DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Mack has learned of Spike's true nature, and Gino is taking one last shot at trying to find Tony…

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Chapter 40: Me and My Melinda

Even for that hour of the night, there was a crowd milling around the bus station, people of assorted shapes, sizes, and ages, each with their own tale of why they were about to embark on this particular journey. It was easy to blend in, to lose himself among the nameless faces as they waited, and for the first time since seeing Melinda, Tony was beginning to breathe a little easier, hope seeping into his aspect in spite of his still-knotted stomach.

Everything was still all gone to shit, but at least it was all happening behind him now. As well as were all his clothes, and all his magic supplies, and all his…Crap. This had not been how he'd planned it. There was supposed to be enough of a warning that he'd have time to get back to his place, grab his bag, and get on the first bus out of town. Melinda wasn't supposed to come chasing after him like a vamp out of hell, and Willow wasn't supposed to have figured out what the protection spell he'd done was actually for, and the Slayer certainly wasn't supposed to be after him with her scary vampire boyfriend. Lots of things not supposed to happen. Somehow that didn't make him feel any better.

Getting the money from his bank account had been a nightmare. Without his bankbook or any kind of proper ID, the teller had refused to help him, giving him the runaround so long that he'd begun to despair actually making it to the bus station in time. It was only when the manager had stepped in, putting him through the longest interrogation he'd ever undergone as well as making him give several handwriting samples so that they could compare signatures, did anything actually happen. And even then, they wouldn't let him clear out the account, allowing him to withdraw just a few hundred dollars. It was enough for a ticket though, and would hold him over for a few days while he found work wherever it was he ended up. And that was better than nothing.

So now he waited, breathing in the stale exhaust of long-banished fumes, watching the anonymous pass in front of his bench, allowing himself to wonder now and again where a nun could possibly be going, or why wasn't anyone keeping an eye on that little girl with the teddy bear, or did that blonde really think she looked good wearing that much make-up. For a brief flash, he thought he caught a glimpse of a shoulder that looked familiar, but whoever it was disappeared inside the station, and Tony settled back and resumed his people-watching, his trumpet tucked safely between his feet.

When he heard his name over the loudspeaker, it almost didn't register, so lost in thought was he. He frowned, glancing back at the station doors, wondering if maybe he'd misheard. What could they possibly want with him inside? Two minutes later, the announcement was repeated, and this time, there was no mistaking who they were asking for. This just isn't my day, Tony grumbled, as he rose to his feet. If they tell me something's wrong with my ticket, I swear I'll zap them into rats.

The inside of the station was just as dark as it had been when he'd arrived an hour earlier, and surprisingly enough, just as deserted, considering how many people were waiting around outside. Marching over to the lone window, he set down his case, ready to argue with whoever was trying to make his getaway even more difficult, when a large hand clapped gently over his mouth.

"I got a bone to pick with you," he heard, and stiffened at the rumbled threat in the bouncer's voice. He wanted to argue with him, plead for his freedom, but Gino's grip tightened, pulling him slowly away from the windows and, more importantly, away from any witnesses.

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

They met Xander in the hall outside their apartment, and the younger man quickly scanned over Spike's torso before coming up to look at the cut on his face. "I'd say you look like hell, but I'm guessing you already know that," he commented. "Did you rob a goodwill store for that shirt?"

"Nicked it from Mack's driver," the vampire growled. "See how good you look in a shirt made for a man the size of a lorry."

"As entertaining as it always is to listen to you two go at it," Buffy interrupted, "we don't have time for this right now." She pushed the door open and waited for the two men to enter before stepping inside herself. Her brain was working in overdrive, trying to figure out what step to take next…how in hell they were going to find Tony…how she could use Melinda to get him to reverse the spells…if Xander and Giles were ever going to give Spike a break, especially since he was obviously going to be a bigger part of their lives from now on. She sighed. Just once it would've been nice to have a boyfriend that was easy to explain, or was easy for everyone to get along with. But then again, that wouldn't be her life, now would it? That would be too simple, and if Buffy knew nothing else, she knew that; a Slayer's life was never simple.

It was almost as if they'd never left. Willow still slept on the couch, Anya and Giles were playing cards at the coffee table, and from the bedroom, Buffy could hear the faint clanking of chains as Melinda still struggled to get free. "How's our guest doing?" she asked.

"Being very loud," Anya complained, and laid down her cards. "Gin."

"Are you all right?" Giles queried, rising to his feet and crossing to his charge. "Your phone call was rather…short."

"You can thank Mack the Knife for that," Spike said, and turned to face Buffy. "Don't really fancy usin' my good booze to clean this out properly, luv. Think we've got somethin' that'll work just as well?"

"First aid kit's in my bathroom," she replied.

"What exactly happened?" Giles asked after the vampire had stomped out of the room.

"Mack decided he wanted a new career as a sculptor, only with knives and dead bodies, and guess who was his first subject?" She shook her head. "I think I seriously underestimated him, Giles. He's pissed off as hell, and OK, maybe we bought a little time by freaking him out over Spike being a vampire---."

"Wait a minute." His blue eyes frowned behind his glasses. "You told him Spike was a vampire?"

"Well, kind of, in the not so much speaking way and more in the Spike vamping out in front of him way." She bristled under his disapproving glare. "Let's see how creative you get in ways of defending yourself against a jealous ex-boyfriend when you know you can't lay a finger on him. And did I mention the knife-brandishing? We're talking major jones for wanting some blood there, Giles. And why am I even arguing with you about this?" She brushed past him and collapsed into a chair. "It's done, it's over with, and I just want to find Tony and beat him senseless until he reverses the spell so I can give Mack a piece of my fist."

"I don't suppose you've come up with a plan for finding him?" Anya asked. "In between the having Xander steal a painting from a mobster and getting Spike to let the world know he's a vampire, I mean."

Buffy sat up. "Look, I certainly don't need your attitude right now, either," she barked, and then sighed. "But no. No plan. Not even a hint of a plan. I was kind of hoping you guys would've come up with something. I'm feeling planned out."

The other girl shook her head. "Nope. Only thing that happened around here while you were gone was Giles lost enough hands of gin to pay my rent next month."

"We weren't playing for real money, Anya," the Watcher reminded her.

Her scowl was immediate. "Well, then why was I trying so hard?"

"What about Gino?" Buffy asked. "Anyone heard from him?"

"No, which is probably just as well. Willow's going to have a difficult enough time separating from him as it is. If he's not here, then, perhaps…" He was interrupted by a short knock at the door, and watched as Xander crossed to open it.

"Well, speak of the devil…" the young man started, only to cut himself off when he saw Tony's unconscious form being dragged along beside the burly bouncer.

Buffy leapt to her feet, watching as Gino unceremoniously dropped the musician onto the floor. There was tape over Tony's mouth, and the bruise that covered the left side of his face was probably going to hurt like hell when he came around, but other than that, he was alive; even better than that, he was here.

"What…? How…? What…?"

Gino ran a thick hand through his hair, ducking his head. "Thought I'd try my hand at some good old-fashioned footwork," he said. "Found him at the bus station."

"Why the gag?"

"You gotta be able to talk for the magic stuff, right?" He blushed. "I just figured if he couldn't talk, I was safe."

"It also helps if he's out cold," Buffy muttered, squatting down to gaze at the musician more closely. "How'd you find him?"

"Just followed my nose and took a chance." He looked up as Spike came sauntering back into the room, buttoning a new shirt around his slim frame, the cut on his face cleaned up considerably. "What happened to you?" he asked of the blond vampire. "I didn't think you had to worry about that Melinda getting gashouse with her all chained up like that."

"We didn't. Met the wrong end of Mack's knife at the morgue."

Gino paled. "You didn't…well, no, you couldn't…" He hung back and watched as Buffy hefted Tony over her shoulder, carrying him to the chair she'd just vacated. The musician groaned as she plopped him down, the sound muffled behind the tape, and his eyelids fluttering open, panic quickly setting in as he realized where he was.

"Hi there," Buffy chirped with a wide smile. "Long time no see."

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

The bruise was starting to swell over his right eye, so glaring up at the Slayer lost some of its effect as he struggled just to keep her focussed. "As much fun as this is for me," she said, arms folded across her chest, "I'm getting kinda tired of asking. So this is going to be the last time, got it?" She didn't wait for a response. "Will you reverse the spells, please?" She grinned. "Look, you even got a please with this one. How can you refuse that?"

Tony grimaced, eyes darting to the people grouped around the room. He didn't believe it was going to be the last time she'd ask. If he said no, she was just going to keep on hitting him, and though he'd known from Melinda that the Slayer was a real threat, until he'd been on the receiving end of one of her punches, he just hadn't appreciated just how much it would hurt. And hurt it did.

Very slowly, he nodded, and saw the look of triumph light her eyes. "I'm glad you're finally seeing the fist of reason," she said. "Now, I'm going to take your gag off so we can get started. But if I think for a second you're pulling a fast one, you're going to be out colder than a dead fish. Got it?"

Tony nodded again, and watched as she reached forward, gripped the end of the tape, and ripped it from his face. The pain was searing, sucking the air from his lungs as it left, but he didn't make a sound, just scowled up at Buffy. "I always thought the Slayer was supposed to be a defender of the people," he said angrily. "Making me do this is the same as making me sign my own death warrant, I hope you know."

She sighed. "What're you whining about now?"

"You don't think Melinda's going to kill me at the very first opportunity she gets? Why do you think I ran in the first place?"

Buffy glanced back at where the female vamp was tied up on the other side of the room. "That true?" she asked. "You came all this way just to take a bite out of bugle boy?"

Melinda shrugged, but the delight in her face at the idea was obvious.

"See?" Tony demanded. "And don't think she won't pull the torture thing, as well. She likes to play with her food before she eats it."

"Ewww. So didn't need to know that." Buffy frowned. "Don't think I'm letting you stay here. You don't belong in this world."

"So he can just run when we get back to Sunnydale," came from Melinda. "That seems to be what he's good at." She smiled at her bruised ex. "But don't think I won't come for you, Tony darling. I found you here, I can find you there." She yelped as Spike punched her in the face, her head rolling back before coming back to face the Slayer. "Tell your boyfriend to lay off, why don't you," she snarled.

"You had it coming," Buffy murmured, and walked over to Giles. "I hate to say this," she said, "but he's right. I can't leave either one of them here, but I just know he's not going to be safe once we get back home." She bit her lip, lost in thought. "I think I got an idea…"

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

They sat in chairs opposite each other, both bound with their arms behind them, both gagged, though Melinda's gag was more from Buffy getting tired of listening to her melodramatic screeching than any real need to keep the vampire quiet. Their eyes were locked in venomous enmity, Tony's blazing in hatred, his ex's fired from anger, and for a split second, the Slayer wished that she could just kill both of them and put them out of her misery.

"All right." Giles' voice was calm, but hard-edged. "I'm going to remove the gags now. If either of you says anything untoward or if I hear even the beginning of an incantation, Buffy will proceed to show you exactly how well she's learned how to inflict pain with as little effort as possible. Is that understood?" He waited for them both to nod before reaching forward. "Fine."

Tony's face twisted in hostility as soon as his mouth was clear. "Bitch," he spat.

"Asshole," Melinda countered, momentarily slipping into her vampire face before a knock on the back of her head by Spike brought her back to her human mask.

"Well, at least it isn't magic," Giles murmured, before leaning back in the chair that completed the triangle in the middle of the room. "Now, let's get started, shall we?"

"I don't have anything to say to her."

"Like I'd even want to listen, you mortal jerk."

"Really? That why you decide to come slumming in the painting? Couldn't handle the fact that I was ready to move on? Or that maybe that I might be interested in someone with an actual heartbeat?"

The Watcher pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. "Buffy, not only is this wasting valuable time, but…this is ridiculous. I hardly think that couples' counselling falls within the realms of my responsibilities, especially when the couple consists of a vampire and a human."

She sighed. "Do you have a better idea on how to get them so they at least won't try to kill each other? 'Cause I'm fresh out, and we can't afford to be wasting our energy babysitting them when we've got our own Ed Gein out there to kill. If it'll make you feel better, you can think of it as practice for me and Spike." She caught her lover's cocked eyebrow. "Not that I'm expecting we're going to need counselling," she quickly amended. "But, you know, just in case."

"You could let me babysit him. I'll make sure he gets tucked in all nice and cozy. Maybe even read him a bedtime story. Something nice and bloody," Melinda growled.

Giles lifted a warning finger to the female vampire. "Threats are not constructive here," he chastised. "And if I hear one more from you, that gag is going back on your mouth."

"He started it," she whined.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Because I have such control over my life, right? I play your lapdog for how many years and the second I ask for a little room on the leash, you turn into some psycho bitch from hell. If anyone started anything, it was you."

Buffy leaned back against the wall, watching the pair in the middle of the room argue, Giles' head going back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match, every once in a while interjecting some piece of advice or word of warning as their fight grew more heated. Part of her couldn't really believe it was actually happening like this. This entire nightmarish experience---OK, not really that nightmarish, since she did get Spike out of it, and the dancing part had actually been kind of fun, but the rest of it most definitely qualified as bad dreamy---had all started because of a stupid lover's quarrel. Tony wanted some freedom, Melinda was afraid of losing him, and bam! Everything to hell in a handbasket. Or a demonic painting, as the case may be.

And it wasn't as if she could get super-pissed at either of them. Yes, they were annoying to no end, and if she had to hear any more of that histrionic drivel come out of the female vamp's mouth, all that poor me and what am I going to do crap, she was going to stake her just on the principle of the thing. But come down to brass tacks, and it was really all about a girl, and a boy, and what being in love had done to them.

Her hazel eyes glanced over at where Spike was hovering behind Melinda, arms folded across his chest as he did his best bouncer imitation. When was the last time she'd had a real boyfriend? Parker certainly didn't count; one week of what turned out to be his stock conversation pieces and a single night of "nice" sex hardly constituted a long-term relationship. And Angel? Sure, she'd loved him. How could she not? He'd been the fantasies teenaged girls drooled over. Tall, dark, broody, mysterious. OK, the vampire thing had thrown her for a bit, but he'd had a soul, did the whole white hat thing. The fact that he was naturally fanged could be overlooked. But then, of course, when Angelus had come back, it was bye-bye relationship, hello heartache, and nothing had ever felt the same after that.

Not until Spike.

By all rights, he shouldn't make sense. They shouldn't make sense. Slayer, vampire, been there, got the t-shirt. And he didn't even have a soul. That in itself should've been enough to scare Buffy off. But it didn't. And they did. And, though she didn't know why, she wasn't going to argue with it.

He must've felt her steady gaze, because his head tilted, glancing back at her out of the corner of his eyes, a tiny question lifting the corner of his mouth. She smiled in return. Oh, yeah, she thought. They made sense. Things might get crazy, and power-hungry, other-dimensional ex-boyfriends might decide to go all Norman Bates on them, but hey. She lived on a Hellmouth. What more could she expect from life?

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

Giles sighed, replacing his glasses on his nose, the lines seemingly deeper around his eyes. "Right, then. Where are we at? Tony?"

"I need to understand that Lindy needs to feel loved," the musician recited, his now-calm gaze locked on the woman opposite him. "Which means paying attention to the little things, let her know I notice when she does something different with her hair, or something like that. And just because she's whining about how bad her day was, or how she doesn't know how she's going to get rid of some enemy, doesn't mean I go into Mr. Fix It mode and try to solve all her problems. She just wants someone to listen."

"Melinda?"

"I need to appreciate that Tony is his own man and that sometimes he needs his space, which might not include me, but doesn't mean he loves me any less," the vampire replied. "And that I can't expect him to read my mind if I'm feeling something. I need to tell him what's going on inside my head because otherwise it's unfair for me to get angry with him."

"Or…?"

"Buffy will hunt both of us down," they said together, the pair of them glancing fearfully at the Slayer standing just behind the Watcher.

"Good." Giles rose to his feet, and turned to his charge. "For the record, this little addendum to my Watcher qualifications is going to cost you, but…they're all yours."

"Good." Buffy stepped forward, rubbing her hands together expectantly. "Who feels like a little magic?"


To be continued in Chapter 41: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes