Disclaimer: Joss is the boss.
Timeline: Alternate season 6, the story takes place in Cordelia's Birthday-verse.
Summary: Success is the best revenge - isn't it? Anya gets a brilliant idea, Spike becomes a beauty expert, Buffy is livid with jealosy, Lydia Chalmers updates her thesis, Giles gets useful tips from Ethan Rayne, general Voll stirs up trouble, while Angel, Cordelia and Wesley investigate a couple of cases in Sunnydale.
Written for Seasonal Spuffy.
A/N: Many thanks to deird1, my wonderful beta who helped me with grammar, style and characters voices. All mistakes are mine. And many thanks to abelina, angearia, gillo, ladyofthelog, rebcake and snickfic for organizing this round and running seasonal_spuffy.
From Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's diary.
May, 18, 2002.
PTB definitely favor us.
Just yesterday, when I was driving Cordelia to Angel's flat after the taping of the new episode of "Cordy!", I mentioned that I need only one more good case to pay the last installment for my new artificial hand. And today I got not one but two cases.
Case #1: Cordy's former high-school friend Anya Jenkins, the owner of the popular beauty parlor "Beauty Bites", wants to investigate money extortions from her employee. Ms. Jenkins calls him Spike the Magnificent, but my research quickly identified him as William the Bloody, who relocated to Sunnydale in 1999, when his paramour Drusilla left him. According to Ms. Jenkins, she pays him $5000 a week - yet all his money seems to disappear. According to her, he still lives in a half-ruined crypt and wears only one pair of jeans. Ms. Jenkins thinks that Spike is being blackmailed into keeping silence. Angel, who knows him well, says Spike most likely loses all his money on kitten poker. Anyway, looks like the case will prove to be relatively easy.
The second case is courtesy of Angel, who's making amazing progress since Cordelia took him under her wing. He got a call from his ex, Buffy Summers. She asked if his (his!) detective agency could investigate the mysterious benefactor who sends her $20,000 the third month in a row. The first time she thought it was her father lulling his guilty conscience. The second time she decided it was a mistake. Now she's afraid she's become the target of some demon conspiracy.
Angel and Cordy offered to go with me. They say I need a cover, so Cordelia is going as a "Beauty Bites" client, Angel - as her bodyguard and I - as her manager.
THREE MONTHS AGO
The bottle was half-empty, the interior of The Magic Box was half-dark, Spike and Anya were half-drunk.
"I'm changing to please him. I care if he cares!" Indignant, Anya looked around as if she expected her unfaithful fiancé Xander Harris to be listening to her accusations. "And I'm off my guard. Happy! I'm singing in the shower and doing my sexy dance!"
"Exactly." Spike thought it over. "I ... have no dance."
Anya downed another shot. "Not the point. I did everything for that man. Was it ever enough? He still thinking about her."
Spike stared at Anya blearily. "Her? Buffy?"
She sniffled. "What's Buffy got to do with it? I'm talking about Cordelia Chase. I can't compete with her. She's a huge TV star, she has her own show and a legion of fans. He told me once that she's the only one of us who achieved real success."
"They say success is the best revenge". Spike smirked and emptied the bottle in one powerful swig. "Do you have more Jack Daniels, love?"
She made a vague gesture in the direction of the counter. "Best revenge," she repeated.
Five minutes later, when Spike found another bottle and brought it to the table, Anya met him with an unexpected smile. "I've figured it out," she declared. "I need a big, fat success to avenge myself. And you will help me, Spike. Here," she took a tabloid magazine from the table. "Listen.
Demi Moore traveled to Austria to undergo a bloodsucking leech treatment in a bid to stay young and healthy. The actress admits she is constantly searching for "the cutting edge in health and healing" and subjected herself to the wacky therapy session during a recent stay at a European spa.
She tells talk show host David Letterman, "A month ago I was in Austria doing a cleanse. And one treatment was leech therapy. These aren't swamp leeches; they were highly trained medical leeches. High level bloodsuckers. It detoxifies your blood. And they have a little enzyme that when they are biting down on you is released in your blood."
"It crawls into your belly button and it bites down and then you relax and you watch it swell up and get fatter and fatter. And when it's super drunk on your blood, it just rolls over like its drunk in a bar. You first feel worse and then you feel better. I'm feeling very detoxified."
(Writer's note: the text is authentic)
"Well?" Anya said.
Spike blinked. "Well, I always thought that the Great Poof lives in LA because it's full of freaks and weirdos. Easy to blend..."
"Not the point. If they enjoy regular leeches -- tiny, ugly and utterly devoid of sex-appeal -- how do you think they would react to a brutally handsome, devastatingly sexy, thoroughly masculine leech -- who is immortal, by the way?"
Spike blinked again. "I don't follow you, love..."
"It's because you're drunk. Can't you see? You'll suck their blood and they'll pay us obscene amounts of money for your services!"
"Trust me," Anya said with conviction. "Human stupidity has no bounds".
...At the Casa Summers, Willow got the feed from the Trio's camera and the Scoobies followed Spike and Anya's conversation, mouths agape.
"No way," Xander murmured, disgusted. "No man or woman in their right mind would let a vampire suck their blood voluntarily... Willow, stop stomping on my feet!"
"...Spike the Magnificent, Sexy Prince of Darkness will help you to stay young and healthy! His immortal enzymes will cleanse your body and soul..." Anya furrowed her brow. "No, not soul. A high percentage of our potential clientele don't have souls... cleanse your body and mind. Okay. 100% guarantee of safety, provided by the government's trailblazing technology, behavioral modification chip..."
"Okay, no need to delve into details," Anya said hastily. "Next we have to posit your expertise in the field. You're a vampire since?.."
"Fantastic! Highly trained blood expert Spike the Magnificent on the market since 1880. He will detoxify your blood, rejuvenate your spirit and reenergize your mind..." Anya scribbled in her notebook furiously. "We must add something about self-esteem. They always talk about self-esteem... Got it! Stay young forever because you're worth it!"
Spike watched her mildly amused. "How much do you plan to charge them?"
Anya smiled brightly.
"The regular hour-long session is one thousand bucks, but our beauty parlor "Beauty Bites" offers generous discounts. Only $500 for a session!"
"You've got to be kidding me. Even humans aren't that stupid."
"We'll see. I'm running an ad in Sunnydale Press tomorrow. All I need is a good photo of you. I'll rent the house next to The Magic Box - its owner was killed recently, so the place is dirt cheap. You'll help me with decoration..."
"Wait-wait-wait. I'm not Harris to order me about."
"But we're partners."
"Then we split the profit fifty-fifty."
Anya stared at him suspiciously. "Since when have you started to care about money, Spike?"
He raised his brow.
"Okay." Anya sighed. "Of course, before splitting the profits I'll deduct the cost of the rent and the electricity, and the ads, and the salary of the personnel - I mean I'm a general director, manager, accountant, receptionist, press-agent and cleaner of "Beauty Bites"..."
Spike wisely decided not to argue. Even after all Anya's deductions and reductions he'd get enough money for his little plan.
TWO MONTHS AGO
Buffy stopped, looked around and sighed. Her stupid feet had led her to "Beauty Bites" again.
She absolutely didn't plan to go here. It was a stupid parlor for idiots with too much money. For vain bimbos who believed that vampire fangs could make them younger and prettier.
A car stopped by.
"Miss, do you know if there is a motel nearby?" The woman behind the wheel smiled nervously. "Tomorrow they will be booking Spike the Magnificent's sessions for the next month, and I drove here all day from Nebraska..."
Buffy gave her directions and dived into The Magic Box to avoid enquiries about Spike the Magnificent's outstanding aptitude.
The place was bustling with activity. Not everybody could afford a session of Spike the Moronicious services, but people willingly bought "Bitey Beauty Skin Cream" with cleansing vampire enzymes that contained the most effective antioxidants to fight wrinkles,"Anti-Aging Deep Penetrating Foaming Moisturizer" based on the vampire saliva to keep your skin firm and your complexion glowing and youthful, "Eternal Youth Anti-Wrinkle cream" prepared from oils of exotic fruit with a unique ingredient - vampire sperm...
"...My older sister had three sessions with Spike the Magnificent," a customer in her forties was telling to her companion. "She's ecstatic about him. She says she never felt so healthy and vigorous. Of course, she can spend five hundred bucks a week on a whimsy - her husband is a Pajit demon."
Buffy turned away from them. It was epically wrong, all those women getting Spike's attention, Spike's smiles, Spike's talented hands and lickable lips...
"She usually asks him to bite her inner thigh", the woman went on. "She says he doesn't drink much. He licks, he savors every drop of her blood and makes her feel special..."
Buffy hastily retreated to another stand before the urge to kill that woman became overpowering. She stared aimlessly at promotional posters with a big picture of Spike - sexy, shirtless, with a seductive smile on his lips.
Buffy narrowed her eyes. Wasn't his smile forced and a bit sad?
"Buffy! Here you are!"
She turned around to discover radiant Anya behind her.
"Let's go to my office. I have a gift basket for you."
"Of course. For your invaluable help in dealing with the Shark demon."
Anya ushered Buffy into a back room and closed the door. "Frankly, I wasn't ready to deal with him when he threatened to dust Spike unless we accepted his offer to become an affiliation of his vampire brothel. Of course, Spike was boasting that he could snap Shark's neck like a twig - except that guy doesn't have a neck. And he knew that Spike wasn't under your protection anymore. So, I was relieved when I heard that you broke all his fins and warned him not to mess with us."
"It was... my job," Buffy murmured. She remembered her cold fury when Tara came back from The Magic Shop and told her about Shark's demands. "He's a dangerous demon, a criminal lord who extorts money from people. I had to stop him. It has nothing to do with you personally. Or your business."
Anya patted her on a shoulder. "Don't be too modest. You practically saved "Beauty Bites" from Shark's mafia. I'd gladly offer you the position of the head of security of "Beauty Bites", but money is tight and I can't afford another employee."
Buffy grinned despite herself. "Your business is thriving."
"Big business - big expenses." Anya sighed. "Besides, I have to pay Spike indecent sums of money to keep him working."
Buffy perked up. "Large sums?"
"It's unfair, isn't it? All he does is suck their blood... well, maybe he does a bit of petting, stroking and pep-talking... Buffy?" Anya pouted. "It's not polite to walk away when I am talking to you."
Buffy got out of "The Magic Box", her cheeks aflame, hands balled into fists. It was absolutely unfair - that some people got indecent sums of money for ridiculously overpriced catering for the rich idiots, while other people worked double shifts in Doublemeat Palace for next-to-nothing.
Speaking of next-to-nothing, how was she supposed to pay the electricity bill? She only had - she took the money from her pocket - only two dollars and sixty cents left. She fed Dawn with Doublemeat Palace burgers; she couldn't afford the luxury of buying a new comb; all her shoes were old and worn out...
At Casa Summers, Buffy pondered upon her options as she was sorting the mail. To borrow more money from Giles; to sell something; to look for another job, like being a TV star, as Cordelia Chase did, or a rogue demon hunter or a pole dancer...
The last envelope was very thin. There was her address but no stamps and no return address - apparently somebody has put it directly into her mailbox. Buffy sighed. She watched enough movies to know that such kind of mail usually means trouble.
"Do you plan to open it or what?"
Buffy started at Dawn's voice.
"Give it to me." Dawn opened the envelope, took out a small piece of paper and gaped at it. "Buffy? Do you see what I see?"
Buffy looked at the piece of paper and gulped. Then she took it and explored it thoroughly.
It wasn't fake. It was a real, genuine check for twenty thousand dollars.
ONE MONTH AGO
The first thing Giles did when he got back to his apartment in Soho was pouring himself a generous portion of his favorite 16-year-old Lagavulin. Then he dropped on his couch, a glass in hand, and tried to relax.
He felt drained. All his attempts to dissuade The Watchers Council from sending a team of experts to Sunnydale to investigate the phenomenon of Spike the Magnificent had proved to be fruitless. All his arguments that there is no such a thing as vampire rejuvenating effect, were met with sarcastic glances. Lydia Chalmers, the biggest expert on Spike, made a sensational report how her newest theoretical elaborations about Spike's secret ability to make women glow and feel younger were confirmed with empirical data, as she underwent the course of rejuvenating blood-sucking sessions at her own expense. Of course, she expected The Council to reimburse her expenses because she had mortgaged her country cottage to finance her breakthrough scientific work...
Lydia's appearance was the best proof of the vampire rejuvenating effect: she looked ten years younger than she had a month ago when she had left for Sunnydale.
After the Council meeting Giles caught her in the hall.
"Ms. Summers sends you her best regards," she said as soon as she noticed him. "She misses you."
"How is she?"
"She copes. More or less. Somebody sent her money, she thinks it was her father. She patrols every night. Her friends - those who help her - are alright too. But they all miss you."
"Listen, Lydia," Giles looked her in the eye. "Tell me, honestly - do you really believe in this so-called rejuvenating blood-sucking effect? You're a good vampire expert and a clever woman, how could you buy that stupid publicity trick?"
She smiled shyly.
"Ah, Rupert, I wouldn't believe it unless I experienced it myself. That vampire, Spike - he really works miracles. With his hands, his lips, his tongue..." Lydia's eyes glazed over. "The effect is amazing. All your body sings as you feel desirable, beautiful and young. I swear, I am not making it up. The effect exists."
Giles started cleaning his glasses. He avoided looking at the flushed Lydia.
"Are you... Do you have any special interest in him?"
"What?" Lydia had the decency to look shocked. "If you are implying that I had sex with him, you've missed the mark, Mr. Giles. Have you ever read my thesis? I argued that Spike was a one-woman man, and I'm satisfied - yes, thoroughly satisfied! - to have empirical confirmation of my scientific theory. As long as Spike loves Ms. Summers, he won't cast a glance at another wo..."
She faltered and covered her mouth with her hand. "Oh, dear. Damn my tongue. I promised to keep his secret."
Giles sighed. "Don't worry - it's hardly a secret. Spike has developed an unhealthy obsession with Buffy Summers long ago, when I was still residing in Sunnydale."
"Unhealthy obsession? How you could say that, Rupert? He loves her. You should have seen his face when he was talking about her. When he found out that I visited her, he asked me endless questions about her life. Poor girl, brainwashed by The Council. It's obvious that she feels for him but can't admit it even to herself."
...Giles poured more scotch as he recalled that conversation. Lydia's enthusiastic report had convinced the Council to start preparing a scientific expedition to explore the Spike phenomenon and the prospects of its development and exploitation. The worst thing was Travers' decision to strengthen the expedition with his wetwork team, just in case. Thankfully, the organization of an expedition takes time - a month at minimum. And then? As soon as they arrived in Sunnydale, there would be big trouble. He had to come up with something as quickly as possible.
...Giles dropped the glass on the carpet as floor, as walls and ceiling started to revolve about his body, which suddenly became heavy, clumsy and somewhat alien. He couldn't have consumed that much alcohol, could he?
Giles froze. He knew that voice too well.
"I thought you'd never open that freaking bottle."
"Where... where are you, Ethan?"
"In your head, pillock. Your mind is stimulated by the spell I did on that scotch back in - was it 1990? 1989? Doesn't matter. We're in the dreamspace, communicating directly. What was conceived as a little practical joke 15 years ago, now can help us to deal with questions of life and death."
"What the... what do you want?"
"Help me out of The Initiative prison, Ripper, and I'll help you with your problems."
It was so typical for Ethan Rayne. Ethan the Almighty always believed that he could solve all problems with his magic. Even from jail.
"I know you don't trust me, but I swear I'm not lying!" Ethan's voice was urgent and insistent. "Their boffins consult me on the occult stuff, so I'm up on their activities. They are planning an important operation in Sunnydale. An operation that may concern your slayer. "
Giles groaned. "Don't tell me they're planning to study Spike's rejuvenating nonsense. They can't be that stupid."
"They don't think it's nonsense. Of course, some of them do, but General Voll has got financing, so his project "Immortal Fang" is moving ahead."
"It's madness... Who's General Voll?"
"New head of the Paranormal Research Department. A guy who makes me miss Walsh dearly."
"What does he want?"
Ethan Rayne laughed. "Not so quickly, Ripper. First I need you to promise that you get'll me out as soon as they bring me to Sunnydale if I keep you informed on their plans. And keep in mind that The Initiative has powerful sponsors - cosmetic companies who hate competitors. Given what I heard about your slayer she'll try to stop them thus putting herself in the line of fire. It would be quite handy to have an insider in the enemy's camp, Ripper."
"Okay," Giles said slowly. "You have my word. I'll do my best to get you out. Now tell me about their plans..."
ONE DAY AGO
"I swear she did it to make you jealous!"
Dawn licked her ice-cream cone and gave a furtive glance to Spike who sat in front of her in his comfy chair, persistently staring at his boots.
"Look, Spike - she just wants your attention. You don't call. You don't come by. You became a celebrity. You spend a lot of time with Anya."
"Nibblet, I told you thousand times that we're just business partners!"
"I believe you. But Buffy doesn't. So she calls Angel and invents some lame excuse to lure him here in hope that his arrival will make you jealous and you'll do something..."
"Daring. She misses you. All she does recently is either moping or killing evil things. She's really unhappy, Spike. I heard her crying last night..."
"She misses the Great Poof that much? Well, tomorrow he'll soothe all her sorrows... Dawn?"
She glared, huffed and hopped off the sarcophagus resolutely.
"I'm done talking to you," she declared. "The only man who has a skull thicker than yours is Xander." She thought it over. "Well, Buffy may give you two a run for your money... All in all, adults are morons."
"Don't get huffy, Nibblet. Tell me more about Buffy. What does she plan to do with her money?"
Dawn frowned. "How do you know about her getting money?"
"Oh, puh-lease." Spike started fidgeting. "You're completely off your... Actually, people talk... about other people's finances. All of bloody America is obsessed with money. Even Anya, who is Swedish, by the way, she talks too much about money. Not that I listen. Do you think I'm spying on you?"
Dawn listened to Spike's babbling, bewildered. "Relax, Spike. I don't think you're spying on us. Even if you do, why not? You're evil, remember?"
"Right. "Spike perked up. "So, tell the evil undead about your sis..."
Later, when Spike was walking Dawn home through the cemetery, they both noticed how unnaturally quiet the place was.
"You shouldn't come here, Bit," Spike said. "Good old Restfield became creepy. No demon orgies, no vampire brawls. Looks like all the vampires and demons are in hiding. There are new wankers in town, lurking around. They must be after the Great Poof - people say they're asking questions about some special vampire. Yesterday I was followed when I was walking home from "Beauty Bites". I had to run like a hunted fox to lose them."
"Exercising is good for you. These days you drink so much blood you might get fat".
"Fat? You really think I'm getting fat?"
Dawn smiled. He was so concerned, so cute, so teaseable.
"I hardly drink one sip per client," Spike went on. "These women are incredibly insipid. They smell collagen and botox. I'm starting to get sick of human blood. I never thought I'd be enjoying pig's blood - but I do, because pigs, at least, don't order you to pleasure them. And all those women asking - ordering me to bite them, to lick and stroke them... uh... hullo, Buffy".
With an effort Dawn tore her eyes from Spike's guilty face and saw her sister on the lawn in front of their home, arms crossed on her chest, eyes blazing with anger.
"Dawn, go inside." Buffy's voice was full of barely concealed fury. Suddenly Dawn realized that it must be almost midnight. Shit.
"Buffy, it's not Spike's fault. It's... I went to his crypt to... to ask him to help me with my French homework..."
"Dawn, I'll talk to you later. Go inside." She wasn't even looking at her. She was peering at Spike who developed an acute interest in his boots again.
"Whatever you want to tell Spike, you can tell him in front of me. He's my friend, and it's totally not his fault that I'm late."
"Uh-huh. And it's totally not his fault that he's sharing all the disgusting details of his gigolo activities with an underage girl."
Dawn glanced at Spike who was still contemplating his boots.
"You're unfair, Buffy," she murmured. "Spike does therapeutic licking and therapeutic stroking. He bites them to cleanse their blood. He works as a ..."
"A leech," Buffy supplied helpfully. "A sleazy, disgusting leech who tricks people into letting him feed on them."
"That true?" Spike kicked a stone with his boot. "You don't believe that people can voluntarily offer their necks to vampire fangs? Because I remember a girl who implored a vampire to bite her. She even hit him repeatedly to wake up his inner monster. What was the name of that girl? If my memory serves me right, her name was Buffy Sum..."
She clocked him so hard that he flew several yards and crashed into a tree. Then she turned on her heels and marched inside.
"Working out sexual tension, Slayer?" Spike shouted at her retreating back. "The Great Poof arrives tomorrow, so I heard - not that I care about your lovey-dovey shenanigans..."
The door slammed shut with a bang.
"No offence, Spike, but you're an idiot," Dawn said. "What's wrong with you guys?"
ONE DAY LATER
The profession of superstar definitely includes a lot of disadvantages.
The news about Cordelia Chase arriving in her hometown to undergo "Beauty Bites" magic treatments brought an horde of paparazzi into town. They were following her every step, whether she was dining in the company of her ruggedly handsome manager Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and her devastatingly sexy bodyguard Angel Liams, or visiting her former boyfriend Alexander Harris and her high school friends Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg. The only place where paparazzi couldn't infiltrate was "Beauty Bites" itself. The owner of the parlor Anya Jenkins, guaranteed her clients complete privacy thanks to thick walls, anti-bug devices and powerful magic screen.
Cordelia sighed with relief as she finally entered the parlor's lobby, leaving the commotion behind her. Anya met her with a megawatt smile and led her into the "cabinet" that looked like an office of a successful shrink - except the couch was much, much bigger. Spike was already waiting, sprawled on the couch and smirking sexily.
Her recon promised to be fun.
"Cordelia Chase! You look smashing, as always. I'm a big fan, by the way. How did you do that scene in a jacuzzi with 8 guys? Were you really naked?"
"Spike," Anya said reproachfully.
"It's okay, Anya," Cordelia said. "If you heard the questions we're asked at press junkets..."
Anya left, and Cordelia tried to focus on the plan she discussed with Angel and Wesley over dinner. Spike's presence and his mention of her naked scene somehow made her mind drift in the wrong direction.
"So, love," Spike said in that throaty sexy voice of his. "Where do you want me to bite you?"
"What do you think, Spike?"
He sniffed her and smirked. "I think if I bite you anywhere my grandpops will stake me. You're his woman, aren't you?"
"Yep. And he's my man." Cordelia settled down on the couch. "So we'll reduce our activities down to the most innocent forms of pleasuring. Could you massage my feet for a start?"
Turned out, Spike had the most talented hands. His strokes were so relaxing that Cordelia almost forgot why she was there.
"So, love," Spike said finally. "If you aren't here to be bitten why have you come?"
Cordelia had the answer at the ready.
"I'm Angel and Wesley's cover," she said. "They're investigating a case in Sunnydale."
Cordelia nodded. "Angel was weakened by the visions so we help him."
"Poof should try working as a cleansing therapist too," Spike said. "Anya wants to open a subsidiary in LA. He'd be the best candidate for her new office. He'll become a star of his own."
Cordelia grinned. "No way. Helping the helpless suits him better."
"What is he doing in Sunnyhell? Investigating the wankers who've been lurking here recently?"
Cordelia frowned. Wankers? "Maybe," she said vaguely. "Angel says the lesser I know the better."
"Typical of him. He loves his women weak and docile. He could never appreciate a great woman when he saw one. What did Buffy see in him? No matter how many times he dumped her, as soon as he's in town, she's all a-flutter - not that I care..."
Cordelia perked up. A couple of hours earlier Buffy had assured her that Spike was avoiding her like plague and spending all his time with Anya. Then why did Spike sound so sad and wistful? Why had Spike the Seducer turned into Spike the Lost Puppy?
There was only one way to check.
"Preaching to the choir, Spike," she said casually. "I've known Buffy since high school. She has always been a shallow bitch who only wanted what she couldn't have..."
She couldn't finish, as Spike growled menacingly and stopped massaging her feet.
"Take your words back! Now!"
"Or I'll tell paparazzi and reporters that you've been my client for the last hundred years. All showbiz will be mocking you."
Cordelia chuckled. "Who'll believe you?"
"Pet, they believe that vampire bites make them younger. They believe that vampire saliva keep their skin firm. They believe that vampire sperm smooths out their wrinkles."
"Touché. I take my words back." She smiled as she felt Spike's hands on her feet again. "How long have you been in love with her?"
Spike's hands froze for a moment; then he resumed massaging.
"I'm over her," he announced proudly. "I don't give a damn about the Slayer. She can go to the college and find a new wanker like Parker or Riley. She can even invite a bunch of male strippers now, with all her money, I don't care!"
And, of course, Cordelia couldn't miss such an opening.
"But that money could stop coming any day. Besides, Buffy suspects that it's dirty money. You know how scrupulous she is."
"Bollocks!" Spike leaped on his feet. "This is honest money and the Summers sisters will be getting it as long as they need it!"
"Really? How do you know that, Spike?"
He gave her a panicked glance. "How do I... What do I... People talk - I - I have my sources, in the demon community..." He steadily avoided her gaze. "Sunnydale is a small town, everybody knows each other..."
Cordelia grinned, leapt off the couch and put her feet in to her Manolo Blahniks. "Thanks for your wonderful massage, Spike. It was nice talking to you."
Ten minutes later she found Angel and Wesley in a nearby restaurant, immersed in their investigation.
"Nobody in the demon community knows anything." Angel was crossing out suspects in his notebook. "I've spoken to all those who are in the know."
"They could be lying to you," Wesley suggested.
Angel just looked at him.
"Right," Wesley said hastily. "Meanwhile I put together a profile of that Summers benefactor - or enemy. The cheques were delivered to the Summers mailbox. I think it's an indication that the person is a local. Unless it's somebody who travels a lot and could be visiting Sunnydale regularly without arousing suspicion. The person is quite reckless with money - he or she is putting his cheques in a regular mailbox. Or maybe he wants to create the impression of recklessness to give a false clue. Or maybe it's somebody so powerful that nobody dares to steal from him. Or maybe..."
"Or maybe it's Spike," Cordelia said, joining them at the table.
"What?" Angel and Wesley asked in unison.
"Spike. You know, blue eyes, bleached hair, nasty jokes and miraculous bodily fluids if you believe the hype."
"Why would Spike do it?" Wesley said.
"Because he's in love with her," Cordelia replied. "He wants to help her, but he knows that she won't accept help from a vampire. So he does it anonymously."
"You're wrong, Cordy. Soulless vampires can't love..."
"They can," Angel said. "Although I must admit that their love often acquires strange and kinky forms."
"Pity regular men don't practice such useful kinks as sending huge sums of money to the women they love," Cordelia said.
"Wait!" Wesley exclaimed. "Now everything fits. Spike gets $5000 a week and all his money disappear. Buffy gets a check for $20000 a month..."
"I'll dust the bastard," Angel growled. "How dares he implicate Buffy in his dirty money-laundering schemes?"
"It's not about money-laundering," Cordelia said. "You should have seen him when I said she's a bitch - don't look at me like that, I just had to see his reaction. He really loves her!"
"Doesn't matter. Spike means trouble. Trouble for Buffy."
"Because it's not you who's helping her?" Cordelia said.
"Because he is an evil, amoral, unscrupulous creature with a sick, perverse slayer fetish..."
Wesley's cell phone rang. He looked at the display and smiled. "I have good news for you, Miss Jenkins," he said. "We have practically solved your... What? When? Are you sure? How did it happen?" He listened for a while, frowning. "Yes, we'll do everything we can."
He hung up. "Spike got kidnapped."
"Shit!" Angel murmured. "I told you - that idiot always gets into trouble. We must find and rescue him before it's too late!"
"I don't give a damn about Spike!" Buffy exclaimed. "It's about principles. The people who got him - they came to my town and took my vampire - I mean, my enemy... a-and occasional ally. I can't let them kidnap my enemy on my territory!"
They were talking strategy at Casa Summers. Anya insisted on recruiting Buffy and her team - but Xander was working, Dawn was at school, Willow and Tara were at the university, so it was only Buffy, Anya and Angel's team trying to figure out how to rescue Spike.
"Do you have any suspects, Miss Jenkins?" Wesley asked.
Anya shrugged. "It could be machinations of "Bite'n'Sparkle", our main competition here in Sunnydale. Their sponsor, Mr. Shark often threatens me. But, frankly, I think he does it to save face. To convince his minions that he didn't squash us because it's not time yet. Kidnapping is not his style. If it was his people, they would dust Spike, kill me and burn the office. And those guys in the masks just grabbed Spike when we were closing the office, threw him into a van and drove away without paying attention to my indignant cries."
"A van and a couple of human thugs," Buffy said. "The Watcher's Council, anybody?"
"It was my first thought," Angel said. "But the Council guys are British. And, according to Willy the Snitch and other demons, no British customers arrived in Sunnydale recently."
"Maybe they're undercover or something?" Cordelia suggested.
Angel shook his head.
"They always visit vampire whorehouses, undercover or not undercover."
"Miss Summers, do you have any personal enemies?" Wesley asked.
She rolled eyes.
"All the demon population of Sunnydale are my enemies. Why?"
"We shouldn't discount the possibility that whoever kidnapped Spike was aiming at you."
"What do you mean, me?" Buffy said defensively.
"The criminals could be trying to cut you off your financial support."
"Oh, I completely forgot to tell you," Wesley smiled nervously. "The thing is... your mysterious sponsor is Spike."
Buffy stared at him, incredulous.
"No way," she said at last. "You must be kidding me."
"I assure you that I speak seriously."
Buffy shook her head.
"It was a figure of speech", she said. "Come to think of it, this is so typically Spike."
"Unfortunately," Angel added.
Cordelia smiled wistfully.
"Pity you didn't hear how he said the Summers sisters would be getting money as long as they need them. It was very romantic."
"Apparently he thought he could win you with his money."
Buffy opened her mouth to say something but then decided against it.
"Don't worry about Spike," Angel continued. "We'll find him and I'll take him with me to Los-Angeles. I know how to deal with him."
"Wait-wait-wait," Anya said. "Spike is an employee of "Beauty Bites". He won't go anywhere."
"Actually," Cordelia said. "I was just thinking about how Sunnydale is too small for your ambitions, Anya. You should build an international corporation - and start with opening an affiliation in Los-Angeles. It's the place where your trailblazing method will find great acclaim. I'll talk to my agent and manager about finding you the right sponsors."
"Great idea, Cordy! Do you think you could star in our TV advert?"
Buffy banged her fist on the table.
"Stop! Spike doesn't go anywhere!"
"Why?" Angel asked.
"Because I say so."
Buffy met Angel's gaze defiantly. For a moment he looked her in the eye, then laughed mirthlessly.
"Unbelievable. You fell in love with that little sonofabitch."
"What if I did?"
He shook his head ruefully.
"I would be the last person on Earth to reproach you for falling in love with a vampire - but could you, at least, ask Willow to ensoul him?"
Buffy looked away.
"I... She doesn't know about me and Spike. I haven't had time to tell her..."
"You didn’t have time? You live under the same roof!"
Cordelia rolled eyes.
"Let me guess. You didn't tell them because you were afraid of their slut-shaming."
"I wasn't! I just thought it was - I don't know - temporary madness. I thought it would pass... eventually..."
"...but, apparently it didn't."
Buffy gasped at the sound of Giles' voice.
"Oh, Giles! I missed you so much!" She gave him a bear hug and Giles gasped softly. "Oh, sorry, so sorry! Giles... did you hear what we were talking about?"
"I..." Buffy took more air in her lungs and blurted out. "I slept with Spike!"
After a pregnant pause Giles suddenly burst into laughter. Buffy smiled nervously.
"I knew it was wrong, so I told him to leave me alone, and he did, and he became a big beauty expert, like Procter, Gamble and Spike, and now all those shameless sluts are lusting after him..."
"That's rather... unexpected," Giles said unconvincingly.
"And even that wasn't enough for him! This idiot got kidnapped!"
Giles frowned. "Already? The situation's worse than I thought."
He took a bottle of whisky out of his travel bag.
"You have to excuse me -- I have to do a rather specific ritual to help us to work out our strategy..." Off their shocked faces he added, "It's not what you think."
Buffy would never have thought that confessing to her friends about her affair with Spike would run so smoothly.
"You think I'm what, twelve?" Dawn said dismissively. "I figured it out the day you went to his crypt disguised as a sex robot."
Buffy chocked over her tea.
"I remember how you came back home, all glowing, a little smile on your lips..."
Buffy decided to correct her little sister later, in less embarrassing circumstances.
"I knew too," Willow said. "Although I didn't know it started so long ago. I thought you started dating him last winter, after you were brought back from heaven. I wanted to talk to you about it but I didn't want to intrude... I'm sorry I didn't tell you."
Buffy hugged her.
"Let's get it straight," Xander said. "Spike isn't in love with Anya. He is in love with you."
"Yes," Buffy said, mentally preparing to the worst.
"Spike is my business partner," Anya added. " Or maybe I should say that he *was* my business partner? I'm so frustrated with his disappearance. I put so much energy into this enterprise. I was so successful, I almost avenged myself. And suddenly everything crumbled."
Xander coughed. "Um, Ahn. Don't worry. We'll find him."
"You're only saying that to get back in my good books."
Xander shrugged awkwardly. "That, too. Seriously, I promise I'll do anything to make you feel better. I did so many wrong things, I hurt you so much..."
Anya sniffled and turned away.
"I was stupid and scared. I made a terrible mistake. If there is anything to make up for the pain I caused you... I have access to the plans of all the underground tunnels in Sunnydale, and if their lair is located in caves..."
He didn't finish, because Anya buried her face in his shoulder, bawling, and he tentatively hugged her.
"Actually, my contact told me that their headquarters is a big armored lorry," Giles said. "They're keeping Spike - as well as my contact - there, locked in separate cages. Speaking of my contact -- I'm afraid we have to help him escape too."
Buffy, who was still reeling over Xander's lack of reaction on the Spike news, shook her head.
"Giles, I don't follow you... You are afraid of what?"
He looked away.
"Buffy, I gave him a promise that we'll get him out in exchange for his help."
"What?" Buffy exclaimed. "He is your personal enemy!"
He gave her a pointed look. "Sometimes personal enemies become too personal."
She blushed. "Touché. But when I'll see Rayne again, I promise I'll spank him."
"I thought that was my job," Giles murmured.
"Never mind," he said hastily. "Let's focus on our problem. Spike is here, in Sunnydale, in a heavily armored lorry. They experimented on him but, so far, couldn't find the rejuvenating factor in his physiology."
Buffy snickered, despite herself. Then it struck her.
"Rayne should tell them that Spike gets his stupid superpowers in the Hellmouth! They'll bring him there to verify it, and we'll lure them into a trap."
"Hellmouth as a source of rejuvenation?" Giles said. "Highly unrealistic. They won't believe it."
"Come on. These idiots believe that vampire bites make humans younger. They believe that vampire saliva keep their skin firm. They believe that vampire sperm smooths out their wrinkles. They are ready to believe anything."
Everybody found her argument very convincing.
Buffy would never have thought that Angel would take an active part in their plan of saving Spike. Everything she knew about their past screamed "hate". When he started talking strategy for their rescue operation she thought she was hallucinating.
"We must be very careful." Angel was talking urgently and Buffy could see real concern on his face. "The Initiative has different types of chips, including those that can fully control the behavior of its object. Even if we get Spike out, he still remains their puppet. So we need something different. We need to negotiate his freedom and we need a strong opening position in our negotiations. Cordy, could you organize a press-conference? Tell the reporters something about your atrocious - I mean, amazing - show, and then mention the kidnapping of your favorite beautician Spike the Magnificent and how much you miss him. Your press-conference should start immediately after we take general Voll a hostage and send The Initiative our conditions of his release... Buffy, I see that you're shocked, but we need a good bargaining chip."
She shook her head. Did he really think that it was his offer to take a hostage that shocked her?
"I thought you hated Spike."
"I hate him," Angel snapped. "But he's family".
Buffy wisely decided not to delve into the complexities of vampire family relationships. Giles was right - sometimes personal enemies become too personal.
Buffy would never have thought that her crazy yet daring idea, developed into Angel's cynical yet clever plan could actually work.
Angel hired a bunch of Fyarls and, as soon as Giles got a signal from Ethan Rayne, Angel sent Fyarls to the Hellmouth to provide a distraction. The soldiers didn't expect an horde of demons to attack them; chaos ensued as they took Spike into a ring and retreated back into their armored van. Once inside, they noticed an unpleasant surprise: their commander was gone.
Angel himself conducted the negotiations. He proved to be a master manipulator; without saying anything concrete he created the impression that he represented a powerful secret organization interested in the source of eternal youth.
After an hour of negotiations the soldiers, frightened and demoralized, agreed to exchange their prisoners for general Voll. They also promised to extract Spike's chip and tracking device.
Angel warned them that he had a highly qualified specialist in physics and electronics to verify if they failed to meet their demands. The specialist, certain Winifred Burkle, turned out to be so pretty that Spike even started curling his stupid tongue around his teeth when she was scanning him. Luckily, Ms. Burkle was mostly staring at Wesley and didn't pay much attention to other men.
So, everything went according to the plan until the actual exchange at Restfield cemetery. As soon as they took the black band from the general's eyes, he saw his soldiers and screamed: "No concessions to terrorists! Fire!"
In a long frozen moment Buffy took in soldiers raising their weapons, Angel jumping down the general's throat, Spike's eyes, full of angst and rage, very close to her own face... then he tackled her and she fell on the ground, among cries and bullets whining. She was acutely aware of Spike's hard body against her own, of his smell - that particular mix of cigarettes, leather, whiskey and blood...
"You okay?" he breathed.
She felt something liquid and tacky on her chest.
Stupid vampire has ruined her favorite T-shirt.
"I'm okay," she whispered. "You saved me."
"Good," he said and passed out.
"I love you," she muttered. It was so easy to say these words when he was unconscious and couldn't spoil the moment with some stupid Spike-ism.
Her words wouldn't change anything - but this little private moment would stay with her. A gem in a memory box.
Buffy would never have thought that all of California would soon see that gem.
Three hours later she was in her kitchen, assisting Angel who was taking bullets out of Spike's chest with little pliers. Spike hissed and cursed and demanded more whiskey - but Giles and Ethan Rayne went to talk upstairs and took the bottle to keep them company. Buffy held the bowl where Angel dropped bloodied bullets; she cringed mentally at each Spike's "ouch!" and listened with half an ear evening news on KTLA.
"The kidnapping of famous beauty expert Spike the Magnificent had shocked the community," a pretty female newscaster was reporting. "Several hours ago he was rescued by an anti-terrorist team hired by his famous client Cordelia Chase. Unfortunately criminals seriously wounded their victim and took away his rejuvenating powers. According to Cordelia Chase' manager, Mr. Wyndam-Pryce, Spike the Magnificent's life is out of danger. He plans to go to Africa to get his powers back as soon as he's strong enough to undertake a long voyage. Hopefully Spike the Magnificent will get back soon - showbiz needs him." The newscaster smiled conspiratorially. "Turns out, even one of the members of the rescue team has a crush on him. We have an exclusive footage from a camera that, by lucky coincidence, was installed at the scene of action by a local ornithologist Andrew Wells, who usually observes behavioral patterns of the birds in a Sunnydale cemetery."
The TV screen turned dark. Buffy heard screams and shots. Then she saw herself falling into the frame, followed by bloodied Spike. "You okay?" - "I'm okay. You saved me." - "Good."
No. Not this. Out of the corner of her eye she could see both vampires perking up.
"Sit still, Spike," Angel grumbled.
Buffy shut her eyes and nervously squeezed the bowl. She couldn't even turn the damn TV off - the remote was out of her reach, and she had to hold that stupid bowl...
Please, TV gods, please, stop your tape here. Please.
"I love you."
Was her voice really *that* sad and desperate?
She heard a commotion behind her and opened her eyes.
"I said, sit still, moron, if you don't want me to cut you in half!" Angel snapped. "There's still one bullet left..."
"Why did you say it, Summers?" Spike said. "To mock me?"
The bowl cracked in Buffy's hands. Bullets fell on the floor with a merry clinking sound.
"If you're so hare-brained that you couldn't see that she loves you, you're an incurable idiot!" Angel said.
"Peaches, pinch me - because if I'm dreaming I have to wake up... ouch!"
"Buffy, what do you see in him?"
Buffy looked at Spike who stared at her, awed.
"I wish I knew," she said and smiled. "But, I guess, it's not late to find out."
From Wesley Wyndam-Pryce's diary.
June, 1, 2002.
The last two weeks were so hectic.
I finally paid the last installment for my hand, so I write this entry with fully paid-up fingers.
Tomorrow I relocate to Sunnydale to work with Faith Lehane. In Buffy Summers' absence The Council quickly found a way to get Faith out of jail, provide her with new papers and send her to guard the Hellmouth. Giles and I will be her watchers - The Council decided that she needs more guidance than a regular Slayer. They hope that Buffy Summers will be back, but I highly doubt it. Initially she and Spike planned to go to Africa for a couple of days - to see a demon who grants wishes to get Spike a soul. But after the scandal with sex tapes their plans changed drastically.
Spike wanted to kill that guy, Andrew Wells, who sold all his tapes to an independent DVD company. Turned out Wells taped plenty of Spike and Summers' love sessions. "A Winter Night in Summers" DVD appeared practically the next day after Wells signed the deal and so far it's selling like hot cakes.
Paris Hilton is livid with envy.
Buffy Summers is livid with wrath and swears she'll never set foot in California. She and Spike will travel around the world as rogue demon hunters and fight the good fight.
I envy them. Unless they kill each other, they'll be very happy.
Meanwhile, Ms. Jenkins opens a new beauty parlor in Hollywood. The main attraction is her former classmate Harmony Kendall.
Time to sing "God save America".