DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffy and Spike are in New Orleans, with some fresh information from Giles regarding a starting point in their search for Willow…

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

Chapter 10: 'Round Midnight

Pablo was the last person she expected to see when she pushed open the front door of the cottage, juggling the bags in her arms.  “I didn’t realize you did house calls,” she said cautiously, hazel eyes darting around the empty room.  “I wish I’d known before I spent the day getting lost in this place trying to find what I need.”

“Only for Spike,” the demon said.  “Just making sure my favorite vampire is happy, is all.  I was just leaving.”  He pressed himself into the wall, allowing her to pass without having to touch him, not even bothering to disguise the wrinkling of his nose as she went by.

Buffy frowned when she saw the stacked gift boxes behind the couch, setting her own shopping on the breakfast bar.  “You have Saks here?” she asked, turning back to look at him.  A pang of disappointment that she hadn’t found it herself during her excursion was quickly pushed aside.  Probably couldn’t afford to buy myself anything anyway, she thought.  Not without either Mom or Dad’s credit card in my hot little hand.

He nodded.  “Over on Canal Street.”

“And those are here because…?”

“Because…I picked up some stuff for Spike.”

Her frown deepened.  “What kind of stuff?”  Her curiosity was getting the better of her, and she took a step toward the couch.

“Stuff that gets a certain perky little blonde spanked if she goes pokin’ around it without askin’,” came from Spike behind her.

Buffy stopped, turning to see the vampire lounging against the door jamb to the bedroom, arms folded across his chest, a dangerous glint in the depths of his eyes.  A sharp retort sprang to her lips, only to freeze there when she remembered the demon behind her, and the Buffy-is-a-thrall show she’d initiated last night for his entertainment.  Damn. 

“That a promise?” she teased instead, tilting her head seductively as she glanced at Pablo out of the corner of her eye, trying to gauge if he was buying it.  Not that this was really all that hard, she thought.  Though she had yet to see Spike today, the memory of their innuendo from the night before clung to her with silken fingers, and she felt her face begin to flush as she gazed at the blond vamp.

Spike chuckled.  God, he loved this game, and by all appearances, so did Buffy.  He felt his cock harden inside his jeans and straightened so that it wouldn’t be quite so noticeable, hands dropping to loop through his waistband.  “Only one way for you to find out,” he drawled.

The sound of Pablo’s feet scraped across the marble floor, though neither of them turned to look at him.  “Don’t let me disturb your little lovefest,” the scaled demon said.  “Even if it does turn my stomachs.  I’ll see you tonight, Spike.”

“Yeah.  Tonight, mate.”

She waited until she heard the door close before moving, pivoting on her heel to break the spell that had settled between her and Spike to walk determinedly to the boxes.  “So, really, what’s in here?” she quizzed.

His hand had wrapped around her wrist before she could remove the lid from the uppermost package, pulling it away with a cluck of his tongue.  “I’m guessin’ you were always the first at the Christmas prezzies,” Spike said with a smile.  “Thought Slayers were supposed to be all patient-like.”

“I’m just wondering why I had to go out if you had Pablo the personal shopper on retainer the entire time,” she replied.

She hadn’t pulled herself away from his grasp, Spike realized.  In fact, she was just standing there, looking up at him quizzically, waiting for him to answer, not even the usual pissed-off, you-annoy-me-just-by-being-here look in her eyes.  “’Cause I don’t think you want to be tryin’ to explain why I need someone to fetch me takeaway when I’m s’posed to have my meals on tap right here,” he murmured, and let his thumb caress the vein in her wrist, feeling her pulse through the fleshy pad.

That was enough to remind Buffy, and she carefully extracted her hand, stepping away so that she could regain control of her traitorous heartbeat.  She’d been doing so well, too, she thought.  She’d gone most of the day without thinking about him---well, too much---or the kisses they’d shared, or the way his cool touch seemed to enflame her, even with the most casual of caresses.  Once he’d walked into the room, though, all of that disappeared faster than donuts around Xander, and she struggled to appear as nonchalant about it as possible.

“Good point,” she conceded.  “But it still doesn’t explain these.”  She gestured toward the boxes.

“Rupert called.  Seems like they’ve got a bit more information.”  Briefly, Spike explained to Buffy about the vodou link.  “And if that songbird’s got some kind of wonderful goin’ on in the vodou world, I know exactly where we can go to get the dish on her,” he finished.

“And that merits the Saks spree…how?”

“The bird we need to talk to wouldn’t let us two feet inside her place without lookin’ the part,” he explained.  He picked up the top box, lifting the corner nearest him to peek inside.  When Buffy ducked her head to try to see what it contained, he snapped it shut, tossing it aside to pick up the second.  “You weren’t around for me to ask, but I’m laying odds you didn’t pack for this possibility, so I called Pablo and asked him to bring around something that might work.”  A glance inside the second box seemed to satisfy him and he passed it to the Slayer, not even waiting for her response before doing the same with the third and fourth.

The look she shot him was wary as she crossed to the couch, sitting down before pulling the lid off the top box.  “Don’t know why I need…” she started to say, only to stop, eyes widening when she saw the red evening dress folded carefully inside.

“Like I said,” Spike drawled, surprisingly pleased when he saw the delight flicker in the hazel depths.  “Something tells me you weren’t plannin’ on playing Cinderella while we’re here.”

Quickly, Buffy tore the lids off the other boxes, exposing two more dresses, one sea-green and the other black.  “And the reason there’s three?” she asked, unable to tear her eyes away. 

“Thought you’d like a choice.”  He watched as she rose to her feet, pulling each from its wrapping to hold it up in front of her, unable to hide her smile when she saw the various accessories accompanying them.  This was something he’d done more than once with Drusilla, buying pretty frocks to try and distract her from the increasing delusional spells she’d suffered from, knowing she would thank him afterward with kisses and blood.  He could hardly expect the same from Buffy, but for some reason, he didn’t care.  Just witnessing the unadulterated joy on her face was all the thanks he needed.

“Do I want to know how you paid for these?” she asked, absorbed in examining the beaded handbag that had been nestled in with the red dress.

Spike grinned.  “Let’s just say, I’m probably goin’ to have used up all those favors I had owed to me by the time we blow this town,” he replied.  Picking up the box he’d tossed aside, he tucked it under his arm as he stepped toward the bedroom.  “Pablo’s sendin’ a car around at sunset to pick us up,” he said.  “You want the shower first, or do you mind if I take it?  I haven’t been able to wash up proper since Rupert called and woke me up.”

“You go first,” Buffy said distractedly, and then realized what he said, looking up at him with a tiny frown.  “A car?  What about that bucket of bolts that got us here?”

He shook his head.  “For some reason, my baby doesn’t meet Iris’ standards.”  When she laughed, he merely rolled his eyes.  “It’s a classic, I’m tellin’ you.  She’s just as blind as you are.  There’s absolutely nothin’ wrong with it.”

“You just go on believing that, Spike,” Buffy giggled.  “The rest of us will just enjoy the twenty-first century in the grand comfort to which we’ve become accustomed.”

She was lost in the gowns before her, and Spike turned on his heel to head to the bathroom, knowing it was pointless to continue this conversation any longer.  “Sunset,” he reminded her.  “Which means you’ve got about two hours to pick one and get ready.  I don’t want to be late.  Iris doesn’t usually hang out there all night, so if we want to make sure we catch up to her, we have to be there early.”

“Sure.  Whatever.”

A pause at the door, and the vampire looked back to see her holding the black dress up to herself again, twirling slightly as if she was pretending to dance.  The corner of his mouth lifted wistfully.  “Not that it makes a difference,” he said, and waited to continue until she looked up to meet his gaze.  “But, I like the green one.”

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

Her foot tapped impatiently against the marble floor as she glanced again at the clock on the wall.  Sunset, he’d said.  You’ve got two hours, he’d said.  I don’t want to be late, he’d said.  And now here she was, dressed to the nines, and Spike was nowhere to be found.

Actually, she knew where he was to be found.  The chipped vamp was currently locked in the bedroom, and she could hear his occasional curse filter through the walls, a crash of something being thrown periodically punctuating his swearing.  She’d knocked on the door once, to let him know that she was ready, but had been violently rebuffed by a vehement, “Bugger off!”  Since then, she’d left well enough alone, figuring he’d emerge when he was done, more than once wondering just what was happening on the other side of that door.

A quiet rap led her to the front entrance, and Buffy pulled it open to see a man in a dark suit on the step.  “I’m here with the car,” he explained, nodding back to the road where the silver outline of a luxury sedan sat waiting.

“We’ll be right out,” she said.  No more stalling, she thought as she marched over to the bedroom, and lifted her fist to pound on the wood.  “Spike!” she called out.  “The car’s here!”

“Fuck,” she heard from inside, followed by a heavy sigh.

When the door opened, Buffy was standing at the couch, reaching for the silk wrap that rested there.  “Took you long enough,” she said, and turned to face him, stopping in mid-swivel at the sight that greeted her.  Though the idea that wherever they were heading was someplace that dictated eveningwear, the Slayer hadn’t really given any thought as to what that would mean for Spike, so lost she was in the indulgence of getting dressed up herself.  Now, though, she found herself wondering why, as her hazel gaze swept over his lean form.

No jeans.  No t-shirt hugging those tightly defined muscles.  No boots clomping heavily across the floor.  Instead, the polish on his dress shoes rivaled that of the floor’s, while black tuxedo trousers hung gracefully from his narrow hips.  The crispness of his white shirt accentuated the breadth of his shoulders, almost daring her to come over and rip it off him, and she found her mouth suddenly dry as the image of what he’d look like just in the pants danced before her mind’s eye.  The matching jacket hung from one hand, while the black tie dangled from the other.

He was glaring at the narrow ebony strip when he walked through the door, head bowed.  “Can’t get this bloody thing on right,” he growled, and his fingers tightened on the fabric.  He lifted his eyes.  “Dru always…”  Spike’s voice trailed off, his features softening when he saw her standing across the room, all thoughts of the quarrelsome item of clothing vanished from his head as he found himself drowning in Buffy.

She’d chosen the green after all.  Chiffon silk that shimmered in the light of the room, it clung to her curves as it fell to the floor, allowing only the very tip of her sandaled foot to poke its way out.  A single strap over her left shoulder, fastened with a gold rhinestone clasp in the shape of a vertical bow, allowed the gentle drape of the fabric to cling to her breasts, while the sleek upsweep of her hair exposed the column of her neck in such a way as to make his mouth water.  The realization that she had selected the gown he’d preferred was lost to him, though, temporarily overshadowed by the struggling poet within him bursting to come out and expound on her glory.

She was radiant, the beauty he’d always known her to be allowed to shine without the fetters of her calling for one of the few times he had witnessed since first meeting the Slayer.  At that moment in time, she was merely a woman---which actually seemed a horribly inadequate term in light of how he was reacting to her---glowing from that inner strength he so begrudgingly admired, reaching into his chest to palpitate his heart in a coercive attempt to beat for the first time in a century.  He was torn between wanting to take her on his arm and show her off to the world, and just taking her, period, right there on the white leather couch, to feel the silk of the gown crumple beneath his fingers as he fought to reach the softer silk of her skin.

“The…car’s here…” Buffy breathed, and the mere sound of her voice shattered the spell that bound the vampire, reminding him why exactly they were dressed this way.

“Right,” he said.  He held up the tie.  “I don’t s’pose I could get your help with this, pet.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had to fuss with one and without a mirror…well, without a reflection…”

“Is this what’s got you all growly?” she teased, crossing to stand in front of him.  Nimble fingers plucked the fabric from his grip, and Buffy reached up to slide it around his neck.  “I hope you didn’t break the bed in there.  It’s my turn to get the room, remember.”

The touch of her fingertips as they brushed against his neck seared rational thought from Spike’s mind, and he gazed down at the top of her head, watching how she bit at her bottom lip as she struggled with the tie, forcing himself to stay still even though his every muscle screamed for release.  “Just…don’t like…askin’ for help,” he finally managed to say.  “Feel enough like a poofter as it is.”

The knot was done, and Buffy gave it a final pat as she looked at it with satisfaction.  “Well, you don’t look like one,” she said softly.  Her body didn’t seem to want to move away, his proximity acting like a drug to her system as her hand lingered at his neck, her gaze suddenly fascinated by the minute scar on his chin.  The urge to dart forward and run her tongue over it caused her to color, but even that wasn’t enough to force her to break away.  “You look…very nice.”

His eyebrow lifted.  “Nice?” he teased.  “That all?”

Though she smiled, she couldn’t seem to meet his eyes.  “I don’t see you handing out compliments on how I look,” she replied.  “So, you get nice.”

When she finally turned away, the space where she’d stood yawned like a canyon before him, and Spike’s hand darted out to close on her shoulder, staying her motion, the tenuous strap under his fingers suddenly reminding him that it was the only thing holding up the delicate material of her gown.  His eyes were dark as he met the green now boring into him.

“Absolutely breathtaking,” he murmured, and then smiled, unable to resist adding, “If I had any breath to take, of course.”

His joke made her giggle, and she stepped back from his loosened grip, picking up the wrap she’d dropped over the back of the couch.  “The car’s waiting,” she said as she headed for the front door.  “We better go.  I want to find this Stella before she does anything to Willow.”

Spike trailed after her, long arms sliding into the sleeves of his jacket as he moved.  “So, you got yours,” he said.  “Where’s mine?”

Buffy hesitated, her hand on the knob.  “Dapper,” she finally said.  “You look dapper.”

His moue of disappointment was more put-upon than anything else.  “That the best you can do?” he complained, watching her disappear through the entrance into the darkening night.  “I give you breathtaking, and I just get dapper?  Dapper’s a nancy boy word!”  The laughter that floated back to him made him smile, though, and Spike just shook his head as he followed after the Slayer, his expectations about the night ahead swelling inside his chest.

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

As they stood just inside the entrance of the club, Buffy’s gaze swept over the crowd, every man in a tuxedo, every woman in an evening gown.  She’d been wondering about feeling conspicuous on the trip there, but that fear was now banished as Spike’s hand settled in the small of her back, his fingers electric through the delicate fabric of her dress, the pressure slight as he guided her toward a small table near the dance floor.  Her Slayer senses were going overboard, and she realized with a start that nearly everyone in the place was a vampire, the few exceptions being the occasional misplaced demon dotted throughout the crowd.

“This is a demon bar,” she hissed under her breath as she slid into the chair Spike pulled out for her.  “What is it with you and taking me to demon bars?”

“First off, Midnight’s not a bar,” he said, lifting a finger to get the attention of one of the waiters.  “It’s a very posh, very exclusive nightclub, and if Iris hears you callin’ it a bar, she’s goin’ to kick the pair of us out of here faster than you can pull out Mr. Pointy.”

She waited until he was seated before speaking again.  “And this Iris can tell us where Stella is?”

“If she can’t tell us exact, she can at least aim us in the right direction.  Vodou is a little hobby of hers.”  He turned in his chair when a waiter appeared at his elbow.  “Glass of O-neg for me and…”  He looked expectantly at Buffy.

“Just water,” she said, eliciting a sigh from Spike and a small frown from the waiter.

“I’m sorry---,” the man started, but was cut off by a small wave of the vampire’s hand.

“She’s new in town,” he explained, throwing the Slayer a condescending look that made her bristle.  “Just bring her a glass of Chardonnay.”

“Spike,” she said sharply.  “I don’t do wine.  Alcohol and Buffy are very non-mixy things.  And hello?  Underage here.  Aren’t they going to get in trouble for serving to a minor?”

Doing his best to appear casual, Spike leaned across the table, taking her hand in his and running a lone finger along the inside of her palm.  “The last thing a tasty little morsel like you should be fussed about in here, luv, is whether the management cares if you’re under the legal drinking age,” he said in a low voice.  “In case you haven’t noticed, even the pair of us together might be just a tad outnumbered should someone decide to challenge me for your…attention.”  The way his tongue glided over the last word told Buffy it wasn’t her attention he was talking about, and her body involuntarily tensed, readying itself for a battle even though no one seemed to be paying them any extra notice. 

“Now,” Spike continued, his finger still tracing hypnotic invisible paths along her veins, “if you don’t want to get tossed out on your ear before we even get to see Iris, you’ll shut your gob and let me take care of this.”  He smiled, but she wasn’t sure if it was part of his façade for the crowd or one of genuine mirth.  “Besides, whoever got drunk on one glass of wine?”

She pulled from his caress, inwardly seething but shooting a saccharine smile to the waiter hovering behind the vamp.  “Glass of Chardonnay, please.”

It wasn’t until they were alone again that Buffy spoke up, her smile gone.  “This whole thrall act is getting old very fast,” she complained.

“Believe it was your idea, pet,” he said, tilting his head as he gazed at her.  The bite of disappointment rose in his throat, but he swallowed it back, maintaining his calm exterior as he searched her face, trying to determine if it was just general irritation at her current helplessness or something more genuine directed at him.  Was he reading everything that was going on between them wrong?  He’d woken from his rest that day with a clearer head, deciding that pursuing the physical relationship with her was not only a good idea but something he actually wanted.  She was gorgeous---seeing her in that dress certainly clinched that one---and when she wasn’t being a complete bitch in trying to make him feel like something she found stuck to the bottom of her shoe, she was fun to be around, that sexy vulnerability she kept so well hidden shining through her Slayer exterior.

Shit.  And maybe he was thinking too much about this.

“I know,” she conceded with a sigh.  Her gaze strayed to the band up on the stand, her body beginning to sway unconsciously to the strains of the saxophone that undercoated the ambience in caramel.  “So where’s this Iris person?  Can we just see her and get this over with?”

“You don’t go to Iris,” Spike said.  “Iris comes to you.”

Her eyes went wide.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!  How in hell is this going to help us?  She doesn’t even know we’re here, or that we want to talk to her, or---.”

The vamp’s smile was tight as the waiter appeared from nowhere, setting the drinks down before them.  “Trust me, pet,” he said.  “She knows.”  He’d barely lifted his blood to his mouth before Buffy had the wine to her lips, downing the pale liquid in a long continuous swallow that mirrored her frustration with the situation, watching in amusement over the rim of his glass as she handed it straight back to the waiter and asked for another.  “What happened to being non-mixy?” he probed cautiously, sipping at his drink as his eyes drilled into hers.

“One’s not going to do anything to me,” she announced, her voice already just a little too loud.  “You said so.”

“But you ordered another.”

“For show.  I’m not having you wig out on me because I’m breaking some secret vampire drinking code, or something.” 

He saw the slight tremor in her hand, the shine beginning to glaze over the Slayer’s eyes.  Slamming the wine had gone straight to her head, its effects already scavenging her body.  Better not let her actually drink that next glass, he thought.  Not if I don’t want some kind of scene on my hands here.  That means getting her away from the table for a bit.

“Wanna dance?” Spike asked, rising to his feet, one hand extending to her.

“With you?”  She couldn’t keep the incredulity out of her voice.  “You dance?”

“Wouldn’t be askin’ if I couldn’t do it,” he replied.  A quick glance around brought to his attention a couple nearby vamps looking over at them, and he made a quick decision.  Reaching down, Spike took her hand in his and pulled her to her feet.  “On second thought,” he said, “I’m not askin’.  C’mon.”

There were only two other couples on the floor, but as Spike curled Buffy into his body, his fingers wrapping around hers, his hand finding that spot at the small of her back that seemed to be waiting for him, the only thing he was aware of was the heady scent of her perfume mingling with the sweetness of the wine on her breath as it wafted to his nostrils.  The color of her gown made her eyes sparkle in a radiant emerald, and he felt his muscles sing as her soft breasts pressed against his chest.  God, she was beautiful, and in his arms, and why did he ever doubt that this couldn’t be a good thing?  They just fit, like he’d never fit with anyone before, not even Dru, their bodies matched in a contrast of hard and soft, their rhythms matched in an unspoken agreement as their feet carried them to the tender caress of the dance.

For a moment, his eyes drifted shut, losing himself to the moment, only to snap open when the fear that she would see overtook him.  It was only when Buffy rested her cheek against his lapel, the smallest of contented sighs escaping her throat, that he let the last of the tension in his shoulders go, his head dropping so that his lips brushed against the faintest tendrils of her hair, his eyes fluttering closed again. 

They could’ve been anywhere.  Under the moon.  Inside his crypt.  On top of the Hellmouth. Neither one of them cared.  At that moment, the only thing that mattered---the only thing that existed---was the world within their arms.

It was just…right.

When he felt the tap on his shoulder, Spike ignored it, hoping that by doing so, it would go away.  The few seconds reprieve almost convinced him that he’d imagined it.  When it came again, however, this time more insistent, the vampire couldn’t help the growl that rumbled in his chest as he lifted his head, opening his eyes to gaze irritably at the waiter trying to get his attention.

“Iris would like to see you,” the waiter said simply.

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

She realized he was still holding her hand as they followed the waiter down the narrow corridor, but what surprised Buffy the most was that she would’ve been disappointed if he’d actually let her go.  He could be doing it as part of our whole thrall act, she thought, only to quickly dismiss the notion when she remembered his obvious arousal pressing against her as they’d been dancing.  No, Spike was attracted to her---of that, she had no doubt---and she was starting to think that maybe the idea that some type of relationship between them wasn’t so crazy after all.  He was the one who kept bringing up the idea of them talking, which frankly scared the holy water right out of her, but the fact that he wanted to, that he was so adamant about doing it, only impressed upon her further his seriousness about their situation.

What is it with guys wanting to talk these kind of things to death? she thought.  First Riley, now Spike.  What was wrong with just following your instincts and skipping over the talking things out phase?

You used to like to talk, the little voice inside her head said.  Before Parker.

Bonehead Parker, Buffy thought grumpily.  Him and his fancy I-understand-your-pain words.  Screwed up everything in me trusting guys who say that.

But this thing with Spike could be different, and deep down, the young woman knew it.  He didn’t treat her with kid gloves; he even seemed to get off on her ability to best him half the time.  And in spite of his predilection for wanting to kill her and her friends, that, too, seemed to be changing.  Just another of the surprises about him that she was discovering on this little trip to save Willow. 

Of course, there was the whole physical attraction part of it, too.  Couldn’t forget that.  Would it be wrong to just indulge in something superficial for a change?  Go into it with few expectations---unlike Parker---and she couldn’t get hurt.  It was definitely something to consider.

She hung back as the waiter first knocked on a closed door, then opened it enough for the pair of them to enter.  Where she’d been expecting an office, she found instead what was obviously someone’s living room, decadently furnished in spicy Moroccan shades, with textures galore adorning the overstuffed couch, the hangings draped over the walls, the glass light fixtures attached the ceiling.  Standing before a lavishly stocked alcohol display was a statuesque blonde, but when Buffy searched the mirror behind the liquor bottles for the woman’s face, she found herself greeted with her own reflection.

“And why, oh why, is William the Bloody deigning to play with mortals?” the woman said lightly as she poured out two shots of whiskey from the bottle in her hands.

“Good to see you, too, Iris,” Spike replied, finally releasing Buffy’s hand to stride confidently toward their hostess. 

When he came to a halt just a few feet away, the Slayer was shocked to see the height difference between them, the amply proportioned woman towering over him by a good six inches.  Maybe she’s a vampire/Amazon hybrid, Buffy thought and found herself standing taller, watching as Iris turned to proffer one of the tumblers to Spike.

Everything about the club owner was immaculate---the carefully applied scarlet lipstick, the way her black gown hung in perfect pleats from her plethora of curves.  Her blonde hair was cropped short, but its masculine cut did nothing to detract from the very feminine aura that surrounded her.  Brigitte Nielsen on steroids, the Slayer realized.  Now there’s a scary thought.

“What you see is a helluva lot more than you’re ever going to get,” Iris replied, a wry smile curving her too-full lips.  “And you haven’t answered my question.”

“Since when do you give two figs about who’s in my bed?” Spike replied.  “’Specially since you’ve made it abundantly clear that you’re not interested.”  He took a step closer, his tongue darting to trace his teeth as his eyes raked over her long form.  “’Course, if you’re havin’ second thoughts, I might be willin’ to consider makin’ a change…”

“Spike!”  His name came from her mouth without thought, the sudden rise of possession in her breast overwhelming Buffy to the point of speaking.  Her feet carried her further into the room, but she stopped when both vampires turned to look at her, her gaze quizzically amused, his slightly bewildered.

“Someone’s pet is just a little on the jealous side,” Iris crooned.  “Don’t worry, little girl.  Your Spike is safe and sound.  I have no desires to take him up on his offer.  He’d probably break within the first hour and frankly, I’m more interested in stamina than style.”

“I think he’d surprise you,” Buffy retorted, cheeks flaming in embarrassment.

Spike’s eyes lingered on hers, trying to assess how much of this was put upon and how much was real, and she tore her own away before too much of the truth could be revealed.  Her outburst had come from nowhere, but as soon as she’d seen him playing up to the female vampire, she’d been unable to control it, and now wondered just what in hell was going on inside her head.

“Well, I will give you this, Spike,” Iris said.  “You do know how to pick women who are utterly devoted to you.  First Drusilla, now this little human.  Of course, Drusilla’s sanity left a little to be desired.  Is this one crazy too?  Or does she just have that daddy fixation that intrigues you so?”

Buffy’s hands balled into fists at her side, and she bit her lip in order not to say something she was sure would not lead to anything good.  She really didn’t like this woman, and the sooner they got what they wanted and got out of here, the happier she was going to be.

Setting his drink on the bar, Spike leaned against it, blue eyes surveying the room.  “And here I was hoping we might be able to do some business here,” he said casually.  “If I’d known you were only interested in discussing my lovelife, I’d’ve saved you the trouble and just dropped you a postcard.  ‘Dru’s history.  Bagged me my own blonde.  Wish you were here.’”

Iris pouted.  “Hanging out with humans is making you boring,” she complained.  “You used to be so much fun to banter with.”  She sighed and crossed to the couch, arranging her long limbs gracefully amidst the large pillows.  “Fine.  Be that way.  What’s the business that brings you around Midnight?”

Spike reached into his jacket and extracted the sketch he’d made earlier of Stella, handing it over to the female vampire.  “Lookin’ for this songbird,” he said.  “Name’s Stella.  She’s s’posed to be all into the vodou and since she’s from around these parts, I figured you’d be just the one to tell me where I could find her, where she works, that sort of thing.”

Iris’ eyes were impassive as they looked over the drawing.  “She’s a singer, you say?”

“Yeah.  Puts on quite a show from the way they tell it.”

“Is she demon or human?”

“Human.”

She shook her head, holding out the paper for him to take back.  “Sorry, Spike.  I don’t think I can help you this time around.”

“Can’t?  Or won’t?”

“Can’t,” she stressed.  “I’ve never seen that person before.  But if you want, I can put out some feelers, see if anyone else has heard of a black singer into vodou somewhere here in New Orleans.”  Her smile was mocking.  “Because that wouldn’t be unusual in the slightest, you know.”

He looked like he wanted to press on the issue, but after a moment of silence, decided better of it, tucking the sketch back into his jacket.  “Right then,” he said, crossing to Buffy by the door.  “We won’t be keepin’ you any longer.  Know you’re a busy gal and all.”

“Why exactly are you looking for this…Stella?”  She wasn’t even looking at them when she asked, focusing instead on sipping casually at her drink.

“She’s got something of mine,” Buffy said before Spike could reply.  “I want it back.”

Iris chuckled.  “And lovely William is playing the gallant boyfriend in helping you,” she said.  “How…droll.”

“Troll?” Buffy asked Spike, looking at him in confusion.  “There’s a troll?”

Rolling his eyes at her linguistic simplicity, he shook his head.  “Droll,” he repeated, emphasizing the d.  “Like…quaint.  Only…”  He shot Iris a dirty look.  “…not quite so nice.”

The female vamp’s chuckle deepened into full laughter.  “Stay for as long as you’d like,” she tossed back at them over her shoulder.  “Drinks will be on the house.  For old friends’ sake.”

The Slayer felt Spike hesitate, his muscles tense as his hand settled at her back, and followed his gaze as he looked back at the woman on the couch.  “Thanks,” he said slowly.  “It’s appreciated.”

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

“Is that it?” she demanded once they were back at their table.  “Your big source, the queen of all things vodou, gave us nada.  Please tell me you’ve got something else for us to try, because I am less than impressed here.”

“Sit back and drink your wine,” Spike ordered, eyes narrowed as they scanned the club.  He was distracted, had been since they’d left Iris’ quarters, and his tone was brusque as he spoke to her.

“We’re staying?  That’s going to waste this whole night.”  Buffy leaned forward, grabbing his arm to force his attention back to her.  “She doesn’t know anything, Spike.  Now, under other circumstances, boogie-ing the night away with you might be kind of appealing, but not right now, not with Willow out there somewhere.  What can sticking around here possibly accomplish?”

His eyes flitted down to her hand on his sleeve before lifting up to gaze steadily into hers.  “Hopefully, it’s goin’ to give us some idea on why exactly Iris is lyin’ to us,” he said softly.  “Because there’s no way in hell she doesn’t know who that Stella bird is…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 11:  I Thought About You