DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Spike has taken Buffy to Midnight, an exclusive demon club owned by the vampire Iris, to get information on Stella, only to be told by the owner that she doesn’t know anything.  Spike, however, believes that Iris is lying…

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

Chapter 11: I Thought About You

It was weird seeing Spike treated as royalty.

It had started almost immediately after he made his surprising proclamation about Iris’ duplicity.  The waiter had appeared at his shoulder, lowered his head to murmur something directly into the vamp’s ear, and immediately Spike had straightened, head swiveling to gaze over at the bar, Buffy’s eyes following his as they lighted on the elegant older couple that stood there.  A moment of hesitation, and then he’d nodded, the smallest of confused smiles playing on his lips.

“What’s going on?” Buffy had asked.

“Apparently, my reputation precedes me,” the vamp had murmured.  His face had been thoughtful as he’d turned back to the table, absently picking up his drink but not raising it to his lips.

“And?” she’d prompted.  “What’s the punchline here?”

“We’ve been asked to join a private party for dinner,” he’d explained.  When she’d blanched at the suggestion, sudden images of a score of vampires taking their turns with helpless victims popping into her head, Spike had hastened to add, “Proper dinner.  Only a few of them are vampires.”  His smile had widened.  “Seems I’m not the only one hangin’ out with humans these days.”

“But what about Iris?  And Willow?  The whole reason we’re here in the first place?  Just two minutes ago, you didn’t want to leave.”

“And we’re not.  By private, I just meant only for a select few.  It’s here at Midnight.”  He rose to his feet, setting down his glass and extending his hand for hers, waiting distractedly for her to take it.  “We can still keep an eye out here,” he’d said.  “And you’ve got the bonus of gettin’ a four-star meal to boot.  Iris has excellent taste in everything.”

Buffy had grimaced at the mention of the female vampire, and reluctantly stood up.  “I’m sure,” she grumbled.  “Because Iris is just perfect.”  She’d dragged out the last word, feeling silly as she did so, but unable to stop the pettiness from creeping into her voice.

He’d already had his back to her, ready to pull her out into the throng to join the couple at the bar, when he heard her.  She felt his fingers tighten around hers, his blond head ducking to look back at her out of the corner of his eye.  “What’s with the green?” Spike had asked cautiously.  “You were like this in Iris’---.”  He’d stopped then, the mere uttering of the vamp’s name sending a spiral of electricity through the Slayer’s heart, her hand constricting instinctively around his.  She wasn’t…was she?

“You’re jealous,” he’d said, and stepped around the chair to stand directly in front of her.

She wouldn’t meet his eyes, hazel glittering brightly as they darted everywhere but at his face.  “Jealous?” she’d aped, and inwardly cringed at the too-high tone of her voice.  “Of what?  The fact that she can pick her own apples without needing a ladder?”

His free hand had come up to brush away the lock of hair that had loosened in her vehemence, fingertips straying over her too-warm skin, the burn traveling down his arm to heat the bowels of his flesh in kind.  “We’re not even really friends, you know,” he’d murmured, inexplicably needing to reassure her.  “More like…flirtatious acquaintances whose paths have crossed on more than one occasion.  Not anything to get yourself all fussed over.”  Those blue eyes, now dark, had settled on the Slayer’s jutting lower lip, and his mouth had watered at the memory of its taste.

“I’m not fussed.  I just…don’t…like her very much.”

“Why’s that, luv?”

“Well, the phrase ‘skanky ho’ comes to mind, for starters.”

He’d chuckled, and she’d thought for a split second that it was the sexiest sound she’d ever heard.  “You are jealous.”

“I’m not!” she’d protested.  “It’s just…we’re supposed to be having a…thing, right?  Who’s going to believe us if you’re drooling over every bimbo with legs that go up to her fangs?  I wouldn’t, that’s for---.”

His mouth over hers had effectively shut her up, and it had taken only a moment for her to respond to the demanding pressure of his tongue, parting her lips to allow its entry, sweeping in sure strokes that forced her eyes closed.  From the back of Buffy’s throat, a moan had escaped, her body leaning automatically into his as her hand went up to his neck, every inch of her begging to feel his muscled sleekness against her.

She was breathless when they pulled apart, cheeks blazing.  And the troika of kisses has now become a four-ka, she thought crazily.  Wonder if we can make it a five-ka, or better yet, six, and seven, and eight…

His mouth swept across her jaw to the pulsepoint below her ear, the tip of his tongue darting out to snag the reverberations of it into his own.  “How could you think I’d even be able to look at anyone else when you taste so scrumptious, pet?” he’d murmured.  “Got me hooked good and proper, you do.”

“I didn’t…mean to…hook you,” she’d breathed.  Why was he still talking?  Why wasn’t he kissing her?

He’d pulled away then.  “Think tonight’s probably the right time for us to have that little chat,” Spike had said.  The glittering promise in his eyes made her flesh tingle in anticipation, but the quick dart of her gaze to the door of the club had been cut off with, “When we get back to the flat.  First, we’ve got some bread breaking to do.”  At the obvious disappointment in her face, he added, “Maybe we’ll suss out some reasons why Iris isn’t coming clean about that Stella.  I’m not too keen on bein’ lied to these days, even if it’s to be expected from a vamp with her kind of power.”

Without another word, the pair of them had joined the couple at the bar, and Buffy had been whisked away to a different table, far in the corner, seated between the other two humans in the party, a retired schoolteacher with a penchant for Anne Rice and an over-groomed tax attorney.  Within five minutes, her library of mindless chatter had been exhausted in favor of their more mundane subjects of conversation, and she’d settled herself into watching the other vampires fawn over Spike, pleading with him to share some of his and Dru’s more famous exploits.

He was in his element, lounging in his chair while letting that Big Bad bravado that had been stifled so long in Sunnydale work its wonders on the other two demons, not to mention charming the pants off their human companions.  Buffy seemed the only one disinterested in the gory details, although when the issue of the Slayers he’d killed came up, she had to admit to being mildly impressed when he deftly changed the subject, the sideways glance at her more telling than any words he might’ve uttered.  It was genuine concern for her feelings that prompted the consideration, she recognized, and sipped at her third glass of wine in a surprised delight that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Would wonders never cease.

Dinner came and went, and though everyone else at the table seemed to be absorbed in Spike’s This Is Your Life show, Buffy kept a wary eye out for Iris, hoping that the vampire would put in an appearance so that they might be able to get to the bottom of her lies.  She didn’t even notice the fact that her wine glass never seemed to be empty, though she was constantly sipping at it, nor was she aware of her growing fixation on Spike.  She kept alternating between musing on Iris and staring at him intently, and when the notion that she should really take matters into her own hands popped into her head, Buffy didn’t for a second question its veracity.  It made sense.  Crystal clear as only ideas can seem when one is either dreaming or drunk.  It was just too bad the distinction that she was awake, leaving only the other as an alternative, escaped her currently tipsy state.

“Excuse me,” she chirped with a bright smile, dropping her napkin to her plate as she rose to her feet, weaving slightly in place as the colors of the room swam brightly before her eyes.

Spike frowned as he automatically rose to his feet, hand at her elbow as she tried to brush past him.  “Where are you rushing off to, pet?” he asked.

“The little girl’s room,” she replied.

He saw the color staining her cheek, the reflective sheen in her eyes, and silently reprimanded himself for letting her drink as much as she had.  So much for doing this for Red, he thought as he felt the Slayer sway within his grasp.  He’d gotten himself all wrapped up in reliving the glory days, the feeling of importance being around those who respected him a balm to his bruised ego, and lapsed in his promise to Buffy to help with Willow.  Bollocks.

“Think that’s such a good idea?” he quizzed, leaning in a little closer.  His blue eyes drifted to the various vampires around the room.  “Don’t like the idea of you bein’ on your own in this place.”

“Oh, Spike.”  Buffy laughed, her hand coming up to slap lightly at his chest.  “It’s the bathroom.  I’m hardly in danger of falling in or anything.  Besides, I think I’m more than capable of taking care of myself.”  Standing on her tiptoes, her breath tickled his ear as she whispered, “Do you want to know where I’ve hidden my stake?”

He felt like a gaping teenager as a giggling Buffy almost skipped toward the other side of the room, the images of just where the stake could be placed driving all the stolen blood in his body southward.  Little tease, he thought, eyes glittering as they swept over the seductive sway of her bottom.  She’s got to know what sayin’ that kind of stuff does to me.

Slowly, his lip curled.  Well, I’ll be damned, Spike mused.  She does know.  There was no doubt in his mind now that they’d be having their chat later.  At least one good thing had come from showing at Midnight, even if they hadn’t been able to get anything useful from Iris…

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

Buffy pressed into the wall of the corridor, her stake clutched tightly in her sweaty hand.  Sneaking past the guard had been surprisingly simple; retrieving the weapon from its sheath around her thigh had not.  She’d tripped herself more than once struggling to get it out, managing to get a splinter the second time.  Now, though, she was armed, she was ready, and she was going to get some straight answers from that Iris if it killed her.  Iris, she meant.  Just had to find her first.

She was expecting the door to be locked when she found it, which explained why she shoved on it just a little too hard, stumbling inside the lavish interior.  From the couch, Iris turned her head, frowning slightly at her new guest.

“Back so soon?” she commented coldly.

Buffy straightened, slipping her hand behind her back to hide the stake.  “This isn’t the bathroom?” she asked, looking confusedly at the door before sniffing pointedly at the air.  “Smells like a bathroom.  My bad.  But you can understand why I’d be confused.  You’ve got that whole call girl boudoir thing going on with the décor.”

Iris turned away, returning her attention to the book that rested in her lap.  “Run away, little girl, before I decide to forget that Spike is my friend and have you for a midnight snack.”

Folding her arms across her chest, Buffy lifted her chin, nudging the door closed behind her with her hip.  “OK, first of all, I’m not a little girl, so I’d appreciate it if you’d stop calling me that.”

The sound of the door whisking shut caused Iris to rise, facing the Slayer with mild annoyance, eyes narrowing as she saw the stake the other blonde had already forgotten she was trying to hide.  “Really, jealousy does not become you.  Does loverboy know you carry one of those things around?”  The corner of her mouth lifted.  “Although, knowing Spike, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t his twisted form of foreplay.  Does he make you play Slayer games?  He’s killed two of them, you know.  He considers it a badge of honor.”

“I know.”  Buffy’s voice was tight, the vibrant colors in the room hurting her eyes as she struggled to maintain control of her temper.  Something about this bitch really rubbed her wrong, and in more than just the normal it’s-a-vampire-and-I-need-to-stake-her way.  “And Spike told me you two weren’t even really friends, so there’s no reason for me to be jealous.  Which I’m not.”  How many times was she going to have to say it for people to start believing her?

“I believe I told you there was no reason for it.” 

“You also told us you didn’t know anything about Stella and you lied about that, so why should I believe anything you say?”

“So you’re saying you think there is a reason for you to be jealous?”

“No, I just told you I wasn’t.”  Buffy’s head was starting to cloud as she watched Iris take a step forward.  What was with the word games?  Why was she talking so much?  The wine fuzzied her brain, and she swallowed hard as if that would clear it. 

“So, if you believe me about nothing going on between me and your boyfriend, there’s no reason you shouldn’t believe me about this…Stella you’re so worried about finding.”  Another step.

“No, you’re lying about that.  Spike said so.”

“The same Spike who thought he could fool me by showing up at my club with the Slayer?  That same trustworthy Spike?”

Buffy’s eyes widened as Iris took another step.  Shit.  So maybe they hadn’t been able to fool her after all.  What had they done to give her away?  Well, at least she didn’t have to pretend anymore.

“You know, I have to give the vamp credit though,” the female demon continued, still moving with that stealthy grace.  “Getting a Slayer under his control?  Very impressive.”

Her heart quickened at Iris’ words.  They still had hope; she still believed in the thrall thing.  Out loud, she said, “I told you before.  I think Spike would surprise you.  He certainly surprised me.”

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

For the third time, Spike cast a glance in the direction Buffy had disappeared, wondering what in hell was taking her so long.  Could she have run into something beyond her control?  Normally, he wouldn’t have worried about the Slayer handling herself amidst a group of vampires, but in her current inebriated state, she was slightly more vulnerable.  If anything happened to her, it would be his fault.

A small knot of fear lodged in the back of his throat, his dinner companions’ voices fading from his awareness, and absently, Spike rose to his feet.  “Excuse me,” he said.  “Goin’ to go see what’s keepin’ Buffy.”

He didn’t even hear the amused titters that drifted after him, the murmured, “They’re so devoted,” lost in the gentle swell of the band.  Instead, he focused on sluicing through tables, weaving with a feral grace that alerted those around him to his presence, concentrating on the door he’d seen Buffy disappear through earlier.  It was only when he reached it that he realized that it didn’t lead to the bathrooms as she’d claimed; the exit for those was on the other side of the bar.  He’d never really noticed that before.

“Bugger,” Spike muttered as he pushed his way through the door.  He was immediately met with the burly form of a guard, and stopped short.

“I’m sorry,” the guard said, holding up his hand.  “This is a private area.”

“Not as sorry as I am, mate,” the vamp replied, and before the other could react, Spike’s fist had shot out, connecting heavily with the guard’s jaw, sending him unconscious against the opposite wall. 

Thank god Iris only hires fellow demons, he thought as he stalked down the corridor.  Makes this so much easier for me.

He didn’t even consider how Buffy had gotten past the guard.  Knowing the Slayer, if she was set on this as her destination, one measly vampire wasn’t going to stand in her way.

He heard their voices first, Buffy’s artificially exuberant thanks to the wine, Iris’ smooth and even, and stopped outside the door, his hand reaching for the doorknob.  It stopped, however, when the Slayer’s next words reached his ears.

“You know, if you touch him, I will kill you.”

Iris laughed.  “You are a little spitfire, aren’t you?  Remind me to applaud Spike when I see him next.  You’re a far sight more interesting than that vapid Drusilla.  At least you’re reasonably sane.”  Another laugh.  “Spike, on the other hand, is utterly mad for getting himself involved with a Slayer.  It must be Dru’s lingering influence.  Does it bother you that she still has such power over your boyfriend?”

Spike grimaced.  Shit.  Iris knew Buffy was the Slayer.  No wonder she’d lied earlier about Stella.  His credibility was shot to hell with her now.

“Stop right where you are are.  I can see what you’re trying to do.”  This was Buffy.

“Oh?  And what am I doing?”

“I said, stop.”  Firmer this time, followed by the faintest of rustles from the other side of the door.

“I can see the appeal you have for Spike, little girl---.”

“I told you to stop calling me that!”

“---but why on earth are you choosing to stay around him?  Is it the sex?  Does sleeping with the enemy make you quiver?”

“If I wasn’t so sure you could help us find Stella, I’d be staking you faster than you could blink right about now.”

“And you’d never get out of here alive.  Kill me, and you’ll have every vampire in the place on you.  A drunk Slayer is a sloppy Slayer.  And Spike would be dust as well for bringing you here in the first place.”

“Leave him out of this!”

Another chuckle from Iris.  “Poor little Slayer.  What does it feel like, knowing you’re falling in love with William the Bloody?   Are you prepared to have your heart broken when he drops you, or better yet, kills you, when he gets bored with his little mortal dalliance?”

He was getting tired of eavesdropping, his muscles screaming at him to just march in there and yank Buffy out, but the implication from the other vampire that the Slayer was developing true feelings for him froze his hand, his desire to hear the response to this greater than his need to interrupt.

“What happens to my heart is none of your business,” Buffy said coldly.  Spike could hear her heartbeat through the door, and knew that it wasn’t just because of the alcohol.  “What we have is…fresh, and…raw, and…and exciting, and wait, none of your business.”

“You made it my business when you barged in here with your little stake.”

Stake.  Shit.  

No more time to listen.

The knob twisted in his grip and Spike rushed inside, knocking the edge of the door against Buffy’s shoulder.

“Ow!” she cried out, stumbling from his path.  She would’ve fallen to the floor if he hadn’t grabbed her, his strong arm wrapping around her waist to pull her tight against him.

“Why do I bother hiring bodyguards if just anyone can push their way in?” Iris complained, turning away from the blond pair to collapse in elegant annoyance on her couch.

She fought against his grip, straining to be released.  “Let me go, Spike!” Buffy ordered.   She didn’t really expect him to listen to her, but felt his arm disappear.  Oh look, she thought as she tumbled to the floor.  Gravity works.

“I suggest you get your little girlfriend out of my club,” Iris said nonchalantly, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred.  “And it would probably be a very good idea if you didn’t come back.”

Spike’s hand guided Buffy back up as she used his trousers leg for leverage.  A quick scan over her form revealed nothing amiss, and he shifted his attention briefly to the other woman in the room.  “This isn’t over,” he warned her.

Iris smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  “Oh, I know that,” she replied.  “It’s really only beginning.”  Her mouth hardened.  “Now, get out.”

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

They left by the back entrance, sliding into the car in mutual silence.  Spike watched as Buffy pressed herself against the door, slouching in the seat as she twirled the stake between her fingers, pouting when she kept dropping it into her lap.

“What did you think you were doing?” he finally asked.

“I was bored,” came the reply.  “And you said she was lying.”  She lifted too-bright hazel eyes to gaze at him.  “Iris is a bitch.”

Spike chuckled.  “You’re not tellin’ me anything I don’t already know,” he concurred.  “Still doesn’t tell me why you thought you should go after her on your own, especially when you’ve been drinking.”

“You’re the one who said I couldn’t get drunk off one glass of wine.”

“And you proved me wrong, didn’t you?”

“I’m not drunk.”

“Whatever you say, pet.”

“And I’m not jealous.”  She stifled a wide yawn, her jaw clicking shut in embarrassment.

“Think the jury’s still out on that one.”  Time for a cigarette.  Iris’ no-smoking policy was leaving him a little itchy, and he fumbled in his pockets for his lighter.

“And I’m not in love with you.”

By the time he’d lifted his surprised gaze to look at her, Buffy’s eyes had already drifted shut, her blonde head leaning against the glass, her weapon dangling lifelessly from her hand.  She’d avoided answering the female vampire’s accusation directly when she’d been housed up with her, and now, hearing the unsolicited protestation for his own ears sent the questions reeling inside his skull.  What was that about the lady doth protest too much? he thought, drinking in her passed-out form, listening to the steady tattoo of her pulse.  This thing between them wasn’t about love, just…mutual respect, and incredible attraction, maybe friendship on the outside.  Why was the Slayer talking about love?

For the same reason he’d been mulling over the shift in his thoughts about her.  Because all of a sudden, the possibility was there, each moment they spent together reinforcing their needs instead of gathering the grounds to drive them further apart.  He wouldn’t call it love, not yet, not for him anyway, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up there at the rate they were going.  Had she beaten him there?

That question, and more, kept him quiet as they pulled up to the small cottage.  Buffy didn’t stir, even when Spike leaned over and gently shook her shoulder to wake her.  Out cold, he realized, and sighed as he climbed out of the car, hurrying around to the other side to open her door.  He caught her before she could tumble out, scooping her into his arms, and carrying her inside.

She was so fragile, her bones as weightless as a bird’s, and Spike resisted the sudden urge to throw her into the sky to see if she would fly.  Instead, he stood on the step of the house, the moonlight splaying in silver streaks across her lashes, deepening the flush in her cheeks to make the life within her unmistakable, and pursed his lips together to blow a gentle stream of air across her forehead, watching as it caught the faint strands of gold.  So beautiful.  So deceptively strong. 

Would it be so wrong to allow himself to love her?

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

The engine rumbled to a quiet as he rolled to a stop beneath the sweeping boughs of the trees.  Exhausted, Freddie slumped forward, forehead resting on the steering wheel.  If he could sleep until Christmas, he just might start feeling human again.

Stella’s bus was scheduled to arrive in the morning, which was not soon enough for his tastes.  There had been no more incidents with Willow for the remainder of the trip, but that was because he’d kept her sleeping, drugged to the gills with whatever it took to make sure her and her magic didn’t get loose again.  He still had a bruise on his side from where the cassette case had slammed into him; he didn’t even want to think about what other possible damage she could inflict if she was actually awake.

Wearily, Freddie lifted his head and stared out over the water, watching the slight rippling under the stars.  He would’ve preferred staying in the city, but they needed Willow in the djab’s proximity once she was wakened, and with its home here within these trees, that left few options for resting elsewhere.  The next forty-eight hours would be frightening, and exhilarating, and more of a dream than he’d ever imagined.

Provided, of course, that he lived through them…

 

To be continued in Chapter 12: It’s About That Time