DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Gino has been taken to the hospital in critical condition, while Anya has been cornered in Giles’ apartment with only one means of escape…

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

Chapter 26: Shall We Dance

The crowd was starting to thin, the girls one by one pairing off with customers, and Xander sipped at his drink as he watched Giles turn away from the microphone for the last time that night. His hands hurt, the knuckles on his right slightly torn from the repeated punches he’d thrown at Marty, but the thing that bothered him the most right now wasn’t physical.

This is a sick, sick world, he grumbled. In spite of the warnings they’d had, in spite of the little time they’d actually been here, Xander hadn’t quite been prepared for the level of badness that they’d been hit with. Killing a demon was one thing; knowing you were the reason your best friend got assaulted was something else entirely. Beating the other man had offered him a moment of respite from his guilt, and, he had to admit, watching Spike finish off the job, knowing the vampire’s punches were so much more lethal than his own, had given him a twisted thrill, but now that it was all said and done, the fact still remained…Gino was in the hospital and Willow had almost been raped because of Xander.

Giles mopped at the sweat on his forehead as he approached the bar. “Scotch, neat,” he said to the bartender, before turning to face his young friend. “You haven’t had bad news, have you?” he asked quietly.

Xander shook his head. “Buffy called. Will’s pretty shaken up ‘cause that Gino is getting operated on, but apparently the paramedics were able to do some good for him before they got to the hospital.”

“Paramedics?” The Watcher sipped cautiously at his drink, a frown between his eyes. “Odd. Those aren’t indigenous to this time period. In fact, if memory serves, they weren’t in common practice until after---.”

“Giles!” The anger and frustration rang out in the young man’s voice, a bitter rasp as he lashed out at the Englishman. “We’re not exactly in Kansas anymore, remember? I don’t think the history review is one-hundred percent accurate for this place anyway. It may look kinda like home and it may quack kinda like home, but this sure as hell doesn’t mean it is home. And right now, I’ve had about as much as I can stand of alternate demon dimensions. I just want to get the hell out of Dodge and back to my drippy, cramped little basement hellhole, because at least there, I don’t have to see Willow look at me like I’m devil spawn.”

Giles regarded him over the rim of his glass. “It’s not your fault, Xander,” he soothed.

“Yeah, well, it sure as hell feels like my fault,” the younger man muttered, downing the rest of his drink in one gulp before slamming the empty tumbler onto the counter. He rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “One good thing, at least I don’t have to face Anya’s I-told-you-so’s about this place. I think that would just about send me over the edge right now.”

“Great show, Mr. Giles.” The voice came from behind him, and the Watcher turned around to see a smiling Sammy hovering at his elbow. “Buffy sure was right about you. You’re the best torcher we’ve had around here since that dame who ran off with the shylock.”

“Um, thank you,” the Englishman murmured.

“Yeah, between you and the replacement Mr. Lombardi got for Ms. Summers, this joint is going to be back on top in no time,” Sammy continued.

“He got a replacement for Buffy?” Xander queried.

“Oh, yeah, well, he had to with Spike pulling her from the roster and all. I mean, she was our biggest draw. Things have slowed down considerably around here ever since she went off the market. Still, Mr. Lombardi managed to pull some strings and wangle a good deal in order to get Ms. Jenkins away from the Honey Bunny downtown.”

Xander had turned away, about to motion to the bartender to come over to refill his drink, when the young manager’s words finally sunk in. Very slowly, he swivelled back. “Did you say…Ms. Jenkins?”

“Sure,” Sammy chimed. “Mr. Lombardi’s going over the ropes with her right now. And boy are we lucky to get her. Next to Ms. Summers, Anya Jenkins is the best pro skirt on the circuit.”

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

He didn’t even bother to knock, just shoved the door open and marched inside, hands balled into fists in his pockets. Perched on the corner of his desk, Lombardi yanked the cigarette out of his mouth, about ready to bark at the intruder, only to freeze at the sight of Xander.

“Thought you’d gone home for the night, Mr. Harris,” he started.

He ignored the older man, instead stepping straight for the chair that sat before the desk, grabbing the arm of the woman who sat there, and pulling her to her feet. “What’re you doing here?” he demanded.

Anya just stared back at him. “It’s good to see you, too, Xander,” she said dryly.

Lombardi frowned. “You two know each other?”

“Sometimes, I wonder,” the young man muttered. “You mind if I talk to her for just a sec?”

“Sure, be my guest.” He watched as Harris pulled the newest recruit over to the corner of the room, turning his back to the desk so that they could have a little privacy. With Mack still in the hospital, his right-hand man was now the bigshot around here; no way was he going to ruffle those feathers, not after what he’d heard had happened to Marty.

“Decide you were in the mood for a little vacation?” Xander asked.

“If you must know, it was either certain death by staying or maybe death by coming through. I chose the maybe.”

“What happened?”

“Some demons broke into Giles’ apartment to steal the painting---.”

“Whoa. What were you doing at Giles’?”

“Looking for you, bonehead.” Anya folded her arms across her chest defiantly. “Not that it matters, but I was starting to get worried when you didn’t call. I just wanted to see if you were actually stupid enough to come after Buffy and Willow.”

Xander set his jaw and held up a warning finger. “OK, so not the time for this.”

“Have you at least figured out who the safety is?”

“We’re still working on that…”

“What?” Her voice rose louder than Xander liked, and he glanced back over his shoulder at Lombardi, checking to make sure he wasn’t listening. “You’ve been here for two days. What the hell have you been doing? Dancing?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that, Ahn. Things have been…happening…”

“It’s a good thing I’m here then. Somebody needs to give you guys a good kick in the pants, and let me just say, I really want to be that somebody right now. I have no plans on going down with the ship here.”

“Neither do we.” Behind him, Lombardi cleared his throat, reminding them of his presence, and Xander lowered his voice even further. “Let me just take care of this roster thing and we’ll get out of here to do some planning.”

“Yeah, what’s with that anyway?” Anya asked. “Smokey over there has been gushing for the last half hour about how glad he is that I’m on the roster here now, and how privileged he is that I’m one of his girls.”

“Apparently, it’s your job here. Girls on the roster have to sleep with the customers.”

There was a long moment of silence and he watched as the small line formed between his girlfriend’s brows as her brain whirled into overdrive. That was one thing he really liked about Anya; you could always tell when she was thinking.

“And I’d get paid for that?” she queried, and all of a sudden, Xander didn’t like how her voice had changed, taking on that familiar capitalist twang that he was coming to know so well. “So basically, being on the roster would mean having all the sex I want, and then taking their money.”

His eyebrows shot up. “What happened to kicking us in the pants?”

“Can’t I do both?”

“That would be a big fat no.” He turned on his heel to face Lombardi. “When is she supposed to start?” he asked, jerking his head toward Anya.

“I got her on for tonight. There’s a couple high rollers out front who’d love---.”

“Book her for me.” Anya stared up at her boyfriend with wide eyes, not entirely recognizing this new and forceful Xander.

The older man began squirming, uncomfortable with the order. “Well, now, Mr. Harris, I’d love to, but---.”

“I’ll pay you twice her going rate.” Thank god he was in charge of Mack’s finances while he was in the hospital, he thought.

The gleam of money-loving delight shone in Lombardi’s eye, and he smiled. “I’ve got to admit, I do like your style,” he commented before sliding around to the back of the desk. He grabbed his ledger and settled his bulk into the chair. “And after Gino got shot, I thought this night was going to be a bust,” he said dryly. “Now, I got the best in the biz on my roster, and a plan on how to replace Gino in the works. I’d say life is pretty darn good.”

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

She didn’t want to get out, but Buffy knew that if she spent any longer in the tub, she’d shrivel into a prune. Whoever invented bubble bath deserves a lifetime supply of chocolate, she thought as she pulled out the plug. The sucking of the water as it went down the drain pulled her from her reverie, destroying the shroud she’d wrapped herself in to numb herself from the evening’s events. Back to the real world, she sighed silently, and then hastily corrected herself. Back to the painting world.

Willow was still at the hospital, having refused their offer to take her home. “I need to be here in case something happens,” she’d said. Even Buffy’s suggestion that she run back with a change of clothes had been met with rejection and the flat statement that she’d call Xander and have him run over her bag from the club. Neither of them liked the look on the redhead’s face, the lines that suddenly seemed to appear around her eyes, the hollows in her cheeks, but they knew there was nothing more that they could do…not just then.

Spike had been the one to suggest the bath, gently steering her toward her bedroom in spite of her protests. Buffy had begged for him to join her, but he’d been adamant. “You need to relax,” he’d said. “And we both know if I go in there, relaxin’ will be the last thing that happens.”

As usual, the blond vampire had been right, and the Slayer had lost herself in the liquid paradise, scrubbing the dried blood from her skin until she was striated in crimson, leaning back against the porcelain rim to allow the water to just envelop her. She’d almost fallen asleep at one point, although if someone had pressed her on it, she wouldn’t have been able to tell them what she’d been thinking. It was easier to just not.

As she emerged from the steamy bathroom, the wet tendrils of her hair clinging to her shoulders, Buffy was disappointed to see that the room was deserted, curtains drawn against the night sky, the bed still fully made. Part of her had been hoping to find Spike there, maybe already sleeping, so that she could crawl up next to him, press herself into his flesh. But that impulse was going to be denied. Hard to act on someone if they weren’t there.

She didn’t have to look far. When she opened her door, the first thing she saw was the cloud of smoke that hovered in the air over the couch, the red flare of his cigarette the only illumination in the room. “Spike?” she called softly, taking a step inward.

She heard his soft exhalation, saw the wisps drift over his head. “Feel better, luv?” he asked. His voice was soft, slightly slurred, and as the Slayer peered into the darkness, she saw the empty tumbler resting on the coffee table, a bottle of whisky sitting next to it.

“Much. Thank you.” Buffy took another step, and now she could see the pale gleam of his chest where it lay bared beneath his opened shirt, untucked from his trousers, the top button of those undone. He was lying back, platinum head propped against the arm rest, and the tip of his cigarette sent scarlet shadows dancing across the planes of his face, disguising his eyes in blackness while highlighting the fullness of his bottom lip.

“Red’s in love with him, y’know.”

It was a flat statement of fact, but she didn’t see where it had come from. What’s eating at him? she wondered. “I know,” she admitted. “She didn’t tell me as much, but it was pretty obvious.”

“She’s just not havin’ a good year, is she?” said Spike, ending it with a harsh chuckle. “First wolfboy leaves, now Gino…”

Buffy watched as he sat up and leaned forward, stubbing out the cigarette in the ashtray in front of him, taking with it the only light in the room. Her eyes had adjusted now, so she could still make out his outline, but the details were lost to her.

“What happens when we get out of here, Buffy?”

The question took her by surprise, and the young woman saw that he wasn’t even looking at her, holding his head in his hands, fingers entwining in his blonde curls. “She’ll go on,” she replied. “She has to.”

“I wasn’t talkin’ about Red.” As he stood up, she heard the soft clink of his belt settling, and her eyes followed his body as he walked, slightly crooked, to the record player, searching through the stack of albums at its side before dropping one onto the turntable. There was a moment, and then a scratch as the needle hit the vinyl, the music filtering into the room only seconds later.

His head tilted as he looked over at her, face hidden in darkness. “Dance with me,” he said. It wasn’t a request; it wasn’t an order…it was an invitation, and Buffy felt her feet moving toward the blond vampire even before she could consciously decide. Not that it would’ve been a no, but her body was more attuned to his needs than her head was, and it wasn’t about to refuse him.

Her body melted against his, the rhythm of the orchestration guiding her feet, and she laid her cheek against his chest, the cotton of his shirt sliding enough away so that it was skin against skin…heat against ice…life against death…

“Don’t want to lose this,” Spike mumbled, nuzzling her damp hair, inhaling her scent as if it was as vital to him as blood. She could smell the alcohol on his breath, almost as intoxicating as if she’d drunk it herself, and wondered again what was wrong.

“You won’t,” she murmured, and felt his arms tighten around her, hands splaying across her sides.

“Why…” she heard him whisper, mouth travelling to her temple, tongue darting out to trace the ever so slight indentation, feeling the echo of her pulse shudder down its length…into his throat…settling into his chest as if to substitute his own missing heartbeat.

Was it even something she was supposed to answer? He seemed so lost, drifting in the haze of whatever fugue was possessing him, and he clung to her, words lost as his lips returned to her hair. “Spike…”

“Need you, Buffy…”

Those words she heard. Stopping the movement of her feet, the young woman pulled back, sliding her hands up to the sides of the vampire’s face, holding it away so that he was forced to look her in the eye. “I love you,” she said firmly, hoping that hearing the words would pull him back, moor him in the strength he’d shared with her at the hospital. “And we can do this. Because one plus one doesn’t always equal two. Sometimes…it equals everything.”

His lips came crashing down to hers, the hunger not just physical, and she met him with equal force, tongues winding around the other, hands pulling at the clothes that separated them. Buffy felt his muscles tremble under her fingers as his shirt slipped from his shoulders, and the pounding of her heart seemed to reverberate throughout her body as Spike pushed aside the satin of her robe to cup her bare breast in ice. His thumb flicked over her hardened nipple, and she moaned into the kiss, her fingers working down his back, sliding under the loosened waistband of his trousers to skirt around its edges to the front.

She stepped back, eyes locked with his, and slowly pulled down the zipper, the metallic song lost in the brassy swell of the record, allowing his pants to drop silently to the floor. His cock sprang free, already fully erect, and Buffy smiled. “Have I mentioned yet how erotic it is that you go commando?” she teased, tracing a finger around its dripping head.

For the first time since she’d come out of the bathroom, Spike grinned. “Just a matter of practicality,” he growled. “One less piece of clothing in the way for you to do…” He hissed as her tiny hand suddenly grasped his arousal, its power almost overwhelming, before quickly releasing it, stepping forward to press her mouth to the hollow at the base of his throat. “…that,” he finished.

Buffy ignored him, tasting the icy tang of his skin as her tongue lapped down his chest, travelling to one nipple…catching it between her teeth…before moving to the other, and repeating the small bite. When the vampire’s hands came up to her hair, she batted them away, the small laugh suspending itself in the back of her throat. “Just enjoy,” she murmured, and finished the path downwards until she ended on her knees, her tongue outlining the sharp jut of his pelvis.

He could feel the heat of her skin just inches from his cock, infuriatingly near and yet so tantalizingly far, and could only watch as her golden head moved around it, the bud of her mouth circumventing contact as it skated over his hips and across the top of his thigh. When Spike felt the fire between his legs, he growled, feeling her take the sac in her mouth, sucking at his balls with just enough force to make him feel like she was swallowing him, only to intensify the sensations by gently stroking the velvet skin that lay behind them.

His hands clenched into fists at his sides as the vampire fought to maintain control, the throbbing in his cock almost a living entity as it hovered mere inches from Buffy’s mouth. She was deliberately taking her time, savoring his taste, extending his pleasure, and when her tongue snaked along the underside of his shaft, Spike grabbed the edge of the nearby cupboard in an attempt not to just throw her to the ground and fuck her then and there.

Buffy smiled. Over the past few days, she had learned exactly what it was that sent the blond vampire most quickly to the edge, and oral stimulation was definitely high up on the list. So was surprise…

She buried him in her throat before he even knew what was happening, small hands cupping his ass as she held him close, jaw dropping to accommodate his girth. Spike gasped as the shudder ran down his body, eyes closing as she began sucking up…and down…taking her time, but not losing her rhythm…slowly…steadily…deeper with each pass downward.

The music stopped, but neither noticed, and it wasn’t until Buffy sensed the quiver in his cock that signified his imminent explosion did she pull away, licking around the dripping head one last time before sitting back on her heels and shrugging her robe from her shoulders. Even she could smell her pussy by this point, could feel the juices dripping down her thighs, and, as soon as he looked down at her, blue eyes almost black with desire, the young woman dropped her hand to her soaking slit and ran a single finger around the inner lips, coating it until it glistened in the dim light of the lounge. Without breaking the lock on their gazes, Buffy lifted her hand in offering, index finger extended.

Spike’s tongue darted out, running along the edge of his top teeth, the growl coming from his throat almost continuous by this point. Reaching out, he wrapped his lean grip around her proffered wrist, pulling her to her feet, lowering his head until his mouth descended over the sticky digit, suckling at her finger as if it was his lifeblood. She groaned as he slowly increased the pressure, his free hand seizing her waist, drawing her even closer against him so that their bare thighs pressed into the other’s, his dripping cock flattened against his abdomen.

When he finally released her finger, sliding up its length as slowly as she’d slid down his cock, Spike stepped away from the cupboard, pulling her along behind him as he crossed the distance to the bedroom, neither of them speaking a word. Although she hated to admit it to herself, Buffy was torn, part of her desperately in need for the blond vampire to just bury himself within her, the other part knowing that he needed this to be about them and not about the act. In spite of his earlier bravado…in spite of his cocky assurances that nothing could beat the Slayer with a vampire at her side…she knew that he was scared, rocked by the realization that Giles’ information was holding true…get what you want only to lose it…and the pair of them were already there, with no sign yet as to how to get out and escape the inevitable…

She let him press her into the bed, a strong hand taking both of her wrists into its grasp and locking them over her head, his corded shoulders descending until his mouth met hers. Their hips seemed to work of their own free will---her legs lifting, separating, wrapping around him…guiding his ready cock to her slick opening as their kiss deepened. He filled her, feeling the walls of her pussy stretch around him, sucking him in, until there was no place else to go but out…

The vibrato from both of their chests filled the room, a constant humming that to an outsider would’ve seemed almost like a purr, as Slayer and vampire crested the wave of their hunger. In…and out…the most natural rhythm in the world…manifesting itself as their bodies began to glisten with sweat, their coupling quickening, their kisses never ceasing.

When she felt the first tremors of her orgasm begin to quiver along her inner walls, Buffy was almost dismayed, reluctant to lose the intoxicating pounding of his cock. She broke from his mouth to stare up into his eyes, drowning in their cerulean depths, whispering, “I love you, Spike,” only to be rewarded with the gentle upturn of his mouth just before it lowered again to hers, swallowing her down as he used his free hand to cup her ass, forcing his cock even deeper without ever breaking his pace.

When she came, it was almost silently, a mere exhalation accompanying the fire that burned through her system like liquid smoke. As he felt the muscles of her pussy clench around his cock, the vampire released her hands, and they sprang immediately to his back, clutching at him, holding him tighter, lost in her own personal oblivion as her every cell trembled. That was all it took for him, and he plunged with one last stroke, burying himself to the hilt as his icy seed flooded inside her. All thoughts of the evening were banished…all memories of the badness that had been surrounding them dissipating…and Spike pressed his lips to her neck, sucking at that spot---his spot---while the world slipped away…leaving only the two of them…

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

She was alone in the front of the club, eyes darting around at the darkened room, the faint sounds of movement in the back echoing across the tiles. She had hated lying to Buffy, but no way would her best friend have understood, not now, not in this place. And there was just too much at stake for her to try and take the time to explain it.

As Willow hurried to the rear exit, the image of an unconscious Gino kept flitting past her mind’s eye, the dark shadows under his eyes making him seem gaunt in spite of his bulk, his normally powerful hands now lying weakly against the gurney as the orderly wheeled him to the operating room. They hadn’t known how long it was going to take, but had been sure of one thing; it would not be quick. That was the only reason she would’ve braved leaving just then; she had to ensure that she was back at the hospital before they were done. She had to know what had happened.

She saw him as soon as she pushed open the door, his instrument case dangling from his hand as he hastily walked to the exit at the back of the club, and the redhead had to run in order to catch up to him, stumbling only once in the heels she so detested but ignoring the pain in her ankle as she grabbed at his coat sleeve.

Tony stopped, turning to see who it was that was clinging to him, his spectacled gaze widening slightly as he recognized the young woman…one of the Slayer’s friends.

Her green eyes fixed on his. “Someone tells me you do magic,” she said softly…


To be continued in Chapter 27: Apple Blossoms and Chapel Bells