Fic: ‘Turn and Face the Strain’ 5/15 by Quinara [strongish R]

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Turn and Face the Strain
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Dum dum duhhm!

Turn and Face the Strain.

[Sequel to The More Things Stay the Same and As Good as a Rest.]

When Buffy thought about falling in love again, she didn’t expect it to be nearly so complicated as it actually turns out to be.
Also, she didn’t expect it to be Spike. (She’s not sure he did either.)

Author: Quinara
Rating: R…? I’m not sure I even know anymore with ratings, but there’s sex in it and people swear lots and (gasp) I think there’s some underage drinking too, which probably needs to be censored. ;)
Length: ~80,000 words in total; ~33,000 words today; chapters are generally between 5000 and 6000 words.
Setting: Late S6, AU As You Were (and so much more! Not least in an AU AtS S3…)


Notes: Many thanks to the fabulous bogwitch for putting up with me and being my beta! This is the final story in a series I’ve written for the previous two rounds of seasonal_spuffy, consisting of The More Things Stay the Same and As Good as a Rest. I think what I’m posting today probably could stand on its own as a S6 AU, but I do follow up some stuff that happens in the previous fics, because it’s a sequel. The main thing is that Dead Things went differently and some stuff happened in LA. Other stuff happened around Buffy’s birthday.
Warnings: I don’t think this would need any of the AO3 listed warnings. I think the genre of this is much more of a drama-going-on-mystery-ish-adventure story, so it’s mostly in line with the show in terms of what it involves.

[Chapter One: I’m Not a Political Animal, But.]

 

/
[Chapter Four: The Day after That (and the Day after That).]

Chapter Five: How Do You Get to Say I’m the One Who’s Stinky?

This had to be the most unfair thing that had happened to her recently. Maybe that didn’t make rational sense, but at least with a lot of the other stuff she maybe could have seen it coming. The idea that Riley would come back now, on the other hand, was nothing more than plain unfair, at least as Buffy saw it. There was probably some important reason why he was here, but she was right in the middle of starting her new job – and wallowing about Spike. She was having quality wallow time.

“Buffy!” Riley didn’t seem to have gotten that memo. He was turning his serious face on her. “Just the girl I was looking for.” Well, at least that cleared that up. “I went by your house, but your mom wasn’t home; I guess you left Willow with Dawn? She said you’d be here.”

OK, so it had been a long time since she’d met someone who didn’t know about her mom. It was like a splash of water on her face, like going back in time. “What do you want?” she asked, short-temperedly. She’d have to tell him, of course – get him straight before he talked to Dawn. And that was yet another thing she really didn’t want to deal with right now.

“I…” Riley seemed to take in her tone, but he mostly looked confused as he glanced around the room, over to Kate. “Is everything OK? Did something happen?”

Confused herself now, Buffy asked, “Huh?” Then she figured out what was going on. He thought she’d come to the police station to report something, which was almost funny. “Oh – no,” she informed him, gesturing to her part of the desk. “I work here.”

That seemed to startle him. “You’re a cop now?” He made her face like that was beneath her or something, but that only brought some rustles from behind her, as if Kate was bristling in her chair.

Buffy tried to smile, mostly glad she wasn’t wearing the cow hat. “Looks like.”

“I need your help.” After a quick shake of his head, Riley was immediately back on topic. “There’s trouble – and I need the best.”

Of all the presumptuous…

Buffy was about to tell him how completely inconvenient and not happening that was, but Kate happened to take that moment to interrupt. “Oh,” she seemed to realise something, leaning back in her chair when Buffy turned around. “You’re an ex.”

That made Buffy laugh for a moment, because she was clearly a bad person. “Kate, meet Riley,” she said, deciding it was time to explain. “He’s hunts demons in a secret military organisation.”

On that remark, Riley looked annoyed – so at least he knew how that felt. “It gets less secret every day I spend in this town,” he grumbled impatiently. “Buffy,” he continued then, “we don’t have a lot of time.”

It didn’t sound like she was going to get out of this, so Buffy gave into the inevitable. First she looked to Kate, hoping she could get permission to make up her time somewhere else – because that had been the unwritten agreement, hadn’t it? She would be OK to leave for slayer emergencies? She was already kicking her bag from under the desk into a pick-uppable position.

For the moment, however, Kate was still looking at Riley Finn. “This organisation,” she said, not sounding so impressed by the idea. “It’s paying, right? Because I expect to be compensated for losing my employee. Maybe thirty per cent equivalent of what you’re giving her?”

Huh? Getting money for this hadn’t even crossed Buffy’s mind – and going by Riley’s face it hadn’t crossed his either. She’d told Kate, or thought it at least, that she couldn’t ask for money for slaying jobs, so why was it even coming up?

But then, Buffy supposed, this wasn’t really a slaying job, since it sounded like Riley was going after whatever it was anyway. This was about her helping out with whatever Riley’s not-the-Initiative business was – and he was probably getting paid for it, wasn’t he?

Faced with the suggestion, at least, it looked like Riley felt like he couldn’t really back down, and Buffy felt a rush of gratitude towards Kate. “Sure,” he said carefully, like he was doing the arithmetic in his head – or reminding himself to file the report. “We can do that.”

Kate herself was now pulling her jacket on from where it rested on the back of her chair. “First rule of government agencies,” she told Buffy as an aside, standing up. “They always expect you to do stuff for free. Don’t let ‘em.”

“Are you coming too?” Buffy asked, feeling a little out of her depth, even with the prospect of what would hopefully be easy killing up ahead.

“Why not?” Kate replied, throwing an oddly familiar smile in Riley’s direction. He sighed and turned back out of the doorway. “I’m bored – and it could be connected.” On their way out, she dropped her voice for Buffy’s benefit and added, “Second rule. Don’t let them take over your town.”


The ride in Riley’s van was awkward. The front seat had enough room for three, but it was clearly only intended for two, and on top of that Riley tried to get them both to change into the short-woman versions of the stealth gear he had on. Kate declined outright, but Buffy felt she had to explain the fractured clavicle situation, which meant she had to explain how she’d been shot, which somehow led to explaining about her mother and her money issues. No one said much of anything after that. Buffy didn’t even mention that she’d died too.

Eventually they pulled over in a part of town where she didn’t usually go, and what they found was something of a surprise. Obviously Sunnydale needed a reservoir of water somewhere, but who knew they had their very own dam? Not her, that was for sure. Still, she kept her mouth shut as she climbed out of the car and waited for Riley to stop focusing on his blinky, bleepy gizmo.

“Tracking device says we’re right on top of it,” he told them as he tucked the thing back into his belt, before heading over to the edge. “Must’ve gone down?”

“And what is this thing, again?” Buffy asked, wondering if he had a tool to tell him that or whether he had to just guess like everybody else.

Riley looked at her askance, like he didn’t really expect her to care. “Suvolte demon,” he explained anyway. “It’s come up from Central America to breed; we’ve been tracking it for days. I’m just glad it’s in a secluded area, else the casualty count…”

“Well, how d’you plan on getting down there, then?” Kate asked, apparently of the opinion that urgent situations meant that talking should be kept to a minimum. Right now, Buffy appreciated it. “Unless you’ve got some agency regulation jetpacks in your van back there…”

Just as Buffy was suppressing a giggle, however, Riley made a big show of detaching something from his Inspector Gadget toolbelt – it turned out to be some sort of hook, running out on a thick wire; he attached it to the railing. “This rappelling line’s only made for one person, but two of us without gear should amount to the same thing.” Then he frowned, looking between them. “I should have a spare in the trunk, maybe, with a harness…?”

It looked like Buffy was meant to be going down with Riley, then. Even though, when she looked over the edge, the however many feet drop looked a lot less like piggyback abseiling fun and a lot more like a surefire route to watery death. “Um, could I have a harness too?” she asked. As much as she mostly trusted Riley not to drop her… “I spent enough time in the hospital last week that I’m trying to cut back on near-death experiences.”

“Buffy,” Riley said, looking frustrated, still attached to the railing. “We really need to get down there.”

“Well, that’s easy for you to say!” Buffy told him, while Kate was opening up the van and rooting around. Thankfully it was still light enough that Riley would be able to make out her incredulity. “But fine.” He’d be able to see clearly that she was agreeing under duress, and only because she knew her right arm could take her whole body weight if it needed to. “Just don’t expect me to let go, even if I’m making your Kevlar chafe.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied with a smile, sounding like James Bond for the first time that afternoon. It made her allow him a small smile in return.

When Kate managed to find something that looked like it would almost allow her a safe descent by their side, they made their clumsy way down the dam. For pretty much all the journey, Buffy kept her eyes on the fire escape ladder they were running past and tried to ignore the feeling of being held, not even piggyback but almost front-to-front. The drop was too far that the ladder wouldn’t have worked – they’d still be near the top right now, even with the extra time arguing at the top of the ledge. Even so, Buffy wished things didn’t have to be so awkward. Her body still remembered how to fit against this one, after all, and she was filled with a sort of flirtatious nostalgia, at the same time as her thin arms felt overstretched around so broad a chest and shoulders.

Mostly it felt like someone was hugging her, and the sadness that was sitting right behind her heart wanted nothing more than to let itself out, have her sink fully into the embrace and be comforted. But that couldn’t happen, because (a) it was Riley and (b) it was Riley. He’d walked away from the opportunities of Buffy hugs and he wouldn’t think she deserved them anyway, not for the reason she wanted them.

All in all, she was more than ready to leap into battle when they reached the bottom of the buttresses. Conveniently enough, the Suvolte demon was huge – and horrendously ugly, though that was less important.

Buffy got to work as soon as she could. Certainly the demon could hold its own as far as bulk was concerned, confused rather than hurt by some of her better kicks – which was a perversely satisfying thing to see. On the other hand, and far less satisfying, it was seriously slow on the uptake. A few basic one-handed cartwheels were more than enough to distract it, make it lumber around in the wrong direction and give her way too many openings.

Eventually the idea did appear to penetrate its ugly head that she wasn’t the easiest target available, so it turned instead on Riley and Kate, who was having trouble detaching her carabiner. Unworried, Buffy rushed over to help, but then, before she could get there, another figure dropped out of the sky: a soldier-woman in the black Kevlar outfit Riley had wanted her and Kate to try on. She stabbed the demon with the long knife she had in her hand and then turned on the pair of them. “Hey,” she said, like the wholesome GI Josephine she clearly was. “What’re you doing with my husband?”

Buffy almost didn’t land the kick she was making – but thankfully the Suvolte was encouraged away anyway. Husband? she thought, stopping still.

“Uh…” was all Kate said, finally freeing herself from the line and the harness. “Rappelling?”

“I’m just kidding, Buffy,” the woman said, apparently thinking that cool, competent, jacketed Kate was Riley’s ex. “I’m Sam.”

“That’s nice,” Kate replied, apparently even less certain why the woman was talking to her. “I’m Kate.”

I’m Buffy,” Buffy herself interrupted, just as Riley opened his mouth. Of course Sam then turned around, revealing herself to be a tall, elegant Amazon woman with glossy-really-not-even-a-little-greasy chestnut brown hair in a cute little ponytail.

“Oh, wow,” she said, “I’m sorry.” Buffy felt mostly short. Also, injured. “I’ve heard so much about you; I didn’t realise – ” Before she could finish what would undoubtedly be a really unflattering sentence, however, Sam was pointing her knife at the sudden rise in growling over Buffy’s shoulder. “Hang on; I got this.” And then she was being all nimble and violent, in a way that Buffy thought was deeply unfair.

Trudging towards Riley and Kate again, Buffy took her eyes off Xena the Warrior Princess and decided it was the moment to be catty. Catty, but not in any way jealous. “So,” she asked the guy who, as she vaguely recalled, had pretty much said that he loved her with everything he had and she was the one who didn’t care enough. “Long engagement?”

The contented smile, however, didn’t really fade from Riley’s face. “Didn’t need to be,” he said not looking away from his wife. “I guess it’s true that sometimes you just know.”

Kate seemed to be ducking out of this conversation, but Buffy still wished she could give her something to say, turned to her. A little help here?

She got a raised eyebrow and a fake smile, like the other woman wanted nothing to do with schmalz. Don’t look at me; you’re on your own.

That was just great. What was she supposed to do with happiness, again? “Oh, well…” Buffy tried. She could be the bigger person, couldn’t she? That was always an option. As long as she made sure not to think about all the doomed romances she’d been involved in by comparison, she’d be fine. “I guess I’m happy for…”

Riley wasn’t even listening. The moment the Suvolte got something that seemed vaguely like the upper hand he was off in a flash. And then he started actually making flashes with a Taser-type weapon pulled from his side, jabbing it into the demon’s head.

“He’s keen, isn’t he?” Kate commented as they watched.

Buffy agreed, “Yup.” As far as she could tell, though, it seemed like the Initiative-style weapon was as useless as they’d always been, making the demon drowsy but not actually doing any damage. It would have been fine if a single cowtipping fall didn’t have the likely eventuality of crushing its assailant’s bones – and if it weren’t lumbering their way.

“Hey!” she shouted, fraying it up herself. There had to be a way of ending this. Looking around, it didn’t seem like there was much for her to work with, but – aha! One metal pipe, sticking out of the dam, with a pointy spout-end and everything just to make her day. “Guys, hey!” she shouted again, turning the demon towards her, scissor-kicking it to touch. Now she had Riley and Sam’s attention too. She really was the bigger person. This was going to prove it. “No hard feelings, OK?” This could be their wedding gift, she decided, dropping another kick – if only because it was nice and free.

With a jump that sent her feet running over the Suvolte’s back and up to its neck, Buffy leapt off to one side, pushing the demon’s head towards the pipe. It stumbled, then fell like a redwood, barely even crying out before a squelchy sound squelched grossly, but satisfyingly, through the air. As she regained her feet, she realised with a little further satisfaction that her aim had been right on: the demon was skewered through the throat, right into the spinal column. It was totally dead; job well done.

Or so you would think, if you weren’t looking at the Finns’ faces. “You killed it,” Riley said, not looking impressed.

Nudging the dead demon with her toe, just in case, Buffy confirmed, “Yuh-huh.” It hadn’t even been that difficult, in the end. Which just went to show there were some things she was good –

“I can’t believe you did that!” Riley was now shouting, not gratefully. Startled, Buffy looked up, not sure what he meant. “We needed –”

“Agent Finn,” Sam interrupted, apparently in Buffy’s defence, given the way Riley reacted. “Did you engage the Slayer without briefing her on our objectives?” Raising the knife again, Sam didn’t wait for an answer before crossing the concrete and kneeling by the demon’s side. Behind her, Kate looked confused and Riley made a sheepish, defensive shrug, which made Buffy exceptionally grateful she hadn’t missed something in the van. “We’ll have to get what information we can,” Sam continued, after a long-suffering sigh. When Buffy turned around she could see that the woman was trying to wedge her shoulder under the demon’s side, apparently wanting it turned over.

“I told her we were trying to track it before it could breed,” Riley complained, also coming over to help his wife.

Her has a name, by the way. “Here,” Buffy said to Sam before Riley could reach down, “let me help you with that.” And then, with one slayerly right hand levering on the demon’s grimacing face, she shoved it up off the pipe and over onto its back. She could be helpful, she really could. They could be grateful any time soon.

Catching Buffy’s expression of annoyance, Sam seemed to decide on keeping quiet and returned to her knifing. In one broad, swift stroke the Suvolte got it’s very own Y-incision, or indeed I-incision, as Buffy could accept was more accurate. Nothing came out other than what might be expected from demon guts, but Sam still said, “Crap,” her shoulders slumping.

“Damn,” Riley agreed.

Buffy was still annoyed, not least because she was still out of the loop, but Kate filled in. “What is it?” she asked

“This was the breeding mother,” Sam explained to the pair of them, gesturing at the corpse with her knife.

“Came here to spawn,” Riley finished, looking forlorn. “We wanted to track it to its nest, but I guess we’re too late.”

And then Buffy’s annoyance vanished; her stomach dropped away. Nest?

Green, slimy, ugly… It wasn’t hard to recall a nest of eggs that looked like they could have come from this thing. A clutch of eggs, in fact, as she had facetiously been told.

She looked over to Kate just as Kate looked over to her. Crap, she thought, seeing the same recognition on the other woman’s face. Crapping crap. Of course the Suvolte would be connected to everything else, and in the way Buffy least wanted it to be. That was how her life worked: every badness had to be raised to the power of suck before she was able to move past it. What the hell have you gotten yourself into, Spike? She could so easily kill him. It would make everything worse and more painful, but she could do it.

At least it was clear now that Spike hadn’t known what he was getting into. There was absolutely no way, after all, that he would knowingly store this things eggs in his bedroom, sleep next to them and consider himself ready to accept her as a visitor. He hadn’t been lying, which was vindicating. He was also, clearly, an idiot who didn’t read the fine print and didn’t even make sure to get a contract where the fine print was specified, but, hey, all of them were fallible one way or another.

Of course, she could still kill him for endangering himself and he’d still implied she was a bitch who didn’t care about him at all, but those were private issues; there was no longer the need to feel guilty on his behalf. Not so much. His worst fault was recklessness, and that was forgivable, so now all she had to get over was hurt, if she was going to get over this. She hadn’t decided about that yet.

There was also the minor issue of whether she would forgive him for making her explain this to Riley – but then, maybe… Did she have to tell him and Sam? There was no rush, since she knew the eggs weren’t in clueful evil hands for the moment. She and Kate could keep this between them – and Kate was even nodding, once, as if she agreed.

Yes, she remembered. Don’t let them take over your town

Buffy would keep control of this. Work out what to do. Reveal things in her own time.

When exactly that would be, she didn’t know, but thankfully Sam was talking. “We need to regroup,” she said, rising off her knees. Her expression was still on mission and Buffy tried to match it. “I hate to ask, Buffy, but – have you got a safehouse?”

“Uh…” Buffy blinked. Now she was lost again. “I’ve got a house?” she offered, still not entirely sure how she was going to string this out. “I can probably get Xander to bring pizza?” Yeah, pizza. That distracted people.

And it looked like Riley could even be charmed by her military ignorance, just like in the old days. “Is that safe?” He was quipping, even.

Good thing she hadn’t lost that ability. “Depends what mood Anya’s in.”


Xander did indeed bring pizza. Panic-ordering seemed to have somewhat influenced his decision, however, given the four extra large boxes spread across the dining table when Buffy got home. On top of the pizza, of course, were all the left over canapés Willow had made for Buffy’s birthday party, more than they’d even been able to get started on during that evening and mostly rejected in favour of vending machine and cafeteria food during Buffy’s ensuing hospitalisation.

The chips were starting to go slightly stale now, but that just meant that Dawn had taken the excuse to experiment with the leftover dips, the conceptual theory of nachos and their microwave. Some of the experiments turned out OK. Buffy was keeping an eye on the kitchen in case it blew up, which wasn’t the same as hiding at all.

“So, right,” Kate came in and asked as combination No. 4 wound down its last couple of minutes, “why aren’t we telling Mr. and Mrs. American Dream about the eggs?” She didn’t sound overly concerned, but seemedinterested nonetheless, even as she opened up the refrigerator and added, “Say, d’you mind if I have a beer?”

“Knock yourself out,” Buffy replied to that one first, not sure how they were going to get through Willow’s party supplies otherwise. Most of them were on the table, but the sodas probably seemed childish to Kate… As for the other question, she didn’t know what to say, just concentrated on Dawn’s rotating concoction as if it might be able to give her answers. (Cajun Fiesta potato chips plus taramasalata and some purloined pepperoni from the pizza: Buffy wasn’t holding out much hope for edibility, but variety was good, right? She lived for variety. And, as a guardian, she was meant to encourage creativity, didn’t Oprah say? Or maybe that was for three year olds…) “The thing is…” she tried as Kate opened her beer bottle, but then she gave up. “The thing is the thing.” She sighed.

“Uh huh,” Kate replied, taking a sip of her drink. It kind of made Buffy want one. She was twenty-one now; was she allowed to do that? Drink in her own home for no particular reason? It seemed kind of like what they always warned you was the route towards alcoholism, but maybe it was these sort of evenings beer was designed for. “Look,” Kate continued, apparently off Buffy’s worried expression. “It’s not hard to deduce that Spike and this Riley guy don’t get along. Is that all it is?”

Buffy snorted, shaking her head. “Spike was around when I was with Riley,” she explained. And that time felt like what it literally was: another lifetime. “I didn’t know he was, uh, interested –” Although, there had been clues, hadn’t there? Like the time he’d tried to kiss her in the alley. And when he’d been staking out her house… “– but I guess Riley might have had a clue.” She judged Spike on the present, not the past. On thepresent. “They really hated each other,” she tried to make Kate understand, looking up so the other woman could see she was serious. “And not like in a Tom-and-Jerry, Sideshow Bob-Bart Simpson we-complete-each-other kind of way. Not like – ” Spike and me.

Nope. Not saying that.

“If Riley had a good enough excuse,” Buffy finished, regaining her thread, “he’d happily put a stake through Spike’s heart and kill him dead.” At least Kate seemed to be getting it, nodding as she leaned back against the fridge and took in what Buffy was saying. “My line was always that Spike was harmless and that he didn’t deserve to die for being annoying.” Even though he could be really, really irritating, had always had that ability. Maybe part of her had known how much fun it could be to shut him up? Certainly it was true that “Riley and me never saw eye-to-eye about it.” And that created a problem. “I think he figured he didn’t want to piss me off when we were together – but now…” Buffy shrugged, really not sure of the answer there.

Kate seemed to have enough to work with all the same. “Now you think that if Riley knew about Spike –”

“What about Spike?” And suddenly Dawn was there, munching on a slice of pizza and casting a glance to the not-nachos in the microwave, which were almost done. If you could say that about foodstuffs which weren’t meant to exist. “Is he OK?” The ice in Dawn’s stare seemed to have melted a little over the day, but the question was still mulish.

“He’s just fine, Dawn,” Buffy replied, trying not to get annoyed. Trafficking black market killer eggs, but fine…

“He’s caught up in all the stuff Riley’s going on about, isn’t he?” Dawn came up with out of pretty much nowhere, depriving her gooey chips of their last few seconds and removing them from the microwave with a dish towel. “I mean, that’s why you’re hiding out here, right?”

“I’m not hiding,” Buffy began – defensive in response to Dawn’s ‘yeah, sure’ roll of her eyes, but thankfully cut off as Willow came into the kitchen.

She was carrying an empty glass and it looked like she was at the tail end of laughter, a light flush high in her cheeks to match smile on her face. When she realised Buffy was looking at her, however, that all quickly vanished into a stony mask of disapproval and she deadpanned, pretty convincingly, “Wow, how much of a bitch is Riley’s wife?

Shaking her head, there was nothing Buffy could do but laugh. It had been a strange, strange couple of days and there was nothing else she could do, was there? It was either this or go back to the crying jags.

“Hey!” Willow complained about the laughter all the same, taking the orange soda from the collection of half-finished bottles on the breakfast bar and pouring herself a glass. “I’m trying to be petty and supportive here!”

“You got her email address yet?” Dawn asked, apparently able to smirk about this.

Concentrating on her drink, Willow replied without thinking, “You bet I do; she was telling me about…” Then she looked up – and pouted. “I mean, um, I’m gonna sign her up for spam about Viagra?”

“Don’t worry about it, Will,” Buffy told her, laughter settling into a sad sort of acceptance. “I’m cool. Zen, even.” She gestured just how cool she was. “I don’t need to hate, not when they’re so happy. It’s fine.” Maybe it made her sad that she was sad, by comparison, but that was pretty much inevitable. Not to mention that they had bigger problems here.

“But you need of a friend to play the petty hater for you,” Willow finished apologetically, even as Dawn eagerly and Kate more tentatively began to try the new nacho combination. “Oh, Buffy, I’m sorry,” the apology continued; Willow fiddled with her glass. “I’m trying to bring the game face, but they’re so…” Then she shook her head.

The sentence didn’t need to be finished. The coolness factor of Mr. and Mrs. Finn was pretty much a given.

Looking down at herself, Buffy knew she would never be able to compete with black ops. They had all that black and their fancy Kevlar; she had an old buttoned shirt, which had never fit properly even when she liked its shade of pale blue, and it spent most of its time broadcasting to the world that she’d never learnt how to iron. There was no point trying to compete, if black ops. was where Riley’s heart lay.

It wasn’t like she even wanted it, after all. Not Riley’s heart.

So, it didn’t really matter about Riley and Sam and their coolness, even if the idea of Riley being so happy did cause a few little green twinges. Her problem was more like – crap ops, if she was going to let her mind segue to that pretty terrible pun, and what the hell she was going to say about them. She couldn’t say nothing, in the end, so it was entirely possible she needed to make a decision about what she was doing with Spike – and, obviously, act on it.

If he was the guy whose heart lay in half-assed, ill-advisable operations, then she certainly had an outfit for that, but she couldn’t base a relationship around her failed wardrobe. She would have to make a choice: accept him as he was or break things off or try and make him change. All that would impact what she said to the Finns now. As it was, she didn’t much like the idea of the first two, but the third was probably the most impossible, if her experience with Riley leaving the military was anything to go by. He’d just ended up straight back in there; Spike and the dumb stuff would probably be no different.

If she accepted Spike as he was, on the other hand, then there was hope of him changing on his own. Or at least, maybe, of him thinking through things a little more. In general, also, there would be Spike, which was a major plus.

Breaking things off didn’t guarantee anything apart from no Spike. And if she hadn’t killed him for being annoying, then she didn’t see why she had to deprive herself of the things she liked about him, when all he’d done was make her angry, rather than actually compromising her morals. Those horrible things he’d said about their relationship, he didn’t always have to believe them – and it had looked like he’d regretted saying them anyway, she let herself remember.

The pro-Spike part of her brain seemed to be winning. Buffy knew she was meant to overrule it on account of horny bias, but she wasn’t entirely sure she had the energy. As it was, even though she knew that all her friends disapproved – or at least that some of them disapproved – no one was making that much of a big deal about her relationship with a vampire. If they didn’t care, then, well, why was she supposed to? Of course, she was still waiting for them to actually turn on her about the whole situation, but at some point she had to get on and do things, didn’t she? Even if she worried.

As for her complete apparent failure to communicate where she and her feelings stood in their relationship, well, maybe she needed to bite the bullet on that. It was likely she could take some time to work on it, after all, since the beauty of crap ops. meant Spike wasn’t about to fly away on a helicopter any time soon – he’d be around, hopefully, being crap. She could go for that sort of pace these days.

Satisfied, Buffy surfaced from her thoughts. She heard talking, so immediately she tuned in, worried that she might have missed something. It quickly became apparent, however, that she hadn’t.

“… best so far,” Kate was saying thoughtfully, rubbing Cajun Fiesta dust off her fingers onto her jeans. “Better than the last one.”

“Yeah, the Marshmallow Fluff was a mistake,” Dawn agreed, picking the pepperoni off the chip-cluster in her hand. “But we ate all our dessert options, so…”

“I liked the Fluff!” Willow interjected, scrunching her nose at what she had between her fingers. “The salty-sweet thing worked. This is just… Fishy.”

I let myself internal monologue for one minute… “I’m gonna go back into the living room,” Buffy announced, fairly certain that she would have to psyche herself up before explaining about Spike and the eggs, but definitely sure she didn’t want to debate fishy nachos right now.

When she left the kitchen, of course, Buffy remembered that it wasn’t only worry about Spike that had made her go there in the first place. Sitting primly on the living room couch were Mr. and Mrs. Finn, while Xander sat in the armchair with Anya a little awkward on his lap. Even as Xander continued to compulsively reach for the plates of nacho-like mess, the four of them made a picture of cheery coupledom – Buffy could almost imagine the dinner parties and games of mixed doubles and the matching sweaters. Maybe she wasn’t jealous about the Riley thing, mostly, but she was pretty jealous of this.

And they were still talking about the eggs.

“Yeah, we were hoping we could cut off supply before they got passed on,” Riley was saying. “But…” He shook his head.

Comforting him, Sam put her hand on his knee. “These things grow up fast,” she explained. “Start killing the moment they’re out, get breeding when they’re maybe two, three months old. All you need to do is drop one in a populated area and – ” She spread her hands wide, simulating mass destruction.

Buffy was grateful for her friends at that moment, because the statement didn’t quite get the reaction Sam seemed to be looking for: Xander munched on, as if waiting for the next part of the story; Anya looked bored, like she’d heard it all before.

Maybe she could cope with this. Taking a deep breath, Buffy entered the conversation. “But we still have time, right?” she asked. “If the mom demon laid them recently, then there’s gotta be some delay before the eggs hatch…”

“Not exactly,” Riley answered, in a way that made Buffy remain standing. “It’s likely the eggs have been frozen,” he continued, but that just made Buffy’s heart start to sink. “In which case, yeah, we’ve got time to find them if they haven’t been shipped out straight away. But these things incubate at air temperature and can hatch at any time – they need a couple days usually, but they’ve been known to come out in hours.

Oh f… How much more was she gonna have to deal with? “Hours?” she asked, the faces in front of her slipping slightly out of focus.

Newly arrived in the living room, however, Kate managed to ask what she was actually thinking. “You mean they could be hatching right now?”

Again, Buffy looked over, trying to see if the other woman knew what she was panicking about and agreed it was worth panicking. It didn’t really matter this time, though, because the moment Riley said something that sounded vaguely affirmative Buffy was moving whatever.

“I’ve gotta go,” or something like it fell out of her mouth, but then she wasn’t meeting anybody’s eyes, images of demons in one particular populated area completely taking over her mind. Yep, there was definitely no helicopter, but she was still running.

[Chapter Six: After All, I Wasn’t Exactly Hiding.]

Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/802841.html

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