Title: Shadowy Corners
Author/Creator: onlylyin (I'm on fanfiction.net as lyin', you might, or might not, have spied me there!)
Era/Season/Setting: Season 8 Comicsverse, pre the four-months-later scenes in Issue #40. Very little comics knowledge actually needed to follow, except that Buffy's now working in a coffee shop.
Rating: All Ages
Genre: ...er, doughy conversation?
I was going to link a download to "Falling in Love in a Coffee Shop," which is very on-the-nose and not a song that would automatically make me think Spuffy, except that it did. And I say "I was going to" because trying to link makes my entry post crash and burn. but if anyone wants it, give me a shout. Enjoy!
Buffy doesn’t work any night shifts at Pick Me Up. Even though she’s the new girl, her boss and coworkers make sure never to schedule her for after sunset, which is so darn nice of them Buffy spends her first half-month expecting them to turn out to be monstrous. (Not necessarily monsters, though, because she’s learned by now the two don’t always go hand in hand). Everyone at works thinks she has a second job—pretty accurate, although her sacred duty is once again paycheck-free. Buffy has to remind the suspiciously-Anya-like voice in her head that stealing is wrong every time she walks by a bank, that her brief foray into cat burglary wasn’t as Robin Hood-y as she likes to imagine, that…people wouldn’t approve.
And she likes work. Really. She gets to move around and stay busy and be a loose part of the lives of people who don’t know or care how many times she’s saved (and lately almost ended) the world. All that matters is she comes bearing caffeine. Her customers and coworkers do seem endlessly amused by her, especially when she’s saying “Huh?” to whatever album or author or art show they think she must check out. When the morning-shift barista whose name Buffy hasn’t gotten straight yet calls her “mainstream,” it sounds more like “how cute” than an insult.
She’d forgotten people could be nice to each other for no reason. And how good it can feel to be nice back, to be smiley, maybe-mainstream-y, shiny Buffy, for so many strangers who don’t know better.
Dawn and Xander don’t really visit her at work, though they both expect her to occasionally bring pastries back to the apartment. They came in during Buffy’s first week, separately and together, but Pick Me Up’s out of their ways. Xander professes to suffer intense pangs of guilt every time he grabs coffee closer to his job, while Dawn refuses to pretend to any such thing. Secretly, Buffy’s kind of relieved. She likes her lives separate.
Kennedy actually came in alone morning, to curtly order a coffee, black, no milk, no sugar. She treated Buffy briskly, as if she were barely an acquaintance, but left an unnecessarily generous tip. Kennedy seemed uptight and upset, even more so than usual for her, which left Buffy wondering if something was up with her and Willow. Although Willow says their friendship’s okay, Buffy doesn’t really know what’s going on in Willow’s head anymore.
She told Willow not to feel obligated to stop in at Pick Me Up, so it’s ridiculous to feel hurt Willow never turns up. Still, Buffy’s eyes sting every time a pair of teenage girls comes in looking to get sugared up on mochas while conspiring and dishing to each other.
All the painfully-obvious non-relationship couples on coffee dates don’t make her feel much better. She tried not to think about it, the same way she tries not to think about why it feels so comforting to be around all the books her coffee shop sells. Not that Buffy reads during her breaks, like some of her coworkers, or uses her employee discount to take some home, but she lingers around the shelves, so like a library. She rearranges them sometimes without being asked or just lays hands on ones with textured covers or uncut pages, for the familiar, old-timey feel.
Seven-thirty on a Tuesday morning, when she’s been working at Pick Me Up for exactly one month, she turns around and finds Spike sitting at the table in the staircase alcove. He’s in her section.
He has a newspaper up in front of his face, but she recognizes the boots sticking out from under the table, not to mention the dangling coat ends.
She’s lucky she’s not carrying anything or she might have demolished her no-spill record right then. As it is, she fumbles her pen and notepad. Buffy’s crouched to picked them up when Spike leans his head to the side of the paper, eyebrows raised. He lowers it with a flourish as she stands up.
“It’s the morning,” Buffy says, more accusingly than she intends. She realizes she’s smoothing back her hair and turns it into tucking her pen behind her ear as if that was the purpose of the motion all along.
“That it is,” Spike says, lounging back against the wall. “A foggy one.”
“It could clear up,” Buffy says, eyeing him carefully. The edges of the paper are charred, wisps of smoke still twine around his ankles, and there’s a touch of black around his fingers that she knows must be char since it’s been oh-so-long since Spike wore nail polish. She tries not to think of Spike set off in silhouette against the sun, in mid-air and burning and her too busy to do anything but count on him to land on his feet.
That’s done though, that’s done and over, and here, it is very grey and misty outside, and Spike’s as far back from the windows as he can get. Still, there’s more chance than she’s comfortable with that Spike’s long flirtation with Mr. Sun could come to a sudden climax. There’s no easy access sewer grate outside Pick Me Up’s back door, not to mention no back door. He must have come down from the second floor, since she’d never have missed him walking in either door to her corner building, which begs the question of how he got there. She hopes there isn’t a dirigible parked on the roof and decides not to ask; the bug shift is a little too surreal for her new reality-checked life, a reminder all that universe-bending mind-stretching stuff really happened. Spike himself, however, is a full-color blast from the past, not just his retro look and platinum hair, but in the sense of familiarity, belonging, he brings with him. His showing up doesn’t even feel like a surprise, and that scares her silly.
“I’ve got some hours yet,” Spike says. “Fog’s settled down on its silent haunches and all. Say, can I get a chai?”
He’s really only been back in her life for exactly one, stupendously awful day. She feels like she’s only heard his voice since it happened, speaking to Dawn and Xander outside her locked door and an impressionistic blur through her tears and mascara at Giles’ funeral, a word in her ear and too-brief hand on her arm. Secretly, she’d expected him to be the one to force her out of her wallow. Instead, she got Faith kicking in the door and telling her to buck up for “G”. She’d heard from Xander that Spike had been the one to break to Angel what had gone down, though Angel’s own memory of events supposedly trickled back…it all went on the long list of things she didn’t want to think about, and okay, maybe she hadn’t been ready to deal with seeing Spike, but all the same she’d wanted him to come and hoist her off the floor, instead of taking care of things out of her sight and then taking off to do more of the same. Of all people, she could have used Spike, just to hold her, but she no longer has the right to ask that or any reason to believe he would.
“You like chai?” Buffy says limply.
“Well, I’m just in from tackling a colony of Raksha demons in Assam,” Spike says, almost apologetically, then waits a beat, watching her face. “India,” he adds.
“Hey!” Buffy says (not that she knows Assam, but she knows her Raksha demons), but he steamrolls on before she has a chance to be properly offended.
“Suppose it’s a bit flavor-of-the-month,” Spike says, and Buffy finds herself wondering if his worldly adventures come with girls-of-the-month, too. Maybe in sexy saris.
“Nifty,” Buffy says forcibly, before recovering her cheery voice. “So. Tall, grande, or venti?”
He scans her eyes, her chin, her fingers gripping her notepad just a little too tightly. “Before you get all huffy,” Spike says, gesturing dismissively, “I know, we did this ditty a long time ago and you’re no keener to have me in your place of work then you were in days of bloody yore.” He rolls his eyes as if to emphasize his casualness. But his Adam’s apple bobs and his fingers drum frenetically against his leg. “Figured, though, this way you have to talk to me. Just a tall, and could I get one of those triangular things you’ve got, with the chocolate chips?”
Buffy feels staggered, but Spike wanting to talk to her, that’s familiar and right and…relieving. “Uh…you mean a scone?” she says dizzily. “I thought that was one of the words all English types use from birth, like ‘mate’ or ‘wotcher’ or…” She has a list accumulated over the years, from ‘arse’ and ‘berk’ to ‘wally’ and ‘wanker,’ but she can hear Giles’ voice saying every one even as she thinks them. Her mouth stops moving.
He scoffs. “Luv, no self-respecting ‘English type’ would call those scones. Or say ‘wotcher’. Come on now, have you ever known me to say ‘wotcher’?”
“No,” Buffy says, “but I didn’t know you to have much in the way of self-respect, either.” Spike’s face shutters off and she backpedals, quickly. “Things change,” she adds, wondering why she has to keep fighting herself to keep from crossing the line of nastiness with Spike. She thought they’d left that behind them, but of course, that was back before he died and came back to a life without her. “And, uh, what do you mean they’re not scones?”
“You spent a heap of time living in Merry Old and never had a proper scone?”
“I wasn’t exactly on the Grand Tour,” Buffy mutters. And Gil—…people who could explained that kind of thing weren’t often around. “I never had anything scone-like...you know, cone-y shaped and deliciously un-nutricious.”
He leans forward intently. “Well, first off, they’re round, mostly, though they needn’t be, think less pastry, more bread, a bit sweetened, but still calling for some jam or butter…” Spike’s brows furrow. “You all right?”
Buffy had sunk down into the chair across from him. “Uh-huh,” she says, thinking how ridiculous they were, because the two of them had stood palm-to-palm, burning, while their world shambled down to hell, and now they made small talk about baked goods in a coffee shop. She props her elbow up on the little table and rests her chin on her palm. “So, a ‘proper scone’’s really just a biscuit.”
“And this one I know—which you call cookies.”
“Our word for cookie is much better.”
“I’m not even going to argue that one.”
“We’re not arguing,” Buffy says, too quickly.
Spike tilts his head to the left. “That an observation or an order?”
“Not an order,” she says swiftly. “No. Giving orders, no longer a part of the package. G.I. Buffy’s been discontinued. ‘Orders’ is no longer part of my vocabulary.” Buffy paused. “Except that I’m supposed to be taking yours.”
“Right,” he says, and she can see his tongue resting against his teeth, holding back a laugh, and the slight pulse in his right jaw, and she should really not be thinking about Spike’s mouth. Or any other Spike-parts. “Plum forgot.” His eyes are still so very dark and very, very blue, and Buffy couldn’t remember why, exactly, she shouldn’t be thinking about Spike and the hollow at the base of his throat and how the fingers he has splayed on his thigh would feel against her own… “The smells in here are so strong for someone like me it’s hard to keep a thought straight.”
Buffy’s mind goes to the millions of time she’s told Spike…and Angel…how the increased sense of smell never fails to creep her out. After all these years, the thought still makes her squirm and the reminder of Angel has her thoughts scurrying away from guilt and fear and pain as interwoven and complicated of lacework. She remembers: Vampire Bad.
But this is Spike, and so she smiles. “You English types and your low tolerance for the great unwashed.”
His expression stays serious. “Got a few in need of a good showering, sure, and plenty of coffee breath lingerin’ in the air all around—” Buffy fights the impulse for a quick breath check, “—but the ground beans, the cinnamon, vanilla, all those fake flavored syrups, the books even…I said overwhelming, Slayer, not bad. I think there’s other things to better fill your time—”
“Other things don’t pay bills—”
“Oh, no, that song’s not remaining the same. Let’s have it clear right now I’ve got a self-sufficient space-worthy craft at my disposal—what’s with the face?”
“I’m not making a face,” Buffy says. “But—the Millennium Falcon, it’s not.”
“What? What’s wrong with my ship? She’s a perfectly good ship!”
“Yeah, but is it your ship, or the bugs’ ship, really?”
Spike’s eyes narrow to slits. “Semantics. I’ll have you know those bugs have shed their green blood by my side and screwed their courage to the sticking-place where their buggy brothers still oozed.”
“Sorry,” Buffy says. She’s struck by how quickly his face softens at those two syllables. “My track record with person-sized bugs is small and decidedly negative. But I’m open-minded,” she says earnestly.
Spike snickers, close-mouthed, until she glares at him. He sobers. “Oh, you’re serious.”
“Buffy?” a voice says from behind her. It’s the shift manager, the one with the henna-dyed hair. Rosie? Josie? Buffy tries to peer at her name tag without looking like she’s glancing at the name tag.
“Not to interrupt, but business is picking up and I need you to help me, y’know, work…” Rosie/Josie wriggles her fingers in a jazz hand type gesture as if trying to demonstrate her amusement. “But in the future, when we’ve got a slow day like this, talk to me and we can work it out if you want to sit down for a bit with your boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Buffy says, on automatic, “anymore.”
It takes real effort to look at Spike after those words slip out. His eyes are very wide. “Oh, um, yeah,” he says, “I’m the ex. Very bad. Said I’d make a right scene if Buffy didn’t sit down and have it out with me,” he raises his voice, “and I won’t have any of that restraining order nonsense, either, I mean it…”
He took that more interestingly than Buffy expected, but she supposes he looks the part. Rosie/Josie holds up her hand like a phone, questioningly. It takes Buffy a moment to realize she’s offering to call the cops. She sighs and lays her hand over Spike’s. “Don’t get all worked up, Blondie Bear. I said we could talk.”
Rosie/Josie backs away, signaling with her fingers she’ll give them five more minutes.
Buffy turns all the way back toward Spike.
“Don’t call me that,” he says, making a face. “Really. Now, she seemed quite nice. Evil?”
“Not as yet,” Buffy says, noticing a stretch of sunshine on the floor. It’s steadily moving toward Spike. “Maybe I can get you a chai and pseudo-scone another time,” she says, nodding at it pointedly.
“Have to make a confession,” Spike says, leaning in, and Buffy’s breath catches. “I came for shop talk. Didn’t really get around to it.”
“Oh,” Buffy says. “You could, uh, come by after…” Not twilight. “…dusk. I’m at Dawn and Xander’s.”
“Didn’t know if you’d want me there, either.”
“I never said you could come in.”
Spike rolls his eyes but doesn’t seem surprised. “I should go.”
“Okay,” Buffy says. He doesn’t move. She frowns expectantly at him.
“Got to let go of my hand, Buffy.”
She jerks her hand back like he’s contagious. He doesn’t flinch, just slides out of the chair and stands up, sidestepping to the bottom steps of the staircase. She stays seated.
“You’re happy here,” he says from the staircase. “Happy enough, anyway.”
She thinks that might be pushing it. “Is that a question or…?” He doesn’. “I guess this place is what I need right now.”
“I should think,” Spike says, arching a brow, “though it’s a bit on the nose, don’t you reckon?”
“Picking ‘Pick Me Up’, when you're in need of one.”
Buffy doesn’t know how to answer that at first, since that’s exactly what she thought when she saw the shop name, silly pun and all, so she just stands up and smoothes the creases in her black skirt. “I’m not really looking to get ‘picked up’ here,” she says, aiming for breezy.
Spike nods, looking almost…pleased. “Good,” he says bluntly, and he’s turning in a swish of coat and up the stairs. Buffy looks over to see Rosie/Josie gaping, twirling her finger beside her ear and looking questioningly at Buffy, as if she wants to know if Spike’s crazy, or what’s wrong with Buffy for not being with him.
Too much for the telling of it, she thinks, and puts her smile back on, finding it surprisingly easy when she thinks about seeing Spike again that night.