She wasn't sure why she followed him. Her foremost emotion in his presence was irritation, so it was hard to say why she felt compelled to pursue him at that moment. It was only in the space between heartbeats, in that tiny place she reserved for the absolute rock-bottom truth, that she ever admitted how much he affected her. But it's so wrong, whined her conscience. Yeah, it's wrong. But it's true, answered something else much more basic and primitive inside her.
The narrow street and alleyway entrance were deserted. It had rained a bit, and the glow from the streetlight was reflected in the slick, black asphalt. She stepped into the alley, expecting to see him leaning against the wall, lighting up a cigarette. He wasn't there.
Instead, she encountered three guys, wearing what appeared to be matching Lone Ranger costumes, complete with masks and toy six-guns on their hips. They were huddled together around something that she couldn't quite make out in the dim light. They broke apart suddenly at her approach, and she could see that they had been taking turns with a small straw and white powder on a mirror. She stopped, uncertain of what her responsibility was in this situation--after all, she was the Slayer, not the Sheriff.
"Hey, baby...com'ere...wanna a little taste?" One of the Rangers beckoned, his eyes bright behind the mask.
"Umm...no thanks, just passing through." She tried to squeeze around them, but they blocked her path.
"Aw, come on, that's not very polite...and you look like such a FRIENDLY girl." The same guy, so obviously the leader of the group, grabbed her elbow and pushed her back against the wall.
Damn it! Why did I follow him out here? Now somebody's gonna get hurt, and it's all Spike's fault.
She decided to try charm before violence. "Look, guys, I appreciate your generosity, but I really just want to get by. Be nice and let me go, OK?"
"But don't you want a little taste first? Make you feel really good...make you wanna party all night!" A second Ranger had her by the other arm and was staring down the front of her bustier.
"Nice outfit." He looked up to meet her eyes and leered. "How much?"
She realized instantly that he wasn't asking the price of the costume. Her temper flared, and then it was knees to groins all around, with a couple gut-punches for good measure. When all three were down and groaning on the ground, she made sure to smash the mirror and grind the pretty white powder into the dirt for good measure.
Then an eerie sensation of been-here, done-this came to her, as she heard someone clapping from the end of the alleyway. His face was in shadow, but she could see the red end of a lit cigarette and the outline of his duster and hat as he slouched against the bricks.
She stalked over to him. "A little assistance would have been nice."
He snorted. "Since when do you need help takin' out mortals? Besides, you know I couldn't touch 'em without a firestorm startin' in my skull."
"Still, you could have a least--oh, forget it. Just...get away from me." She turned to go and his hand shot out, gripping her wrist.
"What's wrong, Slayer? Not havin' a good time at the hoe-down?"
She sighed. "I was having a fine time until those coked-up frat-boys decided to make with the mauling. What is it with you males, anyway? What does it take to get you to keep your hands to yourselves?" She looked pointedly at where he was still holding on to her.
He dropped her wrist and shrugged. "What did you expect, pet? Go about lookin' like a whore, men will treat you like one." He stubbed his cigarette out beneath his boot and crossed his arms, waiting for her stinging retort.
"Welcome to the twenty-first century, Spike, where a woman should be able to walk around dressed any way she wants without getting assaulted."
"SHOULD bein' the operative word here, ducks." He shrugged again. "Not sayin' it's right. Just sayin' it's true."
His words were the echo of her earlier thoughts, albeit on a different subject. But the way he was looking at her made her think that perhaps he meant something else as well. She stared at him until she realized that she was staring at him, then she stared at the ground instead.
"Where are all your little friends, Slayer? Gone home to bed?"
"No, they're still inside." He tilted his head and gave her a quizzical look. She stammered, "I...just came out for some air...guess I ought to go back...they'll wonder what happened..."
"Right. Well, off with you then. Mustn't let a good party go to waste."
"Me? No. Had enough of the down-home fun an' frolic for one evenin,' although it was divertin' enough." He searched his pockets for his cigarettes and came up with an empty pack. Grimacing, he crumpled it and tossed away into the shadows.
She frowned and was about to rebuke him for littering when he continued in an almost dreamy tone. "Always wished I'd traveled to the Americas sooner. I'd have made one hell of an outlaw, don't you think, luv? The scourge of the Old West--Jesse James, Billy the Kid--all a bunch of nancy-boys compared to the Big Bad." He quirked a smile at her.
She rolled her eyes, but couldn't help the answering grin that split her face.
"Must say, pet, I do like your outfit. Bit of Miss Kitty?"
"How did you know that?"
"Ah, well, since I've been cursed with this soddin' chip, I've watched quite a lot of that Nick at Nite. Most of it's rot, but a good episode of Gunsmoke is hard to beat."
She realized that they had begun to walk--to stroll, really--down the street and away from the loud tinkle and twang and the bright lights emanating from the Bronze. It felt strange to be having a real conversation with him, as if he were a friend.
"I always thought I should have lived in another time, too. But I'd like to go back to the roaring twenties--you know, flappers and bathtub gin and the Charleston."
He pushed the hat that covered his brow back a bit and surveyed her. "Yes, Slayer, I could most definitely feature you as a jazz baby." His smile made her drop her eyes. "Although you want to be glad you missed the thirties. Starvin' babies and the rise of facism...not my favorite decade."
They had reached a corner convenience store and stopped beneath the bright fluorescent lights. He had intended to buy cigarettes and maybe some beer. He had the beginnings of a plan in the back of his head--a plan that didn't have much chance of success--but a bloke had to try, didn't he?
Then the door flew open and three vampires charged out into the street, blood dripping from their faces and fangs.
Buffy had been lulled into a relaxed state by the gentle meander of their conversation, and by Spike's mellow demeanor, so different from his usual edginess and sarcasm. At the sight of the vamps she snapped into attack-mode, reaching for the stake she had tucked into her garter belt before she left her house that evening.
Foolish enough to devour a convenience-store clerk and two customers in a heavily populated area, but not foolish enough to stand around and let the Slayer and a known murderer of his own kind finish them off, the vamps made a run for the cemetery--Spike's cemetery.
Torn between giving chase and checking for survivors, Buffy finally went with her humanitarian instincts. She needn't have bothered, as the three within the store were no longer among the living. The alarm behind the counter had been activated and they could hear sirens in the distance. Spike paused long enough to nick a pack of Lucky Strikes on his way out the door.
As they sprinted toward the cemetery, Buffy wished she'd worn something a bit more...supportive. She could feel herself bouncing all over the place, and she could sense that Spike noticed it as well. She steeled herself for the inevitable snide comment that never came.
They hit the gates at top speed. Without bothering to actually speak to one another, they instinctively split up and began circling the perimeter in opposite directions. Twenty minutes later found them face to face in the center of the cemetery, no vamps in sight.
"Well, pet, it seems we've lost them--or they've lost us, lucky sods."
"Hmm...I found where they rose from. Three fresh graves near the back. We'd better separate. You take the north side of town, I'll take the south. Let's meet in front--"
"Half a mo', luv. Do you really fancy scamperin' all about town lookin' for these blokes? They've already fed. Now they'll be lookin' to hook up with whoever turned 'em an' party a bit, if I know the newly risen. An' I do." He tore open his new pack of cigarettes and slipped one between his lips. "They'll be back here before sunrise, lookin' for shelter. We can take 'em then."
"What do you mean, WE can take them? You'll be sound asleep in your crypt by then, if I know you. And I do."
"I'm hurt, Slayer. What kind of gentleman would leave a bird...I mean, a lady such as yourself all alone and at the mercy of whatever beasties might wander by?"
"Oh, I don't know, Spike--the same gentleman that threatened to rip my heart out and feed it to me only a few months ago?" She said it sweetly, but it stung.
"Fine, Slayer. Have it your way. Be a silly bint--an' a dead one for all I care." He swung away from her in annoyance, and was stopped by her voice.
"Hey! Where's your hat?"
He turned back and ran his hand through his hair, making it stick up at odd angles. "Must've dropped it somewhere." He shrugged.
She took a step nearer. "That's too bad. I liked it. Made you look dangerous."
He favored her with a tight smile. "I AM dangerous, Slayer. You'd do well to remember it."
"Oh, yeah, I'm trembling in my vintage boots."
Then he was next to her, bending over her, and tracing the tip of his finger over the outline of her lips. It tickled. "Would you like me to make you tremble, pet?"
Whoa, where did that come from? "Um, let's just stick to business here, Spike." She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and backed away.
He took a long drag off his cigarette and crossed his arms over his chest as she sat down with her back against a tombstone.
"So...um...what d'you want to do while we wait?" She watched as a slow smile spread over his face. Right. Walked straight into that one, didn't you, Buff?
"Mmm...what do you say to a friendly game--of cards?" He produced a deck from the pocket of his coat with the grace of a magician.
She rolled her eyes and laughed at him. "I'm not huge with the strip poker thing, Spike, but nice try."
"No? Well, luv, there are other games that are nearly as divertin' an' they don't involve the loss of clothing."
"Yeah? Enlighten me."
He paused for a moment and looked at her speculatively. "How 'bout this? We play a hand and winner gets to tell the loser a story. Loser has to sit still an' listen."
How bad can that be? A story...sure I could listen to a story. Probably another tale of the exploits of William the Bloody, but what the hell? It'll pass the time.
"OK, Spike. I haven't played poker in a long time, so I hope you're prepared to do most of the talking...oh, do we need a theme?"
He stepped back and spread his hands apart, gesturing toward them both. "Do you fancy the obvious?"
"What? Cowboys and Indians...I mean, Native Americans?" She looked around guiltily, half-expecting to see Willow pop up and give her a disapproving glare. "Sounds good--but no scalp-age, please."
"Right then." He settled down at the opposite end of the grave and expertly shuffled the deck. Neither of them gave any thought to the impropriety of playing games atop someone's eternal place of rest. "Cut the cards." She did so and he began to deal.
The first hand reminded her why she avoided card games in general and poker in specific--she sucked at it. He beat her with three of a kind.
"All right, luv. Guess I'm up to bat, so to speak. Comfy?"
She leaned her head back against the tombstone and shut her eyes. "Yup. Entertain me."
If her eyes had been open, she would have seen the mischievous glint in his, and the hungry angle of his smile as he considered her. Drawing on all his powers of creation, he lit yet another cigarette, and began his tale.
"Well, you see, there was this town, deep in the heart of Texas. Folks called it Sunnydale."
She peeped at him and grinned. "How stunningly original."
"Hush, pet. Anyway, in this town there lived a girl...a woman really...a...a lady of the evening. Name of Buffy. And she was famous, for in all of Texas, there was no one who had ever..."
His voice wrapped itself around her mind and she began to see a picture of the dusty little town of Sunnydale, and a picture of herself as she would have looked if she had lived there. She settled herself more comfortably against the hard stone and let his story take her far away.
Continued in Chapter Three