Stage Fright

Chapter 3




The Bronze was pulsating with life. The music reverberated off the walls, the base element the club’s heartbeat. Hormone driven co-eds ground against each other on the dance floor unabashedly, each single searching for a mate. Sweat, alcohol and cigarettes mingled together to form a noxious cloud in the air and Buffy scrunched her nose in disgust.

She really didn’t want to be here, hadn’t planned on going out save for a quick patrol she’d completed at dusk. She wasn’t in the mood for company, especially that of her friends. A night spent curled on the sofa watching a good movie and eating comfort food had been her plan, an idea quashed by Willow when the redhead had returned from class. “You have to come,” she’d been informed. “There’s a new band in town we just have to see.” Despite her best protestations she’d caved, Willow’s ‘kicked puppy’ eyes and cleverly worded guilt trip a combination she was unable to resist.

So here she was, at the Bronze, for what was supposed to be a night out with the friends.

Ambush more like it...

“Oh, didn’t I tell you I was bringing a friend from class?” Willow questioned with faux innocence.

“No, you really didn’t,” Buffy replied dryly, arching a brow in accusation.

Tara shot her a look of apology and Buffy shrugged her acceptance. It wasn’t like she was responsible for this little set-up; she and Willow were still broken up. Besides, this had Willow’s trademark stamped all over it.

“It’s a real coincidence actually—”

“I’m sure it is. Excuse me.” Before Willow could deliver the ‘why he’s perfect Buffy-boyfriend potential’ spiel she most likely had prepared, Buffy made her way to the bar. She needed a drink.

Finding a space at the bar she ordered a cocktail. If her dark mood was going to lighten, even slightly, it was going to have to be persuaded with alcohol.

~*~*~


Hidden in the shadows of the mezzanine, high above the dance floor, he watched. He’d known the second she’d set foot inside the Bronze and had been watching her ever since. At first he’d been pleased, he’d been so desperate to see her. Then their conversation from the night before had flashed across his mind, taunting him, and any plans for niceties had been quashed. He’d known rejection was imminent, he just hadn’t expected it so soon. A creature as wholesome as the Slayer wouldn’t sully herself by forming a lasting attachment to a vampire.

At least not a soulless one, he thought bitterly.

Of course, that didn’t mean he hadn’t hoped she’d stay, that for once he’d be deemed worthy.

He should’ve known better.

God, she looks gorgeous.

Spike hated that she affected him so much, that she had such a powerful hold over him. Like a lamb to the slaughter he was drawn to her. Captivated, lost to her beauty and blinded by her purity. He’d follow her into daylight, if only she’d let him be near. Let him love her.

But she wouldn’t. Not any longer. She’d made that perfectly clear the night before. And standing here now, in her presence, it burned. His heart ached and his body called for her.

She told him it was over, that she didn’t need him anymore. And if that’s what she truly wished for, then so be it. No more touching, no more kissing, no more... just no more.

He’d leave her be.

But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t watch out for her.

~*~*~


One drink down and currently sipping on her second, Buffy finally rejoined her friends at their usual table. The desire to be elsewhere had in no way lessened, but she hadn’t left yet. If she wanted to reclaim her life she had to start somewhere. Dodgy blind date might as well be the starting point.

“So, what are you studying?”

“Huh?” Buffy blinked, apologetic eyes turning toward her not-date Steve. “I’m sorry, I was miles away.”

“That’s alright,” he smiled with sickly sweetness. “I just asked what you’re studying.”

“I’m not,” Buffy replied. “I dropped out last semester; family troubles.”

A frown crinkled Steve’s brow. “A good education is key to a successful life, Buffy. You should consider returning.”

If she hadn’t been so shocked by his statement Buffy would’ve retorted with something snappy and in-his-place-putting. It was a miracle her jaw hadn’t hit the table. Was he for real? Since when was it okay for a complete stranger to give her life advice?

Buffy was beyond uncomfortable, yet the only person who seemed aware of that fact was Tara. Her supposed best friend, Willow, was smiling at her with pride; apparently she seemed to think the set-up was a success. When Buffy met her gaze with a tried and tested ‘get me out of here’ signal, the redhead gave her a thumbs up. As for Xander and Anya, they were too wrapped up in an argument about how ‘their friend Richard’ was a better match to notice her discomfort.

It was too much. Buffy needed to get out of here.

“I think I might get myself another drink, this one’s a little on the empty side.”

Steve frowned. “It’s over half full.”

With a large gulp, Buffy downed the rest of the tequila, wincing at the burn of the alcohol down her throat. “Like I said, empty. Excuse me.”

Without waiting for a response, Buffy took off toward the welcome escape of the ladies toilets.

~*~*~


Ten minutes later the Slayer was weighing up the pros and cons of returning to her friends. She didn’t think she could put up with another minute of Mr Righteous’ company, but she didn’t want to walk out without saying goodbye to the others. With a sigh of defeat she succumbed to the inevitable and turned to make her way back across the dance floor.

And bumped into the last person she’d expected to see. The rest of the world faded away until all that was left was them.

“Spike, what are you doing here?” Buffy squeaked, her cheeks colouring with embarrassment at her voice’s betrayal. To say she was surprised to see him was an understatement. Seeing him at the Bronze, while not something new, was unexpected. It was one of her haunts, she’d thought he would have avoided any of her old haunts.

“Didn’t realise you had a monopoly on the place, love,” Spike drawled. “S’pose we should’ve discussed custody of the joint when we got the divorce.”

Buffy frowned quizzically. “What?”

“Figure o’ speech,” Spike waved off.

“Oh.”

Seconds passed, the silence between them eaten up by the roar of the band.

Buffy began to fidget under his appraisal. She could feel his eyes roaming over her while she studiously looked anywhere but at him.

“Look, Spike—”

“I’ll go,” he interrupted.

Buffy’s mouth parted slightly in surprise, and Spike’s gaze zeroed in on her luscious lips instantly. Her bottom lip jut out slightly, almost as if she were pouting, and he wanted nothing more than to suckle—

No, not going there... he chastised, but it was too late; a dozen possibilities of what he wanted to do were already floating across his mind’s eye.

“Why?”

Her quiet question snapped his concentration, his gaze lifting to hers. Gone was the sentiment she’d seen just moments ago, a wall had gone up inside of him and now he looked at her with nothing more than indifference. It hurt.

“Wouldn’t want to spoil your date,” he scowled.

The beginning of a grin curled Buffy’s lips at the jealous tone present in his voice. She didn’t know why it mattered, it just did.

Of course, Spike mistook her smile as happiness over her date, which only worsened his foul mood.

“Gotta say, Slayer, you move quick.”

Buffy gasped at the contempt in his voice. “What?”

Spike shrugged. “I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

“When then you’re seeing wrong!” Enraged by the blatant slur, Buffy fired her own insult. “You always were thick in the head, Spike.”

“Me!?” Spike snarled. “I’m not the one who was oblivious to the fact he only wants one thing.”

“Like you were any different?” she sneered.

“I am different. I wasn’t the emotionally challenged one in this relationship, sweetheart.”

“No just intellectually!” Buffy fired back, then adding as an afterthought, “and I’m not your sweetheart.”

“You got that right,” Spike scoffed. “You’re anything but sweet. I’ve met Gavrok demons with kinder temperaments than you.”

Buffy gasped with incredulity. “You’re comparing me to flesh-eating demon spiders?”

“If the shoes fits,” Spike shrugged.

“You’re an asshole,” Buffy hissed.

“And you’re a cold, unfeeling bitch. Maybe I should warn the new guy.”

“I don’t even like the guy!” Buffy protested angrily, still reeling from the insults he’d thrown. Never had Spike spoken to her this way.

“Stringin’ another one along, eh Summers? Why am I not surprised?”

Frozen by shock, Buffy watched as Spike turned and stalked away.

Buffy was shaking with rage and wanted nothing more than to follow Spike and beat an apology out of him, but he was long gone. A few moments later she deflated, the fight in her dying and sorrow taking its place.

Once more, she was alone.

~*~*~


Needless to say, Buffy cut the night of ‘partying fun’ short after the argument with Spike. A quick goodbye to her friends and she’d walked home, making several stops on the way in search of something to hit. The two fledglings she did happen to cross paths with lasted little more than a minute, the hollow kills barely taking the edge off her pain.

Sleep had come and gone intermittently; the times she had managed to fall into it deeply were plagued with dreams of Spike.

It was with a heavy heart Buffy greeted the morn and padded downstairs for some coffee.

“Morning, Buffy,” Dawn greeted cheerfully. “How was the Bronze?”

Buffy grunted unintelligibly in response.

“That bad, huh?”

“Bad doesn’t even come close.”

“Sorry.” Dawn offered a wry smile.

“I’ll be okay,” Buffy promised. With a great deal of effort she brightened her expression. There was no reason Dawn should be subjected to her bad mood. “So how was your night?”

“Great!” Dawn exclaimed. “We watched a couple movies and had a candy pig-out. I felt kind of ooky after, but I’m all good now.”

“Glad to hear it.”

The sisters ate breakfast in silence, a knock on the front door disturbing the quiet.

“I’ll get it,” Dawn announced as she leapt from her seat.

She returned a short while later with Tara in tow.

Within seconds Buffy’s eyes had filled with tears.

“Oh Buffy,” Tara shushed as she moved beside her. The weeping slayer clutched at her when she was within reaching distance, and Tara did her best to soothe her whilst indicating to Dawn she should leave. The younger girl didn’t want to leave at first, but she trusted Tara’s instincts.

“I’ll just be going upstairs to my room now,” Dawn announced. The thud of her feet on the stairs confirmed her exit.

“Tell me everything.”

~*~*~


Half an hour and a box of tissues later, Buffy had retold her encounter with Spike the night before.

“Buffy, what was it about what Spike said bothers you the most?”

“What do you mean?” Buffy asked. “It’s pretty obvious. I mean... the things he said were—”

“Cruel?” At Buffy’s nod, Tara continued. “Maybe. Definitely,” she amended at the sour look the Slayer shot her way. “But why do you care?”

Buffy opened her mouth to explain but Tara interrupted. “I mean, you broke up with him because you didn’t care, right? And I’m sure you’ve heard worse things in the past, and not just from Spike.”

“I suppose,” the Slayer muttered in agreement.

“Don’t you know yourself well enough to identify when someone is important to you?”

When Buffy began to shake her head in disagreement Tara fixed her with a stern look. The witch was right. If she wasn’t going to take responsibility for her own choices, wasn’t able to realise who she wanted, then she might as well sign over her dating rights to her friends.

She didn’t know what was scarier, taking responsibility or admitting the truth. Spike was important to her. Spike is important to me... There, she’d admitted it. If he wasn’t then she wouldn’t have become so upset after ending things with him.

Buffy’s answer was honest, if begrudging. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Of course I am.” Tara smiled brightly. “Now you just have to let him know that.”

“But I was going to try the single scene for a while, get to know myself better,” Buffy pouted.

“So how was your ‘date’ last night?” the blonde queried.

When Buffy’s nose crinkled in distaste, Tara had her answer. And Buffy knew Tara was right. Spike’s words wouldn’t have mattered so much if she didn’t care. The thought of saying as much to him was... daunting. Fear flooded her eyes as self doubt crept in once more. Her voice was barely above a whisper, but Tara did not need her to repeat the fretful question. “But what if he doesn’t want me?”

“All you can do is try.”



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