Part 3: Turnabout
Spike also had no idea that Anne was going to have such an impact. If he had, he would have exploited it. As it stood, the first caterer he spoke with realized that Spike's plans were going to take a lot of work. So the caterer recommended a party planner. And gave him a name.
Spike had set up a meeting at the Bronze and they'd continued the meeting at Willy's. Spike had been impressed with her grasp of the magnitude of what he was planning. She'd made valuable suggestions and helped him sweat the details. He'd gotten the initial quotes. Now he made a deal with her. 10% of the total cost of the party. And 100% of whatever she was able to save on the cost through negotiations.
A very expensive party, Spike admitted to himself. But if he was going to crash and burn with Buffy, he might as well go out with a bang. And he had to respect Xander for having the balls to marry an ex-vengeance demon, reformed or not. He deserved a good loud, drunken send-off.
Money. He checked. He was still ahead, even after paying cash up front for everything. Still, he had to have the stake to play the game, so it was about time to have another go.
Graduating from kitten to high stakes poker hadn't been as hard as he thought. It was paying for the party, and all Spike's little incidentals. He hadn't nicked anything from the convenience store in weeks. Spike frowned. Shook his head. Didn't have time to think about it.
He grinned to himself in anticipation. The gentlemen he was playing cards with weren't the nicest sort, but they knew how to keep a civil tongue in their heads. And you could use your winnings at the convenience store. Couldn't do that winning at kitten poker.
"Have you noticed that no one ever threatens us at Willy's anymore?" Buffy reflected on this odd fact as they left the bar. She stopped at looked back at Spike. "Spike?"
"What, luv?" Spike said absently. He looked up from the book he had open in his hand. "Sorry. Wasn't listening."
Buffy recognized the book he was carrying. "You carry around a daytimer now?"
"More like a 'nightimer.' he chuckled, coming up to Buffy. "And I'll be bloody glad to chuck it once this bleedin' party is over. Except that ..." Spike took a second look.
"Spike. Spike! Willy's."
"Nobody ever threatens to kill us anymore when we're there. We ... you haven't had a good demon bar fight in ages. Now it's demon-heads-down-minding -their-own business. Rather than 'oh-you're -the -Slayer, you- kill -our- kind' and 'oh -you're -a -vamp -but -you -kill -your -own -kind. Let's fight!' What's up with that?"
"It's because we've become highly respected members of the community," Spike said offhandedly , engrossed with his schedule for the next three days. Noticed he had an appointment tonight. Shook his head. He'd forgotten all about it. Proximity to the Slayer had a tendency to drive other things right out of his head.
"What community? Slayers R Us? Spike, close that book! Now!"
"Sorry, luv. You were saying?" He was going to be late ...
"Highly respected...? Spike, they hate us!"
Spike gave Buffy his full attention. "But they respect us. It's safer than being liked around here."
Buffy looked confused. "I don't see it."
Spike laughed patronizingly. "Of course not. You hate me and you don't respect me. How could you possibly understand it?"
Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but Spike patted her shoulder. "Look, just relax. Accept it like a gift. The respect, I mean. You've earned it." Spike chuckled. "I'd've had their respect before now if you hadn't publicly kicked my ass so often. And so often undeserved at that." He lowered his voice, eyes sparkling. "Sometimes I was even trying to be nice."
Buffy ignored that remark and the look in his eyes, which was becoming distracting . She looked down quickly. Spike chuckled again.
Buffy recaptured the thread. "You said they respect *us.* Spike, do you ... uh, they think we're like a couple or something? Because if they do..."
Spike snorted. "A couple?" he laughed bitterly. "As in boyfriend/girlfriend, lovers in the crypt kind of thing? A Slayer and an evil soulless vampire? Not bloody likely!"
Spike reached in to his pocket and dug out his cell phone. Dialed numbers. Looked evenly at Buffy before he hit the send button.
"Of course, if you'd like to be absolutely certain about that, luv, you have my permission to go right back in there and make a general announcement to that effect." He looked down and hit the send button. "I've got to go. Running late for an appointment."
Buffy just stood there, not quite sure what just happened. As she watched him stride away, back to her, she looked down at the stake that had somehow made it into her hand. Then at his back. She sighed. Shook her head. Started home...alone.
Spike groaned as he rolled out of bed the next afternoon. He'd won "early" and gotten out "early." He'd had a couple of hands that had run close and he hadn't really felt on top of his game. Her fault, of course. Worrying about what they thought. Even the demons. Shaking himself awake, he got dressed and sat down with the remote to the new VCR.
According to his daytimer, he had about six hours and some change. If he fast forwarded through the parts he didn't care about, he could probably catch up on "Passions."
Spike settled back into his chair with a mug of breakfast and some anticipation of a nice escapist afternoon. And heard something. A hesitant knock on the door.
Frowning, he got up and opened it a crack and stepped back away from the light. And saw the Good Witch standing there, looking ... well, uncomfortable. He hoped it was nothing he'd done. He held a certain affinity for Tara, outsider that she was right now.
He pulled the door open further, making sure the daylight was staying on the other side of the door.
"Well, hello. C'mon in. Places to sit and all."
Tara inched in, stopped just inside the door.
"C'mon, luv. You know I don't bite." He chuckled. "Well, not anymore anyway. Hey. Come on in so's I can close the door."
"I ...wasn't sure you'd be up. I didn't want to bother you or anything."
"You? A bother? C'mon. Sit. Been a while since I've seen you about. Got some flavored water in the fridge. Or I could make some tea. Take a minute, but ..."
Tara relaxed. "No thanks."
Spike smiled. "So what's up? Got a big bad you want me to fix?"
Tara smiled back. "No big. Bad, I mean."
"Oooh. C'mon, luv, give. What brought you to my crypt at such an early and unsightly hour?"
Tara looked down and looked back up from under her lashes at Spike and relaxed some more. "Well, you know I'm having a party for Anya at the Bronze. Just a few of us girls. Lingerie shower slash bachelorette party. And Anya said you were doing Xander's and ..." She looked back down and colored slightly. Pretty little blush, Spike thought.
Tara took a deep breath and it came out in a rush of air. "Anya wants a str - stripper. A male stripper. For her party. And I don't..."
"Well, me neither, but hang on. I bet I know someone who does." Spike retrieved the cell phone off the table by the chair and hit re-dial. He looked at Tara reassuringly as the phone rang.
"Anne. Good. S'me. Need a favor. A friend is having a party for the bride. And the bride wants equal time. Whoa. Hang on. Not the whole thing. I think she's got it covered." Spike put his hand over the phone and looked at Tara. "You do, don't you?"
Tara breathed out quietly, "Yes. Oh, yes. This was the only thing that I ..."
Spike uncovered the phone. "She's got it all covered except for this one detail. Male stripper. Good one. And not some bloody awful gutter trash either. These are ladies we're talking about here."
Spike listened a moment and tore a sheet of paper out of the daytimer. He looked up at Tara. "When?"
"The same night as yours. I thought your recovery idea made sense. I've never been to one of these, but I think they can get kind of...well, wild. And I know Anya likes to have fun."
"Right," Spike nodded knowingly. "Okay, the kittens are planning on their fun the same night as the bachelor party. "
Spike took down some information on the sheet of paper. Wrote some more. Frowned in thought and wrote some more. "So then. Check it out for me. I'll cover the bill." Tara opened her mouth, shaking her head. Spike waved her off, covering the mouthpiece again. "Gift to the bride in advance payment for what my party's going to do to the groom." He said in explanation. And he spoke back into the phone. "She'll call you. Her name is Tara and she's a good friend. Take care of her. Right. Thanks, luv."
Spike got up and crossed the room to where Tara was standing and handed her a piece of paper. Tara took it, barely looking at it.
"Anne's number is on that sheet of paper. Call her this afternoon. She says there's a guy goes to UC Sunnydale that does this sort of thing. Pretty good, she's used him before. No complaints. She'll see if he's available and see to bookin' him if you like."
Tara smiled gratefully. "Thank you so much. I didn't know..."
"'Course not. Nice girl like you. This kind of blue and bawdy stuff isn't really your style at all. Glad to help. Anything else you need? Need to talk?"
Tara thought a moment. "No," she breathed. "Thanks." Tara turned to go, relieved at the ease of the whole thing.
"Don't mention it." Tara turned back into Spike's eyes locked on hers. " I mean, literally, don't mention it. Don't tell anyone I had anything to do with this. I'm taking enough from flack from Buffy about the bachelor party. Don't need to add to it. And you're welcome here anytime, ducks. You actually knock first, which may take some getting used to, so you might want to knock a little harder next time. My cell phone number is on that piece of paper as well as the bloke's name. Call me if you get in a muddle. Any kind of muddle at all."
Tara glanced down at the piece of paper. "Thanks. I will call. Oh!" Tara did a double take and looked hard at the piece of paper.
Spike saw her surprise. "What is it?"
"Spike! I know this guy! He's gorgeous. He's a theatre major. Oh! And he's gay!"
Spike laughed at the confused look on her face. "Well, don't tell the bride. Girl deserves a few illusions. Almost-last-night-of-freedom and all."
Tara laughed. "Bye. I'll come back by sometime." She smiled at Spike. "Really I will."
"Countin' on it." He said meaning it. "Steer clear of the nasties now. It's getting late."
"Buffy, you can't not let me go! I'm a bridesmaid!"
"Okay, okay! Here's the deal. No negotiation. You can come to the shower part. You just leave before the 'in the gutter' part. Spend the night with Janice."
"What! That is so mean! Mom would let me go. I'm almost sixteen!"
"It would just embarrass you," Buffy retorted.
"No. It would embarrass you!"
"Look, Dawn, this is a lingerie shower, too." Buffy attempted to reason with her. "The gifts are bound to be a little racy. I think that's enough 'grown-up' for one night.
"And it's not going to be just us guys. Some of Anya's friends from the Sunnydale Business Women's Association are coming too, so it's going to be all adults."
"I don't know about that," Dawn snarked back. "You'll be there, right?"
Buffy spun around at the low chuckle that sounded from the hallway.
"Spike, can't you knock?"
"Well, you never do." Spike said as he came into the room. "Hey! Everybody's decent. Bloody hell!"
Dawn scuttled over to Spike, wearing her most appealing, wounded, put-upon face. "Spike, Buffy won't let me go to Anya's bachelor party!"
Spike put his finger on Dawn's nose and pressed lightly. "Now, Dawn. You're exaggerating. Buffy said you could go. To the shower part. Think she's right, luv. Don't want my girl corrupted by a brood of randy old hens. Bad enough to see naughty little bits made to cover naughty little parts. Plenty enough excitement for one night," he smiled mischeviously. Buffy opened her mouth to call him down on that one.
"But Spike ...!" Dawn started to whine shrilly.
Spike cut off the whine and his voice became firm. "Dawn. That's enough of that. Buffy is right. Even I think Buffy is right. Tell you what. I'll come get you and take you to Janice's for the night after the shower. Get you out of that corrupting atmosphere."
"Well..." Dawn considered. Buffy couldn't believe it. Spike had Dawn wavering in her resolve. "Can we...?"
"No stopping off, Little Bit. Not that night. Straight to Janice's and no loitering. I can't be away from Willy's too long, even if I have made a sizeable donation to the Sunnydale Police Retirement Fund in anticipation of this event. Don't want to push it.
"But after the wedding, I'll make it up to you. Rent videos and order up pizza. Get rid of Big Sis for the night. Like the old days, right?"
Buffy couldn't believe how Dawn's resistance had suddenly melted away. Into a Dawn-sized puddle of mush. She almost resented it, but squashed that reaction. At this point, whatever worked!
Buffy looked at Spike over Dawn's shoulder and mouthed "thank you," as Dawn bounced out and started up the stairs.
"You're welcome," he said absently, watching Dawn go up to her room. "Remembered I didn't tell you I'd meet you for patrol. So I thought I'd catch you before you left. Let's get this knocked out. I've got lots to finish up. Deadline's approaching. We may even have to make a couple of stops while we're out."
Buffy couldn't believe he was being so dismissive.
"Can't Anne handle it?" she said hotly.
Spike's head snapped up and he looked at Buffy, puzzled. "Anne? She's got plenty enough on her plate already. But if it's wastin' your valuable time, I'll do it after."
"No," stated Buffy, aware that she was in danger of making a fool of herself. "It's okay. I want this party to be really nice for Xander."
Spike laughed wryly. "Luv, 'nice' is the last thing I have in mind."
Willow was getting a little bit excited. She'd already wrapped Anya's gift and giggled as she did it. Willow had also talked to Tara for a few minutes on the phone. It had been strange at first: Tara hesitant, Willow apologetic. But Willow had felt so much ... warmer ... just hearing Tara's voice that she tried hard not to sound needy or defensive or any of the things that had made Tara go away. The more they talked about the party, the more the coldness, that had taken up permanent residence in the pit of Willow's stomach, had receded.
She almost felt ... good ... when they hung up.
The phone rang again. Willow hurried to pick it up.
Willow felt a twinge of disappointment, but didn't let it get to her.
"Spike?" And Willow giggled at the image that had just popped into her mind. "Are you calling me on your cell phone?"
"What? Yeah. Listen, Red," Spike blurted out. "I've been goin' at this party thing for Xander full out, racking my brain for ways to make it something to remember for him and I might have made a very big blunder. I've realized I should have asked you about it before I did it. But ... I didn't. And now... well, better late and all that, right?"
Willow felt a flutter of apprehension. Spike sounded all soft and apologetic-y, like after Buffy went away.
"Red, it's still light out and I don't really want an audience for this. If it wouldn't be too much trouble, could you pop by? I'll be sure to put away the instruments of torture if you do."
"Spike, you're making me feel all fluttery. How bad is it?"
Spike didn't answer.
"Okay," she sighed. "I'm dressed. I'm leaving. Oh. Hanging up the phone now."
"Good. See you in a bit," he said with a trace of dread in his voice.
Just like Spike to destroy her good mood, Willow thought as she approached the crypt. How about some cutting of the slack for the old Willow-meister?
Willow pushed the door open and stepped inside, her eyes adjusting to the low light. She looked around in surprise. Boy, this place looked like somebody lived here!
Spike came up the stairs from below. "That was quick. Listen, I didn't do this to hurt anyone, understand? Just didn't ask the right questions. Thought it was all okay now. No, that's not true. I didn't consider your feelings. Didn't even cross my mind. You've been with Glinda for awhile now and so I..."
Willow sat down heavily on the edge of the sarcophagus. "Right."
Spike approached her with an apologetic look in his eyes and his voice reflected it. "Buffy told you I'd hired a band, right?"
Willow stared. Where was he going with this? Oh. Willow put her head down in her hands, covering her face.
Spike's voice began again, even softer and sadder. "See, I didn't know everything. I knew he used to help and I figured he and Xander had been like ... mates. Then, after it was all booked -- for certain, I mean -- I told Anya and she..."
Spike heard Willow making a muffled squeaking noise.
"I shoulda remembered. I was there right after he left, but I clean forgot. I'm sorry. Really. I'll cancel. Find another band. Stake myself. Except that I'd miss the party and..."
Willow couldn't let him wallow anymore. She looked up at Spike with her eyes sparkling.
"This," she gasped in laughter, "was the horrible thing. You've booked Oz's old band for the party?"
Spike nodded. "And Oz," he said carefully, gauging her reaction. "Tracked him down. And it wasn't easy either. If I'd just asked instead of playin' so fast and loose..."
Willow reached out and patted Spike's arm. So...cold, she thought distractedly. Sometimes she just forgot..."Spike that's all done and over. It might even be good to see Oz right now."
"Spike. Tara will be fine with it. I made a choice a long time ago. Things may be rough right now, but they won't always be. Sure wish I could see 'em play, though."
"Well ... that was the other thing. Rehearsals have gone so well, they're booked in at the Bronze the night after the party, the night before the wedding."
"Oh, yeah. You and Angel's big night out." Willow giggled. "I heard. Believe me, I heard. ' Raise a few pints?' That's a rare one, even from you."
Spike looked so relieved that Willow almost patted him again. Instead she hopped down and headed for the door.
"Thanks for not being mad. And keep this between us for now if you would. Surprise for old Xander, okay?"
"When is Oz coming in?"
"Oh. I thought you understood. They're in rehearsal. Over at Angel's old place on Crawford Street. Oz and the band are crashing and rehearsing there."
"Okay. And Spike, I hope all this works out exactly the way you hope it will," she said smiling as she closed the door behind her.
From your mouth to God's ear, he thought reverently.
The party was tomorrow night. Spike couldn't believe he'd put himself in this position. Spike couldn't believe he'd put Buffy in this position. And Spike couldn't believe Angel hadn't brought it up before.
Buffy's eyes flashed dangerously. Spike was eyeing the stake in her pocket. He knew she was quick on the draw and he hoped he'd be able to get out of the way.
"Let me get this straight. Everyone's coming in tomorrow. And you've invited Cordelia, Fred and Angel's son to stay at Casa Summers."
Well, Slayer, I didn't know what else to do. Got myself in a bit of a spot. The baby needs to be in a private residence. So he's safe from any uninvited vampires. Can't chuck him in a hotel room. Angel can crash at the crypt, though. No problem there. Or he could stay with the babe and you could ..."
"Crash here? Are you nuts?" Buffy blurted out, just as Spike finished, "at Glinda's."
Buffy realized what he said and felt embarrassed. And just a little disappointed that he hadn't asked. Even though she would have punched him if he had suggested it. Well, maybe not punched, but ... What?
"Okay," Buffy said, resigned to the nightmare. "Whatever. We'll decide later where Angel stays. Let's go patrol, all right. Find something simple to do. Like stake some evil. I'm sick to death of thinking about this wedding."
"Right. But I might have to leave. Need to go over some last minute daytime details with Anne. You understand, right?"
Buffy wondered just how hard it would be to kill Spike.
Continued in Part 4: The Plan