Fic: “Positive Exposure (1/2)” by Quinara

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Hello! It’s so nice to be back at seasonal_spuffy again – thanks, enigmaticblues, for continuing to do such a great job! I’ve got some short bits of poetry to post later, but until then I have fic!

Title: Positive Exposure
Author: Quinara
Rating: R/NC-17 for some briefly graphic sex and relatively high amounts of swearing.
Word Count: c. 13,600 in total.
Summary: Safe in the bosom of the A-List, Spike is set up on a date with Buffy: the world’s most hated tabloid trash. Wackiness refuses to ensue.
Author’s Notes: Not AHAU! This instead takes place some time on from the end of the comics Angel: After the Fall #17 and BtVS 8×21 (Harmonic Divergence). It does not rely heavily on comics canon, apart from the idea that now Spike, Buffy, Angel and Harmony are famous! And people have been made aware of vampires, demons and slayers. It should still be accessible, hopefully, even if people haven’t read the comics. Massive thanks to bogwitch and spiralleds for their betas!

Warnings: Pervasive misogyny, but otherwise none in particular.

Positive Exposure.

The press said a lot of inaccurate things about him and Buffy. Some of it was clearly ridiculous and most of it was insulting, but, as far as Spike could tell, the assertion furthest off the mark was actually the least sensational of all. It was the one everyone assumed had to be true, that said he and Buffy were a unit, that they were in a relationship.

Because this thing between them, it wasn’t a relationship, not in his understanding of the term. It was more like a slickly-directed farce: they spent evenings dancing around each other, following the flirtatious choreography mapped out for them but never really interacting. They smiled and they spoke and they laughed in each other’s company, but no act of relating got a look in. As it was, Buffy had been in LA for weeks, yet they still hadn’t had a single decent conversation.

If they were in a relationship, after all, he was fairly sure he wouldn’t be spending his evening skulking near her apartment. Again. He would have a better way of getting in touch than waiting around until he could ‘accidentally’ bump into her.

Still, it wasn’t as if he didn’t have practice at this. He’d found her apartment, found a nearby alley that didn’t smell too much of piss, taken a moment to smash some cameras and growl at the pair of opportunists trying to steal his spot, then waited for the routine to work.

Because it always did, eventually. Tonight it took till 2am, when without any ceremony whatsoever the light of some high-up window went out. A few minutes later a figure emerged from the building, striding quickly and confidently on platform heels. It was definitely Buffy. He’d recognise that mouth anywhere, even if he wasn’t sure how he felt about the upper half of her face being almost completely hidden by mirror-reflective sunglasses. Her chin looked so tiny.

“Spike,” she said, coming to a halt as he stepped out of the alley. Typical that she wasn’t even slightly flustered. “Taking up stalking again, huh?”

“No,” he replied, far too defensively. Bugger, it was time to light up a fag. It would keep his hands busy, if nothing else. “Fancied a walk, is all.”

“Really?” Her hands moved to her hips, her two clunky rings clacking against the bondage-buckles of her belt. Not a look he associated with her, the wasp-waist pencil-skirt bit, but he supposed it was in fashion. She certainly looked like she’d stepped off a catwalk. “Is this where you tell me I have stupid hair?”

He snorted, off-guard. “Not bloody likely.” Was she having him on? Confer the catwalk comment; she’d always had perfect hair, but this was something else. It looked to him like she had more curls pinned up than the women he’d known in life, and they’d been growing their hair for twenty-odd years. One false move, he imagined, would send the whole lot cascading down her back, tumbling like goose feathers across her shoulders and the silk of her lacy camisole –

And now he was having fantasies built entirely around hair. He really wasn’t cut out for these backstabbing PR wars; you’d never think he had something to talk to her about as important as he did.

Yet his compliment made her smile, with such vulnerability too. Fantasy, eat your heart out. “You like my hair?”

“I love your hair, you know that.” She was letting him come closer, though so much of her face was still covered by the silver of her shades. It was like a screen between them, hiding her expression as much as it refused to show him his. He had to change conversation, get back on track, he knew that, but all he found himself doing was staring into his lacking reflection, raising a hand to her hair and touching it ever so gently – not messing up the style, just touching it. Keeping that smile lit on him.

There was a hiss as his cigarette, hastily thrown away, hit a puddle. That was when her hands moved from her belt to his and she kissed him, slowly and sweetly. For a moment his eyes fell closed and it didn’t matter that he couldn’t see hers, though the plastic of the shades dug into his nose. They’d done this enough the last few weeks, given the paparazzi a thrill, but it would never get old. Not for him, anyway.

When he opened his eyes again they’d moved from the street back into his alley. Buffy let out a satisfied ‘hmm’ and started playing with his buckle; he fought to keep his head.

Eventually and with extreme effort he managed to mutter what he’d meant to bring up all along; “Dawn said you’ve got a plan to break up with me.”

Her arms tensed, fingers stilled, but only for a moment. “You, huh?” she asked, tilting her head quizzically.

It annoyed him that he found her faux-stupidity cute. He stepped back, not bothering to pull out another smoke because he’d only throw it away again in a minute. The brick wall beside him was damp from the evening’s rain and he leaned against it, grounding himself. “Dawn,” he said more forcefully. “Your sister.” He pointed at her, wishing he could tear the sunglasses from her face. “She said that you and your agent – what’s her name, Candice? – were planning a bloody fame heist, with me playing the lovesick fool with the loot.”

She stood stock still, all reaction hidden. A bubble of frustration burst inside him and his right hand whipped forward to flick the glasses from her ears, sending them to smash against the warehouse door on the opposite side of the alley. Her hand caught his wrist too late. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Now he saw her: wide eyes framed with smoky bronze, but not enough to mask the age and intelligence on show. Not enough to make her fit the role she was playing. Christ, it really was Buffy in there; the sight made his tongue stick in his throat.

Then she scowled. “I asked what you were doing.”

Right, no time to stand and stare. He set his jaw and replied, “Trying to bloody talk to you.” Pushing himself away from the wall he invaded her space, a bit of footwork guiding her so she was almost backed up against the slimy bricks.

“I’m not so much the conversationalist these days,” she informed him. In other words, Bzzz! Wrong answer. “You’re gonna have to talk to Candice.”

He leaned in, hating his predatory position, loving that her heels brought their eyes level. His left hand reached past her and found the wall beside her head. “Don’t think so, love.” He wasn’t going to buy into this scripted-questions-and-answers bollocks. They’d been going round in circles for weeks; it was time they hit some sort of finish.

“I’m serious, Spike.” She raised her chin, meeting the challenge as he felt the blood shifting inside him. The combination of her glare and her perfume was enough to make a bloke lightheaded. “Not a conversation we’re having.”

She wasn’t denying it. She wasn’t denying it. He wanted to pull away, cower and howl, but there was her other scent, dark and musky on the air, with which he was bending his left elbow into the wall and brushing his right hand in circles on her thigh. He was so weak sometimes.

Her expression was set in battle-mode, but behind it all he could see the question, the same one pounding painfully at the back of his mind. Was this how it was going to be? First sex between them in over three years, first time with his soul, first time since… In an alley? Him trapping her?

Her nails drew a line through the hair behind his ear – and since when did Buffy have nails this long? Reminded him of Dru, and didn’t that make him shiver. Then, with the slightest shake of her head, desire snuffed the questions out. Nails were replaced by fingers, pulling his jaw into a far more brutal kiss while her right leg cocked to a point, encouraging his hand to her stockinged knee and up under her skirt. Silk turned into lacy elastic turned into milk-smooth skin turned into curls and wet cotton, far too warm for the pads of his fingers.

All he saw then was darkness; all he felt was heat around his tongue, around his thumb, around his cock as hands found him. He was sure he didn’t want to open his eyes.

It felt desperately necessary to come closer together; for his hands, now there were two, to lift up her thighs; to slide into her as they breathed each other’s air; for the knuckle of his thumb hooked round her knickers to run a line of pressure down his dick and make her shudder as it chose his angle for him. Her hands clawed up his chest and round his back and as her nails cut skin, just above his collar, it was like a door opening in his memory to something he’d forgotten. Yes, of course.

After all, they’d fucked in alleys enough times that the whole thing was familiar. His mouth was free to kiss and bite and suck on skin, but everywhere else material constricted: his jeans around his thighs, the hem of her hiked-up skirt that dug into his stomach. Oh, that skirt. Again. He had to push against that skirt every time he thrust and it made him feel a little sick.

But wait, no, it wasn’t only that. It was the frantic quivering of her legs, clenching around his. It was the feel of her rolling in his hands against the wall. It was the guttural ‘unnh’ noises underneath her ragged breaths, because of course they weren’t kissing anymore. How many times had they done this? It was all making him sick, the idea that they were back in this place, and he was nothing but a body of creeping shame.

Tears grew in his squeezed-shut eyes. He found himself thrusting quicker, desperate to bring her off and have it over; his thumb moved and went to work while he ignored the rasp of overlocking against his skin. He was flagging, failing, definitely not going anywhere and about to break into a sob, yet he didn’t mind because this had been a bad, bad idea. He hated this. He hated himself. If it could just be over

And then, with that small cry he knew too well, it was.

They didn’t move from the wall for a good five minutes. Perhaps that was odd. Perhaps it was odd that, as sick as her skin had made him feel, he kept on touching it, face pressed to her shoulder. But what seemed odder, to Spike anyway, was that Buffy started weeping first.

If he asked himself what had brought them to that point, Spike would probably think back to the night a few months ago, when he bought the first magazine of his existence and hated it more with every minute he carried it round LA.

He made it eventually to Angel’s apartment, where barging through the door he was at last able to throw the accursed thing down on the coffee table. The pages had made his fingers feel sweaty. “Have you seen this?” he demanded of Angel, standing in front of the TV.

The response was underwhelming. “Come in, Spike,” Angel said, craning his neck to watch the hockey game still going on. “Make yourself at home.”

“You haven’t seen it, have you?” Spike wished he had a cigarette. “Bloody look at it, will you!” he shouted, taking up the magazine again to force it into Angel’s hands.

Finally Angel looked down, just as some cheers rose in surround sound to set Spike’s nerves even more on edge. He almost looked away, but, no, he had to watch the other vampire’s expression, check that it followed the same path his must have done not an hour earlier. And it did, filtered though it was through about four layers of constipated scowling: mild confusion ceding to horrified recognition, ending in anger.

What – ?” Angel shook his head, trying to get control of himself. “I mean, that’s not the latest, is it?”

Now Spike left him for the drinks cabinet, pulling out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses from beneath the posh glass bar. His voice shook as he poured. “Believe it or not the Mafia stepped in.” He laughed, downing the first glass.

“The Mafia?” Angel watched him, absently pressing the ‘off’ button on his remote. And the rest was silence. “What do the Mafia care for Rome?”

Another glass of whiskey warmed Spike’s throat; it almost dulled the pain? anger? anguish? he was feeling. “Apparently they had an interest,” he said. And when the hell had Clem become the demon with the contacts? Never mind; thank God he’d been around. “Some contract with Wolfram and Hart. Demons downtown fucked up the balance of power so our friends backed off.”

“But Buffy…” Spike winced; Angel continued, “This can’t be right.”

Another drink. Eyes shut this time. “Course it isn’t right.” Didn’t mean it wasn’t true though, did it? What if she really had retired after all? Maybe she’d had other slayers on it and they’d cocked up, landed her in it. It probably had nothing to do with –

“Do you think the Immortal’s got anything to do with it?” Angel asked, forcing Spike’s eyes open again.

Though the light of Angel’s apartment seemed too muted, too soft for anger, the glass was hard and heavy in Spike’s hand: perfect for throwing. But there was no point. He shook his head.

Defeated, Angel looked back down to the magazine and Spike felt alone in the silence. He couldn’t shut his eyes again, because he was sure that all he would see was that magazine cover, complete as a photograph in his mind. Her smiling face, framed by an arm, raised and carefree above her head; her body one single s-curve as she danced. That headline above her, in bold white capitals:

“I thought everything had blown over with the slayers,” Angel mused, not looking up. He held the magazine in front of him as if he needed glasses to read it, as if it would make sense if he could only find the right distance to hold it at.

Fat chance.

Spike raised an eyebrow, the whiskey turning his amusement sour. “What? Because you got Harm to stop running her mouth?” For someone who took to fame like a duck to water, Angel knew next to nothing about how it worked. “You think they’re going to let her off that easily? Now they’ve got their claws in her?”

Angel frowned, still defensive about that spell on Harmony. “But Mattie,” he insisted, “she said the break-up with the Immortal should have been enough. Buffy’s got good people working for her.”

“Oh, well, if Mattie says…” She was all right, Angel’s agent, and far better than his own, but Spike still doubted she knew exactly what was going on. “You know as well as I do the Immortal’s got his mojo to keep him on top. The lot of them were probably gagging for an excuse to tear her back down.”

Stubborn as always, Angel frowned on. “You’ve gotta trust your agent,” he maintained, “and Mattie said it should have worked. She played the victim perfectly.”

After the night with the magazine things continued much as they had been doing for a while now. Everyone had clearly started to forget about vampires and demons, but that didn’t affect his and Angel’s popularity. They were still two of the most sought-after people in the city and long black coats were more in than they’d ever been, especially ones with stitched-up rips and stains on the lining.

Spike knew he should never have talked to GQ about his duster.

In fact, Spike was more than ready to abandon fame altogether and fade back into obscurity, but his agent, a complete git called Daz that Angel had found almost certainly as a joke, persisted on making him take interviews. And go to premieres. And have dates for said premieres drawn from the pool Daz’s appalling contacts could call on. For some reason it seemed easier to go along with it than kill the bastard.

“Mate, if you set me up with that ditz Corinne again I’ll pull out your intestines and go bloody skipping, are we clear?”

“You’ll like this one, Spike; promise you, promise you. She’s some ex-pat wannabe-Eurotrash come home or something. Easy as pie, way I heard it. Juiced for a good time. I can’t actually remember her name right this second, but…”

Spike had groaned and bitched and sworn, but somehow still found himself getting into the limo when it came by his apartment. Once inside, though, every complaint flew from his mind.

He had never thought, out of every D-List bimbo in the whole world, that he would even possibly be set up with Buffy. Probably because in no world of Spike’s imagining was Buffy a D-List bimbo, but all the same it was a shock. And she looked so good, her gold shift dress gleaming in the strip light, hemline barely decent at the top of her tanned legs.

Buffy?” he asked, brain on autopilot. “Is that you? Christ, love, how have you been?” He had so many questions, so many things he wanted to ask her. What had she done after Sunnydale? Why had she pretended to hook up with the Immortal? Why had she followed that by actually hooking up with him? Had she ever thought about the cavern, or…?

For a moment she smiled at him, but then it was like he hadn’t even spoken. “Did your agent brief you about the film?” she asked, a serious look on her face that he didn’t quite recognise. “You can’t laugh if the deaths are in slow motion, okay? That’s Pérez’s trademark and it’s – ”

He sat back, forced himself to relax. So that was how it was going to be. “Pérez?” he feigned ignorance petulantly. “Who’s he?”

Her eyes went wide. “For God’s sake, Spike!” Ah, so she did at least remember who he was. “She is the director – Emilia Pérez? Won Best Picture two years ago at the Oscars?” She shook her head. “You know this is an important film, right? We can’t be shown up when we get there.”

He was silent for the rest of the journey, a little disheartened that she hadn’t worked out he’d been joking.

The encounter with Buffy put him in a foul mood the next evening, despite the fact it was patrol night. Angel even turned up, as he’d been doing more and more over the past few weeks. Spike reckoned he was starting to worry about maintaining his image.

Around midnight, Spike hacked through the neck of a Hrothgon demon, splattering ichor onto Angel’s coat and across the alley wall. It should have made him happy, but as it was he had to resist the urge to sigh.

Angel, on the other hand, looked murderous, breaking the past ten minutes’ silence. “I saw you, you know,” he said through gritted teeth, eyes looking dark even for the poor lighting conditions. “At the newsstand. On a cover.” Pulling his sleeve over his hand he tried to wipe some of the purple away. “With Buffy.”

“Yeah?” Spike swung his axe onto his shoulder still dripping, hopefully giving the impression the date had been a far more thrilling occasion than the truth. “And?”

“You went to the premiere with Buffy,” Angel practically repeated, hunching his shoulders.

“Jealous?” Spike sneered.

Angel just set his jaw. “Worried.”

Now that was a laugh. To Angel, Spike knew, the two emotions felt practically the same.

Kicking the demon’s spiny corpse into the corner of the alley, Spike started walking again, forcing Angel to come along with him. Not surprisingly, now that Angel had started, it only took a couple of blocks for him to worry the conversational bone yet again.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

Maybe it was that they had reached a streetlight, so Spike knew he wouldn’t be able to conceal as much in his expression, or maybe it was that all subconscious rush of the kill had faded now, but he couldn’t be bothered to keep up the charade any longer. “I didn’t know,” he admitted. “Not till I turned up.”

Angel grunted and they carried on, not bothering to hide their weapons as a police car drove by. Eventually he spoke up again. “So?”

“So, what?” Spike replied, exasperated.

Not looking up from the pavement, Angel shrugged. “How is she?”

Spike rolled his eyes. Wasn’t that the billion-dollar question. “Dunno if you’ve forgotten, but it’s not like you get the chance to debate metaphysics at these things.” He swept his free hand in front of him, frustrated. God, this road went on forever. “I turned up, I got fifteen cameras shoved in my face, I watched the film, I got pushed in front of the director, I shook her hand, I came home. Buffy and I said about three words to each other.” And why were the streets so empty? He could really do with killing something else.

“Well, what was she doing?” The look on Angel’s face was an odd mix of eagerness and detachment. Not feigned detachment attempting to cover-up eagerness, but an actual mix of the two. It was peculiar to say the least. “Did she look happy? Sad?”

Spike wanted to shout, because he had absolutely no idea, did he? She’d barely looked at him once they’d left the limo, too busy smiling for the cameras. As it was, he shrugged. “We’re going to the Viv Westwood party on Tuesday,” he said resignedly, looking at the ground. “I’ll ask her then.” If he got the chance.

Moments later Spike realised Angel had stopped walking. He was standing a few paces behind, frowning up a storm. “What you waiting there for?” Spike called back, shifting his axe to the other shoulder.

Angel shook his head before replying, “Had to stop and take that in.” He closed the gap to a comfortable distance. “You know, don’t you, that if you continue with… If you continue with this there’ll be consequences you might not see yet.”

What the hell was he getting at? “Cheers, Dad, but I’d skip the birds and the bees and get back to the footy if I were you…”

“Damn it, Spike!” Angel’s sword arm came up slightly, but he lowered it after a second. “I’m not sure I can make this simple enough for you to understand, but you’re kidding yourself if you think Buffy doesn’t have some other motive in all of this.” He shook his head, conceding, “And, if not her, then her agent. You don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.”

“What crossfire?” Spike swapped his axe back to its original shoulder, suddenly filled with a rather hefty amount of irritation. He stared Angel down. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to be neutral in this Buffy-Immortal business?” It disgusted him no end that, despite everything, that was still the talk of the town.

“Of course I’m not,” Angel dismissed him, before sighing. “I just want you to think about what it could do to you. To your…” He scowled, unable to finish.

Now Spike stepped back, bringing down the axe to point at Angel’s chest. “To your reputation, you mean.” No reaction. With a sneer Spike turned on his heel and began to walk away; he didn’t need to hear another word of this. “Go do your photo-op patrol somewhere else, Angel,” he called back over his shoulder. “Some of us are actually here to keep people safe.”

The weeks went on, dates came and went. Daz seemed nonplussed as to the reason why Spike was still giving ‘that bitch the Immortal didn’t want’ the time of day, but then Spike stopped taking his calls. It wasn’t as if he knew why himself, since this was nowhere near even the least hopeful of his Buffy-dating fantasies, but he could do without being hassled over it. So maybe he’d miss a few opportunities to be a talking head, but he would still be worth however many dollars it was, what with the film rights and that book that was about to be translated into Russian.

Losing Daz’s calls, however, didn’t stop him being miserable. He’d been avoiding Angel on principle, but the only conversation he got with Buffy tended to consist of her laughing loud enough for everyone around them to hear or be so shallow it might as well have never existed. It left him lonelier than he’d been in a long time.

And that, he decided, was why he found himself so happy to hear the buzzer for his apartment one afternoon.

“Yeah?” he said into the intercom, leaning against his smart red wall.

“Spike?” came the familiar voice. “Hey, it’s Dawn. Can I come up?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, letting a bit more happiness show. Dawn was in town! Now why the hell hadn’t he known that?

He buzzed the front door and let her in, glad to play the host, pouring a bag of Doritos into a bowl and fixing her a drink as she sat down. It was odd being able to fit everything comfortably on his coffee table, which these days was a sturdy, square thing made of cherry wood, but he’d thought he might as well pay for the convenience. And to have it able to withstand the odd demon attack.

Dawn raised an eyebrow at the posh crockery, but took a seat on the long corner sofa all the same. It was unnerving how much older she looked than he remembered her. Should he have offered her beer? He couldn’t immediately recall how many years had gone by.

“So, how have you been?” he asked once the greetings had been done away with.

She nodded, resting her hands awkwardly on her knees and still looking around the apartment. He felt slightly defensive; he knew his telly was too flash, but it was smaller than Angel’s and a bit of all right when you had the Xbox 360 going… Luckily she answered before he gave himself away, “Yeah, yeah, not so bad, these last few months. Before that?” She winced. “Well, you know, giant. Centaur. Doll.”

He wondered whether she was joking.

She didn’t seem to know either, shrugging as she took a crisp from the bowl to nibble on. “Crazy, right? But, uh, it’s not something I like to talk about, so let’s move on. Mainly to the whole you-dating-my-sister thing.” Frowning slightly, she added, “Or the media-princess incarnation of my sister, anyway.”

“All right…” He hoped this wasn’t going where he thought it was going. A certain threat about waking up on fire still lingered in the back of his mind.

Dawn took a breath, in and out, before she spoke. “She’s trying her best, okay? The whole Immortal thing coming straight after the Harmony thing and everybody turning against slayers? She took it really hard.” For a moment she looked down, poking at the rug with her toe before she met his eyes again. “I mean, I haven’t spoken to her much, but considering you’re moping in your apartment instead of posting pictures of you guys on every lamppost, I guess she isn’t exactly being carefree-bubbles-Buffy around you either.”

Actually, carefree-bubbles was a relatively accurate description. “It struck her badly, didn’t it?” he asked, reaching for some crisps of his own and trying not to appear non-committal. “The Immortal cheating on her?” Not to mention the world’s media taking his side.

“Yeah,” Dawn replied, nervously sipping her drink. “So you get it, right?”

Now he was a bit confused. Why did she look so anxious? “Get what?”

“Well, why she’s got so…” Dawn bit her lip, then sighed. “I heard them talking, okay?” She seemed to cut to some sort of chase. “Her and Candice, you know, her agent? They’ve got plans.”

Her words brought to mind what Angel had said about hidden motives. More than a little annoyed at the memory, Spike found himself setting his jaw. “What’re you getting at, Dawn?”

She ducked her head. “Buffy’s gonna leave you,” she said quickly, kicking the rug again. “Do what the Immortal did to her.”

For a moment his mind went blank, then he started spluttering in disbelief. “No way.” No. “Dunno what you heard, Dawn, but–”

“She’s gonna dump you, Spike,” Dawn insisted, looking up now and deadly serious. “She’s gonna do everything she can to come out the winner and leave you eating her A-List dust.”

“No,” he persisted, not caring how stubborn he sounded. He and Buffy might not have turned out like any of his fantasies, but he wasn’t giving up on them, not yet. “That wouldn’t work.”

Then, suddenly, Dawn was standing almost over him, clenching her fists for just a moment. “Will you stop being so damn naive?” Her voice was strained. “Things are nuts. Do have any idea how bad things are? Buffy’s in a total sitch, and you know she won’t want to, but if she has to she will use you to get out of it.” She brought up a hand to demonstrate: “You saved the city, you have power; you love her, she has power over you. It’s so simple; why don’t you see it?”

He couldn’t resist standing up as well. No bloody teenager, not even Dawn, got to call him naive. “D’you know what it was, Dawn, the nicest thing your sis ever said to me?” He waited for the smallest shake of her head. “’I believe in you.’ One or two sweeter-sounding things have passed her lips, but that was the most God’s-honest pleasant. No one else did right then, you see. Not even me. You think I’m gonna turn my back on that, not repay it in kind?” He laughed, because it was funny. “You think I can?”

Though she didn’t step back, Dawn looked away, mouth clenched and the first touches of tears in her eyes. Then she spoke again, quieter. “Look, I’m trying to fix this, figure out what’s going on with the Immortal, but I can’t actually do that unless you accept that this is an issue.” Her voice broke into something strangled. “This is happening, Spike…”

“Oh, Dawn –” Trust him to get the wrong end of the stick. He brought up a hand to rest it on her shoulder, but in the end decided just to sit back down. “Cheers, right?” he said, raising a glass to her. “I owe you one, for telling me. For trying to sort all this out. It’s not your fault I’m thick as two short planks.”

She was growing red, the tears not going away as she too sank back onto the sofa. “I know I shouldn’t have said it like that, I mean…” She brought her hands up, furiously pressing her fingers into her eyes. Poor thing looked utterly exhausted. “I guess it’s just she – my Buffy – she died to save us once before. I don’t want her to do it again.”

Now that it all made sense he did the obvious: he took her in his arms and promised it would be all right. He would make it right. There was nothing else for it, not really.

So he’d tracked Buffy down, and naturally it had all gone hideously wrong.

Or at least he’d thought it had, but then after a brief cry and a clean-up there had been a singular lack of one of them buggering off. He’d fallen in at her side on her errand to the all-night supermarket, carried some bags back to her apartment and ended up spending the night in her bed, warm right down to his toes. Clearly silent communication was still their forte.

Because when the next morning came she seemed perfectly happy to see him, threading fingers through his hair before she disappeared to the shower. He watched her go in a daze, only coming out of it when he heard the sound of water. Then he slipped his jeans back on and climbed out of bed, wandering around the rest of the apartment.

It was a large place, with high ceilings and a massive open-plan area outside the bedroom. The living space was sunk two steps down by the windows, clearly separate from the kitchen and the built-in training floor. He imagined it could have looked cold with its white walls, but the warm pinks and browns of the furnishings instead kept it feeling like a home. It helped that none of the curtains were open, of course: everything was lit with a soft, murky glow.

He wondered how amenable Buffy would be to leaving it like this, or keeping the light artificial anyway. Then, as the phone rang and he absently picked up the receiver, he realised he wouldn’t need to worry. It became all too clear what the outside world was like as a voice spat down the line:

“…drove him to it, didn’t you, Buffy? You were such a frigid bitch the Immortal needed some comfort somewhere else, didn’t he? Why d’you do it Buffy? Wanted him outta the way, didn’t you, Buffy? Wanted to fuck Spike even then, am I right? Admit it, underneath it all you’re nothing more than a – ”

Spike jerked his head away from the words, shaking with anger as he disconnected the call. In the silence he realised the shower had stopped.

“We think someone sold my number at the phone company.” He looked up; Buffy was standing in the bedroom doorway, one forest-green towel round her body and another twisted on her head. “Hopefully I’m getting it switched today.”

He could only nod, drawn inexorably now to one of the windows, storming across the hardwood floor. Leaning against the wall, he flicked the heavy curtain a little to glance outside.

There wasn’t a crowd, but he’d been on the run enough to recognise the menace. A few cars parked for no obvious reason; a couple of middle-aged men with long-lens cameras smoking in the shade of a doorway, just across the street – it was obvious. These curtains hadn’t been opened in a long time.

“It must be the same for you, right?” He could hear Buffy’s footsteps padding towards him. “Though I guess with your schedule it’s not so much a problem.”

He shook his head because it wasn’t the same, then shut his eyes for a moment before turning back to her. So this was what Dawn had been talking about. “Let me kill them, let me bloody kill them all.” All right, that wasn’t what he’d intended to say, but seeing her a few paces away from him – no make-up, no expensive clothes, just undiluted Buffy – it left him drowning all over again.

Her arms came around his waist, her face warm and soft with moisturiser against his chest. She smelled of honey-soap. For a dizzying moment he wanted nothing more than to take them back to bed, drop a hand to his fly and walk out of his jeans, lie her flushed on the sheets and unwrap her from the towel, blind himself with her skin and forget about the phone call, the people outside.

But what did she want? He didn’t know, and he’d promised himself years ago never to assume again.

When she finally spoke, she ignored his death threats. It was probably for the best. “What was the point of getting up, Spike?” she murmured. “I’ve got nothing to do until that party tonight. Candice is gonna call and talk strategy, but I don’t want – ” Her hold became listless, letting him drop back far enough to kiss her, hands drifting up her sides to the curves of her bare shoulders.

“Dunno, love,” he murmured, nudging her nose with his. “Need a distraction?” She responded by kissing harder.

He moved them back into the bedroom, but it was she who pulled her towel loose, dropping it to the floor halfway there, she who guided his hand to the buttons on his jeans as she shoved the door shut behind them, she who took them on a detour to the light-switch.

“Not hiding,” she promised as the room plunged into darkness, breathing hard against his cheek. It would take at least a few seconds for his eyes to readjust. “Not a secret.” Her hand found his and held it. Or maybe he held hers. “Private.” Fingers tightened. “Private; don’t want them to see.”

They crawled onto the bed, where he found himself kissing her stomach, nuzzling soft skin. “Only need to feel you, Buffy. Only need to feel you here.” And safe in her dark bedroom, ensorcelled away from the outside world, it really was all he needed.

He thought the evening’s party would be bearable now that Buffy was actually talking to him. Granted, they still hadn’t sat down and had a proper discussion yet, but there had been extenuating circumstances. He was certainly in a better than mood than usual.

It turned out, however, that the collective crowd of showbiz people, just like society when he’d been alive, had the ability to destroy any good spirits he was in and make him hanker for some sunlight to stroll through.

He couldn’t take the saccharine music, the unnecessary enthusiasm in every conversation he overheard. “Oh my god, you look gorgeous!” and “These canapés are heavenly!” and behind them “I guess what I’m saying is it would make a fabulous screenplay, you know, two women, uh, competing for our hearts and minds: your story cast against Buffy Summers’.”

He looked at Buffy, who looked back at him. On her nod they turned, to find the weaselly man who had spoken in drunken conversation with Harmony’s cleavage. “I’m right, right? About the same time you became so popular, she became so, uh…”

Buffy cleared her throat.

“Oh, hey, Buffy,” Harmony said, raising her glass at them. The man blinked and looked up, as though coming out of a stupor. Harmony was unfazed. “Spike.”

“Harm,” he replied.

“What are you doing here, Harmony?” Buffy asked, bristling ever so slightly. He wondered if this was the first time they’d seen each other since Harmony’s scoop about vampires and slayers. Up till now Buffy had always been perfectly together at these things, always aware that she was on show.

Harmony seemed to be loving it, scoffing, “Uh, I got an invitation.” Setting a hand on her waist, though clearly trying not to dislodge any of the sequins that covered her dress, she tossed her hair over her shoulder. “You’re forgetting that some of us are actually popular in this city. Slut.”

Drunk though he was, Harmony’s friend seemed to realise it was time to go. “Uh, I’ll just…” He gracelessly stumbled away into the crowd.

“Nobody cares about vampires anymore,” Buffy hissed, visibly trying to shrug the insult off. “How –”

“So what if they don’t?” Harmony interrupted, not bothering to keep her voice down. “You can’t stop people liking me, Buffy! Not even by getting Angel to hex me – which, by the way, was low.”

Buffy stared at her for a moment, standing ever so slightly straighter. “Angel hexed you?” she asked, voice filled more with curiosity now. “I mean, I’m not surprised, but…”

Spike wondered whether he should step in and explain about the contractual fine print she’d broken, but Harmony was waving her empty glass around, replying before he could, “Oh, don’t pretend you had nothing to do with it! You never could stand that I was more popular than you, not even in high school.” She pointed her glass forcefully. “’Cause that’s your problem. Even if everyone forgets about vampires, forgets about slayers, you can’t make them like you.” She shrugged, tilting her head into her shoulder. “I mean, come on, even the Immortal got bored…”

Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, clearly trying to find calm. Personally, he was livid, and more than happy to toss Harmony out on her arse. There had been too many times, though, when his help hadn’t done what he’d wanted. He couldn’t not think this through, not when Buffy’s already-dodgy reputation was at stake – and that was it, wasn’t it? Why Harmony had to stay in one piece; she was the popular one here, no matter how warped that was.

When Buffy opened her eyes, though, it seemed like she was one step even further ahead. She’d found her calm and with it had lost all defensiveness and malice. “You’re right,” she said, looking at Harmony like an equal. “You don’t know squat about the Immortal, but pretty much you’re right.” She sounded like she’d thought long and hard about this; God help him if he didn’t love her at that moment. “I guess – I guess I just hope you don’t think they like you either. Because it’s not you they’re taking photographs of, it’s their version of what they see. They don’t give a damn who you really are inside.”

For a moment Harmony bit her lip, eyes wide and sparkling. To Spike it seemed like what Buffy had said had struck a chord, but then a waiter came by with more champagne. She swapped her glass for a full one and slipped away from them between two nearby groups of people. Seconds later she was gone.

Neither of them said anything, for a time, and the noise of the party carried on around them. Then, at last, Buffy muttered, “God, I’m so tired of this,” and she pressed the heels of her hands into the bone underneath her eyes.

“Can’t you –” Spike had no idea what to say, but he tried to cobble something together all the same. “Can’t you move somewhere they haven’t got the limelight shining on you all hours of the day? Somewhere not Los Angeles?”

“Where am I gonna go?” she asked, reminding him how international the Immortal’s presence was. “And live off what? Pay for Dawn’s college with what?” Her eyes searched his, begging for answers as much as she was trying to make him understand. “I have a diploma from a school that blew up, experience in fast-food with a manager who’s dead, and my last job, it turns out, might as well have been off the record. No one believes I’m as strong as I am and, when I show them? They think I’m on drugs. Not to mention I’m supposed to be on call for apocalypses, training problems and, oh yeah, travelling around the world in my spare time so we can pass this sentence onto even more people.” She sighed. “I need the Immortal to – ”

“You need what?” he asked, a little louder than the music, causing various people to turn around as Buffy glared at him.

“Why do you think I agreed to date the guy?” she asked, her voice low but accusatory. “When he found out about Giselle? Who do you think’s funding the whole operation?” She waved a hand around her listlessly, continuing with bitterness, “Believe me, you don’t want to know what we had going before.”

He watched in silence as she bowed her head, chuckling darkly. The thickness of her hair across her crown seemed so hard-won.

At last she glanced up at him, false eyelashes too heavy across her eyes. “It’s a lot of money,” she confessed, gaze drifting to the right. “I mean, this works out really well for him; I’m the best PR he’s had in fifty years. He needs it, you know? It all feeds off itself; the more popular he is the more popular he gets.” She frowned slightly, slayer-cunning showing through. “I think it keeps him alive, maybe.”

The Immortal? It was still echoing round Spike’s head, keeping him from thinking straight. Half-formed ideas spilled onto his tongue. “But what about – Angel and I, we could give you…” They’d get it together, however much she needed. As big a git as Angel was being he would see sense eventually. He always did. “I can do those interviews,” he carried on, his vision blurring as he tried to think it through. “Write a book or something. People’ll buy it.”

“For God’s sake, Spike,” she snapped, bringing herself straight back into focus as she furiously curled some hair behind her ear. Her glare implied he really hadn’t got it. “This is bad enough as a shady business deal; I’m not looking to trade for Kept Woman status in a relationship we haven’t even managed to make work yet.”

His mouth opened, but then he bit down on his cheek, forcing himself to keep silent until he had thought it through from her perspective. All he could think was that he had to get her out of this. Or help her get herself out. Something. He had to.

It was probably best to stick to the things that most concerned him, if only in the meantime. “So you’re not breaking up with me anymore?” It was supposed to be a joke, but it didn’t quite come out right.

Luckily it made her smile anyway, even roll her eyes. “Trust you to pick up on that,” she said, tucking her arm back through his. As she leaned her head on his shoulder though, it felt almost like a thank you.

[Part 2]


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