DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of
song, “The Very Thought of You,” was written by Ray Noble.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike has arrived in NYC, but on his first night in town, he met a young blonde going by the name of Anne at one of his old haunts, and ended up spending the night with her. In the morning, however, she was gone…
The tiniest of lines was between her brows as she replaced the receiver in its cradle. “He’s not there,” Willow said, eyes pensive as they fixated on the phone. “The clerk said he doesn’t remember seeing him come back last night.”
“This is Spike we’re jawing about here,” Xander said from his lounging position in the room’s lone chair. With his legs kicked out in front of him, his spine a curve in the incline of the seat, he was fighting the urge to just lay his head back and close his eyes. Flying had been a nightmare and with his body still on California time, the brunette wanted nothing more at that moment than to be back in his bed, asleep for another four, or five, or maybe ten hours. He wasn’t sure why Willow had called him for this. Even in the past, his responsibility had always been in the execution of plans, not in the arrangement. If Spike needed eyes, or an extra set of hands, Xander Harris was there, no questions asked. Had been ever since the Brit had saved his life.
“He’s a big boy and knows how to take care of himself,” he went on to say. “He probably just met up with some old friends.”
“All of Spike’s old friends want him pushing up daisies,” Willow replied, her lips thin. “Did you not read any of the material I gave you about this assignment?”
“Yeah.” He ticked his instructions off on his fingers. “Wing it to New York. Find the Mayor. Kill the Mayor. Wing it back home.”
She shook her head, sitting on the edge of the bed and rearranging the various file folders that were spread across the chintz bedspread. “You’re hopeless.”
“I’m just saying, give the guy a little credit for being smart about what he’s doing here. You think he’s going to tip his mitt on his being in town if he can help it? This is Spike,” he repeated. “He may have the impulse control of a bunny in heat, but his self-preservation instincts are top notch. No way is he going to do anything that’ll put him or us in danger.” At her raised eyebrow, Xander shrugged. “Well, not any more danger than we’re already in from gunning for one of the city’s biggest crimelords. But we did that to ourselves by signing up with him. Color us the stupid ones here.”
“He’ll show up,” Giles said, his voice low but firm. Standing by the room’s only window, he had been concentrating on the file in his hands, studiously ignoring the bulk of the conversation going on behind him. Sometimes, listening to the pair of them go back and forth reminded him all too clearly that he was old enough to be their father, and he wanted nothing more than to smack them and tell them to shut the hell up. He remembered why he’d been mildly relieved when Anya had put her foot down on Xander’s continued involvement with their operations. There was only so much of this he could take.
There had been a time when he thought the pair of them might hook up. That had been right after Spike had brought Xander into the office, announcing he was their newest wingman and to put him to work as soon as possible. Willow had blushed in that self-effacing, endearing way of hers, and promptly gone overboard in making the new arrival at home, waiting on him hand and foot when he was around, laughing at all his jokes. In spite of how obvious it had seemed to Giles, Xander remained oblivious to the attention and when he’d started dating Anya, the Englishman had breathed an unexpected sigh of relief. Willow deserved better. Someone more on her intellectual level. Someone who would challenge her. Though Harris was a good man, Giles wanted more for her.
And felt like an absolute prat for allowing himself to feel so territorial about the young redhead.
As if in response to Giles’ declaration, there was a sharp knock at the door, yanking Willow to her feet and sending her scurrying to answer it. “Spike!” she said with a broad smile when he sauntered past her. “You’re alive!”
He grinned, stopping at the edge of the bed to survey the hotel room Willow had settled in. He didn’t know how she did it, but she’d already managed to make it look like her own. Fresh flowers that he just knew she had purchased that morning adorned the simple nightstand, while a row of books now lined the top of the bureau. It was a small room, but that had been at Willow’s insistence; just because they were getting paid a lot of money for this job didn’t mean they had to go blowing it on silly things like a suite at the Plaza, she’d argued.
“Sounds like you expected me not to be,” Spike commented. He dropped the bag of fresh bagels he’d brought with them onto the bed, sending her files scattering to the floor. His eyes settled on Xander, and his grin widened. “You look like hell, Harris. Don’t tell me this is what happens when you get separated from the ball and chain for a few hours.”
“No, this is what happens when a certain redhead decides body clocks are meant to not only be ignored, but smashed to smithereens.” He shambled to his feet and frowned quizzically. “You’re smiling,” he observed with a note of curiosity. “Who are you and what have you done with my pal Spike?”
He chuckled as he collapsed into the chair Xander had just vacated, a sound that drew inquisitive glances from each of the others in the room. “Must be something in the air,” he said. “The smell of old hunting grounds has a way of bringin’ out the beast in me.”
It was then that Willow noticed, and she stopped from where she’d been retrieving the files. “You’re not hung over,” she said in amazement. Indeed, not only was he not hung over, she realized, Spike looked better than she’d seen him in months. While it looked like he was still wearing his clothes from the previous day---though with his wardrobe choices, that was sometimes kind of hard to tell---they weren’t wrinkled like he’d slept or passed out in them. His eyes glittered in a restrained amusement as he looked steadily back at her, and she would’ve sworn there was a relaxed ease about his lean frame that belied the anxiety that had wracked it only twenty-four hours earlier.
“Not for lack of tryin’,” Spike said. “Just didn’t…turn out that way in the long run. Had myself a night in for a change.” For some reason, that seemed to amuse him even more, and Willow frowned as she watched him chuckle silently.
“But you never went back to your hotel last night,” she pressed. “The clerk said---.”
“You’re checkin’ up on me?” All humor had dropped from his countenance, his eyes steel as Spike sat up in the seat. The bagel to which Xander had helped himself stopped midway to his mouth as his eyes darted between his two friends, watching Willow quail slightly beneath the blond’s stare.
“You were late,” she said tremulously. “I was worried. And we are in the Big Apple here. You know, the big I-have-enemies-around-every-corner city you’ve been complaining about since we took this job? For all I knew, you were lying in the middle of some street with a stomach full of lead because Dru found out you were back in town and decided her boys needed some target practice.”
The genuineness of her tone marginally eased the tension in Spike’s shoulders, and he ducked his head. “Right, Red. Consider me suitably chastised. Now, can we get this shindig rollin’ here? I’ve got places to see, people to do.”
She realized he’d effectively avoiding her question about his whereabouts the previous evening, but decided that maybe she’d pressed hard enough for one day. Spike was a grown man, and Xander was right. He could take care of himself. It didn’t mean, though, that she wouldn’t sit silently by and worry about him anyway.
“Nothing new on the Mayor himself,” Willow said, picking up one of the files. “But Giles found out something interesting last night when we got back from picking up Xander.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
Giles cleared his throat. “It seems our unknown employer is not the only party interested in removing the Mayor from his current position within the crime families of New York,” he said. “I received a call from an old friend, following up on some of the background work I was doing on the legitimate businesses the Mayor runs. It turns out that the government sent in their own man some time ago in an attempt to infiltrate his organization.”
Spike frowned. “If there’s a g-man in on this---,” he started, but was cut off by Giles’ outstretched palm.
“There’s not…we don’t think. According to my friend, the government lost contact with their insider some time ago. As far as they’re concerned, he’s dead. They assume the Mayor fingered him and took him out of the picture.”
“I’m not tanglin’ with the feds,” Spike reiterated. “We’ve got enough problems with those bloody lawyers. I see one sign that this pigeon is alive and flappin’, I’m bailing on this job, I don’t care what those mouthpieces threaten us with.”
“Whoa, there, Nellie,” Xander said through a mouthful of bagel. “Who’s threatening who?”
Willow sighed. “If you’d read the files I gave you, you’d know this.”
“Well, I didn’t, so fill me in.”
With an exasperated sigh, Spike propelled himself upwards. “I am not sittin’ in on another of Red’s lectures,” he announced and began striding toward the door. His hands thrust deep into his pockets, extracting his cigarettes and lighter. A folded piece of paper fluttered unnoticed to the floor. “I’ll be out havin’ a smoke and a spot of fresh air. Lemme know when the floor show’s over.” And with that, he was gone.
The trio sat in silence for a long moment after he left, each one of them gazing at the door. “That was…odd,” Giles finally remarked. “Spike seemed…”
“…distracted,” Willow finished for him. “And almost…happy.” She turned to look at the Englishman. “When was the last time we saw him happy?”
“He smiled at my wedding,” Xander offered.
“He was drunk at your wedding,” Giles countered.
“What do you think happened?” the redhead asked. “Do you think he might have killed someone? You know how he gets after he’s been shooting things.”
“What’s that?” Xander queried, noticing the paper littering the entryway of the room. Rising to his feet, he had crossed the floor and picked it up before either of them could comment, opening it up to scan its contents. His mouth curled into a grin, and he looked up at the waiting pair. “I think we can stop wondering about Spike, and just start trusting that he’s a big boy and can take care of himself.”
“Why? What is it?”
He handed her the slip, and watched as she read it through once, then again, and then a third time, her eyes widening with each pass. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” she murmured. Her surprised gaze lifted to meet Giles’ quizzical one. “Spike met a girl last night.”
“A girl? Are you certain?”
She smiled. “Well, I’m hoping it was a girl.” She read from the note. “’Something tells me we both got found tonight. Thanks for making me feel beautiful.’”
Xander’s grin was wide. “At least we know why he was smiling now,” he said. “The amount of tension he had built up, I’m surprised the dame had enough strength left over to write him the note.”
“What are we going to do?” Willow asked Giles.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I mean, it’s not like Spike hasn’t been with other women before. He’s just never been so…pleased about it.”
With a sure step forward, Xander marched to the bed and snatched the note from Willow’s unsuspecting hands. “You two and your thinking too much,” he said. “This is eggs in the coffee here, probably one of the easier problems we’ve had to deal with. Because it’s not a problem. It’s not even any of our business. So what if Spike found himself a girl who makes him happy? You think he’s going to pull a Jekyll and Hyde or something? He’s not dumb, and I say if he found a piece of skirt who doesn’t look at him cross-eyed for doing what he does, then all the power to him.”
“The last time Spike was happy about a girl was with Dru,” Willow said. “And she cut his heart out and tried selling it to the highest bidder. Spike’s our friend. I don’t want him going through that again.”
Xander tucked the paper into his pants pocket, shaking his head. “He’s my friend, too. I don’t plan on letting anyone hurt him. I promise you, if I see any funny business, you two will be the first ones I tell. But please, I’m asking you, just back off and give the man some breathing room. This job’s going to be tough enough as it is. He doesn’t need us distracted because we’re too busy thinking about him maybe getting a little lucky on the side.”
“What about the note?”
“Forget you ever saw it. I’ll give it back to him when we go to Heaven tonight. Tell him I saw him drop it or something. If he asks, I won’t lie about reading it, but that shouldn’t be a problem anyway.” His amiable face split into a huge smile. “How’s he going to resist this mug?”
Every step along the concrete had fouled his mood until by the time he reached Heaven that night, Spike looked very much like he was ready to pull the wings off a swarm of butterflies.
It had seemed so simple. He’d had a bloody amazing night, and he wasn’t ready to just walk away from it. So…find Anne. Convince her that it didn’t have to be just one night. Maybe under other circumstances, Spike could’ve just left it as the interlude she fully expected it to be. Hell, under other circumstances, with other dames, he had left it exactly like that. But not now. Not when there’d obviously been a connection between them. Not when she’d obviously enjoyed herself just as much as he had. And not when, for the first time in ages, he found himself looking forward to the next moment because maybe, just maybe, she might be in it. So, find her. That was the plan.
She’d left a trail a mile wide, it had looked like. It should’ve been a piece of cake.
After the meeting with Red and Ripper, he’d gone back to St. Christopher’s and tried to get information about the blonde from the squirrelly desk clerk, even going so far as pulling out his gun to threaten him with a spot of violence. It had been funny at first; reading about the underbelly of New York in one of the multitudinous detective rags on the market was a little different from seeing it from the barrel end of a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. The little guy had scrambled to pull out all the records, desperate to show Spike just what he wanted and to get the reality of a bullet in his forehead as far away as possible.
She’d paid in cash when she’d checked in under the name “Frankie Ballou.” Spike had almost laughed out loud when he’d seen that. Didn’t like gangster movies, huh? he’d thought. Bet she didn’t think I’d’ve seen “I Am the Law” as well. Like I’d miss ol’ Eddie G in any of his flicks. Still, she couldn’t have known that she was going to be running into him, either, Spike had reasoned. At least, that’s the way he was choosing to look at it.
With the hotel a wash-out, next stop had been Willy’s. The bartender had known she was lying when she’d given her name as Anne; Spike had every intention of finding out what the little guy believed her name to actually be, even if it meant wringing his neck. Only problem was, Willy was nowhere to be found. According to the bloke on duty, he would be back in the bar in a day or two, so in the meantime, Spike had to cool his heels and wait.
He was bad at waiting.
The rest of his afternoon had been spent trawling the other businesses in the neighborhood, asking questions of shopkeepers, stopping people on the street, quizzing all of them on the identity of the unknown blonde. No one knew anything. It was as if she had appeared out of nowhere, left no impression on the world around her except for him, and then vanished into the crowd, becoming another faceless body seething through the masses, enjoying an anonymity he had been reveling in only twelve hours earlier.
He could find her quicker, he knew, if he just went to Red and Ripper. This was exactly the sort of thing they were good at. Going to them, though, meant speaking up about what had happened, and for some reason, Spike just wasn’t ready to do that yet. Not even with his friends. For now, he wanted to keep the secret of that night tucked safely away inside his chest, guarding it against taint from a sullied world. It was all he had right now, especially since he’d lost the damn note. He was still kicking himself about that one.
So, here he stood, on the walk outside Heaven, mood black at his impotence from the day, tugging at what felt like a noose around his neck. It was a black-tie kind of joint, Willow had said. Even as the coat check girl, she was required to be in full evening wear in order to present the proper image to the clientele, so he and Xander would have to be suited up if they wanted to blend with the rest of the customers. She had suggested that perhaps he should go back to his natural hair color for the job as the white-blond made him stand out in a crowd, but Spike had put his foot down on that. Nobody in this town knew him with the bleach job; going back to the honey-brown would make him even more recognizable to anyone meaning him harm.
The soft caress of a trumpet solo filtered to his ear as he pushed open the door, and Spike paused, eyes sweeping across the entrance with a practiced eye. Money---lots of it---had been poured into the joint. Plush scarlet carpeting adorned the entryway, with gilt-edged furniture that spoke of a more delicate era offering comfort to those who might have to wait to enter the main area. Impressionist paintings were also scattered about to give them something to look at. To his right was the coat check area, and behind the wide counter, he saw Willow standing, a smile spreading across her face when she noticed him come in.
“You scrub up pretty good,” she commented as he sauntered up to her.
His eyes flickered over the emerald gown she wore, cap sleeves revealing the porcelain of her skin, gold sequined trim bringing out the flecks in her eyes. “You don’t look half bad yourself, Red,” he replied, peeling off his overcoat.
“Xander’s already inside,” she said. She turned to hang his coat up, taking the ticket to hand it back to him. “He’s got a table in front. Stage left. You can see the whole place from there.”
“What about the Mayor? He poked his puss in yet?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t really gotten an opportunity to meet any of the other staff yet, either. Giles was late in dropping me off. Oh! He said to let you know he picked up the car you wanted. He wasn’t able to get a thirty-seven, but he did manage to find a thirty-eight in black. Plus, it’s got the leather interiors like you asked for.” Her nose wrinkled. “You really think a Desoto’s appropriate for this kind of work?” she asked. “Nobody’s going to take you seriously if they see you driving it. It doesn’t exactly say, I’m a player, now does it?”
“Exactly,” Spike said. “Blending in’s the key to not gettin’ killed here, remember?”
“And you’ll be grateful for those leather interiors when it comes clean-up time,” he went on to say. “Remember tryin’ to get the blood stains out when I had to smoke that Adam guy in his car? Leather’s a spot easier to wipe clean than upholstery.” Reaching across the counter, Spike grabbed the hem of his jacket and pulled it to him, tucking his hands inside the pockets to extract his cigarettes and lighter. “We meeting back at your hotel when the night’s done?”
She nodded. “No later than three. We need time to organize our notes and I’ve got to be back here tomorrow at noon for paperwork. I didn’t get around to doing it tonight.”
Three. That would give him plenty of time to go back to Willy’s for a while then. The barkeep might not be around to ask about the mysterious Anne, but that didn’t mean she might now show her face all on her own accord. She’d done it once. She just might do it again.
Xander saw him long before he slid into the other chair at his table, and pushed over the glass of whiskey that he’d had waiting. “You’re late,” the brunette remarked, no recriminations in his voice, just a casual observance.
“Doesn’t look like I missed much, though,” Spike replied, and let his gaze flicker over the crowd.
The club was only half-full, elegant tables surrounding the black and white dance floor that encompassed the center of the room. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, catching the brilliant colors of the gowns and making them shimmer in the ambient light. Just before their table was the stage, with a small bandstand on its opposite side.
Xander noted his friend’s inspection and nodded. “Joint’s high-class, I’ll give the Mayor that much,” he said. “The man likes his nice things.”
“And clean,” Spike said, looking down at the floor shining back at him. “I think I could eat off that.”
“Don’t have to. That’s what they have these things called tables for.”
Spike picked up his glass, shaking it just enough to watch the amber fluid swirl inside, catching the light from the chandeliers and tossing it in yellowish glints onto his friend’s face. “Red says the Mayor’s a no-show. Hope you haven’t been too bored just sittin’ here.”
Xander immediately lit up. “Are you kidding? I think I’m in love.”
“In love?” That brought his attention up, and his lips quirked at the excitement on the brunette’s face. “I’d hope so. You married the silly chit.”
“What? Oh, no, not Anya. Well, yeah, Anya. I love Anya. But no, I’m not talking about her.” He gestured toward the stage. “The torcher they got here will turn your hair white, she’s that good, although with you, that might be redundant. And did I mention gorgeous? Beautiful. Like Carole Lombard, only prettier. And probably smarter. And---.”
“---and I get the picture,” Spike laughed. “An angel walking in the clouds, singing for us mere mortals.” He shook his head. “Maybe Anya was right not to let you out of her sight. One little flash of a pretty leg and you’re this dame’s lapdog.”
“I’m not a lapdog, and Anya’s got nothing to worry about.”
“Oh? Then where’s your wedding ring?”
Embarrassed, Xander tucked his bare hand in his lap out of view, using his right to pick up his drink. “I don’t wear it when I’m working,” he said. “You know that. Just in case.”
“Well, just in case does not mean sniffing around shiny little singers who probably turn a trick or two on the side,” Spike said, all serious again. “I didn’t bring you into this to ruin what you got with Anya, and if you’re not goin’ to behave yourself, I’ll send you packing back to California and do this myself.”
“No, I’m good. Don’t worry about me. Just…wait until you see her. I promise. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about here.” His head jerked in the direction of the door, and his eyes narrowed, scrutinizing the new arrival.
Slowly, Spike turned in his chair, letting his gaze follow Xander’s, stopping at the bulky black form that hovered just at the edge of the dance floor. He knew right away it was Angel Wilkins. There was no mistaking the heavy brow, the meticulously groomed dark hair, the salacious curve of his mouth as his brown eyes tripped over the various women in the club. There was also no mistaking the power housed within his meaty hands, and Spike felt himself unconsciously straighten in his seat.
“And I thought the no neck thing was just because of Willow’s lousy picture,” Xander commented. “Remind me to apologize for giving her a hard time.”
Spike didn’t reply, just watched the other man weave his way through the tables to sit himself at a vacant one in the opposite corner. A waiter appeared from nowhere with a drink already prepared for the club owner, and the blond snorted when he saw the wine glass. “Poofter’s drinkin’ white wine. Can’t even handle a real drink.”
The lights were dimming then, and Spike watched as the emcee came from behind the velvet curtains to stand at the microphone centerstage. “Ladies and gentlemen!” he announced. “Back again, for your entertainment, Heaven’s own little angel from above…the one…the only…Buffy Summers!”
Applause burst from the audience, and Spike noted that the only one who could compete with Xander for enthusiasm was Angel. Interesting, he mused as the stage went black. Looks like someone else has got a bit of a thing for the little songbird.
The music began first, a slow brass swell that rippled through the air in a sonorous caress. And then…the voice. Not powerful, but clear like a mountain spring. On the thin side, but aching with emotion as every syllable slipped from her unseen lips.
“The very thought of you…and I forget to do…”
The lights came up on her then, and for a moment, Spike forgot to breathe, blue eyes widening in shock as there, on the small dais that elevated her enough to reach the tall microphone, stood Anne.
Or rather, Buffy Summers.
If it was possible, she was actually more beautiful than she’d been the previous evening. The yellow bias gown she wore hugged her curves, silver bugle beads adorning the sleeveless v-neck bodice, the dress shimmering like spun gold as Buffy’s hips slowly undulated in time to the music. She wasn’t even aware that she was doing it, he could tell. Her eyes were closed, hands wrapped around the microphone in such a way that Spike was immediately thrust back into the hotel room at St. Christopher’s, and she was lost in the lyrics of the song. With her upswept hair, she looked very much like some mystical siren, standing lost in the waves.
“…the little ordinary things that everyone ought to do…”
Her eyes opened then, staring out into the darkness, oblivious to her audience as she sang to some unseen suitor. Just as before, Spike found himself rooted to those gray-green pools, his black mood lifting as he realized that it no longer mattered that he’d spent the whole day looking for her. Meant to be. Had to be. Why else would she be here, in Heaven, tonight of all nights?
“…I see your face in every flower…your eyes in stars above…”
Her head turned then, more as part of the performance than anything else, he knew, but his gaze bored into her, willing her to notice him, an odd need of desperation oozing inside of him that she would at least acknowledge his presence.
He knew the second she saw him.
The tiniest widening of her eyes, the faintest of hesitations as she sang, and then she looked away, deliberately choosing to focus elsewhere as the last lines of the song came tumbling from her luscious mouth.
“…it’s just the thought of you…the very thought of you…my love…”
There was more applause, and this time Spike joined in, half-smiling as she stepped graciously back from the microphone to bow her head in acknowledgement to the audience. In the opposite corner, he caught the sight of Angel rising to his feet and walking to the stage, and immediately his smile dissolved into a frown, his body tensing as he straightened in his chair.
The wanker was headed straight for Buffy, and though Spike knew he had no right to feel so, every nerve within his body was screaming at him to get up and stop the lummox from getting anywhere near her. His fingers curled around the edge of his chair as he watched Angel slide a proprietorial arm around her waist, dwarfing her as he reached for the microphone.
“Aren’t I the luckiest guy in New York?” Angel said to the crowd, and was rewarded with a smattering of applause. He grabbed Buffy’s right hand and thrust it forward. “Show them the rock, dollface.”
She hadn’t been wearing it the previous night, of that Spike was certain. No way could he have missed something the size of that. But as the ready smile brightened Buffy’s face, he discovered he couldn’t stop staring at the diamond that glittered on her third finger, twinkling and mocking him with its cold beauty as Angel made sure it was flashed to the entire club.
She was engaged. To Angel Wilkins.
To be continued in Chapter 4: Married to the Mob…