he does both vampires and animals a disservice actually.” He also was clearly just repeating what he had been taught; Joyce had detected that in the tone of his voice whenever Giles spouted such theories. It was like a schoolboy repeating his lesson for the teacher.

“There IS a difference between animals and humans, and it isn’t that they don’t feel and think. The difference is in the choosing. Animals do what they do because it is built into them. They kill to eat unless there is a food source available and then they don’t need to kill. They don’t stop to think about the right or wrong of killing if they need to however. You aren’t an animal. I’ve seen you make choices. That’s human, Spike. You can choose what you do.”

“Just ask, pet; they’ll tell you it’s the chip.”

“No. The chip keeps you from killing in the normal way of a vampire, but there are other ways you could continue to do plenty of harm, lots of evil. You even chose to help Buffy before the chip, remember? Lately you have chosen to work with Buffy and her friends. You have chosen to channel the need to create mayhem into a way where you fight evil. It’s been a choice, whether you realize it or not.” Joyce put a tender hand on his arm, “You aren’t like any other vampire I’ve ever heard of, Spike.”

Spike digested that. “Angel. He’s a white hat and they all accept that he is. Not sayin’ I want to be one of those, mind.”

“I know the attitude about Angel,” Joyce sighed with a hint of disgust. “I’ve heard how Angel is so good and wouldn’t hurt a fly. I also saw how he never really went into battle with Buffy. He’d drop hints, offer advice and then just stand back and watch for the most part.” She looked every bit a disapproving mother. “Yet he still is called good even after all he did as Angelus.”

“’S the soul,” Spike nodded.

They both thought on that for a moment. All those opinions based on the having or lack of something no one could measure or identify. Just what was the ‘soul’ in Angel, in anyone?

“I’ve watched how they judge you, Spike. They hold your choices, your actions, to a human standard. They did that with Angel too, of course, but without his soul, as Angelus, they just wrote his actions off as being a part of him being a vampire. They don’t do that with you. On some level, even they notice the difference, how unique you are. It’s not fair that they hold you with no soul to the standards of a souled Angel or human, but they do. Now you have to choose to live up to that standard as best as you can.”

“It’s not fair.” Spike ran a hand through his sleep-ruffled hair. “I’m a vampire, Joyce. I try to remind them all of that, but they just don’t seem to get it until they use the fact of what I am against me.” He snorted. “They remember then and are pretty quick to remind me how low they think I am too.”

“You’re right, it isn’t fair. You can’t force fairness though; no one can.” Joyce sighed at the workings of the world. “You say you love Buffy. I’m just trying to tell you how you can make it possible to get through to her in time. You have to decide what you really want, what’s important to you in the end, just like I have. You have to decide what it’s worth to you to get it. You decide you want Buffy’s love? You have to choose to let your feelings get hurt from time to time, to accept their petty cruelties. You have to decide what is worth more to you, your pride or a chance at Buffy’s love.”

~*~

Buffy poured another cup of coffee for her mom as she finished her breakfast and read the morning paper. Buffy was becoming quite the nurturing nurse in the weeks since the surgery.

She stopped mid-pour as the headline caught her attention, “Metrotrain murder. Six found murdered on train at Sunnydale station.” Buffy read the headline aloud and tried to process the possibilities. Death and Sunnydale went together like cheese and crackers, with a side order of demon usually.

She bent to read the article causing Joyce to chuckle from her side of the paper. “Do you want the front page, Buffy? I can always start from the back. The funny pages are healthier anyway.”

“Huh?” Buffy was clearly lost in thought. “Oh, no. Sorry, Mom, it’s just that… well, you know, dead bodies in town is sort of like what the bat signal is for Batman or an alarm clock to the regular working world.”

“Sweetheart, there are police too. Some deaths here even require their talents.” Joyce smoothed the paper she had placed on the table for better viewing. “Lots of bodies. Do you think it was that Glory person?”

Buffy read further. ‘Unconfirmed reports of severe trauma to the throats….’ Yup, duty called. “No, sounds more like a vampire from the description. Another day at the office for yours truly. I’ll give Giles a call and see if he has the 411.”

“Maybe Spike might know something about it. He pays a lot of attention to what the other demons are up to in town ever since he started helping you with patrol. Since it was a train, maybe it was someone from out of town.”

Buffy started to head downstairs to ask the resident evil.

“Oh, he’s not down there. I saw him when I got up this morning just as he was heading out. With you home, he knew Dawn and I would be safe, so he went back to his place to pick up a few things.”

Buffy had to laugh. “Naturally, it’s broad daylight. Where else would you expect a vampire to be but strolling around doing errands.”

Joyce joined in the laughter. “He certainly is unique! He makes his own rules about what he can and cannot do.”

Buffy mumbled, “Bet that drove Angelus crazy.”

~*~

Spike rose up from sorting through his cd’s. He wasn’t planning to move in at the Summers residence, but still a man should have his own music with him! There it was, that sound again. “Who’s there?”

Dark and sinuous, she moved from behind the curtain that led to the sewer tunnels. She swayed to her own internal music, “A happy memory, my pretty Spike.” She held out a rose like a supplicant lover. “Look who’s come to make everything right again.”

This was bad. At least Dru looked reasonably in control of her wits. Perhaps he could have her out of town again before the Slayer even knew of her return.

“I want us to be family again, my William,” Dru pouted. It wasn’t the sort of pout that made him want to kiss her like with Buffy though. This one boded ill. “Come with me.”
“Got a home right here, ducks.” Spike would never fully get over how easily Dru had dumped him after a century of his taking whatever she had dished out and coming back for more. “Everything I need right here in Sunnydale.” An image of Buffy fixed itself in his mind. Yes, everything indeed.

He felt Buffy nearby, but brushed it off as his desires made manifest, given how she was always with him in his heart ever since he realized his love for her.

Buffy had been a bit worried not to find Spike in the crypt but then remembered the downstairs. Hearing Dru’s voice had stopped her cold, though, when she opened the trapdoor. If Dru was back in Sunnydale, that would explain all those bodies on the train!

Dru gave a little whine. “Miss Edith said you wouldn’t wish to come with Mummy. I didn’t believe her and made her stay in that nasty iron wagon with all the leavings as punishment.” Dru twirled and giggled, “She was ever so insistent that we should go back to the new baby, even though she already grew up once. She doesn’t need her mummy, not like you do.”

It sounded like Dru had made a new plaything. “So I’ve got a new sister then?”

“Sister, great-grandmother.” Dru laughed delightedly, “That means that Daddy has his own mummy for a grandchild!”

Spike tried to follow that one around the corner and felt as lost as when she had begun. “Darla’s his mum, pet, and Darla’s dust.”

“Clever lawyers! Dust all gathered and made new again.” She frowned. “Daddy wanted her with that nasty soul and beating heart too, even if it would soon stop beating because of all the sick men.”

Dru then told him of Wolfram and Hart and how they had returned Darla from the great beyond and how she had sired her once more, in spite of Angel’s best efforts to save his one-time love.

Buffy nearly dropped down to the lower level then, to force some more information from the babbling wack job. Angel would have called her if Darla were back!

“So let me get this straight: Darla got mojo’d back from the beyond and you vamped her and now you and she are working on turning Angel into his own evil self again?”

Dru giggled. “Daddy doesn’t want to play. It’s like lollipops at the circus.” She frowned and touched some still healing burn marks on her chest. “Didn’t care for Angelus setting us on fire though.”

Aha! So Angel was trying to make it right on his own, protect her like always. Buffy felt a bit better.

“Pissed off the old sod, did you?”

“Daddy wanted Mummy to stay a nasty human, tried to save her life. Mummy even tried to love the soul out of him, but it didn’t work.” Dru smirked. “Mummy almost cried. No perfect there.”

Buffy drew back in shock. It sounded like Angel had slept with Darla! Human or not, that wasn’t right. Darla was a part of his dark, ugly, past. Darla had tried to kill her!

“Mummy doesn’t need me right now, but my sweet William does.” Dru glided up to Spike and touched him on the temples. “Poor boy. Tin soldiers put funny little knick-knacks in your brain. Can’t hunt! Can’t hurt! Can’t kill!” With each ‘can’t’ she shoved her fingers painfully into his temples. “You’ve got a chip.”

Spike was deeply shamed. Nothing like having your infirmities exposed. He was heartily tired of being a joke to every human and demon who knew about the bloody thing.

“So you’ve heard. Poor Spike’s become a cautionary tale for vampires. ‘Be good, kiddies, or they’ll wire you up someday.’ He kicked at the chair next to him.

“No little tinker toy will stop you from being the bad dog you were born to be,” Dru promised. “I can hunt and kill and we’ll bring the world to its knees. Mummy knows how to take care of her pretty baby.”

Buffy felt herself go pale. This was all Spike needed, someone willing to do what the chip wouldn’t let him do for himself. Worse! It was his long-time love offering to do it. No way would he turn that down. She was going to have to stake them both. Buffy wondered why it made her sad to think of driving a bit of wood into her old nemesis.

“Come with me,” Dru cooed.

“And be what? Your toy? For how long?” Spike paced in agitation. “’Til someone or something else turned your head? ‘Til you decided to try for your precious daddy again?” Spike stopped and stared at Dru, feeling completely free of her at last. “I have what I want right here. I’ve made a life for myself. I’ve made decisions for myself. I’m changing; don’t know what I’ll be in the end, but it will be what I want, not you.”

Dru glared at him and let out a frustrated growl. ”I knew it! You’ve danced in the sunlight and think you won’t burn, but you will. She’ll never love who you are. No matter what you do or how you try, you’ll never be good enough for the likes of her.” Dru got a faraway look in her eyes. “Beneath her. It’ll never be you, Spike, never you.”

Spike swallowed and fought back the sting of tears. Part of him worried about that very thing. Still, Buffy was starting to at least treat him as a friend. Things could change if he kept trying and she continued to let him in. “Maybe not, pet. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe what’s important is me loving even if I don’t get anything back. Maybe part of this is for me, not her. Gotta change, Dru. Not happy like I was. Can’t tell me you ever really loved me back either. Won’t keep bouncing back to a woman who only has me as her second choice.”

“I won’t stay long, my Spike. Change your mind and come with me. Mummy can make it all better.”

She moved faster than Spike had seen her move since before Prague. Whatever she’d been doing in the time they were last together, she had at least healed completely.

Buffy made it to the bottom of the ladder just as Dru disappeared from Spike’s senses.
Spike didn’t turn around, even though he knew that the Slayer really was present. “So how much of that did you hear?”

“Most of it, I think.” Buffy stared after the direction Dru had flown and debated giving pursuit. “So when did you snap that I was here?”

Spike snorted. “Not soon enough. Seem to be slippin’. Didn’t really know ‘til Dru left and you made it down the ladder. Kinda preoccupied with the ghost of rampages past and all.”

“So Darla’s back,” Buffy sighed. “Guess I’d better prepare to have another strong blond bimbo after me.”

Spike chuckled. “Doubt she’ll be payin’ you a visit for a while. Too busy tormentin’ Gramps for now. ‘Sides, Dru’ll keep ‘em both on a merry dance for a bit. Got it in her head to put her family together and what-all.”

“She seems to think you’re staying because of me.” Buffy bit her lip, not sure if she really wanted to open this line of conversation or not.

“Yeah. Wrong though. Well, not completely wrong,” Spike ducked his head and looked at her through his long lashes. He took a deep breath and decided it was time. “I know you don’t have feelings for me right now, but at least you don’t seem to hate me anymore. Truth is, I love you. Have for a while now, probably a long while. Dru told me when we broke up, but it took me a while to admit it to myself.”

He could see by her wide-eyed look that bordered on terror that this wasn’t going to end well. “Not lookin’ for any declaration or promise, Buffy.” From the look of it he’d be lucky if the girl didn’t just promise an ass-kicking. “Maybe a crumb, though, a chance that someday…”

His words trailed after her as she fled up the ladder and out of the crypt.

~*~

Buffy sat head in hands as Joyce coaxed the story out of her. “This isn’t news to you though, Buffy. We’ve suspected it for a while and even talked about it.”

“Yeah, but it’s one thing to suspect and another to actually, you know, hear it.” Buffy blinked back tears. “What am I going to do, Mom? I kinda like having Spike around and I really do appreciate him staying here while Glory’s on the loose. He helps a lot with patrol. He’s even helped with research if you can believe it. I don’t want to run him out of town and I sure don’t want to stake him. What do I do?”

“Honey, why don’t you just keep treating him as a friend and colleague and see if it leads anywhere. As long as he doesn’t push and you don’t promise, there is no harm in that.”

“Awkward much?”

“It doesn’t have to stay that way.” Joyce didn’t want to push her agenda too quickly for fear that Buffy would run emotionally even further. “Aren’t you going with everybody to the Bronze tonight?”

Buffy nodded. They had decided a night of play and dance was needed with all the stress of late. The gang was all going to take the night off and dance the blues away.

“Well, how about I suggest to Spike that he join all of you, as just another of your friends?” Joyce watched her reaction carefully. “You can let him know that he is welcomed as a friend and it will be easier to continue to work with him then.”

“Whatever.” Buffy didn’t feel comforted. The image of Spike dancing did nothing to offer solace. She wasn’t sure where her thoughts were going, but the last thing Buffy wanted was to jump into the pool with another vampire, especially right now with Glory on her hands. The image of a dancing Spike changed to one dripping water in the moonlight and Buffy nearly screamed at her subconscious to just leave it–and him–alone!

~*~

Spike slid into the seat across from Buffy. He was nervous like never in his entire life since his turning. Girl made him feel far too William! “Bleedin’ crime is what it is.” Joyce had suggested he pretend that the declaration had never been made, to just continue on as he had been doing. He was showing Buffy that he could be one of the good guys, that he was changing into something not beneath her. That he could be trusted.

Everyone else was on the dance floor and Buffy was so caught up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed when Spike had joined them. She was glad her mom had warned her that she planned to suggest Spike show up after patrol; at least she didn’t feel like jumping out of her skin, or out of the Bronze, rather.

She looked at Spike in amazement. He was wearing khaki! The only color other than black that she had ever seen on him was red or purple. He looked like any respectable, working class guy in his blue shirt and brown jacket. He could be any of a number of young professionals out for a night of fun. It was scary!

Well, the bint hadn’t hit him in the nose or pulled a runner yet, so it looked promising. “Jackin’ up the bar price to pay for fixin’ the damage. Not my fault insurance doesn’t cover act of troll.” He smiled companionably and reached for the bowl of peanuts on the table.

Buffy watched as Xander laughed at something Anya said and wished she could just let loose and relax like that. Wished she could have someone to be with that she could simply enjoy. “Mom guilt you into showing up?”

“No guilt. Figure if we’re gonna keep workin’ together we should at least be able to be in the same room.” He laughed. “Or the same town.”

“You know I’m going to have to stake her,” Buffy glanced at Spike and was surprised to see that he looked more resigned than anything.

“Yeah, love, I know. Would’ve saved you the trouble, but she moved faster than I expected.” Spike sighed. “Can’t say I want my maker dust, but Dru will never stop killin’. They twisted her up right proper. Saw the news. Had her name all over it, what with the dolls and all.”

Buffy could see the hint of sadness in his eyes and decided to let him have a night off from responsibilities too. “We can work out a plan to take her down tomorrow. For now, wanna dance?”

Spike was gobsmacked. The Slayer was willin’ to let him touch her. Okay, maybe not touch exactly, since the song was a fast one, but at least she wasn’t hostile. “Sure.”

“You know, Spike, much as I like the idea of you expanding your wardrobe, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, not the outside. As long as I see the changes in you, that’s what matters.

Spike decided to take that as his crumb. As long as Buffy was willing to admit he was changing, that was the slight opening he needed.

~*~

Spike found her later that night where he expected, the old mansion. Dru was crooning to her dollies and dancing with the stars in the courtyard.

“This is your only chance, pet, for old time’s sake. Leave now and never come back. Forget the Hellmouth and forget me. You come back and I won’t wait for the Slayer. I’ll dust you myself.” He sidestepped her hand as she reached for him. “Not playin’. You made me what I was, but I’m not him anymore. Don’t rightly know exactly who I am at the mo; work in progress here. You’ve no place with me now or in the future.”

Tears began to fall as Dru realized her creation was gone for good. “Oh, my Spike, not even I can help you now.” She fairly glided as she merged with the darkness that enveloped Sunnydale.

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/430393.html

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