DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Anya, Xander, and Giles are about ready to summon H’roven, while Buffy has invited Gino over to the apartment for the evening.
Buffy was the one who opened the first bottle. When she’d emerged from the kitchen with the wine dangling from her fingers, a bright smile sharing its devilish twinkle with her dancing eyes, Spike cocked his eyebrow.
“Think that’s a good idea, luv?” he’d queried, barely able to contain his amusement.
“What’s the point of having the stuff if we don’t drink it?” she’d retorted and flounced back into the kitchen.
Willow had followed her out of the room. “I think Spike’s right,” the redhead had said, watching as Buffy pulled open drawer after drawer, on the hunt for a utensil to tackle the cork. “Neither one of us have been shining examples of sobriety this semester, remember?”
The Slayer rolled her eyes. “I don’t think my brief stint as Cave Buffy or your one night of break-up blues at the Bronze makes us candidates for AA, Will.” She held up a corkscrew triumphantly. “Besides, who ever got drunk on a single bottle of wine?”
That had been two hours ago. Now, scattered amidst the various Chinese containers were four empty Merlot bottles while a fifth was in the process of being drained into Willow’s glass. When the redhead tipped the bottle up over her head, peering into its narrow neck to see inside it, Buffy couldn’t suppress her giggles when a single drop of the scarlet liquid dripped directly into her friend’s eye, causing her to begin blinking wildly in an attempt to clear her vision.
“We told you it was empty, Red,” Spike commented, his own half-full glass resting on the wide arm of the chair in which he was lounging.
As Willow wiped at the red wine that ran down her cheek, the Slayer cocked her head. “You look like one of those cheesy horror movies where they make the vamps cry tears of blood.” She swivelled, twisting her body so that she could look up at Spike, her arms resting on his knees. “Why do they do that? I mean, it’s soooo unrealistic.”
His azure gaze flicked to Gino. “I don’t know, luv,” he replied, his voice wary. “Why don’t you ask them?”
“Well, I think you’d get offended,” she said. “I know it drives me around the bend when I see fight movies---.”
“So who’s still hungry?” Spike interrupted, his abrupt standing knocking the Slayer sideways.
“Hey!” the blonde cried out.
“No more for me,” Gino announced.
“Me, neither,” chimed in Willow. “I am officially moo shu max’d.”
“You knocked me over.” From her seat on the floor, a pouting Buffy shot daggers at the vamp hovering above her, her hand automatically reaching out for his. “Help me up.”
“Since when do you need my help, pet?”
“Since the room decided to go all swirly. Now stop being such a jerk and help me.”
From his vantage point on the couch, Gino watched the pair over the rim of his glass, his jealousy at the ease of their intimacy only barely concealed in his black eyes. Things had been stiff at first, and it hadn’t taken the bouncer that long to figure out that he’d arrived on the tail end of a fight, a real doozy of one if the slight swelling in Spike’s nose was any indication. Once the wine had started flowing, however, the tension had dissipated, each of the girls relaxing more and more, at one point even giving the guys an impromptu fashion show of what he assumed was every evening gown in Buffy’s wardrobe. Spike’s attitude at his fiancee’s advancing inebriation was more laid-back here than at the club; probably because he doesn’t have to watch her fawn over anyone else, the dark bouncer thought. He gets her all to himself.
Although there had been no overt displays, Gino couldn’t help but notice how Spike found every opportunity he could to be touching the blonde beauty…playing with her hair as she sat between his legs on the floor…holding her wrist steady as she dished out the fried rice, long fingers absently stroking the back of her hand…even the tilt of his knee, pressing into her side, providing her just a little more support as she and Willow laughed and chatted. So subtle was the contact, though, he doubted Buffy was even aware of it, lost in the kaleidoscope world she was weaving with her friend, oblivious to her partner’s territorial claims.
Willow was the one who was surprising him. He had seen her reaction to Buffy’s invitation, knew she’d been skittish at his arrival, yet, ever since her second glass of wine, she’d become more and more animated, joining in her friend’s girlish glee, erupting in more than one paroxysm of giggles, even going so far as to tease him about how he’d nearly run them off the road this morning after a particularly loud clap of thunder. Gino didn’t need to analyze it; all he cared was that the slender redhead wasn’t in pain; she wasn’t crying because of thoughts of her ex; and, most importantly, she seemed to be enjoying herself.
A now-standing Buffy turned to look at her friend, misjudging the rotation slightly and pitching sideways against Spike’s sling. “I hope you have some ideas about entertainment because we are in a tv-free zone here,” the blonde said, straightening with the vampire’s aid, her hip still casually brushing against his.
“We could play a game,” Willow offered.
“A game.” Spike cocked his head. “Don’t particularly fancy a round of charades, Red---.”
“Cards!” Buffy’s voice seemed too loud, even for the large living room, and when she turned to face the blond vamp, he found himself leaning back, hoping the added distance might ease the pressure on his eardrums. “We have cards! I saw them! In your nightstand!”
“Wonder why…?” Spike started, only to stop almost as quickly. “Right. Never mind.”
Willow scrambled to her feet. “Well then, let’s go get them,” she said, and began weaving her way toward the vampire’s closed door.
“No!” In spite of her intoxication, the Slayer was still faster than the redhead, and almost leapt over the furniture to block her friend’s path. “I’ll get them.”
“Geez,” the young witch muttered as Buffy slipped out of the room, “it’s only a deck of cards.”
“So what are we going to play?” Buffy asked as the quartet settled around the coffee table, turning expectant eyes to each before finally settling on Spike.
He sighed. “How ‘bout poker?”
She grimaced. “I was thinking more like Go Fish.”
“Poker is good.” Buffy’s surprised gaze colored Willow’s cheeks, and she fidgeted on her cushion on the floor. “Xander and I used to play for M&M’s. I’m the M&M queen.”
Gino’s quick agreement brought a slump to the blonde’s shoulders. “I always get outvoted,” she whined.
“Since we don’t have M&M’s, what’re we going to play for?” Willow asked.
Buffy turned to Spike. “This was your brilliant idea, you pick.”
“Luv, last time I played was at Willy’s, and I don’t think you want to know what the ante was there.”
Her face was blank for a moment, and then the possibilities began flooding through her head. “Ewwwwww!”
“We could play…strip poker.”
“Willow!” Buffy’s hazel eyes were wide with shock as she swivelled to stare at her best friend.
The vampire chuckled, straightening in his seat. “Well, I think I just got a little more interested,” he drawled.
“Spike!” The Slayer’s head shot back, shock hardening her voice.
“What? It was Red’s idea.” His lips curled into a smirk as Buffy grabbed her best friend’s arm and pulled her to the other side of the room. Although he kept his sapphire gaze averted, the drunken whispers of the two women cut through his vampiric hearing with clarity only bettered if he’d been standing right next to them.
“What’re you doing?”
“Strip poker? What the hell is going through your head, Will? I’m going to be naked faster than Xander can eat a jelly donut!”
“You won’t be naked.”
“Hello? Strip means minus clothing. And I suck at poker.”
“But I don’t. I told you, I’m really good at this game. And have you seen how big Gino is?”
Spike almost choked on his wine as he fought to suppress the laugh that threatened to erupt from his lips. So Red had finally noticed the dark bouncer’s attentions. Well…good for her. Even if it had taken getting drunk off her ass to get the nerve up, at least she wasn’t moping about dogboy anymore.
“I don’t care what you think you saw between me and Spike,” Buffy was saying.
Shit. What had he missed?
“Fine. You pretend this won’t be fun. I’m going to see me some muscles.”
“What happened to that girl who was scolding me this afternoon for not trying harder to get back to Sunnydale?”
“She’s drunk, and she’s lonely, and she’s been sitting all night next to a really cute guy who smells amazing. Aw, c’mon. Have you taken the time to really smell Gino? Oh, no, of course not. Because you’re too busy sniffing around Spike.”
“Go on, be a party pooper. I’m going to play cards.”
When the young witch plopped down at her place at the coffee table, she threw a dazzling smile to the waiting men. “My deal,” she perked, and reached for the cards as a thunderous Buffy slinked back to her seat.
Spike didn’t need to look over at the Slayer to see her conflicting emotions; he could feel it in his skin. The vibrations of her racing heartbeat set his nerve endings alive, suffusing his system like cocaine to an addict, thickening his arousal until even the baggy trousers he wore couldn’t hide it without his moving.
As he shifted his weight, the blond vampire noted with satisfaction that the two young women weren’t the only ones attuned to the smells of those surrounding them. No, most definitely not. For under the veil of spicy Chinese and rich red wine, there was the most distinct musky aroma, a scent he’d become only too intimate with less than twenty-fours before…
…the Slayer’s own excitement…
As she had promised, Willow won the first hand with a straight flush that seemed to come out of nowhere. “Why don’t we start slow,” she’d said to Gino, a mischievous gleam in her too-bright eyes. “Let me have your shoe.”
When the dark bouncer had leaned over to slip off his loafer, however, the redhead had been on him like a shot, small hand grabbing his beefy one, stopping his motion. “New rule,” she’d announced as the flush crept up Gino’s neck. “Winner gets to do the disrobing personally.” And with that, she’d yanked off the shoe, tossing it casually aside before returning to her seat.
There was no hiding his smile this time, and Spike picked up the cards, shuffling as best he could with the makeshift sling still hampering his movement. No way was he going to let this opportunity pass by. Absolutely none.
Five hands later, and Buffy was minus two silk stockings that had been Spike’s extreme pleasure to take off. She’d grumbled at the first but when his free hand had slipped up her dress, expertly undoing the garter that held it in place, the blond vamp had slid his icy fingers around to her inner thigh, skating over the tiny bites that still marred her soft skin, brushing against the thick dampness of her underwear before sliding the stocking from her muscled calf. Her hazel eyes had widened, and he’d seen her do the hard swallow thing, his own sapphire gaze resting for a moment on the hollow of her throat before settling back in his chair with the hosiery dangling from his fingers.
When he’d won the second time, Buffy hadn’t even waited, merely leaned back onto her elbows and lifted her leg onto his lap, tiny toes pressing gently into his erection in a move reminiscent of their drunken car trip their first night here.
The kicker was Red. She’d won the other three hands, had taken Gino’s other shoe and a sock with a cheery smile. This most recent win, though, when the dark-haired man had obediently stuck out his foot for her to remove his remaining sock, had produced merely a shake of her head. “Nope. Want the tie.”
A very shocked Buffy and a very amused Spike had watched the young witch climb onto Gino’s lap, straddling his powerful thighs as she began nimbly to untie the silk around his thick neck. The bouncer hadn’t moved, but Spike had seen his hand tighten around the armrest, knuckles so pale they looked as if they were going to pop through his skin. He knew the man wanted more than anything to just grab the redhead and ravish her on the spot, but that wasn’t what the blond vamp found so funny. No, what amused him so was much more delicious, much more surprising…
Willow had cheated to win.
He didn’t know how---magic, most likely---but Spike knew for a fact that he’d thrown the three of diamonds, only to see it show up a minute later in Red’s second straight flush of the game. He also knew why, even if he didn’t understand it. Hell, it was why he himself had cheated the second time, why he’d deliberately slipped aside the extra queen so that he could fill out his straight and get his hands on that second silk stocking of Buffy’s.
But, in spite of how entertaining the vampire found the whole situation, a small niggle had started in his gut, something he was actually embarrassed to be feeling, but something he found increasingly difficult to ignore as he watched her tease the tie from Gino’s collar. This wasn’t really Willow. This was too much wine, too much insecurity about her own self-worth, and definitely too much loneliness, and as the most sober one of the group, Spike knew what he had to do, even if he felt disgustingly human by doing so.
“OK,” he announced, rising to his feet. “Game’s over.”
Willow turned wide green eyes toward the blond vamp, disappointment shining there like a beacon. “No,” she pouted, but slid off Gino’s lap anyway, settling on the seat next to him, curling against his beefy side as if it was the most natural thing in the world. After only a moment’s hesitation, the bouncer’s arm came down to rest gently across her shoulders.
Buffy stood up, weaving only slightly as she did so. “Spike’s right,” she said. “It’s late. We should call it a night.”
“But I’m not tired,” Willow argued, then almost immediately stifled a yawn. She blushed. “OK, maybe a little.”
“Well, I know I’m beat,” the Slayer said and casually picked up her hose from where they were draped over the chair. The vampire watched as she strolled languorously to her bedroom, hips swaying gently beneath her skirt, stockings dragging along the floor behind her as they dangled from her hand. When she reached the door, she stopped, hesitated, and then half-turned to gaze back at him. “Aren’t you coming to bed, Spike?”
The invitation was unexpected. His cerulean eyes narrowed as he tried to read the soft planes of her face, searching for some hidden meaning behind her words that he might be missing. “What about our guests?” he finally asked, his voice a distant throb, the unspoken query slicing right through it.
Buffy glanced over his shoulder and smiled. “Somehow, I don’t think they’ll mind.”
Looking back at the couch, Spike was greeted by the sleeping forms of Willow
and Gino, her cheek resting against his burly chest, his on the top of her
head. If he’d been forced put words to it, the vamp would’ve said
they looked almost…at peace.
She waited as he sauntered to her side, extracting his arm from the phony sling as he walked. “How does it feel?” the young woman queried as she pushed the door open.
They both knew she wasn’t really talking about his arm. “Absolutely right as rain,” Spike murmured, and followed her into the darkened room.
As the chanting filled Giles’ apartment, Xander tightened his grip on the crossbow, holding it steadily aimed toward the circle in spite of the adrenalin that was surging over his skin. His eyes widened as the ebony powder ignited, and then---somehow---started to climb, growing taller and taller until finally the flames reached waist-high, creating a column inferno that suddenly consumed the now-too-small lounge in heat. Beads of sweat burst out onto his forehead, and he heard the anxiety begin to creep into Anya’s voice, shading her words in clouds of fear as she and Giles finished the summoning spell.
Within the confines of the circle, the air seemed to thicken…take form. Xander felt his heart stop beating as the demon appeared, the scarlet-tipped spines that covered much of its body bristling from their own internal energies, catching and refracting the illumination from the fire so that thousands of little points of light scattered throughout the room. Cool, the thought came to him unbidden. Disco demon.
Although the Watcher’s voice never stopped, Anya scrambled to her feet as H’roven appeared, small chin held high in a defiance she certainly didn’t feel. She and her boyfriend watched as the demon’s beady red eyes darted about, adjusting to his new surroundings.
“Who dares to summon me?” he growled, then froze as his gaze settled on the young woman. “Anyanka!”
When the deadly needles seemed to erupt from the demon’s flesh, Anya screamed, throwing her arms up and twisting sideways as if the sudden deflection off her skin would shield her from harm. Before he could think, Xander’s finger jerked, letting loose an arrow that whistled through the air, and he quickly reached into the bag at his side for another missile.
The young woman blinked, frozen in her position, then slowly lowered her undamaged arms to see the spines lying on the floor within the confines of the flames. H’roven clutched at his shoulder, the arrow embedded there protruding slightly out his back. “God, I hate these type of containment spells,” Anya whined. “It looks likes there’s nothing there and totally freaks me out every time.”
Giles glanced up at the new arrival, a movement not unnoticed by the ex-vengeance demon, and she held up a finger of warning to the older man. “Don’t stop chanting,” she admonished. “That’s the only thing holding him in right now.”
“You’re lucky you’ve bound me so,” the demon sneered. “Otherwise, you would be dead right now, Anyanka.”
“So…long time no see,” she said lightly.
“Not. Long. Enough.”
“C’mon, Anya,” Xander prompted. “We don’t have all day.”
The demon’s eyes flickered to the young man and the weapon in his hands. “Interesting company you’re keeping these days,” he said. “Mortal men? And he’s not been…” His eyes narrowed, and an evil smile turned his mouth into a snarl as his gaze returned to the girl. “Do my eyes deceive me?” he queried. “Where is your necklace, Anyanka?”
“This isn’t about me,” she replied evasively. “This is about some information we need.”
“So the vengeance demon is now human herself.” There was no mistaking the delight dripping from H’roven’s voice. "Payback’s a bitch, isn’t it?”
“Listen, you spiny bastard---.” The young woman’s voice rose, a strident song of pain as she involuntarily stepped forward, closer to the column of fire.
“Anya!” Xander’s hand shot and grabbed his girlfriend’s elbow, pulling her back. “We’ve got a plan here. Focus on the plan.”
“Right. Plan. Focus. Got it.” She took a deep breath. “We summoned you here for a reason, H’roven. We need to know some specifics about one of your pictures.”
“Like I’d share anything with the bitch who turned me into this!” he spat.
“Oh, you’ll share---.”
“Ahn, what’s he talking about?”
Glancing at the young man out of the corner of her eye, Anya slowly extracted her arm from his grasp, stepping slightly to the side while glaring at their captive. “I told you I didn’t want to do this. You didn’t want to listen to me.”
“You…turned him into a…demon?”
“She stole my life!” H’roven growled.
“Hey! Wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have such a lucrative career!”
“And I wouldn’t be confined to my cell either, now would I?”
The current and ex-demons stared at each other, fury and hatred passing between them like an electric current, while Xander’s brown gaze darted between the two. “OK, I think this little trip down memory lane is getting just a tad too bumpy here,” he said. “What say, we get back to the topic at hand?”
“I won’t help you.”
Anya’s smile was tight, grim, and she reached for the small leather pouch that hung at her waist. “I think you might,” she said, pulling out a handful of the fine powder the sac held. When the demon’s eyes flared in fear, she laughed. “You think I’m stupid enough to summon you here and not have some thalatic dust ready? Tell us what we need to know, or you’re going to be in more pain than if I forced you to eat your own entrails.”
Xander blanched at the sudden image in his head, and watched as their hostage began pacing within the circle, tiny movements limited by the narrow diameter. “What is it?” he finally snarled.
“That.” Anya pointed to the painting that was propped up on the couch, easy viewing from the circle, but far enough away to be safe.
“You’re stealing art now? Very noble.”
“We found it,” Anya stressed. “And we need to know more about it.”
“Its owner will be quite distressed about having lost it,” H’roven commented. “She was very specific about its need when she purchased it from me.”
“She? Who is she?”
Xander wasn’t even sure he could call the grimace on the demon’s face a smile, as it replied, “I’m sorry. Client confidentiality. I’m sure you understand.”
“What exactly does it do?” the young man demanded, his frustration at the interrogation’s slow pace growing. “Touchy feely with the artwork is bad, we know that. But banishing someone to someplace like that doesn’t seem like such awful punishment.”
“It’s very simple. The portal gives whoever crosses it one of their greatest desires, and then, once they’re happy, it rips it away from them, leaving the person broken and miserable and desperate for anything.”
Anya tilted her head, her face softening as she digested this information. “Huh,” she said. “I almost think I like that. There’s a certain…symmetry to it that appeals to me.” At Xander’s startled look, she stiffened. “In an ex-vengeance-y kind of way, of course.”
The young man turned back to look at the demon. “And that’s it? You just make them unhappy.”
“Well, of course not,” H’roven replied. “I’d hardly be able to charge what I do if that was it.” There was a moment when the only sound in the room was Giles’ continued chanting, the demon on the inside of the circle staring out at the pair who were quizzing him. Finally, he sighed in exasperation. “You go through the portal, you get what you want, it takes it away from you, and then…you get to die.”
To be continued in Chapter 16: Makin’