"This guy is baaad," Xander said with a shake of his head. He glanced at Willow and saw her make a face. Okay, this hadn't been a good idea obviously. He frowned, not liking to see his best friend so unhappy. She had hardly smiled since Oz had left several months ago. He'd hoped that listening to really bad singing would make her laugh, but it appeared that he had failed again. He didn't even look at Anya for help. His girlfriend had declared that sex would make Willow happy again, and would hear no arguments to the contrary. She'd told him earlier that they shouldn't go to the Bronze to celebrate Willow's birthday, telling him quite plainly what she and Willow thought about Karaoke night. He'd gotten upset, and they'd had a fight. That wasn't really uncommon, their fighting part of what made their relationship fun since they always ended up spending hours making up. But, this time, he'd felt like he was letting his best friend down when she needed him most and Anya just couldn't seem to understand. He decided to give it another try, asking Willow, "So, how does it feel to be another year older?"
Willow shrugged, "The same as it felt to be eighteen. I survived another year on the Hellmouth. Yay me!"
"Hey now, that's not a good attitude," Xander protested. "Remember, you're only as old as you act!"
At that, Anya leaned over the table and smiled at Willow, saying sweetly, "Willow, we need to stop at the store after leaving here to pick up some Pampers for Xander."
Willow tried to hide a giggle at Anya's words, covering it with a cough. She took a drink of soda, looking up as Xander glared at his lover. "Anya, be nice. Xander's not that bad."
"Thanks," Xander mumbled as Willow defended him though he could see the amusement in her eyes. He'd tried for hours to make her laugh and Anya had done it with less than twenty words. He suddenly brightened as the last singer finished, thankful that the girl had chosen a short song. He stood up, deciding, "I'm going to sing you a song, Willow. For your birthday!"
"Oh, God," Willow said, giving him a weak smile as he went towards the stage. She looked at Anya, "We have to stop him! He can't sing!"
"I know," Anya said with an evil smile. "I'm not stopping him at all. I hope they throw something at him. Then maybe we won't have to come back here."
"This isn't good," Willow said with a sigh as she wondered if they'd be upset if she just left. It was her birthday, after all. She had to laugh as Xander took the stage, choosing his song and getting ready.
"This is for my bestest friend in the whole world. Happy birthday, Willow," Xander said as he began to sing.
Willow groaned as she heard him singing Witchy Woman. He wasn't as bad as she had feared, fitting in rather nicely to the other performers of the evening, and he was adding humor to his song, deliberately trying to make people laugh. She shook her head, wondering what she had done to deserve a friend as good as Xander. Only he would serenade her with such a song on her birthday. She was so busy laughing at Xander that she didn't feel anyone behind her until soft words were whispered in her ear.
"Someone really needs to tell the moron that he can't sing."
Willow froze as the soft words reached her ear, turning her head sharply and finding herself looking into Spike's blue eyes. He was so close that he was practically touching her. She gulped, looking away as her eyes found Xander on stage. What was Spike doing there? He had been helping them, albeit reluctantly, for months and had become part of their misfit little group, but he never spoke to them in public like this. Her entire body was on edge as he brushed against her, moving to take the seat to her left. Spike was sitting with them! She looked at him in surprise, asking, "What's wrong? Is there some big evil we need to go fight? Why are you here?"
Spike cocked a brow in her direction, smiling smugly as he saw the confusion in those pretty green eyes. Good, it was about time she felt as mixed up as he did. The little witch had been haunting his mind and dreams for over a year, drawing him back to this hell town, back to her. He took his duster off, laying it across the chair next to him as he said, "Anya invited me. Why, do you not want me here, Red?"
"Anya asked you?" Willow turned to glare at her new friend only to find that the girl wasn't sitting there. Willow looked around and finally found her on the dance floor with Xander. Thankfully, Karaoke night was over and regular music was playing. "I'm going to kill her," Willow muttered, not believing that Anya had invited the object of her lusty fantasies to her birthday celebration.
"Not much of a party, is it, luv?" Spike asked, his eyes moving over her face. It still confused him, how such a pretty little thing could entice both him and his demon. He had denied it for months, not wanting to believe that he, William the Bloody, Scourge of Europe, could have feelings for a human. An innocent, sticky sweet, best friend of the slayer, go team let's fight evil demons type of human. A sexy, powerful, strong, intelligent, beautiful redhead witch that was so much more than she appeared. He'd spent so many hours watching her, listening to her, thinking of her....he knew her better than any of her little friends.
"It's my party," she said with a shrug.
"Do you miss the furball?" he asked sharply, having thought she was over the wolf. It had been a couple of months since she had mentioned her ex-lover, seemingly putting the mutt behind her. Spike had thought she was finally ready to move on, ready for him.
"Furball?" Willow looked at him in surprise, shaking her head. "No, Oz is my past. I still love him, probably always will, but I wasn't thinking about him."
"Good," Spike said simply, taking a drink as his eyes found the moron and former demon. He was glad that the slayer wasn't around. He really didn't mind the two dancing, enjoying teasing the moron and Anya was his kind of people. He could even tolerate the watcher, though he wouldn't admit it to anyone. The slayer, he hated. Not because she was a slayer. No, his hatred for her went beyond that. She was selfish and whiny and annoying and he really wished he could snap her bony little neck. She was also a terrible friend, shutting everyone out of her life since she had shacked up with the lunkhead. He had watched her hurt Willow more and more as she pushed the redhead away, knowing that his Red liked to be needed. Slutty hadn't needed her in weeks, hadn't needed any of them since getting involved with Riley, except for research and short patrols that she didn't want to do herself. Xander had Anya, so he didn't seem to mind too much. Willow, though, didn't have anyone, and she seemed to be lost, not seeming to know what to do if she wasn't being the slayer's shadow.
Willow looked away from Spike before he caught her staring. She was confused by the emotions she had seen flicker in his eyes, wondering again why he was there. True, they had become sort of friends over the last few months. She had done her best to forget that night in her dorm and not think about how he had felt pressed against her, his teeth nuzzling her neck, his offer to turn her, and she definitely didn't think of her reaction, of the need she had felt, of the arousal that had washed over her at the roughness of his touch and the threat of danger that had turned her on more than anything she could remember, or of the knowledge that she would have told him yes, that the word no had never entered her mind when he had made his offer, that she had looked into his cold blue eyes and known instinctively that she would have given herself to him, mind, body and soul, that she had wanted forever. It didn't help to think of that night, or of the night he had kidnapped her and the dreams she still had about how different her life might have been had he followed through with his whispered threats. No, instead she focused on the fact that he needed them, that he listened to her, that he was always there when she felt as if she couldn't make it through another day. Over the last two months, it had become the four of them on patrols and doing research. Buffy was hardly around, and, when she was, it was awkward and weird. She knew that Spike would never admit to liking hanging out with them, but he always seemed to relax when it was just her and Xander and Anya. He let his guard down, ever so slightly, and it made her feel special that he trusted them. She came out of her thoughts as Anya and Xander joined them. It seemed that they had made up from their earlier fight, their bodies as close as they could be in public.
"Blondie, you made it," Xander said, his eyes moving between Spike and Willow. He could see it, but he wasn't about to admit it to Anya. He smiled at Willow, "Did you enjoy the song?"
"It was lovely," she said with a laugh. "Thank you for singing for me."
"What best friends are for, after all," he said with a large smile. She'd laughed. Good. It was going to be a good birthday after all.
"Can we leave, now?" Anya asked, wanting to get to the party part of the night. Birthdays meant ice cream and cake and silly hats and balloons, all of which were waiting back at Xander's place. She'd spent hours shopping and decorating, having found the cutest Halloween decorations, deciding that they would be suitable for her only friend's party. They had been black and orange with little green witches, ghosts, and vampires.
"Willow, your present is at my place," Xander said as he stood, deciding that he was tired of loud music and crowds. Besides, he knew that Anya had spent a lot of time decorating his entire basement with streamers and balloons and God only knew what else.
"You didn't have to buy me a present, Xander," Willow protested though she was excited at having something to unwrap. Her parents would send her a check in a few weeks when they realized that her birthday was past, just as they did every year since she was ten. "But we can go to your place now and I'll force myself to unwrap it."
"I got you a present, too," Anya said, not wanting to be excluded. True, hers was a bit more delicate to give, but she knew that Willow would be ever so thankful, despite what Xander said.
"Well, then, I'll have even more to unwrap," Willow beamed, giving her new friend a brief hug. The four walked to Xander's house, Spike beside Willow as he continued to watch her face in the shadows of the night. He'd gotten her a present, but he wasn't really sure if he could give it to her. He didn't know if she was ready, yet, and he didn't want to scare her, to risk losing her. He looked up and saw Anya watching them with a knowing smile, rolling his eyes as the girl winked at him before leaning her head on Xander's shoulder. Cheeky brat, thinks she knows everything just because she's over a thousand years old.
"Oh My!" Willow entered the basement and smiled as she looked around. She laughed, exclaiming, "This is great! Look at the cute little witches!"
"It was on sale," Anya said proudly, having saved enough money on decorations to buy the cake and ice cream. She really hoped that Willow got the witch and vampire theme. She was trying to be subtle, but she wasn't very good at subtle. It had been a choice between decorations and gentle shoving or locking Spike and Willow up in a room until they were exhausted from having sex. "And I got a cake! It's chocolate, because that's your favorite."
"Anya, this is too much," Willow laughed, though she had to admit that she was happy. The Bronze had been nice, being with her friends, but this really made her smile.
"You're Willow. Nothing is too much," Anya declared, finding it a bit hard to believe that she and the redhead had become friends, but she was so glad that she had gotten to know the girl. It was great to have a female friend, a best friend. Willow was special, and now she understood why Xander was so devoted to the pretty little witch.
"She's right, Will," Xander said, handing his blushing friend his gift. "Open it!"
Willow laughed as she sat on the sofa, watching Spike move to lean against the wall as he watched her. He was always watching her, and she really wondered what he was thinking about while doing so. She unwrapped the box, and gasping, "Xander, this is...where did you find this?"
"At this antique store in San Francisco," Xander said with a proud smile.
"It's wonderful," Willow said, putting the box down and hugging her best friend before looking at it more closely. "It looks so old!"
"I don't know. I just thought you'd love it," Xander smiled.
"It's beautiful," Willow said sincerely as she looked at the silver box, her finger tracing the intricately designed willow tree that lay on the top. She decided that she'd use it to hold her important memories, photos and things like that. It was a nice size and would probably have room left over for memories that had yet to be made.
"Here," Spike moved forward after Anya went to get the cake and ice cream, not wanting an audience for his gift. He tossed a package that was wrapped in newspaper into Willow's lap.
"You got me a present?" Willow looked at him and smiled shyly, glad that Xander had gone to help Anya.
"Just open it," he said, hoping that she would like it. She'd gotten all excited over the moron's gift, and Spike only hoped she liked his as much.
"Okay," Willow unwrapped it carefully, her eyes widening when she saw the silver ring, her finger moving over the small emerald and diamond design as she tried to read the words written in some language she'd never seen. "Spike, this is too much."
"You don't like it," he said flatly, his eyes turning cold.
"No, I love it, but it's too expensive. These are real diamonds," Willow said softly, not wanting to let go of the ring but knowing that she couldn't accept such an expensive gift. "What does it say?"
"It's yours," he said, smiling slightly as she admitted that she loved the ring. "Just put it on, see how it feels."
"Spike, I can't accept this," she protested, though she was dying to put the ring on. Finally, she gave in, sliding the ring onto her finger where it fit perfectly. She felt a strange feeling wash over her as she looked into his eyes, whispering, "What does it say?"
"You're mine, Red," he said quietly, knowing that he hadn't really played fair. But, he was a demon damn it. He wanted Red, and now she was his. "You willingly accepted my claim, my ring."
"Yours?" she said, looking at the ring, not understanding. She looked back at him, "You want me?"
"Always have, pet," he admitted, wanting nothing more than to finish the bond and make her his mate. He looked away as he said, "I can remove it, if you don't want me, if you don't want to be my mate."
"I want you, Spike," she said softly, her hand moving to touch his cheek as he turned to look at her, "Forever?"
"Damn it!" Anya said with a growl as she put the tray on the table. "I wanted to be here!"
"Anya, dear, shut up," Xander said as he put a hand over his lover's mouth. He glanced at Spike and Willow and said, "Sorry, guys. Continue, please."
"You knew?" Willow asked her best friend, watching as he smiled sheepishly. She looked at Spike, "And you couldn't tell me?"
"I just did, luv," he pointed out with a smile. She wanted him forever. He'd wait to turn her for a few more years, rather enjoying her soul and warmth, but one day, she become his childe and his mate.
"Ow!" Xander exclaimed as Anya bit his hand.
"He's my present to you, Willow," Anya said with a large smile as she sat down. "Spike is much better than some little box, isn't he?"
Willow laughed as she shook her head, "Anya, you can't give me a person for my birthday."
"I understand. You can't admit that you liked my gift better because Xander might get mad and pout," Anya said with a smile, "but I know you liked mine better so I won't make you tell us."
"She wanted to wear a red bow," Spike said in Willow's ear as he sat beside her on the sofa, his hand taking hers as he ran his thumb over the ring on her finger.
"You're my present?" Willow asked, having to smile. She looked at Anya and laughed, "Only you would give me my very own vampire for a birthday gift!"
"He wanted to be given or it would have been far more difficult," Anya admitted as she cut a slice of cake. "Here, eat chocolate!"
"Willow, we love you," Xander said, seeing how dismayed his friend was, knowing she was having trouble accepting everything. Hell, it had taken him several days to accept the idea that Spike was in love with Willow, and even longer to realize that it could work, that it could make Willow happy. Now, he felt pretty stupid to have ever doubted that the relationship between the vampire and the witch wouldn't end happily ever after. "We approve."
"Thanks, Xander," Willow said, knowing that this was definitely the craziest birthday she had ever had. She felt Spike pull her against him after she had taken the plate from Anya and smiled, deciding that she could definitely handle this kind of craziness.
Anya finished handing out cake, resting against Xander as they ate in between telling stories. She smiled triumphantly as she saw how happy Willow was, how perfect she and Spike were together. She'd told Xander, but he never wanted to listen to her. She rather liked birthday parties, she decided as she took a bite of cake, laughing as Willow told about Xander's ninth birthday. Xander's birthday was next. That gave her several months to think of something fantastic. Maybe Willow would help. She smiled as she started to think of ideas.