DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Someone has tried unsuccessfully to shoot Spike, knocking out Willow in the process, while both Buffy and the blond vampire seem to think that Tony knows more than he’s letting on. Spike has realized, after having spent the night in the same bed with her, that he is in love with the Slayer.

*************

Chapter 13: On the Sunny Side of the Street

She was gone when he woke up. Slumber had been heavy, a down-filled comforter cocooning him from the outside world, holding at bay the dreams that had been visiting his sleep for weeks now. Now that he’d had the reality, had drunk at the well of the Slayer herself, the visions had been driven away, insubstantial ephemera frightened of the vibrance that was his golden Buffy.

Spike grimaced, closing his eyes as he mentally chastised himself. Not yours, you pillock, he scolded. Start thinkin’ like that and you’ll end up on the wrong end of her stake. But the memory of her skin sheathed him in want, arousing him to pinnacles he’d have claimed were unattainable, calling forth feelings he’d thought dead and buried when Dru had deserted him. It wasn’t supposed to be about love; seducing the Slayer was supposed to be about fire…perhaps an engaging diversion while they sorted this painting mess…at the very most, a bit of fun to keep him distracted from the all too real desolation that had become his undead life. Knowing that he was involved now, that he---fuck!---cared about Buffy, didn’t necessarily fill the blond vampire with joy.

Between the damn chip and being held a virtual prisoner at the Watcher’s flat, his life was hard enough without having to add loving the Slayer into the equation. How would she react to such a revelation? The answer was swift. Violently. That’s how she responded to everything major in her life. Don’t understand it, beat it up. Spike had certainly been on the receiving end of her fist enough to know that.

Yet…she wanted him, as much as he wanted her, if that was possible. As much as she may wish to deny otherwise, Buffy couldn’t renounce her own body, how it reacted to his presence, how he could make her writhe by merely touching her. More than that, though…she hadn’t run away afterward, had deliberately chosen to stay with him. Perhaps the situation wasn’t as bleak as he thought…

Snap out of it, Spike, he silently admonished. Take what you got and be grateful for it.

Swinging his long legs over the edge of the bed, the vampire stood, stretching his arms overhead, his naked muscles gleaming in the dim light of the room. He could hear no other sounds from the apartment, but grabbed his robe just in case, tying it around his waist as he strode to the door.

“Buffy?” he called once in the entrance. Cocking his head, his ears strained for something…anything, but were met only with the echoing silence of the apartment and the soft patter of raindrops against the windows. Must’ve already left for the hospital, he thought. Good. What he had in mind for his day would go a lot easier without having to worry about soft Slayer sensibilities gettin’ in the way…

*************

The rain splashing into pools on the concrete filled the young woman with the overwhelming desire to take a running jump and land right in the middle of the nearest puddle, to feel the water spatter against her muscled calves, sprinkle against her cheeks as she lifted her face to the sky. It wasn’t as if it was even a pretty day; the showers had been continuous ever since she’d left the apartment, and the occasional flash of lightning had seemed to make Gino nervous as he drove slowly through the wide streets. More than once, she’d had to stifle a giggle as a crack of thunder would cause the dark bouncer to jump, jerking the wheel ever so slightly as he struggled to maintain his composure. She’d have to remember to tease him about it later.

No, the weather had absolutely nothing to do with her mood and Buffy knew it. She’d woken feeling lighter than she’d felt in ages, all worries shoved aside, the residual joy from her unremembered dreams still lingering even after her shower. Picking out her clothes, doing her hair, answering the door to Gino’s knock…all of it had passed in a fuzzy cloud, and before she knew it, she’d been standing before the hospital, arguing with Spike’s partner about why she wasn’t going inside with him.

“You’re her friend,” he’d said, frowning. “She’ll want to see you.”

“And I’ll see her when she comes out,” she’d countered. “Buffy doesn’t do hospitals, and that’s that.”

And now she was waiting, hiding under the foyer’s canopy, not even realizing she was humming under her breath. When the doors opened behind her, she whirled, her skirts swishing around her legs, a huge smile splitting her face. “Will!”

The redhead gasped as the Slayer threw her arms around the witch, squeezing her tight in spite of the constraints of the wheelchair. “Buffy…” she rasped. “Can’t…breathe…”

Blushing, the blonde drew back, straightening as she glanced up at Gino’s hulking form at the back of the chair. “What’s with the wheels?” she asked.

Willow stood, pulling her coat more tightly around her. “Standard hospital procedure. I’m fine.” Her hazel eyes turned firmly to the dark bouncer. “Really.”

Gino snorted. “Stay here,” he ordered, picking up the small bag she’d left sitting on the seat. “I’ll bring the car around.”

The two women watched as he pulled his jacket up around his ears, shielding his dark hair from the rain, flinching slightly as a distant roll of thunder rumbled through the air. It was all Buffy could do not to laugh out loud as he ducked his head and began to run toward the parking lot.

“So what’s the plan?” the Slayer asked. “Did the doctor put you on bedrest or anything?”

“Yeah, I should be so lucky,” Willow complained. “Everything checks out a-ok. I can go back to work tonight if I want.”

“You don’t sound too thrilled about that.”

The redhead’s eyes widened. “Did you see the shoes I have to wear?” she complained. “And the costume? They make me all Betty Boop, except in Technicolor.”

“It could be worse,” Buffy chirped. “You could be on the roster.”

“Oh, goddess!” Willow exclaimed. “Thank you so much for getting me out of that. Gino told me what it was, and when I think I offered to give the boss a private demonstration…” Her voice trailed off, face pale, and after a moment of remembering, she shuddered.

The Slayer laughed. “See? Cigarette girl equals goodness.” She patted her best friend’s arm. “I got lucky, too. I got the big-bad-boyfriend card to play.”

“Speaking of boyfriends…” The young Wicca bit her lip. “I’ve heard some…things, about you and Spike. And I’ve had way too much time on my hands since I got here to be thinking about all the possibilities and permutations, so…you want to throw some wattage my direction so I can stop thinking the worst?”

“Out of curiosity, what’s your worst?”

“You and Spike, married with two point four children, and a vampire dog running around your crypt.”

“Is there any such thing?”

“What?”

“Vampire dogs. ‘Cause, you know, I’ve been slaying for a while now, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. You don’t think Giles is holding back, do you?”

“I don’t…” Willow frowned. “Wait. I say all that, and you pick up on the pooch? Is there something you want to tell me, Buffy?”

The Slayer rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry. There are no little bloodsuckers, I am not married to Spike, and I most definitely do not live in a crypt.” She paused, suddenly intent on gazing over the parking lot. “We’re just…engaged. No big.”

“What? Are you kidding? That’s massive!” She stopped. “Is it another spell?”

“No,” Buffy disclaimed. “We both know it’s a sham. Remember how I said the painting creates this whole history for you when you come through? That was just part of the baggage we inherited when we landed here in Wonderland.” Her lips curled into a mischievous smile. “And speaking of history, have you figured out what the deal is with you and Gino yet? Any sparkage I should know about?”

“Did you know he spent the entire night at the hospital?” Willow asked. “He told me he was going, but he didn’t. He slept in the lobby in one of those little tiny chairs ‘cause he didn’t want me to know he was hanging around.”

“How do you know that?”

“One of the nurses told me,” she explained. “And then when he came by this morning, he was all like, ‘Wow, I got such a good night’s sleep,’ and being mister pretendo guy about the whole thing.”

Buffy giggled. “Willow and Gino, sitting in a tree,” she sing-songed.

“It’s not like that,” the redhead argued, but her blush belied her denial. Her eyes widened as they caught the car pull up to the curb. “Sshhh! He’s coming. And he doesn’t know that I know, so don’t let on that you know, OK?”

From the safety of the canopy, the two young women watched as the dark bouncer clambered out of the car, opening up a large black umbrella to shield himself from the rain as he hurried to where they stood. “You jake for walking?” he asked Willow, his brow creased.

The redhead froze for a moment before Buffy leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Jake means OK.”

“Oh, yeah,” the Wicca breathed. “Just fine.” Throwing a grateful glance back at her best friend, Willow followed Gino to the car under the tent of the umbrella. Buffy couldn’t help the smile when the duo bumped into each other as both reached for the door handle at the same time, the redhead finally stepping back to allow the bouncer to open it for her. They were just too cute.

“How’d you know that?” Willow hissed as the Slayer slid into the backseat.

“You forget,” she replied. “I’ve had two days to pick up the lingo. Watch this.” Buffy scooted forward, perching herself on the edge of the leather, arms draped over the front seat as Gino climbed behind the wheel. “That dame who clipped Spike, is she in dutch with Lombardi?” she asked, flashing a proud smile back at her friend.

The bouncer nodded. “He told me this morning he gave her the boot. Good riddance to bad trash, I say. Stupidest thing Spike ever did was get mixed up with her.”

She was halfway in her seat when she stopped, turning a frowning hazel gaze back toward the front. “What’re you talking about?” The sharp pang in her stomach seemed to shear her mood in half, and the urge to hit something suddenly overwhelmed her.

Gino glanced at her in his rearview mirror, before pulling away from the curb. “You know,” he said. “Spike and Pauline’s thing. Before you two started up.”

Willow grabbed Buffy’s arm, pulling her back. “This one, I can help with,” she murmured. “I’ll explain it later.”

As she leaned into the soft leather, the Slayer’s irritation eased, but it didn’t stop the questions from seeping into her consciousness. What exactly had been going on between Spike and this other woman? Especially since she now seemed like she wanted to kill him? Had they been…lovers? For some reason, that bugged her more than thinking someone was gunning for the blond vampire. The possibility that he’d been fooling around with another of the dancers ate at her nerves, blackening her mood, until the only thing she could think was…I’m going to kill him.

Willow saw the change come over her friend like a shade being drawn in a brightly lit room, and frowned. If I didn’t know better, she thought, I’d almost say she was…jealous…

“So how come you’re not more wigged about this whole arrangement with Spike?” the redhead asked, her voice low enough so that Gino couldn’t hear them.

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said evasively.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” came from the front. Both young women looked forward. “Mr. Lombardi told me to tell you two girls that you could have tonight off,” he said. “You know, ‘cause Buffy’s got Spike to take care of.”

“But I’m fine,” Willow said. “Not that I’m saying I want to go to work, but there’s nothing wrong with me so that I can’t.”

“Well…” Gino’s knuckles tightened around the steering wheel, white knobs against the ebony. “He thinks…well, I told him…the doc said you needed another day off.” He glanced into his mirror. “Resting won’t do you any harm, Willow. Take advantage of it.”

“Oh. Ummmm, OK. Thank you…I guess.” She colored, squirming slightly as Buffy leaned over and pinched her playfully, the diversion of the bouncer’s crush enough to distract her from thoughts of staking.

Gino cleared his throat. “You know…” he started, and the Slayer could’ve sworn she saw the sweat start to bead on his forehead. “Tonight’s…my night off…I thought…maybe…”

The Slayer saw the panic rise in her friend’s face and suppressed the chuckle. Buffy to the rescue, she thought. “Actually, Will’s coming over to my place tonight,” she offered, glancing at the redhead out of the corner of her eye. “We’re going to order in and she’s going to tell me all about her vacation. No slides, though.”

“Oh.” His disappointment was obvious, almost as evident as the Wicca’s relief.

Now’s the time for fun, Buffy thought, and cocked her head. “Actually,” she said, “why don’t you come over, too?” She refused to look over at Willow, and shook off the other girl’s hand when the redhead grabbed her. “You can keep Spike company while we talk girlie stuff. You know how much he hates it when we start going on about clothes and make-up and such. Plus, free food.”

“You sure?” He was questioning her invitation, but the hope lit up his face. “I don’t want to get in the way.”

“I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t sure,” Buffy chirped.

“Then I’m there.” His black eyes caught Willow’s, and he blushed. “Thanks.”

*************

OK, bloody stupid idea, Spike thought as he made a dash for the building’s entrance, the thick coat draped over his head like that tatty blanket he’d had back in Sunnydale. Although the cloud cover was a bonus, the incumbent sunlight was still there, and the blond vamp could feel the smoke begin to steam over his hair as he slid inside the front entry. What I wouldn’t do for that damn Gem of Ammara now…

A quick glance at the mailboxes told him what he needed to know, and he bounded up the stairs, grateful for the spot of exercise. Yeah, he liked the respect his job afforded him, but it was definitely lacking in the mobility department. And, outside of his little romps with Buffy---including the dancing---there had been very little physical exertion on his part since he’d gotten here. Gonna have to change that, he thought grimly, as he stopped before the plain wooden door.

It opened within moments of his first sharp rap, and the blond vamp saw the musician’s face fall as he realized who was there. “Spike,” Tony said, frowning behind his spectacles. “Didn’t expect to see you up and around so fast.”

“Gonna take more than a bullet to take me down,” the vampire said dryly. There was a moment of awkward silence. “You just goin’ to let me stand out here or are you goin’ to invite me in?” he questioned.

“Oh, sorry.” The trumpet player stepped back, holding the door open wider. “Come on in.”

Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Spike sauntered over the threshold. First obstacle out of the way, he thought.

Tony looked past him, brown eyes darting up and down the hall. “Where’s Buffy?”

“Went to check on Red.” His blue gaze flickered over the tiny apartment, taking in the sparse furnishings, the music stand propped up in the corner. He waited until he heard the click of the door behind him before turning to stare at the other man. “But we don’t need her…do we…”

Tony swallowed. “Can I get you…something to drink?” he asked, stepping hurriedly for the kitchen, jerking to a stop when Spike suddenly appeared in front him, eyes glittering.

“That’s not what I’m here for,” he growled. “Let’s just stop with the games, shall we? ‘Cause you have got to be the daftest thrall I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet.”

The vampire was rewarded with the musician’s quick pall, Tony’s mouth opening and closing like a fish as he gulped at the air. “What’re you…I don’t…” he struggled, and Spike rolled his eyes.

“Do us both a favor, mate, and save the innocent me act for the birds who fall for it, ‘kay?” Reaching into his pocket, he extracted a pack of cigarettes and pulled one out, slipping one between his lips as he went digging for his lighter. “I know a thrall when I see one. And I don’t plan on leavin’ here until we’ve had ourselves a little chat.”

Tony stiffened, raising his chin in some semblance of defiance. “And why should I do anything you say? You’re not so tough. I haven’t seen you hit one guy since you came through the painting.”

Spike raised his head, and curled his lips into a smirk. “My fists aren’t what you should be worried about,” he commented, and welcomed his demon, cerulean eyes shifting to gold, his fangs extending into a deadly smile…


To be continued in Chapter 14: Put Me to the Test