PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has just started working at the Doublemeat Palace, and is continuing her clandestine affair with Spike. Takes place directly after DP, and before Dead Things. For the sake of this story, we're going to say that everything after DP never happened.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was my entry for the Spuffy ficathon at LJ, for i-digress-uk. It's a 4-part story, and a bit more surreal than my usual work.
Chapter 1: Verde
Irritable didn't even begin to describe Buffy's mood as she stiff-armed the Magic Box door open, pushing so hard the bell didn't so much ring as it went slamming into the ceiling with a metallic death rattle. Her mood plummeted further when she saw an all too-familiar bleached head bowed over the counter, leaning conspiratorially toward an animated Anya.
It wasn't that she didn't want to see him. It was that she'd just tried seeing him, only to waste the last hour of her day traipsing to his crypt and back when she discovered he wasn't home. Combine that with the disaster that had been her emergency early shift at the Doublemeat Palace of Poo, and Buffy was ready to twist the head off a Fyarl demon with her bare hands.
Maybe running into Spike right now was a monumentally bad idea. He might lose a body part she had interest in using some time in the future.
"…likes to eat children, but that shouldn't be a problem for you," Anya was saying to him.
On the other hand, this sounded potentially apocalyptic. Could be a good way for her to work out some of her frustrations without getting undressed with a certain undead guy. Not that they actually took off their clothes half the time, or were careful about it on those few occasions when they did, but it was the thought, right?
"Whatcha doin'?" she asked as she walked up to the counter and leaned forward against its edge.
"Just a bit of business," Spike replied. His gaze flickered over her uniform, eyes inscrutable as they lingered on her hips. A single brow lifted, and she caught more than a twitch of amusement in his lips. "Decide to mop the floor 'round the Palace with your bottom, Cinderella?"
Buffy flushed, straightening to ineffectually tug her top further down. Figures he'd see the enormous grease stain so inappropriately placed on the seat of her pants. Slipping on the tiled floor because she'd grabbed the wrong shoes in her hurry to get out the door had just been the first of her many disasters at work today.
Before the Slayer could snipe back at him about where exactly he could shove those particular appendages, Anya rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, please. Enough with the offended maiden routine. Like we don't all know he's always checking out your ass." She hit the vampire on the back of the head, forcing a scowl when he finally tore his gaze away from Buffy's hips and back to whatever it was that was sitting on the counter between them. "Spike! Can we focus here? I'm on a schedule, and your time is my money."
"Focus on what?" The diversion from thoughts of Spike's body parts checking out her body parts was a grateful one, and Buffy stretched to see what was holding their attention. A map. With lots of bright colors. And itty bitty lettering that she probably couldn't read even if it was right-side up. She frowned. Was it even in English?
She didn't get a chance to find out for sure before Spike yanked it away, stuffing it in a wad into his coat pocket. "Just business," he repeated vaguely. "Not really any of your concern."
"Like kitten business?" she said with faux innocence.
"Like none of your business," he retorted.
"It's not a big deal," Anya interjected. "I'm hiring Spike to help me with the bridesmaids' dresses."
Buffy's eyebrows shot skyward, as did her mood when an unbidden image came into her head. "This doesn't mean you're going to start wearing frilly pink shirts and calling yourself Mr. Spike, does it? Because I think Xander might want to know about that so he's got his camera ready."
"And here I thought you were the one interested in my Mr. Spike, luv."
She froze, the words trapped in her throat as her eyes flew to Anya in a panic only the vampire seemed capable of inspiring these days. So many lies had been told, and so many clothes thrown away to cover up the fact that Buffy was involved with Spike, and he was going to ruin all that with one little innuendo? Anyone else and she'd be able to joke it away, but around Anya? That was a whopper reveal if there ever was one.
"On second thought," Anya said, ducking down to dig around beneath the cash register, "I think I'm going to go with you."
Or maybe not.
"Hold up," Buffy said, stepping around to block the pair from leaving. "Children eaters usually fall under Slayer domain, not wedding plans, so what gives? If there's another apocalypse moseying to town, I think I should know about it."
"It's not an apocalypse---," Spike started.
"Yes, it is," Anya interrupted.
"They're just bloody dresses---."
"For my one and only wedding---."
"Considering it's with Donut Boy, that's not something I'd be crowing about if I were you."
"Since you're not the one marrying him, then there's no reason for you to be crowing, now is there, Foghorn?"
"Still not an apocalypse."
"Well, the fact that Julio absconded with my money without my having the perfect dresses to show for it seems appropriately dire to me," she finished.
"Who's Julio?" Buffy asked.
"A dead man," came the simultaneous response from Spike and Anya.
"For stealing your money?"
"No, she would mean that literally," Spike said.
"How does a dead man steal money?"
"That's what I want Spike to find out," Anya explained. At Buffy's growing confusion, she sighed. "It's really not that complicated. Julio's an old friend---was an old friend, the money-grubbing bastard---and when I couldn't make a decision on the bridesmaids' dresses, I invoked him to ask if he'd mock up a design---."
"You invoked him? Why doesn't this sound like's got one of those rollaway carts at the mall, Anya?"
"Bloke's a moonshadow demon. Fairly reclusive. Only way to drag them out of their meditations is with the spellcasting."
"And I couldn't very well ask Willow to do it, not after everything. Xander would have a whole herd of cattle if I went to her, and then I'd have to resort to wearing that roller derby outfit again if I wanted to get any kind of orgasms---."
"Point, Anya? Any chance of getting to it any time soon?"
"Right. So, Julio came up with this absolutely gorgeous dress. Exactly what I was looking for, only he says he doesn't have the money to make them unless I pay up front. Not an ideal situation, let me tell you. I tossed and turned on that one for three whole days, debating the wisdom of parting with my hard-earned cash without having anything to show for it right away. I mean, it goes against every capitalist principle I know---."
"Long story, short," Spike interjected with a sideways glance, "she caved, he split, and now I'm off to see 'bout makin' amends. See ya, Slayer."
He was stopped by a hand on each of his arms, and wishboned for a second before grimacing at the two women who were watching him.
"Did you not hear me say I'm coming?" asked Anya.
"And you're not going anywhere until I hear more about these children eaters," Buffy added.
Talking looked to be the last thing Spike wanted to do at the moment, heavy brows a dark slash across his brow, his lips pressed into a tight line. There was a skittishness about him that hadn't been there when she'd first walked in, and he looked very much like he just wanted to be rid of her company, rather than trying to stick to her side like glue. It was…unnerving, and the irrational thought that her mood could have transferred to him, that her ill humor was a contagious, touching thing and that she leeched any good will from those around her just by her mere presence, was enough for Buffy loosen her grasp, her face suddenly too hot with an unaccountable shame.
"Or, you know, maybe not," she said, taking a step back. "Don't let me get in the way of your business." She practically spat out the last word, fury rising like a volcano inside her at her weakness. Since when did she care how she made Spike feel? "We always know well that turns out, don't we? I'm thinking safe distances might be in order so that I don't get caught in the fallout."
"Not feelin' spooked, are we?" he taunted. The vitriol surprised her, and for the briefest of seconds, she missed the soft-speaking vampire who couldn't seem to stop the endearments during their sex. "Don't fuss yourself. I don't think you've got a worry about the building fallin' down 'round your ears. Unless, of course, that's your particular kink, in which case---."
"Oh!" Anya exclaimed, blind to the tension that had sprung up between the two blonds. "Someone pat me on the back. I just had the most brilliant idea." Her smile was wide. "Buffy can come with us."
Both heads swiveled to stare at her.
"If you think I'm splittin' my fee---."
"I can't just leave Dawn---."
"It's perfect," Anya kept saying, ignoring their protestations. "I show up with two heavy hitters, and Julio won't stand a chance at weaseling out of our deal."
"I thought you said he was missing." Buffy's mind was racing. It was one thing to want a good fight; it was another to be stuck with Spike in a prolonged social situation with someone who would most likely pick up on the hints he kept dropping like lead balloons. "And…and…Dawn."
"With Julio, missing is a relative thing. And Xander can watch over Dawn. I'll just tell him I need you for some female thing and he'll do whatever I ask just to get out of hearing the details."
"What about my fee?" Spike demanded. "I didn't---." He cut himself off, casting a glance at Buffy as he visibly reassessed his words. "If you want the Slayer to do this, just say so," he tried again. "She can use the dosh more than me, I'd bet."
"I'll pay both of you," Anya offered. She turned to Buffy. "Is it worth a hundred dollars to you to come along and look menacing?"
Buffy's jaw dropped as she gaped at the vampire. This conversation had long ago crossed the border to absurd, completely bypassing the waystation of logic in favor of sneaking into the land of craziness, and now with Spike haggling with Anya for her Slayer services, she was beginning to think maybe she would've been better off staying at work to put in a double-shift. Anything had to be saner than this.
"That's ridiculous, Spike. She won't even have to do anything because of the whole demon-only rule." Pause. "One-fifty."
"What? You're supposed to go down instead of up! Don't you know anything about bartering for services?"
"I know Buffy's worth a helluva lot more than you're willing to fork over. Keep arguin', and we'll make it five hundred and double mine."
Spike looked smug in the face of Anya's annoyed indignation, leaving Buffy wondering what he was holding back regarding the situation. Finally, the ex-demon sighed and said, "Two-twenty-five. And your personal guarantee that Julio can't meditate for the next century."
"My pleasure," he said with a grin.
"Well, it's not mine," Buffy interjected. "First of all, Anya, you don't have to pay me to help you. If you really need---." She yelped when Spike's hand curled around her bicep and yanked her away, glaring up at him when she tore away from his grip.
"Take the money, pet," he said in a low voice. His eyes were glittering with barely controlled anger, nostrils flaring, and she felt a shiver of desire course down her spine at the danger in his aspect. "This might not be apocalyptic, but it's not a walk in the park, either. Not to mention that Shopgirl's bein' more than just a mite vengeful in this little enterprise, and what she's askin' you to do has got nothin' to do with saving the world for Santa Claus."
"I know." She saw his hand lift as if to touch her face, but a quick glance at Anya over her shoulder halted the movement. "But this is business, Buffy, unpure and simple. You deserve to get paid for it."
She had to admit…it was tempting. Two hundred dollars would go a long way to climb a mountain of overdue bills. It wouldn't get her over the peak, but it wouldn't leave her wandering around the bottom, wondering how she was ever going to make it up the steep side.
But she didn't reply to Spike, instead turning on her heel to face Anya.
"It seems like a lot of money to shell out to us just to get a couple dresses," Buffy said. She caught the quick frown the ex-demon shot Spike, but by the time she'd looked back at him, his face was blank, watching the two women as indifferently as if he was standing in line at the grocery store waiting for his turn to checkout.
"It's the principle of the thing," Anya said. "We had a deal and Julio reneged on it. Sometimes, vengeance costs. And I'm OK with that."
Buffy sighed. "How long is it going to take?"
"You'll be home by morning. I promise."
"And you're sure these are the dresses you want?"
"They're perfect. Trust me."
As she made reluctant arrangements to get picked up after a quick shower and change of clothes, only one thought kept ricocheting inside Buffy's weary mind.
Famous last words.