DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are
courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Halfrek has visited Anya to try and dissuade her from getting involved in some approaching problems for the Slayer, while Buffy and Spike have stopped for a break at a hotel and bar after getting slightly off-track…
Each laugh was like a live battery pressed against the knobs of his spine, at once both suffusing his body in an ever-increasing requiescence and charging his skin so that it tingled in her presence. Though he had no easy explanation for her current amicable state, Spike wasn’t about to let it go, joining Buffy in their muted jokes about the bar’s clientele, sharing a few of his own encounters with colorful locals over the years, watching as each of his stories seemed to start a new fit of giggles in the petite blonde.
What surprised him was how much he was actually enjoying the Slayer’s presence. For too many years, he’d only ever been on the acid side of her tongue, the target of well-timed quips and constant threats. Now, she seemed determined to share with him the part of her that the rest of the world got to see---smiling, joking Buffy with more than a touch of vulnerable sexiness underlying the steely exterior. It was the mood that had pervaded the car the previous evening but heightened, like a bar had suddenly been lowered to allow him a means to vault to her side. The cause of it escaped him. Spike only knew that the faint flush that now rose in her cheeks seemed to taunt his own skin to respond in kind, and he was constantly having to fight the urge to reach out and touch her. All of a sudden, Buffy actually seemed accessible.
He watched as she wiped up the last of her ketchup with one of her remaining fries, lifting it to her mouth as she continued to share her current slay story, only to have a spattering of red drip down her chin as her words interfered with her eating. Spike’s lips quirked. “Got a hole in your lip, luv?”
Her flush deepened. “It’s all drippy,” she offered as explanation, and futilely wiped at her face, trying to catch what mess she had made with the heel of her hand. The last thing she currently wanted was to destroy the camaraderie that had sprung up between them. Spike was acting like a normal person and not the sarcastic bastard she knew from firsthand experience he was capable of being; she’d actually been enjoying herself ever since they’d starting shooting pool and he had deliberately let her win. He probably didn’t even realize that she knew, but Buffy had seen him check his cue more than once, allowing the occasional shot to veer wide, so that when the arrival of their food had put a halt to the playing, the Slayer had been marginally ahead, allowing her to tease him about losing to a girl. She wasn’t going to let on that she could see through his act, though; somehow, she had a feeling that the pretense actually meant something to the chipped vamp.
The flick of his thumb across her chin caused her to freeze, and Buffy’s eyes widened at the contact of his cool skin against hers, watching as he slowly leaned back in his chair and held up his hand to show her the ketchup trail that now streaked across his thumb.
“Missed a bit,” he said, before lifting it to his mouth and sucking at the pad, blue eyes suddenly darkened.
“Oh,” was all she managed to get out. She didn’t know what in hell had just happened, but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. What wasn’t the most natural thing was the sudden racing of her heartbeat as she became too aware of her chin and the spot where his fingers had graced it. Then, to see him put those same fingers in his mouth, a mouth that she couldn’t seem to stop staring at now, was, without a doubt, the most erotic thing Buffy had ever seen. Erotic and Spike. Two words she was now going to have some serious problems dissociating from the other.
He didn’t seem to notice her discomfiture. “Seein’ as how you’ve managed to inhale half a cow there,” he said, gracefully rising to his feet, “I’m goin’ to say we better pack it in and get ourselves back on the road. We’re going to have to make up for our little detour here if we want to stay on Red’s tail.”
Buffy nodded, grateful for the reversion to their reason for being together in the first place. Back to business, she thought. No more pretending that Spike is anything but an annoying demon chauffeur. But the prospect didn’t exactly fill her with light and sparklies. Instead, she felt an uncommon pit begin to burrow into her stomach and looked away from the vampire, focusing on the few fries left on her plate. Crap, she thought. When did I start giving a damn how I viewed Spike?
His head tilted as he scrutinized the Slayer’s suddenly serious face. He’d felt her reaction to his touch; hell, his body had done its own version of the Macarena on the inside at the taste of her skin mingling with the ketchup on his tongue. What he didn’t get was why it was bugging her. Normally, she let that kind of thing slide, or squelched it in the face of some wisecrack. This wasn’t normal. This was…well, he didn’t know what the hell this was. He just knew he didn’t want it to go away.
“I’m goin’ to have a word with the bartender,” he said. “See if he knows a quicker way of getting back to where we want.” He smiled as she lifted her eyes in surprise. “Plus, maybe he can tell me where to get us a bigger atlas,” Spike teased. “Maybe if the roads are bigger on the map, you won’t have such a problem keeping us on ‘em.”
She laughed in spite of his slight gibe. “I think bigger is of the good,” Buffy said lightly, and watched as he turned on his heel to disappear to the front of the bar. Maybe they were finally past the nastiness of their morning, she thought. Maybe the rest of this trip might not be so bad after all.
“Didn’t think he’d hardly ever leave.”
Her eyes re-focused to see the lanky frame of the man who’d been ogling her at the door standing before the table, a wide grin splitting his face. It was all she could do not to stare at the gaping holes in his dental work and instead, decided to return her attention to her fries. “He’ll be back,” she said, hoping that would be enough to send him away.
It wasn’t. “So what’s a pretty little thing like you doing hanging around with a scary guy like that?” he said, draping himself over the chair Spike had just vacated.
She rolled her eyes. “Is there some kind of correspondence course guys take to learn really bad pick-up lines?” she asked, her voice cold, her eyes even colder. “Because if you think that was supposed to impress me---.”
“My name’s Dave,” he said, ignoring her attempt to rebuff him. His smile widened. “My friends call me Fang. Y’know, ‘cause of the teeth.”
“Really.” This time she looked up, hazel shooting daggers. “I would never have guessed.”
“What’s your name? Probably something pretty, like Barbie or Lara or something. There used to be a waitress in here, her name was Bobbie Sue. I always thought she was the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen until you walked in.”
He didn’t seem to be getting the message. Time to up the malice and hope he’d take the hint. “You don’t get out much, do you?” she said, affecting the bitchiest tone she could manage. That’s right, Buffy thought. Let’s channel my inner Cordelia. Isn’t this fun. “Do they not have special hours or something at the home where they let you get out into the real world for more than a few minutes at a time?”
He laughed as if her mockery wasn’t intentionally mean-spirited. “You’re funny. Funny and pretty. My favorite combination. Right next to hot and horny, of course.” The last was said with a suggestive leer, and he leaned forward onto the table to close the distance between them.
Buffy’s jaw dropped at his audacity. He had not just said that out loud to her, had he? Had she really been out of the dating loop that long? Guys couldn’t actually talk like this to try and impress girls, she thought. It has to be a local thing. Or a stupid thing. Or maybe both. Seeing the current look on her would-be beau, she was going to put her money on both.
So wrapped in her shock, she didn’t even see Spike walk up until his pale hand had clapped down onto Fang’s shoulder. “Looks like I’m missing a party here,” he said lightly, but the flexing of the muscles in his jaw spoke otherwise. He’d missed the other man sneaking his way to the back of the bar, but when he’d caught the acidic tone of Buffy’s voice floating to the front, he’d immediately broken off from his conversation with the bartender to return to their table. The flash of anger at seeing the git now in his seat had boiled from nowhere, and Spike was doing everything in his power not to tear the wanker’s head from his shoulders right then and there.
“It’s a private party,” Fang said, not bothering to look back or rise from his chair.
The vampire’s grip said otherwise as it tightened just enough to lift the man without hurting him. “Something tells me Buffy here wouldn’t mind if I crashed.” As he let Fang gain his footing, Spike stepped around to stand behind the Slayer’s chair, his hand dropping possessively to reach for hers. “C’mon, pet,” he said, his palm facing up in waiting as his blue eyes never left the other man’s face. “The road’s callin’ us.”
She didn’t even hesitate to slip her hand into his, standing to square off with her unwanted guest defiantly. “Maybe you should go give Bobbie Sue a ring,” she started to say to him, only to cut herself off when the sudden caress of Spike’s thumb across the line of her wrist caused her to jerk her head and stare up at the vamp briefly in confusion, the line between the act she was sure he was putting on and reality blurring momentarily. Probably just an automatic thing, she reasoned, tearing her gaze away from his unsuspecting face. No big deal.
“You know you’re not fooling anybody.” His beady eyes glittered as he shook his head, his tongue snaking out between the gap in his teeth to lick his lips. “There’s no way he’s your boyfriend.”
“Really? What makes you say that, mate?”
Though his tone was light, Buffy could feel the tension coiling through Spike’s body as he spoke, his fingers hardening within hers.
“Well, first off, ‘cause she’s better than you. I mean, have you looked at…” He glanced at the young woman. “…he said your name was Buffy, right?” He didn’t bother waiting for a response before turning back to Spike. “Have you actually looked at Buffy? The girl’s hotter and classier than you. Try looking in a mirror some time, bub. The eighties are over.”
Spike’s smile was deadly. “Not really into the whole self-reflection thing myself. But then, I’d guess neither are you.” He made a point of running his tongue over his incisors, his gaze mocking, the sucking sound he made with his teeth reverberating in friction between the trio.
Fang straightened himself to his full height, lifting his chin to make the six inches he had on the vampire look like even more. “Don’t you be thinking I’m scared of you, runt,” he threatened. “Just because you wear leather, don’t make you some kind of a tough guy.”
“I’ll wager my bite’s a tad more lethal than you might think,” Spike growled, his amusement at the situation vanishing. He’d taken a step automatically forward when Buffy’s arm clamped around his bicep.
“Hey.” She waited for him to glance back at her and saw the anger gleaming in the blue depths of his eyes, shoving aside the question of where it was stemming from for asking at a later date. “Much as I like a good brawl, are we forgetting something here?” She waited but was only met by his blank stare. “Hello? Can we say chip? Or are we totally forgetting about Sunnydale?”
Fang frowned. “Chip? Who’s Chip? Thought your name was Spike.”
Her mind whirled. How was she going to explain it? Wait, he’d said who… “My boyfriend,” she replied. At both his and Spike’s frowning gazes, Buffy rushed forth to clarify, “Ex-boyfriend. Ex. As in before Spike.”
“Yeah,” the vampire drawled, catching her drift with an amused glint. “Good ol’ Chips Ahoy.” His blond head swiveled back to stare dangerously at the other man. “That’s what I called him after I crushed his thick skull into cookie bits.”
The air was heavy between them as Fang visibly paled, uncertainty clouding his eyes for the first time since Spike’s arrival. It took only a moment for Buffy to break it, giggling far too nervously to make it appear natural as she curled her arm through the vampire’s.
“Spike’s such a kidder,” she said lightly, and squeezed his arm, making it look affectionate but exerting her strength just enough so that he winced slightly at the contact. “He didn’t kill Chip. He just…roughed him up a bit.” She leaned her head possessively against his shoulder, playing the smitten girlfriend role for all it was worth. “Of course, now Chip thinks he used to be part of some secret government militia out to rid the world of monsters, but hey. At least, he’s not dead.”
Her smile was bright, and it was all Spike could do not to laugh out loud. Atta girl, Slayer, he thought, and relished in her weight against his arm, his nostrils flaring as her excited scent drifted to his nose.
Fang still looked unsure, small eyes darting between the blond pair as his tongue flicked across his bare gums. “Still,” he said after a long moment. “You can’t tell me he’s your boyfriend. I mean, look at him! He’s wearing nail polish like some girl. If that’s not a gay thing, than I don’t know what is.”
Her voice was hard. “Some of my best friends are gay, I’ll have you know.”
“And so’s your boyfriend, sweetie. Time to wake up and smell the lack of testosterone.”
Spike’s head tilted. “For someone with so many holes in his mouth, you talk an awful lot, you stupid pillock.” Turning just enough to gaze down at her hazel eyes, the words came tumbling out of the vampire’s mouth before he could stop them. “I do believe he’s challenging my manhood, pet. Now, can’t have that, can I?”
Ask him after why he did it, and Spike would’ve been at a loss for a good answer. Maybe it was the nonverbal dare issued by the other man. Maybe it was because he got caught up in their little act and forgot himself for a moment. Or maybe it was just because she smelled so bloody good. Whatever it was, it sent Spike’s lips crashing against Buffy’s, his hands tangling in the tresses of her hair as he pulled her against him, seeking out the recesses of her surprised mouth with the thrust of months of pent-up desire.
Instinct should’ve pulled her away. Instinct should’ve reared its ugly head and screamed in her ear about how wrong it was to have this particular vampire’s lips on hers. Instead, instinct drove her arms up and around his neck, pulling him even closer, pressing her tiny form against his so that the hardened buds of her nipples ground into his chest in delicious shivers, locking their bodies together in a heated dance that brooked no movement, denied no lingering passion.
His initial surprise vanished in the wake of feeling her against him, the tattoo of her heart pounding against his chest, and Spike deepened the kiss, tasting and savoring the nectar of the Slayer’s mouth as he forgot exactly why he’d done this in the first place. Heady, and so much richer than he’d ever imagined, the world swept away as he lost himself in the caress, drowning in red and black as tiny hands kneaded at the muscles of his neck.
Her breathing was ragged when she finally pulled away, the hazel of her eyes overwhelmed by ebony as she fixated on the tremulous lower lip that had just been affixed to hers. Not what she’d been expecting, and yet, so much more, and how in hell was she supposed to look Spike in the eye after this? He was going to be Mr. Gloaty from now on, she could just tell, digging into her at every chance about kissing the Big Bad, letting him get to her when all he’d been doing was trying to prove a point to…
It was then that she remembered their audience, and turned her head to see a shocked Fang slowly inching his way away from their table. Spike’s arms dropped to pull her into his side, his cheek lowering to nuzzle the top of her head, and Buffy found herself powerless to stop him. How could she? For the first time in months, she was actually feeling right in a man’s arms. Like she belonged.
“Care to rethink that little assessment of yours?” the vampire said with a chuckle. “Or are you goin’ to need something a bit more graphic?” His hand slid down Buffy’s spine, ending at the small of her back to toy with the waistband of her shorts in a sensual play of his fingers.
Her intake of breath was audible, but Buffy didn’t move, instead allowing Spike to continue his gentle exploration as she waited for Fang to respond. It didn’t take him long.
“No, no, I got eyes. I think she’s crazy, but I’m not stupid.” His backward step caused him to stumble slightly as he bumped into a wooden post. “You ever want someone who’ll treat you right,” he said to Buffy, “you know where I’ll be.”
She couldn’t help her amused smile. “Thanks, but I think I’m all set here.” Grabbing the vampire’s hand from its nest in her back, she began pulling him toward the front of the bar, grabbing his duster from the chair as she passed it. “C’mon, Spike. Let’s get out of here.”
They didn’t speak until they were settled into the front seat of the DeSoto, the atmosphere stiflingly hot, the tiny purple fan only succeeding in moving around the scorching air in pockets of swirling motes. Buffy’s body still thrummed in the memory of the kiss they’d shared inside, the fiery ice of his lips on hers lending itself to fantasies of more, and she had to visibly shake herself to clear her head.
“Not a bad little act, Slayer,” Spike drawled as he slid the key into the ignition. Pre-emptive strike, that’s what he’d decided. As deeply as the kiss had rattled him, as surprising as her response to it had been, he couldn’t even begin to think that it was in any way an indication of anything remotely real. He’d just chalk it up to his inherent sexual prowess; it was much easier to focus on the superficial than to consider it might be deeper. Even if a part of him was actually wishing it was. Or that she would argue with him about its meaning.
She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting him to say, but an avowal for her supposed ability to pretend was certainly not it. A small line appeared between her brows as her eyes darkened, searching the impassivity of his profile for some hint of what he was playing at. He thought she’d been faking that? Was he high or something? But then, why would he think otherwise? It wasn’t like he was privy to her dreams, or the fantasies that popped up out of nowhere, or the stray thought that flitted across her head in search of something to light upon. No, Spike had no reason to believe that she’d kissed him back because she’d wanted to, that even now, she was wondering how she could get him to do it again, and mentally kicking herself for her own foolishness. And it looked for all intents and purposes that he wanted to keep it that way.
“Yeah,” she agreed, but there was no strength in it. “I guess we showed Fangface.”
She was an awful liar, and Spike of all people was the most skilled at seeing through her, but at that moment in time, the vampire didn’t dare to admit what was staring him in the face. Instead, he shot her a wry smirk and tossed the atlas that sat between them onto her lap. “Find where this road hits something called Carter’s Creek,” he instructed. “According to the bartender, we can cut our way down back to the highway without losin’ too much more time.”
It was back to business as he pulled the car away from the bar and onto the concrete, the blazing sun at their backs as he accelerated down the gray strip. They had a job to do, a focus. Find Willow. Get to her before anything bad happened. It wasn’t the time for thinking about personal stuff, or kisses that left both of them craving for more, or niggling doubts in two minds about who exactly was seated beside them. Not the time for questioning everything that had up to this point seemed so black and white. And not the time for contemplating bending and even breaking all the rules that they had thus far established.
Except it wasn’t working for either of them.
They sat in an awkward but pungent silence, hurtling down the road toward their task at hand, each lost in a perplexing eddy of emotion, unable to look at the other, pretending for the moment that all was back to normal.
When both of them believed that was impossible.
And fought with the fear the other would somehow eventually find that out.
Though she had been silent for nearly the entire time between Xander arriving home and going over to Giles’, sitting now on the Watcher’s couch, Anya’s mouth was twitching with the intense desire to speak, even if it was only to shout at them and call them a bunch of foolish humans looking for a death wish by even remotely getting themselves involved in this current predicament. Except she couldn’t, not any more, and that fact more than anything else riled her stomach in acid, jittering her heel against the floor as the nervous energy trapped inside her body fought to escape.
“So why are we even still here?” Xander was saying, pacing in front of her like a caged animal desperate to escape. “If what that gas station guy says is true, we need to mount up. Sticking around Sunnydale isn’t helping getting Willow back.”
“We have no idea what the symbol even signifies,” Giles said, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. They’d been having this argument for over twenty minutes now and he was growing weary of repeating himself. Holding up Buffy’s fax, he added, “Unless you would care to impart your seemingly vast knowledge of mystical tattoos and tell us exactly what this means, Xander.” He waited expectantly, and sighed when the younger man finally collapsed defeatedly into the chair. “I understand your frustration, but without information that will aid Buffy and Spike, our best plan is to just stay here and do the research to find answers that will bring Willow back.”
“Yes,” Anya finally said. “I agree with Giles. Stay here. Good plan.”
The Englishman frowned. Anya never agreed with him. Still, an ally was an ally. “If you’d rather be doing something more productive than research,” he continued, “perhaps you’d like to go out and speak to the attendant. It’s possible he might remember other details that he didn’t share with Spike.”
Rising from his seat, Xander crossed to Giles’ side and took the fax. “Hey, I know this guy. He graduated with us.”
“He was working a midnight shift. You’ll most likely have to wait until later to attempt to see him.”
“That’s even if he’s working tonight,” Anya interjected. Now that she’d broken her silence, she was finding it difficult to keep quiet. “This is the Hellmouth, after all. Odds are pretty good that he’s become somebody’s dinner. Or is actually eating someone else at this exact minute. You’re most likely just wasting your time, you know.”
His girlfriend’s odd argument caused Xander’s frown to deepen. “What’s with the negative attitude, Ahn?” he asked. “You’ve been all doom and gloom, what with the mopey silence on the ride over and now preaching demon destruction as if it’s the end of the world. What’s up?”
She was saved from answering by a timid knock at the door, and Anya exhaled in relief as Giles rose to open it. Halfrek’s details had been sketchy before she’d been called away on a vengeance emergency, but it was enough to convince the ex-demon that something very bad was on the horizon, and she wasn’t sure she had the fortitude to stick around for it. She only wished she had the nerve to actually say something out loud to her boyfriend.
A shaky Tara stood on the other side of the door, her eyes lowered as she shyly accepted Giles’ offer to enter. Her wave of greeting was contained, and she settled onto the far end of the couch, waiting for whatever instruction the others would offer.
“So, off to the gas station then?” Anya chirped, opting instead to distract Xander with the task he’d latched onto, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t press on the issue of her mood. It could be worse, she reasoned. She could be on her way to New Orleans like Buffy and Spike. The one thing she’d gleaned from Halfrek’s ramblings was that whatever bad that was going to happen, was going to go down in the Southern city, far away from Sunnydale. Maybe all she had to do was stay put. And make sure Xander did, as well. That way, at least the two people she cared about most would be safe.
“Off to the gas station then.” Handing the fax back to Giles, the young man was halfway to the door, Anya right on his heels, before he spoke again. “I’ll call you and let you know what happens,” he said, and disappeared into the waning sunlight.
“Gas station?” Tara queried when they were gone, confusion in her eyes as she gazed up at the Watcher.
“Yes. We believe we may have a lead of some sort.” Distractedly, he handed her the paper, glancing at his bookshelves as his eyes narrowed. “I’ve got a number of texts I think would---.”
“Stella has some kind of power.” Her voice was almost a whisper, echoing inside the living room like a ghost’s song, and her wide eyes were glued to the figure drawn on the fax. It was only when Giles turned to look at her that she raised her gaze. “Just like Willow. There’s something…that…links them.”
“How do you know this?”
“I went to the Bronze.” So quiet, like the words hurt to even say. “I w-w-wanted to see if maybe Stella left something behind.”
Tara swallowed. “Her dressing room tasted like…blood. Like it was…old. And very, very evil.”
Gently, Giles knelt before the blonde witch, blue eyes scanning her pinched face. They were really only beginning to discover her capabilities, and though Willow’s support of her girlfriend had often bordered on the fanatical, he had yet to witness much of her power on his own. “What happened?” he queried, maintaining his mild tone.
She shook her head. “I ran. It was…overwhelming. It was so much like Willow, but…darker. And…” Her voice faltered, the words finally disappearing from her grasp, and her eyes ducked again to fix on the hands worrying in her lap.
His touch was light, but reassuring on her shoulder. “She’s going to be safe,” he affirmed, the sudden need to ease her distress overwhelming. “Buffy will make sure of that.”
She nodded, and though she rose to follow him dutifully to the bookcase, ready to begin on the research he felt would solve all their problems, Tara held back the doubt that had wrapped itself around her heart ever since she’d left the Bronze. Giles hadn’t felt the residual power Stella had left behind like a fading perfume; he had no idea how anguished it cried out to her. She didn’t want to think of the worst, but that was the way of her life.
Good things didn’t happen to Tara Maclay. Not for any length of time. Something always happened to take it all away.
And Willow was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Which meant that this time…it would rip out her heart when she lost it.
His eyes were expectant as he gazed down at the dark-haired demon. “Well?” he queried, fingers tapping together as he waited.
Halfrek sighed. “It’s done. I did exactly like you said. I told Anyanka just enough and then I pretended to have an emergency and skedaddled myself on out of there before she started pressing too hard.”
D’Hoffryn’s smile settled in satisfaction. “Excellent work,” he mused. “I’m trusting you were adequately persuasive.”
He wasn’t really expecting a response, which was good for Halfrek as the memory of her former friend’s face flickered across her mind’s eye. Maybe she had been, maybe she hadn’t. Either way, she didn’t like it. Interfering in Anyanka’s mortal life made her slightly queasy after all the time they’d spent wreaking vengeance together. If the young woman chose to accept the advice and stay out of the conflagration that was already starting to burn in New Orleans, it still did not mean that the Slayer would fail to stop what D’Hoffryn considered inevitable. On the other hand, if she did go to her new friends with the knowledge she now possessed, odds were good that the ex-demon would get caught up in the fight, potentially killed. Even if she was human, it didn’t mean Halfrek had to like the idea of her getting hurt. And the entire affair was enough to make her head spin.
Still, a job was a job, and as long as D’Hoffryn was her boss, Halfrek had no choice but to do what he said.
Even if it meant Anyanka paid the price for it…
To be continued in Chapter 6: Blue in Green…