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Harbingers of Beatrice by Holly
Chapter Four
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Chapter Four
Man of the Crowd

Watching her move was of the world’s simplest pleasures. 
Spike stood at the balcony of the Bronze, only half paying attention to the drink in his hand. He didn’t know why he was surprised at the turnout; the popular club was the only place in town worth going.
Yet the night was looking to be even less eventful than the past few evening’s patrol. Though she would deny it, Buffy had been ignoring him with even more fervor since their moonlit conversation. She likely figured that since she’d crossed some invisible line by talking to him as a person, and the only way to rectify it was by pretending he did not exist.
She had a birthday coming up within the next week or so. His Slayer. 
She would never be his, of course. He could watch her from the balcony all he wanted but she would never be his.
Righteous little holier-than-thou attitude…
Spike had no reason to be bitter. It wasn’t as though she had ever been within reach. He wasn’t daft—his feelings had a way of changing at random, but he was still the same old Spike. The same that hunted little girls hiding in coal bins. He was a monster.
And she was radiance.
Touching her was a privilege he’d never have, much less deserve.
Spike sighed heavily, downed the rest of his drink, then placed the empty glass on the banister and moved toward a vacated seat. There was no point driving himself insane with something he could never hope to touch.
This was so beyond fucked up.
Despite knowing how very out of his league she was, Spike hadn’t thought it was a stretch to hope for a little civility if nothing else. Just a smidge. If he started trying to show her he wasn’t all fangs all the time, she’d treat him more like a person than the monster he knew he was. Those first few nights after the dream had been wrought with speculation, his mind fond of whispering what if over and over.
But there was no what if. If he told Buffy how he felt, she’d laugh her way to her weapons chest before adding him to the pollen count. If she let him live, he’d have to do it burning with the humiliation of her rejection. No bloody thank you. Been there.
And yet that voice kept yapping. Reminding him of all the exceptions she’d made. How she’d never once considered making one for him. Angel, Anya, and the witches…she knew of the things that occurred down at Willy’s and didn’t seem to care. But when it came to him, she was all eyes and ears. She had to make sure he wasn’t doing anything that would merit a visit from her pointy stakes.
All the bloody time.
The only times she seemed to notice him was when he was acting the part of the Big Bad. Never mind the number of times he had been useful. Saved her life along with the lives of her pathetic pals. The sodding Scooby Gang. 
Virtuous   little group of judgmental wankers…
If he had any self-esteem at all, he would leave town.
As it was, Spike figured his night was all but set in stone. Leave, take a sweep of every cemetery within vicinity in desperation for something to kill, go home, shag Harmony, go to bed. Repeat as needed.
Yeah, this was living.
Spike snickered and casually knocked the glass off the banister in the hopes that it would hit some coed. The thought alone earned him a small shock from the chip, even as the glass smashed harmlessly next to the bar.
Of course.   What a sodding waste.
He heaved a sigh and cursed all the way down the stairs.
And ran directly into Xander Harris.
“Bloody perfect.”
“Oh, Evil Undead. You’re in my space.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Right. Sorry. Didn’t see you markin’ your territory. And, for the record, I’d rather not. I’m on my merry way. Tootles.”
Xander’s face fell. “You’re leaving.” 
It was the sort of statement that wanted to be a question but wasn’t. Spike’s eyes narrowed further. “Yeah…” he said slowly. “What of it?”
“Oh, nothing.”
“Give it up, mate. Now I’m curious.”
Xander hesitated, his face screwed up like he was mentally trying to do long division. Then he heaved a defeated sigh. “I was just…with the other night and the pool-shooting. Riley’s of the gone, and you’re sort’ve the only other male-shaped person around my person that can shoot a decent game. Besides…” He made a face and glanced around. “This is so not Giles’s scene, despite how many times he decides to humiliate himself and us by showing up.”
Spike blinked. “Did…did you just ask me to go a round with you?”
He blinked again, then smirked. With the company Harris kept, his bird most notably, it wasn’t hard to see why his mind had gone to the gutter. “Oh,” he said, nodding. “You wanna go a round in the pool, is that it. I’d think with the thousand-plus years of experience, the Demon Girl’d know how to keep you interested.”
Xander made another face. “Fine. Whatever. Sorry I asked. Oh, and by the way, let’s never mention that part to anyone. Ever.”
“Give it a rest, mate. I could use a round, myself. You offering to buy the drinks, too, or do I need to knick your cash and make like I’m makin’ a grand gesture of sorts?”
To his shock, Harris responded with a wry grin and signaled over to the table. “On account of this never happening again unless the moon is full or Hell freezes over,” he said, “I’ll buy. Once! That’s it. Everything else is on your ticket.” He stopped to glare. “And don’t think I won’t be watching my wallet, buddy! ‘Cause, oh, it’ll be watched.”
Spike offered a stoic nod and tried to keep from smirking. It wasn’t hard, considering he was still reeling at the fact that Xander had actually offered to pay. “Of course.”
“Uhh, mate?”
Xander turned. “Yeah?”
Spike flashed a wicked smile and pulled Xander’s wallet from his duster pocket. “Reckon you’ll be needin’ this.”
It was a rare night when Xander Harris treated any vampire like a human being, especially if that vampire happened to be William the Bloody.
It was an even rarer night when he seemed to have a genuinely good time doing so.
Spike didn’t know how long they had been playing and he’d long given up on trying to keep tabs on the score. They made inane conversation about the drinks, updated food wish lists that included spicy buffalo wings, flowering onions, and peppered fried potatoes that could transform any man’s innards to liquid feces on the spot.
Spike laughed heartily when Xander gave the onion a go, mostly because he started coughing almost at once. “You really need to taste it with the dip,” he advised. “It’s bloody brilliant.”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed, choking lightly. “For someone who doesn’t need to…you know…live.”
“Can’t help it if you’ve plugged your arteries to the no-pass lane, boy. You’re too young to need that kinda treatment.” He quirked an eyebrow. “Though it is bloody hilarious.”
“And yet.” Harris favored the vampire with a suspicious look. “You sure you’re not trying to kill me?”
Spike snickered and rolled his eyes. “Oh right. You got me. My newest evil plan: death by indigestion.”
“It could happen,” Xander insisted. “Well, it would take a lot of time, a good specimen, and a load of planning, but it’s not like you’ve had the chance to go out and actually be scary over the past year. Between this and Passions, you’ve gotta be bored outta your mind.”
“Oh, I’m outta my mind, all right,” Spike retorted, circling the table as he reached for his cigarettes. “Just don’t know what sort, is all. And trust me, mate, I’ve toured every bloody alley this pissant settlement has to offer. All for sodding rot.”
“You’d think a town with the reputation Sunnydale has would have a little more to offer its neutered undead society.”
He chuckled appreciatively. “Yeah. You’d think.” Spike lit up and inhaled deeply, studying the position of his next conquest. “So, really, what’s this all about? You calling a truce for the night…even offerin’ to share the wealth with the neighborly undead.”
“You’re questioning my tolerance of you?”
“Well, now that you put it that way…yeah.” Spike strolled to the other side of the table, twirling the pool stick. “It’s the little lady, is it? She and the witch at odds again?”
“No. Actually, they seemed to get that resolved.” Xander paused. “Though that doesn’t mean they’re not trying to kill each other right now for an entirely different matter that I—swearing an oath—have no part of, and therefore cannot choose sides. That leads down the pathway to ugly trolls and bargains that would make you look even more impotent than you do already.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Thanks ever so.”
“I meant the chip.”
“Not that I care or anything.”
“’Course not.”
“Good. As long as that’s clarified.”
It occurred to Spike that this was likely the longest he and Xander had gone without threatening to spill blood or reduce one another to dusty bits. It took him by such surprise his immediate instinct was to knick the wallet for good this time and get as bloody far as he could from the kid, but he knew enough on some level that this was the sort of contact he had been sorely missing over the past months. Moderately intelligent conversation that didn’t include death threats. A notion so thoroughly human that he knew he should reject it, yet couldn’t. While he didn’t see him and Xander becoming the best of friends, this break was…nice, if not a little bizarre.
And more than that. Xander was obviously craving contact of the non-female variety. He’d said as much, but the evening had made this all the more apparent.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Harris continued. “Anya is fantastic. I love her completely. But sometimes…”
“She’s gotta few screws loose upstairs?”
Spike cocked his head and narrowed his eyes.
“Well, you don’t have to put it that way.”
He raised a hand. “Hello, evil.”
“It’s not even her fault,” Xander went on. “After being a demon so long, a period of adjustment is only natural. There are things that come with…being of the functioning society variety of person that she is trying to be. It just takes time.”
Spike blinked and brought his cigarette to his lips. “Didn’t she pop into the mortal coil the year that Angel and the Slayer went separate ways? Way I figure it,” he said, aiming his shot and snickering when he sank another ball. “She’s had more than two years to adjust.”
“About the same as you, in other words.”
Spike stiffened. “She’s had longer.”
Xander snorted. “Yeah, Buffy mentioned that you were on some tangent about Anya and the number of ways we treat her like an equal while excluding our ever-present, apathetic member of the soulless community. The very same that’s plotted our deaths…how many times?”
“Oh, come off it. That’s been at least—”
“Two weeks.”
“Piffle. Haven’t made a decent attempt in at least a month. Maybe two. That’s right progress.”
Xander held up a hand, chuckling slightly. “Okay, okay. What do you wanna hear? That you’re no longer bad?”
“Or…you are? I’m trying to keep up. Anyway, I’m here, playing nice. This count for trying?”
Yeah, of course. Bloody trying. Only Xander wasn’t the one he wanted to get close to. The object of his desire was on the other side of the dance floor, undoubtedly grinding provocatively against some brainless coed.
Bugger all.
“So is that it?” Spike drawled. “Little pity for the Big Bad on a leash? And here I thought you cared.”
Xander smirked. “I would never lead you on like that.”
“So the Slayer took to it to tell you all what we chatted about. Nice to know ‘to the grave’ doesn’t even apply to the dead around here.”
“You asked her not to tell?”
“Well, no…but it’s the thought that counts.”
“She was kinda wigged.”
Oh, that was interesting. “Was she?”
“Sharing her earthly woes with the Evil Dead? I’d say so.”
Spike grinned. “So she turned around to share her earthly woes about sharing her earthly woes with the likes of me…with the likes of you?”
“Well, yeah. That’s how we work, in case you haven’t noticed.” Harris leaned over the table to observe Spike’s alignment. “Sorry for pointing out the obvious. Are you ever going to take that shot?”
“What? Anxious to lose some more?”
“No, I’m getting bored. And, unlike you, I don’t have forever to waste in dingy corners with melanin -deprived non-citizens.”
“Lest I remind you, this entire male-bonding exercise was your soddin’ idea.”
“Just take the damn shot, Spike!”
Spike chuckled softly and chose his angle, then circled the table once again in a manner that was, as all things, intentionally condescending. “Haven’t we gone over this before?” he asked rhetorically. “You show that somethin’ bothers you, and I’m inspired to do it. You’re only hurtin’ yourself, Harris.”
“Yeah, well, Myself is getting pretty—”
“Anxious. Right. Caught it.” Spike took his shot and sank another ball, shaking his head. “Just don’t see why you’re all eager to watch me win spectacularly.”
“It’s not like we bet money.”
“Right. Otherwise you’d have to take out a bloody loan.”
Xander sighed and dropped his pool stick. “While you perfect your non-monetary compensating shot, I’ll be refreshing my drink. Notice how I said my drink. You’re officially on your own.”
“You do that,” Spike agreed. “Though I wager you’d probably get a better response from the barkeep if you have this on your person.” Again, he flashed a smile and held up the Xander’s wallet.
Harris grumbled, stomped over, and snatched it back. “Stop doing that!”
Spike chuckled and shook his head, puffing at his cigarette as he measured his next take. The game was nearing completion and Harris had all but stood on the sidelines for the majority of it. And while not much had come of it, Spike had to admit—however begrudgingly—that he was enjoying himself. With Stay Puft. At the Bronze.
Who would have thought?
“You know what I can’t figure out,” came her voice said from behind, “is why you gave the wallet back in the first place. Isn’t stealing sort of your thing?”
Spike snickered and turned to face her. “I just gave him the covering,” he explained, digging into his duster and retrieving the more-important cash with a showy grin. “He’ll be back for the green in a minute. How long you been there gawkin’, Summers?”
“You tell me. By last check, you’re still a vampire, right?”
“If you want me to flash a little fang, love, all you gotta do is ask.”
Buffy made a face. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that and go right to the me ignoring you.”
“Oi now. That’s rich. You’re the one who came over here, after all.”
“Sorry. I just saw you and Xander, didn’t hear any loud yelling and wondered if you two were under a very bad spell or very drunk and forgetting that you hate each other.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Is that what’s got your knickers in a twist? Christ, Slayer, we’re just playing a round of pool. Doesn’t require your policing. No need to make a big thing outta it.”
She smiled, and it wasn’t pleasant. Rather, it was the same look he had grown accustomed to seeing over the past two years. Bland, irritated, and completely repelled by his entire being. “I just wanted to remind you that a good dusting is still on the menu for any move you make that’s not to my liking.”
“Bloody hell, you must really be bored.” Spike grinned, taking a seat at the end of the table and tapping the tip of his fag lightly. “Patrol still as painfully dull as it was the last time I had the oh-so-pleasurable delight of your company?”
A sigh rolled off her body, taking her hostility with it. He wasn’t so daft as to believe it wouldn’t come back, but this was at least progress.
“Watchers are coming,” she said. “For reasons that are going to remain well beyond me. They have information on Glory.”
She didn’t seem nearly as happy as she should, given that any leads were very much needed.
Spike gestured. “And…? Isn’t this a good thing? You are the hero of this bit, last I checked. Information usually leads to—”
“Did you completely go deaf and not hear the ‘they’re coming’ part? As in here? I hate the Watchers. They’re…” She made a face, and he found it adorable. Then he consequentially cursed himself for finding any part of her adorable, but the damage was done and had been for a long time. “Every time they come here, they try to have me killed.”
“Oh, my kind of gents.”
Of course, if any of them so much as looked at her in a way he didn’t see fitting, he’d kill them all. Chip be damned. But she didn’t need to know that.
When he saw that his teasing hadn’t made her give him one of her patented Annoyed Buffy looks, Spike felt something inside him twist unpleasantly. He stood and took a step toward her. “This is just a review though,” he said. “It’s not like they’re gonna try to keep you from doing your job.”
“I know. It’s just sort’ve…” Buffy paused, frowned, and looked him over. “Dear God, I’m doing it again.”
“Huh’s that?”
“Talking…just forget it.”
Spike froze, looked her over.
And grinned.
“Slayer,” he cooed, taking a step toward her. “Don’t tell me you’re on the bloody prowl. Whatsa matter? Missin’ Captain Cardboard so much that you go out to chat up the first bloke—”
“If you value your existence, you will stop talking. Now.”
“Oi, I’m just trying to help.”
“I don’t need you or your help.”
“You’re the one who came over here, love.”
“To make sure—”
He waved a hand dismissively. “Yeah, yeah. Tell me another one. Listen, Slayer, I’m frightfully sorry, but there’s about a thousand other things I’d rather do than listen to you lecture me about frequenting the bar scene just because I suddenly make you skittish. Not my bloody problem.”
A look that could potentially freeze Hell and end world hunger in the same stroke claimed her features that he found he couldn’t tear his eyes away. And had it not been for Xander’s shout of, “Spike! Money! Now!”, the moment might have had a chance to expand.
As it was, Spike figured that to be his cue to leave. He gave a quick nod to his lady fair and headed for the door.
He paused, dug a hand into his duster pocket, slammed Xander’s cash on the table, then continued on without looking back.
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