A week later, Buffy sat across from Spike, stirring the drink he'd ordered for her and telling herself sternly, This is not a date.
She and Spike had gone to Ray's to recuperate from a particularly nerve-shattering afternoon involving four girls, an accusation of snitching, a lost iPod, and a missing cashmere sweater. The tangled emotions had led to a serious scuffle in the hallway just outside her classroom, and she'd still been trying to separate the combatants when Willow charged in, yelled, "Levitas!" and all four girls were suddenly hanging in the air several feet above the ground at a safe distance from one another.
Spike showed up a minute later, and he and Willow had managed to get at least a partial story from the students while Buffy and Julie Carlson dismissed the other classes and cleared the hallway of nosy girls.
"She stole my stuff!"
"She did not!"
"Yeah, well you're always defending her. I told you not to trust her!"
"And I said you can't tell me who to hang with!"
"I didn't take it, I just moved it!"
"If you moved it, you're a thief!"
"You hate me because I have parents and you don't!"
"What am I going to do with you?" Willow's voice was exasperated.
"Looks like you've already decided on suspension," said Buffy, and immediately regretted it as the students glared at her, their dangling feet waving as if they were trying to swim down to the floor.
"Yeah, enough with the levity." Spike's comment didn't make things any better.
Willow let the students down and herded them up into her office. After an hour of too much talking and not enough listening, the best Buffy could hope for was that the girls wouldn't actually hurt one another verbally or physically. The girls slouched off with promises of future detentions adding to their dissatisfaction, Willow announced that she and Ms. Carlson had some work that they had to get done that night, and Spike offered to buy Buffy a drink.
She'd been to Ray's Place once or twice before. It was a harmless bar that served sandwiches and pizza as well as alcohol, and the students from the Academy were allowed in if they were with a teacher. She'd joined a few girls for after-school snacks when they'd asked her. They'd been seated at a table in front and ignored by the other patrons except when the girls got too loud and Buffy had to call them to order.
But being there with Spike was different. When he entered, several people greeted him, and others stopped by to chat as they sat in a booth in back. A middle-aged woman let him know that his order of drywall was in and waiting at the hardware store, and another asked if he wanted tickets for a soccer game in Chicago. "If Chelsea's coming, hell, yeah. You Yanks won't be able to give them a good run, but it will be worth it to see a real club, even if it's not Man U."
Buffy bit her tongue before she made a comment about his still being a Manchester United fan. Needing to do something with her opened mouth, she asked, "Do you think those girls will ever be friends again?"
He shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe they've been outgrowing each other's company for a while and it's what they needed to make a break. Some of these friendships can turn toxic. Or maybe they can put it back together in a healthy way. All I know for certain is that I need a double bourbon to recover from the bloody drama."
Buffy was a little reassured that he didn't have all the answers either, and she'd learned with Dawn that sometimes these things did have to just run their course.
Before she could think of another topic of conversation, a man a few tables away called to Spike, waving him over. Spike got up, leaned over the man's chair and listened for a moment before coming back to Buffy. He was grinning widely. "Come on over, Miss America, you're going to love this one."
Five minutes later, Buffy said, "Cattle mutilations. Of course," and signaled the waitress. She needed another drink if she was going to have to cope with more rural mayhem.
And that was why Buffy and Spike wound up, tipsy and a bit giggly, staking out a cornfield at midnight. They were inside Spike's car because it was cold enough for the ground or even the hood to be unpleasant options, and they were parked on a dirt service road instead of the field because Spike expressed an interest in being able to drive out again at some point. "Good, rich, black Iowa dirt out there. A car with these little tires would probably sink in up to the fenders." He gave her a sideways glance. "Of course, I have a nice, strong slayer here who could probably haul it out for me."
"Yeah that's right, treat me like a beast of burden." Buffy made her tone as rude as possible as she chanted in her head, This is not a date. This is not a date. Then she groaned as she realized she'd triggered another chorus of "The Llama Song." Why was it that the worse the joke, the more likely it was that a man would repeat it incessantly?
She peered out of the car window at a field that looked like dozens of others in the area. It was covered with stubble where the corn had been removed; in the moonlight it looked like a flattened scalp that had been given a massive buzz cut. Great metaphor, Buffy. Make sure not to repeat that one to the poet sitting next to you.
When the poet finally stopped chanting, "Llama, llama, duck," she pointed at a pile of lumber nearby. "Why do they just let the barns collapse like that?"
Spike shrugged. "They aren't in use, so no one maintains them. Farmers have enough work to do without adding on unnecessary chores. After a while, someone may clean it up so they can use the wood."
Buffy turned her gaze to the only other objects to break the boredom of pancake-flat fields. Trees. Three of them. There was a farmhouse in the distance, over by another side road, but she could barely make out the outline of it and its outbuildings.
She sighed. "There's nothing here. Not even any cattle to mutilate."
"Three people said they saw whatever was grabbing their cows and goats come this way. Are you always this impatient on stakeouts?"
"You're accusing me of impatience?"
He looked hurt. "Been on lots of stakeouts. Only wandered off and got lost a few times."
A long silence followed, and when he spoke again, it was seriously. "Buffy, I've been thinking about those demons you asked me to research. Want you to know that I haven't forgotten, it's just taking me some time to go through the old texts, and time hasn't been very available lately."
"I understand, with your having to take on all the extra classes and things."
"Yeah. It's not always like this, you know. We usually don't lose more than one teacher a semester. Two at the most."
"That's a better record than my high school," said Buffy just before she bit her tongue.
"Tough district, huh?"
"You could say that."
The most recent subject faded away, as topics about the past always did in conversations with him. He said, "One of the things I've been thinking about is that if you do find a way to help these other lost souls, you might be able to do something for Angel too. I mean, since he's got a soul."
"I--" She stopped and took a breath before continuing. "It's nice of you to think of him."
Spike shrugged. "Poor bastard is so gloomy he can ruin a party just by walking in the door, and having to keep control over that demon can't be helping his mood much. Mind, if you did exorcise it without killing his human half, I'm not sure if he'd come out of the sulks, but it couldn't hurt."
Another pause. The time for giggles had definitely passed. What did that guy who gave the substance abuse lecture tell the girls? Alcohol starts out as an upper and then becomes a depressant. Yay, we reached the depressing part of the evening in record time.
At least this was a chance for her to ask him something she'd been wondering about. She waved her hand at the supremely boring landscape. "So, is this the way you want to spend the rest of your life? Dealing with teenage angst and watching the stars while waiting for a demon that's probably a moose to show up?"
"Bear's more likely than moose. And it's not a bad life." It was hard to tell in the moonlight, but she though he looked embarrassed as he continued, "Fact is, I always dream about destruction. Buildings falling down, towns being destroyed. And girls dying. Lots of girls dying, for some reason. Vivid, like it's really happening. And it always feels like it's my fault. So when I wake up, I don't feel like going out to fight. I want to build things, make things..."
He ducked his head, and now Buffy was sure he was uncomfortable with how much he'd revealed. So she finished the sentence for him. "You want to save the girls. By teaching them to survive."
"Yeah." He gave her a grateful glance. "I know we send our graduates out into a violent world, and that you slayers are always thinking about going into battle. Want it, even. Most of my girls do, and a lot of them are pissed off that we're holding them back from their destiny. But my goal is to add survival to that destiny."
"It's a good goal. One of the best. And you're doing it. I've seen girls from this school fight, and they're strong and smart."
"Ta." He sat back and said in something more like his usual tone, "So, pet, are you going to tell me your dreams?"
Buffy thought of the slayer dreams she'd had over the years and the many times she'd woken in a sweat, the image of his body burning up fresh in her mind. "They'd just give you more nightmares."
He took her hand and held it tightly.
She squeezed his fingers, the chant in her head changing to, He's only trying to make you feel better; he'd do the same for any of his students.
The silence felt companionable now, and after a time he said, "And I have to admit I usually get a bit bored by this point in the semester unless something really interesting has shown up in the neighborhood. But I can get away from Iowa for part of the summer, and there's always the holiday break. Gives me a chance to see that exciting world of yours. In fact, I was wondering if you had any plans --"
Damn! Why is he stopping? This conversation was getting really promising.
When Spike spoke again, his voice was distracted. "Pet, do you see something over by that old barn?"
"Could be." Buffy squinted and resisted an urge to scream in frustration at the untimely interruption. "You know, if I lived outside around here and it was getting cold, I might find a relatively stable structure that could keep out some of the rain an attractive place to rest after I'd disemboweled a cow or two. Even if it was a moldy old pile of wood."
He opened the car door, reaching behind the seat to pull something out. As she followed him down the dirt road, she saw it was a tire iron. He doesn't have those built-in weapons any more. As they crept towards the ex-barn, she vowed not to let whatever was out there hurt him.
"Let's skulk over here," he whispered, waving her into the shadow cast by the tiny clump of trees.
Buffy rolled her eyes. She knew he'd only spoken because he felt like saying "skulk." The wave would have sufficed. There were still times when she wanted to smack him. Not as hard as she used to, of course. Just a friendly bop on the back of the head, maybe.
And why the hell am I letting him take the lead? This is Spike, remember, and however good he is as a Demonology teacher, his plans have always sucked big time. She grabbed his arm, pulling him back and motioning for him to stay put. She'd do reconnaissance.
Somewhat to her surprise, he didn't object. Once she verified that he was following her silent order, at least for the moment, she crept closer to where they'd seen movement earlier. As she began to circle the barn, she snatched up a long, jagged piece of timber that should be of help in keeping anything nasty a fair distance away from her. Less than halfway through the circuit, she heard a noise on the opposite side. There was a snuffling sound, and the thud of big feet -- or paws --hitting the ground. She glanced towards Spike. The thing should be in his line of vision now.
Apparently it was because he was running in her direction. "Bear!" he yelled. "I think it's a bear! Watch out!"
His warning came too late. Buffy had just come nose-to-something with the prowler. The thing looked like Cousin It's bigger and dirtier cousin. Buffy couldn't even figure out which end was the front until it lunged at her, and even then its head seemed freakily featureless. It wasn't until she stabbed at the thing that she saw its eyes and mouth.
The monster howled, but the wood was rotten and it crumpled without doing much harm. Buffy managed to retreat a few more feet before the creature started shuffling forward again.
A tire iron went flying past her head, catching the monster in the gut, and Spike yelled, "Buffy, run!" She decided that was good advice and headed for the car, slowing the moment she realized she was outpacing Spike. She went back for him, dragging him forward as she glanced over her shoulder at the monster. It was following, but slowly, and she guessed the timber and tire iron had at least given it something to think about.
Spike was winded by the time they reached the car, so she shoved him in the passenger seat, thinking that she should have just carried him. She still wasn't used to his not being able to move at vamp speed. She jumped in behind the wheel, jamming the car into reverse and backing onto the main road at a speed that probably wasn't healthy for its suspension. She didn't relax until there was asphalt under the tires and she was able to get the speedometer up past 50.
Spike was still gasping in the seat next to her, and she worried until she realized he was having trouble catching his breath because he was laughing so hard. "What the hell is so funny?"
"Buffy, do you realize we just acted out the most famous stage direction in the history of theater?" He had to stop for a deep breath before adding, "Exit, pursued by a bear."
She shook her head. "Not exactly. That wasn't a bear, Spike."