“We think it’s a really bad movie.”
“We’re not sure what it’s about.”
They both stared, unblinking, at the screen. Dawn raised her eyebrows and sighed. “Sounds fabulous.”
Buffy and Willow nodded in unison, their attention focused on the TV.
“Is this some diabolical spell where you are mesmerized by evil programming that sends subliminal messages through the television?”
Willow looked up at Dawn finally. “Well, many people do consider these Lifetime movies evil.”
“Shh. Valerie Bertanelli’s character is about to do something risky,” Buffy shushed them. Dawn shook her head sadly and went upstairs.
When the movie was over, Willow leaned back against the sofa and shook her head. “Wow, that was bad.”
“So very bad,” Buffy agreed.
Willow stretched her legs and sighed. “Tomorrow’s going to be a big day. Magic Box opening, getting ready for Giles, avoiding studying for my psych test, yada yada. Anything else I’m forgetting?”
“I think you have it covered, Will.” Buffy rubbed her eyes and yawned. “It’s too early on a Friday night to be this tired.”
“We’re getting old,” Willow said, patting Buffy comfortably on the back.
Suddenly Buffy sat up straight. She looked directly at Willow.
“No, we are NOT. We are young, dammit. We are young, and it’s only 10:30, and we are NOT sitting on this couch for another minute.”
“But I thought you wanted to watch the thirtysomething marathon.”
“I’d rather act like a freaking twentysomething, which is what we are.” Buffy grabbed a protesting Willow’s arm and dragged her upstairs.
“Dawn, help me! Your sister has gone psycho again!” Willow said as they passed Dawn’s slightly opened door.
“That’s nice,” Dawn called back.
“Come on, my friend. We are dressing up, or at the very least changing out of our sweats, and we are going to the Bronze.”
Willow groaned. “Maybe I should stay here with Dawn.”
“Dawn’s going to come too. It’s a Friday night, and Bronze is all ages, remember?”
“Maybe I should clean the guest room up for Giles.”
“Dawn already did that. She even put clean sheets on the bed.”
“And now I must ask you to shut up.” Buffy went into Willow’s closet and threw some shirts on the bed. “I’ll give you options.” Buffy stuck her head out the door. “Dawn, wanna go to the Bronze?”
“Always,” Buffy heard her respond.
“Remember, no more dressing like a ho biscuit.”
“Fine, then I won’t be borrowing any of your clothes then,” her sister called back pleasantly.
Buffy turned back to Willow, who was sitting on the bed surrounded by brightly colored shirts. The look on her face was classic Willow, rife with insecurity and tiny glimpses of hope.
“Alright,” Willow finally sighed. “Call up Xander. If you’re forcing me to go out he might as well suffer with the rest of us.”
Xander usually let the machine get it but he was bored out of his mind.
“Hi, Xander. What are you up to?”
Xander looked at the half-empty pizza box on the coffee table and the remote in his hand.
“Oh, just getting ready to head out.”
“Damn. We’re going to the Bronze for some mandatory fun and wanted you to come with.”
Xander cast a glance at his ripped sweatpants and tried to remember if he had any clean clothes.
“Uh, well, I was just meeting up with some guys from work, but I do that all the time. I’ll meet you guys at the Bronze in a half hour if it’s that important to you.”
“You’re sitting in your ripped sweatpants eating pizza, aren’t you?”
“I refuse to dignify that with a response,” Xander said, putting the phone down before he turned off the TV and ran into his bedroom to change.
“Here’s to Giles coming home,” Buffy said, lifting her glass.
“And to me being with the three loveliest ladies in all of Sunnydale,” Xander added.
“And to Buffy for not reeking like Doublemeat Palace anymore,” Dawn grinned.
“And to Dawn being so kind and respectful of her big sister,” Willow nodded. They clinked glasses and drank.
The Bronze, as always, was crowded on a Friday night. A very loud but pretty talented band played on stage, and the lights were thankfully lower than usual. They were lucky to get a table with four chairs.
“If it’s okay, I’m going to go say hi to some friends,” Dawn said, putting down her coke. “And if I’m not sitting with you guys you can actually order drinks and not feel guilty.”
“You are a smart, smart girl,” Xander said.
“Got your stake just in case?” Buffy asked. Dawn patted her cute red purse affectionately, waved, and disappeared into the dance floor.
“Quick. Beers for all!” Willow said.
“I’ll get them.” Buffy jumped off her stool and wound her way through the throng to the bar. It usually wasn’t this hard to get there, but the bar was extremely crowded tonight. Buffy couldn’t even see over the heads of all the women standing in front of her.
“Be cunning. Be resourceful. You’re the Slayer,” Buffy whispered to herself after waiting patiently for what felt like an eternity. Finally, she ducked down and squeezed her tiny frame through the crowd and popped up right next to the bar, despite grunts of protest.
“What’s it take for a girl to get a drink around here?” she said, slapping her twenty down on the bar.
“Sorry, lo...,” said a very familiar voice. “Hello, Buffy.”
Buffy gaped at Spike as he stood behind the bar, looking very much the… bartender. “No. Way.”
“Way. What’ll you have?”
“Uh…” Buffy shook her head slightly. “Three lagers.”
Spike nodded and poured her three drafts. He placed them in front of her, and crossed his arms, waiting patiently for her to stop staring at him.
“When did you…”
“Started Monday. I know a guy who needed someone to help out here for a bit, keep an eye on things while I was at it.”
“Hello? We’re waiting?” A very curvaceous brunette leaned across the counter a few stools down, smiling sweetly at Spike. Buffy glanced at her and other very pretty women who were staying put at the bar.
“You must be making a fortune in tips,” Buffy said. Spike shrugged innocently.
“What can I say? I’m pretty good at this. Now shove off, I’m working.” His words were tempered with mischief in his eyes. Buffy nodded graciously, grabbed the beers, and headed back to the table.
“You guys, you are NOT going to believe who’s bartending now.”
“Spike’s on tonight too? Damn. He seems to actually be developing a work ethic. Chalk it up to me and my positive influence,” Xander said, taking a large gulp of beer from his glass.
Buffy frowned at him. “You knew?”
“Yeah. He gave me money last night for groceries and stuff. After I accused him of stealing, he patiently explained to me he was working here now. Part bartender, part security, I guess.”
Buffy looked at Willow. “Did you know?”
Willow shrugged. “Nope. That’s pretty cool though. Ooh, maybe we can get free drinks!” Willow turned her attention back to the band, nodding her head to the beat. Buffy sat down on her stool and sipped her beer that she now didn’t really want. She somehow managed not to glance over at the bar or all the women surrounding it.
“We must dance now,” Xander announced a few beers later.
“Yes, we must!” Willow agreed quite loudly.
“I’ll be there in a minute, I’m going to case the joint,” Buffy replied.
“’Case the joint?’ Oh, that’s right! You are THE LAW,” Xander intoned.
“You are never going to let me live that down, are you?”
“Nope.” Xander smiled at her and grabbed Willow’s hand. “Come on, Will. Let’s show these younguns how it’s done.”
“But I don’t think we even know how’s it’s done,” Buffy heard Willow say as they headed off toward the dance floor. Buffy watched them go and had another one of those perfect moment feelings. They were all still together, still friends. Somehow they found a way to keep going, forgive, change, move on.
At that thought, Buffy turned and glanced at the bar. Still very crowded over there. Not even a glimpse of platinum blonde hair. Buffy caught sight of her sister sitting with some kids. She looked like she was having a good time. All was right with the world.
So why did she feel so annoyed?
After Buffy checked all the areas of the Bronze, especially the hidden, darkened corners, she went out back to check the alley. She listened carefully and walked quietly up and back a few times. After a few minutes she headed back to the Bronze just when Spike was heading out the door with a full garbage bag.
“Hey,” Buffy said. Spike looked around and saw her.
“Hey yourself.” Spike threw the bag into the dumpster, then looked up and down the alleyway. “Nothing tonight?”
“Nope. Just checked.”
“Good. I was just about to check.”
“No need to now.”
Awkward pause. Buffy realized she was fidgeting, and stopped herself. Spike was calm and still.
“So, Giles is coming back this weekend.”
“So Xander tells me,” Spike said.
“I told him about you.”
Spike nodded. “I figured you would. I wish I’d seen his expression.”
“Me too.” Buffy grinned. She looked at him, then at the building behind them.
“I still can’t believe you work here,” she said.
“Well, I need a place of my own soon, so I need to save up. Plus it’s something to do.”
“You looked like you were enjoying it,” Buffy said casually, studying his face. Spike shrugged.
“Could be worse. It could be Willy’s. I’d last about a day there. It’s just hard being around alcohol, is all.”
Buffy’s eyes grew round as saucers. “You stopped drinking?”
Spike nodded solemnly. “No more alcohol for me. Impairs judgment and all that. Givin’ up smoking next. Gonna get me those patch things.”
Buffy crossed her arms and watched his earnest face. “You are so full of it,” she finally announced.
“Had you for a second, though, didn’t I?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Shyeah.”
Spike grinned and pulled open the door. “You better get back inside, Buffy. Xander and Willow desperately need your help on the dance floor. What they’re doing… it’s not pretty.”
“Well, you better get back inside too before the lay-dees start rioting.” Right after she said it, Buffy really, really wished she hadn’t. The ensuing awkward pause made the last awkward pause look downright suave.
“Um, hey, I forgot… Thanksgiving, my house, Thursday,” she said quickly.
Spike looked at her oddly. Then the strange expression was gone. “Thanks. I can’t. But… thanks.”
“Oh. Well. No big. But I promise no bears this year in case you change your mind.”
“Watch it,” Spike warned as he followed her back into the Bronze, closing the door behind him.
Continued in Chapter Five