DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’,
of course. And the chapter titles are
courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Freddie is watching Anya at Midnight, Willow has been proactive in trying to help herself by slipping someone a note, and Spike has averted an attack on Tara, alerting her to the fact that he no longer has his chip…
He felt like tearing something apart with his bare fingers, as if his sudden freedom from the chip meant he had to spend every waking opportunity destroying the tangible. Instead, Spike drummed his fingers along the steering wheel, torn between wishing the windows weren’t blacked out so that he could see her emerge from the magic shop and grateful that they were so that he wouldn’t have to see her face when she did.
Having the witch find out about his missing chip had not been on his agenda for the day. Spike had woken up wrapped around Buffy, and though the prospect of telling her had niggled along his spine with millipede legs, knowing how she felt about him made it seem more likely that she wouldn’t hold his returned power against him. So he’d gloried in how she felt in his embrace, her curves melded to him in a perfect fit, the sultry scent of her skin enticing him to run the tip of his tongue along the side of her neck.
Even in her sleep, she’d reacted. With a small squirm of her bottom into his hard cock, she’d sighed as he relished the tickly texture of the tiny hairs at her nape as they stood on end, stretching her neck forward to allow him easier access. Blunt teeth nibbled at the muscles, and Spike had slipped his hand between the heat of her thighs, coaxing them to part until the musk of her arousal filled his nostrils.
Ambrosia. That’s what it was. More so than anything else. Just as the words, I love you, were stronger chains than any piece of hardware shoved inside him could ever be.
It made his mouth water, slick as he began sucking at her flesh, long fingers parting her outer lips to penetrate the wetness of her slit with a gentle thrust. Buffy had moaned then, the corner of her mouth lifting.
“Morning,” she’d murmured, and reached behind her to float over the topography of his muscles as though touching him would somehow destroy the spell he was weaving with his tongue and fingers.
His only response was to flick his thumb over her clit, smiling into her skin when she bucked against him.
“Not fair.” It came through the beginning of a pant, and the glimpse of her tongue darting out to lick her lips made Spike growl in response. “I have to…Anya…you know…” she’d continued, coherence failing her in light of the trembling that seemed to be overtaking her muscles.
“Doesn’t have to take long,” he’d said, and would’ve been inside her in a flash if the bloody phone hadn’t decided to ring at that exact moment. His hand had grabbed hers as she reached to answer it, and it had taken all his will to keep the pleading tone out of his voice as he spoke. “Don’t answer it. Just…let it go.”
“I can’t. You know that.” No recriminations. Just the resignation of what she accepted as her life, hope that he would understand as she picked up the receiver.
He’d laid back, just watching the golden arc of her back as she spoke hurriedly with her Watcher, confirming their plans and assuring him she would be in his room in five minutes. When she’d finished, she’d quickly swiveled to drop her mouth to his, her kiss hard but brief.
“This place has a pool,” she’d breathed, pulling away to look into his eyes. “I think I might be convinced to go for a nighttime swim or something. To…unwind from the day.”
“Still don’t see why I can’t go with you,” he’d said, running his hand up the inside of her thigh. “Think I proved last night I’m healed up enough. And don’t pull out your daylight excuse again because that one doesn’t hold water any more, not when I made it across this bleedin’ country in near record time. What’s the point of gettin’ a second gris gris if you’re not goin’ to let me use it?”
“You’re right. You are well enough to fight, and as much as I love to watch you move…” She’d slapped away his straying hand, shaking her head with a smile at his knowing smirk. “…I still need for you to stay here. Tara wants to do those spells she was talking about. I think last night’s fiasco at Midnight proved that none of us can really afford to be left alone right now, and if I had to pick someone to protect her, you are most definitely my number one choice.”
She’d dropped another kiss on his unsuspecting lips then and scurried off, leaving him awash in unexpected pride. That was where he’d remained, drifting between fantasies of taking her every way possible and the self-satisfaction in hearing her trust in him spoken so eloquently.
The arrival of the witch had jerked him from his reverie, and he’d just sat there, uncaring of his semi-nakedness, and listened to her explain that she needed some supplies and would be right back so he could go ahead and rest some more until she returned.
“It’s not far,” Tara had said. “And it’s a beautiful day. I’m just going to walk---.”
“Are you completely daft?” Spike had shot back. “In this city? No offense, but you’re not the Slayer, kitten, and if you think for a second I’m goin’ to let you risk that neck of yours over something as ridiculous as an eye of newt refill, you’re not as smart as I gave you credit for.” Bunching the sheet around his waist, he’d risen from the bed and stalked off to the bathroom. “Need some burba weed anyway,” he’d grumbled, striving to make it seem more casual than it originally sounded. “Just hold on there while I get dressed.”
His good mood had prevailed, even after they’d arrived at the magic shop. It was only when he’d heard the tosser comment on how “interesting” Tara was, and then felt the accompanying acceleration of Tara’s heartbeat, did Spike’s sense of amity dissolve. Let those wankers try and pull some of their misplaced misogynistic anger on one of his girls? Not bloody likely. His reaction had been automatic, his delight in seeing them suffer even just a little bit---though he would’ve much preferred to pull their entrails out through their noses---blinding him for the split second before he realized he’d just given himself away. It might’ve been all right if the big-mouthed bint behind the counter had just kept her mouth closed.
But now Tara knew. And Buffy didn’t.
And Spike was sitting in his Desoto, stewing in his own juices, torn between berating himself for being terrified of what the mousy little witch might do and furious that he was in the position in the first place.
His head thumped against the headrest in frustration.
Damn it all to hell.
The back door opened first, and he glanced in the rearview mirror to watch her slide the bag of supplies onto the seat. Her eyes darted up to meet where his would’ve been if they’d reflected, and Spike saw the indecision hover there briefly before she pulled out and shut the door.
Seconds later, she was sliding across the front seat, buckling herself into place.
He didn’t know if he should speak first, or if she wanted to, or if she was planning on ignoring the whole thing, or if…
Fuck. Too many ifs. Since when did dealing with humans get to be so damn hard?
“Thank you for what you…did in there,” Tara said, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had settled between them. “Those kind of guys…I know I sh-sh-shouldn’t…they just…”
Spike waved a hand in dismissal, her obvious discomfort in reliving the recent memory just as bothersome to him, for some reason. “Don’t have to say a word,” he said. “Wouldn’t do if something were to happen to you, too. Buffy’d never forgive me.”
She didn’t have to elaborate. He knew exactly what she was talking about. “No.” He frowned as he risked glancing over at her. “Why aren’t you fussed about it?”
“Should I be?”
It was the ingenuousness of her response that made him chuckle. “Just strikes me this side of funny, kitten. In there, it was lookin’ like you wished the Hellmouth itself would open up and swallow you down whole just because two yokels with a teaspoon of brain between them decide to play Deputy Dawg for the magic set. Yet, you find out my muzzle’s gone and you climb into the front seat next to me like there’s nothin’ wrong. Makes a bloke more than a mite curious.”
“It’s not so weird if you think about it.” She began ticking them off on her fingers. “You could’ve attacked me at the hotel and you didn’t. You could’ve attacked me any time on the car ride here, and you didn’t. You could’ve eaten those guys in there, and you didn’t. You could’ve---.”
He waved her silent. “You can stop. I think I got the picture. Any more, and you’ll make me sound like Mother fucking Teresa.”
“Do you think Buffy would stake you if she found out? Is that why she doesn’t know yet?”
“She doesn’t know because I’ve only just found out for myself,” Spike replied. “Last night. Then, when everything hit the fan back at the hotel…didn’t seem like the best time to be springing it on her, if you know what I mean.”
“But you’re going to tell her, right? This isn’t something you can really keep from her, not…you know, now.”
Now. Another stolen glance confirmed for him what he’d already suspected. Tara was just too damn perceptive for her own good, and he was terrible at keeping a secret. Reaching for the pack of cigarettes on the dashboard, he ripped at the wrapper, the cellophane crackling too loudly in the close confines of the car as he pulled a single stick from the packaging. “Are all you witches mindreaders?” he asked irritably. The tip of the cigarette flared in a sudden crisp as he lit it, and Spike inhaled deeply. “I’m beginning to think it’s a conspiracy.”
Tara’s eyes went wide. “Me? Clairvoyant. Oh, no.” She paused, unable to keep from smiling. “But, Spike…I do know the difference between a burn mark and a hickey.”
Her tease caught him completely off-guard, and Spike sputtered around his cigarette, causing Tara to lean over and pat him firmly on the back as if to clear his lungs. When he looked at her again, it was with renewed respect, the corner of his own mouth canting to mirror her grin.
“Next time, warn a fella that you’re goin’ to surprise the shit out of him,” he said. “I think I almost swallowed my cig there for a second.”
The mirth that radiated from her gaze eased, and she let her hand drop back down into her lap. “I’m serious, though,” she said. “Buffy doesn’t like secrets. Especially when they’re being kept from her. I may not have known her for very long, but---.”
“I know I’ve gotta tell her,” he interrupted, his voice solemn in the small space. “Just…not…lookin’ forward to it.”
“It’ll be worse if you wait. It’s best to just get it over with, I think.”
“Why? So she can go back to hating me?” The venom in his voice surprised even him. “Not that fighting her isn’t its own reward, but…that’s what not what I want anymore. Not…fuck…this wasn’t s’posed to happen like this.”
“Which part?” Her own voice was a contrast of softness. “The me finding out, or the you falling in love with Buffy?”
He stared at her in amazement, his cigarette forgotten between his fingers. It sounded different being spoken aloud, and especially more so by someone who wasn’t him. Or the Slayer.
Spike. In love with Buffy.
The Big Bad---OK, so that was a misnomer anymore, but hell if it didn’t still give him a warm feeling somewhere deep inside to believe it---ready to lay down his unlife for the Slayer and her friends.
Time to stop running away from the truth and face it head on, consequences be damned.
I’m in love with Buffy.
When he didn’t respond right away, Tara asked, “How long has it been gone? Since…before you left?”
“Not sure,” Spike admitted. “But something that seer said last night makes me think it was whoever our mystery guest was yesterday. I think our little Cecily wannabe showed up wantin’ to give me back my fangs and added just a little too much juice to the mojo so that I healed up quicker, too.”
She looked stricken. “Oh, goddess,” she breathed. “This is all my fault then. I’m the one who let her in.”
Her guilt took him by surprise, and the vampire looked up at her incredulous. “Is there anything you don’t feel responsible for?” he asked. “It’s got nothin’ to do with you. Whoever it was had a plan, and I hate to break it you, but if they had enough juice to take that bloody chip out, there’s no snowball’s chance in hell you would’ve been able to do anything about it.”
“But…I let her…it…in. Maybe---.”
“Maybe nothin’. It’s done, it’s out, and there’s no more cryin’ over what we can’t change.” He snorted, shaking his head as he took another long drag from his cigarette. “Listen to me. Pontificating with the worst of them. Think that poet’s tryin’ to squirm his way free again.”
“Nothin’. Never mind.” Absently, he ground the butt out into the ashtray, and cast one last look over at Tara. Nothing in her demeanor conveyed anything but concern for him, no pressing herself against the door in fear, no anxiety reflected back at him in her eyes. Her hands lay open and relaxed in her lap, and her gaze remained steady on his face. “Are you…” Hell, why was this so hard? “…goin’ to tell her?” Spike asked.
She shook her head, a small smile on her lips. “It’s not my story to tell,” she replied. “And I know it’s scary, but if you think about it, it’s kind of exciting, too.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I mean it. It’s like…this is a chance for you to be something new. Something…different. Something better.” Her voice grew more wistful as she spoke, a faraway look overtaking her eyes. “Because there’s somebody there who’s showing you, just by loving you, that you have a choice. You don’t have to follow a specific path if you don’t want to. Even if the other way looks good, or easier, you now get to decide for yourself what you want. So, yeah. I think it’s exciting. Maybe not apocalypse-y exciting, but still…”
She blushed when she realized his gaze was intent, and began playing with the strap of her purse. “We should probably head back to the hotel. I won’t have time to get anything done before the others come back if we don’t get on the road now.”
Curtly, Spike nodded, and settled his hand on the keys on the ignition. The fluttering underneath his skin still remained, the desire to do anything---be anywhere but here---but drive back to the hotel only to wait to hear the Slayer pass sentence on him once she knew the truth still curdling within him. But the witch had a point, even if he knew she was mostly talking about herself than anything else.
It was like that seer said.
He had a choice. The decision rested with him.
And he wasn’t about to start disappointing Buffy now by making the wrong one.
Trudging through the tunnels carried with it a mixture of emotions---the nausea from the stench that swirled from the water and raw sewage around their ankles, the nervousness about the anticipation of getting this whole fiasco with Willow and Anya fixed, and the oddest one of all, remembered desire as she recalled memories of the last time she’d gone through these sewers, following Spike only to end up being kissed and touched in ways that flamed her even now.
Of course, the desire was quickly fading the more she had to listen to Xander complain behind her.
“For someone who spent most of last night and all of this morning blaming himself for Anya’s current predicament,” Giles finally said, exasperation edging his voice, “you are spending far too much time bemoaning the means we opt to get her back, Xander.”
“It’s not bemoaning,” he countered. “It’s be-holding my nose-ing. And what I don’t get is why you two are so eager to have a repeat performance of Buffy’s brush with Joe Law.”“It’s not going to happen this time,” Buffy said, shifting the weight of the sword she’d snagged from Giles’ trunk. “Last time, I didn’t know how to get out. This time, we’re all escape route-friendly if we get interrupted.”
“And we learned nothing from our search outside,” the Watcher further clarified. “Are you so eager to give up on Anya that you’re not willing to try this out?”
“No, of course not,” Xander said. “But not twelve hours ago, Buffy was ripping us a new one for coming around here, and now she’s leading the hit parade? I guess I’m just not seeing the logic behind this.”
“We’re just taking a quick peek,” she said. “Just to confirm whether or not Anya’s there. In and out. No harm, no foul.”
“From the way Anya talks,” Giles muttered, “I would’ve thought that was a rhythm you’d understand.”
Buffy’s eyes widened at the sarcasm that dripped from his voice and had to fight to stifle the giggle that rose in her throat, grateful that Xander hadn’t seemed to notice what was said. This particular recon was really a last resort, only suggested when after talking to every shop owner within a two-block radius had given them absolutely nothing. No mysterious screaming in the middle of the night. No dark shadows dragging a girl of Anya’s description down the street. Nada. And desperate times called for desperate measures.
“What happens next?” Xander asked, picking his way around an awkward curve, the crossbow bumping against his back. “Provided we come out of this with the proverbial bupkiss, what’s next on the agenda?”
“We go back and see if Spike and Tara came up with anything,” Buffy said.
“And I’d very much like to go over those cryptic remarks that seer said to you,” Giles offered. “Perhaps there are some clues in there as to how we should proceed.”
“Great,” Xander said under his breath. “Nothing like the concrete to vague this up even more.”
Stopping in her tracks, Buffy whirled to face off with the young man, startling him to a halt when he almost bumped into her. “What’s with the attitude, Xan?” she demanded. “You’ve been all doom and gloom ever since we left the hotel. Is there something else you’d like to say to me? Something that you didn’t say last night?”
She wasn’t still mad at him. After the amazing night with Spike, confessing to him what she’d only just confessed to herself---and how hard was it for her to leave him this morning when there was so much more she wanted to say---Buffy had woken up realizing that her friends had done what they had thought was best, well-intentioned if a little misguided, and had decided to let it go. The problem was, while Giles and Tara seemed fine with moving on, Xander didn’t. Every step, every word, every grimace on his face was screaming at her that something was still wrong, and she was tired of waiting for him to tell her what it was.
His brown eyes, when they met hers, seemed to overwhelm his face, wide and hurting as his voice remained somber. “It’s not you,” he assured quietly. “It’s me. All of this. I’m the one who got Anya in trouble last night. I’m the one who freaked Anya out in the first place when all this mess started. I’m just…it would be nice if maybe something I touched didn’t curl up and die like something that got left in the fridge for too long. I’m tired of being the bad guy here. I just…” His voice finally broke, and he looked down as he kicked at the water that swilled around his feet. “I want them back. Whatever it takes. Both of them. I don’t know what I’d do without them, Buffy.”
Guilt for not understanding softened her stance, and the Slayer took a step forward and laid a small hand on her friend’s arm. “We’ll get them back,” she said. “I promise. If I have to---.”
“Sshhh,” Giles warned.
Frowning, the two younger people turned to see the Watcher staring down the tunnel in the direction from which they’d come, his eyes narrowed behind his spectacles as he cocked his head. It was then they heard it, the unmistakable sound of splashing. Feet splashing, moving closer to them. Coming through the tunnels just as they had.
“Get back,” Buffy said in a low voice, and raised the sword as she crept toward the bend in the tunnel.
When the three vampires rounded the corner, they stopped dead in their tracks, their eyes widening when they saw a ready Slayer waiting for them. “Shit,” she heard one of them mutter before relaxing from her stance.
“Oh,” she said brightly. “And here I thought it might be something hard to kill sneaking up on us. Silly me.”
“Where’s your boyfriend, Slayer?” the largest of the trio taunted. Someone had obviously turned him some time during the height of Seattle grunge, she decided, taking in the “Corporate magazines still suck” slogan emblazoned across his chest with Kurt Cobain’s picture underneath.
“Yeah,” said the smaller vamp just to his left. “Spike sure got himself crispified. You looking for the same---.”
He exploded in a cloud of dust, the stake splashing to the ground, before he could finish his sentence. The two remaining vampires looked at each other, and then a little more warily at Buffy.
“Does either one of you want to finish what your friend was saying?” she said brightly. “Because, really, listening to you guys remind me how much I hate your boss? Great incentive to make killing you hurt all that much more.”
They rushed her en masse, and Buffy brought her leg around to send Grungy flying through the air toward Xander and Giles. That left her squared off with the third of the group, a beefy guy who probably was all forehead even without being in vamp face, but as she raised her sword to fight, he kicked at the water, splashing it up into her face so that it momentarily blinded her.
Buffy grunted when the vamp tackled her, throwing her against the wall as her weapon went flying from her grip. “So, we’re playing dirty, huh?” she asked. “I can do that.”
Using his hold on her as leverage, she pulled herself tighter against him to close their proximity, her knee jerking up as their torsos touched. It connected with his groin with all her force behind it, and he wheezed as he slumped against her in pain, his hands dropping from where he was holding her to clutch at his crotch.
“Told you I could do it,” Buffy said. As he stumbled backwards, trying to get out of her reach, she shook her head. “Oh, no, you don’t,” she warned, and grabbed the hem of his jacket.
It only stopped him momentarily. As soon as he felt the pull on his coat, the vampire curled back his shoulders so that the garment fell from his body, leaving it to hang limply in the Slayer’s hands.
“Crap,” she muttered, dropping it to the ground.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Xander and Giles struggling with Grungy. Still standing and still have weapons, she noted. OK. Concentrate on mine.
He was staggering from the pain in his privates, but he still stood between Buffy and her sword. Her stake, however, was another matter, and she darted forward to pluck it from the wet mush that had been the first demon she’d dusted. The splash it made was audible, and her target ducked just as she leapt forward, forcing her to correct her trajectory before slamming into the opposite wall.
She didn’t have time to turn when she felt him thrust her forward, and braced herself for the contact with the cement. It winded her only for a second, but his body pressed against hers made moving away momentarily impossible. Well, she thought, if he won’t move on his own, I’ll have to do the moving for him.
A stomp of her foot on his was followed immediately a reverse head butt, the back of her skull meeting his chin. Before he could get too far away, though, the Slayer had whirled and plunged the stake into his chest, the dust taking longer to settle from the air due to the increased moisture.
When she turned to help the others, she was greeted with their panting bodies, Xander bent over and wheezing as Giles leaned heavily against the wall. Grungy was nowhere to be seen.
“Cool,” she said brightly. “I didn’t even hear him scream when you killed him.”
“That would be because he ran away,” Giles managed. He gestured abstractly in the direction they’d originally been heading. “That way,” he said between heavy breaths.
Her good mood faded. “Damn. I guess that rules out heading to Midnight ourselves. I guess you got your wish, Xander.”
The brunette straightened, and Buffy saw the beginnings of a black eye darkening his face. “Sorry he got away,” he said. “He was slipperier than he looked.”
“No big. We should probably be heading back anyway.” Taking the weapons from their hands to ease their travel, Buffy turned away and began walking back down the tunnel. She stopped, though, when something white floated away from the discarded vampire coat. “Hey,” she said, pointing at it with her toe. “Can one of you pick that up and see what it is? My hands are a little full here.”
Gingerly, Giles bent over and extracted the item, shaking it slightly to reveal a limp piece of paper. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the outside, and tightened even further when he unfolded it and looked at its contents.
“What is it?” Xander asked, coming up to look over the Englishman’s shoulder.
“A note. To Freddie,” Giles answered.
Buffy frowned. “That’s the guy who kidnapped Willow. What’s it say?”
He shook his head. “The water’s made the ink run. Most of it is illegible.”
“Can you read any of it?”
“The only thing that is perfectly clear is the signature.” His eyes met hers. “It’s from Willow.”
He heard the crashing long before anyone appeared, and stood ready by the liquor cabinet, Anya shrinking back into the couch behind him, when the vampire appeared through the opening from the tunnels. Freddie immediately frowned, grimacing as the stench from the sewers followed the demon in, and stepped as far away as he could from the new arrival while keeping himself between him and Anya.
“Is there something hard about usin’ the door?” he complained loudly. “I find it tends to be a little less messy, a little less stinky when you do.”
“Slayer,” the vampire wheezed, pulling an arrow awkwardly from its leg. “Right behind me.”
“Figures,” Freddie said, and turned to see the look of triumph on Anya’s face.
“I told you something like this would happen,” she said loudly.
Shaking his head, Freddie set about pounding on the outer door. “Open it up!” he called out. “We got us a situation.” He waited until it was cracked ajar and pointed back at the other vampire. “He says the Slayer’s on her way. I suggest you get a car around so that I can get Sandrine’s little guest out of here.”
“The Slayer?” The guard looked from him to the other vampire in the room. “Are you sure about that?”
“Would I be standing here bleeding all over Iris’ floor if it wasn’t serious enough to be the Slayer?” Grungy announced petulantly.
That settled it. Pushing the door open even further, the guard stepped aside. “Get her out front. I’ll make the call.”
“I told you so,” Anya repeated to Freddie triumphantly.
Roughly, he grabbed her arm and began dragging her from the room. “Say that one more time and I swear I’ll slap you senseless,” he threatened as they disappeared into the hallway.
From behind him, Halfrek watched as D’Hoffryn shut down the image of the events going on in New Orleans. “I guess you underestimated Anyanka’s loyalty to her new friends,” she said lightly.
“I think I’ve underestimated all of the Slayer’s friends’ loyalty,” he mused quietly. “Although Anyanka’s presence certainly will speed up their summoning of Sira. Which means I will have the voix mortelle all that much sooner.”
“But you heard her. The Slayer’s determined to put a stop to it all, and she was right there. Perhaps your little plan for William didn’t work.”
Slowly, he looked over his shoulder, his gaze cold and steady. “You’re not questioning my methods, are you, Halfrek?” he quizzed.
Her hands jumped nervously to play with the locket around her neck. “Of course not. I just meant---.”
“I know what you meant.” D’Hoffryn turned away. “And don’t worry. Everything will work out. The vampire won’t be able to deny his true nature for long. He’s killed two Slayers already. The opportunity to add a third to his resume will be too strong to resist. And then, Buffy Summers will be too busy trying to contain him to pay any attention to my little interest.” Unseen to her, he smiled. “Everything will work out…”
To be continued in Chapter 29: One Phone Call…