DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffy has called Spike and agreed to meet with him for lunch, in an attempt to convince him to leave her alone…

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

Chapter 8: Two Beautiful Cracksmen

He was beginning to feel like a fool, sitting at the table in the corner, his back to the wall as his eyes remained glued on the door of the diner.  An ashtray with a clutch of stubbed-out cigarette butts sat on the table before Spike, the smoke from his current wafting over his bleached head in a cloud nowhere near as dark as his mood.  So much for being early, he thought bitterly.  No point in bein’ on time if the bitch never had any intention in showin’ her face in the first place.

He’d changed his clothes in record time, bolting from his hotel and making it to the diner in seventeen minutes flat.  The next thirteen had been spent pacing up and down the walk in front of the restaurant, blue eyes peeled to the road, every new sound in the street garnering his attention.  Each possibility sent the adrenaline coursing through his veins, straightened his shoulders as a glint of expectation shone in the sapphire, only to be visibly dashed when it would turn out to be nothing.  At precisely half an hour, he’d gone inside and snagged the corner table, nobody behind him and full view of the door for when she showed, and lit up his first cigarette.

That had been twenty minutes ago.

Just used it as a way to get me off the phone, Spike thought as he stabbed out his cigarette, ash scattering haphazardly across the formica tabletop from the force.  Took me for a sap and said the words she knew I wanted to hear.  And the thing of it is, I can’t even get Clem back in on the job because she’s fingered him already.  What a bloody waste of a day this has been.

It wasn’t the anger at her that was the strongest, though.  What ate at Spike was the sense of utter disappointment that he could’ve been so wrong.  About her, about them.  It just wasn’t possible.  This was one of the things he’d always been good at.  It was just a matter of keeping an eye on the people, watch them for their tricks.  It was next to impossible to pull the wool over his eyes.  And yet she’d done it.  Conned him with her sharp words, blinded him with that smile, drowned him in hazel every time he looked into her eyes.  Taken his heart, tossed it around for a bit, and then stomped it under her heel until all he was left with was mash.

He swallowed, his throat suddenly tight.  If he didn’t know better, he’d swear he was in love with the bloody chit, but that wasn’t possible, not after two and a half days.  Serious liking, maybe, but love was an entirely separate matter.  It didn’t make a whit of difference how amazing they were together, or how many times her face rose before him, even when she wasn’t in the room.  His ability to love had been tossed into the freezer five years ago when he’d found Dru with that wanker, and it was going to take more than a pretty face and a nice set of legs to thaw it out that quickly.

He just had to keep repeating that to himself so that he’d eventually believe it.

A quick glance at his watch told Spike that it was now twenty-five minutes past the deadline Buffy had imposed.  He was going to have to order something other than a cup of java if he didn’t want the guy behind the counter tossing him out on his ear for wasting a table during his busy lunch crowd.  Part of him almost hoped the git would try; in his current state of mind, he could use a bit of the rough and tumble to clear his head.  The hell he’d get from Red and Ripper would most definitely be worth it.

He was just reaching into his pocket for his wallet when the bell rang over the door.  Automatically, he looked up, expecting it to be another nameless customer wandering in for their midday meal, but when he recognized her slim form, Spike’s heart leapt into his throat.

As Buffy stopped inside the entry, her cheeks were flushed, her chest slightly heaving, her bags swinging slightly at her sides as if she’d just dashed across the road.  In her dusky lavender fitted suit, she looked like she better belonged at the Savoy than in the dingy diner, but the quick smile she shot the guy behind the counter told Spike she was known here.  She didn’t see the blond in the corner, though, and as her gaze flickered over the patrons, he couldn’t help but note the momentary panic shading the hazel.

She’s looking for me, he thought in wonder.  And she’s fussed because she thinks I’m not here.  The slow smile that spread across his face erased his fears about the last half hour, and when he caught her eye, the flash of relief that softened the set of her shoulders was almost enough to make him stand up and cross the room to take her into his arms.  Take it slow, he reminded himself as she hurried over to the table.  Don’t do anything to scare her away.

“I didn’t think you’d be here,” Buffy breathed as she slid onto the seat opposite him.  She tucked her purchases beneath the table, leaving her handbag resting beside her.  “My cab got caught in a jam.  I was about to get out and hoof it over here on my own.”  Her eyes met his, and she felt her stomach melt from the warm appraisal the blue was sweeping over her face.  “Have you been waiting long?” she managed to add.

“Long enough to begin thinkin’ I’d been stood up.”

The confusion that darkened her gaze brought an unexpected delight to his grin.  “But why would I do that?” she said.  “I’m the one who told you where to come.”

Spike shrugged.  “You could’ve been sayin’ that just to get rid of me.”

Obviously, the possibility had never occurred to her, and she fell silent as the man from behind the counter stepped over to their table.  “Lookin’ for the usual, Buffy?” he asked her as he pulled out his pad.

She nodded, distractedly.  “Have you ordered yet?” she asked Spike.

“No.  I’ll take a burger, rare.  And another cup of coffee.”  He waited until they were alone again before speaking.  “You have a usual?  Didn’t suss this as your kind of joint.”

“I like this part of town,” she said.  “Nobody knows what my other life is like down here.  They just take you at face value and leave you alone about anything you don’t want to share.”  The corner of her mouth lifted.  “But you know that already.”

It was just like when she’d first walked into Willy’s.  The indescribable sense that she could see straight through him, knew corners of his soul that he’d left undusted and unexamined for decades.  “Why do you do it, pet?” he asked softly.  “If you hate it so much, why stick around there?”

There was a flicker of something---pain, maybe?---behind her eyes, and then the mask came back up and her smile was gone.  “I don’t hate my life, Spike,” she said.  Her voice was cool.  “I told you that before.”

“’Cept you keep tryin’ to run away from it.”

“You don’t know anything about that.”

He shook his head.  “Nah, of course I don’t.  Only thing I know is that this amazing woman almost cried when I told her how beautiful she was.  Like it was something she couldn’t dare believe in.  Is that the kind of life Angel Wilkins is promising you?”

“Angel’s not who you think he is.  You have no idea what he’s done for me, Spike.  What kind of man he is---.”

“I know he’s a dangerous son of a bitch so busy shucking as many oysters as he can get his hands on, he doesn’t even see the pearl he’s already got.”  His eyes gleamed as his hand shot out to encircle her wrist, pulling her forward.  Without even realizing he was doing it, his thumb began tracing delicate circles across her pulse point as he forced her to meet his gaze.  “Why’d you agree to have lunch with me, luv?” he asked, his voice so low nobody but she could hear it.

“Don’t call me that,” she whispered.  She wanted to look away.  She really did.  But something about the storm brewing behind the blue captivated her, locking her in a trance even as she tried to deny the flutters the stroke of his thumb was creating in her stomach.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“I wanted…”  She couldn’t finish it.  The lie refused to come to her lips.

“What?  You wanted…what?  To see me again?”

The shake of her head was vehement.  “No.”

“You’re lyin’.”

“I’ve never lied to you, Spike.”

His scarred eyebrow shot up.  “Really?  Funny, I thought that whole Anne business was---.”

“I’ve never lied about anything important.”

“So answer the question again, pet.  And this time, do it right.”  His touch never stopped; his gaze never wavered.  “Did you want to see me again?”

She took a long time in replying, lost in the hypnotic swirl of those eyes.  “…Yes.”

The single word acted as a release, Spike’s fingers uncurling from her wrist as he leaned back into his seat.  He knew it was only a small victory, but it was a victory nonetheless, and he wasn’t about to spoil it by pushing the issue further.  Reaching for his cigarettes, his lips quirked into a relaxed smile.  “So what made you pick this joint?  Got a thing for dives with sludge for coffee?”

Buffy glanced at the man behind the counter.  “Mickey’s a friend.  I knew it’d be safe here.”

“And the fact that it’s across the road from the hotel…?”

“Coincidence.”

He smirked.  “I would’ve called it convenient.”

“I’m not sleeping with you again, Spike.  I told you last night it was a mistake.”

He took a moment to light his cigarette, taking a deep drag and exhaling before speaking again.  “So let’s talk instead.  Tell me where you’re from.”

“I have an apartment in the Village.”

“I didn’t ask where you lived.  I asked where you’re from.”  He smiled, though, using his cigarette to point at her.  “But keep a hold of that thought.  You in the Village?  Something tells me that’s a might busy bee buzzin’ in the fiance’s bonnet.”

She couldn’t help but join in his mirth.  “Angel hates that I live there,” Buffy said.  “He thinks I’m going to be corrupted or something by all the free spirits down there.  They don’t respect ‘family values,’ he says.”  She rolled her eyes at the last.

Spike snorted.  “Bloody pillock’s one to talk,” he muttered, remembering Xander’s report regarding the previous night.  “So…before the Village, pet.  Where was home sweet home before that?”

She paused as Mickey approached with two steaming cups of coffee, turning hers absently in its saucer even after he’d walked away.  “California,” she finally said.  “A little place called Sunnydale.  But I haven’t been there in three years.  This is my home now.”

Her face had softened at the mention of the state, hazel fixed on the black fluid rippling in her cup as if it could conjure the pictures of the past and project them for only her to see.  “You miss it,” Spike said gently, and reached out to run a single finger over the back of her hand in comfort.

“No---.”

“Buffy---.”

She looked up at the mention of her name.  “All right, yes,” she replied.  It was impossible to lie when he looked at her like that.  “But it doesn’t matter if I do or not.  There’s nothing there for me anymore.”

It was obvious she didn’t want to talk about it.  With each word, her face had folded in on itself, the mask she fought so hard to erect failing to cover the pain behind her eyes, the ache in her voice.  He wanted to press, to find out what had caused her such grief, but suspected that now was not the best time for that.  Spike had a feeling she’d hated telling him as much as she had; like the other, he was going to have to settle for every small victory where he could get it.

“Is that where you started singing?” he said instead.  “I didn’t really get a chance to tell you last night what a great show you put on.  You had the entire joint eatin’ out of the palm of your hand before the lights even came up.”

Buffy blushed at the compliment.  “Thanks,” she said.  “And yeah.  I just did local gigs at first, but then when Angel saw my act, he convinced me I needed to try bigger and better places, got me into LA.  Then when…”  Her eyes dropped again, the slightest of trembles in her fingers as she picked up her coffee and took a sip.  “I came out to New York not long after that,” she finished, ignoring her previous train of thought.  “The rest is pretty much history.”

It hadn’t occurred to him that she could’ve met Angel anywhere but the Big Apple, and Spike frowned as the numbers ticked over in his brain.  Three years plus some more time before that meant she had to have been just a kid when the prat first met her, no more than eighteen or nineteen.  Young.  Impressionable.  His hatred for the other man was growing by leaps and bounds with every syllable spilling from her lips.

“You’ve…been with him all this time then?” he quizzed.  He didn’t really want to hear the answer to it, but he had to know.  He had to know what he was fighting here.

“We weren’t together when I moved out here,” Buffy said, shaking her head.  “He wanted us to be, but…I felt funny about it.  Especially after I started at Heaven.  It always made me feel like everyone was looking at me and thinking the only reason I had the job was because I was Angel’s girlfriend or something.  I hate that.”

Spike snorted.  “Anybody tells you that you don’t belong on that stage, you go tell them to climb up their thumb.  They don’t know what the bloody hell they’re talkin’ about.”  He grinned.  “Better yet.  Send ‘em my way.  It’d be my pleasure to knock some sense into them.”

She laughed.  “I’ll bet you say that to all the girls,” she teased.

“Actually, I tell that to anyone who I give two figs for,” he admitted, and was glad when her eyes widened in slight surprise.  “Probably not the smartest of things, but I’ve always been the sort to think best with my hands.”

“Why does that not surprise me…” Buffy murmured, her gaze settling on the long fingers wrapped around his coffee cup.  Shivers ran across her skin as she remembered how they’d felt wrapped around her back, digging into her hips, brushing across her nipples, and had to tear her eyes away before the stain in her cheeks became too apparent.  They settled instead on her purse at her side, and her mind jumped at the opportunity to change the subject.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, digging into her bag.  “I was going to give this back to you so that you could give it to Clem.”  She extracted the notebook she’d snatched earlier and slid it across the table.

He didn’t bother picking it up, just lifted its cover and noted the blank pages inside.  “Lemme guess,” he said.  “You tore out his notes.”

“They were boring anyway,” she defended.  “Do you have any idea how many shops I forced myself to go into, hoping he’d get bored and leave me alone?  Even this girl doesn’t need that many hats.”

Spike’s gaze was contemplative.  “My number’s in those notes.”

She wasn’t touching that one with a ten-foot pole, she decided.  She knew it, he knew it, and she wasn’t ready to hand that piece of information back to him just yet.  Instead, Buffy said, “You really shouldn’t have done it, you know.  If Angel had been with me, things could’ve gotten ugly.”

“Don’t see how,” he countered.  “If the fiance had been with you, you would’ve been too wrapped up in havin’ your honey around to notice Clem in the first place.”

“I would’ve still fingered him.”

“What?  The git’s not interesting enough to keep you distracted for a few hours?  Why does that not surprise me?”

“Why don’t you ever say his name?”

“Maybe ‘cause it’s a nancyboy name.  And you’re changing the subject again.”

“Why’d you do it, Spike?  Following me doesn’t solve anything.”

His head tilted as he leveled those blue eyes at her, his lashes dark.  “Told you last night it wasn’t over, luv,” he said, and the dark promise behind his words sent a thrill beneath her skin.  “I was just gettin’ information---.
“You could’ve just asked me.”

“Like you would’ve answered?”  Every sweep of his gaze over her body evoked a response she was growing increasingly familiar with, the sense that her flesh knew his, needed his in order to be complete.  “You’re tellin’ me that if I’d stayed there last night, you would’ve told me your favorite flower, your favorite food, what keeps you awake at night, why the taste of your skin makes my mouth water for m---.”

“Stop.”  Her voice was hoarse, her breathing ragged.  Any more, and she’d be begging him to take her across the street, all her resolutions about keeping him at arm’s length chucked out the window. 

His hand was back across the table then, those fingers tracing the whorls in her knuckles, almost not even touching his touch was so light.  “Give me one good reason why,” Spike said.

“Because you’ll get hurt.” 

Her eyes were pleading with him to believe her, and for a moment, he faltered in his resolve.  She honestly thought that, he realized.  “I’ve been around the block a few times, pet,” he said.  “I can take care of myself.”

“You don’t understand.”  This was it.  This was her chance to get him to see.  Buffy leaned forward, earnestness and ache written across her face.  “Being around me isn’t safe, Spike.  You want me to tell you what meeting you has done to my life?  Fine.  You’ve turned it upside-down, you dumb mug.  I got in a fight with my fiancé because he wanted some attention and I knew I couldn’t honestly give it to him because I still had the smell of you stuck in my head.  I was up half the night because every time I closed my eyes, you were there.  When I heard your voice on the other end of that phone line, I knew I should’ve hung up, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to see you again, even if it was just for a few minutes.  And not one of these things makes me happy, Spike.  Because if I let you in, if I give whatever this is between us a chance, you’re going to get hurt and I don’t want to be responsible for that.  I don’t want to be the one who couldn’t protect you---.”

She’d had him, hooked and quivering like a fish gasping for air, as soon as she’d admitted to thinking of him.  It was her use of the word “protect,” though, that made him snort, eyes narrowed as he shook his head.  “I’ve met his sort before, Buffy.  He’s all bluster and swag while he hides behind his father’s power.  I can more than hold my own against that.  You don’t need to try and save me---.”

Her mouth was tight.  “I never said it was Angel you needed protecting from.”

Her response startled him, and his brows knitted together in query.  As his mouth opened to press the issue, however, the bell over the door jangled again, and as before, his gaze flickered to see who the new arrival was.  It was an autonomic thing with him, he knew this, and he was about to dismiss the stocky man as just another customer when he caught the unmistakable bulge of a gun just under his jacket.

Spike stiffened.  Behind the counter, Mickey had his back to the front door, a cloth in his hands as he cleaned out the coffee pot.  None of the other patrons seemed to notice anything amiss, but when the new arrival’s hand disappeared inside his coat, Spike’s reaction was instantaneous.

He was halfway across the diner before he got his gun out, and he’d grabbed the man by the neck and slammed him facedown onto the counter by the time he had the Smith & Wesson pressed into the back of the guy’s head.

Amidst screams and a screech of chairs, the customers around him scattered, leaving Spike alone with his captive, a gaping Mickey staring across at both of them.  “That’s Bobby the Bear,” he said in amazement.  “You just stopped Bobby the Bear.”

The name meant nothing to him, but he didn’t let that show on his face.  “There a reason you’ve got a trigger man tryin’ to bump you off?” he asked, releasing his grip on the man’s neck to pull back the coat, revealing the gun strapped to his side.  

“Guess I’m a little late with this month’s payment,” Mickey replied, face pale.  “I didn’t think---.”

Spike shook his head.  “Not thinking’s goin’ to get you killed,” he said, and was about to pull the gun from the man’s holster when he felt the hard muzzle of another revolver pressed against his spine.

“Let him go,” a deep voice said.

Inwardly, Spike groaned.  Been outta the game too long, he thought.  Should’ve known there’d be another one.  A quick glance at Mickey confirmed for him that there was another shooter standing behind him.  He didn’t move, though, but let his hand hover in its current position, pushing his gun just a little bit harder into Bobby’s skull.  “You don’t know who you’re dealin’ with here, mate,” he said casually.  “So I suggest you put away your little pea-shooter and take a powder before you and your buddy both end up dead.”

The man behind him laughed.  “The way I see it, it’s two guns to one here.  You’re the one who’s lookin’ to get dead.”

The gunshot shattered the dead calm of the room, almost immediately accompanied with more screams and breaking glass.  As he felt the steel fall from where it had been placed along his back, Spike’s head jerked sideways to see Buffy standing resolutely by their table, a silver pistol held expertly in her hands, its muzzle trained on the space behind him.  Briefly, her eyes met his before he took the opportunity to glance over his shoulder. 

There, on the tiled floor of the diner, the second shooter lay unconscious, a pool of blood already seeping from the wound in his right shoulder.

Roughly, Spike yanked Bobby up, taking the other man’s gun at the same time before shoving him toward his friend in the doorway.  “I suggest you get him out of here,” he said.  “Before my lady decides to take a crack at you, too.”

It didn’t take more than a few seconds for the would-be assassin to make up his mind, scooping his arms beneath the other’s shoulders to drag him out into the street.  Within a minute, both were gone.

“Show’s over, people,” Mickey announced with a smile, trying to bring the restaurant back to order.  “And lunches are all on the house today.”  He nodded at Spike.  “Thanks.”

The blond shrugged in dismissal, his attention reverting back to where Buffy was putting her gun back into her handbag.  He reholstered his own weapon as he strode over to her, stopping at her side to look at her in amazement.

“You pack,” he said unnecessarily.

Buffy smiled.  “So do you.  You’re not a cop, are you?”

He couldn’t help chuckling.  “Not bloody likely,” he said.  “What about you?  That was a good shot, but I’m not sure ol’ Mickey’s goin’ to appreciate the bill for that window the wanker broke.”

There was no mistaking the twinkle in her eye.  “Who do you think taught me to shoot?” she commented.

Spike glanced back at the man behind the counter in curiosity, but by the time he’d turned back, Buffy was already picking up her bags.  He immediately frowned.  “Where are you goin’?” he asked.  “We haven’t eaten yet.”

“I think I’ve lost my appetite.  I’m just going to go home, get some rest before tonight’s show.  I think I’ve had enough excitement for one day.”

“Don’t run like this, luv.  Not now.  There’s so much---.”

She startled him into silence by pressing her lips to his, the gentlest of kisses that still managed to stoke the fire that was already raging beneath his skin.  Before he could respond, however, it was over, her mouth already sliding across his cheek to linger at his ear.

“Daisies,” she whispered, her breath warm against him.  “I like daisies.”

Spike was frozen as she quickly walked away, sidestepping the blood that Mickey was cleaning up by the door.  When she reached the entrance, Buffy hesitated, looking back to see the blond watching her in intense scrutiny.  “My first set starts at eight,” she said, as if she needed to offer no other explanation for her hasty exit. 

And with that, she was gone.

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

She wasn’t convinced she’d been exactly smart about the whole thing, but Buffy knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Spike would show up at the club again that night.  She’d practically given him an engraved invitation; there was no way he was going to pass it up.

As she watched the people pass by on the sidewalk, she leaned back into the seat of the cab, reliving every second from when she’d walked in to the diner.  His reaction to spotting Bobby the Bear had taken her completely by surprise, and she’d sat there and watched agape as he showed her yet another side of his persona.  Lightning fast, with a feral grace that could only come from years of exposure to such movements, all steel and ice as he’d disabled Bobby faster than she’d even seen any of Angel’s men do.  This was the man she was so worried about getting hurt?  This man could walk a line of upturned razor blades and come away unscathed, she was sure.

That realization was what had opened her mind to the possibility that maybe she could have it both ways.  Maybe she could use her engagement to Angel to get what she needed and still have Spike waiting for her on the other side of it all.  Maybe he would even agree to help; his type of aid could certainly come in handy when the time came.

Of course, that would mean telling him the whole story, and it was only this thought that darkened Buffy’s mood.  Maybe Spike wouldn’t feel the same way about her if he knew the truth about her past.  Maybe he’d decide she wasn’t good enough for him after all and kick her to the curb.

No, better to just keep her mouth shut about it for now.  He’d be safe in case anything went wrong with her plans, and then once it was all over, maybe they might be able to build something from the rubble that was going to be her life.

Too many maybes.

 

To be continued in Chapter 9: Dance, Fools, Dance