"So, when did you two decide to tie the knot?"
Buffy pressed herself into the couch back as the female TV presenter- "Call me Holly,"- with the dazzling smile and unfeasibly shiny hair craned in her direction.
"Er..." She glanced down at the little microphone attached to her lapel.
Is this thing even working?
"It was about a week ago," Spike cut in, smooth as silk. "But we've known each other a long time, haven't we?"
He directed his gaze towards Buffy as he spoke, and raised an eyebrow, in a way that clearly said, Over to you, Slayer.
Which was just as well. No way she was letting him talk for her.
"Yes, that's right." She cleared her throat, and frowned. The bright lights in the studio were making her feel hot and uncomfortable, and Holly the presenter in her chic pastel sheath dress- and she's younger than me, which makes it even worse - was a bit too bright eyed and eager for her liking.
None of this seemed to bother Spike, though. He sat at ease on the other side of the couch- not sprawling, but very relaxed.
He must have done this before. When? And how did I miss it? Are there TV shows just for demons?
"That's very unusual, isn't it?" Holly was saying. "For a Slayer to know a vampire personally, I mean."
Spike nodded. "It is, but of course I'm not like other vampires, and Buffy's not like other Slayers."
Holly turned to Buffy again. "Would you agree with that assessment, Buffy?"
Okay, Mom, just why did you saddle me with this stupid name?
Buffy forced a smile onto her face. She could play this game. Of course she could."Yes, Holly, I would. Spike has a soul, which makes him pretty much unique among vampires, and I'm...well, I'm the most experienced Slayer in the business."
Not a boast, okay? Just the simple truth.
Holly's eyes had strayed downwards from Buffy's face -What's she looking at? Do I have a wrinkly neck? - but she looked up again as Buffy spoke, meeting her gaze.
"And that business would of course be slaying vampires?"
"Yes," Buffy said, into the rather uncomfortable ensuing silence. "It would."
She kept her disquiet out of her voice. What was Holly getting at?
She had her answer a moment later, when Holly turned back to Spike.
"And, as king of the vampires, how does that make you feel, Spike? Doesn't it bother you at all that the woman you're going to marry is a serial killer of your subjects?"
"Now wait a minute..." Buffy was half on her feet, but sat down again, inwardly kicking herself for falling into Holly's trap.
She had to keep it together. The last thing the Slayer organisation needed was any more bad publicity.
Giles warned me this could happen. So did Xander. And Dawn. Why didn't I listen to them?
The tension in the studio was palpable, and Holly was looking all kinds of pleased with herself. But then, Spike laughed.
"Actually, no, Holly. It doesn't bother me in the slightest."
It obviously wasn't the answer Holly had expected. She looked disconcerted, and glanced momentarily off set, to where Spike's aides were standing. Spike's gaze followed hers, then seemed to catch it, as if he were a lamp and Holly a moth, and brought her attention back to himself.
"In fact," he said, "if you understood vampires at all, you wouldn't even ask that question."
"I wouldn't?" Holly repeated, stupidly, and Buffy found herself wondering just when exactly Spike had learned to do that thrall thing. Or maybe he'd always known how?
Either way, Drusilla - wherever she was - would be so proud of him.
"No." Spike shook his head. "See, vampires thrive on danger - on violence. They like living on the edge. If the Slayer didn't exist we'd have to invent her."
"Really?" Holly had moved closer to him, eyes still fixed on his face. "That's...fascinating."
"Yes," Spike agreed. "It is. And now that's settled, why don't you ask us about the wedding ceremony instead?"
He blinked slowly, dropping Holly's gaze. She started a little and edged away from him, looking pale, and with sweat starting along her hairline.
"Back with more about the wedding of the year after this break," she said, addressing the camera.
"A-and cut," a voice called.
Holly sagged, then abruptly got up and hurried off the set.
Buffy watched Spike's eyes follow Holly's departing figure. His expression was bland, but there was a tension in him that hadn't been there before. Buffy's Slayer sense twitched, like someone had tickled the back of her neck with cold fingers. Something was going on here.
Spike addressed her suddenly.
"Excuse me a moment, Slayer. There's an urgent matter I must deal with."
"Sure," Buffy said, but he was gone before she'd even finished speaking.
She watched him cross the studio floor to where his aides stood with the rest of his entourage. There were four of them, three men, one woman. The woman, Buffy couldn't help noticing, was very pretty, in a predatory kind of way.
But she looked more prey than predator now. In fact, all four looked scared out of their wits. As Spike drew nearer, they went down on their knees almost as one, pushing and jostling one of their number to the front, though he clearly didn't want to go.
"All right," Spike said, quietly, but audibly, "which of you fuckers bribed the bitch?"
"Spare us, your majesty," Buffy heard the woman wail. "It was Anton. We had nothing to do with it."
Spike said nothing. Instead, he took a stake out of his jacket pocket and dusted all four of them, methodically, one after the other. To Buffy's astonishment, they didn't even try to run.
Spike showed no emotion as he put the stake back into his pocket and came towards her.
"All right," he said. "Let's get this over with."
Buffy wasn't surprised when a different presenter conducted the second half of the interview, a man this time, a comfortable family-type looking guy.
There were no more trick questions, just bland stuff about the practicalities of a human/vampire union; where would they live, what hours would they keep, and so on.
Even so, the interview seemed to drag on forever, and her heart sank when Spike told Mr Presenter Guy there would be a press conference immediately after the wedding.
Of course, she already knew that. Spike's people had sent her people - which was basically her - a draft schedule of the day's events, for her approval.
She'd approved everything. She'd even okay'd the post-wedding drinks reception at the Walsingham. The fact that no one could ever find the place was, she thought, a big point in its favour.
Spike was exchanging bland pleasantries with the presenter. She heard her own voice doing the same, then she followed him off the set. Xander was waiting for her in the green room. If Spike's aides had done likewise maybe they wouldn't be dust right now.
Dust that the rest of Spike's entourage were trying not to step in, looking scared out of their little vampire wits.
Speaking of which...
"So what was that all about?" she asked, indicating the four dust piles.
Spike's face was doing that opaque thing again.
"Vampire politics," he said. "Exactly what you didn't want to get involved in, Slayer. I can only apologise." He smiled. "You just can't get the staff these days."
He made to turn away, but she stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"Not that I care or anything, but that Anton guy -" Anton? Really? -"was the one who set us up. Why did you kill the others?"
He blinked slowly, once. Then he said, "Not that you care or anything, but it's just the way things are. They might not have been in on Anton's little plan, but they didn't stop him either."
She grimaced, remembering the female aide's terrified plea. "I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but, okay, I'm gonna say it. That's not fair."
His face had gotten the patient look again, which she didn't like at all. How dare he patronise her?
"Vampires are evil, as you know," he said, in a patient voice to match the look. "They only care about themselves. You have to control them through fear."
It was on the tip of her tongue to say, "You cared about something apart from yourself. You cared about Drusilla. Then you cared about me." But she didn't say it. His way of caring had had its own problems.
Fucked up, just like Dawn said.
Aloud, she said, "That's all well and good, I guess, until some vamp comes along whose bigger and meaner than you are."
To her astonishment, he only laughed again. "Never happen," he said. "Well, bigger, I grant you. That wouldn't be hard. But meaner? Not likely."
She opened her mouth to ask him how he could be so sure, but he gave her a bland smile and said, "See you at the venue," then turned and was whisked away by his remaining hench-vamps.
She stared after him, furious again.
What have you gotten yourself into this time, Summers? It's like you're marrying Doctor Doom.
The car journey home passed in silence at first. She was still processing the incident with the four aides and didn't feel like discussing it with Xander. Xander, meanwhile, was looking kind of pissed, which told her that he'd gotten a glimpse of Spike exiting the building.
"Let me guess," she said, at last, when they were stuck in traffic somewhere in the West End," Spike cut you dead, right?"
Xander, who'd been slumped gloomily over the wheel, gave her a startled look. "Not at all. He said hi. Asked me how I was."
"Oh." She digested this for a moment. Then, she said, "Why the glum face, then?"
Xander bristled. "I am not glum."
She smiled. "Are too."
He slumped again. "Okay, just a little bit."
She waited, but he didn't explain, so she said, "Gonna tell me why?"
He glanced at her again, looking trapped. "Do I have to?"
She held up both hands. "I promise I won't hit you. Hey, I didn't, even after you asked me that question. You know the one."
"I know," he agreed. "And sorry, but I had to. Anyway, it's like this, Buf. I hate vampires. I just...I hate them, okay?"
"Nothing wrong with that," she said. "They're very...hateable."
As she said it, a light seemed to go on inside her head.
Spike hates them too. He loathes them.
"They so are," Xander was saying. "Thing is, that means - well, it means I hate Spike too. And Angel. In fact, I probably hate them even more than I hate other vampires."
"I'm sorry," she said, because she didn't know what else to say.
"I know it's wrong," he said, though she hadn't protested. "They have souls, right? That means they get a pass for all the bad stuff they did when they didn't have them."
"I don't know about that," she said, but he didn't seem to hear her.
"But I can't do that. Give them a pass, I mean. I can't forget what they did - Miss Calendar- what Spike did to you. I can't forget any of it."
He turned to look at her. "So, yeah, it pisses me off that after everything they did, one of them gets to marry you. Even if it's just for show."
"Sorry," she said again. She still didn't know what else to say.
He sighed. "It's okay, Buf. I know you have to."
The traffic snarl eased and they were moving again.
"You wanna hear something weird?" he said.
"What is it?" Right now, she wasn't sure she did.
"I hate Spike, but I kinda like him too? That's weird, right?"
She smiled again. "It really is."
The setting could have been worse, Buffy had to admit. Mayfair Library might be small, but it was cute, and the stained glass panel in the window was to die-for.
In fact, the only thing she didn't like about it was the gaggle of paparazzi that had been waiting outside when she stepped out of the car.
She was still seeing stars from all the flashbulbs going off in her face.
No, scratch that. There were two things she didn't like about it, the other being just how many vampires there were in the place at the moment.
Where was Mr Pointy when you needed him?
Giles must be thinking the same thing, judging by the set expression on his face, and the way he kept his hand in his jacket pocket.
Note to self: Giles is armed, just in case.
"This is weird," Dawn muttered, in Buffy's ear. "You think so too, right?"
"Majorly," Buffy said. "For sure."
"You know what's worst of all?" Dawn went on. "They're smiling at us. Vampires are smiling at us, and not because they think they'll get to eat us later." She frowned. "And bowing. What's with all the bowing?"
Buffy resisted the urge to touch her lips to see whether her own attempt at a smile had become more of a rictus - don't, okay, Summers? You'll smudge your lipstick. She nodded at a girl vamp who'd just dropped her a curtsey.
"I guess," she said, "it's cuz I'm their queen. Or I will be some time in the next ten minutes."
Dawn gaped at her, as if that truth hadn't sunk in until just now. Which maybe it hadn't.
"That's...that's just crazy."
Or is it, Buffy asked herself? Those warning bells were going off in her head again, for some reason.
The room was small, and rather crowded, so she didn't notice Spike until a couple of taller vamps stepped aside, to reveal him standing waiting.
He was wearing a dark suit with impeccable tailoring - the kind that said Savile Row bespoke. It looked kind of weird with the bleach blond hair - and why did he still have that anyway? It didn't go with the rest of his new persona - but there was no way it couldn't look good, even on a guy as short as he was.
Buffy felt drab suddenly, in her oyster coloured pantsuit. Maybe she should have worn a dress, or gone for outrageous, like Dawn in her docs and flounces?
Not that she could carry off outrageous. So not her thing.
Spike's gaze slid from Buffy to Dawn, widened slightly as he took in Dawn's appearance, then her identity.
"Buffy," he said, all suave again. "Dawn." He held out his hand. "Nice to see you."
Dawn stared at him, then at his outstretched hand, like it was a gun and might go off.
"Spike," she said, very stiff and un-Dawnlike. She kept her hands firmly at her sides.
For the briefest of moments, Buffy saw the skin around Spike's eyes tighten. Then he let his hand drop. "Shall we?" he said, to Buffy.
Buffy glanced back over her shoulder, checking that everyone had gotten a seat - Xander, Giles, Willow, Kennedy and the other Slayers - okay, perimeter's all guarded. "Sure."
Dawn stayed with her, an angry presence at her shoulder as she spoke her vows (the legal requirement, no more, no less). Spike stood alone when he spoke his. No best man. Not even to pass the ring.
It looked like being king of the vampires was a lonely job when you couldn't stand your subjects.
The thought struck her so hard she found herself almost feeling sorry for him. Couldn't Angel have taken time out from being a monk, or what?
She jumped when cold fingers took hers and slid a thick gold ring onto her finger. It was the first time he'd touched her (except for when his nose collided with her fist) for ten whole years.
Then there was some stuff that needed signing. Giles came to join her and Dawn for that. Giles still had his hand in his pocket.
Maybe, she thought, it wasn't a stake, but a hipflask?
Then the celebrant was looking at her expectantly. Was that it, she thought? Were they done?
It seemed they were. Spike had put his arm around her waist - not quite touching her, she noted - urging her to turn and face the...not congregation. More like audience. It was only now that she took in the banks of lights and the TV cameras at the back of the room.
No wonder she was sweating.
Her memory of what happened next was a little hazy when she thought about it later. Had the act of speaking the marriage vows turned her brains to mush?
At any rate, there were people - well, mostly vampires, which was the weirdest thing of all in a week of weirdness - throwing confetti on the stairs as they came down it. Then there was the impromptu - yeah, right! - press conference in the lobby.
The part of her brain that wasn't mush made a note of the questions, every one of which was safe and bland. Marriage of old friends, new way of working together, human/demon harmony. Blah-blah-blah!
Outside, the sun had set. No need for the necro-tempered glass in the long black cars.
The vamps piled into them anyway, and Buffy found herself swept along with them at Spike's side. She'd lost Dawn somewhere.
"Dawn?" She craned her head, trying to see over the heads of much taller people, but a glimpse of spiky crimson hair was all she got.
"It's okay, Slayer," Spike said in her ear, suddenly. "A car will bring them to the Walsingham - Dawn, Giles, everyone."
Then - how it happened, she wasn't quite sure - she was sitting in the most luxurious car she'd ever sat in.
Alone, at last.
With her new husband.
The traffic was snarled up on Knightsbridge, as usual. It looked like getting to the Walsingham might take some time.
Buffy glanced at Spike, but he was staring out the window, all broody and un-Spike-like. She frowned.
What's going through that head of yours, mister?
She missed the days when she'd always been able to tell.
Sighing, she gazed out her own side of the car at the display in the Harrods store windows. All the mannequins had tails, or horns, or even wings like bats. Some sort of demon theme going on there, looked like. People really were mad for them these days.
That was another thing she missed - the time when no one outside the supernatural loop knew about demons and vampires, or if they did, they had the good sense - not to mention the good taste- not to talk about it.
"That went well, I thought," Spike said, suddenly, startling her out of her reverie.
"Uh, yeah," she said. "I mean, it could have been a whole lot worse."
"Dawn looks well," he went on, the slightest hint of a tentative edge in his tone. As if he thought she might not like him even mentioning Dawn.
It was on the tip of her tongue to say, "Go on. Admit it. You never pictured my kid sister with piercings and tattoos, did you? Oh, and did I mention she's a budding pyromancer? And no, I don't mean she sees pretty pictures in the fire."
But she didn't say it. It sounded too...familiar.
Instead, she said, "Yeah, she's doing real well. Thanks for noticing."
Silence fell again. The limousine inched forward another few hundred yards.
Lame, Summers. Lame, lame, lame! That was him making an overture, and you've just killed the conversation stone dead.
Willow would probably have put it down to her still not wanting to face up to her 'vampire issues', she thought. Which in turn reminded her that Spike wasn't the only one with a hidden agenda.
She took a deep breath.
You're the Slayer. Get slaying.
"So," she said, rather too loud and breezy, "how long do you think until we find out whether the apocalypse is on hold or not?"
He'd been drumming his fingers on his knee, the only sign of his impatience with their slow progress (which again, not the Spike she remembered, who would have been climbing the walls by now). He stopped when she spoke and turned to her with the bland look back on his face.
She'd gotten to hate that look in the past few days. It was like he was being polite to an annoying stranger who he couldn't wait to ditch.
"We should know one way or the other soon enough, I imagine," he said. "If the harbingers stop manifesting..."
"Yeah," she interrupted. "Harbingers, huh? Don't you just hate those guys?"
He blinked, looking slightly taken aback. Maybe he thought she was already drunk?
"They can be useful," he said, at last. "No smoke without fire."
Oh great, let's talk in truisms.
She resisted drumming her own fingers on her knee, the seat, or anywhere else. Difficult, though. For ten dollars, she would've drummed them on his head.
"Sure," she agreed, still with the obnoxious breeziness. "And you have to see the smoke to know there's a fire, don't you?"
He was definitely wary now.
Score one to me.
"Of course," she said, "it's possible what we've just done won't be enough - the sham marriage, I mean. What then?"
His face closed up again at once.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Had someone written him a script? They might as well have done.
Either way, she wasn't going to let him stonewall her again.
She fixed him with her best I'm-the-Slayer-don't-mess-with-me look. Hey, it works on prime ministers and presidents. It'll for sure work on kings too.
"Well, I think we should at least talk about it."
He gave her a considering look. After a moment, he seemed to come to a decision.
"Fine, we'll talk about it. After the party."
She resisted huffing through her nose. Not what she wanted, but better than nothing.
"I'll hold you to that."
As she was speaking, a cop car drew up alongside them. The officer in the front passenger seat had wound down his window and was speaking to their driver. After a moment, Buffy saw him nod, then roll up his window again.
A moment later, flashing blue light bathed the interior of the limousine. Then the cop car drew in front of them, and almost like magic, they were moving. No stop and start this time. Instead, the traffic pulled over to let them pass.
Spike pressed a button in the arm of his seat.
"That took long enough."
"What.." Buffy began. Then, as the driver's voice filtered into her ears, she realised he hadn't been speaking to her.
"Sorry, your majesty," the driver said. "I'll have a word with the Commissioner."
"You do that," Spike said, in the sort of voice that suggested he didn't expect this to happen again, and if it did, the driver would go the way of Anton and the others.
More of that controlling through fear crap.
Not that it was crap, now she thought about it. In fact, it wasn't that much different from what she did herself.
Except that with King Spike, sometimes - not always, but sometimes - the vamps got to live.
She eyed him as the limousine drew up outside the Walsingham.
What the hell are you doing? What the hell have you done?
But his expression had gone all bland again. Out of her reach. Untouchable.
Yeah, she thought, as he gestured for her to precede him from the limo, that's what you think.
Two more limos had drawn up behind hers. Dawn bounced out of the first, followed by Giles, Willow and Xander.
The other was full of bitty Slayers.