DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have learned that his chip only malfunctions when it comes to people in the painting, and the Slayer has decided to go with her instincts and trust him, which means letting the rest of the Scooby gang in on their whole arrangement…

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Chapter 23: Come Rain or Come Shine

The sticky silence wrapped them in discomfort, clinging to their skin as frowns and worried brows abounded. Her eyes darted to each of them, wishing that they would just look at her, meet her gaze for a fraction of a millisecond, stop making her feel like a one-legged albino midget in a travelling circus. She didn’t know what was going through Spike’s head, but from her seat on the floor between his legs, Buffy didn’t want to make herself look even weaker in the eyes of her friends by looking back to the blond vampire for support.

Giles was the first to speak. “What…rules?” he queried, two fingers pinching the bridge of his nose as if to stem a headache behind his eyes.

“Just your basic stuff,” the Slayer replied. “No killing, no biting, no fighting.”

“Except for self-defense,” Spike interrupted.

“Right,” Buffy agreed. “Except for self-defense, or in the case of an emergency.”

“And just who gets to decide what constitutes an emergency?” asked Xander. “I assume we’re talking 911 stuff, not…oh-I-think-I’m-in-the-mood-for-a-bloodshake stuff.”

“I will,” the young blonde stressed. “But it’s not going to come to that. Spike’s promised---.” Giles’ audible snort cut her off, and she felt her anger begin to bubble again, only the feather touch of the vampire’s fingers in her hair keeping her from jumping to her feet. “Look,” she said, probably too loud but at that point she didn’t care, “this isn’t going to be a debate here. Them’s the facts and if you don’t like them, tough. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I know what I’m doing is right here. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” She waited, half-holding her breath, unsure as to whether anyone would actually take her up on her ultimatum. It was the last thing she really wanted, but if they were going to refuse to acknowledge that Spike was going to be a valid part of the gang now, that was their problem, not hers. And, maybe, if she thought that often enough, she might actually believe it.

No one moved, each just looking around guiltily at the others, avoiding any direct contact with the blond pair at the chair. Finally, Giles cleared his throat. “We really must start formulating a strategy on finding out who the safety really is,” he said, his voice cool and detached, the sudden change in subject his only way of acceding to Buffy’s control.

The Slayer’s shoulders visibly relaxed, and she exhaled softly. Not the handholding show of support she would’ve wanted, but nobody had left so that was definitely of the good. They would come around, she just knew it; it was only a matter of time. Shoot, Willow was halfway there already, what with her little advice session with Spike. “I still think Tony’s are best bet,” Buffy said, settling down into the mode she knew best. “He knows something. I’m sure of it.”

“Bugger says everyone who comes through has these little accidents,” the vampire volunteered. When the blonde between his legs turned to stare at him, a quizzical frown in her eyes, he shrugged. “We had us a little chat.”

“And you were going to tell me about this…when?”

“Well, as soon as it came up again,” Spike replied. No need to let her know he’d gone out for a little walk without her, better to just keep it vague about when he’d actually found his information out. “There was this whole me gettin’ shot thing that kind of happened in the middle there, luv.”

“Well, that would certainly hold true with what we learned about the purpose of the painting,” Giles mused.

“What else did he tell you?” Buffy asked.

“That his girlfriend’s a vampire, some bird named Melinda---.”

“Hey!” exclaimed Xander. “That’s who that H’whatsit guy said owned the picture.”

“So it probably wasn’t an accident he came through,” Willow offered. “Maybe she meant it for him.”

Buffy frowned. “I don’t think so. He seemed way too calm about being here.”

“I got the impression he was hoofin’ it,” Spike said. “Wasn’t too happy to be talkin’ about his girl back home.”

“So, plan is, we get Tony and find out what he knows.” The Slayer looked around at the small group in her living room. “He’s not going to talk to me or Spike, not if he was ducking out of work just to avoid us. So that leaves Willow, Giles and Xander to go to his apartment and see what they can find out.”

The redhead slowly raised her hand. “Ummm…I can’t.”

“You can’t?” Buffy couldn’t hold back the surprise in her voice. “Why not?”

“I…have a date.”

“A date. With…oh…” Realization dawned on the blonde woman’s face, followed very quickly by a small frown.

“Besides,” Willow rushed to add, “Tony probably already knows that I’m not from here. Wasn’t he one of the musicians I fell on when that guy pinched my ass?”

Xander’s eyebrows shot up. “How much have we actually missed here?” he said. “’Cause these sound like sharing stories to me.”

“You’re right,” Buffy agreed, ignoring her friend’s comment. “So just Giles and Xander then.” She rose to her feet. “I’ll call around and chat up some of the other girls, see what I can find out from them. Then Spike can take over when I go into work.”

“The joys of unemployment,” the vampire drawled, and watched as the others joined Buffy in standing. Not too bad, he thought. Could’ve actually gone a lot worse. Probably got softened up by Red’s spell. Not that he really cared what they thought, but they were part of the Slayer package so Spike knew he was going to have to play nice…for her sake.

As Buffy and Willow disappeared into the kitchen, Giles quickly strode over to the blond vamp’s chair and leaned over, his spectacled face only inches from Spike’s, long hands gripping the sides of the arm until his knuckles were white. “One more rule,” he murmured, his voice deadly. “If Buffy gets hurt in any way and I find out you were responsible, I will personally see to it that that undead heart of yours gets spooned out of your chest with a number two pencil. Do you understand?” He didn’t wait for a response, just blazed at him with lethal eyes, and straightened, marching to the front door of the apartment, Xander at his heels.

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

“So what’re you two doing?” Buffy asked as she reached for a mug in the cupboard.

“I dunno,” Willow admitted. “Gino wouldn’t tell me. I hope it’s something inside, though, the way it’s coming down in buckets out there.”

The Slayer’s eyes were thoughtful as she poured the contents of the saucepan into the cup. “I know this is going to sound mom-ish, and don’t get me wrong, I think Gino’s a great guy, and normally I’d be all, go Willow, but…” She glanced back at the redhead. “You’re not getting in over your head here, are you? I mean, when we go home, he’s going to still be here. You OK with that?”

The young witch smiled, just a tad too widely, a tad too casually. “Sure,” she chirped. “Gino and I are just having a few laughs. That’s all.”

“Spike told me about…the kissage. Sounded like more than just a giggle.”

“Oh, that.” Willow waved it away with a flick of her wrist. “He’s cute, I was drunk, and he likes me. Aren’t I allowed to have a little fun?”

Buffy frowned. This didn’t sound like her best friend; this sounded like someone her best friend was trying to be. “Fun, yes, but I think you’re setting yourself up for getting hurt again---.”

“If memory serves, you were the one who invited him over here in the first place. And besides, weren’t you guys telling me to snap out of it? Well…I’m snapped now. Think of Gino as my rebound guy if it’ll make you feel better.”

“Except you’re not really a rebound kind of gal, Will.”

“I’ll be fine. Trust me. Now stop worrying about it and get that out to Spike before it gets cold and we have to listen to him whine about it all afternoon.” The young witch held her smile as Buffy glanced at her one more time, hesitating in the doorway before leaving the kitchen. Once she was alone, it faded, and Willow bit her lip, the line returning between her brows. She hated lying to her best friend, but no way could she admit how deeply she’d fallen for the dark-haired bouncer already. The thought of leaving him behind was already starting to eat at her, giving her strange and restless dreams that only confused her even further, and frankly, she wasn’t sure what was going to happen. All she knew was that when Gino had asked her out for this afternoon, her heart had leapt at the option, making refusal entirely impossible. It had been all she’d thought about all day, and even finding out the whole story about Spike and Buffy hadn’t been enough to distract her from her daydreams. And right now, she wasn’t going to let anyone else spoil it for her.

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

The apartment was silent after everyone had gone, the only sound the occasional slurp as Spike sipped at his mug of blood. It was going to take him forever to finish it at this rate; he didn’t have the heart to tell Buffy she’d scorched it, making the already not favorite taste even worse. At least she tried, he thought. Gotta count for something. Maybe some biscuits might take some of the edge off…

“You think they get it?” she asked from where she was lying on the couch. She’d been staring up at the ceiling ever since they’d left, mulling over everything she’d said, wondering if maybe she could have made it any easier for them.

“’Course not,” Spike replied. “But they will. Just give ‘em some time to get used to the idea.” No way was he going to bring up the Watcher’s warning; Buffy didn’t need anything more to worry about.

She rolled over onto her side, propping her head up on her hand to look at him. “They think I’m under a spell, you know.”

“That would be called the Spike spell, luv.” He couldn’t help the wicked grin that creased his face, and ducked his head as she threw the pillow at him, missing contact by mere millimeters.

“I think Willow’s headed for some heartache,” she said, changing the subject. “I think she’s in over her head, but she won’t admit it.”

“She probably thinks the same about you,” he countered.

“But at least you get to come home with me,” Buffy argued. “What about Gino? What happens when she’s got to say goodbye to him? I mean, Oz leaving wasn’t that long ago and look how broken she got about that. It’s just…too soon, don’t you think?”

Setting down his mug, Spike rose from his seat and crossed to her side, kneeling at the edge of the couch so that he could push the hair back away from her face. “Maybe it’s exactly what she needs right now,” he soothed. “Gino’s a good guy. He’s not goin’ to hurt her and she knows that. I think if I were her, I’d be jumpin’ through hoops just to be around someone who loved me as much as he does.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” she murmured, suddenly lost in the hypnotic rhythm of the vampire’s touch. Her eyes fluttered shut, and she sighed, a gentle exhalation that released her pent-up energies with a single breath. “I’m really not in the mood for research,” she moaned, her bottom lip jutting out ever so slightly.

With her lids down, Buffy didn’t see the gleam suddenly appear in Spike’s azure gaze, the slight tilt of his head as his tongue ran over his teeth. “Bet I could think of somethin’ else to do…” he taunted, and slowly skated his hand down the side of her neck.

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

Though the wipers were working overtime, Willow could only barely see the outline of the building that loomed in front of them, a murky shape that seemed to stretch itself along the block as if it were being laid to rest. At her side, Gino killed the engine, the jingle of the keys suddenly seeming too loud in the confines of the car.

“How much longer are you going to keep me guessing?” she asked, peering out the window.

“We’re here. This is it.”

“And this is…?”

“The new planetarium.” When her green eyes turned to stare at the bouncer, he smiled shyly. “Seemed like your kinda joint.”

“It is. Thank you.” She wasn’t sure why she was surprised; sometimes, Gino seemed to know more about her than anyone else she knew. “But…are you going to like it? I don’t want to do something if you’re not going to have fun.”

Gino shrugged. “Can’t say I’ve ever really had the opportunity,” he said. “I mean, I know from nothing about the stars and such, but the way I figure it, who better to teach me than the smartest person I know?”

Willow blushed. “You’re sure you want that?” she teased. “Because once you get me started on learning, there’s no holding me back.”

“Positive. Besides, I heard there’s a room in there where they turn the lights off, and you just lay back, and they show all these stars on the ceiling, like you were actually outside and everything. Working nights means you don’t really get that many chances to do any real star-gazing, so we should probably grab it where we can, you know?” His black eyes glanced at her, ducking his head when he saw her watching him. “You just wait there. I’ll bring the umbrella around so you don’t get wet.”

As his body twisted in his seat to reach the umbrella in the rear of the car, Willow rested her hand on his forearm, halting his motion. Gino’s dark gaze jumped to her face, widening slightly as she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. He froze, his heart pounding in his chest, the heat in his body all of a sudden focusing itself on his groin. She’d never initiated a kiss before. Even that morning---what a morning---at Spike and Buffy’s, he’d been the one to start it all, guiding her along as their kisses turned from gentle to passionate, holding himself back when his need for the beautiful redhead seemed to overwhelm him. Now, though…

The bouncer’s hand came up and cupped the side of her face, pulling her in even closer as his lips parted, exploring the sweet depths of her mouth. He could almost hear the beating of her heart through his fingertips, and inwardly smiled. It was nice knowing she was excited as he was; it was kind of like…coming home.

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

Anya stood outside the door, her gaze jumping around, her foot tapping restlessly against the cobbled pathway. She didn’t even know why she was here. By all rights, she should be back at home, sitting by the phone, waiting for Xander to call and apologize for being such a bonehead. Except that’s exactly what she had been doing for the past two days, and her telephone hadn’t rung even once. Well, except for that telemarketer who had the misfortune of catching her just after she’d gotten home. That was one company that was going to think twice about calling her again.

Biting her lip, she reached up and rapped sharply at Giles’ door. Xander hadn’t been at home, or at his latest job, so that left only one other possibility…here. After a moment of silence, she knocked again. English people are supposed to be polite and answer their frickin’ doors, she thought irritably. C’mon, girl on the edge out here. When she knocked a third time, she knew, without having to even peek inside the window, that nobody would be coming. He could be out shopping, though, she rationalized. Only one way to find out…

Getting the spare key Giles always kept on hand, Anya glanced around before slipping it into the lock, slipping inside as if she were there to burgle the place and not just find her boyfriend. She locked the door behind her, waiting for a second as her eyes adjusted to the gloom of the darkened interior. “Giles?” she called out, but knew almost immediately that there wouldn’t be a response. The apartment was too dead, deserted by its inhabitants.

She went straight to where it rested on the desktop, switching on the table lamp to peer into the vibrant colors of the painting. It only took a second to find the Watcher in front of the orchestra, and only a few more to find a dapper Xander at the bar. Her lids fluttered shut and her head fell in resignation. “Crap,” she muttered…


To be continued in Chapter 24: I’ll Be Seeing You