Eight black and eight white pawns appeared from beneath the floor as the squares slid back and the knee-high, metallic pieces were put into play. Since they were free to move while still in rank one, Buffy stayed with Spike, sitting on the floor of his square with their backs to the opposing team, holding hands. The others returned to their respective spots on the giant chess board and Xander loaded up the main screen.
Using his mouse to click on the pieces, Xander said, "e2 to e4." In response, the pawn in front of him moved forward two spaces on little wheels.
"That's pretty cool," Faith said from his right side. "Can you make them roll over and play dead, too?"
Across the room, they saw the black pawn at e7 move forward two spaces to e5, so the white and black pawns were in connecting squares facing one another. "Cordelia, move to f3," Xander said, repeating the action on the computerized board. Cordelia huffed and moved to the square two in front of Faith, with only a pawn separating them. The black team repeated the action with their troll knight, moving him from b8 to c6. "Faith, toddle on across the board to c4."
"Oh man," Faith grumbled, doing as told. "Now I don't get to see what you're doing."
The next few moves were standard. The black bishop at f8, a really ugly green demon, moved to c5; the white pawn at c2 moved to c3; the black knight at g8, just a garden-variety vampire, moved to f6; the white pawn at d2 moved to d4. Then, black team performed the first capture of the game. The pawn at e5 moved on Xander's white pawn at d4. The group watched as the floor opened up and the white pawn disappeared beneath it, then the black pawn took its spot. Xander retaliated by having his white pawn at c3 capture the black pawn that just took d4. The floor, once again, opened and the black pawn disappeared beneath it.
"This is really exciting, Xander," Cordelia commented, looking over at him. "I am so glad I gave up my time to help you losers out."
"Why don't you pay attention, Cordy?" Xander replied, watching as the green demon black bishop of c5 moved to b4, putting him in check. "You might actually learn something...oh, wait. I forgot, your brain is already full with trying to remember whether it's still safe to wear white or not. Willow, move to c3."
Willow pouted because of the interruption in her conversation, causing Angel to chuckle, and she moved to the correct spot, two in front of Giles and next to Faith. She immediately struck up a conversation with the bored, brunette Slayer. Next, the black pawn moved from d7 to d5, Xander moved his white pawn at e4 capture it, then the vampire black knight at f6 captured Xander's newly moved white pawn at d5, putting the vampire catty-corner to Faith. They both stiffened and watched each other in a predatory fashion. All of these movements took three hours of Xander using a part of his brain that few people knew he had, leaving only one hour to go before the first break.
"Dang," Xander said, studying the computerized board. "Spike, we're castling." Spike and Buffy looked at Xander in confusion as the teen stood and began pushing the console to the right. "Get up and move to the other side of me," Xander instructed. "Buffy, get back to your spot, please."
"Yes, sir, Xander, sir," Buffy teased, letting go of Spike's hand and returning to her spot at d1. Spike ended up at f1 with only one empty square between him and Buffy, and Xander was now at g1.
The moment Buffy dropped his hand, Spike felt as though he stuck his finger into an electric socket. All of her calming influence instantly evaporated, leading him to tense up. His eyes traveled unwillingly across the room to where Drusilla regally stood as the Black Queen. His Black Queen. Memories sprang up anew of his times with her -- deliciously, wicked memories that enticed him to turn his attention fully on the vampiress.
Drusilla's lips were curled up in a small smile and she held his eyes, despite the distance between them. She began to sway slightly, back and forth, like a cobra getting ready to strike. Spike felt everything slipping away as he began to sway with her, hypnotized by her eyes and her voice in his head.
Buffy had turned to Giles, who was next to her, and had began a conversation while Angel was busy staring at Willow, so no one noticed what was happening to Spike. He started to remove his bandage as the coy voice in his mind instructed, never breaking his swaying, as the white and then blood- stained material pooled on the floor by his feet. Unnoticed by him, the green demon black bishop at c8 moved to e6 as he took his lighter out of his pocket. The cheap, black zippo flamed easily as he depressed the button with his right hand.
"Giles, move to g5," Xander called over to the Watcher, not raising his eyes from the computer screen.
"SPIKE!" Buffy's screech suddenly filled the air, making everyone jump as she tackled the blond vampire to the floor, the black lighter skidding away as it flew out of his right hand. She beat at his flaming left hand with the edge of his duster as Angel ran over to them. Spike stared blankly at what Buffy was doing, his face an expressionless mask.
Angel glared over at Drusilla, who was laughing evilly, then turned his attention back to Spike. He backhanded the younger vampire across the face. "Spike, break it. Break her hold," he ordered as Buffy looked in horror at Spike's hand. What little flesh was left on the hand had melted together with the ripped and raw muscle, the bones showing clearly. His knuckles were now black instead of white where the flame had charred them and the hand twitched involuntarily as the nerves that weren't severed reacted.
"Now, isn't this a cozy little picture," Cordelia commented from her spot. "I-"
"Cordelia, go suck someone so your mouth isn't moving in vain," Xander shot at her.
"And I bet you'd like that to be you," she replied.
"Sorry, but no. There's no telling what your mouth has been around, Miss Hoover," he said sweetly.
"Dammit, Spike!" Angel growled, grabbing his childe by the lapels of his duster and shaking him roughly. "Snap out of it!"
"Angel, what's wrong with him?" Buffy's voice was high pitched as she repeated the question. "What's wrong with him? Tell me, please. What's wrong?"
"She's got him in a trance of some sort," Angel snarled in reply. He let go of Spike's coat, trying to think of what to do as he sat back on his heels, but his fury was preventing him. He looked up and met Willow's eyes across the few squares separating them, and felt her concern, worry and support wash over him, letting him calm down slightly so he could think clearly.
Buffy leaned forward and put her hand on Spike's cheek. "Spike?" she said in a trembling voice.
Spike suddenly inhaled sharply, although unnecessarily, as if he'd been drowning and he broke through the waves. He blinked rapidly, his blue eyes gaining focus on the slight blond leaning over him with a very fearful look on her face. "Slayer?"
"Yeah, sweetie," Buffy replied, tears filling her eyes, her fingers caressing his cheek. "It's me."
"That's it," Angel said suddenly. Buffy glanced up at him in question, but quickly returned her attention to the downed vampire. "You're the connection, Buffy."
"I'm the what?" she asked, helping Spike to sit up.
"You're blocking her," he told her. "When you touch him, you block her manipulations enough that he can mostly keep control."
"Who?" Buffy said. "You keep saying ‘her.' Who's her?"
"Dru," Spike answered in a rough voice, his eyes straying across the game board to the vampiress. He tried to grab Buffy's hand, but found that he couldn't seem to work it. "Slayer, please."
Buffy followed his gaze to where he was looking and emitted a growl equal to a vampire at Drusilla before straddling his legs so she was blocking his view. She put both her hands on either side of his face and pressed a gentle kiss on his lips. "I'm here, Spike," she whispered. "I'm here."
Giles, seeing that everything was under control, made his move across the board to where Xander instructed. The green demon black bishop practically mimicked his movements by going from b4 to e7. Xander looked over at the three. "Are we good to go, guys?"
"Yeah," Angel answered, rising to his feet, glaring the whole time at Drusilla. "Go ahead, Xander. The sooner we get this game finished, the better."
"Right," Xander nodded. He studied the pieces on the computer screen, then a sly smile crossed his face. "Hey Faith!"
"Hey Xand!" Faith replied with equal inflection.
"See that vampire that's catty-corner to you on d5? The one who needs an orthodontist?"
"Yeah," Faith said.
"Kick his ass."
"With pleasure," she replied with a wicked grin.
The brunette did not hesitate in launching herself at the vampire in a powerful side kick. She followed it up with a spin kick to the jaw, then had to duck and block as the vampire retaliated. She grabbed his next swing and twisted his arm, using her left fist to punch him in the face. Stomping down on his foot, she whipped out her stake from the waistband of her pants and thrust it home. The vampire black knight disappeared in a cloud of dust leaving Faith to occupy his square.
Xander looked back at the computer console after the fight and saw that there was a large countdown clock counting down from five minutes. "Looks like we get a short reprieve," he said to the others. "Although I don't think it takes five minutes to clean up a pile of dust."
"Now what?" Faith asked.
"It's their move," Xander answered. "If that troll catty-corner to you on e6 moves to capture you, kick his ass, too."
Faith smiled brightly and it was obvious to everyone that she was on an adrenaline high from the fight. "That's five by five," she replied.
"What planet are you from?" Cordelia said.
"Not Planet Gold Card, like you," Xander said.
"That is just so original, Xander," Cordelia replied. "Where do you come up with material like that?"
As Xander and Cordelia continued their insult-fest, Willow turned to Angel, who was still standing near Buffy and Spike, and made a very obscene gesture with her hands in regards to the former couple. Angel burst out laughing, making the redhead smile hugely and the others look at him strangely. Ignoring them, he shared an intimate grin with her, relaxing despite the problems Drusilla was causing.
Buffy turned back to Spike and gave him a small smile, her hands still on his face. She met his clear, blue eyes and read his love for her in them. She slid her hands around the back of his neck and leaned forward, initiating a slow, loving kiss which blocked out everything around them, including Faith's violence against the troll bishop. Cool against warm, their lips tasted and caressed, their tongues joined together in a gentle dance that filled their hearts with warmth and happiness and love.
They didn't separate until a loud bell sounded, signaling the beginning of the first two-hour break.
"I don't know, Will," Buffy said as she sat next to the redhead, waiting for Spike to emerge from the men's restroom where he was getting his hand re-bandaged by Angel. "This is the most vulnerable I've ever seen him, even when we were in those caverns. He was scared then, but right now he is terrified. We're talking Hellmouth-reopening fear."
"So, what are you going to do?" Willow asked.
"I'm going to take him into one of those offices and make love to him for the next hour and a half," she replied.
"Wish I could do that with Angel," Willow muttered to herself. Unfortunately, it was loud enough for the Slayer to hear.
"You want Angel? As in, getting him naked and having your way with him?" Buffy said in surprise.
Willow started to blush. "It would be nice," she replied. "After all, I didn't get to see anything last time." She suddenly clamped her hand over her mouth, not believing what she said.
"Last time?!" Buffy practically shrieked. "There was a time before when he was naked with you?!"
Giles, the only other current occupant of the room, felt his ears start to burn and he quickly made his way into the main game room.
"Um...yeah," Willow admitted. "In the house. When we were trapped in that room for days."
"Oh my god!!" Buffy exclaimed. "This is so great! Unless you didn't like it. Did you like it?"
"Oh yeah," she replied, her blush deepening and a grin crossing her face. She ducked her head to hide behind her hair.
"Wait, that was, like, months ago," Buffy said. "Why haven't you two done it since then? Angel hasn't done anything I need to stake him for, right? Like, ditching you."
"No!" Willow protested. "No, nothing like that. It's just, with that happiness clause attached to his soul..."
"But his soul is permanent," Buffy said, confused. "Giles told him in May. He was going through Ms. Calendar's last journal and found that information out. He made me go over the restoration spell with him a million times, verifying it."
"What?" Willow gasped. "You mean he knew?" Angel and Spike exited the men's room at that moment and the hacker saw red. "Will you excuse me a minute, Buffy?"
"Um, sure," Buffy replied.
Willow stood and walked over to Angel. Without a word, she reached up and grabbed his ear, then practically dragged him towards the hall leading to the offices.
Spike looked over at Buffy, who shrugged. "Don't ask me," she told him as she stood and took his unbandaged hand. "Come on, we have time to kill and I know just how to do it."
Leading him into the same hall that Willow and Angel had disappeared down, they could hear Cordelia and Xander shouting at each other from behind a closed office door.
"...Because I was afraid to get hurt, dammit!" Xander yelled. "I wanted to give you a reason to leave me, rather than you doing it because you came to your senses and figured out I wasn't good enough for you!"
"That has got to be the stupidest thing you ever did!" Cordelia yelled back. "Everyone knew I was in love with you but you!"
"Yeah, well, I never claimed to be all that smart!" Xander retorted. "All I knew was that I loved you and that it was only a matter of time before you split with me!"
"I wasn't going to break up with you, idiot! I was going to convince you to try and get into Sunnydale U, so we could continue to go to school together and help Buffy!"
"Why didn't you tell me this sooner?!"
"Because I thought you knew I loved you!"
Xander's response was cut off as Buffy shut the door to the office she led Spike into. "I really don't know why those two don't just get back together," she commented. "They belong together. She makes him less of an idiot and he makes her less of a bitch."
"Uh-huh," Spike replied, not paying attention. He felt as though he'd taken a holy water bath, then had to fight a Slayer who wanted to kill him, rather than love him. His emotions were all jumbled; the thread that held him to his sanity was tied to him with barely-holding knots that threatened to come undone at any moment; and he felt open, defenseless, unprotected. "I wish I was back at the mansion between them," he said, unknowingly out loud.
"You mean, between me and Angel?" Buffy asked. When he didn't answer, she tugged on his hand. "Hey, you still with me?"
"What?" Spike said, turning to face her.
"I asked if you meant between me and Angel," she repeated, releasing his hand to settle onto the floor.
He sank down next to her and rubbed his face tiredly before putting his bandaged hand on her upraised knee. "Yeah," he answered. "Though I hate that I feel that way."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I don't want to put myself in that position again," Spike replied, scowling at the opposite, bare wall. "I'm a master vampire, for bloody sake. I don't want anyone to have that sort of power over me." He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "Angelus use to...control me like that, keeping me in his bed and dependent on him. You don't know the sort of power my sire has over his favorite childer. It took me a long time to break his hold on me. A bloody hell of a long time."
"But Angel has his soul now," Buffy said. "He doesn't want to control you, he wants to protect you and help you."
Spike sighed. "I know that, Slayer. But it doesn't make it any easier for me to deal with," he said. "Besides, there are probably a friggin' lot of things he'd rather be doing than playing sire to a sod like me."
In fact, Angel would rather be playing sire to Spike than facing the fury that emanating from a redhead named Willow.
"I cannot believe you! You...you...pig! You liar! You vampire gigolo!" Willow was pacing back and forth after having thrown him into an office and slamming the door. "If you just wanted to have no-strings sex, you should have told me!"
"Don't you say anything, Angel!" she growled at him. "There is no way to apologize for lying about your soul. I am so...'grr' with you right now."
"When did I lie about my soul?" Angel asked, confused.
"Giles told you that it was permanent," Willow sneered. "And yet you made me believe that you needed to leave Sunnydale because you were afraid to lose it. Ooh, I have an urge to turn you into the rat you are!"
Angel grabbed her shoulders and stopped her pacing, turning her to face him. "Giles told me what?"
"That your soul was permanent," she replied, scowling at him. "But you already knew that."
The dark-haired vampire could only stare at her, dumbfounded. "My soul is permanent?"
"Duh," Willow said sarcastically.
"I didn't know," he said in a stunned voice. He was trying to comprehend the fact that no matter how content he became, he never had to fear losing his soul again. He could be with Willow in all ways and not lose his soul.
"What do you mean, ‘I didn't know'?" she asked. "Buffy said that Giles told you in May."
"He didn't," he answered. At her skeptical and still angry look, he added, "I swear, Willow, I didn't know."
"Oh," she replied.
"Yeah, oh," Angel repeated. Suddenly, a huge smile crossed his face as reality hit him. "Willow, I can't lose my soul!"
She frowned. "Didn't we just...Angel!" she exclaimed as he picked her up and spun her in a circle. "What are you doing?!"
"Nothing yet," he replied with a devilish grin.
"I don't underst-"
Willow's sentence was cut off when his mouth descended upon hers.
"Hey, Giles," Faith said as she joined her and Buffy's Watcher in the main room, freshly cleaned from the troll blood that had coated her after the second fight, when the black bishop had tried to capture her square. "Where'd everyone go?"
"Actually, I'd prefer not to know," Giles replied, closing the book he was reading. "I'd like to keep my delusions that you children are, er...not..."
"Fuck-happy?" she finished.
"I bet if you asked Angel, he'd disagree about ‘playing sire' to you," Buffy said. "He seemed to be really worried, especially earlier today -- uh, yesterday - back at the mansion."
"Maybe," Spike replied. He opened his eyes and looked at her. His blue orbs seemed haunted and troubled, making Buffy's heart ache.
Silently, she went from her sitting position up onto her knees and moved between his legs. She pushed the duster from his shoulders and he let it slide down his arms onto the floor around him as he sat up straight. She then pulled the black T-shirt over his head and set it next to them before unbuttoning her borrowed, red shirt. It soon joined the slowly growing pile of clothing as Spike removed his shoes and socks, then undid the fastenings on his jeans.
Buffy stood and took off the rest of her clothes as he spread the duster out on the floor; then he shed his jeans and pulled her down with him to the well-worn leather. His mind drifted back to the first time he'd made love to her in that small cave in the jungle. Everything had changed that day, for it was the first time he'd felt the sun in two hundred years.
Their lips met and they tenderly kissed each other as if it were that first time. His unbandaged hand skimmed over her body, barely touching her, yet sending shivers down her spine. She brushed her fingers over his face and neck before running them down his lean, muscular chest. He broke away from her mouth to kiss down the column of her throat, his lips cool against her hot skin.
"Oh, Spike, I love you so much," Buffy whispered, her hands moving around his waist to dance over his back.
Spike raised his head and looked her deep in the eyes, as tears of love and happiness, not pain, filled his own. He caught her mouth again as he moved over her, her body ready to accept him. As he entered her, his world shifted, becoming more focused and clear as though the past month and a half never existed. He knew, deep down, that this feeling wouldn't last, so he savored it.
He brought her over the edge again and again, capturing her cries of pleasure with his passionate and loving kisses. When his own climax came, the earth shattered into a million pieces, sending his undead heart skittering to the brink before falling over into bliss. Heavenly bliss.
"God, Willow, I've been aching to do that for months," Angel said as he set her onto her feet.
"Wait, I'm confused," Willow told him as she took a step away to help try and calm her pounding heart. "You mean, you really didn't know your soul was a permanent fixture in your life?"
"If I did, you wouldn't have left my bed for...well, you'd still be there," he replied with a rakish smirk. The redhead blushed the color of her hair. Suddenly, he pulled her into an impromptu jig, dancing with her around the small office.
Willow giggled as she tripped over her feet, trying to keep up with him. The expression on his face was priceless, a combination mischief and complete joy. He yanked her to him again and swooped down to grab her lips in another searing kiss. Her toes curled and her body tingled in places she didn't realize could tingle.
"Willow, Willow, Willow," he murmured after he broke away from her mouth. "The things I'm going to do to you as soon as we're out of here..."
"But aren't you leaving for LA on Monday?" she asked, hating to rain on her own happy parade. It sucked being logical all the time.
"Depends," he answered, letting the word dangle.
"On?" she finally said.
"On whether you're coming with me or not."
Willow's mouth dropped open. "You-you want me to go with you?" The end of her question came out as a high squeak. "But school, a-a-and the Hellmouth, and research girl. School."
"You said that already," Angel teased, then put a serious expression on his face that was betrayed by the light in his eyes. "I'll pull a few strings and get you transferred to UCLA. You can be research girl by email and the phone. And the Hellmouth ain't gonna explode if you're not here."
"Goddess, you have me all moved in with you already," she said, stunned. "I think I need to-to-"
"Willow, I love you."
"-to pass out from complete lack of oxygen to my brain," she finished in a rush, her eyes wide. She pushed away from him and walked to the other side of the room, then turned to say something, but paused. She had no clue what to say. She never expected this turn of events. She had convinced herself that Angel was forbidden fruit that she got to taste once before being banished from the Garden of Eden. And he loved her. **Oh goddess, he loves me!**
Angel was watching the emotions play across her face. He was unsure of her reaction to his admission of love. And love her he did. Being forced to stay away from her had done nothing but make his love for her increase, for he was able to see her dedication, loyalty, intelligence and strength, as well as her sexuality, change over the past four months since he first noticed her as more than a friend.
He remembered that first time as if it were yesterday instead of back at the end of April. She had been dressed in her red overalls with a Hello Kitty shirt under them. She had been on patrol with him and Buffy that night, and was giddy from a sugar rush because of the mochas she'd brought for them. In one instant, when a vampire ran at her out of nowhere, he felt like he'd been hit by lightning.
He and Buffy had been too far from her when the vampire attacked and it had caused him to panic. However, he watched, stunned, as Willow arched one brow at the vampire, then calmly stepped to the side at the last second. The vampire ran headlong into a broken, wooden fence she had been standing in front of, staking himself. She had then turned to them and grinned, her red hair blowing around her face from the breeze.
Willow's thoughts were revolving around her own feelings for the dark-haired vampire with a soul. She'd thought of him day and night since their adventure in the last game. The funny part was that she missed talking with him and his company on patrols and such more than anything physical, although that played a part as well. She loved her friends dearly, but they couldn't seem to fulfill her need for intellectual stimulation, nor could they always understand her bizarre thoughts. Angel, however, proved that he could do both way back when he started becoming part of the group again, and she slowly found herself falling for him.
She caught herself on that thought and her eyes shot to his. When their gazes met, she felt a sense of rightness wash over her, causing her to smile. "I wonder what my parents will say when I tell them I'm going to UCLA?" she said casually.
Angel's laughter echoed down the hallway before being suddenly cut off as a certain redhead snatched it away with a kiss.