DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Having been sucked into a mysterious painting, Buffy and Spike find themselves engaged, living together, and working at a private club called The Rising Sun, with no idea yet on how they’re going to get home.
“Buffy!” roared Spike, pounding on the locked door of the dressing room. “The bloody car’s been waitin’ for twenty minutes!”
“I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying!”
Pacing like a caged animal in front of the closed off room, the vampire wore his fury in shades of black that matched his tuxedo, his blue eyes stormy, the muscles in his jaw twitching. As soon as he’d gotten dressed, the Slayer had kicked him out, shutting herself away as she went through the wardrobe, refusing to allow him entrance even when the chauffeur had first rung up to announce his arrival. He’d never known a woman to be so obsessed with her appearance; even the stupid bint Harmony hadn’t spent this much time getting ready. Of course, she had the whole no-reflection issue so that probably cut back on some of her primping time, but still…
He banged his fist against the wood again. “I’m leavin’!” he threatened and turned, holding the position as he kept his gaze locked on the door, waiting for it to open.
“Five more minutes!”
Swearing under his breath, Spike stomped toward the bedroom’s exit, only to pivot on his heel before he got there to return to the closet door. “If you’re not downstairs in three minutes, you can bloody well walk!” he barked. This time, he made his departure even louder, slamming the doors shut behind him, rattling the windows in their frames.
The apartment hung in silence for a full minute. From the street, the faint sounds of cars moving up and down the road filtered through the drawn curtains, the first signs of stars beginning to twinkle through the slits.
A muffled curse came from the dressing room, followed almost immediately by the door being thrown open and Buffy stumbling out, trying to slip shoes onto her feet while walking at the same time. Half-hopping, half-running, she dashed for the bedroom door, her coat flapping around her dress. He better appreciate this, she fumed silently. I spend all this time to look good, and he has the balls to rush me.
As she stepped into the corridor outside the apartment, an irate Slayer had one last thought before scurrying toward the elevator. If I don’t get at least one compliment on how amazing I look, she bristled, I swear I’m going to stake him.
Spike frowned as the limo eased to a stop along the curb. On the sidewalk, a waiting Gino was rushing forward to pull open the back door, his dark eyes darting between the pair. “What’s wrong?” the blond vampire asked, climbing out of the car.
“Mr. Lombardi wants to see you two,” the bouncer rushed. He glanced over his shoulder. “In the front.” His gaze slid to the young woman as she stepped onto the sidewalk. “Evenin’, Buffy.”
The Slayer nodded, smiling. What had Spike said his name was? Something Italian… “Hi, Gino.”
“You know what it’s about?” the vamp asked, not even realizing he was holding the front door of the club open for Buffy. She looked at him quizzically as she entered, unsure whether the gesture was part of their guise or if it meant something else entirely, but Spike seemed oblivious to his actions. Mentally, the young woman shrugged. Stop thinking so much, she thought. It’s nothing.
Gino shook his head. “You’re tooting the wrong ringer,” he said to his partner. “Why would Lombardi say anything to me?”
Buffy hung back, allowing the men to lead the way into the darkened club, her memories of exiting the previous evening still a little fuzzy. As she hugged her coat tighter around her, her mind jumped from possibility to possibility, trying to assess what could be wrong now, how else she could lose even more control over her situation. It was frustrating to say the least; between being thought of as Spike’s sex kitten and not knowing how to get home---let alone why they were here in the first place---the Slayer’s limits were officially being reached.
The club’s main room was in darkness, a pitch black that even Spike found difficult to see into. As he began to turn to Gino to question what in hell was going on, someone---somewhere---switched on the overheads, erupting the dance floor with illumination and unveiling the Sun’s employees all standing there with huge smiles plastered across their faces.
Instinctively, a startled Buffy jumped into Spike’s side, pressing herself into his length, her tiny hand gripping his upper arm. Together, they watched Lombardi step forward, arms widespread.
“Didn’t think I’d let you two get away without an engagement party, did you?” he boomed, before scooping the pair into a huge bear hug. They glanced at each other behind his back, her eyes wide, his bemused, then stepped back as he released them. “Closed the club for the night just for the occasion,” the boss continued. “Tonight, it’s just about you two lovebirds.”
Spike looked back at the burly bouncer, his eyebrow cocked, but Gino only shrugged. “I just do what I’m told,” he said innocently, unable to contain his own grin. The vamp sighed and turned to Buffy, who still clung tenaciously to his arm. “Looks like we’ve been hijacked, pet,” he said. “Feel like a party?”
“Good thing we dressed for it,” she replied, doing her best to maintain the façade with a smile. Releasing her grip, she inched back, sliding the coat from her shoulders, revealing the gown underneath before turning to hand the outer garment to Gino.
Behind Spike, Lombardi groaned. “Oh sure, tonight she decides to show some skin,” he complained, but the vamp didn’t hear him; his only focus was on the iridescent shape of the Slayer before him.
It was hard to decide what color the dress really was. Green taffeta formed the foundation, but layers of blue and green tulle over the long skirt caused the hues to shimmer, changing in the light…sometimes royal, others hunter. The shades intensified the vibrancy in Buffy’s eyes, causing them to dance and shine when she looked at him, something the vampire knew had to be a mirage of the gown; there was no way he could’ve caused such excitement. Her arms and shoulders were bare, the rhinestoned bodice offering her cleavage to the supplication of anyone looking. In a word, she was…breathtaking.
Without thinking, Spike reached forward and grabbed the young woman by the waist, his lean fingers digging into her hip as he pulled her close, his blond head dipping so that his lips could brush against hers. “Worth every minute,” he murmured. “Next time I tell you to hurry it up, you’ve got my permission to stake me.”
Buffy’s head was a whirlwind as the vamp lifted his from the kiss, not breaking the contact of his hand on her waist. All part of the act, right? she questioned. Had to be, yet…The tenderness of the kiss, the fleeting feather touch…it had seemed remarkably genuine. And his words…It dawned on the young woman that he’d spoken too softly for anyone else to hear him, his sentiments directed toward her and her alone. If this was all part of the whole Buffy-and-Spike-in-love show, why wasn’t he sharing with the group?
She felt herself being led to one of the tables, heard the girls around her giggling as they passed, their eyes flitting in jealousy from Spike to her, and back to Spike again. Somewhere on the other side of the room, Lombardi’s voice barking orders slipped into her consciousness, followed immediately by the brass of the band striking up the dinner music. As she sat down, Buffy glanced once more at her blond companion, watched as he laughed and joked with Gino sitting on his other side, and decided then and there that she had definitely stepped into the Twilight Zone.
“What a load of rubbish,” Giles muttered, his thumb punching angrily at the remote control. As he tossed the device aside, the Watcher rose from his couch, stretched, and pulled off his glasses to rub tiredly at his eyes.
He’d had a late night the previous evening; when Buffy had failed to check in after her patrol, he’d gone out in search of his young charge, trolling through the cemeteries until well after three o’clock, only deciding not to check in with her at her dorm room when he noticed the large security guards walking through campus. Middle-aged men would probably be frowned upon as impromptu guests of young college co-eds, he’d reasoned, especially those that carried around weapons in the wee hours of the morning. So he’d returned to his flat, hoping his Slayer would’ve left him a message. As of now, he still had yet to hear from her.
Spike’s disappearance was worrisome as well, but Giles found himself not as hugely bothered by the vampire’s departure. Yes, there was the possibility that the chip would malfunction, allowing him to begin feeding again from the populace, but the Watcher didn’t really believe that would happen. Spike was fairly neutered these days, and little threat to anyone. Besides, if he was still in Sunnydale, Buffy would certainly find him quickly enough…if Buffy ever decided to check in again, that is…
The harsh jangle of the telephone broke him from his reverie, and Giles strode over to answer it, glasses dangling from his fingers. “Hello?”
“Giles? Please tell me Buffy’s there.” There was no greeting from Willow, just a direct launch into her worry.
The older man replaced his spectacles, pushing them up his nose as he frowned. “No, she’s not,” he replied. “Why are you asking?”
“She didn’t come home last night,” the witch rushed. “Her bed hasn’t been slept in, and nobody’s seen hide nor hair of her since yesterday. Plus, she missed one-on-one Riley time as well as all her classes. I think something might’ve happened to her.”
“Well, she was here yesterday morning. She left the painting that she’d called about.”
“And you haven’t seen her since?”
“No. I didn’t see her then, actually. She stopped by while I was out.”
“So, can you ask Spike if he noticed anything weird?” Willow continued. “Maybe she said something about where she was going, or maybe she was acting funny, or something. Anything.”
“Believe it or not,” Giles said, “Spike’s not here, either. He’s managed to escape again. I haven’t seen him since before I left yesterday.”
There was a long pause. “Maybe Buffy went looking for him,” the young redhead finally said, some of the edge fading from her voice. “She showed up at your place, saw Spike was gone, and went to go bring him back.”
The obviousness of it all flooded Giles with relief. “Of course,” he said. “That’s most likely what’s happened. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that already.”
“If she stops by there before coming back to the dorm, can you have her call me?” Willow asked. “Just to stop the worry monster, you know.”
“As long as you promise to do the same.”
Replacing the receiver in its cradle, Giles glanced back at the painting leaning up against the wall, hesitating a moment before gingerly picking it up. His head tilted as he peered down at the dancing figures, flicking over the lithe forms. Certainly looks innocuous, he thought, and set it down on the desk, turning to his book shelves as his brain began to set into motion. Perhaps a little research before Buffy comes back, figure out what this picture is actually for…
She was only a little intoxicated, the champagne tickling the inside of her head with fizzy bubbles, making her feel slightly euphoric as the evening progressed. The food had been glorious, and Buffy had quickly remembered that she hadn’t eaten all day, stuffing her face with each concoction as it was brought to the table. Spike seemed amused by her appetite, but didn’t say anything, choosing instead to pick at some of the delicacies himself, savoring them with her. At one point, the blond vamp had dropped one into his lap and before she’d even realized what she was doing, Buffy had dipped her hand down, plucked it from the creases of his trousers, and popped it into her mouth.
Raising his scarred eyebrow, Spike had run his tongue over his teeth before leaning over to whisper in her ear, “Lucky canapé…”
The burning in her cheeks had caused him to chuckle, and the young woman had deliberately avoided looking at him for the duration of the meal, concentrating instead on speaking to the young girl on her other side. That deliberate focus had been difficult, though; during the after-dinner drinks, Spike’s arm settled around the back of her chair, its weight pressing into her shoulders, bringing his nearness sharply back to her attention.
As the dinner plates were cleared away, the blond vampire pushed his chair back and rose, grabbing Buffy’s hand at the same time. “C’mon,” he said, pulling her to her feet.
She followed him around the edge of the room, her featherweight skirts floating around her legs, hazel eyes darting around to the multitude of faces that swam before her. God, I hope we get out of this soon, she thought desperately. This is all beginning to feel just a little bit too…real.
Spike stopped in front of the orchestra, taking the singer’s microphone while at the same time motioning for the musicians to stop playing. He turned to face the waiting group. “On behalf of Buffy and myself,” he said. “I’d just like to say thank you to Mr. Lombardi for such a nice surprise party---.”
“And for the night off,” Buffy added with a smile, relaxing as she finally realized what he was doing.
Light laughter rippled through the room, and the vamp glanced down at her, his lips slowly curling into a smile. “That, too,” he agreed.
“Speech!” cried someone from a far table.
“What’re you talkin’ about?” Spike joked. “That was the speech.”
“Tell us about when you first met Buffy!” someone else called out.
That stopped him, sent his blue eyes back to the Slayer’s face. “When I first met Buffy…” he mused. “Yeah. I can do that.” His head tilted, but he didn’t turn back to his audience, instead remaining focussed on the young woman before him. “’Course, she was dancin’. Didn’t like the look of the bloke she was with, thought she could’ve done better and didn’t know why she was wastin’ her time with him.” He paused, lost in the memory. “She didn’t know I was there, that I was watchin’ her. Probably just as well, ‘cause if she had sussed it out, I probably wouldn’t be standin’ here today.” The crowd tittered. “There was something…I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She…glowed. I’d never seen anyone…move like that before…the power…the grace. And I just knew it was goin’ to be a tasty little battle we’d have…” His voice trailed off, and a transfixed Buffy realized he was recounting that night so long ago at the Bronze, the night he’d announced he was going to kill her. Funny how things changed…
“What about when you fell in love with her?” This was from Gino, his face flushed from drink.
Spike laughed, finally breaking the spell that hung between him and the Slayer as he looked over at his work buddy. “Sorry ‘bout that, mate,” he said. “That’s the exact same story…”
An “awwww” spread throughout the room and the blond vamp quickly leaned over to the conductor, whispering something before turning back to the microphone. “That’s enough talkin’,” he said as the music started to swell behind him. “Time for dancin’.” He held his hand out to Buffy, grinning. “Feel like showin’ off what you learned today, Slayer?” he said in a low voice.
She didn’t answer, only took his outstretched offer, following him out onto the dance floor before slipping inside the circle of his arms. Her heart was pumping a mile a minute, her head a cascade of unanswered questions and theories. Either Spike was better at this whole act thing than she’d originally thought, or…
But she didn’t want to contemplate the or; the or made her dizzy, more so than any amount of alcohol might, and Buffy wasn’t sure she was ready for that. That way led madness, or at the very least, a whopper of a headache. Better to just not think about it…as if by saying so, her mind would actually listen to her and do it.
The song ended too quickly, but before they could break apart, the band launched into another number, slower this time, more languorous. Spike pulled the young woman against him, cupping her hand in his, and together they swayed across the floor, an execution of elegance as their bodies matched each other, attuned to its partner’s, anticipating before opportunities even approached.
Buffy didn’t dare look up at the vampire, instead keeping her eyes on other things in the room…the other couples…waiters…the orchestra. When the spectacled trumpet player stood for his solo, it gave her the perfect thing to focus on, and she watched as he blasted his instrument, a pealing cry within the confines of the love song. The musicians had long since shed their jackets, loosening their ties in the casualness of the evening, and the young woman found herself frowning as she and Spike spun closer to the soloist. There…on his neck…just a glimpse…and as she turned again, this time just a few feet nearer, she knew…
Buffy Summers had been a Slayer long enough to recognize the scar of a vampire’s bite when she saw one…
To be continued in Chapter 6: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy…