"Well, like... what?"
Tara nodded again at the car, lowering her voice to a whisper. "They're not, uh, in the store, are they?"
Willow's eyes got very big. "Oh, my God. Right here?" She looked at the vehicle with distaste. "You don't really think...?"
"I don't know, but why aren't they in the store?"
"Maybe they just couldn't... Oh. Oh. Don't wanna go there, definitely not." Willow grimaced. "Look, let's be adult about this. These things happen. I'll just... knock."
"Yeah. So there." She squared her shoulders and marched over to the vehicle. Arching her body as far away from it as possible so that there was actual daylight between her and the car, she knocked on the window. Nothing. She did it again. There was a loud groan from inside, and the two girls started, then whirled and dashed into the store, slamming the door behind them. Anya looked up from the cash register, Dawn looked up from her magazine (Young Wicca) and Xander looked up from the phone book he was flipping through in a vain effort to find a listing for demons. "Uh." Willow said frantically. "Well, here's the thing..." She glanced desperately at Tara.
"We... uh..." Tara looked around for help.
"Yeah, we, uh..."
"Did, you, uh, find Spike and Buffy?" Xander asked. "Seeing as how they're joined at the hip these days?"
This produced guilty looks between the two witches. Maybe he should've said pelvis, Willow thought. Oh, God, gonna wash my mind out with soap, now. "No, not exactly." Willow said carefully. "But! Hey! We found a clue!"
"For...?" Any asked.
"For Hallie!" Willow exclaimed excitedly. "We know who took her!"
I should have figured this out when he didn't put up a fight about not driving, Buffy thought. In the front seat, Wes drove, and Lorne looked out the window. Spike, hidden under a blanket over her lap, pressed his face to her stomach and generally made it impossible to think clearly, coherently, or of much of anything except the way his tongue periodically felt in her bellybutton. Damn low-rise jeans. She should have been suspicious when he laid his head in her lap; but no, she'd actually liked it. Under the blanket, she ran her fingers through his hair, and not until he captured her hand and sucked her middle finger into his mouth did she realize she was in trouble.
The problem was, it wasn't that sexy of a gesture if you just thought about it, but the way he did it made her feel all empty and dizzy, as if her stomach had dropped suddenly to the bottom of an elevator shaft and left her behind. He nipped just a little at her finger, sucking it slowly, thoroughly, using his tongue so slightly that she automatically wanted more, and when she finally thought, Oh, my God, that' s what he does to my..! she turned so red she had to roll the window down. Wes and Lorne kept their eyes focused right out of the car, and didn't appear to notice when she gave him a half-hearted smack under the blanket. It was almost dark now, and it was almost safe for him to come out, something he obviously didn't want to do. But the creeping darkness provided even more cover, and he took the hand she'd smacked him with, and pressed it first to his mouth, giving the palm a delicate little lick in promise of things to come, then pressed it between his thighs. Despite herself, she couldn't bring herself to move away, instead stroking him and tracing curves and bulges over and over again with the slightest of movements till he finally grabbed her wrist and stopped her. One blue eye peered at her from under the blanket, and a pleasant little tendril of heat curled from her bellybutton straight down between her legs.
The car stopped at a red light and Buffy carefully avoided Wes' eyes in the mirror. The sounds of traffic...and frogs...seemed to come from very far away. She folded her hands in her lap and tried to think about amphibians. Spike had one arm under her legs and now he shifted it under her till his hand was between her legs, tickling her right where she most definitely did not want it, at least not right now. He'd snipped her thong off in the bathroom with one expert flick and the seam of her jeans had been driving her crazy ever since they'd gotten in the car. Now, he stroked her with one light fingertip, and she remembered his crotch under her hand, and didn't feel embarrassed at all. He traced back and forth over denim, breathing lightly on her bellybutton as she stared out the window and tried to keep her thoughts and sensations from her face. Oh, God, right here?
"Excuse me, huh?" She said suddenly.
"There's the Magic Box," Wes said suddenly. He paused, peering out the window -- "And there's Spike's car! Guess we know where Angel is."
"Huh?" Spike said thickly. He sat up abruptly, clutching the blanket with both hands. This allowed him to conceal from the men what he revealed to Buffy with an intense look that made her shiver: the fact that he had an erection. He turned around so that he was facing her and away from them, and still managed to get her hand between his legs one more time. This time, though, she left it there, safe in the knowledge that neither Wes nor Lorne could see. Spike glanced out the window and then turned a long, intent look back on her. Finally she dropped her hand, and he settled back against the seat, his coat casually draped over his lap. She didn't dare look at him again
Wes pulled up behind the black DeSoto and parked the car, exchanging slightly worried looks with everyone. "Spike, Buffy, you'd better stay here. I just want to see, ah, what kind of mood he's in."
"Okay." Buffy whispered.
"I'll, ah, I'll help." Lorne said.
She was almost disappointed when Spike contented himself with tracing lines on her shoulder, his breath cool on her hot skin. "Sure, that's a big help now." She hissed skeptically.
"I'll help you later." He breathed, and she swallowed.
"How much later?" Then she looked at him, trying to be irritated, but failing when she saw the look on his face; he was studying her with almost predatory intensity, smiling just a bit when he found her looking back. His expression didn't fill her with a lot of hope of getting much sleep, but it made her shiver just a bit.
He smiled at her, one of those smiles only she got, the ones that started at the crinkles at his eyes, and sometimes even made it as far as his mouth.
"Ah, Spike?" Wes asked uncomfortably. "I think we might need your help."
Spike shook his head at her, then reached over and pushed open the door and climbed out. She noticed the effortless way he somehow kept his coat over his lap and wondered how she herself looked. "What's the problem, gentlemen?"
Wes stood by the open car door and looked in. Buffy came around him on the sidewalk and looked in. And blinked.
Angel. Drunk, evidently, because she could smell it from where she stood, three feet away. This was something she'd never seen.
"Uh... Why is he drunk?"
"Ah, well, long story, pet." Spike said hurriedly. "Let's get him out of there and into his own car, shall we?" He grimaced at something on the sidewalk. "At least before he gets sick again."
"Hey, I know." Buffy said. "Why don't Wes and Lorne do that, and you tell me what happened?"
"Uh, now, love, you know...."
The door to the store opened, and Xander looked out, frowning as he recognized everyone, then glaring at Buffy and Spike. "What the hell....?"
"Uh, Xander, what is your problem?" Buffy asked. "Cranky much?"
"Well, I think it's understandable, being cranky, when Spike's car's been there for... how long?"
Willow and Tara poked their heads out, too, goggling at Angel sprawled on the front seat of Spike's car. They each looked around, trying to avoid each other's eyes, but when they glanced at each other, both burst out laughing. Lorne glanced back at them curiously, then caught Xander's annoyed look, and Buffy's desperate-trying-not-to-be-here look. "One big happy family," He said sardonically. "So tell me, kids, how long has Angel cakes been baking out here?"
"We noticed the car earlier." Willow said.
"Yeah, after we came back from the meeting with Deep Throat." Dawn said. She danced around behind the girls and Xander, trying to see around them. Wes and Spike had grabbed Angel by the hands and were pulling him out of the car like sausage out of its casing, and finally Xander stepped forward with a sigh. "Jeez, is he heavy!" He grunted, and then all three, two humans and one vampire, collapsed under Angel's dead weight. The minute he hit the pavement, his eyes snapped open, and everyone took a jump back. There was a confused moment while people who happened to be men wriggled and clambered to their feet and brushed themselves off as far as possible from other individuals of the male persuasion. By the time he was done swiping at his clothes, Xander was practically in the doorway. "Well, looks like Daddy's home." Spike alone looked more disgusted than startled, snapping a match alight to his ever-present cigarette.
Angel blinked up at the ring of faces peering down at him, and tried not to think that alcohol made people a lot uglier. He clambered to his feet, his head throbbing, and looked around till his bleary eyes found Buffy.
"Angel." She said quietly.. Oh, boy, I can just tell this is going to be bad, she thought.
"Can we talk?"
"Sure, but why did you steal Spike's car? I'm just curious here."
"Oh." Why was she asking such an embarrassing question in front of her friends? Was she trying to make him look bad? "I was really really drunk."
"Are, you, ah, sure you're not still intoxicated?" Anya said from the doorway. "Because I can smell it from here."
"Well, I don't feel really good," Angel said dryly.
"Which is consistent, because your appearance isn't very attractive, either." Xander's head swiveled between Anya and Angel, genuinely confused as to whose side he was supposed to be on. Everyone turned to look at Anya, and she beamed, pleased at having said something accurate.
"Look, we really need to talk." Angel said.
"Well, sure, but why couldn't you have called me? What's so important?"
"Look, I need to talk to you now."
"Buff..." Spike started to say. "...y the Slayer,"he finished lamely. "Can I say something first?" Now everyone's head swiveled in his direction. Buffy looked around and counted those heads.
"Yeah, that's a good idea." Angel said. "I'm sure he's got a really good explanation for how all the petty cash disappeared from my office."
Buffy turned a furious look on Spike and grabbed his arm. He stared at her, a wounded look on his face, before she yanked him into the alley a short distance from the door of the shop. Once safely out of sight of the Scoobies, he turned on her with something like despair on his face, but didn't get a word out as she grabbed him and slammed him against the wall and kissed him hungrily. "Doing that to me in the car," She muttered angrily. He pulled away from her and looked down at her.
"What?" She demanded.
"Are you going to ask?"
"Oh, that? Yeah, what's going on?"
"Huh?" Spike shook his head at her. "Are you going to be mad at me?"
"You mean, mad-er?"
"Was is that bad in the car?"
"Yes. Now you're stalling."
"Sure." He stepped forward, eyeing her seductively. He slipped his hands into her back pockets and lifted, pulling her up against him abruptly. "I almost forgot to ask, how does it feel getting older?"
"You're the old fart around here, maybe I should ask you?" He was delaying, and it was starting to bug her, because she'd given him a huge out and it evidently wasn't enough. He released her, touching her chin with one fingertip, sliding along the line of her jaw to the tender spot by her ear, down the collarbone he pressed his head against sometimes when he came shuddering to a stop inside her, and continuing to the upper slope of one breast. With the barest of touches, he traced a trail down to one suddenly hardened nipple, then skidded down the soft bottom curve of one breast to her bellybutton, where he toyed with her innie by swirling his fingertip delicately inside it. Last but not least, he traced the fly of her jeans down to the seam and stroked there with exquisite lightness, not even touching her enough to intensify the sudden hungry tension there. "Feels pretty good." He said quietly. "What do you think?"
"Nice try. One the rare day that I don't give you enough rope to hang yourself, you have to go and...?"
He sighed. "You're going to be mad."
"I will if you keep stalling like this."
"Here." He reached into both pockets and started pulling out huge wads of cash, practically tossing them at her in his eagerness to get rid of them. She scooped them up, holding them to her breasts, staring at him, blank-faced. "What did you do?"
"I figured I could get Angel drunk off his ass and then take his money, but Wesley decided he could use me so he gave me all this."
"You wanted money all of a sudden?"
"Can't stand watching you work at that place." He said quietly, not meeting her eyes. He tossed the half-smoked cigarette aside because it gave him a chance not to look at her. "Kills me, it does, even though I'm already dead, makes me die again, seein' you have to suck up to those bastards for minimum bloody wage when you've saved the fucking world four or five... times." He stopped suddenly, abashed.
"You...?" Buffy's face was completely, utterly blank.
"Whatever he's telling you, it's a lie." Angel said suddenly.
Spike and Buffy both looked at him stupidly for a minute. Spike pulled out another cigarette just to have something to toss aside, but Buffy caught his arm, just a half a second before realizing there wasn't anything worse she could have done. Angel just stared at her hand on his arm, his face full of the sort of bad temper some people get from drinking. Had she known it, she was looking at the same face that had scared Wesley earlier. "How would you know?" She said quietly. "It's been two years since you were around. How would you know what's true or not?"
"What?! Are you defending Spike?" His hands clenched into fists, and Buffy's eyes flew to them. Even drunk, Angel noticed that and consciously relaxed himself. Later would be good. Later he'd have enough time. "God, what did he tell you?"
"Well, you know, Angel, at least he's around to tell me things." Buffy snapped. "I thought it was really nice the way you kept in touch after I came back."
Angel flinched. "Look, Buffy, I'm sorry, but..."
"But why are you defending him when he's tried to kill you all those times? When he cleared out my petty cash? You don't actually...Oh, God. Oh, God." He sagged against the wall. "You're not... He's not.... You..."
"Why is that your business?"
"Because he's Spike!"
"And here I thought he was the Lost Backstreet Boy." Spike rolled his eyes at that. Some things were too evil even to joke about. Not funny, he mouthed at her.
"All right, then, why is it not my business and my business alone? Why is it your business?"
"Because you don't know him like I do." Angel said grimly.
"Maybe," Buffy said quietly, "You don't know him like I know him." She crossed her arms. "I'm still trying to figure out why after two years it's your business. What about you, Angel? You haven't exactly been sending me reports on your life. What have you been doing? I want to know everything. Then maybe we can talk about how Spike saved my life and Dawn's life while you cared so much about me those two years that you didn't bother to call."
"Cordy's got a baby." Spike spoke up. Both of them glared at him. "Well, catching up on gossip and all..." He ran his hands through his hair again.
"Is everybody in LA trying to keep me in the dark?" Buffy burst out. "I talked to Cordy, why wouldn't she tell me that? I'd have sent a card. Unlike some people," she added darkly.
"Buffy, it's complicated."
"I bet it is." She said grimly. "It's just that whenever stuff gets complicated, you disappear. And if that's not bad enough, you tell me it's for my own good."
Angel flinched. "That might be true, Buffy, but he still stole all that money. What's he going to use that for?"
"Ah, excuse me." Wes poked his head through the entrance reluctantly. "Couldn't help but overhear. Uh, that's not correct, Angel. I gave that to him. As a retainer."
"A... retainer? Spike? For what?"
"Well, with Buffy being so overloaded with responsibilities, it seems to me it would be a good idea to have someone here in Sunnydale who could keep us posted on activities here. And elsewhere." He finished lamely. "Besides, I gave him a receipt." He glared into Spike's eyes. "Didn't. I. Spike. I. Gave. You. A. Receipt."
"No, you didn't, mate, you said it was...Oh. Fuck, yeah, lost the bugger. Horrible with little slips of paper, always think they're for my fags, then realize they. Were. Ah. Important." He looked away to avoid seeing the reaction to his Grade Z acting job.
"See?" Wes said. "Retainer."
"Well, if you don't like Wes giving out retainers, Angel," Buffy said helpfully, "It just seems to me you should discuss that with your staff, not with me."
"Ah." Wes said regretfully again. Angel glared at him. "You see, Buffy, that' s changed as well."
"I don't work for Angel anymore. He works for me."
Buffy glared at everyone impartially. Then she took the money, and stuffed it back in Spike's pockets. "I need to talk to Angel alone. Go talk about frogs or something."
When they were alone, she uncrossed her arms, recrossed them, and cocked her head at him. "So? You wanted to talk? Talk. Why is Wes the Boss man now? And if you really want to be part of my life in some capacity, you'd better tell me the truth."
Angel shook his head and looked at the ground, knowing then and there that one of them was screwed. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I can't."
"You're not even going to try?"
"It's too complicated."
"I hate that." She hissed. "I hate it when you do that, you always do that!"
"You don't even know, do you? C'mon, Angel, guess, what do you think pisses women off?"
"You're really good at that, you know?"
"Thinking that you're doing stuff for my own good, that you're making some sacrifice for me. But you made me sacrifice you. You left me, Angel, and I didn't want you to, but you left. It was too hard for you, so you left, but you said it was about me. And now you're doing the same thing to me that you always do, you just shut up and say it's best or whatever. I want to know."
"Buffy, that's not what I came here for. You can't trust Spike... I don't care what he's told you."
"And you don't listen to me, either, do you?" Buffy said with something like wonder in her voice. "Where were you when my mother was dying? You didn't even call. Yeah, you came to the funeral, that was nice. But that was all. You can't do this to me, Angel." She started to say something else, then stopped herself, tightening her arms around herself. "You know, you don't change, either. Spike changes. He thought he was helping me when he went to you."
"I... didn't know it was for you."
"Does it make a difference now?"
Angel looked away. "Yes, yes it does. You can keep it. I hope it helps."
She gave him that look again, partly astonished, partly disgusted. "I don't believe you."
"I can't do anything about that, Buffy. Your mind is made up." He turned away from her and stood in the alleyway entrance. "I'm sorry."
"Yes, you are." Buffy said. "I can't believe you're walking away again."
"I have to. You're not listening to me."
"Angel, I loved you." Buffy said quietly. "But until your business is my business, and I get to interfere with what you do the way you do with me, there's nothing to listen to."
He shook his head in exasperation, and went back to the little circle waiting expectantly in front of the store. Buffy followed quietly. Willow eyed her worriedly, searching her face anxiously for clues, but it was Spike who didn't meet anyone's eyes, smoking with his eyes on the ground. Buffy just glared at everyone impartially. "So, Will, anything new on the frogs?"
"We, ah, think it's Hallie." She glanced nervously at Angel and his little entourage as she spoke. "My, ah, source, okay, it was Jonathon, said they'd, well, I don't know exactly what they did but she wound up 'escaping' from them and now she's getting her revenge on nerds everywhere."
"So, once Angel leaves, we'll start looking."
"We're not leaving." Angel said grimly. "We can help."
Buffy stared at him, then said, "Whatever. So we go look for nerds. Where do a lot of them hang out?" She looked at Spike.
"What are you looking at me fo..? Oh, c'mon, Slayer, I know just the spot."
"Xander?" Buffy asked.
"There's place out on the highway that sells D&D stuff, but can I go home first? I need to change."
"Xander, you don't look geeky," Anya said helpfully. "But you could put on your construction man outfit."
"We have to go home for the big, ah, nothing." Willow said. "But, hey, we can call around. We'll help."
"Ah, Buffy..." Wesley said.
"Wes, you guys don't have to stay." Buffy said icily.
"No, this could be educational. What can we do?"
"Uh... look for frogs?"
"I guess we have to go look for geeks."
"Oh, sure, Slayer."
There was a strange moment while they all got themselves arranged and allied; the two witches with Dawn, excited at the prospect of illicit sleepovers; Wes and Lorne waiting for Angel, who gave Buffy one last stare before climbing in the back seat of the car, because Wes refused to let him drive, and Xander and Anya dithering with keys and belongings before driving off. Then Buffy and Spike were alone, leaning against his car, arms crossed, staring at the sidewalk. Long and silent minutes passed by. Guy-like it finally got to Spike and he heaved a huge sigh of capitulation.
Spike looked at her. "You pissed?"
"Why, for fuck's sake? I did it for you, it's not like I've got a bloody fucking trust fund. I can..."
"Can we not do this in public?" Buffy asked quietly. "I've just had about enough today with lying men."
They scrambled into the car, and Spike sat stiffly behind the wheel. "I didn't lie."
"You didn't tell me the truth, either."
"Well, I couldn't..."
"Because you'd have stopped me."
"Why would I do that?"
"Don't want Angel knowing how bad it is for you."
"You are so stupid sometimes." Buffy snorted, turning to him. "Just drive, okay?"
The old DeSoto rumbled into life and they pulled away in silence, Spike nursing a entirely male anger at female capriciousness, and Buffy merely biding her time.
"But, you know..." She said thoughtfully. "Sometimes you can be real smart."
"Just not now."
"How am I 'sposed to be smart when...? What?"
"You were right. I didn't want Angel knowing how bad it was. But you never noticed I didn't mind for you to."
Spike stared straight ahead, then dared to look at her. His mouth dropped open in surprise. "Oh."
"And you never asked me who I was pissed at."
"And that would be?"
"Well, right now, it's Hallie."
Buffy leaned against him and put her fingers on his arm. When he turned her head to her, she suddenly flowed against him so that he had to jerk the vehicle over to the side. When they finally surfaced from the kiss, she was smiling at him and he was startled witless. "For delay."
Continued in Chapter 38