DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy got a mysterious painting from an encounter with a demon, but when she took it over to Giles’, she and a very reluctant Spike found themselves somehow sucked into it…
She blinked. She had to, because what she was seeing, she wasn’t really seeing…was she? It was her, or rather her reflection, staring back at her, but Buffy didn’t recognize this person, didn’t know how this…incarnation had occurred. And it was giving her major wiggins.
Everything about her seemed…immaculate. Her golden hair was perfectly coiffed, ends curled under, the left side swept back and held in place with a large white flower. Equally praiseworthy was her make-up, a flawless mask of ivory perfection, highlighted by the ruby gloss that detailed the fullness of her lips. Dramatic, she thought, but effective.
Her hazel eyes swept down, and she felt her breath catch in her throat as they drank in the gown she was wearing. A lush rusty red velvet, it sat slightly off her shoulders, extending down into form-fitting, three-quarter length sleeves, with small fabric-covered buttons running along the center of the bodice, ending at the princess waist. From there, it fell in sweeping folds, an exercise in decadence as the hem just skimmed the floor, hiding the heels she could feel strapped to her feet. Although it covered her more effectively than most of her wardrobe back in Sunnydale, the dress clung to her with a sensual grace that left very little to the imagination, her breasts rising in gentle swells above the sweetheart neckline, her waist made even tinier by the gown’s fine boning.
Slowly, Buffy turned around, her eyes locked to the full-length mirror, head swivelling as she examined the view from the rear. More opulence, more elegance, and she completed the circumvolution with even more anxiety than when she’d started. She looked like something out of a movie. Or maybe from…the painting…
Leaning against the dressing table at her side, the Slayer closed her eyes, the memories flooding back into her head. The crawling sensations as the hues seeped into her skin…the inexorable tugging at her innards, drawing her forward…the wind whistling past her ears although she knew that her body wasn’t actually moving…the powerlessness she’d felt when she realized she couldn’t tear herself away…and the iron grip around her upper arm, melding to her flesh in an icy vise…
Her lids snapped open, her head shooting up, and Buffy pursed her lips as her jaw locked. “Spike,” she muttered, and with a graceful swirl of her skirts, she turned and marched for the door.
It was the scents that hit him first. Dozens of perfumes mingling with cologne…the musk of sweat as the couples whirled around the dance floor…and the blood, hot and heavy, pulsating in the thousands of veins that surrounded him. It was dizzying, and the growl had escaped the blond vampire’s throat before he’d even realized it.
“Which one is it?”
The masculine rumble was too low for anyone else to hear, but Spike’s head whipped around to his left, taking in the bulky form of the tuxedoed man standing next to him, the stranger’s black eyes constantly darting around the room even though his body was motionless. In spite of the fleshy rolls around his neck and the thickening waistline, the man exuded strength, and the vampire felt the unexplainable urge to stand straighter, throw his shoulders back. “Which one’s what?” he asked.
The ebony gaze looked down at the blond. “You made that noise,” he explained. “So which one’s the meat? I haven’t had a chance to do a number on anyone all night.” As he spoke, he clenched his fists, audibly cracking his knuckles with the movements, and stretched his neck within the collar of his crisp white shirt, almost as if he was warming up for a fight.
Spike’s blue eyes narrowed as his head slowly swivelled back to survey his surroundings a little more closely. It was the bleedin’ painting, all right---although the doorway in which he stood would’ve been off-frame---and this was a nightclub of some sort, set smack dab in the middle of what looked like forties America. If it was a spell, it was a damn good one, because everything around him felt real, right down to the cacophony of heartbeats on his eardrums.
“Well, Spike?” the man prompted.
The realization that he was known here, that somehow he’d been integrated in this milieu, was not lost on the vampire. Gotta be a trick to it somewhere, he thought. Better to just play along ‘til I get it sorted. “False alarm,” he said, answering his “partner’s” question, and, not knowing why, added, “He backed off.”
Spike could feel the man deflate in disappointment. “Girls are getting too good,” he muttered. “They’re keeping ‘em hands off on the floor all the time now. Pretty soon, they won’t even be needing us.” He smirked. “Too bad we’re not allowed in the private parties, huh? They are some lucky bastards, lemme tell you.” His voice trailed off, and the vampire felt his gaze turn back to him. “Not as lucky as you, though. Must be nice having a permanent invite. Plus, you’re keeping her off the market. I know some guys are pretty upset---.” His words cut off in a strangle as a lean hand clapped down on his shoulder.
“You talk too much, Gino.” The voice belonged to a new arrival, this one tuxedoed as well, who had come up on his partner’s far side. “He bothering you, Spike?”
Glancing up at the suddenly scared face of Gino, the vamp shrugged. “He’s just bored,” he said, fishing for anything that might make sense given the current situation. “Been a slow night.”
That seemed to be all the explanation the other needed. “Just lemme know if he’s any trouble,” he said, already turning away and melting into the crowd at the bar.
Once he was gone, Gino sighed in relief, almost smiling down at his partner in gratitude. “Thanks. They told me you were a stand-up guy. Glad they were right.”
The vamp didn’t know what to say to that. Everything about this screamed magic, yet the detail it encompassed was staggering. Apparently, he had some kind of rep here…and the concept brought a smile to his face. ‘Bout time I get recognized for my true talents, he thought, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Too bad the Slayer’s not around to appreciate it. Remembering Buffy caused Spike to stiffen, his gaze resuming the lookout over the room. Well, hell. Bitch drags me into her little lala-land and then does an Amelia Earhart. His blue eyes began darting around the dance floor, lighting on every single blonde, waiting for her to turn around, only to become increasingly agitated when none turned out to be her.
Gino grinned. “Damn, you really are dizzy for that dame, aren’t you? You didn’t last five minutes before you started looking for her this time.”
“What’re you natterin’ on about?” Spike asked, only half-paying attention to the other man.
“Buffy. You’re looking for her, right?”
At the Slayer’s name, the vamp’s arms dropped as he faced off with Gino. “You know where she is?”
“Well, yeah. At least, I can make it a pretty good guess.” He laughed. “You of all people should know she’s the last of the girls to hit the floor. She’s probably still in the back, getting all dolled up…” His voice trailed off as the blond rushed past him, skirting around the edge of the club, nearly knocking over one of the trumpet players as he hurried for the far exit. Shaking his dark head, he muttered, “Lucky bastard.”
If he hadn’t been a vampire, the stark difference in lighting between the brilliance of the dance floor and the duskiness of the back hallways would’ve blinded him. As it was, Spike needed only a moment to readjust his vision before scanning the area for anything that might pass as a dressing room. His search was short. Within seconds, his gaze fell upon a pair arguing in the hall, a scrawny kid with a pitiful excuse of a moustache holding a clipboard and…
She was resplendent. Even turned partially away from him, he could see her scarlet lips, made even more impossibly luscious by the make-up, lashing into the poor schmuck, the fury lending her face that familiar Slayer edge that he knew so well. His sapphire eyes slid over the line of her jaw, exposed by the upsweep of her golden tresses, to the pulsepoint in the gentle hollow at the base of her neck. Across the distance, it seemed to be throbbing in rhythm with his now-hard cock, and if it wasn’t for the invitation of her outlined curves, Spike doubted he could’ve torn his gaze away from it without the help of a crowbar.
The dress made promises that any man---living or not---would’ve been unable to ignore, hugging Buffy’s body like a second skin, demanding to be stroked…petted…caressed…and the vampire took an involuntary step closer, a moth drawn to her living flame, his arousal more intense than anything he’d felt since returning to Sunnydale. The movement caught her eye, and in mid-argument, her head turned, ensnaring him with her hazel gaze, and Spike sensed her hesitation…
“…because I’m not…” and the flash of platinum in her peripheral vision diverted Buffy’s attention from the idiot standing before her. She only meant to glance at him, to confirm that the chipped vamp had in fact followed her through; she certainly hadn’t expected him to emerge from the shadows in a blaze of black and white, lean hips and broad shoulders accentuated by the double-breasted jacket of his tuxedo, one hand thrust jauntily in his trousers pocket. Her throat constricted, and the young woman was shocked at her sudden inability to breathe, the warmth that seemed to boil out of nowhere in the pit of her stomach, pouring down the insides of her legs like molten lava. Snap out of it, she mentally scolded herself. It’s only Spike. Vampire, remember?
Breaking away from her dispute, Buffy closed the distance between her and her ex-nemesis, the velvet of her skirt a luxuriant swish against her legs. “Where the hell have you been?” she hissed as she approached.
“How come you get to be the pissed off one?” he demanded. “I’m the one who got sucked into the lookin’ glass here.”
“Well, no one asked you to grab me,” she muttered.
“And you of all people should know better than to play touchy feely with the artwork,” Spike continued. “Hasn’t Joyce taught you anything?”
“Don’t. Start.” Buffy glanced over her shoulder at the young man who still watched her, and deliberately lowered her voice. “Scratchy back there keeps trying to drag me out front, whatever that means.”
“That’s because it’s your job. You’re one of the dancers here, I think.” Better to keep his suspicions about the girls’ other responsibilities hush right now, didn’t want the Slayer getting annoyed and staking the messenger.
“What about you? You’re all…” Her gaze scanned his suited form as she searched for the adequate words. “Dandified,” she finally said.
“Hardly.” He snorted in derision. “Gotta give whoever came up with this scenario a little credit for dramatic irony, though. I’m one of the bleedin’ bouncers.”
“And that’s ironic how?” Buffy queried. “I would’ve thought you’d love the idea of roughing it up…” Her voice faded as the vamp tilted his head, his blue eyes annoyed, waiting for her to remember the whole reason he’d been stuck at Giles’ in the first place. “Oh.” She bit her lip. “Well, the first thing to do is figure out how far the whole magic thing goes. I mean, are we us or someone else? I’m thinking us. That guy called me by name.”
Spike nodded. “They know me up front, too.”
“And I still feel Slayer-ish. What about you? Do you feel…vampire-ish?”
Sighing and rolling his eyes, he ducked his head as his game face flashed across his features, almost immediately dissolving back into his human mask. “So. We’re still who we are. We’re just not on the hellmouth anymore.”
“Stuck with you doing god knows what? Feels like the hellmouth to me.”
She was about to go on, even going so far as to open her mouth to speak, when a door directly opposite them flew open, revealing a portly older man, face red with anger. He pointed directly at Spike and Buffy. “You two. In my office. Now.” He whirled, disappearing from view, leaving the pair just looking at each other.
“You heard the man,” the blond vampire finally said, sweeping his arm toward the open door. “Ladies first.” He held the position, his blue eyes locked with her hazel, until she acquiesced, sighing as she turned away from him and strode toward the door. His gaze swept down her back, over her hips, imagining the lithe legs under the full skirt, and Spike’s lips curled into a lascivious smile. Yep, the view was almost as good from this end as well. Thrusting his hands into his pockets---mostly to alleviate the strain on his trousers from his returned erection---he ambled after her.
As the door closed, the young man with the clipboard finally expelled the breath he’d been holding ever since Buffy had first started laying into him. His heartrate was only just starting to slow; of all the girls in the club, Ms. Summers was the only one who could fluster him so effectively. She wasn’t the most beautiful---although in those kind of glad rags she definitely ranked up there---and he wasn’t sure what bug had flown up her skirt tonight, but generally speaking, there was something about her, something almost…magical, and he would’ve done anything for her. All she had to do was ask. He sighed. One thing he knew for certain, even if he and half the guys weren’t thrilled about it…
Spike was one helluva lucky guy.
The office was everything he’d expected it to be---dimly lit, heavy dark furniture, a tall liquor cabinet towering against the wall. Not much else occupied the small space, and Spike, standing just behind and to the side of the Slayer, watched as the man grabbed a lit cigarette from an ashtray on his desk, stuffing it into the corner of his mouth, before settling into his chair, the leather squeaking in protest from his weight.
“Why do you do it to me?” the man asked, his watery blue eyes resting on the pair. “You know I like you. Hell, you two are probably my favorite employees in the whole joint. But you’re setting a bad example. Lola---Lola!---actually had the balls to come in here and tell me she’s going to be late on Saturday, all ‘cause of some newshawk she met at a coffee shop. Not only is she stepping out with one of the worst kinds of people for those in our line of work to be associating with---outside of the cops, of course---but she’s doing it on our busiest night as well. And guess who she says talked her into it?” He puffed out a large cloud of smoke, waiting for one of them to respond. After a moment, he used the cigarette to point to the Slayer. “I like you, Buffy. That’s why I pulled you from the active duty roster when you two made your little announcement. Well, that and because Spike here threatened to tear out my eyeballs if I didn’t. But you can’t be putting those kind of notions in the other girls’ heads. It ain’t right.”
The young woman bit the inside of her cheek. OK, everything had just officially gone from weird to weirder. Here she was, being called on the carpet for something she didn’t even do…well, maybe she did do it but it happened before she’d even got here so how could she be held responsible for it? And what was this little announcement he was talking about? And where in hell did Spike fit into the whole picture? “I’m…sorry,” she finally said, hoping that that might be enough for him to let them go, her head whirling from confusion. “It won’t happen again.”
The man smiled, his fleshy face creasing into multiple folds. “That’s my girl,” he said, and then held up his hands in mock horror. “Oops, sorry, Spike. Old habit. Guess I’m still getting used to the whole idea of you two getting hitched.”
Buffy’s eyes widened, and she felt the vampire stiffen behind her. “What?” she exploded. “Spike and I are so not getting married!”
For the first time since they’d entered, the man frowned. “Since when?” he asked. “You two just---.” A sharp rap at the door jerked his attention. “What?!?” he barked.
The door opened, and the young man with the clipboard poked his head in. “Gino needs Spike out front pronto, Mr. Lombardi,” he said, keeping his eyes averted from Buffy.
“Tell him he’ll be there in a sec.” As soon as they were alone again, the boss stood and came around the desk to square off with the pair. “If this engagement’s off, you’re going back on the roster, Buffy. I’ve got at least three guys here tonight---.”
From out of nowhere, the Slayer felt Spike slip his arm around her waist, pulling her back against his chest. “It’s not off,” she heard him say, and then his mouth was an icy tickle on her skin as she felt him nuzzle her neck. She was about to jerk away when his murmured words floated to her ears, freezing her motions. “Go with me on this, Slayer.”
Lombardi’s eyes narrowed. “But she just said---.”
The vampire chuckled. “One little fight and pet’s ready to pack it in. Trust me. Everything’s still very much a go.”
“Well, if you say so, Spike,” he said slowly, still unsure, his gaze flickering over Buffy again. “Stop messing with my head, young lady,” he admonished. “And what’ve I told you about your dresses? Customers want skin.”
Spike’s embrace tightened. “She looks like heaven in Technicolor, and you know it,” he growled.
Lombardi just shook his head and sighed. “Fuck if I know why I put up with you two,” he muttered. “If you weren’t the best in the biz, I’da tossed you out the minute I found out you two were shacking up.” Crossing to his liquor cabinet, he opened the door and pulled out a half-full decanter of whiskey. “Now get back to work before I change my mind about the roster.”
In the hall, Buffy whirled to face Spike. “What the hell was that---?” she started, only to have the words stifled as he pulled her to him, crushed his lips against hers. She started to struggle, then felt the familiar iciness of his tongue as it began to explore the recesses of her mouth, expertly evoking the memories of their passion during Willow’s unfortunate spell. She felt herself relax in his arms, and began kissing him back, unable to answer why, hating her body for betraying her, when his lips moved from hers, sliding across her cheek to hover by her ear.
“We’ve got an audience,” he whispered.
Buffy glanced over her shoulder and saw Scratchy watching them, his knuckles white around his clipboard. “Go tell Gino I’ll be right there,” she heard Spike say over her head. The young man hesitated, then turned and fled, at which point the vampire’s arms dropped and he stepped back.
“Right,” he said. “We’ve only got a second so let’s get this straight.”
“You know what’s going on?”
He half-shrugged, half-nodded. “Sorted most of it out, yeah.”
“And you were going to tell me when?”
“I’m tellin’ you now, unless you’re not interested, in which case, I apparently gotta job to do.” He started to turn, only to be stopped by her grip on his arm.
“You know that roster he keeps bringin’ up?” At her nod, he smiled. “Well, it’s not about dancin’, I’m pretty sure.”
“Then what is it?”
“Let’s call them…extra-curricular activities. Of the horizontal nature.” He waited as the understanding widened her hazel eyes, the shock in them almost amusing enough for him to laugh. Better not, he warned himself. Somehow, I don’t think this is somethin’ she’s goin’ to think funny.
“I’m a… This is a…Oh. My. God.” She couldn’t even bring herself to say the words, could only stare at him in disbelief.
“Actually, I think it’s more of a private club,” Spike explained. “I saw the clientele. Very posh.” Behind him, the young man poked his head back into the hallway and cleared his throat. The vampire stepped back and smiled, his head tilting in wicked amusement. “Buck up, Buffy. Isn’t this what you wanted? Just like in the movies…”
She could only watch as he pivoted on his heel and sauntered away, his laughter floating back to her. No, this is most definitely not what I wanted, she wanted to scream, but held back. Somehow, she was going to get through this. She was the Slayer, right? That’s what she did. I’ve survived at least three Apocalypses, I can handle doing a little dancing until I figure out a way to get back home. She smiled grimly. And when it was all over, a certain blond vampire was going to find himself getting very closely acquainted with a certain Mr. Pointy…
To be continued in Chapter Three: East of the Sun and West of the Moon…