After "Lover's Walk"

THE BRONZE

Willow surveyed the dance floor with wide, sad eyes. There was Buffy rhythmically pivoting her hips against some handsome guy's pelvis. And there was Xander laying the goofy charm on a couple of girls who were clutching sweating drinks like lifelines. Willow even saw Cordelia surrounded by her faithful sycophants, no doubt oohing and ahhing over the bandage around her midsection or bashing Xander for cheating. Everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

Everyone but Willow, that is. Willow was decidedly not enjoying herself. It wasn't anyone's fault but her own. Maybe she was a bit of a masochist coming to the Bronze while the wounds of her break-up with Oz were still so fresh. But Buffy's argument had seemed reasonable enough penetrating through Willow's teary eyed stupor: Would it have been better to sulk at home? Well, maybe. Then she could have eaten a whole tub of ice cream without fear of judgment. It wasn't like her parents ever asked her what was going on in her life. They wouldn't notice if she got a dozen facial tattoos and a piercing, let alone if she ate her weight in guilt and sadness—especially since they were never home. She sighed. She couldn't help but envy Cordelia and Xander's resilience and some less-than-friendly part of her hoped they weren't nearly as happy as they seemed in the wake of their breakup. Even Buffy seemed rather Zen, considering that Angel and she had broken up (sort of) less than a week ago—and on the clearheaded advice of Spike, no less. Would wonders never cease?

She repressed another sigh and rested her chin on her fist. Maybe going home wasn't such a bad idea. Of course, she dreaded the idea of going home alone. Living on the Hellmouth wreaked havoc on nocturnal travel plans. How had she survived for sixteen years in a town of mystic energy, vampires, and ghouls without the Slayer as her best friend? It perplexed her to no end. She tried to catch Buffy's eye meaningfully, but Buffy kept turning and swaying with the music. Willow shifted her weight on her stool, almost falling to the ground in the process.

"Easy there," a male voice cautioned from behind. A large hand steadied her.

"Thanks," she muttered miserably.

"Aw, what's the matter?"

"Nothing," she lied. And more quietly, "I'll be fine."

"Big plans, then?" the voice asked. "I'd cancel them if I were you." The man slid into view.

Willow gasped. Hadn't this vampire caused enough trouble for Willow with the numerous murder attempts the relationship-sabotaging-kidnapping?

Spike smiled. "I wouldn't recommend calling out to your Slayer." He examined a black nail nonchalantly. "The way I see it, you scream, I kill you, the Slayer gets off a nice one-liner and I—" his face morphed, "Well, then I kill her too."

Willow couldn't breathe, let alone scream. She swallowed thickly. "W-W-What do you want? Another spell? I can do another spell."

"See, Red, that's why I like you. You're the overly-helpful type." He reached out to grab her arm and she flinched. Spike smiled, his golden eyes gleaming with malice and amusement. He stroked her wrist. "Why so timid and afraid?" he singsonged, clearly relishing the moment. Willow shuddered, hating to give him the satisfaction of her fear, yet unable to stop her body's natural reaction to imminent death.

"What do you want?" she managed through a surge of hot tears.

"The Slayer dead. A solar eclipse. A Playboy." He leaned in close, right next to her ear. "And fun. We could all do with a little more fun." He pulled away and leered.

"What about—what about Drusilla?" Willow asked, casting around for a subject, any subject that would lengthen the time until he finished toying with her and asked her to do something awful—or worse, needed a snack.

Spike reassumed his human guise. "Now, why'd you have to bring her up, hmm?"

"S-sorry, I just thought—I just—I"

"Oh, stop the bloody stammering. I've been nothing but nice to you. No threats. Well, not that many. Just talking."

"You're a vampire, " she hiccupped. "Your very existence is a threat to me."

"Thanks, pet. That makes me feel all warm inside; it really does." He smiled and sat on the stool across from her. His back was to the dance floor and the Slayer. With his tell-tale, white-blonde hair and black, leather duster, he wasn't exactly inconspicuous. It didn't bode well for Willow that Spike felt confident enough to ignore Buffy.

"What are you having?" Spike asked, reaching for Willow's glass. He sipped the drink and scowled. "Living on the wild side, aren't you, Red?" He shoved the water across the table and it sloshed into Willow's lap. She let out a small Eek and fast as anything, Spike had a hand on either side of her head. With one brutal flourish, he could kill her. Her heart thrashed in her chest violently, perhaps clamoring for a few more beats before he snapped her neck.

"What I'd say about screaming, Red?"

She shook her head as more tears streamed down her face

"I said," he whispered. "Don't."

Willow nodded, hoping against hope she'd be saved.

Spike took his hands away from her neck and slumped in his chair.

"My murder threats doing your head in, then?" he asked with scientific interest. He seemed to expect an answer.

Willow nodded.

"Good, 'cause there's a lot more where that came from. I'm the Big Bad, you know." He studied the table for a moment and sighed. "You know, Angelus really had a thing for the psychological torture. The colorful threats and bollocks. The killing of your best friends in front of you, your pets and all that. It was a real art for him. Me, I simply can't be knackered. Too roundabout, I say."

"That's a relief, I suppose," Willow managed.

"Hardly. I'll wring no hands over simply killing ya. D'you know how I got my name?" He cocked his head to the side.

"Railroad—spikes," she squeaked.

"That's right. And it just so happens, I've got a couple right here." He jostled his duster and Willow heard metal clanking.

She gulped.

"Now, I'm going to give you some options, here, Red. You are going to give me what I want. Can't change that. But the manner, well, I leave that up to you." He smiled. "But first, we need to get out of here. I do believe this song is about to end."

Willow's stomach turned to lead; she had been banking on a song change for Buffy to stop her socializing and start Slaying. Spike grabbed Willow by the elbow and almost lifted her from her seat.

"Off we go," he directed. Willow caught one last glance of Buffy, who was smiling at something Xander said, totally oblivious to her best friend's abduction, just like she'd been totally oblivious to her pain.

Spike manhandled Willow into the alley and little whimpers escaped her lips. He turned her brusquely and slammed her none too gently against the wall, his arms creating a cage on either side of her head. She turned her face away from his, shrinking into herself, hoping against hope that it would all be over quickly.

"I think you promised me a spell," Spike crooned, clearly enjoying his domination of the scared witch.

"I thought, I thought you were going to t-t-torture Drusilla," Willow whispered into her shoulder.

"Nah, changed my mind. Staked her. Bit ironic since she thought I'd gone all soft." Spike smiled and assumed a ruminative expression. "Miss her. Can't say I don't, but I teamed up with the Slayer for Dru. Made pacts with my enemies to get her to safety and how does she repay me? A chaos demon?" He shook his head. "What I need is a proper killing spree. I'll be the scourge of the New World." He wagged his eyebrows. "People will talk."

Willow marshaled her bravery. "What do you need me for?"

"I'll need a companion," Spike answered as if this ought to have been self-evident.

"Wha—" Willow began, but Spike bent his head to hers and muttered, "Just go with it."

He smashed his lips against hers in a painful facsimile of a kiss, brutishly kissing away her cry of surprise. Willow struggled against him instinctively, but he enveloped her in his jacket, so her squirming wasn't evident to an outsider. In desperation, she bit down on his lip as hard as she could.

He jerked away, putting his hand to his mouth. He smiled. "Biting, Red? That's vampy foreplay." He leaned in again, but Willow batted him away, her shock eclipsing her terror.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"The Slayer and the whelp just went by. Probably looking for you. Thought we'd just blend in." He looked around. "They're gone."

"Is this another you-haven't-had-a-woman-in-weeks moments, because I haven't changed my mind about that. There will be no 'having' of any kind. And Xander's not a whelp. And I won't be scourging anything. No 'scourging the New World' for me. I'm a scourge-free kind of girl. In fact, I'm a whatever-the-opposite-of-scourge-is kind of girl. Happiness and delight and—"

Spike pressed his hand against Willow's mouth.

"Are you always this gobby?"

Willow nodded.

"Well, stop. I haven't had a bite to eat yet, and I'm short on patience. I'd ask you to stay here so I could nip in for a drink, but I don't think you would. And you're just the kind of tasty morsel some other vampire would take a whack at and then I'd be without a witch."

Willow said nothing, trying to play down her fear. She noticed a broken blender on the heap of trash mere inches from her hand.

Spike continued conversationally. "I was going to kidnap you and the monkey boy again—keep some continuity in my nefarious schemes; I could kill him if you got all bleeding inept—but I got bloody bored waiting for him to come over. The kid's got no luck with the ladies. How he snagged the cheerleader—ruddy luck, that was. But I've decided. Hang all the plans. Go with your gut. And my gut said, Snag that lonely, little witch. So I did." Spike smiled. "I'm a new vampire! I walk around in the lamplight now." He took a step away from Willow in order to turn slowly in the glow of the streetlamp. "And I'll be needing a partner-in-crime. The Butch Cassidy to my Sundance Kid. The Riddler to my Joker. Bloody hell! We'll be the Menendez brothers—only since our parents are dead, we'll kill other people's parents!"

"My parents aren't dead," Willow interjected. "They're at a conference."

Spike rolled his eyes. "I'm not talking about you, Red. We'd just fall in love, you'd leave me for a Were-slug—trust me, they exist—and the whole vicious cycle would start all over." He paused, then laughed. "But wouldn't it be funny! The Slayer staking you, her best friend in all the world. Heh, that's not bad, actually. That's not bad at all."

"No. Bad. Very bad. Not good at all!" The words stumbled from Willow's mouth, falling over each other in their hurry to dissuade Spike. "Let's backtrack to Plan A. I'm a Plan B—no, I'm like Plan Z! I'm not even in the plan!"

"Plan A, right. Funny you should say that since Plan A is Angelus."

"Angel?" Willow repeated. "But he's—he's good. He got his soul back, remember?"

"Yeah, I remember. Can't say whether I like him worse when he goes all Anne Rice on me or when he gets all grr and steals m'girl. Although, with Dru out of the picture, there's nothing stopping us being mates again."

"Only you trying to kill Buffy every week," Willow pointed out.

"When you do your little spell, me and Angelus'll being trying to kill Buffy every week together. Who am I kidding? We'll kill Buffy first thing. Angelus's big mistake last time was all the villainous monologue-ing and elaborate set-ups." He paused, then added, "And the whole end-the-world bit." Willow couldn't help but agree. Spike continued, "I say, Kill the bitch and move on. There's plenty of girls squirming to be his plaything who aren't also equipped to kill—"

Willow smashed the broken blender over Spike's head. He growled in pain and Willow ran like hell, screaming.

"Help! Buffy! Xander! Help me! HEELLLLLPPPPPP!"

Spike reeled from the blow, immediately assuming his game face. The sodding witch hit him! Hard! It was about as shameful as the time the Slayer's bloody mother anointed him with an axe. He watched the little redhead run, screaming fit to bring down the heavens. A blender? She'd brought down William the bleedin' Bloody with a blender. He had reached a new low. Hell, the powers-that-be had been forced to create a new low just so he could take up residence there. His reputation was hanging by a thread as it was. The shame of being a soft vampire was almost everlasting unless you did something dramatic. Probably why Angelus felt the need to suck the world into hell a few months back. Making up for his loving and shagging the Slayer. Spike shuddered at the thought of smoochies with the tart. He needed his own comeback. Not hell-sucking stuff or nothing. Just enough to establish that he wasn't one to be trifled with. I've killed two Slayers and more humans than I can remember, he reminded himself. I killed the Anointed. I've gambled with Dracula and staked Drusilla. Billy Idol copied my look, goddammit. He sighed. Not enough people knew about him staking his sweetheart. That had been a good start, but he needed to get the word out. Dru had been his one weakness. He remembered the time the Slayer had come this close to staking Dru's perfect unbeating heart and he'd let the girl go instead of ripping her face off to save his princess. Should've let the Slayer have her. Would've saved him some heartache. Spike had thought being love's bitch was alright, but…God, he missed Dru. All her talk of the stars, dolls, and puppies. No, that wasn't right thinking. The Judge had insulted Spike like a punch to the head with all those accusations of humanity and love. He was a new vampire. With a new mission. Get the witch. Get Angelus. Get to raising hell. Figuratively speaking, of course.

"And then what?" Buffy asked, her breath hitching in her throat.

Willow squirmed. "Well, he, um, hid me in his coat as you guys went by and then he was talking about Angelus and the Joker having a riddle and Xander and Cordy being a fluke because Xander can't flirt and how he was going to kill our parents and oh, Buffy, I thought I was going to die, you know?"

"Occupational hazard of being a Sunnydale rez," Xander quipped, but he rubbed Willow's shoulder soothingly. Both he and Willow had forgotten their new no-touchy rule in the face of Willow's almost death. "Hey wait a second! What was that about my woman-catching skills?"

"But you got away, Will," Buffy reminded Willow softly. "You got away." They were all silent for a moment, contemplating the horrible what-ifs. "By the way, how did you get away? Magic?" Buffy raised a brow and gave Willow a half-smile.

Willow ducked her head sheepishly. "A blender. Just—" she gestured vaguely, "crashed it over his head and ran away."

"And he didn't run after?" Xander asked, shaking his head. "Mr. Goal-Oriented sure has fallen off the wagon. Bad break-up will do that, I guess. Why, back in the good ole days, he loved the helpless-running-girl bit. Hey, Will, d'ja trip and fall?"

Willow rolled her eyes. "I was more concerned with the whole not-tripping-and-falling-part of the running experience."

Xander nodded. "Right, right." He turned to Buffy. "So, when do we stake Lieutenant Bleach?"

Buffy grabbed up a handful of stakes and sighed. "There is no we, Xander. I'm the Slayer. You're a civilian." She put her hands to her temples, mentally beating herself up. She should have been there. Spike never would have put his vampy hands on Willow if she hadn't been working through her own romantic issues on the pelvis of Mr. Blandsome the Disposable Jockhead. And whose fault was that? Angel's. For loving her. And Spike's for making her see reason. Stupid vampires. She continued. "You and Willow are always having near-death experiences because of me."

"Yeah, but I'm on first-name terms with the white light at the end of the tunnel," Xander joked.

"Not funny," Buffy scolded.

"I think—I think Buffy's right on this one," Willow said quietly. Xander frowned at her. "I mean, not about the whole 'we're civilians' thing. We're pretty darn tootin' important to this operation, Buffy. But, well, maybe we wouldn't be kidnapped so often or, you know, have our pretty tropical fish gutted and stringed if we weren't so—I don't know. I love being your friend, Buffy, I really do. But I sometimes wish I'd read the fine print." She stole at glance at Buffy's face through her long lashes.

Tears threatened in Buffy's eyes. She blinked rapidly. "So what are you saying, Will? You don't want to be friends anymore?"

"Oh gosh no! Buffy, you're my best friend—best girl friend," she amended hastily. "I just need some time. To think. I mean, you don't have a choice and I know that. But I just want a week to go by where Spike isn't breaking bottles to smash in my face and I'm not researching how to kill yet another Big Bad out to end the world. I want to snuggle and play smoochies with Oz. I want my biggest problem to go back to being Harmony teasing me about my fuzzy sweaters. And I know I can't make all the outside forces stop, but I can stop myself, you know?" Tears slipped down her flushed cheek. "I swear, I'm not breaking up with you or anything."

Buffy swallowed against the lump in her throat. "I know," she said.

"And Xander," Willow said, turning to her best friend of a million years. "You don't have to choose between me and Buffy." She hung her head. "I know how that will end."

"With Buffy kicking my ass for choosing you?" Xander asked. "Sorry, Buffy," he added. "The whole since-kindergarten-thing."

Buffy gave a weak, watery smile. "No, guys. You deserve a lifetime of normal."

"Not a lifetime!" Willow assured. "I was thinking, more like a weekend. Me and Xander could watch movies like we used to and I'll leave messages on Oz's answer machine until he takes mercy on me. It's going to be a boring, miserable weekend, I swear. Just, without the vamps or the demons or the—well, what else is there?"

"Werewolves?"

Willow shot Xander an annoyed glance. "Well, then, no Oz, either. Just me and Xander and ice cream."

Giles cleared his throat and the trio jumped in surprise—even though technically the library belonged to the librarian and they should have expected him to be there. "If I may butt into your personal life, Willow, I would recommend that you reconsider your decision."

Willow pushed her hair back from her face. "What's up, Giles. Imminent doom works the weekend shift now?"

Giles pursed his lips. "Don't be glib." He took his glasses off and wiped them with a handkerchief. "I was referring to Spike. This is the second time in a week he has found and contacted you."

"You make it sound like he's sending her a postcard," Xander quipped.

"A postcard of death," Buffy corrected.

Giles frowned. "All I mean is that Spike seems to have an unhealthy interest in Willow."

Willow pshawed. "He's tried to kill me two or three times max. He's been after Buffy since he knew of her existence."

"Yes, but Buffy isn't taking off from being a Slayer to eat ice cream with Xander," Giles pointed out.

"Which I vehemently oppose, by the way," Xander added with a lopsided grin. "I think Buffy deserves a break, too, in a yummy Xander sandwich, bread courtesy of the lovely Willow and Buffy and some ice cream for after."

Giles looked positively revolted and both Willow and Buffy hid smiles behind their hands. Trust Xander to lighten the mood.

Giles took a moment to compose himself. "We should all remain vigilant until we know exactly why Spike seems to think Willow such a worthy target."

Without intending to, Giles had rubbed against a sore spot for Willow. She was totally worthy of attention. Darn it, she was a witch with grand magics at her disposal and Spike wanted a spell done. Maybe Spike's vampy smarts sensed her potential. Besides she had re-ensouled Angelus. It only made sense that Spike thought she could break her own spell. Of course, Spike didn't actually know about her role in the spell, she didn't think. Okay, so Giles had a point. Willow wasn't exactly the most alluring girl in Sunnydale—that was a battle for Cordelia and Buffy—yet Spike had sought her out twice. She chewed her lip nervously.

"New plan. Buffy, Xander, and I will all take a break from the Slayer lifestyle together," Willow decided.

"Yay!" Xander and Buffy cheered, but Giles frowned.

"Have you not heard a word I've said?" he groused. "No vacations, no breaks. We are to research—"

"Giles, you're starting to sound a little Napoleon-y," Buffy joked.

"Napoleonic," Willow corrected at the same time Xander said, "Neapolitan." Giles flashed Xander his that longsuffering, condescending expression he reserved just for Xander's special brand of dumb. Everyone remembered "bitca."

"I think Willow's right," Buffy continued. "We do deserve a break. No vampires or demons or talk of slaying for two nights and a day. Plus, I'll be with Will, so if Spike shows up, we'll dust him."

"Yeah, and I'll be there in case one of the girls needs a jar opened," Xander said as he stood to his feet. He stretched his arms and his shirt rose to expose his flat stomach, an etching of nascent abs drawn in delicate, fine lines across his belly.

Willow had a moment of vacillation. Did she want Oz back as much as she wanted to explore that trail of dark hair leading from Xander's bellybutton to the hem of his jeans? She thought of all the stolen kisses she'd had with Xander and all the open, honest kisses she had shared with Oz. Yes, she wanted Oz back. Oz, the laconic, loving, loveable, loyal, lunarly-locked, lemony-fresh lycanthrope.

"Besides, Giles, Spike's follow-through on his plans has been pretty shoddy stuff. He's got the attention span of a gnat, it seems."

Giles seemed unfazed. Seeing that reason would not win the day, Buffy batted her eyelashes and stuck out her bottom lip. Willow grinned.

Giles sighed. "It seems I am outnumbered," he conceded. "But do be careful. Spike has killed two Slayers before and as far as I know, he does not have Angelus's penchant for playing games." A pained expression flickered in the Watcher's eyes, as he, no doubt, remembered Jenny Calendar. "If Spike wants to kill Willow, it might be more personal than just using her as a means to Buffy. So, please, take care."

"Oh, Giles, you do care," Buffy smiled, rising to hug her Watcher. Xander put his arms around the pair and motioned with his head for Willow to join in. She smiled and fastened herself to this pillar of love. To think, she'd been this close to needing a vacation from her very best friends in the whole world.

Spike knew a good plan when he thought of one and getting the witch to take Angelus's soul was right up there with his stint in the Boxer's Rebellion or the time he decided to go for a subway ride. He smiled at the thought of spilling another Slayer's blood. Who knows, he might even turn her. A Slayer-turned-vampire could be very interesting. And Angelus could have his chit back. That made Spike think of Dru and he frowned. No thoughts of Dru. He dusted her. He was on a quest to lose all his ties to humanity. And Angelus was the least human thing Spike had ever known. And that little witch was all a part of the plan. And when he drained her—he shivered at the thought. Witch's blood. He'd never had it. Probably not as potent as Slayers' but potent enough. Maybe it was a subtler effect. He grabbed a girl from the dance floor and dragged her into the shadows. As he plunged his teeth into her creamy brown neck, he thought of Angelus, the Slayer, and the witch. Blood never tasted so good.

TBC