The wedding cake stood taller than she did.
Buffy took this personally. Any other wedding, any other cake, any other bride, and she wouldn’t have. But at the risk of sounding a little bit crazy, and a whole lot self-centered, she knew she was meant to take it personally. It was a pointed message from the bride. You are nothing. Insignificant. So puny, even my cake towers above you.
Oh yeah, and I have your man.
The cake was a massive creation; a dozen layers of carefully iced perfection centered on a low table in the middle of the reception hall. Buffy sat at her assigned seat and idly imagined various ways to knock the monstrosity over without being caught. She was in the middle of working out scenario number six when a man flopped down into the empty chair beside her. Buffy wrinkled her nose at the stench of alcohol that rolled off of him and turned away, hoping he wouldn’t try to engage her in conversation. She was miserable enough as it was without having to deal with some drunk, and had rather preferred being the only one at her lonely little table at the back of the reception hall.
“’Lo,” he said. “What’s your name, then, love?”
Today was so not her lucky day.
She turned back, grimacing at his rumpled appearance. A midnight blue tie hung loosely from around his neck. He’d unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt, and one sleeve had been rolled up while the other dangled, cuff undone. His wrinkled jacket lay sprawled across his plate. Buffy could see it was a very nice jacket, one that didn’t deserve to be treated so. Her fingers itched with the urge to smooth it out and hang it up, but she resisted. Her eyes flitted briefly over his face without taking in the details to rest on his jacket once more. “Buffy.” She turned back away.
The man wasn’t to be deterred. “You here for the bride or the groom?” he asked, English accent clear despite the slight slurring of his words.
Neither. I’m here because I’m a sucker for pain and misery.
Buffy swiveled once more, resigned to participating in a conversation. Maybe if she answered, he’d lose interest and wander off. Or maybe she could wander off. She hadn’t forgotten her plan to destroy the twelve-layered reminder of everything she’d lost. Scenario number six had definite possibilities. “The groom,” she said, proud of how even her voice came out. She paused, wary of engaging him. “You?”
Startled, she raised her eyes to his, and was immediately struck by his miserable, heartsick expression. Set in the midst of all that agony, a pair of crystalline blue eyes gazed back at her, almost frightening in their intensity. His sneer of disgust, aimed, she presumed, at the bride, did little to disguise the fullness of his lips. Under other circumstances, Buffy might have found him attractive, but as it was, all she could see was the pain in his eyes. Pain that mimicked her own. Was he her counterpart? As jilted and jaded by the happy couple as she had been?
“Was she… were you… Close?”
The man – really, she would have to ask his name, otherwise she’d be stuck thinking of him as Drunk British Guy all night – exhaled noisily and ran a hand through the wavy brown hair that framed his face. He drummed long, slender fingers on the table. “Close,” he snorted, before laughing humorlessly. “What does that even mean? Was Drusilla my everything? My reason for existing; my sun, my moon, and my whole sodding universe? Was she what made the day worth –”
Noticing Buffy’s incredulous expression, he shut his mouth with an embarrassed wince. A waitress passed by bearing a tray of champagne glasses, and he lurched out of his chair and snagged two from her. After silently offering Buffy one, which she declined with a brief shake of her head, he drained both in rapid succession.
“Thought we were close,” he said, staring into his empty glass. “Guess we weren’t after all. The minute she and her old flame met up…”
No wonder he was drowning his sorrows. Buffy would be doing the same if she hadn’t sworn to keep her wits about her tonight. She touched his arm. “I’m sorry.”
He gestured to himself. “William the Bloody Pathetic Wanker. Now that you’ve heard my sob story, what’s yours?”
“Oh, I don’t have…” The misery in his countenance stopped her lie in its tracks. Misery and company, right? “Same as yours. Except, you know.” She gestured around. “Your ex stole my groom. And my wedding.”
William eyed her with new interest, then snorted. “Yeah. Figures. It’s just the kind of thing Dru would find amusing. Seat us two together, remind each other of what we’ve lost.” He glared at the empty head table. “Bet she laughed herself sick at the idea.”
Buffy refrained from mentioning that Drusilla sounded psychotic. Crazier than even she had given the other woman credit for, and that was plenty crazy. She couldn’t help but wonder why William would miss a woman like that, because she’d be throwing a party if she were in his shoes.
Her companion leaned towards her. “Think old Liam got the worse half of the deal, though. He’s one dumb sod if he left you for her.” He leaned back again, one arm thrown over the back of his chair, and Buffy was glad he’d looked away and couldn’t see the blush which stained her cheeks at his off-handed compliment. “Daft bitch,” he said under his breath.
“Call me crazy, but why are you even here? Since you’re obviously bitter?”
“Why you here?” he countered. “Can’t imagine this is a treat for you either.” He had her there. She shrugged, planning to turn away, but he leaned into her space, those intense blue eyes boring into her, prying into her secrets.
William narrowed his eyes and cocked his head, and Buffy found herself holding her breath as his gaze travelled slowly down her body. For reasons she couldn’t fathom, she forced herself to hold still under his frank appraisal rather than wriggle like a pinned bug under a microscope. He leaned over to better see her sandal-clad feet, and he paused his scrutiny there for a good several seconds before dragging his eyes back upwards, the weight of his gaze as intimate as if he’d trailed his hands up her body.
Perfect stranger though he was, Buffy couldn’t help but hope he approved. She’d chosen her outfit with deliberate care, with the full intention of making Liam realize just what he’d lost. Luckily, the red dress she wore was suitable enough for the wedding. Even more important, it still fit the way it had four years ago, on the day she and her ex had met. Nothing like a little heartbreak to slim her down to her college-years weight. The skirt ended just below her knees, exposing her toned calves, while the fitted bodice pushed her minimal cleavage up and left her shoulders and slim arms bare. Liam had loved this dress, and had often told her how he’d been certain she was an angel when he’d first met her. To complete her look, Buffy had brushed her long blonde hair until it gleamed, then left it unbound to cascade down her back in soft waves. With minimal jewelry and make-up just so, she felt she’d done a good job of appearing as fresh-faced and innocent as the day she’d met Liam.
Buffy knew why she was here, but she hoped it wasn’t pathetically obvious to the man in front of her, whose heavy-lidded gaze now rested on her face once more. She let out her breath, ignoring the fluttering in her stomach, and awaited his verdict.
“Let me guess,” William said at last. “Our boy was taken with your sweet and precious self the moment he laid eyes on you. Would’ve been just the thing he was looking for after Dru’s games. Bet you had a long courtship, all filled with innocent kisses and longing sighs. He always made you feel special. Unique. Treated you like spun glass, and kept you on a pedestal. And in return, you were more than happy to play the little girl for him. Look up to him and let him be your shining knight; everything perfect, like a fairy tale. When he finally took you to bed, it was the most beautiful, romantic night of your life. Then one day, he went away for a weekend. And another. Work-related, no worries. Until…” His eyes strayed to the main table before returning to her face, more intense than ever. “He was so sorry, but he’d made a mistake. A terrible mistake.” Buffy swallowed, her mouth dry, and William smiled. It wasn’t a particularly nice smile. He reached for a lock of her hair and let it trail through his fingers, and Buffy couldn’t find the strength to slap his hand away. “So here you are. All set to show him your stiff upper lip. Prove he didn’t destroy your very world. And while you’re at it, remind him of just what he’s thrown away like yesterday’s garbage.”
Buffy’s didn’t answer. She couldn’t.
“Yeah, that’s what I figured.”
“What about you?” she bit out when she found her voice. “You must be here for the same reason.”
William shrugged and slouched back in his chair. “Me? Nah, I wanna see how this farce plays itself out.”
“I thought the bitch was your whole universe. Your sun and moon and, god, how ridiculous and co-dependent does that sound?” She felt only a small sliver of satisfaction at his pained grimace, and repressed the immediate urge to apologize. Hey, Drunk British Guy had started it.
He waved his hand carelessly, though his haunted eyes belied his casual attitude. “Eh. I thought so, but… I never did mind her crazy spells, you know, not like all the other blokes. Didn’t mind taking care of her. Dru kept things… interesting. She was worth it. Still is.”
“Liam seems to be willing to take on her crazy,” Buffy said bitterly. “Four years with me, and then – bam – back to his ex without a by-your-leave.”
“Oh, they always come crawling back to Drusilla. She has her ways. Bird’s as nutty as they come, but she does know how to keep a man in her thrall.” A wistful smile crossed his face, and Buffy paled at the implications. That she couldn’t keep a man. That Drusilla was better than she was, more worth it. That even though the crazy lunatic had broken the heart of the man sitting next to her, he’d still go back to her in a heartbeat.
And, oh… ew. “So, is Drusilla… not the faithful kind?”
He snorted. “God, no. She likes her fun and games. Likes all her pretty men.” Buffy’s abhorrence at the idea must have shown on her face, because William’s expression turned lascivious. All of a sudden, it was as though an entirely different man occupied his chair, a man whose knowing, rapacious leer could only be described as pure sex. Her heart rate sped up as he invaded her space once more. “Oh, sweetheart. Nothing wrong with the pursuit of pleasure. Nothing’s wrong in the bedroom, so long as everyone agrees.”
“And you agreed?” she squeaked out.
“Got my share of pleasure too, didn’t I? A woman that talented, you’ll put up with a lot. And it was me she was with at the end of the day… or end of the night, as the case may be. Dru was faithful in all the ways that mattered between us. Till Liam came back, that is.”
He blew out a ragged breath, and suddenly he was just a sad, handsome but average man once more. The transformation was a little wiggy. He stared around the room, looking bewildered. “This though. This is new. Never knew she was interested in getting married and settling down.”
Buffy frowned, at a loss. William’s bedroom confessions had dampened her sympathy for him considerably, what with the ew factor and the predatory vibe he’d given off, but there was still that sense of in-it-togetherness. He’d been cast aside, just like her. “Well, they had to. Or, I guess they didn’t have to, not in this day and age, but…”
“What’re you on about? Why on earth would they have to get married?”
“Because…” She trailed off, realizing he didn’t know. “Because of the baby.”
William started, jerking backwards so hard, he toppled out of his seat. With a baleful glare at the other guests who were eyeing him curiously, he righted his chair and sat once more, so close his knees butted hers. “What baby?”
His voice had taken on a dangerous edge, and Buffy scooted her chair back, away from him. “Dru’s pregnant. It’s Liam’s. That’s why they had the big rush wedding.”
With the big, perfect cake.
“Pregnant?” To her surprise, William threw his head back and laughed. He didn’t stop, not even when she tried to shush him. The other guests were openly staring now, and Buffy slunk down in her chair, mortified. She kicked him in the shin, hard, and he finally trailed off into hiccoughing chuckles. “Pregnant. Ha!” He shook his head and wiped at his eyes.
“Glad you think it’s so funny.”
“It’s bloody brilliant!”
Buffy fixed him with a vicious glare. “Not so much from my point of view.”
“Don’t know what she’s playing at – well, I do, actually.” He nodded to himself. “Christ, Liam’s stepped in it. Pregnant.”
“You wanna maybe explain?”
“Simple, really. She’s done the bait and switch. Tricked him into marrying her with a false pregnancy, which will – tragically, I’m sure – end in a week or two. She always did hate that Liam wouldn’t stay with her. Not the way I would.” William’s tone was half-bitter and half-proud at that last.
She shook her head, confused. “But, how do you know-”
He grinned. “Because I was the one who drove her home and took care of her after the surgery, wasn’t I? After she had her tubes tied.”