Want Take Have

Title: Want Take Have
Author: Dea Brynhild Ensomhet
Pairing: Spike/Xander, Buffy/Faith, Oz/Lindsey... and possibly a mixing of partners... *evil!laugh*
Timeline: AU, with bits of canon details to spice things up.
Rated: PG-13 for now. Take the necessary precautions: practice responsible reading.
Email: BrynSpikess at hotmail dot com
Feedback: Is cherished. Like a bronzed family heirloom. I would bronze a printed page of feedback but you probably wouldn't be able to read it anymore. Maybe you could, I don't know much about bronzing. It's not like skiing. I don't know much about skiing, but I know more about skiing than bronzing. Really I do. I swear.
Archival: Just ask and ye shall recieve.
Disclaimer: Don't own any of the Buffy or Angel cast/crew/characters/plotlines/etc. D'Oblique is a club from "Lonely Hearts", As1. I don't own Velvet Goldmine, or the play "The Night of January 16th" by Ayn Rand. I also don't own "Habibi ya nour al ain", the song Oz dances to. I got the translation from this site. I don't own "Round Baby Round" either, it's from the movie "When Love Comes" staring Dean O'Gorman.
Author's Notes: This is a sequel to my fic Gotta Get It, and probably will be all sorts of confusing if you didn't read that first. There're also two GGI prequels: Behind the Scenes and Facade. Lindsey and Oz are a bit OOC, with Lindsey being a bit more insecure and docile (at least around Oz), and Oz being kinda a jerk. Perhaps a bit more than kinda. I'm not intentionally bashing them - I like them as characters in the Buffyverse - but this is an AU and this is how my muses are making me write.
Last updated: 1/11/07

~~~~~***~~~~~

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: I stole a look at your picture on the inside sleeve and then I couldn't leave.
Chapter 2: Sometimes these feelings can be so misleading.
Chapter 3: I might have to break right in there and raise some hell.
Chapter 4: You control how fast we go by just how hard you wanna squeeze.
Chapter 5: If I just walked away would you really be that happy?
Chapter 6: I want to be the object of your passion but it's hopeless.
Chapter 7: Something brings me to push you to find out what you can take.
Chapter 8: Surprise you to find that I'm laughing.
Chapter 9: A killer instinct tells her to be aware of evil men.
Chapter 10: To going against the grain, going insane, going mad.
Chapter 11: Stabbing in the dark.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 1: I saw your book at a Borders in Kentucky under a sign that said New and Recommended. I stole a look at your picture on the inside sleeve and then I couldn't leave...

I saw your book at a Borders in Kentucky
under a sign that said "New and Reccomended".
I stole a look at your picture on the inside sleeve
and then I couldn't leave. Richard,
who was with me, got uncharacteristically quiet,
Then he said, "All things considered, I guess
you don't have to buy it." So I smile like
Mona Lisa and I lay my Visa down! He wants me,
he wants me, But he ain't gonna get me!
I've found my guiding light--
I tell the stars each night:
"Look at me! Look at him! Son-of-a-bitch!
I guess I'm doing something right!
I finally got something right!"

~ "A Summer In Ohio", The Last 5 Years

It was a surprisingly nice day for this late in the year, and he'd decided to take a bit of a walk to clear his head. The town hadn't changed much in the years he'd been gone; a few of the stores and clubs wore different names, but for the most part everything was so familiar it hurt. He'd been thinking and worrying about this trip for a while, and now that he was actually here, his apprehension kicked up a notch. He'd thought about stopping by the apartment, but he wanted to get his bearings before the big confrontation.

His gaze passed over the couples frolicking in the park, but it was the sound of his voice that made him stop and turn. The brunette in the cowboy outfit was a stranger, but the other guy was the owner of the voice that still haunted his dreams. "Spike? Is that you?"

The guy looked up, and sure enough, it was him. "Oz? It's been a while." Spike said, pulling a pair of cheap white plastic vampire teeth out of his mouth so that he could talk easier.

"Yeah." Oz couldn't stop the grin from forming, as Spike and the new boyfriend got to their feet, along with the two girls. "Got a gig over at the D'Oblique, thought I'd look you up. Hey, Buffy."

"Hey, Oz." Buffy nodded, an arm wrapped around the other girl. Spike wasn't as PDA with his boy toy, but Oz noticed they were holding hands. "Black?"

Oz ran a hand through his tousled dark locks. "Yeah."

"It looks good on you." Spike offered.

"Thanks. Nice scalp, by the way. It's different."

"Thanks." Spike replied. "So, the D'Oblique? Haven't been there in a while. It's probably changed a lot."

"Hardly recognized it myself. They probably still completely redesign it every few months, just 'cause they can. It's not as if Nabbit can't afford it. I'm just surprised they haven't changed their name."

"Yeah."

An awkward pause almost erupted, but Oz gestured toward the entrance to the park. "Well, I should be going. We've gotta scout out the space, set up the band and stuff." He took a step away, and then turned back. "We're playing at the Halloween party tonight, if you wanna come."

Spike glanced at the guy he was with before turning back to Oz. "Thanks for the invite." He didn't say yes or no, Oz noted with some curiosity. Obviously their relationship was new if Spike couldn't give any definitive answer without consulting his new fling.

"Guess I'll see you around." Oz said, deciding to leave before the awkwardness got too heavy. He walked away without turning back, letting a small smile cross his face as the foursome watched him go.

~*~

"Who was that guy?" Faith asked as they stepped into her apartment.

"He's an old friend, and Spike's ex." Buffy replied, on her way to the bedroom to change out of her Halloween costume. She still paid rent on the apartment that she shared with Spike, but most of her clothes and belongings had migrated to Faith's place. She rarely stayed at her own place anymore, and she made a mental note to look into selling it since Spike spent every waking non-working moment with Xander anyway.

"Seemed like you guys hadn't seen him recently." Faith commented, helping Buffy with her zipper.

Buffy shrugged out of her clothes, opening up the closet door to browse for another outfit. "He hasn't been around for years, busy touring around the country with his band. Last I heard he was in Texas for a while. Didn't know he was back in town." She pulled out a navy blouse with silver studs embroidered in it. "What do you think?"

Faith scrunched up her nose as she stepped out of her miniskirt and tried to keep the attached strips of gossamer cloth from getting hopelessly tangled. "No. The club's usually dark enough that it'll look black - mineswell just wear black to begin with. What about that silvery thing you got last week?" She reached past Buffy to pull out a glittery silver halter top and a black leather miniskirt. "Here. Wear this."

Buffy put back the navy blouse, and pulled out a hip-length silver mesh dress. "Only if you wear this," she smirked, handing it to Faith.

Faith traded hangers and held the dress against her body, glancing down to approximate the fit. "I guess I can be convinced," she decided, laying the dress out on the bed, before suddenly sprinting out of the bedroom. "Last one to the shower has to eat a whole plate-full of the guys' cooking!"

"Eww! Not fair!" Buffy exclaimed, tossing the halter and skirt on the bed and taking off after Faith.

~*~

Oz pulled into the parking lot of the Sunnydale Motor Lodge and parked. Janal, Nakoi, and Modiv jerked back into their shells as the van's engine died. Oz grinned at the three little hermit crabs in the glass cruet on the dashboard before reaching under his seat for a battered paperback.

The Collected Poems of William Barstow. Astounded, he had briefly stopped breathing when he first saw it, lying plain as day on a table in a Barnes and Noble in Texas. From the moment he picked it up, he knew he had to come back and see Spike again. The picture of William on the back cover had been an older snapshot, taken right before William had begrudgingly agreed to let Andrew cut his hair short and dye it blond. William had wanted a good picture of himself before he'd agreed to the debacle, sure that the blond hair would look so dreadful he'd be wearing a paper bag over his head for the years it would take for his hair to grow back again. He couldn't stop wondering what Spike looked like now, if he was even still calling himself Spike or if he'd gone back to William after Oz had left.

The door of room 107 swung open and a man stepped into the doorway and stopped, wearing only a pair of blue jeans. Oz slid the book back under his seat and grabbed the cruet, sliding out of the van.

"Did you find him okay?" Lindsey said carefully, watching Oz.

"Yeah." Oz replied, walking towards him. Lindsey opened his arms to embrace Oz, but Oz slid past him and into the hotel room. Lindsey sighed and closed the door, leaning back on it and crossing his arms as he watched Oz silently. There was a small plastic aquarium sitting on the bureau next to the television, and Oz opened the lid and carefully transferred the hermit crabs from the cruet into their home. He touched the sponge to make sure Lindsey had soaked it with water before replacing the lid of the aquarium. Still not talking, Oz lay down on his stomach on one of the twin beds and began flipping through the TV Guide.

Lindsey cradled his forehead with one hand. "God, Oz, I don't know what to do. I told you I love you and you didn't kick me out of the band, so I kind of figured that was a good sign."

Oz glanced over his shoulder at Lindsey. "I'm sorry, Linds." Oz said, his face completely expressionless. Usually Lindsey got a little flutter in his stomach when Oz called him nicknames, but this time all he could feel was cold. "But I love someone else."

"That Spike guy?" Lindsey said bitterly as he pushed away from the door, anger twining with the cold. "Then why the hell aren't you with him right now? That is why you came here, right?"

"Unforeseen circumstances," Oz replied. "He got someone else while I was away."

"Then that's it, then." Lindsey said, allowing himself a small bit of satisfaction at the shitty position Oz was in. "So sorry you wasted your time." That small pleasure vanished at Oz's next words.

"Unlike some people, I don't give up." Oz said, casting a cutting glance at Lindsey before turning back to the TV Guide, effectively cutting short the conversation.

"Fuck you." Lindsey spat, storming into the bathroom and slamming the door behind him. If Oz heard any muffled crying coming from the closed door he ignored it, and was fast asleep long before the door opened again.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 2: Fell in love with a boy, you know I fell in love once and almost completely. He's in love with the world, but sometimes these feelings can be so misleading...

Lindsey woke up Oz with a rough shove to his shoulder. He didn't even bother setting the alarm anymore - Oz could sleep through anything. The apartments they'd been living in back in Texas had been on the shabby side, and the fire alarms would short circuit and go off every month or so. The first time they went off after Oz had moved in, Lindsey stood outside for two minutes before realizing that Oz hadn't come out. Not caring that there might really be a fire this time, Lindsey rushed back into the apartment only to find Oz snoozing like a baby.

Lindsey had taken over the duty of waking Oz's ass up an hour before a gig was supposed to start, because if he didn't, there was no guarantee Oz would wake up on his own. Once, Oz was three hours late to a gig and he never apologized or even acted like he was sorry. The band would have split up that day if Lindsey hadn't stepped in to diffuse the situation and promise it would never happen again. Usually Lindsey read a book or just watched Oz sleep until it was time to get ready. He supposed that must've been when he first started falling in love - Oz was always the sweetest when he was asleep.

Lindsey shoved him again and Oz let out a ragged groan, which was enough. Lindsey had already changed into a clean pair of jeans and was putting on a fresh t-shirt by the time Oz walked past him towards the bathroom. Lindsey's arms were above his head and he was wrestling the fabric across his face when he felt Oz's fingers stroke just above the waistband of his jeans. Lindsey jumped, almost suffocating on the shirt before he managed to yank it down and straighten it out. He tried to glare at Oz but the bathroom door was long shut and the shower had already turned on. He muttered under his breath as he began to rifle though Oz's clothes. He would've been over this crush a long time ago if it weren't for the little things Oz did to keep stringing him along. The few times Lindsey had seriously thought about ending things for good, all it took was a look from Oz for his resolve to crumble.

Cursing his own weakness and bad choice of men, Lindsey picked out a dark green t-shirt and clean black jeans and laid them on Oz's bed before settling down on his own bed. He leaned back against the headboard and stretched his legs out, opening his book and starting where he'd left off.

A few minutes later the shower turned off and the bathroom door opened. Lindsey's eyes flickered up as Oz walked past, wet hair dripping onto his shoulders, causing drops of water to slide down his naked body in rivulets. Lindsey didn't say anything, still upset, but he let himself enjoy the sight of the body he was rarely allowed to touch. Though Oz didn't look at Lindsey, he knew he was being watched. Lindsey knew that Oz knew, and what's more he knew Oz reveled in the attention - why else would he walk around starkers?

Oz picked up the carefully-chosen wrinkle-free green shirt and snorted, crumpling the garment up in a ball and tossing it in the bureau. Lindsey knew Oz did that to piss him off; if he hadn't tried to help Oz get ready, Oz probably would have chosen the green shirt on his own.

Oz rummaged though the drawers and pulled out a bundle of black cloth which, untangled, revealed itself to be a t-shirt with "Psychic Palm Readings" written in red on the front over an outline of a spread hand. It was wrinkled, previously worn, and Oz knew Lindsey would have a fit if he wore it to the gig tonight. With a smirk, Oz slipped it on. Lindsey felt a little flare of pleasure that the jeans he picked were up to specs, but held back a groan as he realized exactly what Oz wouldn't be wearing underneath said jeans for the rest of the night. Lindsey returned to the book in his hands, only to have a flash of dark-red catch his attention. He looked up in time to see Oz stuff an outfit of gauzy fabric, if such a sheer material could be called fabric, into a bag. An outfit Lindsey had given him on his last birthday.

His mood instantly turned from kinda-pissed to darker-than-a-storm-cloud. "What are you bringing that for?" Lindsey muttered, the pages of the paperback in his hands crumpling from the force of his grip.

"Thought it might come in handy." Oz said, dropping the bag and throwing himself on his bed. It bounced a few times before settling down, and Oz snagged a few papers and a pencil from the bedside dresser while lying on his stomach.

Lindsey waited for Oz to fetch the crabs, but after a few minutes of fruitlessly wanting to be the pencil Oz was nibbling the end of, it became obvious that Oz wasn't going to get up. "You finally realize you can't trust Nakoi's taste in music?" The way Oz has his hermit crabs pick the order of the songs for a set made the kind of sense that was not.

"I'm picking the set tonight." Oz replied, turning his head to look at Lindsey. "Gotta make sure it's perfect." Lindsey's gaze flickered to the bag on the floor and back.

"I can't believe you're going to do that song for him." Lindsey grumbled.

"Why do you think I've had the band practicing it so much?" Oz replied, grinning in anticipation.

~*~

"You sure?" Spike asked for the sixth time. No, Xander wasn't sure, but he couldn't very well admit that he was feeling the tiniest bit insecure now that Spike's ex was back in town. "Because if you don't want to go, we can still cancel on the girls and spend the evening in--"

"I'm sure." Xander lied convincingly, "I'll be fine. I've been wanting to see Nabbit's latest decor change, and dancing at the club will be fun."

"As long as you're sure." Spike relented, still sounding doubtful.

"I'm sure." Xander repeated, fastening a black eye patch over his left eye. It'd been one of the girls' requests - a change of costume for the trip to D'Oblique. Xander was wearing a large cream-colored cotton pirate's shirt, brown slacks, and an eye patch to finish it off. Spike on the other hand preferred much simpler costumes made of a few accessories and items found around the house. Tonight he was punked out, dressed in a black t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off and various strategic tears, what was left of the shirt was held together with several dozen safety pins, and blue jeans. A little eye-liner and he was ready to go. "The girls should be downstairs by now."

"We shouldn't keep them waiting." Spike said, before pulling Xander in for a kiss.

"We shouldn't." Xander agreed, speaking softly against Spike's lips. He kissed him back for a moment, arms naturally rising to embrace Spike. "It was nice of Faith to agree to drive."

"Yes." Spike tugged Xander closer, their bodies so tight against each other that the safety pins were making imprints on both their chests, before breaking the kiss again. "And we wouldn't want them to get impatient and leave without us." He lowered his head to nip at Xander's neck.

Xander's head dropped back, a low moan escaping his lips. "'Cause that would be bad." Although he couldn't for the life of him think of a single reason why.

Spike chuckled and, entwined, they shuffled back into the bedroom to try to brainstorm reasons why.

~*~

Fifteen minutes later, a more disheveled-looking Spike and Xander made it downstairs and out the door. Faith had parked out in front of Xander's building and she was leaning against the side of the car with Buffy next to her, perched on the side of the hood. The girls both wore matching amused smiles despite Faith's tapping shoe giving the illusion of annoyance.

"It's about time." Faith commented as they guys approached.

"Sorry." Xander grinned sheepishly, "It took longer than we thought it would to get ready."

"Get ready?" Buffy quirked an eyebrow. "Is that what you kids are calling it these days?" Spike stuck his tongue out at her and she laughed. "Don't stick it or else I'll lick it."

Spike mock-glared at her for a moment but then laughed too. "So, who are you supposed to be dressed up as?"

"Gabrielle," Buffy tossed her hair over her shoulder, "from Xena."

Spike studied her silver and leather ensemble for a moment, "I might be wrong, but I don't think Gabrielle ever wore that on the show."

Buffy wasn't fazed, "Well, if Gabrielle was going to a club and had taste."

Spike conceded. "Fair enough."

Meanwhile, Xander was trying to figure out who Faith was dressed as. "Nice dress. Is that silver mesh?"

Faith shimmied in her dress and then winked at Buffy. Buffy affected a Swedish accent, "Fine mesh - fine and soft as silk. And she vore it on her naked body. She had a fire in the fireplace, and she heated the dress. And she asked me to put it on her as hot as she could stand; and if it burned her shameless skin, she laugh like the pagan she is and say it vas man, kissing her vild like tiger."

Spike looked confused, obviously not recognizing the play. "Karen Andre, I presume?" Xander guessed.

"Partly," Faith confirmed, "and partly Mandy Slade."

"Didn't Mandy have a light brown bob in that scene?" Spike asked.

Faith twirled a strand of her long dark hair, exchanging a grin with Buffy. "Well, if Mandy was going to a club and had better hair."

Buffy hipped off the hood of the car. "What about you guys? Wait, let me guess." She touched her chin in concentration. "A pirate and a punk?"

"Uh, yeah." Xander admitted a little defensively. They were classic costume options, after all.

Faith winked at Buffy as she got in the car. "Men. They have no imagination." The girls' laughter tinkled over the guys' outraged noises as they drove to the club.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 3: I'll roll you over and peel you back, expose your tender center, watch the juices flow from the cracks. Peel you out your protective shell, I might just have to break right in there and raise some hell...

D'Oblique was fashionably dimly lit. Large candles burned in candelabras attached high on the walls, and several plain-clothed employees were making circuits of the club to replace the low candles and to watch for potential fire hazards. The walls themselves were painted black, large bolts of black velvet fabric draped around to accent the dark. The dance floor was the most well-lit area, while the rest of the club had plenty of shadowy nooks for couples to lose themselves in. Everyone, even the band, was dressed up tonight, and no two costumes were the same - another thing the bouncers at the door were paid to watch for. All of the costumes were at the very cutting-edge of fashion; no wal-mart or other knock-offs would be permitted inside. The club had a reputation to protect, after all.

The only costume that could come close to being on the gaudy side was a shirt and pants combo with a matching long cape made of shimmery purple fabric which rustled as its wearer moved. Only one person could get away with wearing such a cheesy costume inside the hottest nightclub on the strip, and that was the owner of the nightclub himself, David Nabbit.

On average, the band wore the cheapest costumes, but while they were inexpensive they werenít trashy. The lead singer was dressed in suede pants and a large tunic, several necklaces of wooden beads and a wreath of flowers in his hair. He had a hand-rolled cigarette in one hand and was holding onto the mic with the other, arching his body as he crooned out the lyrics. He told his groupies that it was really pot he was smoking and they laughed, but his band mates werenít so sure it was a joke. Devon has a history of illegal substances, but he was always careful with his substances and besides, he usually sang better when he was high, so his friends didn't interfere.

Standing behind and to his right was the second vocal, second guitar. He was wearing a plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, boots, and his cowboy hat - the same kind of outfit he wore on a normal day to day basis, but tonight it was good enough to be accepted as a costume. Lindsey, who had been born and raised in Texas, was cowboy to the core and couldn't imagine dressing as anything else.

On the drums was the third member of the band, and was dressed up as the Incredible Hulk. Green gloves and a mask were the main points of the costume, which also consisted of an extremely shredded shirt and shorts attached to a green leotard and tights. The mask was hand-made, which was one of two selling points that let the costume be accepted in the club. The other point was the amount of compact, tight body was on display under the tightly fitting leotard. Doyle and Oz were the shortest and slimmest members of the band, as well as the flirtiest, but they had more than enough differences too. While Oz usually lured his plunders with coy silences and dangerous smiles, Doyle tended to use his native Irish accent and friendly green eyes to charm his conquests. Another important difference was that Oz didn't care what happened the morning after one-night-stands, while Doyle made sure his partners left his bed satisfied and pleasantly sated.

Oz, leader of the band as well as lead guitar, stood back and on the lead singer's left. Like Lindsey, Oz was dressed in his every day clothing. No one in the club thought for a moment that it wasn't a costume too - no one was allowed in D'Oblique on Halloween without a costume - and when asked Oz said that he was dressed as a normal everyday homicidal psychopath. Devon laughed when he heard that explanation, but Doyle and Lindsey knew better. Oz chose his outfits carefully and they were always trouble. Last year he'd claimed to be a werewolf and during the gig after Halloween some red-head groupie had shown up and caused a scene, claiming he'd given her some kind of STD through a rather nasty bite mark on her throat. Oz didn't bother offering an explanation for the hysterical groupie, or the animal carcass lying just outside the apartment building the next night, its body battered and bloody. Oz didn't bother giving explanations or apologies for most of his behavior, which explained why Lindsey was the third person to play second vocal/guitar and Devon the seventh lead singer in the band's life.

"Dude. Alpha's on the prowl." Devon whispered to Doyle as they broke for a moment. Lindsey took a long pull of his beer to wet his throat, and many girls and a few guys' gazes were glued on his throat as he swallowed. Too bad for them, since Lindsey's gaze hardly wavered from Oz.

Doyle nodded to Devon. Oz always had been eccentric, but tonight he was more intense than he'd ever been. He hadn't even let his stupid hermit crabs pick the set list - a weird process no matter who you ask - but rather had chosen each song himself to build upon the previous one, invoking an atmosphere of lust and relaxation, coaxing inhibitions to fade and darker desires to come out. And all of Oz's attention as well as Lindsey's annoyance was riveted on one guy in the audience with a shaved head who had just walked in during the tail end of the last song.

"Okay, after the break we're going to do the third and seventh from the regular set list, and then we'll do the Arabic one." Oz said, setting his guitar in its stand.

"We're what?" Doyle exclaimed. Oz had told them about three and seven at the beginning of the show, but he'd failed to mention that they would be doing the Arabic one tonight. A good drummer knew the beats of the songs, and he knew that the order Oz had placed them in just might incite a riot. Well, either that or an orgy. When blood started pumping it could go either way. He looked worriedly at Lindsey.

Devon glanced at Lindsey too, his gaze conveying concern and sympathy, "Did you know about this?"

"Yeah." Lindsey didn't say anything else.

If Lindsey was fine with Oz turning the audience into hormone-crazed lust-addled drones, then who was Doyle to argue? "Fine. Three seven Arabic. Got it. What do you have in mind for after that?" Oz's casual wink told him that what Oz had in mind probably had nothing to do with music and was also probably not suitable to mention in front of young children or jealous quasi-boyfriends.

Devon glanced between his fellow band members, but if the others were going to go along with it, it wasn't his business to object. "Sweet." he said with far less enthusiasm than was usually his style.

"Break for ten." Oz said, leaving the stage and making a beeline for the guy he'd been eyeing. Doyle began counting silently, and reached nine when Lindsey walked off in the same direction as Oz.

Doyle shook his head - poor Lindsey was hopeless. With a sigh he turned to Devon, "So, what are you doing after the gig?"

Dev adjusted the height of the microphone stand for the third time that evening. "No plans."

"Didn't you say you knew someone around here?" Doyle asked.

Dev nodded. "Yeah, this girl I've been IMing for almost a year now."

"So why don't you look her up? See if she wouldn't like a little company tonight?" Doyle said as they headed backstage to get some drinks before the next set - and all the drama that was sure to accompany it - began.

"One problem, bro." Dev replied, "She's already got a boyfriend to keep her warm and cozy."

"Yeah, but you're a musician. She won't be able to resist you." Doyle said, elbowing him.

Dev laughed, smacking Doyle on the back. "He's a musician too. Though apparently his band's even worse than ours."

Doyle winced at the thought, taking a long swig of the complementary soda in the green room. "When did she see us play?"

"Never, dude. Haven't even seen her in real life. I just sent her the last few mp3s we recorded." Devon grabbed a pumpkin danish - Nabbit liked to treat his bands - and took a large bite.

Doyle raised an eyebrow, snagging a caramel-dipped apple slice from the Halloween-inspired tray of sweets on the table. "And she believes that you're telling the truth when you claim to be in a band?"

"Totally. We tell each other everything." Dev smirked as he finished the danish, as well as its twin. "I know some of her kinkiest fantasies. And she knows some of mine."

Doyle couldn't help looking at his friend in shock. "Geez, I can't believe you'd tell each other stuff like that. You've never even met - she could be some creepy perverted old hag!" Grabbing a few more sweets, they headed back out to the stage.

Devon just tsked, placing one hand on Doyle's shoulder mock-patronizingly. "There's this little thing called 'trust' that we have. You should get some."

"Trust, huh? I used to have some of that." Doyle looked out over the audience, easily spotting Oz still taking to his prey with Lindsey near forgotten at his side. "Guess I lost it somewhere."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 4: Youíre beside me on the seat, got your hand between my knees, and you control how fast we go by just how hard you wanna squeeze...

A pirate, a punk, and an Amazon walked into a club. No joke, although it sounds like the set-up to one. Who knows, maybe it'll turn out to be a joke in the end. Stranger things have happened on Halloween. Gazes immediately turned their way, some appraising and accepting them into the elite club, others admiring and desiring them. A fairy with purple sparkly wings tried her luck with the Amazon, but was turned away.

"Hit on two seconds after walking through the door." Buffy winked at Spike, stepping closer to him to discourage any other suitors. "And you thought this wasn't a perfect costume."

Spike laughed, going along with the charade and putting his right arm around her shoulders. "You better watch yourself. Don't want your girl to get jealous."

Buffy shrugged. "It's her own fault for leaving me alone while she parked the car. She's the one who didn't want to pay the twelve dollar valet charge."

The band took a break minutes after they walked in, and Xander was the first one to notice Oz crossing the crowd towards them. "I'll go get us some drinks." Xander murmured, leaving for the bar before Spike could ask him to stay.

"Hey." Oz said. "Glad you guys could make it." He glanced at Buffy, doing a quick head-to-toe sweep. "Nice outfits."

Spike unconsciously pulled Buffy a little closer. "Yeah, we thought we'd stop by for a little while."

From the stage, Lindsey looked at the guy Oz had dragged him out of Texas for. Blond and dangerous, just like Oz had been the first time Lindsey saw him. The guy had his arm around a blonde woman, and was hugging her tight against him even as he greeted Oz. Lindsey smiled to himself - if that wasn't wordless territory marking, he didn't know what was. Leaving the stage, he headed towards Oz, Oz's ex, and Oz's ex's new beau.

"So, you're still calling yourself Spike?" Oz inquired.

"The name stuck." Spike replied.

"I wouldn't have thought, considering..." Oz trailed off as Lindsey walked up. Oz accepted Lindsey's presence with a slight nod. "Lindsey, this is Spike and Buffy. This is Lindsey." he said, gesturing introductions.

Spike removed his arm from Buffy to shake Lindsey's hand. "Nice to meet you." Lindsey echoed the pleasantry.

Just as Xander returned with drinks, Buffy saw Faith enter the club. Accepting her drink from Xander, she kissed Spike on the cheek. "Bye lover," she teased in his ear, "I'm gonna go dance." She left, taking a swig of her beer. Making eye-contact with Faith, she headed to the dance floor. Faith followed her.

"You're welcome." Xander retorted, smiling at her back as he shook his head. He gave Spike the other drink in his hands and took a sip of his own.

Spike winked at him, silently thanking him for the drink and sharing his amusement at Buffy's lack of manners. "Xander, you remember Oz, and this is Lindsey. Lindsey, this is Xander, my-"

"Xander?" Lindsey interrupted, a smile of surprised pleasure crossing his face, "Xander Harris?" Xander nodded mutely, confused. "It's me, Lindsey McDonald."

"Strumminghand?" Xander exclaimed, confusion rapidly fading into a matching smile as they heartily shook hands. "Fancy meeting you here. What are you doing out of Texas?"

Lindsey gestured at Oz, "Alpha decided to take the band on tour. Was hoping to look you up while we were in town - just didn't think we'd run into each other so soon."

"You two know each other, I take it?" Spike interjected.

"Yup." Xander grinned, "We met one midnight in the BFAS chatroom and've been friends ever since."

"Yeah," Lindsey replied, "Until Snoopydance here stopped coming online." Oz quirked an eyebrow, mouthing 'Snoopydance?' Spike mouthed back 'BFAS?'. Oz shrugged, also clueless as to what the letters stood for.

Xander laughed, "I told you, man. It was summer - I'm always online less in the summer. Work needs me more than the 'net does."

"Summer, shumer. You were gone for eight months straight. That's not summer, it's sumalter."

Oz didn't appear to like the turn of events the conversation had taken, and Lindsey could tell he was already missing being the center of attention. Any conversation that didn't directly involve Oz or increase his chance of getting in his prey's pants was a conversation Oz didn't want to be in. "We should probably get back. Break will be over in a few." Oz said, right on cue.

Lindsey smiled, enjoying holding the cards for a moment. "Yeah, because we still have to get ready for the next few songs." He shook Xander's hand again. "Well, it's nice to finally meet you. Enjoy the music tonight."

"I'm sure we will." Xander returned the smile, although Spike didn't look so sure.

Oz nodded in goodbye and turned, walking back towards the stage, Lindsey on his heels after one last quick smile at Xander and Spike. The minute they were backstage Lind let the smile drop, the happy surprise of meeting Xander fading in the light of the larger issue at hand. Lindsey followed Oz to the green room behind the stage and held his tongue until it became apparent that Oz wasn't going to initiate anything. Now that he had the control back and he wasn't about to lose it for a second. Lindsey waited while Oz partook of the snacks, but had to speak when he saw Oz hanging the gauzy red outfit up just off stage behind a curtain so he could change into it quickly when the time came. "Do you actually think this is going to do any good?" Lindsey said, trying to hide his emotions and failing. "Do you really think you can get Spike back from his new lover?"

"You doubt me?" Oz took Lind's hand, pressing it to his chest to cover the spread-palm design on his shirt. His voice turned husky, "Have you ever seen me not get something I wanted? What I want, I get. Remember?" He winked, smiling smugly.

Lindsey blushed hard, snatching his hand back. "I remember." he forced out his dry throat.

"Good." Oz dropped Lindsey's hand and turned back to the outfit, brushing out a few wrinkles and untangling a couple bells. Without facing Lindsey, he said in a deadly quiet voice, "Never question me again," and climbed up on stage to take his place by Devon.

Lindsey sighed, looking at the outfit one more time before taking his own place on stage and picking up his guitar.

~*~

Buffy was swaying to the recorded song coming out of the speakers when she felt a body slide behind her, arms wrapping around her waist. She leaned back into the embrace. "Welcome."

"What?" Faith said from behind her, "You kiss your best friend but not your lesbian lover?"

Buffy chuckled, leaning her head back to kiss Faith. "It was a joke. I had to act like I was with him to keep from getting hit on until you showed up. Took your sweet time too."

"You and Spike, huh?" Faith rested her chin on Buffy's shoulder, holding her tight. "You have enough of the alternative lifestyle and decide to bat for home team again?"

Buffy snorted. "Oh hush. There was nothing between us and there will never be anything between us. Spike's like a brother."

"Yeah, but you kissed him after I had shown up. I think you deserve some punishment for that." Faith nodded to herself. "A punishment to fit the crime."

"Oh really?" Buffy couldn't help smiling.

"Yes." Faith said. "I think you should have to endure watching me dance with a few strangers in here. Wouldn't that be a good punishment? Not being able to touch me while I grind into some nameless guy, making him quiver with want?"

"And how is that a fitting punishment?" Buffy said skeptically, "I only kissed Spike, and it wasn't even on the lips. You're planning vertical sex on the dance floor."

"Ah." Faith said, blowing into her ear to make her giggle. "But you see, you know Spike. He's your best friend, and you've never been with him before. He's both familiar and forbidden territory, and that makes him ten times as attractive as a stranger in a club. That means I get to do ten times worse than a kiss on the cheek."

"You wouldn't." Buffy said, but Faith was already pulling away and drifting across the dance floor, at the same time the song ended and Oz's band took the stage again. They began to play something that was both smooth and sexy, unwittingly playing the perfect kind of music to seduce to. "She would." she muttered to herself as she watched Faith smile at a guy and begin to dance with him. They were still standing almost a foot apart but Buffy was sure that given a few minutes the full-body grind would begin.

~*~

Oz's band was playing some eclectic music. Some Spanish, some swing, everything sultry with a good rhythm. Two songs later they took a quick break and Xander stiffened, wondering if Oz was going to take this chance to approach Spike again. Instead, Oz just disappeared backstage.

Moments later Oz reappeared and Xander's jaw dropped. Gone was the t-shirt and jeans, now Oz was dressed in a blood red outfit straight from a harem fantasy. A gauzy vest embroidered with bells was open over his chest, and gossamer leggings wafted down to his ankles, also hemmed with tiny bells. He wore elaborate bracelets of matching tiny bells around both wrists, the bells draped from the bracelets across the back of his hands to tangle in his fingers. Strands of tiny beads and bells were draped around his waist, and despite all this, Oz was able to move quietly to his spot right of center stage. The bells tinkled softly as he raised his arms in preparation for the song to begin.

The song was Arabic in origin, obvious from the first words out of the singer's mouth. Xander would never have thought that kind of music could be adapted well to a guitar and drums, but it sounded as if it was made for their band to play. Despite the language barrier, the meaning of the song was clear, and the clubbers on the dance floor had no trouble grooving and gyrating to the beat.

"Habibi, ya nour el ain, ya saakin khayali." The singer was good - Xander doubted he was fluent in the language he sang, but Xan had heard the song before and he could spot a practiced performer on this stage as well as he could on any other stage. ~My darling, glow in my eyes, who lives in my fantasies.~. "Aashek bakali sneen," The singer extended a hand out to grasp the air in front of him, before touching his forehead, "Wala ghayraak fibali." ~I've adored you for years, no one else is in my mind.~

Dark red movement caught Xander's eye and he forgot all about the lead singer's hands as he looked at Oz. Oz, who had begun moving with the first notes of the songs, and was now performing a kind of hybrid belly dance/strip dance but without the stripping. Not that he really needed to strip; the outfit he had on was revealing enough, and every movement seemed to reveal more skin. Apparently what Oz lacked in height he more than made up for in flexibility. Xander couldn't help but watch Oz move, his hips rolling as if they weren't attached to the rest of his body, his body drifting with the ease of a kite's tail.

The verse repeated, and Xander noticed not only that Oz's lips were faintly moving with the words, "Habibi, ya nour el ain", but also that Oz kept looking at Spike as he danced. Jealousy like a knife at his throat choked him as he realized Spike was staring at Oz, enthralled. Looking back at Oz, Xander's eyes narrowed in critical assessment.

Instead of just admiring him, now Xander was evaluating with a professional's gaze. The dance seemed relaxed and improv-ed to the casual observer, but Xander knew that every step and sway had been choreographed and practiced. He nodded slowly to himself as he examined how each move bled into the next, so the river of flesh and fabric kept flowing. It wasn't that hard to pick apart the steps once you knew what to look for, and Xander recognized almost all of them. Oz was skilled - there was no denying that - and was playing for keeps, but Xander had enough hidden talents to even the field. A stray thought struck him and he glanced back at Spike.

Spike had dated this guy and managed to walk away still a virgin? Amazing.

~*~

Getting frustrated as she watched Faith move on to yet another partner that wasn't herself, Buffy looked back to check on Spike and Xander and rolled her eyes as she saw them both standing in the crowded club, watching the band. Another second of Faith dropping to her knees and slithering back up her nameless partner's body and Buffy was off the dance floor, striding purposefully towards Spike. Muttering under her breath about people who had no consideration for their partners, she grabbed Spike's hand and hauled him over to the dance floor.

"Agmaal eyoun fil koon, ana shoftaha. Eyounaak ma-ayaa, eyounaak kifayaa."
~The prettiest eyes possible, I have seen. Your eyes are with me, your eyes are enough.~

The words "teach a lesson" and "do something worth being punished" floated to Spike over the music. As he often found himself doing when Buffy was dead set on something, he yielded to her wishes, letting her pull him out onto the dance floor and position their bodies so that she could dance with him and still keep an eye on Faith. He was slightly surprised when she pressed her back against his chest, wrapping his arms around her torso and grinding her body against his, but he figured out the game when he saw Faith echo the move with her partner. He obligingly danced to compliment Buffy's movements, but when she pulled off the full-body slither, he decided enough was enough and looked for Xander to help him get out of this mess. He made eye contact with Xander, who had moved to lean against one of the walls near the dance floor, but Xander was too busy watching the Baith one-upmanship and laughing to come to his rescue. Fine. Spike pulled Buffy tighter against him and began actively participating in the dance, determined to taunt Xander as much as Buffy wanted to tease Faith.

Holding Buffy flush against him, Spike swiveling his hips to the music, Buffy's body automatically following his lead. He leaned down his head to nip at the place where her throat met her shoulder, one of her very sensitive tickle spots. Buffy's head fell back even as her body shook from laughter, and their fingers tangled together. He pulled her hands up and they danced with their hands clasping each others over their heads, their bodies on perfect display as they swayed in unison. Spike lowered their hands and twisted, causing her to twirl and step away, and then tugging on her hands to make her twirl back into his arms. His right hand let go of hers and snaked around her body so he could press the palm of his hand into her abdomen as his hips guided hers into another move. He let go of her again, pushing her gently at the small of her back to guide her to circle around behind him as he danced in place, their still clasped left hands raised over his head. He spun her again and his free arm went behind her shoulders to support her as he leaned her back into a low dip. Spike chanced a glance at Xander, who was no longer laughing or paying attention to anything other than Spike, lavishing him with a heated gaze. Another glance at Faith resulted in a similar gaze being directed to Buffy, who was currently again standing with her back against Spike, her head thrown back, eyes closed, and a sinful smile as she rubbed her shoulders against his chest. Spike smirked; mission accomplished. Turns out that ballroom dancing class Buffy had dragged him to last year had its uses after all.

~*~

Lindsey tore his gaze away from Oz's back long enough to catch sight of the two blonds setting the dance floor on fire. A space was starting to clear around them as less talented dancers admitted defeat and stepped back to watch the masters at work. A plan began forming in Lindsey's head, and he smiled.

"Ma-aak el bidaya, wa koul el hekaya. Ma-aak lil nahaya."
~You have the beginning, and the whole story. I'll be with you to the end.~

The song wound down and Oz wiped a fine sheen of sweat from his forehead and bowed to the audience's applause, before removing the belled bracelets and dropping them at the base of his guitar stand. "Round baby." he said as he picked up his guitar and shouldered on the strap, quickly making sure it was still in tune.

"Stellar!" Devon exclaimed. It was one of his favorite songs - he always loved the ones where he could practically have sex on stage. Lindsey wasn't as thrilled, but Oz was already strumming the intro chords and Devon started moaning into the microphone against Doyle's slow, steady beats.

Holding the mic with both hands, close to his lips, Devon whispered, "I strip you. I pervert you. I save you. I desert you. You scare me. You make me laugh. You dare me. You call my bluff."

Lindsey joined in, his quiet voice echoing Devon's, "I lick you. I desire you. I trick you. I require you. You hurt me. You make me crawl."

Oz's voice combined with Devon and Lindsey at the tail end of the intro, "Don't know if it's love, love don't matter at all." Doyle's drums sped up the beat, raising the volume of the song.

"Suck the hand," Devon, Lindsey, and Oz chorused, "The hand that bleeds you. Bleed the one that needs you. Round, baby, round, baby, round."

By this time Devon's body was swaying as it slow-mo air-fucked the microphone stand and Oz was grinning around the words, a wild glint in his eyes as he gleefully ripped the chords from his instrument, matching the savage intensity of the song. "Now suck the hand, the hand that hits you. Kiss the boot that kicks you. Down, baby, down, baby, down."

Lindsey had no doubts that Oz was eye-deep in schemes and plans for the next few weeks. He only wondered just how much pain he was going to go through before Spike left his girl and went back to Oz. Because Oz wouldn't quit, not until he got what he wanted. Oz never quit. "Take it out, out on me. Gently, will you take it all out?" he crooned, backing up Devon.

Oz and Devon this time, and Oz flashed a quick smirk at Lindsey, "Take it out, out on you, oh; I know I'll take it all out..."

Chorus time again and Lindsey knew he was a goner, that there was no way to escape the pain that was bright in his future. Because Oz wanted that too; he liked it when Lindsey hurt, and Oz always got what he wanted.

~*~

Oh yeah, Buffy thought to herself, now she remembered why she didn't look into selling her and Spike's apartment: because it was the only apartment big enough for Baithland and Spanderville to converge and form the Great Fabikederverse. That, and she didn't want to fight with Spike over ownership of the couch.

Dancing at the club had made them all hungry, so they'd gone back to S&B's to let the club-energy seep out. "Hey Spike." Faith said, plopping down on the couch. Revenge was sweet. "You got any new recipes? I'm sure Buffy would love to eat a big plate full. Right honey?"

Buffy pouted, but Faith just kept grinning. "Right, sweetie." Spike questioned her with a look. "Bet. Lost. Plate of your cooking. Don't ask."

"Okay." Spike knew better than to pry when Buffy was using short sentences. "I think there's stuff in the fridge for a stir-fry. Shouldn't take too long to make." He headed towards the kitchen, and Buffy followed him on the excuse to make sure what Spike was making was even slightly digestible.

"Remember! You gotta eat it in front of me or it doesn't count!" Faith called after her, before leaning back into the couch and propping her feet on the coffee table. "So! Xander. It's that time of the year again. Are you going to start working at--"

"Shh!" Xander hushed her quickly, glancing towards the kitchen. He could hear the muted voices of Buffy and Spike arguing over something, so he didn't think they'd heard.

Faith quirked an eyebrow. "You haven't told him yet?"

Xander tried not to look guilty. "It hasn't come up."

"Mmhm." Faith sounded skeptical. "Too busy with other things 'coming up'?"

Xander narrowed his eyes at her. "Has Buffy seen your bank statement?" Faith flushed. "I thought not."

"It hasn't... come up." Faith finished lamely, glaring at Xander. "And don't you mention it."

"You know I won't, but it's going to come up sooner or later." Xander said.

Faith shot him a look. "For you too." Xander winced.

"I know. I'm just putting off the inevitable. I'm surprised though..." Xander admitted. "They share an apartment, so they know how expensive it can be. I don't know how they think we could each have our own apartments and cars on measly coffee shop and theater wages."

Faith shrugged. "They probably just haven't connected the dots yet. Doesn't mean we can hide forever."

"I know." Xander sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah, I'll probably go back again this year. Only way I can make enough money for two semesters of tuition in only a few months. It's not like the theater really needs me for more than minor repairs once the shows are running." Relaxing into the couch, he turned his head to look at Faith. "You should probably tell her soon. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up, and she's going to be asking about your parents."

Faith nodded. "I'll figure out something by then. Speaking of parents, what are you going to tell Spike about yours?"

Xander grinned. "Why, my father passed away in a tragic orangutan accident. It was horrible, bloody fur everywhere, and you know how much red and orange clash. My mother would have died from embarrassment at the fashion faux pau but a loose hyena got her before she could get help. The zookeeper said their deaths were quick."

"You wish." Faith snorted.

"Yeah." Xander sighed again. "I wish."

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 5: And if I quit that easy, and if I just walked away how would you really feel inside? Would you really be that happy? Would you wonder if the man that you'd been wishing for had already come true, been standing right in front of you?

"Last night off work!" Xander exclaimed, sprawling on the big black sofa, his socked feet on Spike's lap. They'd slept in after dancing at the club all night, and were spending what was left of the daylight lounging around and watching TV. Or in Spike's case, scribbling in a notebook. There were already preorders for Spike's second book of poetry even though it wasn't quite printed yet and his agent, Rupert, was already urging him to try to get a third volume of poetry written as soon as possible. So far it wasn't coming along as easily as the second one had, but that was probably because he'd written the poetry in the second one while he was pining away for Xander, and now he had Xander, there was little impulse and even less time to write. "Wanna go back to D'Oblique?"

Spike set the notebook down, pondering the question. On one hand, he really did need to write, and he didn't really want to see Oz again. On the other, it was Xander's last free evening before he had to go back to working on the stage at night, and perhaps there would be something at the club that would inspire a poem. "Okay."

"Snazzy." Xander smiled. Tonight he had plans... he was going to show Oz who Spike belonged to, stake out his territory in front of the whole club. "I'll call up the girls and let them know we're going over."

~*~

It was the night after Halloween, and the holiday was officially over for the club set. Nobody was allowed in the club unless they were properly attired in the latest club wear, or at least looked hotter than hot in what they were wearing. Faith and Buffy got in without a blink from the bouncer, and Spike's usual black t-shirt, black jeans, black boots, and black duster got a wink. Xander had chosen the damn-near painted on black leather pants he'd worn to the B&N bash, and a dark green t-shirt that clung to his chest, showing off the lean muscles he'd earned working on the stage all summer. The bouncer gave Xander a leer as he entered, and Xander grinned. Oh yeah, tonight was going to go well.

The music drifted across the club, bodies moving slowly as if underwater, graceful like seaweed against the current of the song. Xander pulled Spike onto the dance floor, deep into the throng. ~That's all I wanted, something special, something sacred... in your eyes...~ There was just enough room for Xander to hug Spike from behind, closing his eyes as he rested his head on Spike's shoulder. Spike leaned back against him, hands covering the arms wrapped around him as he rested his head against Xander's. They moved together, the crowd pressing in unable to disrupt their intimate mood. ~I will be the one that loves you, till the end of time...~ They spent the next few songs on the same spot of the dance floor, changing dance moves as the pace of the songs changed but never moving too far away from each other.

Xander and Spike were on their way to the bar when Oz's band took a break and a DJ took over. Oz crossed the club towards them as a new song came over the speakers. It was well liked, judging by the cheer of the patrons. Rhythmic clapping broke out among the dancers, and several people were chanting, "Woo-hoo" to the beat. Xander felt Spike's grip on his hand tighten as Oz approached them.

"Mine if I steal him for a dance?" Oz said, smiling charmingly at Xander. Xander felt a brief urge to punch that indulgent smile off his face, but he relaxed as he looked at Spike, who was watching him for his reply. He looked into Spike's eyes, and knew that Spike would follow his lead; that if he said no, Spike would walk away from Oz without looking back. He looked back at Oz, and caught the challenge in his eyes.

Xander let go of Spike's hand, gesturing to the dance floor. "By all means." It was time to check out the competition. Bowing his head briefly towards Xander, Oz took Spike's hand and Xander moved closer to the bar for a better view.

The crowd parted as Oz walked backwards, his eyes never leaving Spike as he led him to the middle of the dance floor. Most of the surrounding people had been attending the night before, and were already backing up to give Oz space and get a good view of what was sure to be a show.

Oz noticed the space they were being given and exchanged a look with Spike, a quirk of his lips echoing in the rising of Spike's scarred eyebrow. ~My heart knows me better than I know myself, so I'm gonna let it do all the talking.~ They used to dance like this all the time when they were together, practicing until they knew without a doubt that they could walk onto a floor and rule it. Oz had talked him into it at first, but Spike couldn't deny the thrill of being in the middle of admirers, moving his body perfectly and knowing that the room was watching him with lust in their eyes.

It had been a long time, but muscle memory kicked in and it was easy to move in counterpoint to Oz, to watch for the twist of a wrist or the arch of hip to give away how he was planning to move next. Months fell away and Spike forgot about everything for a moment, everything but the beat of the music and the steps of his partner. ~I came across a place in the middle of nowhere with a big black horse and a cherry tree.~

Xander ordered a drink and stood with his arms crossed, watching and biting back a flare of jealousy. It was stupid that he was already resenting his decision to let Spike dance with Oz. He knew Spike loved him, he knew he wasn't going to leave him for Oz, but it was a little hard to remember that when their bodies were moving so fluidly together. ~I fell in fear, upon my back, I said don't look back, just keep on walking...~ A nasty little voice in the back of his head complained that Spike had never danced like that with him before, but he ignored it, knowing that he was letting his possessiveness get the best of him. The bartender dropped off a glass and Xander picked it up without taking his eyes off of Spike and Oz. Part of him wanted to toss back the drink, grab Spike, and storm out of the club, but he forced himself to take small sips and watch, even though the acid was eating away at his rational mind. He studied the way Oz danced, noticing and memorizing cues, and bided his time.

~woo-hoo...woo-hoo...~

Buffy was dancing with Faith near the far edge of the dance floor, when she realized that the crowd was pulling back to watching something. "What's up?" Faith asked, as she watched Buffy crane her neck to see what was going on.

A flash of scalp and short black hair caught her attention. "Oh, shit." she muttered, and began making her way through the people watching, towards the center of the group. She didn't know whether she would try to break it up or just catch Spike's gaze and glare disapprovingly until the song was over, but she had to do something.

Faith caught sight of Spike and Oz as well, and was about to say something to Buffy when she realized Buffy was already several feet away. She looked around again, spotted Xander, and made her way over to his side. ~When the big black horse said look this way, it said hey there lady, will you marry me?~

"How are you holding up?" she said

"Just peachy." Xander took another slow, shallow sip.

Faith frowned as she watched Xander bite his lip in calculation. "You're not planning to do something crazy, are you?"

Xander shot her a quick, dark smile. "Whatever would make you think that?"

Faith wasn't afraid of many things. Earwigs was a big one, that and falling down stairs. Mountain goats too, for some reason. But the thing that scared her more than all those other things put together was Xander when he was channeling his ex. The last time she'd seen him like this... well, suffice it to say, the aftermath hadn't been pretty. Faith narrowed her eyes and grabbed a fistful of his shirt, dragging him close, her voice low and firm. "Don't you dare be going J.T. on me, Xan."

Xander slowly reached up and pulled her hand away, brushing the wrinkles out of his shirt. "No worries, F." He looked back at Oz. "I won't even break skin."

Faith was not reassured.

~woo-hoo...woo-hoo...~

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 6: I long for you to hold me like your boyfriend does, and though my dream is slowly fading, I want to be the object of your passion but it's hopeless...

Pantheus Reborn

You tried to cast me
in your image, but I
spilled out of the mold.
Why is nature so unacceptable?

We can't help but try to change
each other, craft and color and
style what we can to fit
some vague ideal fantasy.

But this isn't me.
This hair, these clothes,
this facade you love
is no more me than a stranger.

You're not my Creator.
I can't be your
Galatea.

~*~

Spike and Oz revolved around each other, gazes not leaving the other's face. They watched each other with an intense concentration; Oz looking serious but with mischief glittering in his eyes, Spike's lips absently twitching into a smile. ~but I said no, no, you're not the one for me~ Spike's arm snaked around Oz's waist, and Oz leaned back, arching into a low dip before Spike pulled him back up. They clasped hands and Oz spun away, stopping as their arms pulled taut between them. ~no, no, no, no-no-no~ A sharp tug sent Spike spinning into Oz's arms, and they shimmied slowly against each other.

Oz leaned his head close and whispered into Spike's ear, "Just like old times, huh?" His breath was ticklish and Spike laughed.

"You've learned some new moves out in Texas." They broke away from each other and began circling again, Spike doing his best to match Oz move for move.

"You've made a few moves yourself." Oz stepped behind Spike, sliding his hands down the inside of Spike's arms and gently pulling them up over Spike's head. Spike writhed to the music and Oz nipped his ear. "He's not your type."

Spike glanced over his shoulder, his eyebrow rising as he stepped away. "He's more my type than you were."

Oz grabbed his arm, spinning Spike around and leading him into a fast cha-cha. "Is he? Does he really give you what you need?" His grip on Spike's arm tightened, and Spike failed to hide a wince. Unnoticed by the bar, Xander's eyes narrowed.

Spike refused to back down, shaking his arm to break Oz's hold. He stepped too close, forcing Oz to take a step back. "He loves me." Spike said firmly, dancing without conscious thought for a moment while he made his point. "For me. He loves me for who I am, which is more than I could ever say about you."

~you're not the one for me~

~*~

Lindsey was starting to run out of insults to call Oz, and was now starting to make up words. "Picun fithr ruckod" was a favorite, and was currently tying with "cuarut rivtur dithoix" as most insulting phrase ever. He wasn't exactly sure what the words meant, but they sounded guttural and mean, and he poured his annoyance and frustration into the vowels under his breath. ~My heart had a problem in the early hours, so I stopped it dead for a beat or two~

A flash of blonde hair caught his eye, and the claw squeezing his heart eased as he remembered he wasn't the only significant other being dissed by the Oz&Spike Sex Show on the floor. A stone in the form of a beautiful blonde woman stood only a few feet away, watching the two birds frolic. Oh yeah, he was going to hit them all right.

~woo-hoo...woo-hoo...~

~*~

Buffy Glare Mode 2.0 was morphing into GlareMaster2009, when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Oz's friend was standing right next to her, and she had to quickly turn off the glare, so as not to harm any innocent bystanders. "Yes?" she asked, her annoyance at Spike bleeding over into her tone.

Buffy's scowl was impressive - she'd sent men running by simply turning it in their direction, but this guy didn't scare easily. Lindsey held out his hand. "Dance?" he offered, smiling charmingly.

Buffy glanced at Spike, who would be completely oblivious to her until the song was over. Looking around for Faith, she spotted her across the room talking to Xander. Buffy shrugged, taking Lindsey's hand. She needed to pass the minutes until the song was over and she could slap Spike upside the head, and one dance with a stranger couldn't hurt anything. ~But I cut some cord, and I shouldn't have done that, and it won't forgive me after all these years~

~*~

~woo-hoo...woo-hoo...~

"You won't break skin?" Faith repeated, not happy with the impending doom of the situation.

"Nah." Xander replied, studying Oz like an assassin would scope out a target. "Not tonight, anyways," he amended.

Something inside Faith gave, and she felt as helpless as she had years ago, watching the walls slam down around Xander and having no way to get through to him. "I don't want any more blood on your hands, Xan."

"Not your call, F." Xander glanced at her, and there was something cold in his eyes that Faith hadn't seen for years. "Oz remind you of anybody? Think real hard."

Faith was reminded, and shoved the memories behind a mental door and locked it. She'd spent months trying to forget about that time in her life and put it behind her, but Xander's behavior was threatening to bring it all rushing back.

Xander's gaze returned to the dance floor. "Watch the way Lindsey acts around him. Lindsey reminds me a lot of you, but I don't think he's as strong as you were."

"Do you think Spike-" Faith spoke in an almost-whisper, her voice half choked, ghost hands squeezing her throat. Turning to look into the mirror behind the bar, she could almost see the amethyst necklace of bruises around her neck. Xander cut her off, shaking his head.

"No. There's the barest hints, but nothing like what's going on now with Lindsey. They must've broken up before Oz got that kind of hold on him."

"Oh." Faith hugged herself against a sudden chill. She was stronger than this, and she knew it, but the insecurities that had been planted in her mind could never fully be uprooted. "You're nothing." a voice whispered in her mind, remnants of a mistake in her life she swore she'd never repeat. "You deserve everything I've done to you and more." She shivered, fear and shame making it hard to swallow.

~so i sent her to a place in the middle of nowhere with a big black horse and a cherry tree.~

Xander hugged her from behind, wrapping his arms around her and holding her tight. She clung to his arms, closing her eyes as she focused herself back on the present. "She's not coming back." he murmured in her ear, "We took care of her. She'll never hurt you again."

"I know. I'm not worried about her." It was half-true. Faith knew her ex was never going to bother her again, but the psychological wounds the woman had inflicted had never quite healed right, and every so often Faith worried that those scars would eventually keep her from having a lasting relationship with anyone. "Do you think Buffy knows?"

"Don't know." Xander rested his chin on her shoulder, their bodies closer in their embrace than most of the couples scattered around the club.

"Think he'll leave soon?"

"Don't know."

Faith chuckled softly. "Don't know much, do you?"

"Nope." Xander smiled as Faith laughed.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 7: These unresolved situations escalate. Inside something brings me to push you to find out what you can take...

Lindsey wasn't a bad dancer, Buffy decided. He was charming and charismatic, exactly the kind of guy she would have gone after before she met Faith. He was also a perfect gentleman, dancing close enough to her so they wouldn't get separated in the crowd, but far enough away that he wasn't intruding into her personal space. His face was pleasant enough, but it was his eyes that really caught her attention. There was something in them, something deep and intense, and intently focused on her.

Something she'd only ever before seen in Faith's eyes.

Automatically she glanced towards the bar, pausing at what she saw. Faith and Xander were still there, but now he had his arms around her and was whispering in her ear. Faith laughed, and Buffy's chest tightened as she remembered something Faith had said... "He's your best friend, and you've never been with him before. He's both familiar and forbidden territory, and that makes him ten times as attractive as a stranger in a club." Suddenly she wondered if Faith knew that from personal experience.

~And now I've got a hole for the world to see.~

~*~

~I can't quite get there cause my heart's forsaken me...~

Xander kissed Faith on the cheek before releasing her and motioning to the bartender for another drink. The woman tending bar refilled his glass with a smile.

"Kinda early in the year for you, isn't it?" she said, brushing a lock of blonde hair behind her ear.

Xander studied her face for a moment, unable to place her name. Luckily, the small tag pinned over her right breast gave it away. "Sometimes a man needs a drink, Eve."

"Perhaps." Eve acknowledged, "But some say the One Hit Wonder isn't a man at all, that he's the spirit of a jilted lover out in search of revenge, and one night a year he comes here to find solace in strangersí arms and peace in the rising lust of others' eyes."

"Really." Xander sipped his drink, unable to fully hide a smile. "Is that what people say?"

"Some." Eve nodded, then winked. "Of course, others say he's a really hot guy who works for a few months over at Fabulous, and the night after the last gig over there, he comes here to find release."

At the mention of Fabulous, Xander choked on his drink. "Sounds more logical that the story about a ghost." Xander commented, grabbing a napkin and wiping his chin.

Eve grabbed a rag and wiped up the few drops that had fallen on the bar. "But all the stories agree that he only drops by one night, and is never seen around here until the next year." She draped the rag over one shoulder and shot Xander a penetrating look. "So I find myself wondering what could make a legend break his habit and not only show up once, but twice off schedule?" Xander glanced at the center of the dance floor, and Eve followed his gaze. "Perhaps the tales of a jilted lover's revenge weren't so far off after all."

Xander chuckled, taking another sip. "No jilting yet. Just a bit of a testosterone contest to see who's the alpha around here."

Eve leaned over the bar, close enough so that she could whisper and still be heard. "To the casual observer, it looks like he's winning." Oz and Spike were pressed so close together, peas in pods were jealous.

Xander smirked, lowering his voice to a matching whisper. "The casual observer hasn't seen the second act."

Eve raised her eyebrow, but Xander just sipped his drink.

~*~

Spike and Oz struck a pose on the final note of the song, and their impromptu audience clapped their approval. The moment the song was over, Buffy gave Lindsey a quick apologetic smile.

"Gotta go. Thanks for the dance - it was fun." With that she was gone, threading her way through the crowd.

"No problem." Lindsey murmured to himself, watching her go.

Breaking through the last row of onlookers, Buffy stalked up to her best friend. "Talk. Now." Buffy growled, grabbing Spike's wrist and dragging him off the dance floor.

~*~

"Showtime." Xander whispered to Eve, setting his glass on the bar. Passing Faith who was still standing nearby, he grabbed her hand for a quick squeeze before releasing it and heading towards the center of the dance floor where his quarry was. Xander approached Oz from behind, as the crowd began to pair off and dance again.

"Chain chain chain..." A sultry woman's voice came over the speakers as the next song began, "Chain of fools..."

"Oz." Xander said, and Oz turned around. "May I have this dance?" It was time to put his plan into action.

Oz looked surprised, but he quickly masked the emotion. "Sure." The song was easy to groove to, and Xander couldn't stop his hips from moving. Apparently, nether could Oz, his hips a mirror of Xander's movements. Xander swayed in place, barely three feet away from Oz, watching his movements. His gaze rose to Oz's eyes, recognizing the challenge there and responding in kind with his acceptance.

Oz's body seemed to melt, flowing in mid-air with the music. ~For years, I thought you were my man.~ Xander easily kept up, not copying Oz's moves but instead dancing a smooth counter-step. Oz began to smile as he realized Spike's new toy was a bit more of a dancer than he let on. This would be fun. ~But I found out I'm just a link in your chain.~ Oz dipped low, crouched and writhing for a moment before slowly rising again. Xander used the opportunity to seize command of the dance and slowly circled Oz, stopping to face Oz just as Oz was standing again. ~You got me where you want me, I ain't nothing but your fool.~ Xander turned, his back to Oz's front as his shoulders and hips rolled, forcing Oz to copy the movements. He pulled off a complicated swivel, glancing over his shoulder to see Oz echo the swivel perfectly. ~You treat me mean, oh, you treat me cruel.~

~*~

Faith looked around the club. Xander was dancing right into something dangerous and potentially life-threatening, and Buffy had disappeared yet again.

"Wanna dance?" Long dark hair spilled over an ample bosom belonging to the woman on Faith's right, dressed in a slinky dark red gown. She smiled invitingly.

"Sorry." Faith said, "But I'm kinda here with someone."

The woman shrugged and wandered off, and Faith sipped her drink.

~*~

"What were you thinking?" Buffy demanded, having literally and figuratively backed Spike into a corner. The euphoria of the dance was quickly wearing off, and Spike was coming up short on answers to appease Buffy. "I'll tell you what! You weren't! You weren't thinking at all!"

"Xan said it was okay." Spike countered lamely, knowing it was no excuse.

Sure enough... "That's no excuse!" Buffy exclaimed. "You should know better than to abandon your boyfriend to have vertical sex with your ex!"

"It wasn't vertical..." Spike paused, "...it was just a dance."

Buffy sighed. "You still shouldn't have. You know how much of an effect Oz has on you. One minute everything's fine, and the next you're neck-deep in wackiness."

"I know." Spike said, looking sheepish. "I didn't mean... was he watching the dance?"

"Yup." Buffy replied. "Last I saw him, he was stewing by the bar, looking fit to chew nails."

"I should go to him." Spike started walking past Buffy, but she grabbed his arm.

"Wait a minute, buster. I'm not done with you yet."

Spike sighed, turning around to face the firing squad.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 8: Surprise you to find that I'm laughing. You thought that you'd find me in tears. You thought I'd be climbing the walls like a tiny mosquito and trembling in fear...

Oz danced around Xander's body, until he could press his back against Xander's chest. He reached behind to grab Xander's hips, once again assuming the lead. ~Chain chain chain, chain of fools...~

Xander almost laughed, knowing that Oz thought himself in charge, if only for a moment. ~Every chain has got a weak link~ Wrapping his fingers around Oz's wrists, he squeezed. To all outward appearances it looked like Xander was merely keeping Oz's hands on his hips, but only Xander heard the hissed intake of breath as Oz bit back a yelp of pain.

Oz was beginning to wonder if he'd underestimated Spike's new toy. Xander looked like nothing more than a flavor of the month, but he could dance, and apparently wasn't a virgin to inflicting pain, either. Oz smiled, despite the stabs of pain that were shooting up his arms. Maybe he was Spike's type after all. ~I might be weak but I feel the strain, oh yeah.~

~You tell me to leave you alone.~ The woman's voice crooned over the speakers. By this time the crowd had noticed Oz and Xander and had backed off, giving them room to dance in the middle of a large circle of gyrating bodies. None of the new observers, however, saw anything wrong when Xander used his grip to lift Oz's hands off his hips, pulling Oz's arms straight and taut at their sides. Xander kept up the tension until Oz groaned faintly at the prolonged strain, and then released his wrists. Oz automatically began to rub the feeling back into his wrists, so he almost lost his balance when Xander spun him around. Xander's hands kept him from falling over, one on his hip and the other on the side of his neck where it curved into the shoulder. Xander leaned close to whisper in Oz's ears, his fingers digging deep into Oz's flesh. ~but your loving is much too strong~

~*~

~one of these mornings the chain is going to break~

The song was half-over, and Buffy still hadn't turned up. Faith scanned the room, and finally caught sight of a familiar blonde head in a far corner, not too far away from a familiar scalp. Buffy was obviously mad about something, if her wild gestures were any indication. As much as Faith hated missing a chance to dance with her girl, she was glad Buffy was doing such a good, if unwitting, job distracting Spike from what was going on in the middle of the dance floor.

Crossing her arms, she turned her gaze back on the dance floor. Xander Harris had left the building; that much was obvious. The man out there strutting his stuff and playing the audience was Happy Harry through and through. She could see Harry in the sway of hips that made the other clubbers swoon, and in the smirk that curved his lips wickedly. It was Harry's touch that could either ignite or injure flesh on a whim, his fingers that could either caress or crush. The only thing left that was still Xander was that protective streak, but Harry twisted and warped it for himself, to serve his needs.

One of these days she was going to kill J.T. for turning her best friend into a monster. Faith drained the last swallow of her drink and set the empty bottle on the bar top, where it was collected by Eve on her next pass. Faith sighed. As much as she hated what J.T. had done, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty herself. After all, if she hadn't made such a horrible girlfriend choice, Xander would've never had to...

Faith shook her head sharply, refusing to go there. Still, she couldn't dredge up even the smallest amount of guilt for the bruises she knew Oz would be wearing tomorrow.

~*~

As Lindsey watched Xander and Oz battle on the dance floor, he briefly wondered if he was wrong about Oz and Spike, and if this trip wasn't more about getting new lays than it was about reclaiming an ex. Because if Oz was really going after Spike, wouldn't he be targeting Buffy more instead of going after Xander? For a moment Lindsey wondered if he had made wrong assumptions somewhere, if maybe it wasn't Buffy who Spike was with now, but Xander. That would explain the pissing contest going on right now... Lindsey considered this possibility.

Nah. No way.

Xander was a nice guy and all, but from what Lindsey knew from their conversations online, he was more than a bit of a player. If Spike and Xander were together, it wouldn't be ten minutes before Xander was moving on to another trick and Oz would be free to scoop up what was left of Spike. No, for Oz to be so worried that he danced in his fucking harem outfit yesterday, he had to be a little bit scared of not being able to get Spike back, which meant Spike had to be so far out of his reach that he was swinging the other way and banging that Buffy chick. Well, two can play at that game.

~*~

~but up until evening I'm gonna take all I can take.~

"Spike is mine now. Stay the fuck away from him."

Oz blinked in shock. Xander threw his head back in mock-pleasure, grinding his hips into Oz's. A few people in the crowd hooted and called out encouragement, and Xander let out a low moan which made several people cheer. Oz narrowed his eyes, knowing from intimate contact that the moan had to be fake because there was no hardness being ground into his groin. Xander bowed his head to lick Oz's ear from lobe to shell, before whispering, "I swear to fucking God. You go near him and I will gut you. There won't be pieces big enough to identify your body."

Xander withdrew, smiling sweetly into Oz's stunned eyes. "We clear?" he asked lightly, still dancing.

Oz had to force his body to keep moving to the music. Surprise faded into intrigue as Oz fearlessly kept eye-contact with Xander. "Crystal."

They finished the song dancing face-to-face, both wearing the friendliest of smiles, neither willing to turn their back on the other now that the stakes had been raised.

~*~

~Chain chain chain...~

"What did Faith think about the dance?" Spike asked, trying to either calm Buffy down or distract her with thoughts of the girl she would be dancing with as soon as she let him go.

Buffy trailed off mid-rant, struck mute for a moment. "... I don't know."

Spike quirked an eyebrow. "You don't?" She couldn't tell what Faith was thinking when she was standing less than a foot away from the woman? Since when?

"I wasn't dancing with Faith," Buffy said, almost too quietly to hear over the loud music.

"Who were you dancing with then?" Spike wondered aloud.

"Lindsey," she admitted.

Spike whistled. "So here you are, chewing me out because I danced with Oz, and you didn't even have the excuse of a handsome ex to blame on why you weren't dancing with your date. That's rich."

"It's not the same." Buffy claimed, "You were dancing with your ex, which is a recipe for disaster, while I was just dancing with a stranger while I waited for the song to be over. Faith and I dance with strangers all the time."

"But only when the other one is dancing too." Spike pointed out. "Was Faith dancing?"

Suddenly Buffy found her shoes fascinating. "No."

Spike hugged her. "I promise I won't dance with Lindsey, okay?" He heard the song end, and let go. "As long as you promise not to miss another song with Faith, okay?"

"Okay." Buffy said, letting him past her towards the bar.

~*~

Xander leaned his back against the bar. "Hey F."

"Harry." Faith replied, and Xander stuck his tongue out at her.

"Spike?" Xander asked, looking around the club for his lover.

"Didn't see a thing." Faith assured him. "Buffy was so busy tearing into him about something that they both missed the entire show."

"Groovy." Xander winked at Eve, who was pouring a shot of tequila at the other side of the bar. A few moments later a cool glass brushed his hand and he picked it up without even looking at it. "Thanks, babe."

"Anytime." Eve set a Smirnoff in front of Faith, and was off filling another order by the time the glass made it to his lips. Faith picked up the bottle and took a long swig before leaving the bar to find Buffy. She'd be damned if she'd let her girlfriend skip another song.

"Sorry I missed the last dance." Spike said, walking up to stand beside Xander. "Buffy had to... talk. Did I miss anything?"

Xander savored the mouthful of alcohol for a moment, before letting it flow down his throat. "Nope," he said, turning his head to kiss Spike.

Across the room, Oz watched them, flexing his fingers to get the feeling back.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 9: She's beautiful as usual with bruises on her ego and a killer instinct tells her to be aware of evil men...

The days right after a holiday were the worst, Buffy decided as she carried a stack of Halloween-themed books from the back of the store to the clearance table and affixed a tiny sticker to each book. She almost envied Spike for having the day off, but then she remembered how much he'd worked yesterday hauling crates of Halloween books into the back storage area of the store.

Buffy looked around for any customers that might need help or be ready to checkout soon, but the store was dead. She put the clearance stickers behind the front counter and wandered into the back of the store for a moment's break. Grabbing a soda from the fridge, she popped the tab and leaned against the door jam of the manager's office. "What's up, boss?"

Willow's head was propped on one hand while she made notes on a sheet of paper with another. "Nothing much. How's the transition going?"

"Pretty good. Just finished filling up the gaps in clearance." Buffy took a drink of her soda. "There're a couple Thanksgiving displays and decorations that still aren't done yet, but they shouldn't take too long. You okay?"

"Yeah." Willow said, rubbing her temples. "Just a bit of a headache."

Buffy winked, "Still recovering from Samhain?"

"I wish," Willow rolled her eyes. "No, these expense reports always give me a migraine."

"Sucks to be you." Buffy grinned as Willow stuck her tongue out at her. "Need any help?"

"No, I'll be okay." Willow said. "Go get to work on those displays. I want them up before we close, okay?"

"Consider it done." Buffy said, draining the last of her soda and tossing the can in the trash.

"Oh, Buffy?" Willow called, and Buffy ducked her head back into the office. "There was a halo around the moon last night, so be careful, okay? Trouble's on its way."

There was the soft ding of the doorbell, and Buffy's gaze caught on the security camera's display to the left of Willow's desk, which depicted a very familiar person walking into the store. Trouble's already here. Buffy thought to herself. "Will do." Buffy headed back to the front counter, only to be stopped halfway through the store.

"Hey." Oz said casually, as if he had every right to be in the one Barnes and Noble where Spike and Buffy worked.

"Hey." Buffy replied, her voice notably colder that usual. "Can I help you with something?"

"Is Spike here?" Oz glanced around the store, before returning his gaze to Buffy.

"He's off today." Buffy replied shortly, brushing past him. Oz followed her, leaning against the front counter as she walked around behind it. Lindsey stood a few feet away, browsing though the stacks of clearance books. "I'll let him know you dropped by."

"You do that." Oz said. Buffy grabbed a stack of Thanksgivingesque decals and tape, and began taping the pumpkins and cartoon turkeys to the wall and counter.

A minute passed and Oz showed no sign of leaving. "So, how are things?"

Buffy slapped a decal to the wall with a little more force than was strictly necessary, and turned to face Oz. "What do you want?"

Oz shrugged. "A guy can't check up on old friends while he's in town?"

"Not a guy like you." Buffy retorted. "Spike's very happy now, so why don't you leave him alone?"

"Where would the fun be in that?" Oz smiled, then walked over to the coffee shop corner of the store. Buffy went back to putting up decorations, muttering under her breath. After a moment, Lindsey approached the counter.

"I'm sorry about him." Lindsey said quietly.

Buffy sighed. "Not your fault. He's always been like that." She managed a tired smile, "Is there anything I can help you with?"

"Want to get a coffee sometime?" Lindsey asked, setting a guitar magazine on the counter and pulling his wallet out of his back pocket.

Buffy blinked, her hands moving automatically to scan the magazine and ring up the purchase. "I'm sorry?"

Lindsey's smile was fully of charm and friendliness. "You. Me. Coffee?"

Buffy couldn't help feeling a little better. She might be gay now, but it was still a boost to the ego to be hit on by a hot guy. "I'm sorry, but no. I'm kinda seeing someone..."

"I know." Lindsey cut her off, chuckling as he handed over his credit card. "I didn't mean it like that. It's just... you seemed stressed and I thought a free drink might go a little ways in cheering you up. No strings attached."

"That's sweet." Buffy's smile was a little more natural now, a little brighter as she swiped his card and handed him the receipt. "I'll think about it."

"Okay." Lindsey signed for the transaction. When she reached for the slip of paper, he took her hand and turned it over, quickly scrawling his phone number in pen on the inside of her wrist. "Call me anytime."

"Maybe." Buffy said, taking her hand back when he was done and sliding his magazine into a bag. The trained words flowed out of her mouth as she handed him the bag. "Thanks for shopping at Barnes and Noble."

"You're welcome." Lindsey said with a wink.

~*~

"Large mocha with extra whipped cream." Oz ordered. His long sleeve rode up a little as he handed over cash, and Faith couldn't help smiling a little at the hint of darkened flesh that peeked out from under the fabric. Oz caught her smile but not the cause of it. "Something amusing?"

Faith rang up the order and handed Oz his change. "He really did a number on you last night, didn't he?" she said as she mixed his drink.

Oz stuck his change in his pocket, eyes narrowing as he remembered seeing her talking to Xander at the club. "He do that often?"

"Only when people deserve it." Faith replied, setting the finished drink down on the counter in front of Oz.

"You know this from personal experience, Faith?" he asked, reading her nametag.

"I've seen it before." Faith made small adjustments to the hot drink lid stack, so that all of the tabs on the lids were facing the same way.

Oz tore back the little drinking latch on the lid of his mocha. "You a close personal friend of Xander's?"

Faith crossed her arms over her chest. "Why do you want to know?"

Oz shrugged, blowing on his mocha and taking a sip. "Just making conversation."

"Is that what people are calling it these days," Faith smirked. "And here I thought you were trying to pump me for information."

"Six to one, half dozen the other," Oz admitted, not ashamed at all to be called on his guise. "Since we're being blunt about things, what does Xander do for a living?"

Faith's eyebrow rose. "And I should tell you, why?"

"Just making sure he's good enough for my Spike." Oz said smoothly. "I'll find out even if you don't tell me."

"Perhaps." Faith replied, "But I don't have to be the one to tell you. And he's not 'Your Spike' anymore."

Oz laughed. "He'll always be my Spike. He could spend the rest of his life with Xander, but there will always be a little bit of me tucked in there that no one will ever be able to get rid of."

Faith looked across the store at Buffy, who happened to be looking at her. They held eye contact for a moment, before Buffy turned her attention back to Lindsey. Faith frowned, before looking at Oz. "Is there anything else I can get for you, or are you just hanging around to piss me off?"

"Neither." Oz raised the cup to his lips to take another sip, and paused. "Should I be worried about you poisoning my mocha?" He teased her.

Faith smiled innocently, "Oh, believe me. If I wanted to kill you, there are much more painful ways to do it."

"I can see why you're friends with Xander." Oz said, sipping his drink.

~*~

Faith was eating lunch in the employee break room when Buffy's break started. "Hey love." Buffy kissed Faith before sitting down next to her.

"Hey darling." Faith replied, sliding a cup of hot chocolate over to her girlfriend. "How's work treating you?"

"Horrible." Buffy took the drink gratefully, downing half of the comfort beverage in one long pull. "Why Thanksgiving is such a big book holiday, I have no idea."

Faith smiled sympathetically, "Well, aside from all the recipe books and books about decorations, there's all those novels about the history of the Pilgrims and Native Americans."

"Yeah, I guess." The warm chocolaty feeling was spreading through her torso and Buffy slowed down a little, sipping the drink more sedately.

"Is Lindsey as good a conversationalist as he is a dancer?" Faith asked, and Buffy choked on the hot chocolate. Faith patted her back as she coughed for a moment.

"I beg you pardon?" Buffy said when she was able to speak again.

"I saw you two talking." Faith said, fiddling with a napkin.

Buffy looked at her like she was crazy. "Of course I was talking to him, he bought a magazine. But he's just a customer."

Faith twitched, Buffy's words and her own discomfort calling forth a memory.

"Doesn't J.T. get jealous when you kiss other guys?" Faith asked, sitting at the kitchen table.

Xander sat next to her, peeling an orange. She can still remember the citrus smell in the air. "Nope. Whatever we do at the club is just work. It doesn't matter how much I kiss Percy, in the end he's just a customer."

Faith shook her head, forcing her mind back to the present. "Sorry, I just got a little jealous for a moment there."

"It's okay." Buffy smiled and kissed her. She tasted like chocolate and Faith took her time exploring that wonderful warm mouth. A coworker's cough broke them apart. They grinned at each other, but after a moment Buffy's face turned more serious. "I noticed you talking to Oz, too," she paused, considering her words carefully. "Be careful around him, okay? Oz tends to breed chaos, and it's worse now than it was before he left."

"I figured as much." Faith said, cleaning up the remains of her lunch. "No offense, but I don't trust him."

Buffy snorted. "None taken. I don't trust him either." She swallowed the last of the hot chocolate, and stood up. "I think he's after Spike, but I'm afraid he might try to intimidate Xander into backing off, and it might get dangerous." Her back was to Faith as she walked over to the hot chocolate machine, so she didn't see the slight quirk of Faith's lips.

"Oh, I'm sure Xander can take care of himself," Faith said.

Buffy put her cup under the dispenser and pressed a button. The machine whirled to life and a stream of hot chocolate poured into her cup. "Yeah, I just don't want there to be a confrontation."

"Some things can't be avoided." Faith glanced behind Buffy. "Um, you might want to step away from that..."

Confused, Buffy turned to see that her cup was overflowing into the tray underneath, but the tray was almost full and the dispenser wasn't showing any signs of stopping. Jumping back, she grabbed a large cup from the stack next to the machine just as the tray began to overflow onto the floor. Shoving the cup under the flow, she grabbed another cup to replace the first one when it filled up. Faith jumped up from her seat and hurried over to Buffy's side. The coworker who had interrupted their kiss rushed out of the room in search of a mop.

"Turn it off! Turn it off!" Buffy exclaimed, hissing a little when some of the hot liquid splashed on her hands.

"How?" Faith demanded, pushing random buttons on the dispenser. One of them must have been the right one, and the machine gurgled to a stop, but not before it spewed one last time, catching Buffy across the chest. Faith burst out laughing.

"This isn't funny." Buffy said, both hands holding full cups of steaming liquid while hot chocolate soaked into her shirt. She began giggling too.

"Maybe Red will let you go home and change?" Faith grabbed a bunch of paper towels and started wiping up the mess on the floor.

Buffy slowly walked the cups over to the sink and dumped them, tossing the empty cups away. "She better."

Faith's watch beeped, and she tossed the sopping towels into the trash. "See you when you get back." she said, leaning over comically as she tried to kiss Buffy without getting any hot chocolate on her clothes before heading out of the break room.

Something inside the hot chocolate machine sputtered, and Buffy glared at it. "One of these days," she told it, "you and me are going to have a talk." She hit it once with her fist and stormed out of the break room.

A moment later, the machine began to whirl again as a thick stream of hot chocolate poured out of the spout.

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 10: To days of inspiration, playing hooky, making something out of nothing. The need to express, to communicate. To going against the grain, going insane, going mad...

"What kind of cookies do you have?" a female voice crackled over the earpiece.

Faith closed her eyes as she recited the list from memory, "Chocolate chip, triple chocolate, oatmeal raison, chocolate caramel pecan, peanut butter, and white chocolate macadamia." She, like every other employee who had been in the company long enough to learn the ropes, was pulling a shift at the new store that had just opened up, helping out until they hired enough employees to handle the traffic themselves.

"What is the triple chocolate?"

She frowned and adjusted her headset, pressing the earpiece closer and covering her bare ear to block out other noises. "I'm sorry; did you say 'what is a triple chocolate cookie'?"

The woman's response was clearer this time, but no less confusing. "Yes."

After a year of working at the steadily growing coffee shop HyperSquirrel, Faith thought she'd been asked every stupid question that existed a million times. But this, this was a new one. Having never thought about it, she was a little too taken aback to form a more coherent answer than, "It's a cookie with three kinds of chocolate."

The customer ended up ordering a latte, and Faith sighed as she watched their car drive away through the small window. If she ever found out who thought a drive-through coffee shop was a good idea, she would strangle them until they saw the error of their ways.

The doorbell jingled and Xander walked in. Faith grinned at the welcome distraction. "We don't want your kind around here."

"Too bad." Xander replied, strolling up to the counter. "Make me a sandwich."

"No." Faith said, even as she walked over to the sandwich area and pulled gloves on. "What's up?"

"Absolutely nothing." Xander replied, draping himself over the chest-high glass divider that separated them. "Unless a tornado rips through the park or a pack of vandals go on a rampage, there's nothing else for me to do on the stage."

Faith looked up at him, her hands automatically cutting a cheese croissant in half and sticking it in the toaster. "So it's that time of year again." Grabbing a plate, she picked up the toasted bread and spread a light layer of butter on both pieces.

"Yup." Xander watched her fold and arrange seven American cheese slices on the croissant." Gonna swing by tonight and ask Angel for my job back. Should have a semester's tuition money by the second week of December at the latest. If I work for him through February per usual I'll be set until next November."

"You planning on telling Spike anytime soon?" Faith placed the top of the croissant on top of the cheese and nuked it. Ringing up a sandwich and soda with her employee discount, she cashed him out and gave him his change.

"Yeah." Xander stuffed his change in his pocket, "Just waiting for the right moment."

"Mmmhmm." The microwave dinged and Faith took the sandwich out and set the dish on the counter, and poured Xander a coke. He picked up his food and grabbed a seat in the lobby, Faith joining him a moment later. "Oz came by B&N yesterday."

"Really." Xander said, sucking on the straw of his drink. "What happened?"

Faith shrugged. "Tried to get some more information about you. Was also doing a half-decent job of hiding his new colorings." There was something slightly Harry-like in the smile that flitted across Xander's face but Faith ignored it. "And the hot chocolate machine flooded the employee break room."

"Just another day at the office, huh?" Xander winked.

"Of course." Faith replied. She took a swig of his drink. "You nervous?"

Xander considered playing dumb, but they both knew what she was taking about. "I always am. You know that."

"At least you'll be able to bait Angel some more."

Xander lit up at the idea. "World's favorite pastime. Remind me to go buy some more pastel stickers by the way - I only had a few left last year."

"Will do." Faith remembered the shock and disgust on Angel's face the first time he found a teddy bear sticker on his desk. Ever since then, Xander had taken to hiding really pathetically cutesy stickers all over his office, which pissed him off to no end. "So, what reason did you give Spike as to why suddenly your evenings are busy?"

"That I was working at the theater. What else could I say?" Xander tore of a chunk of bread and cheese and popped it in his mouth.

Faith snorted. "Nice lie."

"It's not that big of a lie." Xander protested. "There's a stage and lights and speakers."

Faith shook her head. "I could never understand how you could refuse to act and yet excel at stripping. It can't be stage fright, 'cause you get way more attention at Fabulous."

"I prefer the term exotic dancing." Xander said, continuing to eat.

Faith raised her eyebrow. "You prefer to avoid the issue."

"Damn your astuteness." Xander took a deep breath and tried to explain, "When you're acting, you have to lose yourself and become this other person. But dancing is like the complete opposite. When I dance, everything else disappears, and it's just me and the music. I can be completely myself."

"Yeah, while an audience of men drool at your completeness." Faith snorted. Xander punched her playfully in the shoulder.

"Hey, I never said dancing didn't have its perks." Xander finished his sandwich and wiped his hands with a napkin. "Changing the topic: I want to show you something. It's in the trunk."

"One sec, let me get my jacket." Faith said as she ducked into the back. The weather was getting steadily cooler, and her uniform wasn't made out of the warmest fabric ever. She met him out by his car, where he was unrolling some blueprint-like papers on his trunk. "What is this?"

"It's a desk." Xander traced the edges of the drawing with his fingertips. "I'm thinking of building it for Spike, to give him somewhere to write."

"Kinda early for a Christmas present, isn't it?" Faith admired the design. It would be a beautiful desk when it was finished.

"It'll take a while to make." Xander replied. "But I think he'll like it. I hope so, anyways."

"Where will it go?" Faith wrapped her jacked a little tighter against the cold.

"I measured it to fit in that one space in Spike and Buffy's place, you know, where there's that little alcove with nothing in it. But if you stand there and stay really quiet, then when someone walks by and you jump out and yell 'BOO!í your victim shits him or herself."

Faith gave him a teasing smile. "And then she beats the shit out of you."

"I said I was sorry!" Xander pouted and Faith laughed. "Anyway, I figure the desk will be a nice gift for Spike and a peace offering for Buffy. Now I won't be able to hide there anymore unless I scrunch up really small."

"And if worse comes to worst, you can always hide behind the desk when Buffy decides to maul you." Faith suggested.

"Exactly!" Xander exclaimed, hugging her. "I knew you'd understand. You're like me, but with boobies and a strange attraction to women."

"Um, yeah." Faith was going to continue to help Xander avoid Buffy's wrath while engaging in the hysterical practice of startling her, when a car pulled through the parking lot and into the drive-thru. From where she was standing, she could hear the order-microphone's automatic message activate.

"IT'S HYPERSQIRREL HYPERDRIVE TIIIIIIIME!"

Faith winced. She really, really hated this drive-thru. "Gotta run, customer waits."

"Okay." Xander gave here a quick hug. "Be good. Don't murder the customers or invite Buffy over to christen the storage area."

"Storage area?" Faith smirked, "That's for amateurs. We've got a walk-in freezer, baby."

Xander scrunched his face. "Too cold for me. It'd be like doing it outside in this weather." Faith's smirk got bigger, and Xander groaned, knowing that she was imagining holding a trial with Buffy to compare and contrast locations. "If you do end up doing it in the freezer, please don't tell me about it. I'd like to keep my delusions when I eat and not think about the box of frozen croissants being defiled."

"Well, if you really want to know what happens to the frozen croissants-"

"LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU!" Xander started yelling, covering his ears with his hands.

"Wimp."

"Hello?" A male voice echoed as Faith heard it both outside and in her headset.

Faith grabbed the battery pack at her waist and held down the first button while she talked. "Welcome to HyperSquirrel, home of the twitchiest coffee on the planet. How can I excite you?" Xander muffled his laughter and she rolled her eyes, walking back inside the store and behind the counter.

"What muffins do you have?"

Faith leaned against the counter and eyed the shelves of baked goods. "Blueberry, low-fat blueberry, low-fat cranberry, berry bran, chocolate chip, fruit blast, fresh strawberry, and banana nut."

"I'll take a low-fat blueberry and a low-fat banana."

Closing her eyes, Faith asked the guy on the other end of the microphone to repeat his order, but it turned out she hadn't misheard. Faith inhaled slowly to keep her patience as she shrugged off her jacket and set it behind the counter on her way towards the drive-thru window. "I'm sorry, but we don't have a low-fat banana. We have low-fat blueberry, low-fat cranberry, and banana nut, but the banana nut isn't low-fat."

"Oh," the customer considered his dilemma. "I guess I'll have a low-fat blueberry and a banana nut muffin."

Faith rang up the order, cashed out the customer, and gave him his muffins. "Have a Hyperiffic day!" she said, a large fake grin on her face. The moment the car pulled away the grin was gone. She turned around to see Xander standing by the front counter, clapping.

"Award-winning performance," he proclaimed, "Exquisite acting. You'll win the Emmy for that one."

Faith grinned genuinely and curtsied, before walking back over to grab her jacket from where it was laying across a coffee burner that was never used. A moment after she picked it up her mind registered a strange heat coming from the jacket. She looked closer.

"Uhhhhhh!"

"What?" Xander walked around the side of the counter to see what was wrong.

"It's melted!" Faith cried, holding the jacket up for his inspection. Where the jacket had been lying over the burner, the plastic zipper had melted and curled in on itself.

"Wow." Xander breathed. "That's quite possibly the freakiest work-related problem I've ever heard of anyone having. And I'm a male stripper for chrissake." He paused, examining it again. "Why did you lay it over the burner again?"

"Because this one is never used!" Faith's voice quickly escalated in the wake of the travesty. "It's broken and it always overflows and it's NEVER USED!"

"Well, that's no excuse." Xander said calmly. "Just because you expect the burner to always be dormant doesn't mean it won't melt the zipper of your favorite jacket at the nearest available opportunity."

Faith glared at him. "Shut up now or I'm locking you in the freezer while Buffy and I do it on top of the croissant box."

Xander's brain burned with the horrifying mental image. "AHHH!"

~*~

Black jeans, dark green t-shirt. Old black leather jacket that had been broken in to perfection. Xander dressed in clothes darker than his usual in preparation for not just the night's destination, but the journey as well. Spike had gone back to his apartment, so there was no one to see Xander dig out a wooden box from the back of his closet.

Opening the lid, Xander looked at the item inside with a mixture of reverence and repulsion. He trailed his fingers along the shiny blade, down the dark green handle. He picked the large knife off of its cushion and held it, letting his hand remember the feel and weight of it. With a long-practiced motion, he slid the knife into its sheath, and stuck the sheath into his waistband before putting the box away.

~*~

Xander walked quickly down the street, his attention focused on his surroundings. This was occasionally a dangerous area to walk around in at night, and as if to prove it, Xander felt a presence step out of the shadows and walk behind him. Before Xander could turn around or grab his weapon, there was a hand on his shoulder and a knife at his throat. He froze, stumbling forward as his attacker nudged him into a dark alley. A sharp tug on his shoulder and Xander stilled again, his Adamís apple bobbing against the blade as he swallowed hard.

"Alexander Harris," his attacker said with dark amusement in his voice, "I thought I told you never to come around here again." The blade pressed harder against his throat, not yet breaking skin but ready to slice open his larynx if Xander so much as blinked wrong. "Some people just have to tempt fate."

The attacker leaned close and his warm breath tickled Xander's ear, a startling contrast to the cold, sharp metal and the cold, dangerous voice. "Wanna play?"

~~~~~***~~~~~

Chapter 11: I grabbed an old stiletto, started stabbing in the dark. I can't live without it, I would surely fall apart...

"Oh come now," Xander replied, voice even despite the racing of his heart. "What kind of boy do you take me for? You're going to have to do better than accost me if you want in my pants, mister."

The attacker chuckled, the hand that was on Xander's shoulder sliding down his chest until the tips of his fingers dipped beneath the hem of Xander's jeans. "Is that so? You want to be wined and dined?"

"For starters. Then there's flowers too, and moonlit walks on the beach. But you mineswell save the trouble," Xander's hands rose to clasp each of his attacker's wrists, stilling the hand that was creeping down his jeans and pulling away the hand holding the knife, "I'm not your type."

The hands, including the one still holding the knife, withdrew, and Xander let them. "You're right. I would never fuck your slut ass."

"Hey!" Xander turned, his hand automatically coming up to rub his throat where it'd almost been severed. "That's not nice! I never called your ass slutty..." he smirked at his attacker, "...to your face."

"That's because you were always envious of me," the other man returned the smirk, and shimmied his hips, "and my ass. Admit it. You've wanted me since the first night we danced together."

"Jack O'Toole!" Xander replied in falsetto, mock-swooning with the back of his hand pressed to his forehead, "You've seen right through me, to all my hidden desires!" He grabbed Jack's bicep with both hands and clung to it, continuing in the falsetto voice, "I can't deny my lust for you for another second! Take me! Take me now!"

"Not if you were the last guy on this planet." Jack laughed, shaking Xander off.

"You wound me." Xander theatrically sighed, his hands clasped over his heart. "How shall I ever go on?"

"Knock it off, man. You're creeping me out."

"Says the guy with the big scary knife." Xander grinned, but dropped the act. "It's nice to see you again, Jack. And Katie too."

Jack slipped the knife into a sheath on his belt. "Never leave home without her." he said, patting the sheath affectionately before narrowing his eyes at Xander. "Where's your girl? Woulda though you'd've had her out before I was within a foot of you."

"I knew it was you. I just thought I'd let you have your fun." Xander winked, reaching back and pulling his own knife out of its sheath, the blade glinting in the dim light. "As if I would walk around this neighborhood unarmed."

"I knew you knew better than that." Jack said, and Xander scoffed. "So, stranger, what brings you back to this neck of the woods? You gonna start working at the club again?"

Xander half-shrugged. "Probably. That time of year again, and I don't have any better offers."

"Damn." Jack slung a friendly arm across Xander's shoulders and they walked out of the alley towards the club. "There goes half of my tips."

"Aww, come on." Xander poked Jack in the side. "You know you love the competition."

"Yeah, I love it like I love syphilis."

~*~

The door to the Fabulous Ladies' Night Club was as always, discreet and unremarkable. The neon sign glowed, as steady and permanent a feature as the stoic man standing under said sign.

"Lurch!" Xander greeted the bouncer, shaking his hand.

"Xander." Luke sighed. "When are you going to stop calling me something from the dammed Munsters?"

"When you stop looking like Frankensteinís kid brother. And it's from the Addams Family, not the Munsters."

"Whatever." Luke opened the door for them. "At least I know that Frankenstein was the doctor and not the monster."

"You are truly a scholar among drudges." Xander replied as he and Jack entered the club. The door led to a short hallway he and Jack had designed years ago, where the walls and floor were flame-resistant and black, and from above shone special UV black lights. Once they were through the hallway unharmed, Luke closed the front door and resumed his post.

"One test over." Xander murmured. "Now I just gotta face-off with Angel." They walked through the club, Xander greeting the people he knew as he passed. Riley was sitting on the stage, flipping though a stack of CDs. They exchanged nods, and Xander knocked on Angel's office door.

"As if Angel could ever say no to you." Jack chuckled.

~*~

"No." Angel didn't even look up from the papers on his desk.

Xander wasn't fazed. "Yes. You know the drill. I work for four months, spend the rest of the year exercising my brain, just in time to come back in November when people are clamoring to see Happy Harry again." Jack had gone to the dressing room to change, leaving Xander alone to shift the world's most unmovable rock.

"No."

Xander shrugged, turning to scan the bookshelves in Angel's office. Behind the little figurine of Grumpy Bear from the Care Bears Xander found the bottle of fish food. He took his prize over to the tank against the wall where a goldfish was swimming back and forth.

"Don't feed her; you'll make her sick." Angel grumbled.

"Pfft. She knows Uncle Xander always gives her a treat." Xander sprinkled a pinch of fish food into the tank, and then leaned down so he was eye-level with the goldfish. "Hey, Betsy girl. This big lug treating you right?"

"She's fine." Angel replied under his breath, but still loud enough to hear. "She still has that fucking castle you got for her, doesn't she?"

Xander watched as Betsy ate some of the flakes of food and then swam inside the small castle figurine in her tank. The castle itself was painted a flamboyantly bright pink, and had a large rainbow emblazoned on the side. A moment later she swam out again and started swimming in lazy circles around the tank. "I'm surprised you haven't thrown it away." Angel hated pink; you could've powered ten mad scientists' Death Rays with the look Angel had given him when he first got it for Betsy.

Angel grunted in response. Xander waited, lifting his eyebrow for an explanation. "I tried." Angel muttered finally, "She missed it, so I put it back." Xander covered his mouth with a hand and choked trying to hold back giggles.

Angel glared at him. "Shut up."

Xander removed his hand, revealing a smile that threatened to turn into a laugh. "Not saying a word," he said. "So, when do I start?"

"You don't." Angel said, stacking the papers in a neat pile and standing up. "I've got plenty of dancers right now and I don't need your smart ass back here stirring up trouble." He walked out of his office.

Xander followed on his heels. "When have I ever stirred up trouble?"

Angel stopped. He turned to face Xander who was wearing an expression of pure innocence. "Does the fire in the kitchen that destroyed half of the frozen goods ring any bells?"

"Oh yeah. Oops."

"Plus the gerbil incident last year, after which I had to replace three bar stools."

"I'd forgotten about that..."

"Not to mention the time Riley got sick after eating those chocolate-covered ants."

"Come on, that wasn't my fau-"

"Trying to REPRESS!" Riley yelled from the stage.

"And that time you replaced the dead smoke detector batteries with potatoes an hour before the inspector was due to show up."

"Which did in fact work, I might add." Xander cut him off. "But you're forgetting one thing: the shitloads of money you get when I'm on stage."

Angel crossed his arms, the thin line of his lips and every fiber of his being emitting an imposing vibe.

Xander bounced on the balls of his feet and slapped Angel's back. "C'mon, boss-man!"

Angel sighed. "Fine." he relented, "You're back. I'll put you on the schedule for tomorrow night right after Jack, okay? Now make yourself useful or get the fuck out of my club." Angel stormed back into his office and slammed the door behind him, completely unaware of the new addition to his wardrobe: a small sticker depicting a pair of pink ballet slippers that was now affixed to the center of his back.

"Aren't you a sight for sore eyes. Welcome back." A voice said behind him, and Xander turned to see a woman wiping down tables, her dark green hair tied back in a thick braid that reached her waist. A ladder of thin silver hoops climbed the cartilage of each ear, while a green-balled bar was stuck through her left eyebrow. Green henna tattoos covered her arms and what little of her chest showed above a gray tank top. Her floor-length dark green skirt didn't show even an inch of skin, but Xander knew from experience that the designs on her upper half continued all the way down. Vert might be the head chef of the Fabulous Ladies' Night Club, but once a month she still put on the best show in town as Pierced Ivy.

"Vert!" Xander hugged her, "It's great to be back. Nothing like Angel's sunshiny attitude to make the day brighter."

Vert laughed. "It's no wonder he's surly. He got at least three call this week from people asking when you were going to be back."

Xander chuckled. "Ah, my adoring public can't get enough. Gotta keep them hanging so they always want more."

"Don't I know it." Vert swatted him with the rag in her hand. "Now help me move these tables. Ri's trying something new in his act and he wants them out of the way."

Just as he touched the first table, a mighty roar came from Angel's office. "XANDER!" Apparently he didn't like pink ballet slippers.

Xander cracked up laughing as he followed Vert's orders. It was good to be home.

~*~

To Be Continued...

~~~~~***~~~~~

This fic is a sequel to "Gotta Get It"

Click here to read Xander's prequel: "Behind the Scenes"

Click here to read Spike's prequel: "Facade"

Back to "Big Maypole Fish Thing"