Thanks to Beth, Celli, and Lizbet for their support (and *EEP*ing). And thanks to Dianne for pushing me on throughout this thing. I'd also like to thank Christina, who wondered if Angelus was ticked that he'd killed Darla. That query helped me break a small block. I also took the idea and ran. < g >
The Usual Disclaimer: All these characters belong to Joss and co. *Especially* Angelus--must place the blame appropriately. No infringement intended. I just did this to shut him up. No money. Please don't sue.
Song credit: "Shadowboxer" by Fiona Apple from the album *Tidal.*
Feedback *desperately* wanted. I'm still new at this fanfic thing.
On with the torture.
The band was playing, but Buffy wasn't listening. She'd been sitting there for about an hour, barely paying attention to her friends as they exchanged witty, but emotionally charged, banter. She was too engrossed in her own problems to really care about the bad vibes that were emanating from Willow and Xander. And they'd been considerate enough to keep their problems between them. They'd known each other a long time. They'd work it out.
They'd dragged her here. They had said she had to get out. And some big deal band was going to be playing, so this was the perfect thing. She could listen to some music and lose herself in a big crowd.
Time had passed. How long? She wasn't sure. It seemed like forever and it seemed like no time at all. She'd been going through the motions of life, doing her Slayer duty, being a good friend, but she had been unable to really live. The pain wasn't any less excruciating. He wouldn't allow it.
He was good at this, she had to admit. He was taking his time. Doing it right. She knew he had followed her a few times. Teresa had been a nice little token of his affection--a reminder he was around. But he'd been smart enough to stay away from the others ... for now. None of them thought that would last, least of all her. He was trying his best to destroy her from within. But she wouldn't let him. She hoped.
So here she was, at the Bronze, watching her friends--the only people she could count on--have fun without her. Willow was by the stage, watching Oz and his band warm up the crowd for the main attraction. Cordelia and Xander, who were actually paying attention to each other in public while still slinging verbal arrows at every chance, were dancing. It was all so normal. She was actually starting to relax a bit.
"What a lovely party."
The sing-song voice came from Buffy's left. Only her excellent reflexes kept her from falling off the stool.
"I do so love to dance." Drusilla, dressed in a slinky black number, turned toward Buffy, but looked right through her. "Do you dance?"
"No, Pet. She's got no one to dance with."
Spike. Suddenly he was on her right, and he was mobile. Buffy tensed and jumped off the stool, taking a step back and dropping into a defensive stance so that they were both in her line of sight. *What the hell are they doing here? And where's the other one?*
"Isn't that right, sweetheart?" His eyes narrowed and his lips curled into that irritating smirk of his.
"Why are you here? Why don't you take your little Ophelia wannabe and *Get Out*." Buffy put on her best threatening Slayer look, but they weren't fazed.
"Just here for a little socialization, luv. No worries." Spike reached out, took Dru's hand, "Unless *you* feel like creating a little bedlam. Which could be fun, but how would that look? Hmmm?" With that he led Dru to the dance floor.
Their arrogance was astounding. Buffy's head was spinning. She had to get them out of there with as little trouble as possible. They were up to something and....
A shift in the air around her was her only clue before she felt the soft, menacing whisper in her ear. "They make such a lovely couple, don't you think?"
Buffy spun around, arm raised to strike, but he was ready. He caught her wrist and held her eyes with his own, a large, evil grin spreading across his face. He leaned in close.
"Hey baby. Wanna dance?"
Buffy jerked her arm out of his grasp and nearly lashed out with another devastating kick to his groin, but he learned from his mistakes. He'd already taken a step back. But his gaze never left hers; the grin never faded. Only Buffy's desire to keep this confrontation as short and quiet as possible kept her from trying to wipe the grin off his face. It wouldn't be difficult--just whip out one of the several stakes she kept close at hand these days.
"What do you want?"
"Just trying to have some fun, Buffy. It's been a long time."
"Buffy?" Willow's timid query could barely be heard above the music and crowd noise. But he heard her. And he turned toward her.
"Willow! Nice hat." He grinned, winked, and then let his eyes travel over her as he began to circle her. "Now maybe *you'll* dance with me, hmm?" A low growl escaped his throat.
"No." Buffy took action, grabbing his hand and yanking him in the opposite direction, which happened to be toward a dark corner. "Willow, I'm fine. Go find Oz and Xander."
He threw one last look over his shoulder at Willow, running his tongue over the edge of his teeth, creepy enough without the vampire fangs present. Willow bolted.
"What a sweetheart. But that girl needs to live a little. Gain a little *experience,* if you know what I mean. Like you." The last was said in a breathless whisper with a pointed look through hooded eyes.
Buffy realized they were pretty much alone and out of the main line of traffic. She fought the urge to panic.
"Well at least my parents were married!" Cordelia snapped. She and Xander had been dancing amicably for almost five minutes--a new record--when once again communication broke down.
"Well at least my parents were human," countered Xander.
"Oh no." Cordelia froze.
"Not the witty comeback I expected," said Xander, before he froze too at the sight of Spike and Dru swaying to the music not ten feet away. "Oh no."
"What are they doing here?" hissed Cordy as she took a step behind Xander.
"I'm going to take a guess here and say dancing--at least I think that's called dancing. Some states might actually outlaw..."
"Xander!" Cordy punched him gently in his side.
"Right. Find Buffy." He turned to head back to the table in time to see Willow running off and....
"Stop saying that!" Cordelia paused. "Oh no what?"
Willow knew she probably should have gone straight to Xander or Oz. Actually what she really wanted to do was head for home, where she could bury her head under her pillow and try to forget all the awful things that had happened recently.
Instead, she headed for the phone.
After fishing her spare change out of her pocket and fumbling with the receiver and buttons--how she kept from dialing a wrong number was beyond her considering how badly her hands were shaking--she finally got her call through.
"Giles. Willow. Trouble. Bronze. Need help. Hurry!"
She hung up, hoping Giles could understand panicked Willow-speak, then headed for the stage where Oz's band was clearing out so the main attraction could set up. The Bronze DJ was just starting up his own tunes to fill the void.
"Oz!" She practically threw herself into his arms.
"Whoa. Panic is not a pretty thing on you, Willow. What's up?"
"Unh... that." She pointed over his shoulder. But before he could turn to look, they heard a voice that stopped them cold.
"What a pretty party hat. Red is my favorite color. It's the color of blood." Dru smiled a smile that might have seemed sweet if it wasn't for the evil glint in her eyes.
"Okay. This is not to worry. Public place. I'm sure they don't want trouble either." Xander sounded a lot calmer than he felt. He'd been dreading a confrontation with Angel. A very large part of him wanted to walk over there and rip Angel's head off with his bare hands. But an equally large, and smarter, part realized that there wasn't much he'd be able to do against that demon. Still, Buffy needed help.
"What planet are you from? Of course they want trouble. They live for trouble." Cordelia snapped.
Xander glared. "I'm trying to maintain some sort of calm here, Cordelia. Must you mock me now?"
"Mock you? I'm only trying to help. Jeez. Little Miss Buffy gets in a little trouble and...."
"A little? That.... that... thing is threatening...."
"Don't you two ever shut up?"
Xander jumped as he turned to see Spike had moved in behind him. A quick glance showed him that Dru had struck up a conversation with Willow and Oz, although Dru seemed to be doing all the conversing. *What they hell are they up to?*
Xander remembered to breathe again and then gathered as much courage as he could muster--Cordelia actually helped with a squeeze of his hand. He glared at Spike.
"Get the hell out of here," he hissed.
Spike blinked for a moment and then started to laugh--then stopped just as suddenly.
"Nobody tells me what to do, boy."
"'Cept maybe Angel," Xander muttered.
Spike growled but stood his ground. "Stay put. Leave them be, and there'll be no trouble." He started to turn away, then looked back. "Not much, anyway."
"Why don't you just round up your twisted little family and go find another Slayer to torment? This one's not playing anymore." She tried to push past him, but he grabbed her and pushed her against the wall, a hand on each of her hips. Again he leaned in, using his height as yet another tool of intimidation.
"Oh, I think you will play. Or I might let my 'twisted family' make their own fun." Buffy looked around him at the dance floor and took in her friends and their predicament. Divide and conquer. Keep them occupied while he had his fun. *Now* she was angry.
"What do you *want*? A fight? Let's take it outside."
"Nah. I'm not in the mood. I've already eaten." He smiled. Buffy winced. Score one for the vampire.
"I already told you." He took her hand. She pulled it away.
"Don't be such a baby." He took her hand again. "I only want a dance." He pulled her fingers to his mouth, at the last second parting his lips and running his tongue up her fingers before nipping at her knuckles. The look in his eyes might have made any other girl weak in the knees. It made Buffy's blood run cold.
To the casual observer, all seemed normal at the Bronze. The crowd was large, the music loud. But for a select few it seemed as if the world had nearly slowed to a halt.
For Buffy in particular, though, the world had snapped into focus. Her anger and disgust had helped to clear the fog in her brain. She was *not* some silly schoolgirl who could be intimidated. She was the Slayer, dammit, and it was time this creep remembered that.
"Fine. You wanna dance?" She gripped his hand, pushed past him, and pulled him to the dance floor. Perfect timing--a new song had just started.
Once my lover, now my friend
What a cruel thing to pretend
She turned to face him and began to groove slowly to the music. "Come on. Show me what you've got, big guy. Or has it been too long? Don't you know what kind of moves us crazy kids are doing these days?"
What a cunning way to condescend
Once my lover, and now my friend
He seemed slightly taken aback at first by her overt reaction, but he recovered quickly, grasping her sides and pulling her closer--a feral look in his eyes. "I remember your moves, little girl. I've seen them up close and personal."
Buffy ignored his taunt. She just wanted to get through this.
And you set my soul at ease
Then you let your love abound
And you bring me to my knees
She glanced over at Xander, who was leaning on the edge of a table with Cordelia grasping one arm and Spike leaning on his other shoulder, thoroughly enjoying Xander's discomfort. She smiled slightly at Xander, trying to reassure him. On the other side of the room, Willow had her head buried in Oz's shoulder while Oz was doing his best to ignore the ravings of the wacky she-devil Drusilla.
Then she turned back to look at Angelus. They danced for a moment, a tension- filled silence surrounding them.
--Oh it's evil, babe, the way you let your grace enrapture me
--When well you know, I'd be insane
--To ever let that dirty game recapture me.
You made me a shadowboxer, baby
I wanna be ready for what you do
I been swinging all around me
'Cause I don't know when you're gonna make your move
Buffy finally broke the spell. "So. What's with the dance thing? Miss me?"
He chuckled. "Oh, Buffy, I've got plenty to occupy my time. But what can I say? I just get a kick out of seeing a Slayer squirm." He continued to sway to the beat, holding her close, keeping her arms in check.
"Well I hope you enjoyed it," she snapped. " 'Cuz this worm's not wiggling anymore."
He laughed, "Such intensity from such a little girl. We'll see. Won't we?"
Oh your gaze is dangerous
And you fill your space so sweet
If I let you get too close
You'll set your spell on me
Buffy had had enough. It was time she took some control. "Tell me, Angelus," she asked, "How much do you remember?"
"How much of his life do you remember? I'm just curious." She stared up at him with wide questioning eyes--a look of innocence betrayed by the calculation in her voice. "I was wondering what it must be like to know that he killed Darla to save me."
So darlin' I just wanna say
Just in case I don't come through
I was on to every play
I just wanted you
His jaw flinched. That was it. Give him credit--a hundred years of keeping the demon in check must have been good for something. Buffy mentally steeled herself and moved on--she continued the dance, punctuating each of her questions with a move, a smile.
"It happened right here. Do you remember that?" She smiled. "Or how about all the others he helped me fight or kill -- the Master, the Three, the Order of Taraka? 'Cuz I'm thinking these had to be some of your favorite party guests. Must be a real bummer to have to make all new friends."
His eyes darkened but still he was quiet. Buffy pushed on.
"Oh, and of course there were those times he helped us all fight Spike." Buffy glanced over at Spike. "Good to see he's finally up and around again," she added sarcastically.
"What I'm most curious about, though, is whether you remember what it was like for him to hold me and kiss me."
His grip tightened, a low growl escaping his throat.
*Finally, a reaction.* She leaned in close so she could whisper. "Or the *humanity* he felt when he made love to me?"
But, oh, it's so evil, my love, the way you've no reverence to my concern
So I'll be sure to stay wary of you, love, to save the pain of
Once my flame and twice my burn
The demon flashed in his eyes, and he fought to maintain control. "It disgusts me. And every memory, every word out of your mouth is a moment more you'll suffer when I destroy your life."
He pulled her close as the music faded to an end. A long, low, terrifying growl in her ear sent shivers throughout her body. Buffy began to question the intelligence of her actions.
You made me a shadowboxer, baby
I wanna be ready for what you do
I been swinging all around me
'Cause I don't know when you're gonna make your move
"Take your hands off her."
The voice was distinctly familiar, but the tone shocked the hell out of them. Buffy looked up with relief to see Giles standing just behind Angelus. His face was filled with a barely controlled rage that eclipsed anything she'd seen during the whole Eyghon mess.
Angelus sighed. "Oh, the Librarian. Right. Come to save the day, Watcher?"
"I said take your hands off her."
Angelus did loosen his grip as he turned to face the man who'd once considered him an ally. "Tell me." He took a step toward Giles so they were face to face. "What kind of Watcher would be stupid enough to let a vampire... any vampire... become so... *close* to the Slayer?" He smirked. Giles didn't flinch. "Oh yes. A stuffy British one with the fashion sense of a cardboard box. Didn't they teach you anything over there before you got this gig? Or is all this floundering and fidgeting just some clever act?"
Giles stood his ground, refusing to give this creature any satisfaction. "You're quite full of yourself aren't you, Angelus? Feeling especially powerful, enjoying your newfound freedom at the expense of those who loved and cared for Angel. Well it's over now. I suggest you take your entourage and leave. Buffy?" He held out his hand to her.
Angelus blocked her way. "I'm not finished yet."
"I quite think you are," Giles replied. He tried to push his way past Angelus and reach for Buffy. His efforts had little effect--save to anger the vampire, who returned the favor by shoving Giles down onto a nearby couch.
"You don't want to mess with me, Watcher. You've nearly gotten her killed once as a result of your foolish actions. You want to find out if the second time's the charm?" This time Giles did flinch.
"Giles, are you okay?" Buffy felt the confidence she'd mustered only moments before begin to seep away. This was an ugly situation about to get worse if she didn't do something.
"He's fine. For now." Angelus turned back to Buffy, whose wrist he still held in an iron grasp. "So. Where were we?" He grinned. She jerked her arm out of his grasp and assumed a ticked-off-Slayer stance.
"We were about to take this outside."
"Oh, I don't think so. I'm not ready to fight you yet, Buffy. I haven't even begun to have my fun."
He studied her for a moment, contemplating his next move so casually--as if he knew he had all the options and he was carefully choosing which to take. Some of the glee seemed to have left his eyes; it looked as if things hadn't gone quite as he'd planned. Perhaps he'd underestimated Buffy's resolve or her state of mind hadn't been as fragile as he'd expected. Whatever the reason, he made his decision and leaned in close once again.
"Keep your friends close, Buffy. Enjoy them while you have them." With inhuman speed and strength he grabbed her and pulled her to him, pressing his lips to hers in a powerful, devouring kiss. He ended it just as quickly and Buffy shoved him away. He smiled.
"I'll be around." He turned to leave.
"I'm counting on it."
He looked back at Buffy, whose face was filled with anger and disgust. His smile widened.
"Thanks for the dance." And with that he was gone, disappearing into the shadows almost as quickly as he'd arrived.
Buffy stood frozen in place. Seconds later, Spike and Drusilla drifted by. Spike smiled; Drusilla growled playfully. Then they, too, were gone.
The surreal experience was actually over. Buffy knelt next to Giles. "Are you okay?"
"Me? Yes. Quite. Really. Just my ego's a bit... er... bruised." Buffy helped him to his feet.
"It shouldn't be." She looked at him meaningfully. "Thank you."
"Yes. Well. Willow said... I got here as quickly... Did he.... Are you all right?" He reached out to touch her, but Buffy stepped away. Before she could speak, they were surrounded.
"Buffy, are you okay?" Willow's face was clouded with concern for her friend. She'd already pushed her own terror to the back of her mind. Buffy exchanged some comforting words with her.
"If I get my hands on that ... thing... I'll... do something ... bad." Buffy looked at Xander. "Or possibly I'll die," he muttered.
"Did you *see* that dress she was wearing? My god. She's a stick. What kind of diet is she on?" Everyone looked at Cordelia. "Oh. Right."
"I think I've met that guy." Oz seemed puzzled, like he was trying to remember....
"Yeah. At Buffy's birthday party. Remember?" Willow said helpfully.
"No... not *that* guy. He was cool. This one I feel like I've met.... recently." Oz thought for another moment. Then shrugged.
The gang fell silent. Everyone turned to look at Buffy, who was staring after Angelus, a blank look on her face. Her friends looked at each other for guidance. No one was quite sure what to do after such an intense encounter. The silence was becoming unbearably awkward when Buffy finally turned to face them and smiled weakly.
"Well, wasn't that just the essence of not fun."
"I'm so sorry, Buffy. We shouldn't have...." Willow started.
"No. It's fine, Willow. It's not your fault." Buffy glanced one last time toward the exit, then turned to face her friends. "I needed this. I needed to be reminded that he's out there. Waiting." She took a deep breath, fighting back a few stray tears. A look of determination settled on her face; the fire returned to her eyes. Buffy reached out and grabbed Willow and Xander by their arms.
"For now, though, I want to have fun. Let's dance.
She dragged them to the dance floor. Cordelia and Oz followed, while Giles hung back and watched.
In the shadows near the door, Angelus glared at Buffy and her friends as they laughed and danced, oblivious to his lingering presence. He seethed at how easily they brushed off his assault. He would concede this round to the Slayer, but he would be watching, waiting. They could have their fun now; their time would come.
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