DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Willow has been snatched by Freddie, and Spike and Buffy are on the road to New Orleans to try and get her back…

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

Chapter 4: Honky Tonk

She wasn’t as good at map-reading as she thought.

After what had actually been a promising start to their road trip---hell, Spike had made it out of Sunnydale with all his appendages still attached; that most definitely qualified as a promising start---Buffy had been rudely awakened from her slumber by the slamming of the brakes, a series of British epithets only half of which she recognized, and a flurry of feathers flying into the windshield.

She had shrieked in surprise, covering her head as if whatever it was, was going to come crashing through the glass, and then peeked through her fingers as Spike twisted the wheel to the side and killed the engine.  “What happened?” she’d said as he jumped from the car.

He’d ignored her, but his curses had gotten worse, punctuated with a few vicious kicks at his tires as he ranted along the roadside.  Once she’d realized she wasn’t in danger of being inundated with feathers, Buffy had hopped from the car herself, to stand and gaze in the waning hours before dawn at the mess that was now perched atop the DeSoto.

“What is it?” she’d said with a grimace.

“A wild fuckin’ turkey,” Spike had snarled, grabbing the animal by the legs that had managed to lodge themselves in his grille and ripping it from the hood.  His strength tore one of the bird’s limbs from its socket as he yanked, sending a spurt of still-warm blood through the air to soak into the vampire’s jeans.  “Bloody hell!” he growled, and furiously tossed the turkey into the brush, only to look back and see the series of scratches across the metal that had been left in its wake.  As his face screwed up in dismay, Spike leaned forward to inspect the damage on his car, all the while muttering under his breath and shaking his head.

Buffy couldn’t get her eyes off the dead bird.  “That’s a turkey?” she’d said.  “It’s huge.  Not to mention, one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen for a dead creature.”  She couldn’t help the smile she flashed to the blond.  “It even makes you look good, Spike.”

The look he’d shot her had been venomous, his eyes glinting in gold.  “Get back in the car,” he’d ordered, stomping around to the driver’s side.

“I don’t know what you’re so worked up about.  It’s not like it even put a dent in it.  Just a few little chicken scratches.  Except, I guess in this case, they would be more like turkey scratches.”

“Do you have any idea how much it costs to paint this thing?  Found that out last time I hit that damn Sunnydale sign.  That’s not happening again, I can tell you that.  Not with the prices Marco charges for touch-ups.” 

Buffy’d rolled her eyes as she’d slid back onto the leather.  “You’re such a guy sometimes, Spike.  It’s just a car.  It’s not even a cute car.  It’s an old, black, tin can with a motor.  And I still think it smells.”  Her smile returned, this time accompanied by a giggle.  “Of course, now it smells like wild turkey.”

The interior had been silent for a long moment as his fingers gnarled around the steering wheel.  As the muscles in his jaw flexed, he stared at the road ahead, his head tilting once to the side to audibly crack the joint in his neck, and when he spoke again, Spike’s voice was eerily calm.  “Wouldn’t be making with the funnies too loudly there, Slayer,” he said, his now steady hand descending to turn the key in the ignition.  “For someone who smells like she just took a bath in a vat of flophouse sweat, you’re not really in any position to be makin’ judgment calls on body odor, now are you?”

Her jaw had literally dropped.  So, she’d sweated a little.  It was summer, and hot as hell, and…and…She couldn’t even finish the mute argument as her cheeks flamed in embarrassment and she scrunched herself down in the seat, trying to put as much distance between her and Spike as was physically possible in the car.  I even took a shower, she’d thought angrily.  And it’s his stupid fault he doesn’t have air conditioning.  And I don’t smell.  And why do I care if he thinks I do?  Stupid vampire…

Things had pretty much gone downhill from there.

Daylight had made Spike even more cranky, arguing with her at every junction about stopping, demanding that now she was awake he be allowed to listen to his music to help pass the time.  That soft humming that had lulled her into a sense of complacency during the night was replaced by boisterous bellowing, a string of punk songs streaming from the speakers in neverending succession, until Buffy’s head was splitting from the noise of it all.  He’s not even trying to stay in tune, she’d mentally whined more than once, and tried to drown it all out by burying herself in the atlas.

Navigating was hard when all the windows were blacked out except for the tiny sliver directly in front of Spike so that he could see where he was going.  It was possible to make out the signs that zoomed past them, but only if Buffy squinted and peered through the paint, and more than once, she’d had to tell Spike to stop and turn around because she’d missed one.  But when she saw the sign for the Indian reservation and then looked down at the map in front of her, the Slayer’s heart sank.

“Pull over,” she instructed.

“Don’t tell me you missed another soddin’ sign,” Spike grumbled as he edged his way onto the shoulder, lowering the volume on the radio as he did so.

For a minute, she didn’t say anything, just stared at the tiny map in front of her, one finger on the colored patch that was the reservation and another tracing the thin line of the route Spike had told her to stick to.  Though the gap between them wasn’t that much on paper, a sinking feeling in her heart told her that that inch was just about enough to officially push the chipped vamp over the edge.

“We need to go back,” she said quietly, closing the map and folding her hands in her lap.  Calm.  I’ll just stay calm.  Pretend nothing major is wrong.  He doesn’t need to know how badly I’ve messed this up.  I’m so sorry, Willow.  We’ll get there.  Eventually.

“Don’t see what your bleedin’ fascination is with all these signs anyway,” he groused.  “We haven’t needed a single one you’ve made us go back and appreciate.  I’m sure this one’s no different.”  He dropped the car back into drive.  “It’ll be just dandy all on its lonesome back there---.”

Buffy’s hand shot out and grabbed the wheel, preventing Spike from turning back into the road.  “I don’t need the sign,” she admitted.  There was going to be no easy way out of this, after all.  Better to just take the pill and swallow it down.  “I know what it said.  It’s just for an Indian reservation.”

Spike frowned.  “Reservation?  You sure?  I don’t remember there bein’ a reservation on this stretch…”  Slow understanding crept across his face, a steely glint shining in the blue depths of his eyes.  “You better not be tellin’ me we’re lost, Slayer.”

“No, we’re not lost.  I know exactly where we are.”  She tried offering a bright smile in the light of his displeasure.  “I guess we shouldn’t have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

“Left at…?  That’s bloody north, you stupid bint!  If you’ve landed us in Butte after all---.”

“That was a joke, Spike.  Bugs Bunny?  Always getting lost?”  She waited for some sign of recognition, but getting none, sighed heavily and leaned back in her seat.  “We’ve just…gotten off the path by a few…hundred miles.  Northeast, by the looks of it.  It’s no big.  We’ll just turn around and---.”

“Sod that.”

The tires squealed as Spike spun the car around in a clean jerk, throwing Buffy against her door as he headed back in the direction from which they came.  Rubbing irritably at the bump on her head from hitting her window, she glared at the vampire and his stern visage.  “Don’t you even want to know how to get back to the main road?” she demanded, fighting back the urge to take the atlas and beat him over his gelled head with it.  Ha.  And he thought Angel wore too much hair gel.

“Don’t need it just yet, Slayer.  That’s not where we’re headin’.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Passed a motel and bar not too far back.  You and me are taking a little break from our rescue road trip here.”  He smirked as his sapphire gaze raked over her.  “Think we’ll both be glad you can spend a bit under a shower.  I know it’ll certainly clear the air a bit for me.”  He sniffed pointedly.

Buffy’s temper flared.  “We had a deal!  No long breaks, remember?”

“Sorry ‘bout that---well, actually, I’m not---but deal got tossed as soon as you decided to play at Lewis and Clark.”

She didn’t know who she was madder at---Spike, for being such an ass about their current situation, or herself, for getting them into it in the first place.  It’s not like I did it on purpose, she thought grumpily.  A mistake is a mistake.  I would never do anything deliberately that would put Willow or anyone at risk.  And now it looked like they were going to lose more time because of her poor map-reading skills.

Yet…a small part of her she didn’t want to acknowledge was actually glad Spike was forcing this.  A shower sounded exquisite at the moment, and though she hardly thought she smelled as bad as he was suggesting, the chance to cleanse her skin from the sweat that alternately appeared from the sweltering heat only to dissipate under the blowing air from her small fan---the one Spike bought you, the little voice in the back of her head reminded her---seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.

“Maybe they’ll have a fax,” she said quietly.  “We still haven’t found one so that we can send Giles that picture of Freddie’s mark.”  It was as close to acquiescence as he was going to get from her, but they both knew that the winner of this particular battle was most definitely Spike.

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

This is for Willow, this is for Willow, she intoned silently, her eyes closed as she inhaled deeply.  Her nerves were scattershot, running like scared mice from what she was about to do, and the nagging voice of her father kept resounding in her head.  Nice girls don’t do things like that, it was saying.  Or aren’t you a nice girl, Tara?  You’ll end up in jail, or worse, dead.  And for what?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Not nothing, she decided, and pushed the thoughts away, her hand wrapping tightly around the doorknob as her lids fluttered open.  Willow is not nothing. 

Mr. Giles was expecting her to come by his apartment to help him in researching why someone, especially an out-of-town someone, would want the red-haired witch, but Tara had taken a small detour on the way there.  At the moment, she was standing at the back entrance to the Bronze, summoning the magic she would need to open the locked door to the stage area, praying that it really was as deserted as it looked.  If someone had been around, she might have asked about the singer to see if anyone could offer any information they didn’t already have.  But no one was.  So, she was resorting to breaking and entering in hopes of finding some remnant the singer might have left behind that would give them a clue as to why she’d lied.

The words tumbled from her mouth, and she felt the resistance within the cold steel melt away, allowing it to turn easily within her grasp.  Inside her chest, her heart was pounding, desperate to escape, and the fear that she was going to get caught almost stopped her from following through on actually pulling the door open.  What are you going to find in there anyway? her anxiety worried at her.  Just let it go, you don’t want to do this. 

Except the image of Willow disappearing with Freddie through the throng of the Bronze’s Saturday night crowd refused to be ignored, and with an unsteady yank, Tara pulled the door open.

The blast of air from the air conditioning took her breath away, expelling it from her lungs with a scalpel-like precision as she slipped inside the inky darkness.  It’s not wrong, she rationalized as she felt her way down the hall.  I’m just going to look around a bit.  I’m not going to steal anything.  I just want to see what kind of aura Stella left behind.

Thankfully, the dressing room door wasn’t locked, and Tara eased her way inside, waiting until it was closed behind her before turning on the overhead light.  The scent was the first thing she noticed, an earthy musk she hadn’t perceived the previous night but which undoubtedly had belonged to the singer.  Inhaling deeply, the witch’s eyes fluttered shut as she concentrated, stretching out her neophyte senses to try and decipher the enigma of Stella.  Come out, come out, wherever you are, she chanted.  I know you’re here.  Everybody’s got a secret and something tells me yours is a whopper.

It was faint at first, a mere whisper across her tongue, but as she focused, it grew stronger, like a small light at the end of a very long tunnel nearing as she approached.

Power.  Similar to Willow’s, but…not.  Not as strong.  Shaded in that same musk that clung to Stella like a second skin.  And it tasted like blood.

Tara’s lids whipped open, the pulse that had finally started to quiet returning to a triumphant staccato.  It wasn’t what she was expecting to find, not in the slightest, and just the memory of the coppery fire coursing down her throat was enough to drive her stumbling back against the door, to send her shaking hand fumbling for the knob.  Out, out, gotta get out.

And her feet couldn’t move fast enough, flying her down the corridor toward the exit, her skirt tangling around her legs in a vicious frenzy, almost tripping her just as she reached the door.  Why don’t I wear pants more often? she thought crazily as she fell outside, the afternoon sunshine slamming into her body as her temperature jumped back up another thirty degrees, the sweat leaping to the surface of her skin.  Must remember for future Scooby adventures.  Skirts only work if you’re named Daphne or Velma.  Or Buffy.  She could do anything; it didn’t make a difference what she was wearing.

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

She was naked on the other side of that damn door and the thought of all that Slayer skin, glistening under the water, tawny muscles stretching as she lifted her arms above her head to rinse her hair, had given Spike an erection that made sleeping impossible.

He’d been lying when he’d made the comment about her scent, but the heat of the moment had made him lash out at the nearest available target, focusing his venom on her vanity, knowing that it would send her scurrying to her defenses more effectively than if he’d taken a swing at her.  He wasn’t exactly proud of himself for it.  He’d even debated for a moment about apologizing.  The night had gone so well, the gentle rapport they’d established prior to her falling asleep a cleansing balm to the aggravation that normally wedged between them, only to have everything go sour as soon as that stupid bird had wandered out into the road.

Silently, Spike banged his head against the pillow.  He hadn’t been paying enough attention to his driving.  Every breath, every second, had been consumed by Buffy…the musky scent of her skin, combining and cooling with the desert air that permeated the car…the sound of her remembered giggles as those sniglets she kept sharing got sillier and sillier…the one time she’d casually brushed against his hand as they’d both reached for their drinks at the same time…

Outside of that spell Red had done the previous fall, Spike had never seen the Slayer so at ease with herself, or for that matter, so at ease with him.  She seemed relaxed.  Free.  Even with the burden of looking for the witch bearing down on her shoulders, she’d managed to forget for just a little while and just…be.  And it had happened around him.  When was the last time that had happened?  Had it ever?  In the absence of magic, he meant.  Doubtful.  Even memories of seeing her with Finn hadn’t colored her so carefree.  There had always been that band of restraint, like she was holding something back, fearful of something inside being unleashed.  Soldier Boy had probably eventually picked up on that and that’s what had prompted his leaving.  Spike may not have liked the pillock much, but that didn’t mean he thought he completely lacked a brain.  After all, he’d done something right to get Buffy into his bed in the first place.

Seeing that side of Buffy now, though, was doing the last thing inside him Spike had ever expected.  More than anything, it created in him the urge to sustain that momentum, to keep her smiling at whatever cost.  And he wanted to be the reason behind it.

Spike sighed.  What was the point of being the Big Bad if you fell like a feather every time a pretty girl walked into your world?  Well, it was hardly every time, and this most definitely not just any pretty girl.  And it was so much more than that.  All these thoughts about Buffy, tangling with images of heat, and desire, and if he didn’t know better, tenderness.  She was the enemy.  Someone for him to destroy.  The someone for him to destroy.  He’d already killed two of her kind; what made her so bloody different?

They may have been Slayers, but they weren’t Buffy.  Luminescent.  Infuriating.  Intoxicating.  Fuck.

I should go tell her I didn’t mean it, Spike thought, as he sat up on the motel bed.  True to his word, he’d headed straight for the motel, pulling up and making Buffy go in and register them since the sun was blazing overhead.  She’d done so, but then had deserted him to find the room himself while she negotiated with the pimply clerk about using their fax machine.  When she’d returned from the main office, Spike had feigned sleep, listening as she rummaged through her bag, extracting the toiletries she would need for a shower.  A whiff of her shampoo, almost hidden by the musk of her body, had been all that was necessary to remind him of his weakness when it came to her, and he’d remained there in torment, waiting for her to disappear into the bathroom, almost hoping that she wouldn’t, that she would want to talk, or better, that she would want to do more than talk.

I’m tellin’ her, he decided, and leapt from the bed, crossing to the closed door of the bathroom in three long strides.  Not goin’ to come out of this looking like a prat.  Don’t want her believing that that’s what I really think of her.

His hand had already curled around the knob before he hesitated, staring at the marred cream of the cheap plaster wall as a faint melody filtered through the hollow music of the shower.  The smile to his lips came unprompted, staying him from entering, binding his path so that he could listen to the sounds of Slayer singing drifting to his ears.  Singing was a good sign, right?  Good mood and all.  He sang in the shower when he was feeling particularly jovial.  Maybe she wasn’t pissed anymore.  Maybe the events of the morning were already forgotten.  Forgiven, even.  Well, maybe not forgiven.  That might be askin’ a bit much from her.  Baby steps and all. After all, this was Buffy.  The bint who never forgave a vamp for anything.  Unless his name was Angel, of course.

The water stopped then, and Spike realized with a start that she was done with her shower, pulling back and stepping away from the door as the image of her lithe body being toweled dry flashed before him.  Couldn’t just walk in now to apologize, he thought.  She might have a few choice punches to throw if he tried to sneak a peek at the Slayer’s goods.  For that matter, hovering around outside the door probably isn’t going to look good either, he decided, and dashed back to the bed, just barely getting himself stretched out on it when the door opened, a flume of steam wafting into the cooler air of the main room.

When she saw that he was awake, Buffy froze, her hand stilled on the edge of the white towel she’d just finished wrapping around her torso.  Crisp lines of water dripped from her throat, arcing as it reached the uppermost curve of her breast, only to seep into the terry bound around her flesh.  “You’re awake,” she said unnecessarily, and carefully set her toiletries by the sink.  “That wasn’t much of a nap.”

“Got stuff on my mind,” Spike replied, his tone just as cautious as hers.  As he watched, she turned her back on him to gaze at her reflection in the large mirror, reaching for her comb with a steady hand.  “You feeling better?”

“Showers are definitely my friend,” she said.  For once, she was glad that vampires didn’t cast reflections, that she could comb her hair without having to see his face.  Her guilt at getting them lost had risen to astronomical proportions and she’d spent most of her shower debating whether she should tell him she was sorry for screwing up.  He was only doing this in the first place because she’d threatened him; in light of everything, he’d been a pretty good sport about the whole fiasco up to the wild turkey incident. 

“Look,” she started.

“Slayer,” Spike said at the same time.

They both stopped, Buffy blushing while the vampire ducked his head in embarrassment.  “You first,” he offered with a casual wave of his hand.

The faintest of tremors settled in the Slayer’s stomach as she fought for casual, desperate to sound like the fact that she knew he was watching her, could feel his eyes boring into her back, wasn’t affecting her in the slightest.  Somehow, she had a feeling that whatever kind of apology came out of her mouth was only going to be met with his usual derision, and the flood of dismay that spread through her veins burned her in surprise.  What did she care what he thought?  Except…she did.  He’d been trying, and she’d been a bitch, and now was the time for her to just swallow her pride and take being treated like one like a big girl.

“I never told you thank you for the fan,” she said, averting her eyes from the mirror so that he couldn’t see them, concentrating instead on putting her things back into her toiletries bag.  “So…thank you.  It was…nice.”

It wasn’t what he was expecting.  The only other thing that might’ve surprised Spike more at the moment was if she had come out and apologized for being such a pain earlier, or taken full responsibility for them being in their current situation.  Still, gratitude was not part of the Slayer repertoire, at least not gratitude to him for anything.  They had a cash and carry relationship.  Or, they had prior to this little jaunt. 

The hope that that was a death knell he was hearing for their previous status softened his gaze, tilting his head as he surveyed her measured nonchalance.  Take it easy, he reminded himself.  Don’t be saying anything to bugger this little truce up.  “Least I could do, considering I don’t have to be the one to worry about overheating,” Spike said.  He paused.  It wasn’t enough.  He had to tell her, had to let her know that the words had meant nothing to him, that nothing could’ve been farther from the truth.

“Which wasn’t a problem, by the way,” he added.  “It was just me…spouting off.  I shouldn’t have…I didn’t…”  A frustrated hand ran through his hair, pulling at the curls that had loosened as he’d tried to rest.  Why was this so hard?  “I don’t think it’s possible for you to ever look or smell bad, Slayer.  Would go against the order of the universe or something if that happened.”

He heard her sharp intake of breath, his words sucking it out of her as her head jerked up, those clear, hazel eyes widening as they searched fruitlessly the reflection of the bed before turning to look at the vampire the mirror refused to divulge.  That was a compliment…coming from Spike?  He didn’t do that sort of thing; in fact, his voice was usually the loudest in bursting any bubble she might have about herself. Yet there he sat, eyes fixed on her face in a curious contemplation, and all of a sudden, her body didn’t seem to be her own.

Under her skin, Buffy felt a flutter electrifying her nerves as flashes from her shower overwhelmed her inner eye.  It didn’t make sense, this reaction to something she’d only fantasized about---and she had to be honest with herself on this at least; ever since that stupid spell of Willow’s, there had been more than one fantasy or dream about the chipped vamp plaguing her consciousness---nor did this urge to peel the towel away from her body to see how he would react.  Stop it, she scolded herself.  Vampire, slayer.  That’s your relationship.  Working only.  Absolutely nothing else.

And you better say something soon because he’s starting to make that little frowning face he does when he doesn’t get what’s going on.  And how is it you’re now categorizing the different faces he makes?

“I need to get dressed,” Buffy mumbled, crossing the room to the bag she’d slung over the chair, grabbing a clean pair of shorts and shirt from its interior as she deliberately kept herself from looking at him.

The mood was shattered, the tension that had been stretching between the two blonds released to jangle achingly back into each of their bodies, and Spike slumped against the headboard.  “Right,” he said.  “Because you’re…not.”  Shit, that sounded stupid even to him and he rolled his eyes, grateful that she had her back to him and couldn’t see what an absolute git he was being.

She stole a glance to the vampire on the bed.  “Aren’t you going to change?” she asked.  “You’ve still got dried turkey blood all over your jeans.”

He shrugged.  “’S’not so bad,” he said, his fingers straying to the stains on the denim, picking at the drying flakes so that they crumbled to the blanket.

“Ewww, you’re going to have to sleep on that, you know.”

“I think my sleep’s just about done for the day.  I was goin’ to suggest we pack it up and hit the road again.”  He grinned.  “We’ve got us a witch to catch.”

For a long moment, she stood and stared at him, her clothes forgotten in her hands.  He was burying the hatchet, and she didn’t know why, could only see a return of the man who’d shared the first half of the night with her.  Buffy’s breath caught as her head danced around the description she’d just afforded Spike.  Not a man, she hastily reminded herself.  Demon.  Vampire.  Not a man.  Spike.  But still…not quite Spike, or at the very least, not quite the Spike she thought she knew.

“Do you think that bar serves food?” she asked, finally finding her voice again.

Spike frowned.  “I hadn’t really thought about it, but I s’pose they do.  Most places like that do some sort of what they consider edibles.”  His head tilted in confusion.  “Why’re you askin’?”

“I thought…it’s just, my stomach’s starting to do its best thunder impersonation here and I thought we could get a real meal before we get back on the road.  Not that the potato chips and Kit Kats you bought last night aren’t good, but---.”

“Think they’d have buffalo wings?”

She almost laughed out loud at the hopeful look on his face.  “Only one way for us to find out,” Buffy replied.

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

After stepping in from the brilliant desert sunshine, Buffy had to blink more than once to let her eyes adjust to the dark interior of the bar, waiting just inside the door as Spike came rushing in behind her, his smoking duster thrown over his hunched shoulders to shield him from the deadly rays outside.  Once her vision was adjusted, however, she realized that she distinctly felt like she’d walked in on something straight out of the movies.

Everything about the place was immaculate, from the polished wooden floor, to the heavy tables scattered throughout the room, to the long mirror behind the bar itself.  A variety of road signs were bolted to the dark walls, with framed photographs interspersed throughout, inviting patrons to step forward and see just who had left their John Hancock for the world to witness.  From the jukebox in the corner, the voice of a country singer pining after a first love who had cheated on him filled the smoke-filled space, while the smell of hamburgers hung heavily in the air. 

Buffy’s stomach rumbled at the aroma, and next to her, Spike laughed.  “Guess that answers your question about the grub,” he said, hooking his thumb through a belt loop as he scanned the various occupants of the room.  He had taken the time to change his jeans, but though he was wearing denim and boots like most of the other patrons, it was there that the similarity ended, his attitude and bleached hair setting him even more apart than when he was in Sunnydale.  This was going to be interesting.

“Have to admit to feeling a bit peckish myself, now that we’re here,” Spike went on, nodding toward a table near the pool table in the back.  “Go park yourself while I place us an order.”

She frowned.  “I can order for myself,” she complained.  “And bossing me around?  Not the best way to keep me in a good mood.”

A raised eyebrow accompanied his pointed scan of her form.  “About the ordering, Slayer.  You’re in a bar, in the middle of nowhere, and you’re not legal.  They may balk at serving you even if all you’re after is food.”  His blue eyes gleamed.  “And as for the bossing…”  He glanced around at the grizzled faces staring at them over their beer mugs, the looks on the all male countenances a jumble of distrust, suspicion, and outright leering at the young woman, and leaned in toward her, dropping his mouth so that it hovered just over her ear.  “I’m goin’ to wager these blokes are a tad low on the evolutionary scale, pet, so unless you want it to look like a tender little thing such as yourself is footloose and fancy-free to enjoy their sort of attentions, I suggest we play this my way.  Understand?”

Her mouth was open to argue with him, ready to tell him just where he could shove his own Neanderthal thinking, when she caught the gaze of a tall young man draped over a chair nearby.  He was grinning, calloused fingers playing with the longneck bottle of beer in front of him, and as she watched, made an elaborate show of licking his lips, exposing the gap where two of his front teeth should’ve been.  Without thinking, Buffy slid her arm through Spike’s, pressing herself into his side in a desperate attempt to make it look like she was already with someone, and almost sighed in relief when her would-be admirer scowled at the rebuff.

“But you never get what I want,” she said in a voice that was just a little too loud, affecting what she hoped was a look of pouty dismay as she addressed the vamp.

His head cocked at her game, a twinkle lighting in the blue depths.  Oh yeah, he thought.  This most definitely just got very interesting.

“Fine,” he said in pretended exasperation, and grasped her hand, pulling her up to the bar.  He gestured with his head to the elderly man waiting behind the counter.  “Tell the nice man what you want then, luv, since you seem to think I’ll bugger it up.”

Buffy flashed the bartender her brightest smile.  “Could I have a hamburger please?” she said sweetly, almost cringing from the falseness in her voice.  “And a diet coke?”

“Make that two, only I want mine still bleedin’,” Spike added.  All of a sudden, he was behind her, arms on either side of her body as his hands propped himself up against the bar, his body pressing lightly into her back as his mouth dipped to her ear.  “See, you’ve gotta trust me more, pet.  That was exactly what I would’ve ordered for you.”  His chuckle was low, and an icy shiver ran down Buffy’s spine as she felt him turn his head to look back at the bartender, his cheek just barely gracing hers.  “You’d think she’d have sussed it out by now that I know what it takes to make her happy,” he tossed off to the other man, and threw in a, “Bloody women,” for good measure.

For the first time since they’d walked through the door, the bartender smiled, nodding his head in agreement.  “Won’t take me but a minute to get your food up,” he said, and nodded toward the empty tables.  “Why don’t you and your little lady have a seat there, and I’ll bring it out to you when it’s done.”

Straightening, Spike gave a cursory glance at the bar before grabbing Buffy’s hand.  “We’ll be at the pool table,” he informed the bartender, and led the surprised young blonde away.

She pulled away as soon as they’d reached the semi-private nook the pool table was situated in.  For a second there, it had gotten just a little too real, the slow caress of his thumb over the heel of her hand as he held it causing her pulse to skyrocket, the goosebumps to raise over her flesh in a mockery of desire.  What the hell is going on here? she thought as she casually picked up a cue stick, watching him out of the corner of his eye as he shrugged out of his jacket, the muscles in his arms flexing just ever so slightly.  Why am I reacting like this to Spike, of all people?  It must be a rebound thing, or maybe a heat thing, or a worried-about-Willow-and-desperate-to-be-distracted thing.

“You wanna break?”

She almost dropped the cue at the sound of his voice, jerking to step away from the table as she looked to see him watching her.  “You go ahead,” Buffy managed to get out, and then smiled in spite of herself.  “You’re going to need every advantage you can get.  I plan on wiping the table with you.”

His answering grin was wicked, the sapphire of his eyes not leaving hers as he leaned over to take his first shot.  “Don’t forget, Slayer,” he said, and glanced away just long enough to send the white ball careening down the felt, slamming into the balls at the other end of the table with a crackle that cleaved the air.  Blue flickered back up to green as he straightened.  “I’ve got a century’s worth of experience on you at this particular game.  I don’t plan on losin’ either.”

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

Her foot tapped noiselessly in the air as she flicked through the magazine, unable to resist sneaking another look at her watch.  Xander was late.  Damn him.  Probably stopped to get some donuts to take over to Giles’ for the research party tonight.  Like he couldn’t have done that once he’d rescued her from this place.

Anya cringed as she heard a distant crash from upstairs, followed closely by a muffled shout, and wondered for the seventh time since arriving why exactly she’d agreed to meet the young man at his place instead of making him pick her up at hers.  Correction, she thought.  His parents’ place.  His drunken parents’ place.  On the day after payday.  What a joy.

With a frustrated moan, the young woman tossed the magazine aside, rising to her feet.  I’ll leave him a note, she decided, and marched over to what he referred to as his desk, scrambling through the mess atop it in search of a pencil.  I’ll go over to Giles’ on my own and he can just meet me there.  I don’t need to wait around like some lovesick puppy who can’t---.

The loud clap caused her to knock over the stack of comic books on the desk corner, and Anya whirled to see the bright light already starting to fade, her initial shock fading into a delighted surprise as the shape of a dark-haired woman standing in the room took form.  “Halfrek!” she cried, forgetting completely about the note she’d been about to leave to rush forward to greet the new arrival.

The demon’s smile was warm.  “Anyanka,” she said, giving the smaller girl a brief hug.  “It’s been too long.”

“I haven’t seen you since I lost my necklace,” Anya said, pulling away.

“You know me.  Busy, busy, busy.”  Her wide gaze scanned the dank space, her smile fading.  “Isn’t this…interesting,” she commented, and then grimaced, sniffing pointedly at the air.  “Is that…bleach I smell?”

Anya flushed in embarrassment.  “It’s whites day.”

Halfrek shook her head in disappointment.  “Oh, Anyanka, it does hurt to see you’ve sunk so low.  Mortal, and living underground like some common rat, without any powers, and now this mess…”

She was about to voice her usual protestations about her current life when Halfrek’s last words sunk in, making her frown.  “What mess?” she asked.

“The reason I’m here.  I really must be quick because D’Hoffryn will absolutely kill me if he finds out I’ve come to warn you, but I just couldn’t let my oldest and dearest friend get herself embroiled in something like this without at least giving you a heads up on it.  ‘Anyanka’s a big girl,’ he’d say.  ‘She’s made her bed and now she’s going to have to lie in---.’”

“The mess, Halfrek,” Anya prompted.  “What is it you want to warn me about?”

“Why, the mess your new friends are getting themselves into,” she replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.  “You are associating with the Slayer now, right?”  She didn’t even wait for a nod, but just kept on talking.  “Between her and those greenhorns messing with powers they just don’t understand, things are going to start getting very uncomfortable around here, mark my words.  Well, not around here per se, more like around New Orleans, but still, uncomfortable nonetheless.  And all I have to say to you, Anyanka, is stay out of it.  Run as fast as you can in the other direction because you do not want to be around when it all hits the fan…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 5: Get Up with It