DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Freddie freaked out and ran from the Scoobies after witnessing Sandrine’s fury through their djab connection, only to be caught by Buffy and Spike, and convinced to return…

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

Chapter 33: Electric Red

Though he sensed Tara’s proximity long before they rounded the corner by the vending machines, Spike didn’t move his hand from where it rested in the small of Buffy’s back, or stop the gentle stroking of his thumb along the hollow created by her spine.  He was fairly certain the young witch was alone, but even if one of the others was with her, there was no way in hell he was backing away from the Slayer now.  Not after what she’d just said to him.

Man.  She’d referred to him as a man, not a monster, offering her trust to him unequivocally, without even needing to hear what it was that he needed for her to know.  It didn’t mean he wasn’t still terrified of telling her, but he wasn’t dreading her response nearly as badly as he had before.  She understood he was going to do what it took to do the right thing, that he had the strength to control himself, that he could be his own man without risking anyone else.

His own man.  He liked the sound of that.

The man Buffy loved.  He liked the sound of that even better.

So, if someone other than Tara was around that corner, well, sod it.  He didn’t care who knew now.  She had said she was going to tell the others, but if they happened to find out by accident before the words could actually come out of her mouth, well, then that was just an added bonus, wasn’t it?

But the witch was by herself, and as they stepped into the vending area, Buffy and Spike saw her pull the ice bucket away from the dispenser and clutch it to her stomach, long hair swishing around her shoulders when her head jerked to see who was approaching.

“Oh.  Hi.”  The tension eased from her body, and she smiled knowingly when she saw the lean of Buffy’s body into Spike’s, the possessive graze of their hands that not even they seemed to be aware of.

“How’s Giles?”

“Conscious.  And sore.  Which makes him a little cranky.”  She held out the bucket.  “I offered to do a poultice, but he asked for ice instead.”  Tara’s gaze jumped from each of their faces.  “Is everything…OK?”

He caught the lingering second the two women shared.  So that was it.  The witch imparting her wisdom for the grace of the good around her yet again.  For a brief moment, Spike debated whether he should be pissed off at her intervention, but even before he felt Buffy’s fleeting nuzzle against his arm, he had dismissed the notion as ridiculous.  Any words that paved the way for him and the Slayer had to be good, and it certainly wasn’t as if he hadn’t taken her advice onboard as well.

“Things are great,” Buffy said.  “Except for the part where Freddie’s convinced Sandrine knows where he is now.  That’s not so great.”

Tara’s smile faded.  “Was that what his freakout was about?”

“Turns out our serpent summoners have a little psychic connection,” she explained.  “One gets upset, the other one feels it.  And vice versa.  At least, that’s what he claims.  And he’s saying Sandrine was wigging out in a grand slam kind of way.”

“What does this mean?  Are we moving again?”

Spike snorted.  “Not if I can help it.  Been in more beds since we hit the Big Easy than the Happy Hooker.  I think we deserve at least one night where we wake up in the one we went to sleep in, don’t you?”

Her smile returned at his obvious meaning, twisting in amusement at the pink flush that settled over Buffy’s cheeks.  “Not that I’m trying to be nosy or anything,” Tara said, “but it might be a good idea if you went and changed your clothes before you come back to the room.  Anya was asking why you were all wet.”  She shook her head before either of them could say anything.  “I told her you’d wanted to cool off in the pool, but I didn’t mention you were there together.  I didn’t want to…overstep my bounds.”

Buffy looked up at the vampire at her side, eyes settling on the tousled curls that were still mildly damp from the water.  “I think we’re pretty much boundless at this point, don’t you?” she said softly.  The question wasn’t directed at Tara; it was directed at Spike, and the reflection of the moonlight in the green of her eyes made him wish it was possible to drown himself in them.

“Still might not be a bad idea to go change, luv,” he said.  At her puzzled frown, he gestured toward the bra she’d worn as a swimming top.  “Unless you’re all right flashing the goodies in front of Harris.  Just don’t think you want to be givin’ him and his demon bird any more reason to scrap when they’ve only just made up.”

“Since when did you become Dr. Phil?” Buffy asked in surprise.

“Not anything like that wanker,” Spike argued, but when Tara smothered a giggle, he glowered in protest.  “I’m not!  And if I am, it’s all your bloody fault,” he shot at the young witch.

The Slayer laughed along.  “Don’t worry,” she assured.  “Your secret is safe with us.  But you do have a point.  Dry clothes, here I come.”

When she started to walk away, a quick slap against her bottom from the vampire made her squeal and whirl around in surprise.  He flipped her the card key from his pocket with a mischievous grin.  “Wouldn’t mind my boots while you’re at it,” he drawled, his tongue curling under his upper teeth.  “And maybe a packet of blood?”

“Anything else, your highness?”

He pretended to think about it and then shook his head.  “That’ll do,” he said, and chuckled when she rolled her eyes.  The grin melted into a wistful smile as he watched her stride away, her skin gleaming in the evening light, the heartbeat he recognized better than his own body’s rhythms fading into the darkness.  Even after it was gone, the echo of her essence breathed through his flesh, and he let himself disappear momentarily into its promise, remembering strong kisses and stronger words from only minutes earlier buoying his existence.

“Did you tell her yet?”

Her quiet words slid him from his reverie, and Spike glanced over at the waiting witch.  “Not yet,” he said.  “But soon.  We got…a little distracted back there with the prat running and all.”

“C’mon,” Tara said with a nod of her head toward the stairs.  “If we don’t get up to the room soon, I think Xander’s going to have eaten all the pizza.  And my stomach is rumbling from all this excitement.  I don’t want to miss out.”

“Want me to thump him if he has?” he teased as he followed her away from the vending machines.

“Spike…”

“I’m just sayin’…”

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

Pushing open the door, Sandrine stepped out into the parking lot, the flashing neon from the hotel sign bathing her face in alternating crimson and black.  She looked down at the various cars that were pulling into empty spaces before sweeping her emerald gaze across the cement.  “This is it,” she said, not deigning to turn her head when Iris emerged behind her.  “He’s here.”

“You’re sure?”  The blonde vampire’s tone was disbelieving, but after the show back at her apartment, she was hesitant to directly counter her partner again.  Not without knowing for sure she wasn’t going to go up in flames for it.

Energy seemed to crackle around the witch, her hair blazing even in the moonlight.  “Positive,” she murmured.  Fingers lifted, and her hand floated in a horizontal line across the picture before her.  “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” she singsonged.

“Wait a minute.”  This was too much.  Iris swept around to stand in front of Sandrine, forcing the human to look up at her.  “Don’t tell me you don’t know which room is his.  I didn’t come here to play hide and seek with your little playmate.”

“We don’t need to know.  He’s going to tell us.”

Carefully plucked eyebrows shot up.  “Oh?  And why’s that?  Because we say pretty please?”

“No.”  Sandrine smiled, her teeth gleaming maliciously white.  “Because he’s with the Slayer.  And there is no way the Slayer will ignore a slaughter going on.  Right.  Under.  Her.  Nose.”

It took her a moment, but slowly, Iris joined in the redhead’s grin as understanding dawned.  She turned to face the coterie of vampires who had collected behind her.  “You heard the lady,” she said to them.  “Let’s eat.”

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

“Just because you don’t like the pineapple, doesn’t mean you have to throw it away, Ahn.”

“Why couldn’t Giles’ have ordered any good pizza?  He knows I don’t like this Hawaiian crap.  He does this on purpose, you know.  Just to annoy me.”

“No, he doesn’t.  Here.  Put it on mine.”

“You’ll taste like pineapple then.  That makes kissing you not so much fun.”

“I promise I’ll brush my teeth.”

“You always say that.”

“I always mean it.”

Ducking her head to hide her smile, Buffy listened to Xander and Anya bicker with a growing sense of warmth inside her stomach.  Funny how such a little thing could make even a hotel room in the middle of New Orleans feel like home.  She hadn’t even realized she’d missed it until they started up again tonight.  Of course, the fact that Spike was sprawled on the floor at her feet, lacing up his boots and taking every opportunity to “accidentally” brush up against her bare legs, didn’t hurt, either.  Not even Freddie’s fidgeting, even if it was silent, was enough to detract from her good mood.  With him now on their side, she had every confidence that they’d beat Sandrine once and for all. 

“I think I have more aspirin back in my room,” Tara was saying to Giles.

The Watcher shook his head.  The ice she had brought to the room was wrapped in a white towel and pressed to the side of his jaw, and he sat at the desk carefully watching Freddie pick at his pizza, his lean body tense in case another unexpected attack was sprung upon him.  “I’ll be all right,” he said.  “And we should really start going over Freddie’s story again.  I have some questions---.”

A woman’s scream from outside cut through the conversations that were going on around the room, silencing all of them even as it jerked Buffy to her feet.  Immediately, Spike was at her side, but both of them glanced back when Freddie’s agitations sent him scurrying to the farthest wall away from the door.

“I told you, I told you, you should’ve listened to me, I told you so,” he babbled.

Another scream punctuated the air, and this time, the Slayer didn’t hesitate before pulling the door open to look outside.  Her gaze scanned the parking lot, and as the gang crowded behind her, she saw a flash of dark clothes and pale skin disappear around the corner.

“Look who’s coming to dinner,” she said tightly.  She pushed her way back inside and headed straight for the stack of weapons on the floor in the corner.

“Maybe it’s just a normal vamp attack,” Xander offered.

Tara shook her head.  “No, Freddie’s right.  Sandrine’s here.  I can feel her power.”

“Told you, told you, told you,” Freddie chanted.  “Nobody ever listens to me.  I told you she would come.”

“Somebody shut him up,” Buffy ordered.  She pulled a stake from the pile and tossed it to Spike before grabbing one for herself.

“What’s the plan?” Xander asked.

“We get out of here,” she explained.  “Spike and I’ll handle the vamps who’re attacking while the rest of you sneak our resident Rainman here out.”

“What about Sandrine?”

“We’ve got top of the line, roadkill accessories for that.  We just have to get back to our room to get them first.”

Giles picked up one of the crossbows.  “I’m coming with you.  Xander can drive the others out of here in the rental.”

“I can’t protect you, Giles---.”

“And we have no idea how many of them are out there,” he countered.  “We need as much firepower as we can get.”

Her lips were tight, her eyes hard.  “Fine,” she said.  “I don’t have time to argue with you right now.”  Turning to the others, she added, “Go to the IHOP where we had breakfast.  As soon as we can get to the Desoto, we’ll get out of here and meet you.”

“Be careful,” Tara warned as the three rushed from the room.

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

“Why are we just waiting here?” Iris growled in complaint.  Her heels clicked along the cement as she paced in front of the car, her body a lean exercise in feral grace.  The scent of blood hung like copper in the air, causing her face to ripple from human to demon and back to human again, and every time she passed in front of the headlights of the vehicle, she had to resist the urge to kick out the glass.  Her nerves were that much on edge.

“Because good things come to those wait,” Sandrine replied.  She didn’t appear the slightest bit ruffled by the vampire’s outburst, sitting cross-legged on the top of the car as she watched the various doors of the hotel being flung open by Iris’ minions descending upon the unsuspecting guests, her aimless humming almost drowned out by the occasional scream of terror.

“You are far too calm for someone who was so mad just a little while ago,” Iris said.  “It’s not natural.”

“Oh, I’m still mad,” she replied with a smile.  “Don’t worry about that.  It’s just that I’m in sniffing distance of paybacks here.  I’m just savoring the moment.”  A flash of black leather and bleached hair streaked across a far balcony, and the redhead straightened, sitting up until she was on her knees.  “Bingo,” she murmured, and laughed.  “God, Buffy is so predictable.  This is almost too easy.”

“I’m glad you think so.”  The vampire watched as Sandrine slid off the vehicle, her sneaker-clad feet silent against the pavement.  “Does this mean I can go eat now?” she demanded.

“Just don’t touch Freddie,” she instructed.  “Take whoever else you want, but that little jerk is mine.”

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

It felt good to fight, even if she knew that somewhere on the other side of all the vamps was someone wearing the face of her best friend, determined to see her fail.  Adrenaline surged through her veins, pumping her heart while her muscles sang in a sympathetic rhythm with the dance around her.  The cord of the gris gris whipped around Buffy’s neck as her leg swept out to fell the demon in front of her, and she plunged the stake through its back before it could even hit the floor, its dust scattering in her wake as she moved on to the one beyond it.

Sandrine had arrived with a veritable army, vampires surging through the halls and balconies of the hotel, pulling victims from their rooms and feasting as if the world was about to end in a giant blaze.  The stench of death pricked at the Slayer’s nose, but instead of distracting her, it only served to fuel her anger, quickening her blows as she lashed out.  Not everyone would be saved, though she would do her damnedest to try.  The important thing was that her friends got Freddie out safely.  They needed his information too badly to allow him to slip back into Sandrine’s clutches.

Somewhere behind her, she heard Giles yell at Spike, something about an enemy behind him, but by the time Buffy had dispatched her current foe and turned to look, she only caught the explosion of dust, followed quickly by the blond’s proud smirk when he caught her eye.  “This way,” she yelled, pointing toward the stairs that led to the parking lot.  Too many vamps were coming from that direction; she just knew that that was where Iris and Sandrine lie in wait.

The two Englishmen broke into a run to join her, the brief lull she’d created allowing them to cover the distance quickly.  “Haven’t had this much fun in ages,” Spike commented as he stopped at her side.  Flashes of amber danced in the blue of his eyes, his glee at the violence surrounding them twitching his body in delighted anticipation of more.  “Why haven’t we been doin’ more of this?”

Before she could reply, a cry from the room behind him came whimpering into the night.  Buffy paused, turning to look at the closed door.  “That sounded like---.”

“---a child,” Giles finished with a frown.

A quick twist of the knob broke the lock and the Slayer pushed it open to see two vamps crouched over the inert form of a young woman, her throat slashed and her blood flowing freely to stain the carpet.  In the corner, a third demon struggled to control the squirming of a little boy.

Spike was the first to react, leaping over the bed toward the vamp.  With a growl, the demon tossed the child to the side, tackling with the oncoming blond in a fury. 

At the same time, Buffy quickly kicked the other two away from the woman’s body.  So wrapped up in killing the pair in front of her, she didn’t even notice the dust that suddenly obscured the black leather of her partner.  She only heard the boy’s scream as it split the air of the small room.

Her blood froze as she imparted the deadly blow to the second of her targets.  Looking up as quickly as she dared, she was greeted with the sight of the child struggling against Spike, the wastebasket in his tiny arms, swinging it awkwardly toward the demonic visage of his would-be savior.

“I’m one of the soddin’ good guys,” Spike snarled, but as the bin glanced across his brow, the boy’s foot shot out as well, connecting just below the vampire’s belt.

“Bloody hell!” he roared at the contact, and shoved the boy from his chest, sending him tumbling to the floor where he then scuttled away towards the Slayer.  “Save the ankle-biter’s life and that’s the thanks I get?”  He winced as he kicked at the metal bin, sending it flying across the room to clang against the wall, bending slightly at the discomfort in his midsection.

Buffy stooped down to the sobbing child and saw the rug burn that grazed the side of his bare leg.  Crimson oozed from the broken skin and without even thinking, she pursed her lips to blow on it, just as her own mother had done on countless occasions when she’d been growing up.  “It’s OK,” she said quietly.  “It’ll only sting for a minute.”

“Spike…”  Giles’ voice seemed lost in the now-quiet room, and Buffy glanced up to see him staring at the bleached blond opposite him.

“What?” Spike barked.

“You practically threw that little boy off you.  And…your chip.  It…didn’t go off.”

Slowly, as if time had turned into a glacial morass, seeping in inexorable languor as it passed by, she swiveled her head to match Giles’ gaze.

He had frozen, muscles caught in a limbo of unadulterated awareness, looking back at the Watcher with something akin to fear etched across his angular features.  As soon as he felt Buffy’s eyes on him, however, Spike looked down at her, his vampire mask slipping away so that she was left staring up into blue depths that pleaded with her to understand.

That was it.

That was what he’d been trying to tell her. 

That was what had terrified him so thoroughly about her finding out, convincing him she would leave him when she discovered the truth.

The sound of her blood filled her ears, her heart hammering in her throat in a desperate attempt to escape.  Behind her, she heard Giles cock the weapon in his arms, clearing his throat as he did so.  “Buffy,” he said, and this time his tone was firm.  “Come here.  Now.”

Spike never looked away from her.  Even when she stood up, pulling the little boy with her, his gaze remained steady, a midnight entreaty as he seemed to be waiting for her to run.

“Buffy,” Giles repeated.  “I---.”

“It’s all right.”  Her voice was clear, ringing cleanly in their ears.  With a gentle push, she guided her charge toward the Watcher, but didn’t let her eyes waver from the blond. 

I’m not the chip, he’d said. 

I can choose not to do that again.

Love you so much, Buffy.

“C’mon,” she said, finally turning away.  “We’ve got to---.”

“Didn’t you hear me?” Giles demanded as he stood in front of her.  The boy clutched his pants leg, hiding behind his tall frame.  “Spike’s chip didn’t fire when he hurt the child.”

“And I said, it’s all right.”  Lifting her chin, she half-turned to the vampire, so that he could see her face as she spoke.  “I knew it didn’t work anymore.  It…doesn’t matter.”

Awed disbelief lingered in his aspect as he heard her lie for him, but it was quickly dampened by the small smile that curled his lips, his love shining through as he stepped forward to her side.  If Spike’s hands hadn’t been thrust into his duster pockets, Buffy would’ve taken one into hers as she faced back off with her Watcher, her mouth determined as she refused to wait for him to argue with her.

“You can trust him, Giles,” she said.  “Just like I’ve been telling you ever since you got here.  Spike knows what he’s doing.”

“I don’t doubt that,” the older man replied.  His face was grim, his body taut.  “The question is…do you?”

She didn’t even bother with a response.  Grabbing the edge of his jacket, she pulled the vampire past the body on the floor, around the Watcher and the cowering little boy, and back out onto the balcony. 

“Buffy…”

He stopped when she released her hold on him, looking up into his now serious countenance.  “I trust you, Spike,” she murmured, low enough so that only he could hear.  “Please.  Don’t make me regret it.”

An explosion erupted behind the hotel, orange and red and yellow streaking into the air as smoke and gasoline fumes clogged their senses.  All thoughts of the events inside the room were momentarily erased as one name came to both of their lips.

“Sandrine.”

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

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Tara closed her eyes against the sound of her lover’s voice singing through the air, trying not to cough as the stench from the inferno raging in the car they’d just fled from sickened her lungs.  It’s not Willow, she kept reminding herself.  It’s not Willow.

“OK, we’re going to have to make a break for it,” Xander whispered.  “On the count of three---.”

“Why?” Anya demanded.  The four of them were crouched behind a bright yellow Volkswagen, sweat streaking down their faces as the heat raged nearby.  “So she can just blow up the next car we decide to hide behind?  She already took out the rental.  I think Giles can say sayonara to his security deposit.”

“Without Buffy or Spike, we can’t do a thing to her,” Xander said.  “We don’t have any other choice.”

“Yes, we do.”  Her brown eyes settled on the shivering form of Freddie.  “We give him to her.”

“What?  No!” Tara argued.

“And why not?” the ex-demon countered.  “He’s already told us everything he knows.  He’s useless to us now.”

“B-b-but, he saved your life!”

“He kidnapped Willow!”

“He’s sitting right here!” Freddie exclaimed.  The trio looked at him.  “It won’t make a difference if you hand me over or not,” he added.  “The mood she’s in, you’ll be lucky if she doesn’t blow you all up, too.”

Another explosion ripped through the air, and with a series of shrieks, the group ran for the cover of the next space, their heads ducked.  It wasn’t until they escaped the cover of the Beetle, though, that they realized that the next space was also devoid of a vehicle, leaving them exposed to the open air.

“There you are.”  The four looked up to see Sandrine standing in the middle of the lot, a pleased smile creasing her friendly face.  The flames from the nearby fires danced across her pale skin, and her eyes glittered in the dark.  “I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Freddie.  It wasn’t very nice to go and run away like that, now was it?”

“Speaking of not very nice…”  Buffy’s voice cut over hers as she and Spike appeared out of the shadows.  “Was it really necessary for all the kabooms?  There are people trying to sleep around here, you know.  You missed Mardi Gras by a few months, I think.”

All levity vanished from Sandrine’s face, leaving a stark mask in its place.  “This isn’t about you, Slayer,” she warned.  There was no mistaking the flick of her eyes as they took in the charms dangling around the two blonds’ necks.  “I just stopped by to pick up my little Judas over there, so be a good little girl and go away.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.”  Buffy folded her arms across her chest, being careful to keep the gris gris exposed as she took a definitive step forward.  “Freddie’s on my watch now.”

“He’s useless to you.”

“And you need him for…what?  Charades?  He does an excellent Dustin Hoffman impression.  I’ve seen it.”

Sandrine’s gaze followed Spike as he circled around behind her, taking a position on the opposite side of the Slayer to prevent another avenue for her potential escape.  She laughed.  “Like you can actually stop me,” she chortled, and turned back to face the quartet.

When her hands came up, his reaction was automatic, long fingers ripping the leather strap from around his neck as his body twisted toward the group.  “Catch,” Spike called, and threw the gris gris as the bolt of magic left Sandrine’s palms.

Freddie’s hand closed around the charm just as the magic crashed into its power, disintegrating into a shower of sparks onto the cement around him.  He stumbled back in surprise, and then looked up to see the redhead turn with a frown to the bleached blond.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, bitch,” Spike snarled.

“Looks like,” she agreed.  Her frown faded into a small smile.  “What are you going to do?  Snark me to death?  Please.  I know all about your little chip issue.”

“Oh, really?”

“Spike!” Buffy yelled.  “No!”

Her shout distracted him for a second, and he glanced past the redhead to the Slayer just long enough for the witch to raise her hands again.

“Well, if I can’t have tit,” Sandrine said, and aimed her palms at the vampire, “I’ll just have to settle for tat.”

The flash blinded all of them, driving their hands up to shield their eyes from the light.  When it finally faded away, Buffy had to blink twice before the white spots cleared, making it painfully obvious what had just transpired.

Spike and Sandrine were gone.

 

To be continued in Chapter 34:  Blue Moods