Kim was at their table before Buffy could say anything to Colum. They had sat in uncomfortable silence until Spike left Sally's altogether. Buffy did not want to talk with Spike nearby, vampire hearing and all and she suspected Colum was waiting for her to start.
Kim took Spike's empty coffee cup, replacing it with a new one for Colum. "Here you go. Do you need anything to eat tonight?" She was acting as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Buffy had been privy to many situations as a waitress and there were times she had to work at controlling herself when people were acting like idiots.
"No, thanks," he said. At least he was still polite. She was not sure he was going to be very polite to her right now.
"No problem. If either of you need anything, you know where I'll be." She gave Buffy an apologetic smile and Buffy understood it to mean that she would not return to the table unless she needed to. Buffy had seen Spike give Kim money, so she was not surprised when Kim did not set a ticket on the table.
"So," Buffy said, blowing her bangs out of her face as she dipped a fry in ketchup. She really did not know what to say. To start talking about Spike was to open up something huge that she would never get to the bottom of. It was hopeless.
"Are you going to tell me who that was and why I saw you holding his hand?"
"I," Buffy looked away from him, unable to meet his eyes. Eyes that until now she had loved looking into. It had been so refreshing to look into eyes that had not seen endless death and destruction, that did not know anything about her past. "He's an old friend."
"Who just happened to be here in Sally's at four in the morning when you were?"
"I guess," she said. "I can't tell you why he was here, Colum."
"Why didn't he say anything to you on the phone?"
"I don't know," she said, frustrated. What was she? An expert on Spike and his behaviors? Hardly, otherwise she would understand why he waited over a year and a half to tell her he was alive. Well, alive in a figurative sense.
"Buffy, I think I've been more than patient about not asking you questions you obviously don't want to answer. I haven't pushed you as you call it. I have friends telling me you're playing some kind of game because we haven't slept together yet."
"You talk to your friends about us?"
He sighed visibly and drummed his fingers against the side of his coffee cup, which was still empty. "Yes, Buffy, I do, because I don't understand you sometimes. Like tonight. We were having a good night. I thought we were."
"We were," she said adamantly. They were. She had been uncomfortable around his friend Jenny, but she had made the best of the situation.
"And then something changed. You got a phone call and it's like there's a different person in the room with me. My girlfriend's gone."
"I'm sorry, Colum, really. I wish I could explain what happened tonight. I just freaked a little that I got a hang up. I mean, my number is unlisted and no one ever calls me. Just you."
"You had a message tonight."
"Yeah, from Giles."
"Was this guy Giles?"
"What?" she asked confused.
"The guy in here tonight?"
"Spike? No, why?"
"Oh well, not all Englishmen sound alike, you know. Just like people from different parts of the States sound different."
"I know, I was just asking."
"You thought I was seeing someone else?"
"Well, yeah. It's been brought to my attention that you might have a guy on the side."
"What?" she asked, thoroughly confused by that. When did she have time? She taught her skating lessons, saw him, and worked out. When she was not doing one of those things, she was at home getting adept at computer skills and the Internet. She could type close to sixty-five words per minute now.
"My friend, you know Jim," he said and Buffy nodded. She did not care for the man much. He was one of those weightlifter types who struck Buffy as having more brawn than brains. He was a scary guy, which was saying a lot considering Buffy was not often scared of humans. "Well, he mentioned that some girls. Women, excuse me, have a little game they do. They pick a guy like me, one who's the marrying kind and holds out with them for sex."
"I am so not holding out on you, Colum."
"I want to believe you, but then I see you with this guy. And he's a good looking guy, even I can see that. So, Jim's comment comes back to me. What if you're not sleeping with me because you want to marry me, but you're sleeping with someone else, this guy Spike, so that you aren't going without sex."
Buffy stared at him, her eyes wide because she was unable to blink. "Did you really just say that?" He did not respond and Buffy shook her head, maybe she was hallucinating. It was possible, because she still could not fathom just how Spike had come to be alive again. She saw him burn beyond being a crispy critter. He was en route to being dust when she left the school basement.
Suddenly, she felt like throwing up the part of the burger and fries she had eaten. His words revolted her. "Do guys really talk like that? You sit around and say awful things about the women in your life?"
"Buffy, I didn't believe it. I mean, I don't want to believe it, but I come in here and you're holding his hand."
"I wasn't. I mean, okay, I was and I don't believe I'm defending myself to you when you just insulted me. Did you stand up for me when your so-called friend basically called me a hoe?"
"Of course I did."
"Why don't I believe you? You guys always stick together. And you talk about women toying with men. What about you guys? Don't tell me that you don't go out with a type of girl hoping to score with her because you haven't been with a blonde or a brunette or a flying midget before," she said, realizing she was really getting out of hand now. Colum was not The Immortal, Colum had never come across as being anything but sincere.
"Buffy, please," he said.
"I'm sorry if I'm not going fast enough for you, Colum. I've tried to explain it to you without giving you my entire life story."
"But I want your life story, Buffy. I want to know everything there is to know about you."
"No, Colum, you don't," she whispered. He would sit and listen to her talk about vampires and slayers and walk away from her for good, dismissing her as nuts. She knew it with every fiber of her being.
"Tell me who he is."
"The last time I saw him, I thought he was dead, Colum."
"He looks pretty good to me."
"I thought so, too," she said softly. And he had looked good. In fact, there was something different about Spike, a confidence Buffy had not seen since he first came to Sunnydale. She saw evidence of the old, cocky Spike who was not going to be Love's Bitch. What had happened to him since his return that he was able to get that back? Better question. What happened to begin with that he had lost that? Buffy was suddenly curious.
"Did you date him?"
"Yes," she said simply.
"Were you in love with him?"
"Yes," she said simply, realizing that there was no past tense about it. She loved him, she still did. She liked Colum and she enjoyed getting to know him, but she wanted to learn things from Spike. She wanted to lay in bed with him and listen to him tell her about life before her mother was alive. The night before their final battle with The First, Buffy believed that if anyone was capable of making the world go away for her it was Spike.
"Are you still?"
She shrugged slightly. "I don't want to," she said.
"I guess that's better than an outright yes. Do you love me?"
"Not in the way you want me to, no. I don't know you well enough yet, Colum."
"It's been six months, Buff." She cringed slightly, whenever someone called her that it made her think of Angel without his soul.
"I don't know if I can trust you," she said evenly.
"Trust me? What have I done that says you can't?"
"Trust is something earned, Colum. I'm sorry if I can't give it to you as quickly as you'd like. I've told you I've been hurt."
"You looked pretty chummy with him if he was the one who hurt you."
"He did, but he wasn't the only one and we had gotten past it. My entire experience with guys has been one big hurt, Colum. I vowed this time I'd be careful."
"What does he want?"
"I don't know. You came in before we had the chance to talk."
"I'm sorry to interrupt."
She scowled at him. "That's not what I meant." For all she knew, Spike was here to tell her about a big bad somewhere he needed help with.
"I went back to your apartment and you weren't there. So I knew you were here. I felt bad the way I had left. I try to understand, Buffy, really. But I'm only human and I love you."
"Oh, Colum, don't say that. Please."
"But I do love you. So it's natural for me to want to be with you."
"I can't handle this right now, Colum. It's just too much."
"I thought that's what you wanted, Buffy. I thought you wanted a relationship."
"Just not with me. Is that it?"
"Oh God, Colum, I don't know. I do, I think I do."
"But you have to see what this other guy wants?"
She lowered her gaze, clutching her now cool coffee cup between both hands. "Yeah, I do."
"Well, can I ask you to at least let me know what's going on?"
"I don't know, that's what I'm trying to say."
He smiled at her then and she wondered what in the hell she was doing. He was a perfectly good man and she was pushing him away. "I meant when you decide. When you work things out."
He stood then and walked to her side of the booth, giving her a gentle kiss. "I do love you, Buffy. I'd like to marry you one day. I hope that will be taken into consideration when you make your decision, but I don't want to be someone you settle for. If you think you love this guy that much, figure it out. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."
"You'd do that?"
"For the girl I love? I'd be crazy not to."
"Some would say you're crazy to."
He laughed and ran a hand through her hair. "I probably am, but you need to figure this out. I can tell and if I stick around you right now I'll push and that would mean I lose you."
"You're a good man, Colum McGuire."
"Thanks," he said softly and left the diner.
"Not a good night, hon?" Kim said as Buffy walked to the door shortly after Colum left.
"You could say that."
"He's a good man."
"I know. I don't deserve him."
"I don't know about that. Seems to me everyone deserves a good person."
"Yeah, I've always thought so. Good night, Kim."
"Night, sweetie, take care."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com