DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles and Xander have come through the painting, while Buffy has overheard Spike and Willow plotting something…

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Chapter 19: Mack the Knife

Even in the artificial light of the dressing room, the gemstones glittered in tempting beauty, peppering the walls with emerald and ivory sparkles, and Buffy tilted her head as she appraised her appearance one last time. The dress had been an easy choice, a strapless white confection complete with a full tulle skirt embellished in rhinestones and rosettes, and though the gown left her bruised arms bare, the satin elbow-length gloves that rested on her chair would more than adequately cover them. The wide jewelled choker finished the ensemble, and while she would’ve preferred to wear her hair swept up, the bite mark on the back of her neck dictated that it stay down.

Though she was tucked away in the dressing room, Buffy felt the silence of the apartment like a velvet cloak, and wondered what was keeping Spike. Gino had arrived earlier to take Willow back to her place, and the blond vampire had walked downstairs with the pair, saying he’d be right back. That had been almost an hour ago. They probably want to talk more behind my back, she’d thought bitterly. Willow’s supposed to be my friend, not Spike’s.

In spite of a few more indirect questions, Buffy hadn’t been able to get any more information from the duo, and she’d finally given up trying, concentrating instead on gleaning what information the redhead had on the painting. It had been precious little. Willow suspected that Giles had learned more about the picture, but when she’d confessed that she’d not listened to the message left on their answering machine, the Slayer had slumped in her seat. As each day passed, their odds of returning to Sunnydale seemed to be lessening, and though this world certainly had its appeal, it wasn’t home. Home meant slaying on a full-time basis---something she was very surprised to find she missed---but more importantly, home meant family, specifically, her mom.

Mom would know what to do, she thought sadly. We could sit on the couch, with cups of hot chocolate, and lots of little marshmallows, and I could just spill about everything…how funny and charming Spike has been…how he keeps managing to save my ass…how amazing the sex is…Well, maybe not the sex part. Talking about that with Mom might be kind of…icky. But everything else, most definitely. Especially since Willow doesn’t seem interested in the position.

She hated feeling like this. Having her best friend here was supposed to have made everything better; talking to the young Wicca would’ve helped Buffy straighten out her head, understand the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her. Yes, last night had been fun in a girly, giggly way they hadn’t really done since graduating, but what she wanted now was strong, insightful Willow, not flirty, funny Willow.

The sound of the front door opening and closing captured Buffy’s attention, and she turned back to face the mirror, absorbing herself in touching up the make-up that was already flawless, pretending not to notice when the door to the dressing room opened. She knew he was right behind her, but seeing what he was doing in the mirror was absolutely no help. Stupid no reflection vampire rule.

“You want to do it now, or do you want to do it later?” his voice rumbled. “I’d like to vote for now.”

“Do what?” she asked, desperately trying to hold onto some semblance of nonchalance.

“We haven’t really had a chance to talk about last night yet.”

Her hand trembled slightly as she re-applied the third coat of lipstick. God, she hoped he didn’t see that. “There’s something to talk about?”

Even though she couldn’t see him, Buffy felt Spike come up behind her, and her heart began to pound. “Oh, you’re not gettin’ off that easy, luv.” She felt his mouth just behind her ear, and the thought of his body so close to hers brought goosebumps to her arms. “I told you. I’m not going back to the way it was before. And we’re going to sort this before it goes all to cock, understand?”

She couldn’t hold back the resentment any longer, and whirled to face him, the color high in her cheeks. “So, now it’s OK to talk to me?” she demanded. “When it’s your schedule, when it’s what you want.”

The vampire cocked his head, looking down at her flushed face. “What’re you talkin’ about?”

“I’m talking about you and Willow! Being all chatty, and sneaky, and saying things behind my back, and she’s my friend not yours, and since when does Willow care about your track record, and what did she mean when she said that anyway?” It all came out in a rush, a torrent of pent-up frustrations, and not all of it about the overheard conversation. Buffy’s chest was heaving against the boned bodice, and she began to wish that she’d chosen something else to wear, something less constrictive, because all of a sudden, breathing didn’t seem like an option.

Spike’s face relaxed, the corner of his mouth lifting in a wry smile. “Little Slayers who eavesdrop ought to get their ears boxed,” he drawled.

“So you don’t deny it.”

The vamp shrugged. “No. Red wanted advice, I gave it to her.”

“Advice?” Her voice was incredulous, and she folded her arms over her chest. “From you? On what, pray tell?”

“Seems our little witch had an impromptu assignation with a certain bouncer---.”

“No!” Buffy’s eyes widened. This was the last thing she’d expected to hear. “When? Why didn’t she say anything? When?”

“Early this morning. She was embarrassed, and you were still Sleeping Beauty. And I think I said. Early this morning.”

“But I heard you talking about a plan…”

“She wanted to know what to do next and seein’ as how I’m a guy, she thought I could help. That’s all it was.” His azure gaze watched her steadily, waiting to see if she was going to be satisfied with the explanation. She better be, he thought. It’s the only one she’s going to get.

It worked. The distraction of thinking of her best friend making out with Gino sent Buffy’s head into a whirlwind, and she leaned back against the edge of the dressing table. “I can’t believe inviting him over here worked,” she murmured. “And, oh my god, did it work.”

Spike waited for a moment, watching the play of emotions dance over the Slayer’s face. He loved seeing her like this, so animated, face flamed with excitement…even if it was over something so trivial as Gino and Willow. He almost didn’t want to break the spell by bringing it up again, but no way was he going to let this one go. “Now that we’ve got that taken care of,” he finally said, “how ‘bout we get back to the topic at hand?”

“Hmmm?” She was still lost in images of what she had missed by being asleep.

“Last night, luv.”

That did it. Buffy’s hazel eyes lifted up to meet his, and the familiar thumping of her heart returned to her skin. “What about it?” she asked. “It was…fun.”

He almost winced at the sound of hearing her say the word. Fun. Fuck. “I wanna know…where you see it going from here,” he said.

“I hadn’t…thought about it.” God, she hated this, hated lying to him. I’ve been thinking about it all day, she wanted to scream. Thinking about it now. Probably think about it tomorrow. And all because I can’t get you out of my head. Or out of my heart. Jerk.

“That’s not a get-out-of-answering-my-question free card, Buffy. Think about it now.”

His calmness was infuriating, and the Slayer felt her anger begin to rise again. “Well, you seem to have it all figured out,” she said. “You tell me where you see it going.”

So far, it was going exactly like Willow had said it would. “You gotta keep at her,” the redhead had said. “Don’t let her be Evado Girl. If you confront her, she’ll just try to avoid the issue.” Spike hadn’t gone into specifics about the events of last night with the young witch---mainly at her request---but he’d told her enough for her to tell him what to do. And letting Buffy think she could get out of talking about it was not part of the plan.

“This doesn’t have to be difficult---,” he began.

“Difficult?” she spat. “I’m being difficult now?”

He gritted his teeth, tilting his head to look at her through hooded lashes. The urge to pin her down and just beat some sense into her was overwhelming, and it was all he could do to contain it. “All right,” he finally said. “I’ve managed to somehow bodge this up already, so I’m just goin’ to start over here.” His nostrils flared. “Last night. You. Me. Compatible body parts. Was. That. It.”

“For me or for you?” The question was out before she could stop it, and Buffy bit her lip, leaning back into the dressing table, trying to get as much distance as possible between her body and his without actually having to move her feet.

“Well, seein’ as how I already know about my head, I’m goin’ to say for you, luv. Was that it…for you?” He hadn’t wanted to bring it to this point, but Red had been adamant. “You gotta tell her,” she’d said. “You don’t tell her now, Buffy’s just going to get pissed and it’ll make it worse later on.” What the Wicca hadn’t mentioned was how pissed she was going to get now.

Do it, the little voice taunted her. Do it, do it, do it…until her head took control again and stomped down on the words, silencing that small part of her that just wanted to grab him and kiss him and tell him exactly what she felt. “I would’ve thought you’d think compatible body parts was fun,” she said. “Besides, we keep it light and you can say thanks for the memories whenever you want, and nobody gets hurt.” Yeah, right. She was hurting already.

“I wasn’t interested in fun,” Spike growled, his anger finally beginning to surge out of control, hands balling into fists at his sides. “I thought I made that clear last night.”

“So now you’re saying you didn’t even have fun. Thanks. That does wonders for my ego.”

“You know, tryin’ to talk to you sometimes is like pounding my head into a brick wall. I told Red you’d do this, but did she listen? No.” The blond vampire began pacing in front of her, eyes darkening, flashing, never leaving her face. “What happened in the shower, Buffy? Was that just an attempt to seriously fuck up my head? ‘Cause gotta tell you, you win first prize. It bloody well worked.” His ire was rising, his steps becoming shorter, heels hammering into the floor. “You must think I’m a real git for falling for the softer side of Buffy routine. Hell, you probably get off on it. Mess with the vampire’s emotions. Give him the most amazing shag of his whole undead life and do it in the shower, of all places. Make me think for even a second it’s not about the sex. That there’s more to it than that. Well, congratulations, Slayer. You win the bleedin’ Oscar.”

She was getting dizzy from watching him, but even dizzier from listening. “I’m not the one doing the messing around here,” she barked. “I told you everything had already changed for me, but you just wanted to get into my pants. Well, I hope it was worth it, because it’s not happening again, you can be sure of that.”

Spike stopped in front of Buffy, his face inches away from hers. She saw the muscles twitching in his jaw, cheekbones standing out in high relief, blue eyes glittering, and felt the surge of adrenalin in her veins. “If that’s all I wanted, luv, I wouldn’t have waited. You would’ve been fucked senseless when I had you tied to my bed. Or have you so conveniently forgotten about that?”

Actually, she had. Uncertainty flickered across her face, and the little voice that had been kicked aside came scurrying back. He wanted more, it giggled. That’s what he’s saying here. Now, stop acting like a baby and just tell him. “It was…amazing?” she whispered.

A single finger came up, stroked the line of her jaw. “You were there, too,” he murmured, his fury suddenly gone in the wake of her mood change. “You tell me.”

“But you…wouldn’t tell me your dream, and I thought…”

“That’s ‘cause it didn’t mean anything. I didn’t want to upset you---.”

“Why? It upset you.”

“And that makes a difference?”

“Yes.”

Spike’s teeth tugged at his bottom lip, his head tilting slightly. “Have I told you yet how beautiful you look tonight?”

“You’re…changing the subject.”

“No…I’m not.” It didn’t even look like he’d moved. One minute, he was watching her, cerulean gaze enigmatic. The next, his mouth was on hers, dancing over her bottom lip, soft, exploring…literally breathtaking…

Buffy melted against him, crushing the rosettes on the bodice of her dress, clinging to the tenuous belief that she’d been wrong about everything. When his lips disappeared, her gaze fluttered up to his, and she held her breath as she said, “Tell me it wasn’t about the sex. Even if you have to lie.”

“Don’t have to lie, ‘cause it wasn’t.” He paused. Maybe Red had been right, after all. “I want…more than that, Buffy. And if that’s all you’re after, you need to tell me, ‘cause I can’t handle gettin’ my heart ripped out again. I’m probably off my box here, but if this is just about having a spot of fun, then I’m gone. Now. Before I’m in so deep I can’t even breathe.”

She couldn’t help the smile that curled her lips. “You don’t breathe now,” she teased.

“And you haven’t answered my question.”

“Was there a question?”

“Damn it, Buffy---.”

She cut him off with a kiss, quick and intense before sliding to the silky line of his jaw. Tiny nibbles along his flesh brought groans from the blond vampire, and his lean hands came up to grip her arms, pushing her back. “Now you’re bein’ difficult,” he said.

She licked her lips. Hope you’re happy, she told the little voice. Because here I go… “I lied. About not thinking about it. Because that’s all I seem to be able to do here, and when you look at me like that, it just makes it all that much harder. There was a point last night, when I was watching you while you were asleep, that I thought, maybe it doesn’t have to be like every other time. Maybe he won’t go. Maybe he’ll actually stick around. Maybe, maybe, maybe. And then you woke up, and you were so far away, and it all went to hell. Because that’s what I want. I want you to not go.”

“Why do you think I would?” His grip loosened, sliding up to her shoulders, brushing the hair away from her neck. “What makes you think I’m going anywhere?”

“Because they all do.” The prick of tears behind her eyes forced Buffy to steady her voice. “I care about someone, and they leave me. They say they love me, and they make these promises, and then they…Not that I’m saying I think you…love me…but…I don’t know…” Her throat choked, and she ducked her head so that the vampire couldn’t see the tears escape down her cheeks.

Spike leaned forward, resting his forehead on the top of her hair, letting her cry. Everyone I care about, she’d said. That meant…hope. “If I did…love you…would that make a difference?”

The young woman froze. He hadn’t…didn’t…wasn’t possible… “What?” she breathed.

“I’m not goin’ anywhere, Buffy, not for as long as you let me stay.” He swallowed. “Because not everyone who loves you, leaves.”

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Gino’s heels clicked across the tile floor, dark head low as he headed for the door to the back. Willow, he thought. Gotta find Willow. She’ll know what to do. She can tell me how to handle this. As he reached the exit, he stood back, allowing the musicians to come filing in, taking their places on the bandstand, his impatient hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, itching to just grab the door and shove them all away. He couldn’t, of course; Mr. Lombardi would have his hide if he laid a finger on any of them. Especially since the new torcher was supposed to debut tonight.

When the last of the band had filtered through, the dark-haired bouncer bolted into the back, almost colliding with Lola. “Where’s Willow?” he demanded.

The dancer jerked her head toward one of the doors. “Still in the dressing room…” she started, but he was off before she could finish, brushing past her and knocking at the room before she could even blink.

It opened, and the redhead stood before him, a high-heeled shoe dangling from her hand. “What is it?” she asked, immediately sensing the tension that wound through his body.

Gino glanced at the empty room behind her. “Can I come in?” he asked, suddenly hesitant. In spite of their early morning kissing, or maybe because of, his self-consciousness around the young woman was actually augmented, and he felt more than ever that he had to tread lightly, lest he scare her away.

Willow stepped back, letting him hurry past, shutting the door softly behind him. “Is something wrong?”

“We got trouble. Well, actually Buffy and Spike got trouble, but seein’ as they’re not here yet and I’m the one out front having to answer all the questions, it’s partially my trouble, too,” he rushed, face flushed as his black eyes darted around.

“Hold on. Slow down. Take a deep breath.” She waited, watching him duck his head, deliberately following her instructions before raising his gaze back to her face. “Now, start over. There’s trouble?”

“Mack’s here. And he’s asking about Buffy. And seein’ as how he hasn’t been around since their little announcement, I don’t know what to say that’s not going to get me in dutch, ‘cause you know his boys always pack. Not that I’m scared of shooters or anything, but Mr. Lombardi doesn’t let me carry so it puts me at a serious disadvantage if something were to happen, know what I mean? So, what do I tell him?”

Her head was spinning. “About what?”

“About Spike and Buffy,” Gino said exasperatedly. “You remember last time Mack was here. He was talking about her and him getting hitched. I don’t think he’s going to be thrilled when he finds out she’s taken up with Spike.”

“Why hasn’t anyone told him about…them?” God, this was confusing. Too many players, too little information.

“You want to be the one to tell the bossman his favorite girl dumped him for a bouncer? I know, Buffy was only humoring him because he owns the joint, but still…”

The knock at the door jerked both of their heads around, and Gino jumped off the dressing table he’d been leaning against. “Who is it?” Willow called out.

Whoever it was, didn’t wait for anyone to answer, turning the knob and pushing it open before the words had finished coming out of her mouth. The redhead’s eyes widened at the sight of the genteel man who stood there, narrow shoulders expertly suited, thin lips curled into an amused smile, but it was the tall young man who stood directly behind him that captured her attention, causing her heart to skip a beat.

Xander…?


To be continued in Chapter 20: Seems Like Old Times