DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The Scoobies think that Buffy is out looking for Spike, while Buffy has spotted the scar of a vampire bite on a trumpet player at the Rising Sun.
If she had to smile for just one more minute, Buffy swore her face was going to fall off. Not that she wasn’t enjoying herself; on the contrary, considering this whole engagement party was just one big sham of a do, the young woman hadn’t had this much fun in ages. Nonstop dancing, good food, and even…did she really dare to say it…good company.
Out of the corner of her eye, the Slayer glanced over at the bar, heard Spike’s laughter even from her position near the door. Until Gino had pulled him aside, the blond vampire hadn’t left her side all night, refusing to let anyone else dance with her, calling it his “right as her bleedin’ fiancé.” Even Lombardi had been brushed aside, and Buffy had watched as the man had stepped back, the annoyance clear in his eyes but the fear of Spike greater.
“Maybe you should let me dance with him,” she’d said. “He’s our boss, after all. We can’t go messing things up here before we figure out what’s going on.”
She could’ve sworn she’d heard him growl, and looked up to see his gaze locked on her face, blue eyes darkened to almost black. “No man in his right mind would share you, especially tonight of all nights,” he’d said, then smiled. “And we’re supposed to be head over heels, remember? Mustn’t let the locals think you can’t stand dancin’ with me.” He’d seemed to be waiting for her to say something, anything, but she’d only looked away, the sudden rush of heat in her cheeks visible testimony to the bewildering amalgam of emotions that were bouncing around in her head.
They’d danced in silence for a moment, until Buffy felt him lean forward, his cheek just barely touching hers as his mouth hovered by her ear. “Thought of another one, Slayer,” he’d murmured. “There once was a fella named Fritz…”
And she’d laughed…at his dirty limericks, at his frighteningly accurate impersonation of Giles, at his dry commentary about the other girls in the club. For a while there, she’d actually forgotten where she was or who she was with, so lost in her own personal whirlwind that all that…extraneous stuff just slipped away. And here it was, almost three o’clock in the morning, and she was shocked to find herself wishing that the night didn’t have to end.
“…gone ahead and taken all the gifts out to the car,” the man in front of her was saying.
Buffy’s head whirled around, her eyes wide. “Gifts?” she asked. “There’s gifts?”
“Well, yeah. But Lola thought you’d rather open them up at home. More private there and all.” His face spread into a leer. “Plus it’s easier if you get something you want to…use right away.”
She laughed nervously, inching her way backwards, and was relieved when the band started playing again. “I thought they were done for the night,” she said, grateful for the diversion.
“Last dance,” he explained, and Buffy stiffened as she saw him hold out his hand, getting ready to ask her out onto the floor.
“Well, then I better get Spike,” she chirped. “He always gets my last dance, you know.” With a bright smile, she turned, only to find the blond vampire standing directly behind her, his head cocked, a note of questioning in his eyes. The hair that had been so immaculate when they’d left the apartment now was a tumble of curls, raked through by his lean fingers all night, and Buffy irrationally wondered why he played so much with it when it wasn’t moussed or gelled into place. Not that she was complaining; for some reason, the tousling made him seem more…human.
Mentally shaking herself, she said in a voice just a little too loud, “Just the person I was looking for.” She looped her arm through his, pulling him out onto the dance floor, tossing back an almost apologetic smile to the other man.
The pair slid into each other’s arms, an instinctive mating that melded them together, and the young woman was grateful that the conductor had chosen a slow song to end the evening with. She was convinced Spike could feel how hard her heart was beating; shoot, he could probably see it, but then that would mean he was looking at her breasts…Stealing a glance upwards to check, Buffy was met by his steady gaze, and she ducked her head back down, turning her cheek to rest it on his chest. “There’s presents,” she said, desperate for any topic of conversation that didn’t involve Spike or body parts. “For us. To unwrap back at the apartment.” She was floundering, and she knew it.
“Knowin’ this group, that should be…interestin’…” he drawled. She heard his teeth click together, wondered what exactly he was doing, when he added, “Hope it hasn’t been too tough for you tonight.”
That made her look up. “Why would you say that?” she said. “Tonight’s actually been fun.”
“Just thought…it’s just a little too much like Red’s spell…having to…pretend…and such…” He wasn’t looking at her, concentrating instead on something over her shoulder.
“It hasn’t been that bad.” The admission was quiet, unexpected, and Buffy saw the muscle twitch in the vampire’s cheek. She smiled, trying to lighten his mood. “Besides, don’t tell me you’re not eating all this up. Spike the bouncer is god here, and I just know how much you hate that.”
He chuckled, his arm tightening around her almost imperceptibly. “Yeah, gotta admit, it does feel good to get a little respect again. Nothin’ like being chained in a bathtub to give a vamp a sense of his true self-worth.”
The mention of vampires brought the memory of what she’d seen earlier back to the forefront. In the flurry of the party, the young woman hadn’t really had the opportunity to bring it up, and had tucked the observation away for future discussion. Now, though…Her hazel gaze slipped to the band, alighting on the same spectacled trumpet player. If there were vampires in this place, she needed to know about it. After all, she wasn’t the Slayer for nothing.
The song finished, and Spike and Buffy stayed on the floor, applauding the orchestra as they filed into the back room. “C’mon,” the young woman said, grabbing Spike’s arm and pulling him along behind her as she made to follow the musicians.
The platinum vamp broke free, stopping in the middle of the room. “Ummm…the car’s goin’to be out front, Buffy.”
Stopping and turning to look at him, the young woman’s hazel gaze was steady. “Trust me on this one, Spike,” she said evenly.
He hesitated a moment, then shrugged, stuffing his hands into his trousers pockets. “Lead the way.”
He was easy to find, but Buffy hung back, waiting for some of the other musicians to leave before approaching him. “That was a great solo,” she said brightly, a warm smile on her face as he turned to look at her.
“Thanks.” Up close, the young woman realized that he really wasn’t that much older than her, mid-twenties maybe, while the glasses gave him the appearance of someone more accustomed to libraries than nightclubs. Almost a mini-Giles, she thought.
“Listen,” she rushed on. “I couldn’t help but notice your scar…” Her fingers fluttered around her neck.
Behind Buffy, Spike’s eyes narrowed as he tried unsuccessfully to see what the Slayer was referring to. Instead, he witnessed the young trumpet player turn beet red, immediately shifting his eyes, pulling his shirt and collar tighter around him.
“Oh, that. It’s nothing. My dog---.”
“---bit you,” the young woman finished, nodding. “Yeah, I’ve used the puppy excuse before myself. Although I never really realized how lame it sounded until just now.” She took a step closer, tilting her head slightly to expose the curve of her neck even further. “I kinda get where you’re coming from.”
The color slowly faded from the young man’s face, as his eyes darted from her scar, to her face, back to her scar again. “That’s not…you can’t…”
“I can’t do anything about the one that did that to you,” Buffy continued. “But I can do something about any of them hurting other people. Just tell me where you were attacked. I’ll take care of the rest.”
His laugh was more of a snort, and he ducked his head. “You don’t have to worry about that,” he said. “It wasn’t even in this pl…” His voice trailed off, not finishing the word, unable to meet her eyes.
She knew how his sentence was going to end, and the realization flared hope in the Slayer’s stomach. Before she could speak, however, the sound of Spike’s voice came up behind her.
“Well, well, well,” he taunted. “Looks like we’re not the only ones to go tumblin’ down the rabbit hole.”
“Shut up, Spike,” Buffy ordered, then turned back to the musician. “Maybe we should go somewhere we can talk. You know, about music…and vampires…maybe, fine art? I have a thing about paintings, myself.”
Behind his glasses, his brown eyes searched hers before replying, “I’m Tony, by the way.”
“Buffy, and this is---.”
“Spike.” Tony grinned. “Yeah, I got it.”
“So how long have you been here?” the young woman asked, her feet dangling as she sat on the dressing room table.
“About two weeks,” Tony replied. “Two very long and very weird weeks.”
“Hey, at least you’re not a professional escort,” Buffy teased.
“You got me there.” They laughed, sharing the discomfort of the situation, and Spike’s frown deepened, his mood darkening.
“So is the painting yours? Did that demon steal it from you or something?”
“No, I just thought it looked cool. That’s why I touched it in the first place.” The musician frowned. “What demon are you talking about?”
Buffy shrugged. “I got it when this little teddy demon dropped it. No big.”
“Sounds big to me,” Tony commented. “How do you come to know so much about these kind of things? The vampires, and you’ve got that bite…”
“It’s kinda…my job.”
His laugh was almost a bark. “That’s L.A. for you. My folks would never believe me in a million years if I told them about some of the stuff I’ve seen.”
“L.A.?” Buffy’s smile faded, to be replaced by a small frown. “Is that where you’re from?”
“Well, yeah. Aren’t you?”
“Sunnydale.” She looked over at Spike. “How’d the painting get from L.A. to the Hellmouth?”
“Obviously, your little Ewok buddy stole it,” the vamp replied, his words short and curt. “Question is, how do we get back to the Hellmouth?”
Buffy swung around to look at Tony expectantly, but the musician only shook his head. “Can’t help you there,” he said. “If I knew, I’d’ve done it myself two weeks ago.”
“So we’re back to waitin’ for Rupert,” Spike said, standing and stretching. “Can we go now? I’m knackered. Not that sittin’ around chewin’ the fat with bugle boy isn’t a barrel of monkeys, but it’s goin’ to be dawn soon, and I’d much prefer not to have to see it through a cloud of dust, if you get my meanin’.”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Hopping from her perch, the young woman looked up at their new confidante. “How can we get a hold of you? In case we figure out how to get back home.”
“I’ve actually got a place across the street,” Tony said. “No phone, though.” He smiled. “Us musicians don’t do as well as you escorts.”
Buffy laughed and immediately found her elbow being tightly gripped by Spike’s strong hand. “Right then,” he said. “Nice meetin’ you, see you tomorrow.”
“It could be worse,” Tony said to their backs as they headed for the door. “At least you’re not alone. My girlfriend’s still on the other side.”
A stunned Slayer stopped and turned to stare with wide hazel eyes at the trumpet player. “What’re you implying?” she demanded.
“Well, you two. I mean, you’re…” He blushed. “Together…right?”
“Spike is not my boyfriend!”
“But, I’ve been watching you…and…he’s all…and you…” Putting his hand over his eyes, Tony just shook his head. “Forget I said anything. I’m sorry. I just assumed---.”
“You assumed wrong,” Buffy said, stressing the last word. “We’re just trying to keep things kosher with everyone here at the club so they won’t suspect anything.”
Behind the young woman, Spike stiffened, his jaw locking. When the young musician removed his fingers from his face and looked up, his gaze met that of the vampire’s, and he swallowed hard at the other man’s almost imperceptible shake of his blond head. “Of c-c-course,” Tony stuttered. “Just an act. Plus, they think you’re single, they’ll make you go back to your…escorting. Makes sense you’d want them to think…”
“It’s OK,” the Slayer said, relaxing. “Just means we’re getting away with it. Besides, Spike’s so convincing, sometimes even I forget.” She laughed, but stopped almost immediately when she realized she was the only one doing so.
There was an awkward silence as the three just looked at each other, broken only when Buffy turned to open the door. “It was still a great solo,” she tossed back as she exited the dressing room.
“Thanks…” Tony’s voice trailed away as he watched the pair leave, crossing to shut the door behind them as soon as their forms disappeared around the corner. With a heavy sigh, he leaned forward, closing his eyes as his brow rested on the dark wood. Shit, he thought. The painting’s back in Sunnydale…
Giles was kneeling on the floor in front of his bookcase when the sharp rap at his door echoed through the quiet apartment. “Come in!” he called.
“I come bearing fresh pastries and sugary delights,” proclaimed Xander, as he pushed the door open with his hip, boxes of donuts balanced in his arms. “Everything a growing boy needs to maintain that research edge.”
“Put them in the kitchen, please,” the Watcher instructed, not even looking up from the text in his hands. “I still haven’t managed to remove that jelly stain in the carpet from the last time you were here.”
As the young man loped into the other room, Anya hung back near the doorway. “So what’s on the agenda today?” she asked brightly. “Prophecy? Mass murders? Baby-eating trolls?”
“Art,” Giles replied and stood, pulling his glasses off to rub at his eyes. “Before she disappeared, Buffy dropped off a painting she found in the cemetery.”
“So you still haven’t heard from her, huh?” asked Xander from the kitchen.
The Watcher shook his head. “Although Willow proposed that perhaps she’s out looking for Spike. Their disappearances seem to have coincided too closely not to have some common linkage.”
Distractedly, Anya wandered further into the apartment, only half paying attention to the conversation between the two men. As her fingers ran along the edge of the desk, her gaze was captured by the picture that still sat there, and all movement in her body promptly stopped, with the exception of her eyes which only seemed to grow larger and larger. “Where did you get this?” she asked, her voice barely a squeak.
Giles stepped to her side, looking down at the artwork. “That’s the painting I was referring to,” he said, his hand reaching out to pick it up.
“Don’t touch it!” The ex-demon’s arm shot out, grabbing the Watcher’s wrist, stopping him from completing the movement. “Are you crazy?”
“What is it, Ahn?” queried Xander as he came out from the other room. “Do you know something about this that maybe you should clue us in on?”
The young woman laughed, rolling her eyes. “You can’t find Buffy, you can’t find Spike, and you’ve got a H’roven sitting in plain view on the desk. Oh, I know something, all right. I know you can say sayonara to your Slayer…”
To be continued in Chapter 7: A Sinner Kissed an Angel…