Chapter 8 - Parental Units

The talking, thumps, and indistinct equipment noises around her were the kind of sharp and annoying sounds that only could be heard in large public places. The hall was scattered with muscular, glove-wearing women and adrenaline-high trainers. Spoken and unspoken words about victory, failure and competitiveness fluttered through the sweat-smelling air. The competition had been going on for a couple of hours, and the spectator seats were starting to get pretty crowded. Considering that it was a women's competition, it had drawn quite an audience. At regular intervals, the clapping and cheers that accompanied the matches replaced the dull chatter.

Buffy had gone through two qualifying rounds. She had started boxing against a pale girl with big nervous eyes. Buffy almost felt guilty for knocking her out. The other one was a big, bad-ass firefighter, but she wasn't much of a challenge. What the woman possessed in strength she lacked in speed and flexibility. Her trainer had looked furious afterwards, and glove-throwing and ear-searing curses followed the shameful defeat. Buffy had just smiled to herself. It wasn't her fault that she was a natural born winner, was it? That had been an hour ago, and soon she was about to meet some real competition. She shook her fists in an attempt to get rid of the tingle that sizzled all though her body and made her feel like carbonated Buffy goodness. Of course she was nervous, but there were other feelings involved too. She tightened her fist a little more when the brown-haired bitch popped into her mind. Oh, she would show her Buffy goodness, all right! The kick-ass flavored kind!

"Buffy!" a voice said through the scattered noise.

She turned and smiled and walked up to the spectator seats at the side of the hall. "Enjoying yourselves?" she asked Joyce and Dawn through the noise.

"Yeah, this is so cool!" Dawn said, smiling. "There's even blood and stuff! And you, like, almost put that girl with braids in a coma!" Dawn's eyes glittered.

Buffy looked back at Dawn uncomfortably. "You'll grow up to be a very disturbed adult. Possibly a gym teacher."

Joyce looked at her daughters, her brow furrowed. "God, how I wish you were both still at that age when you thought about things like cookies and kittens."

"Well, too late for that now. You should have locked us up in cages in the backyard to keep us from bad influences while you still had the chance," Buffy answered.

Joyce just smiled, rubbing Dawn's hair. "How about a couple of those electronic foot shackles, then?"

Before Buffy could continue, she heard a slurring voice. "My little darling. How is it going? Are you..." the man paused as if he was trying to remember how to speak English. "...knocking them all out?" The air suddenly got thick in their little area of the room as three pairs of eyes turned to Hank, who was slouching against the doorway a few yards away. He was wearing a proper suit as usual, but his sloppily tied tie gave him away.

"Dad?" Buffy asked nervously, dropping her hands to her sides. "What are you doing here?"

"What?" he said a little to loud. "I read in the paper about this... competition thing, and that you were going to attend." He walked somewhat unsteadily into the hall. "I'm your father. Why...?" He stumbled a little, briefly loosing his train of though "Why shouldn't I be here?" he continued after a moment. The musty smell of alcohol wasn't hard to detect. Neither was his foggy gaze.

Buffy crossed her arms tightly, breathing faster now. "You hate boxing," she stated. "Not a lady's sport, remember."

"Well, no," he said, walking up to her. "But..." he blinked. "But you keep insisting, so I'm being supprot... supportive." To punctuate that last statement he threw his arm around her shoulders, pulling her roughly into his booze-drenched embrace.

"Hank!" she said, distressed, trying to push him away. "You're drunk!

"Am I Hank now?" he asked, pulling her even closer. "I'm you father!" He stressed the syllables of the last word with unnecessary force.

"Get off me!" Buffy grunted, finally succeeding to push him away. Hank stumbled to the floor, causing a group of chatting women to scatter to avoid getting hit by his assaulting ass. The discreet looks from the other people in the hall now escalated into blatant glares.

Suddenly, Buffy heard sharp sobs coming from the father-bundle at the floor. "I'm you father," he repeated quietly between the sobs. Buffy took a step back, feeling her gut twisting.

"Hank." Joyce's forceful but calm voice made Buffy turn her head to the spectator benches. Joyce was looking at her with compassion and Dawn stared down at the scene with distress.

"I'm her... her father."

"I know," Joyce said as she walked down from the spectator seats. "But you should leave now."

"I just wanted to... I... I just..." Hank's face was red and wet.

"I have to go. I've got a match." Buffy took a sharp breath and turned, walking away quickly.

"I love you, sweetie," Hank shouted after her, his voice cracking.

"Yeah, whatever," Buffy said quietly to herself. She tightened her jaw and looked to the floor. All the sounds around her seemed loud and annoying. She heard Hank's slurs behind her mixing with Joyce's soft voice as they moved to the exit. There were scattered whispers from the people she passed, but she didn't care. She really didn't care.

"Buffy?" She lifted her gaze at the sound of her trainer's voice. "Are you ok?" The big middle-aged woman managed to convey some emotions from her otherwise dry, motionless face.

"Fine. Just fine," she said resolutely, clenching her jaw. She picked up her gloves, which lay on the training bag. "Show me what to hurt."

"I think you mean 'show me what to miss'."

Buffy turned and looked at Faith in cold silence.

"You don't get points for glares, B, just for punches," Faith said, crossing her arms.

Buffy just put on her gloves and walked up to the ring with determined steps. Behind her, Faith followed with a cocky smile on her lips.

"Next match: Faith and Buffy." The commentator's voice crackled through the thick tension that resided between the raised fists in the middle of the ring. The two women's excited breaths battled in an almost perfect rhythm. Cheering voices surrounded them like an ambient sound blanket. Buffy felt numb, and her head was buzzing with emotions. She could vividly feel her muscles flexing, her fists clenching, her feet moving on the floor.

As soon as the bell rang they started their little violent dance, moving quickly around each other while keeping their fists ready for attack. Faith smiled and narrowed her eyes. "Well, B, Let's see some of that hurtin'. Or is poor little goldielocks afraid to break a nail?"

All the anger that she was carrying suddenly exploded inside of her. The air whooshed as her fist flashed. A second later Faith was lying on the floor with the referee hovering over her, counting. Faith moaned and moved slightly while partly opening her eyes. After the count of ten, the referee grabbed Buffy's arm and raised it in the air. She faintly noticed the sounds of clapping from the audience through the feelings that suddenly coursed through her body. The moment he let go, she pushed up the ropes and stepped out of the ring.

* * * * * *

Spike sighed with relief when he finally spotted the hall from the road. Angel had spoken with him on the phone for an hour, apologizing for his parking lot rage. Not that the flowers he had sent that morning didn't send the message, but it still felt good. However, Spike had ended up being more than a little late for Buffy's big competition. And of course he couldn't find the bloody place either. Who had gotten the idea to place a sports center in the middle of some semi-industrial area anyway? Stepping out of his Desoto, he hurried to the main entrance, passing a few stressed trainers smoking outside. He walked through a short hallway. The smell of sweat and the sounds of a talking crowd hit him as he pushed open the double doors to the hall. He looked around, trying to spot Buffy, but without any luck.

"Spike!" Willow's cheerful voice made him turn to the spectator seats.

Spike smiled and headed their way, stepping over rows of benches and steering around fellow spectators. "How's she doin'?" he said as he sat down next to Willow and company.

"Great!" Anya said. "She's like a hurricane of violence. Like the Terminator but without the accent."

"Good. And you are?"

"Anya. Buffy's friend."

He reached out and shook her hand. "Spike. Um... Also friend."

"Sex friend?" she chirped.

Spike grinned. "Yeah. Just not Buffy's."

Willow looked embarrassed. "He's our co-worker at Seven," she said to Anya. Then she turned to Spike again, looking apologetic. "Sorry, Anya's not big on tact."

"Hey!" Anya said, looking offended for a good two seconds before shrugging. "Well, true."

Spike looked over at the blonde girl next to Willow, flipping through his long-term memory. "You're Tara, right?"

Tara nodded shyly. "We met at Xander's party a while ago. If... If you remember that evening."

Spike chuckled. The end of that party had pretty much been a blur, but Xander had told him that he had been ridiculously drunk and had streaked through the yard with someone's panties on his head, scaring the über-religious neighbor half to death. But he did remember that he had complemented Tara for some great blueberry muffins she had brought. Unfortunately he also vaguely remembered staring down at the same blueberry muffins in the toilet, after the booze had finally caused him to expel his stomach contents. He had never really been a muffin fan after that.

Spike smiled to himself and leaned back in his seat. When he once again looked around to see if Buffy was around, he suddenly noticed another Summers girl heading their way. In sharp contrast to her earlier cheerfulness, Dawn had an aura of that special kind of super-existential sadness that only teenagers fully could express. Her shoulders were slouched, her lips were pouting, and her steps were heavy and slow as she stepped over the rows of seats while slipping a cell phone into her purse.

Before Spike could ask what had happened, he heard Willow's concerned voice. "What did she say?"

Dawn slumped down in the seat next to Spike. "She said that she brought him home, put him to bed, and scolded him."

"Good," Willow answered, crossing her arms. "He could use a good finger pointing session."

"Um... did somethin' happen?" Spike asked tentatively.

"No. Nothing," Dawn said without looking at him. "Just my disturbed dad doing a surprise guest appearance during the intermission."

"Sounds like there weren't any pompoms involved?" Spike winced a little at his own comment.

"No, just drunken acrobatics."

Spike couldn't help feeling uncomfortable. Dealing with teenage angst wasn't in his regular repertoire. What the fuck did you say in this situation anyway? "Bummer," he exclaimed.

"Dawnie," Tara said, leaning over to try to catch her gaze. "I'm sure he didn't mean to make a mess. I mean..." She hesitated a little. "Seems like he's at least trying to do the dad thing," she said softly.

"That's the thing!" Dawn said, suddenly bursting out of her apathic state. She sat up and stared at Tara with furious eyes. "He's trying to do the dad thing with Buffy! I'm just... Buffy part 2!" She clenched her fists. "And sequels suck!"

"No they don't! There's Aliens, the Lord of the Rings trilogy..." Anya commented. "Oh! You're Buffy Summers: The Next Generation - like the original, but with less weirdness."

Willow just shook her head and turned back to Dawn. "He's the one who's wrong, not you," she said.

Spike threw an arm around her shoulders. "Yeah, he sounds like a bloody wanker. He should fuck off, if you ask me." When Willow cleared his throat he continued. "Um... I mean,
he should be ashamed."

"I guess," Dawn said, looking a little bit less sad.

"Well then, that's settled," Spike said, patting her on the shoulder before pulling back. "He's a shit, and you shouldn't mope."

"Hey," she said with a somewhat flirty smile. "No need to remove the arm."

"Sorry bit, the arm has served its purpose," Spike said, chuckling.

As Spike turned his eyes to the floor again he spotted Buffy coming out of a door at the side of the hall. She looked primed and her gaze expressed complete focus. An Asian girl followed, radiating a similar air of concentration. They climbed in through the ropes and quickly took their respective positions, staring into each other's eyes with looks that meant business. Spike unconsciously leaned forward in his seat, feeling that good old sports-related adrenalin rising. But he didn't just want to watch a fight; he wanted to watch Buffy fight.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached our final match." The distorted noise from the speaker pierced through the hall with its anticipating guests. "Or finalists in the 2004 Women's West Coast Boxing Championship are Buffy Summers and Wen Li." Spike zoomed in on the other girl, trying to assess what kind of challenge she would be. He hoped that she was a tough chick so Buffy could take her out in a blaze of glory. The women's eyes narrowed and the tension increased a few notches. Muscles flexed, feet moved anxiously on the floor, chests rising in a steady pace. Spike could almost feel the rush of adrenaline all the way from the spectator seats. This was going to be interesting. Around him he heard the crowd going wild, making sounds like various horny animals. Through the noise he could hear the fellow friends' voices from the seats next to him: "Go Buffy! Kick her ass! Punch her nose bone into her brain, it will give her permanent brain damage!"

At that last shout, Willow turned to the pep talker next to her. "God, Anya" she said, concerned. "Promise me on all that is holy that you won't become a cheerleader. Ever."

Anya just smiled laconically and turned back to the ring, clapping her hands cheerfully.

At that moment, the bell rang, and it like somebody had pushed an 'on' button. This was no longer foreplay, it was time for some heavy action. They danced around each other for a few moments before the first move came. The Asian girl threw a few punches, and managed to hit Buffy's shoulder. Buffy twisted from the force of the hit, but didn't loose her balance. Instead she countered with a series of forceful punches. Wen blocked them proficiently and retaliated, hitting Buffy on the side of the head. This really seemed to set Buffy off, and soon the ring was almost a blur of fists, twisting torsos and flying strands of hair. Spike could see Willow and Tara grimacing next to him. 'Sissies,' he thought, smiling to himself. No appreciation for the finer things in life. Like good clean violence.

The rest of the first round was an even, sweaty and painful affair. One time even Spike winced a little at the sight of Buffy taking a hard jab to the head.

When the second round started, Buffy didn't look happy. She almost immediately hit the other girl in the chest forcefully, sending her into the ropes. The judges sitting next to the ring looked closely and seriously at the action, as if it was a poker game and they were afraid of giving away the straight flush they were holding. Spike thought that Buffy was great, but he was biased, of course. Actually, he had no clue who was winning, partly because of the even contest, partly because he didn't know how the points were counted. Which sort of would have helped.

By the third round, Spike was completely lost in the fight in the ring in front of him. He didn't even hear the audience anymore. He was filled with admiration for his blonde co-worker. Anya was right; Buffy was a hurricane of violence. When the bell rang for the fourth and last round he leaned forward in his seat.

Buffy and Wen stared at each other for a moment before Buffy hit Wen's cheek with a hard right hook, followed by a couple of straight punches that Wen was able to block with some extra effort while stumbling a little. Skipping energetically, she aimed for Buffy's head. Buffy ducked one blow, and averted the other with her fists. They moved restlessly around each other. Their hair was slick against their sweaty foreheads and big wet spots had spread on their clothes. Their eyes were locked in a deadly gaze. Buffy suddenly hit Wen with a couple of lightning fast strikes, making her body spin from the force. Only a moment later, the bell rang.

Spike tensed. The referee took his place between the two exhausted women. There was a moment's wait when Spike almost thought he could feel the entire audience holding its breath. "Our 2004 champion," the referee said. Pause. "Buffy Summers!" he shouted, raising her fisted hand triumphantly in the air. Spike jumped up from his seat and cheered loudly, joining the enthusiastic choir around him. Buffy smiled, keeping her fist triumphantly in the air, but the smile looked somewhat pale. He wondered about it for a moment before he remembered what had happened earlier. Within moments, Buffy disappeared in a miniature swarm of people. Dawn, Anya, Tara and Willow quickly made their way down to the ring to congratulate her, leaving Spike in their wake. Spike squinted, but he could only make out a few strands of blonde hair and a sweaty arm. He just sighed and headed for the exit.

* * * * * *

Buffy closed her eyes. The empty dressing room felt so soothingly quiet. Like a big wet blanket of void wrapped around her head. There had been so many strong feelings swarming around inside of her this day, struggling, mixing, interchanging. She couldn't help feeling like a battleground for some monster showdown. Her eyes turned to the big and rather hideous trophy next to her and she reached to pick it up. In all of the commotion, it felt good to have an unambiguous thing to hold on to. When it all came down, this is what she was: a winner. She sighed and tiredly threw her gym bag over her shoulder. When she opened the door the smooth evening air hit her face. It felt kind of comforting.

"Quite a vase you've got there. Plannin' on buying some fancy flowers?"

Buffy smiled and turned her head, "Well hello there. Didn't see you earlier."

Spike was leaning against the wall, one hand shoved in his duster pocket, the other one holding a cigarette. "Sorry, was kind of late," he answered. "Didn't miss the final, though. You were bloody brilliant!"

Buffy toyed a little with the trophy, looking pleased. "Yeah, I was."

"So, what's the winnin' trick, oh wise master?" he asked, putting out his cigarette.

Buffy smiled. "Hitting hard and dodging fast."

"Wow," he said with amused irony. "You should write a book, 'cause wisdom like that could make you rich."

"You didn't think I would give you all my important secrets right away?" she said. "Pfft, I won't reveal the full truth about Xenu and the aliens in the volcano for at least a few years."

"Really?" Spike tilted his head. "So boxin' is all about gettin' rid of all the unwanted inner aliens? Who would have guessed?

"Ssh, not so loud." She held out her hand. "And that'll be $2000 by the way."

Buffy and Spike laughed a little at their own silliness. "So, where are your buddies and devoted fans, by the way?" Spike asked.

"They hugged me and went home. No need for them to wait for me to talk to my trainer and shower." She raised an eyebrow. "Have you been waiting here since the competition ended?"

"Well, I didn't get a chance to congratulate you. Too many people." He motioned to the sunset. "Also, a nice evenin'. Great for hangin' about."

Suddenly there was a sound of the door opening, and Buffy heard a familiar voice. "Well, I guess I should congratulate you. You weren't quite as much of a pussy this time."

Buffy tensed and turned around. In front of the slowly closing door Faith stood, looking at Buffy with a self-assured smile and a black eye. Her white tank top clung tightly to her muscular body.

"I remember you lying at the floor some hours ago, whining, so being a pussy is something you should be well acquainted with." Buffy's voice was hard and cold as she looked at her bruised opponent.

Faith ignored Buffy's comment, suddenly looking straight at Spike with a sultry smile. "Well, well. What have we here?" She slowly walked up to Spike, studying him closely. "Smells like cigarettes, wears an obvious villain duster and naughty tight clothes." She tilted her head. "Then there's the nonchalant posture. Damn, B, you've scored a bad boy!"

"Stop staring at Spike!" Buffy said, glaring at her sports nemesis. Who did that bitch think she was? Nobody ogled Spike but Buffy! Especially not Faith!

"Spike?" Faith said, lifting an eyebrow. "Definitely a bad boy."

Spike had no idea who this chick was, but she was bloody hot. But a second later he stopped himself mid-sexy-smirk. Instead he just smiled faintly. "And you are?"

"Fucking gorgeous."

Buffy walked up to Spike with clenched teeth, grabbing his arm. "We're leaving," she said. "I've so had my daily quota of Amazon catfights filled today."

Spike was thinking that he really wouldn't mind an Amazon catfight over the right to his tight little body, but for once he had sense enough to shut his mouth. "Yeah, and we're... busy... We have to go home and..."

"And fuck like bunnies on Viagra!" Buffy spat out. "Now, if you excuse us..." she said, turning with a quick, angry movement and walking with determined steps towards the parking lot.

"Yeah," Spike said with an amused smile. "Gotta go." He motioned towards Buffy. "You know, a boyfriend's work is never over." As Spike turned to follow Buffy, he choked back a chuckle.

"See you, B." Faith's voice echoed over the open, empty space between the big buildings that surrounded them.

"Not if there's a God," Buffy replied without turning around.

When they turned the corner, Spike hurried up to Buffy's side. "Care to tell me what that was about?"

"Nothing," Buffy said shortly.

"But, honey, honesty is important in a relationship," Spike said with a mock-serious voice.

"Um... sorry. Didn't mean to boyfriendify you like that." Buffy wrinkled her nose.

Spike chuckled. No problems. "Whenever you need a shake 'n' bake boyfriend, I'm at your service." Damn. There it was again: the guilt. He cleared his throat. "I mean, a fake one."

"Well, duh," Buffy said, walking up to her old white Saab. She sighed a little and leaned against the side of the car. "God, this day has been a disaster."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "But you won?"

"Yeah. But besides the Faith Encounter of the Third Kind, there was also the issue of my dad coming by, being unpleasantly friendly. And highly flammable." She rolled her eyes cynically at the memory, but her eyes were sad and tired.

"Yeah, I heard. Met the niblet and company earlier." Spike's voice quickly shifted from amused to concerned.

"Told you. Crazy pod person." Buffy looked up at Spike. "Hey, what are you doing now?"

Spike looked at the clock. "Angel's probably gonna..." He paused. "Nothin', I guess."

"Want to watch a movie or something? I could use some escapism and popcorn."

"Nothin' like some good ol' Hollywood Prozac, eh?" Spike asked.

"Nope. Your place or mine?" Buffy smiled.

"You've got toilet paper, clean floors, and a light bulb in the livin' room?"

"Um... yeah," Buffy said.

"Well, in that case, your place."

* * * * * *

"I'm so not going to let you choose the movie again," Buffy said, pouting at the black-and-white film playing on the TV.

"What?" Spike said with a smile. "'Them!' is a classic!"

Buffy pointed at the screen. "But they're ants! Mutated ants! By atom bomb radiation!"

"Ok, so maybe it's not Oscar material, but you're missin' the point." Spike shoved some popcorn in his mouth. "It's a B movie, it's supposed to be lame," he said while chewing.

"What's up next? An attack of the 50-foot exterminator?"

Spike just chuckled and looked back at the movie. For a few moments they looked at the TV in silence. Suddenly Buffy sighed and crossed her arms. "This is so not working. 'Troja' or 'Fight Club' would have done the trick. This? Not so much. Not enough abs, too many exoskeletons." Though she was joking, her voice was sad.

"Still thinkin' about your dad?" Spike studied her closely.

"Yeah," she said softly, pulling her legs up on the sofa. She bit her lip. "I don't understand why he has to be such an asshole."

"Tell him to fuck off, then." Spike said.

"Could you ask your mother to fuck off?" Buffy asked with a telling look.

"Guess not." Spike smiled. "I suppose it's human nature, bein' as asshole I mean. Some are just assholes more often than others."

"I guess it's human nature that we put up with it, too."

"Human nature is pretty fucked up," Spike said.

Buffy closed her eyes. "So true."

Spike leaned a little closer. "But at least you mum seems nice. Your parental situation could've been worse."

"Yeah, she's great. Totally kept me from getting all troubled teen-y about the dad situation."

Spike smiled. "Somehow I have a hard time picturin' you as a fucked up crack whore."

Buffy's eyes snapped open. "I better hope so!" She laughed palely.

Suddenly a sharp ringing noise sounded from Spike's pocket. "Sorry," he said with a grimace. He got up from the sofa and reached for the phone. "Yeah? Oh, hi Angel." He walked over to the entryway. "Yeah, I don't work today. Aha, well... No, I'm not at home. You did?" Buffy could hear Spike pacing. "Well, I'm..." He lowered his voice. "I'm just hangin' out with Xander."

Buffy knew she wasn't supposed to hear that last thing. She suddenly felt very uncomfortable.

From the other room she could hear the conversation continuing. "No. Yeah, I'll be right back. See you soon." Spike sounded almost like an embarrassed teenager talking to his mother from an alcohol-drenched fraternity party. "Yeah, I love you too. Bye."

There was a small click, then Spike walked back into the living room. "I have to go," he said apologetically. "Are you goin' to be ok?"

She really could use some more of Spike's soothingly casual company, but she didn't intend to seem all clingy. "Yeah, no problem." She stepped up from the sofa. "So, was that Angel? He seemed a little... curious."

"Oh, it's nothing," Spike replied quickly, scratching the back of his head. "Anyway, I'll talk to you later."

"Yeah, Buffy answered.

After Spike had closed the door behind him, she went back to the living room, slumping down into the sofa. On the screen, a gigantic ant crawled out of some kind of sand crater. She just sighed and reached for the popcorn. Yeah, this day still sucked.

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