DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Sandrine has used a truth spell on Anya to retrieve the skull portion of the voix mortelle, while Anya has been trying to convince Freddie that he’s better off turning himself over to Buffy…

*************

Chapter 30: Springsville

Spike’s brow inched higher with each new addition to the bed, his amused gaze jumping from an intent Giles to Xander’s laden arms.  “And you flew here,” he observed as a third sword was laid out with its mates.

“Yes.”  Giles frowned, noticing a cracked trigger on the crossbow Xander handed to him next.  “When did this get broken?” he asked the young man.

“That would be when our sewer friend decided to introduce it to my face.”

A duffel of stakes was emptied with a clatter onto the bedspread.

Spike’s grin was spontaneous.  “And you flew here?” he repeated, folding his arms across his chest.

“I believe I already answered that question,” Giles replied.  “And what on earth are you finding so funny?”

Behind him, the door opened, and Tara and Buffy entered the hotel room, the witch carrying the pair of charms from Clara, the Slayer with another armload of weapons.  When his head swiveled to see them, Spike bark of laughter was sharp.

“How in bloody hell did you get all that through airport security?” he demanded.  “Stakes, sure.  Maybe even a small blade or something.”  He picked up the nearest sword and gave it a full swing, narrowly missing slicing the front of Xander’s shirt open.  “But these sort of things tend to draw a little attention,” he finished.

The Watcher looked uncomfortable at the query, turning his back on the vampire to keep from looking at him, busying himself with trying to fix the broken crossbow.  “There are…ways,” he said.  “I’m accustomed to traveling with quite a few…irregular items.”

“Quite a few, huh?  Looks more like a medieval arsenal, if you ask me.  C’mon, Rupes, spill.  You had to have some sort of juicy story to try and explain all this.”  A deft flick of his wrist with the blade knocked the crossbow from Giles’ unsuspecting hands, causing the Watcher to curse under his breath as he leaned over to pick it up.

 “This is hardly the time for this,” he muttered as he straightened.

“Aw, you might as well tell me,” Spike said.  He was enjoying this far too much.  What had started as a simple wonder had evolved into a gleeful malice when it became apparent the other Englishman didn’t want to share the story.  He hadn’t had a chance to wind Rupert up this much since that whole Adam debacle.  This could be fun.  “You know I’m just goin’ to bang on about this until you do,” he continued with a grin.

When he lifted the sword to pretend to jab at Giles again, Buffy stepped forward, effortlessly disarming him though her eyes were dancing playfully.  “Let it go, Spike,” she warned.  “It’s not nice to menace the wound-up Watcher.  They get a little grouchy when you do that.”

“I’m not grouchy,” Giles argued.  “I’m…intent.”

“I don’t see why he’s got such a stick up his ass about it,” Spike said.  He tilted his head as he regarded the Watcher.  “Did you tell ‘em you were planning a museum exhibit or something?  Although, that might not explain all the stakes.”  He sniffed pointedly.  “Also doesn’t explain why they reek of tannis.  Did you spill your magic supplies or something?  ‘Cause the only use I know for tannis outside of healing is for hiding something, and I know you’re not daft enough to try and pull the wool over an entire airport of prying eyes.  Not without Red around to back you up.”

Picking up one of the stakes, Spike was thoughtful as he twirled it in the air, missing the look exchanged by Giles and Tara.  “Oh!  I know,” he said.  “You’re the stakemaster for a club of tent makers, and you were bringin’ them here for your annual convent---.”

Buffy’s slap on his arm shut him up.  “I said, let it go.”

Rubbing at the spot, he feigned being in pain with a scowl.  “Right lot of fun you are, Slayer,” he groused, but stepped back anyway, dropping to sprawl in the chair, the stake twisting between his fingers.

Giles cleared his throat.  “Back to the matter at hand,” he said.  “Since Freddie was unclear as to how many guards Iris actually has around her apartment---.”

“I’ll wager a lot,” Spike interjected.  “Of the three spots I got info on, that’s the one she outright owns.  There’s probably demons galore hangin’ about.”

“We need to split up,” Buffy said.  “Two teams.  One goes in the back, one goes in the front.  Freddie said the entrance to the tunnels was off the furnace room so we have to make sure that stays covered in case they decide to sneak Anya away again.”

“The back’ll be darker ‘cause of the alley,” Spike said.  “That’ll be mine.”

“That leaves the front for me,” the Slayer said.  At the curious lift of his eyebrow, she said to the vamp, “We can’t go in together, Spike.  You and I are the strongest fighters, and since you shouldn’t run into any humans except for Anya and Freddie, you should be all right on your own.”

“I’ll go with him.”  Everyone, including Spike, looked at Tara in surprise. 

“No offense, kitten, but you’re best off not goin’ at all,” Spike said.  “Not that it thrills me to have to be saddled with Harris or Rupert, but they’ve had a bit more experience at this sort of thing than you have.”

“But Buffy said, no more leaving people alone,” Tara argued.  “And if all you’re going to be doing is guarding the back way out, I won’t really be in the middle of too much of the fighting.  Not as much as Buffy will, at least.”

“She’s got a point,” the Slayer said.  Spike watched as she struggled to overcome the initial shock at the statement, a quick nip of her bottom lip followed by a rapid nod of her head as she conceded the witch’s argument.  Their talk about his budding friendship with Tara had only superficially eased her feelings of jealousy, he could tell.  In spite of her confession to him the night before, she still wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sharing him.  Maybe because of her confession, he thought.

“Plus, I can sense Sandrine’s magic,” Tara went on.  “I’ll be able to tell if she’s on her way back so we don’t get ambushed.”

“I trust that Spike is more than capable of protecting Tara, as well,” Giles said.  “He’s certainly proven he has the…wherewithal to do so.  And weren’t you the one who was only telling me yesterday that we can trust him?”

She nodded.  “That settles it then,” she said.  “Xander, Giles, and I will go in one car to handle the front and do the rescue, while Spike and Tara will go in his heap---.”

“Clas-sic---.”

“---and cover the back and the tunnels,” she finished, ignoring the vampire’s annoyed interjection with a grin. “Time to get Operation Spring Anya on the road, I think.”

Will wonders never cease, Spike mused as he gathered his blanket from by the door and waited for Tara to finish as she tucked holy water and a stake into her over-sized purse.  He’d fully expected to get some sort of cutting down from the Watcher for his taunting about the weapons, and yet, it had never come.  Rupert had even gone so far as express his support for Spike as a contributory member of the team.  If he didn’t know better, he’d swear someone had cast some sort of spell over the other Englishman.

In some ways, it was like that night last fall, when everyone had been held fast by Red’s will-be-done mojo.  Part of the group.  Buffy loving him.  Him loving Buffy, even if he and Tara were the only ones who knew that particular part.  Wonder if Rupert would be so open-minded about it if he caught us in the middle of the same smacking he complained about last time, he wondered.  That would be an interesting theory to test, not to mention fun.

Still, he couldn’t deny the current circumstances offered the hope of something better.  Something he hadn’t achieved the first time.  This time, he wasn’t the obsequious toady sucking up to the potential daddy-in-law.  This time, if he dared to think about it, he could be his own man, holding his own within the dynamic, capable of doing anything he wanted, whether it was poke fun at Rupert or stand at the witch’s side in battle.  He wouldn’t have thought it was possible before, but seeing them all here, hearing the words that came from their mouths, the potential was too hard to resist.  It just might work out after all.

*************

“You haven’t told her yet, have you?”

He hadn’t even been able to turn over the ignition before the question had popped from Tara’s mouth.  Ignoring her words, he leaned over and popped open the glove compartment, extracting the small fan.  “Here,” he said, dropping it in her lap.  “In case you get hot.”

Her fingers played with the rotary blades.  “You’re avoiding the issue, Spike,” she said. 

“It’s not like I’ve had miles of opportunity since we last spoke, you know.”  Still wasn’t going to look at her.  She would have that stubborn face he was beginning to recognize.  One she must’ve nicked off of Red.  It was easier to be evasive if he just concentrated on the road.  Or on starting the damn car in the first place.

“What about when you went back to your room to make the calls?”

“Slayer had other stuff she wanted to talk about.”

“Oh?  Like what?”

The corner of his mouth lifted, and Spike had to resist the urge to glance over.  “You.”

“Me?  What did I do?”

“You were nice to me.  She didn’t know what to make of it.”  He chuckled.  “You can relax, kitten.  All’s right in the world.  I’m planning on lettin’ her know about the chip tonight.  After she tells the rest of you lot about her and me bein’ together now.”

“Did you at least tell her you loved her?”

His silence was her only answer.

At his side, Tara sighed as he pulled the car out of the parking lot.  “You can’t have a good reason not to tell her that,” she scolded.  “Don’t tell me you’re scared.”

“Hardly.  Just think it’s more suited for a bit more romance than, ‘By the by, love you, Slayer.’  It’s all a matter of timing.”

“Well, I think your timing bites the big one.”

This time he looked at her.  “You’re goin’ to be the one gettin’ the biting if you keep nagging me like this,” he warned with a definitive tease.  “And since when are you so bound and determined to be Little Miss Matchmaker, eh?  You were fine with me sussing it out for myself before Buffy and the rest came back from their mission impossible.”

The flickering of the purple blades took hold as Tara turned it on, its soft whir filling the car.  When she held it up to her face to cool it, there was no mistaking the shadow of a smile on her lips.  “I guess I’m just in a good mood,” she said softly.  “I think…this is the first time since she went missing, that I think Willow’s really going to be all right.”  A glance at him through her lashes, and then her gaze was back on her lap.  “I-I-I was so scared, and I didn’t want to think it, but for a while there, I was beginning to lose hope.  I mean, this doesn’t necessarily get us Willow back, or stop Sandrine from using the voix mortelle, but it’s a forward step when all we’ve been doing lately is going sideways or backward.  And forward is good, right?”

Awkwardly, Spike’s hand reached out to pat her knee.  “Red’s goin’ to be fine,” he assured, mimicking the words he’d used on Buffy.  “And as long as that prat Freddie isn’t two-timing us with Sandrine, we should have what it takes to get everyone home, safe as houses.”

Her head jerked up at the latter part of his words.  “You don’t think…this could all be a trap, do you?” she asked, her eyes wide.  Obviously, the possibility hadn’t occurred to her.

Spike shook his head.  “I think Buffy would’ve been able to tell from talkin’ to her if she was bein’ set up or something.  We just have to get them out from Iris’ thumb so the tosser will start giving us enough to stop the summoning and get Red back.”

She settled back in her seat, now lost in thoughts of life as normal with her girlfriend.  Inwardly, the vampire sighed in relief at the respite.  Her questions were starting to make him regret not being upfront with Buffy when he had the chance.  What was wrong with telling the woman you loved about your feelings?  Well, maybe if she didn’t love you back, but he’d had it straight from the Slayer’s lips so that wasn’t the issue.  So, no more excuses.  No more waiting.  Ok, a little bit of waiting.  Couldn’t very well do it if she wasn’t even in the car with him, now could he? 

Once they got Harris’ girl back to the hotel.  He’d tell her then.  Even if it meant havin’ to say it in front of all of her friends.

*************

Getting into the building was a doddle, which Spike decided was a good thing since the alley proved to be much brighter than he’d originally given it credit for.  Leaving the Desoto parked near the dumpsters, he’d refused to let Tara get out of the car until he’d reached the door, just in case some non-sunlight-sensitive nasties were lurking about.  Once there, though, he’d stood within the shadows of the threshold and scanned the area, not sensing anything amiss before he gave her the go-ahead to join him.

The back entrance led into the service area, and Spike vamped out in order to navigate the lightless room without the need for alerting anyone to their presence by turning on the overheads.  Behind him, Tara clutched her holy water in one hand and his duster in the other, tripping only slightly as he led her through the darkness.  They were both silent, nerves already starting to accelerate in anticipation, albeit for different reasons---Spike’s because a good fight was always worth the trouble, and Tara’s because getting Anya back meant one step closer to Willow’s return.

Their luck ran out as soon as they stepped from the furnace room.  Hesitating just before he opened the door, Spike heard the indistinct shuffle of a footstep, a moldy smell bereft of humanity.  Demon.  Not that it would’ve made a difference given his current chipless state, but it was nice to know what he was going up against.

Putting his finger to his lips, he motioned for Tara to remain quiet, and waited, fingers tense on the knob, until the step was just outside.  The shove open was quick, slamming into the body on the other side to send it crashing into the opposite wall.  Spike pounced, plunging his stake into the felled vampire before it could rise again.

“One down,” he said, and swiveled to see the trio approaching from the end of the hall.

“And lots more to go,” Tara said.

*************

“Where are they?” Freddie complained as he paced the length of the room.  “We called ages ago.”

“They’ll be here.”  She sounded more sure than she felt.  Though she trusted in Buffy’s ability to do the right thing, having heard Freddie’s admission on the phone that he had absolutely no clue how many vampires were actually in the building, she was beginning to wonder if maybe there had been too many even for the Slayer.  Of course, it wasn’t just her.  She had the others for back-up, as well as Spike, and according to what she’d heard, they were only on the third floor.  It shouldn’t be that hard to get to her.

But if that was true, why in hell weren’t they here yet?

“This was a bad idea.  Baaad idea, baaad idea,” Freddie was chanting under his breath as he moved.  “Sandrine’s going to have both of our heads.  Hell, how much you wanna bet she makes me slit my own throat?”

“Stop over-reacting,” Anya scolded.  “She’ll probably just set you on fire or something.  She definitely exhibits some latent pyro tendencies.” 

Shouts emanated from the hall, jerking Freddie to a standstill and Anya to her feet.  She smiled at him smugly as the walls rattled, an expensive mirror next to the door loosening from its hook to crash to the floor.  “That would be Buffy,” she announced.

Her words were enough to shake him from his arrest, and he bolted to the door.  Before he could reach it, though, it splintered from the frame, a vampire flying through the now-gaping hole to crumple to a heap when it met the far wall.  Freddie shrank back, alarm shining in his eyes as he scrabbled along the furniture, and watched as the Slayer rushed in, stake driving through the demon’s ribcage, the dust spraying through the air to settle into a fine mist along the carpet.

“Took you long enough,” Anya said.

“It’s good to see you, too,” Buffy replied, tucking her stake into her waistband.  She frowned as the other girl approached, her eyes scanning her lithe form.  “What happened to my dress?”

“A redhead with a massive superiority complex,” the ex-demon replied.  She gestured toward the door.  “Can we go now?  I’d rather not be around when she decides to come back.”

“You must be Freddie,” Buffy said to the cowering young man.  “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused?”  She grimaced.  “God, I’m channeling my mother.  Someone shoot me now.”

“Nice to meet you,” he stammered, and stuck out his hand.

A lift of her eyebrows, and a glance at Anya.  “Is he for real?”

“I’m afraid so.”  She pointed to the clock on the wall.  “Tick tock, Buffy.”

“Right.”  Taking Freddie firmly by the arm, the Slayer led him from the room, running into a breathless Giles and Xander in the hallway.

“Xander!” Anya called out.  She rushed forward to meet him, a wide smile on her face, only to stop halfway there, remembrance of their last encounter rankling within her memory.  Still mad at him, she reminded himself, and affected a nonchalance as she folded her arms across her chest.  “Xander,” she repeated in a much cooler tone.

“Are you all right?” he asked, and ignored her seeming indifference to step forward and pull her into a close hug.

Her ill-will dissipated upon contact with his warm chest, and Anya’s arms crept around his waist.  “Other than feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck and being in desperate need of a shower and clean clothes, I’m just fine,” she replied.

“Escape now.  Hygiene later,” Buffy said.

“The lift…is clear,” Giles heaved between gasps. 

“Good.”  Shoving Freddie toward her Watcher, Buffy was halfway to the elevator before her words reached their ears.  “Get them back to the hotel,” she ordered.  “I’m going to make sure Spike and Tara are OK.”

*************

He was beginning to wish he’d opted to go in the front.  Have I tapped into some demon pipeline here? Spike wondered as he blocked an awkward punch from the seventh vampire he’d faced since emerging from the furnace room.  Behind him, Tara was hovering with the bottle of holy water she had ready, waiting for an opening so that she could help.  She was wary of using it; when the fifth one had attacked, she’d jumped to the fore, spraying the demon in the face just as Spike’s fist connected with its jaw.  His scream of pain was accompanied by a distinct sizzling, and she’d cringed at the amber glare he’d shot her as he staked it.

He was still fighting through the pain, though, and her eyes kept darting from his scorched hand to the face of the current vampire blocking the exit to the rest of the building.  A grim shove from Spike landed his opponent back against the door, but as the blond pinned him in place, pulling the stake from his pocket to dust him, a quiet rap came from the other side of the door.

Everyone froze.  “Since when do you vampires knock?” Tara asked.

“Hello?”  The voice was faint, but clear, and Spike smirked as his gaze locked with the other demon.  “It sounds like there’s something going on in there,” Buffy said, overly innocent.  “Can I come in?”

“Sorry, mate,” Spike said.  “But you are officially standin’ in the way of me and my girl.”

He didn’t even wait for the dust to settle before he pulled it open to see the Slayer standing on the other side with a curious smile on her face.  “Did I miss the party?” she asked.  “Damn.  And it sounded like a good one, too.”

“I take your presence down here means your little operation was a success.”

“The patient is most definitely going to live,” Buffy quipped, and glanced down at the dust around her feet.  “So was that one it?  Don’t tell me I was busting my butt upstairs with the army of darkness and all you had to fight was one little vampire.”

“Hey!  I’ll have you know there was a half-dozen---.”

“Seven,” Tara corrected.

“---seven vamps who met the right end of this stake, luv,” Spike finished. 

When he held up the weapon to emphasize his point, Buffy noticed for the first time the splattering of burns across the back of his hand, and frowned, taking it in her own to look at them more closely.  “What happened?”

“’S’nothin’,” he said.  “Just got caught unawares at one point.”

“I have some cream out in the car,” Tara said, backing away from the pair.  “I brought it with the first aid kit, just in case.  I’ll just…go get it.”

Neither Spike nor Buffy was fully aware of the witch’s stealthy exit.  “You should be more careful,” she scolded, but there was no malice in her tone as her fingers skated over the crimson splotches.  “What is it with you and getting burned?”

“Like to live dangerously, I s’pose,” he said.  The flutter of her pulse, echoing through her fingertips into his hand, created an accordant tattoo inside his own flesh, and his eyes softened as he noticed for the first time the flush in her cheeks, the dishevelment of her hair as loose strands from her ponytail framed her face.  A glitter rose in the green as she looked up at him, and he could smell the musk of arousal stemming from her skin, his cock hardening in response. “Wasn’t expectin’ you to come down here and check up on me, though,” he murmured.

She shrugged, fingers absently stroking the leather of his sleeve.  “I couldn’t just leave without knowing everyone was OK.  Without knowing…you were OK.”

When his lips met hers, the unspoken words guided his tongue, tangling with hers even as he fought to keep it gentle.  Her hands fisted into his shirt, and though she tried to deepen the caress, he refused her, pressing her back onto the wall until his body was desperate to meld with her hers. 

Her small breasts were heaving when his mouth left hers, and Spike reached up to cup her face in his hands, long fingers tickling the loose hair at her neck, one thumb quivering across her swollen bottom lip.  “Should’ve said this earlier,” he said softly.  “And bugger me for bein’ a fool in not.  But…just…want you to…”  His head dropped, his brow resting against hers as his lashes drifted closed.  “I love you, Buffy,” he breathed.

The distinct speeding up of her heart accompanied the flush that permeated her skin.  “I love you, too, Spike,” she replied, and then smiled against his touch.  “Just remember who said it first.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 31: When I Fall in Love