Chapter 1

Buffy checked her hair and makeup in the mirror.  She couldn't believe that she was back stateside and in Las Vegas of all places, but the Immortal had insisted on showing her Caesar's Palace and was making a big deal about introducing her to the hotel’s headliner.  He was keeping the act's identity a secret, laying on a big dinner, champagne, orchids, the works.   

To be honest, she hadn't really wanted to go, but it seemed rude when he'd gone to so much trouble.  Another clue, if she needed one that it wasn’t working out between them.  Let’s face it, it never really had.  But she was just desperate to put the pain behind her and start living her life.  It had been the Immortal’s good fortune that he'd come along at a time when she was at her lowest and grasping for something to focus on.   

Dawn hated him.  Willow didn't trust him.  Giles stuttered and stumbled over his begrudging acceptance of the Immortal being in her life, pointing out that the dark-haired demon had a long and chequered past that involved human sacrifice and demon followers, and that his very nature was unknown.  Buffy had held the telephone away from her ear and made faces while he’d delivered his lecture.  She knew all this; she didn't intend it to be a love story, just a distraction, a 'getting back on the horse' thing.  In fact, one of the main reasons she'd accepted the Immortal's increasingly ardent invitations to dinner was that Giles had informed her that he'd come up against both Angel and Spike in a well-documented face-off.   

She figured that at least she'd get to talk about him that way, the Scoobies and her sister all seeming to zip their lips at any reference to Spike.  At first it had been because she dissolved into tears at any mention of him; then she got angry and snarled at them when she thought about all of the years she’d wasted before she'd realised how she truly felt about the blond vampire.  After she'd bitten their heads off a few times, all mention of him was suppressed.  She missed it, though, the little references to 'Spike said' or 'do you remember when Spike…’ Despite their protestations, it was amazing how often the lot of them had spoken of him and smiled before their forced agreement to avoid his name.  She missed those casual mentions. 

And so here she was in Vegas, waiting for the Immortal to come pick her up for their hot date.   

She'd insisted on separate rooms.  Everyone just assumed they were doing the horizontal mamba but they hadn't.  Not that it was for want of trying on his part, but Buffy had a niggling worry that he'd be expecting his money’s worth for this trip.   

Well he could expect away because he wouldn't be getting it.  Some locking of lip she could handle, but the clothes were staying on.  The first time he'd slipped his hand inside her blouse she'd knocked him out cold.  He hadn't tried again, but he was constantly giving her sad puppy eyes and hopeful sighs – that had got old very quickly—in fact she had been looking for a way to dump him when he came up with the Vegas trip.  Wouldn't do any harm to let him spoil her one last time then she'd just have to be an adult and fess up.   

Hell, it wasn’t like she’d lead him on with promises  or asked for anything.  It flattered his ego to be seen around with 'the Slayer' at functions and it meant she got out of the house.  It took her mind off what she really wanted to think about. 

But whenever she had a moment to dwell on it, her mind was drawn to the subject that filled her dreams.  Spike.  Her feelings for him.  His sacrifice.  Why the hell she'd left it so long to tell him that she loved him. 

“You were an idiot, Buffy,” she muttered just as the knock on the door signalled the arrival of her date for the evening.  With a final glance in the mirror, she stood and walked to the door. 

“Cara mia!  You are bellissima.  We will be the most gorgeous people in the room, no?  Come, let us eat.”  In elaborate fashion, he offered her his arm and plastering on her best fake smile, Buffy linked her arm through his and accompanied him to the elevator.  Soft mood music played in the elaborately decorated interior – he'd installed her in the penthouse suite, of course - and she chuckled to herself as she thought on how it would piss Spike off.   

“You are finding something amusing, Buffy?” 

“Oh... no, not really.  Just thinking about somebody; I was imagining what he would have had to say about this music.” 

The Immortal knew precisely whom she was thinking of.  An old adversary, one who had been truly trounced by him in the past.  And one who, despite the fact that he was buried beneath the rubble of the Hellmouth, still managed to come between him and the Slayer.  He was under no illusion that Buffy Summers was at all attached to him, but she was the best that there was, formerly the one and only Slayer, and therefore he had to have her.  He'd lived for so long, done everything and then some, so jaded that his only pleasure now was to collect things that were one of a kind or the most expensive or the most rare.  Buffy Summers was at the top of the list. 

So far, she'd been able to resist his advances.  But tonight, he determined, would be the night she would put away her metaphorical widow’s weeds for good. 

The elevator pinged as they reached the second floor where the restaurant was.  As the doors opened, the Immortal stood to one side to allow her to precede him onto the plush carpet leading to the dining room.  His hand spanned her bare back and Buffy barely managed to suppress the shudder as her skin tried to retreat from his touch.  She really did need to tell him it was over; this wasn't her at all.   

Spike might be gone, but he still had her heart. 

+ + + + 

Spike patted his duster pocket for change; he didn't have much, so he headed over to the door connecting his room to Angel's and pressed his ear to it.  Nothing – didn't necessarily mean Angel wasn't inside. Peaches truly did sleep the sleep of the dead.  Warily, he pushed on the door, shoving his face up against the crack to look through the gap.  The bed was empty, obviously slept in but the sheets were smoothed.  Spike pushed the door fully open and stepped through. 

“Angel!  You in here, ya poofter?  Not in the bathroom, are you, fixing your bloody hair again? Hello?”  Spike was striding around the room as he shouted, lifting up the flap of Angel's suitcase and opening the wardrobe.  God, his grandsire was so anal – all his clothes were hung up neat and tidy, not a crease out of place.  Spike chuckled; it was good to know that some things never changed.  And jackpot!  Angel had emptied his spare change onto the dressing table where any needy vamp could find it.   Pocketing the lot, Spike let himself out of Angel's door and headed for the casino. 

He scented a mix of humans and demons as he made his way through the busy hotel.  No sign of Angel though, although to be honest he was hardly likely to find him at the casino tables. He’d be off getting his jollies digging around the city for the homeless shelters or something and offering his assistance.  Spike chuckled as he reached for a cigarette and his Zippo.  Where was the fun in that? 

“Ahem, sir?  Sorry, smoking is only permitted in designated areas.” 

Spike snarled, about to flash the fang and the finger, but reined himself in.  What was the point, after all?  He'd moped around for a fortnight back in LA after he and Angel had found Buffy in Rome.  It came to something when his grandsire was so pissed off with him brooding that he proposed a trip to Vegas.  Lorne said he'd come along too and meet up with some old pals, and the last he'd seen of the green demon, he was heading for a karaoke bar wearing his gold lamé Elvis suit and cool dude crocodile shoes. 

Spike hesitated by the elevator waiting to catch a ride, but noticing that the car was way up on the top floors he opted for the stairs.  As he turned away, his steps faltered and stopped, his nostrils flaring as he inhaled a familiar scent.  It took him a second or two to place it before he smiled sadly to himself and dismissed it as wishful thinking.  It wasn’t as if the Slayer would be in Vegas now, would she?  Calling himself all sorts of pathetic wankers, he pushed open the stairway door and almost leapt down the stairs to the casino. 

At first he was overcome by the sheer number of beating hearts that deafened him as he walked through the ornate doorway.  Slot machines filled his vision; all kinds of scents – human and not so much -- invaded his nose and knocked him off kilter, his ears buzzing with the clang of coins and cacophony of voices.  It was a huge area, bank upon bank of slot machines, roulette wheels, gaming tables, and craps.  It appeared to go on forever, at least that he could see, and he applied himself to batting down the demon that was eager for some blood and death action, instead heading for the slots and ordering a JD from a passing waitress. 

Spike passed a half hour feeding coin after coin into a number of machines, coming away with just a handful when he'd finally had enough.  Having failed to win the big jackpot, he decided to find a bite to eat then try his hand at poker, see if he could give the opposition a lesson in the art of the bluff while relieving them of their hard-earned readies. 

+ + + + 

The meal was interminable.  Buffy smiled and nodded at suitable pauses.  She'd long since stopped listening to her date's ‘riveting’ monologue, naturally mostly about his fascinating self, and as he didn't like to be interrupted when he was in full flow about his favourite subject, Buffy could afford to let her mind wander. 

It was kind of weird, Las Vegas.  So many people all thrust closely together and yet seeming so alone.  They were supposed to be having fun but most looked like they were in a not very happy trance.  She let her eyes wander across the other diners who packed the busy restaurant, lingering on some and skimming over others.  She had the slight tingle that heralded a vampire presence but just this once she was letting it go.  It was likely that she'd head out later to work off some angst with a short patrol, taking in the night sights of the twenty-four hour city and seeing to it that the patrons were a little safer in their beds.  The vamps could wait until then. 

Vampires.  Vampire.  One vampire.  Spike.  Once again, her mind flooded with images of him, the scent of him, his voice.  /No you don't, but thanks for saying it./  God how that haunted her still.  If only she’d told him sooner.  Sometimes she could convince herself that he only said it to make her leave and live, deep down he knew she really did love him.  But at other more desperate times, she was convinced he’d spoken truthfully.  He went to his death in the belief he was unloved. And she’d never be able to prove to him how wrong he was.  Those were the worst times, the waking up in a sweat times, the dry-sobbing and desolate times.   

The Immortal was leaning towards her, seeking a reaction to whatever it was he’d just finished saying.  Buffy guessed he was asking her if she wanted more champagne so she nodded, trying to clear her mind of her vampire and her loss.  She could handle a sip or two, but no more.  They sipped their drinks in silence, Buffy glad of it. 

“Dance with me, cara mia.” 

The music was soft and intimate, the lighting and décor all designed to create a romantic ambience – just the exact opposite, in fact, of what Buffy was feeling.  But she could escape soon enough.  She took his outstretched hand and followed him onto the dance floor.   It was pleasant; he was an accomplished dancer, leading her but not aggressively, and allowing her to dictate the pace. 

But the hands that were holding her didn't have chipped black nail varnish, the bulk of his body was too much, he was too tall, the eyes were brown and not blue.  She really couldn’t do this any more.  In a moment of clarity, she came to a decision. 

Buffy leaned into his embrace, the Immortal smiling as he anticipated the kiss and the surrender that followed.  The fact that Buffy dodged his lips and instead moved to whisper in his ear did not please him.  When he actually caught what she was saying, his smile turned to a snarl of anger.  No woman told him it was over!  She may be the Slayer, but he was the Immortal and he could not be tossed aside like pet.  She would be his – and tonight. 

Buffy gasped as the Immortal grabbed her upper arm roughly and marched her out of the dining room.  People shuffled out of their way as he strode through the dancing throng and past the stunned diners.  Las Vegas was the entertainment capital of the world, and there was nothing more entertaining than a lovers' tiff.  As they passed through the foyer, she wrenched her arm out of his grasp and turned to face him, eyes alive with anger. 

“You want to tell me what the hell you think you're doing?” 

“I might ask you the same – Slayer.”  He spat the word at her like an insult.  “You tease me for so long, you let me shower you with gifts and my attentions, and then you tell me there is no more, that you love another?  Nobody does that to me.  Nobody!  I will be the one to decide when this is over, Buffy, not you.  Not only am I more powerful than you can imagine, but I am male, and naturally your superior.  You will acknowledge this before the night is over.” 

Buffy blinked, shocked to her core.  He genuinely believed that he was the boss of her?  What century was he living in, and hello!  Slayer!   Enhanced strength, agility – the very definition of girl power.  Once again, a meaty paw closed around her arm as he made to drag her away. 

“I don’t think so,” she snapped.  “Get.  Your hands.  Off me.”  The words came out in a staccato burst of venom, and despite his assertion that he was the one in charge the Immortal felt a twinge of disquiet at the rage blazing in her eyes. Still he held on, unwilling to cede the victory to a mere female. 

“I said...let go.  Or do I have to break your fingers?” 

A maid squealed as she turned the corner and jostled the pair, running on past as quickly as she could to escape the dangerous tension.  She wasn't paid enough for this shit but thankfully her shift was over in ten minutes and she'd be well gone before whatever was going to happen kicked off. 

Hurrying to get away, she collided with a man in a long, black leather duster and startlingly white hair, the two of them meeting with a thud. 

“Hey, watch it!  Nearly spilled my bloody drink!” 

“I'm... s-s-sorry, sir, please excuse me.  I have to... I'm sorry.” 

Spike stood to one side and shrugged as he beckoned the maid past.  “S'okay, love.  No harm done – just shocked me a little, that's all.  You okay?  Look a little shaken – no nasty thing after you, is there?” 

“No, sir; I'm fine.  Please excuse me, I have to get going.” 

Spike waved his arm and turned to watch her go.  She was in a hell of a hurry, heart racing like buggery.  Pretty little thing too, reminded him of Buffy in a way.  He groaned. 

“Get a grip, mate.  You had her, you didn’t deserve her, and she’s better off without you.  Let it go,” he muttered to himself as he rounded the corner to the restaurant.  He'd heard they had spicy wings in six different flavours and there was a rumour of a blooming onion too; he was a mite peckish right now.  His steps slowed as he inhaled again, the scent of Buffy Summers – never to be duplicated by anybody else.  It must be her... mustn't it?  Was she...could she be here?  The aroma was fresh, as if she'd been standing on the same spot not two minutes before.  Spike closed his eyes and concentrated; sniffing the air in an attempt to pinpoint which direction she'd left in. 

Before he chuckled and shook his head.  Wishful thinking, that's all it was.  Angel had tabs on the Slayer and if she were in Vegas they'd know about it.  Was somebody else, maybe there was one of the new Slayers among the crowds, and he was just confused by the half bottle of JD he'd drained -- and the fact that he wanted it to be her so much. 

What he needed was more bourbon and a good poker session, lack of kittens notwithstanding.