DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: A tipsy Buffy confronted Iris, who confirmed that she knew that Buffy was the Slayer, and Spike got her out of there before anything could happen, taking her back to the cottage…

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Chapter 12: It's About That Time

She could smell him all around her, leather mingling with the fading cigarette smoke, churning with that musk that was uniquely Spike's to create a scent that prickled her taste buds. Groaning softly, Buffy turned her head, fully expecting to be greeted by the vampire's sleeping form, but instead saw only the padded expanse of the snowy white comforter.

Blinking into the darkness, she propped herself up on her elbows, the hair that had been loosened from its knot spilling around her shoulders. She was in the cottage's bedroom, and it was still nighttime, although a quick glance at the clock on the nightstand announced that it was actually quite early morning. She groaned again. Four o'clock. What in hell was she doing waking up at four? And how exactly had she gotten here in the first place?

The gown she'd worn to the club still clung to her body, but her feet were bare, her sandals scattered haphazardly across the floor. She didn't remember taking them off. Of course, she didn't remember getting home, either, so that really didn't say a whole lot. If she tried---and the slight throb of her head made trying just a shade on this side of difficult---she remembered drinking at the club, and watching Spike play King of the Castle with his groupies---and wasn't that just a little scary because she almost didn't recognize him, playing nice-nice with the other demons, like he was trying to impress them or something---and…

Her eyes widened.

Crap. Iris. I went and tried talking to Iris.

With a stake.

While I was drunk.

Not a shining Slayer moment.

The memory of Spike coming in after her, and helping her get out to the car, came rushing in after, and Buffy realized then that she must've passed out on the ride home. He probably carried me in, she thought as she sat up. And I'm just smelling him because he slept in here last night.
Her mouth was parched, her tongue feeling twice its thickness, and she swallowed compulsively, trying to coat her throat in anything remotely resembling liquid. Water, she decided. I need water. Like, yesterday. It could've been worse, though, she knew. A little dry mouth, a little headache…considering how much wine she'd had, she was actually getting off pretty lucky.

As she rose from the bed, Buffy plucked at the dress twisted around her legs, the stale scent of wine wafting to her nostrils, and grimaced, deciding then and there that any more sleep would be much better gained in something that was actually meant to be slept in. She whisked it over her head, but it wasn't until it was tossed to the chaise under the window that she realized her other clothes were still in the outer room, her bag probably still sitting outside the bathroom door where she'd left it earlier that day. Can't go out there like this, she thought, folding her arms across her bare breasts as she looked around. Not with Spike sleeping on the couch.

Her eyes lit on the discarded t-shirt the vampire had been wearing prior to going out. She shouldn't, not without asking, but he wouldn't know, right? He'd be asleep, she'd get her water, grab her bag, and be back in the room without him ever knowing she'd borrowed it. But even as her fingers closed around the cotton, Buffy couldn't deny the small flutter in her stomach as Spike's scent renewed its assault on her senses. He'd promised at the club that they were going to have their little "chat" when they got home, and while she couldn't say that she really knew what in hell she was going to say in it, the notion that the chat would be followed by more of those amazing kisses Spike seemed to excel at flushed her system in warmth. Sleeping in his shirt might be the closest she got to that tonight. And what he didn't know wouldn't annoy him, right?

If she wasn't still suffering from the effects of the alcohol, she might have noticed the faint music that was coming from the living room when she emerged from the bedroom. As it was, it wasn't until she'd stepped from the hall that she heard the halting melody being plucked from the piano, and froze in her place, hazel eyes locked on the shirtless form of Spike sitting at the baby grand on the other side of the room.

"You're up," she said needlessly.

"Same could be said for you," he replied, not bothering to turn around. He still wore his tuxedo trousers, but the belt had been removed, draped uselessly over the back of the couch, and he sat on the piano bench tapping out a tune with his right hand. "Thought you'd be out for the count until sunrise."

"I was…thirsty." Buffy frowned, taking a step closer to him. "What're you doing?"

"Looks like I'm playin' the piano."

She rolled her eyes. "I can see that. I just…why?"

"I couldn't sleep and the telly's in the bedroom, remember? Bloke's gotta keep himself entertained somehow." His fingers hovered over the keys for a moment. "Fuck," she heard him mutter, fist pounding once on the keyboard before resuming its work, picking up the melody at the beginning again. After a moment, he added, "Been a while since I played, though. Remembering how it goes isn't comin' as easy as I thought it would."

"I didn't know you could play at all."

"There's a lot you don't know about me, Slayer," he said, and shifted his weight to glance back at her for the first time since her arrival.

She saw his eyes narrow as they swept up her bare legs, absorbing the sight of the black cotton skimming across the top of her thighs before lifting his gaze to her face. The music hesitated, then stopped, the vampire removing his hands from the instrument to turn around to look at her fully.

"That's not what you fell asleep in," he commented, and she felt the cadences beneath his words like a satin caress across her skin.

"My stuff was out here, and I didn't feel like walking around naked just to get a glass of water." She was desperately trying not to make it too obvious what he was doing to her, and decided that now was just as good a time as any for that drink, silently ordering her feet to start moving toward the kitchen even though they seemed determined to stay rooted in that particular spot.

"I dunno." His voice floated after her. "Buffy in the buff sounds pretty appetizing to me."

"You're a pig, Spike," she shot back, but her heart wasn't in it, his responding chuckle proof that he knew it as well.

He was still sitting there when she returned with her water, eyes dark and contemplative, as if he was waiting for her to say something. Instead, keeping her eyes averted, Buffy lifted the glass to her mouth, forcing herself to drain its contents in one pass. Anything, really, so that she wouldn't have to speak to him just yet. Not that she really thought she could at the moment, anyway. Seeing him like that…wearing his scent so close to her skin…she was on Slayer sensory overload.

God, he thought. She can even making gulping down that water look sexy. This was one of the few times he was grateful not to be wearing his black jeans; the bagginess of the tux trousers gave his cock plenty of room to get hard without making it obvious to her. Not that he thought she would object if she knew. He could smell her desire all the way across the room.

"What were you playing?" she asked, striving for normal as she the glass down on the breakfast bar.

He shrugged. "Just a little ditty from a long time ago," he said, and tilted his head, the corner of his mouth lifting. "You play?"

Buffy laughed at the absurdity of the question. "Uh, no. I think my music gene got eaten by my Slayer gene somewhere along the line."

"Betcha I can teach you. It's not really that hard, and you've already got two things in your favor."

"And what're those?"

Spike smiled. "Me as a teacher, and the fact that we both know you're already good with your hands."

The giggle that rose to her lips helped ease some of the nervousness in her system, and she took a few steps closer to him. "You should be warned Mom tried making me take piano lessons when I was little. My teacher went missing after three sessions."

"Ooo, a challenge." He smirked as he rose from the bench, gesturing for her to take a seat. "'Course that's to be expected, I'd guess."

Her heart was thumping as she slid onto the cold bench, the t-shirt riding up so that it pooled slightly around her hips when she positioned herself in the seat's middle. What are you doing? she demanded of herself silently. Half-naked Buffy plus half-naked Spike does not add up to Slayer goodness.

No, it adds up to sexy goodness, the little voice inside her chortled.

Shut up, she admonished. You're not helping.

Oh, please, it said. Like you're not loving every second of this.

"Do you know where middle C is?" Spike was asking. At some point, he had moved to stand directly behind her, touching but not, his thighs just inches away from her back.

She blushed and was glad he couldn't see her face. "I'm going to guess…somewhere in the middle?" Buffy quipped.

Spike sighed. "Scoot up, Slayer," he instructed, but when she started to slide sideways, his hand came down on her shoulder, stopping her movement. "I said, up." He made a sweeping gesture forward, nudging at the small of her back with his knee.

Slowly, Buffy inched her bottom forward along the bench until she was just as much off as she was on. Keeping her eyes glued to the black and white keys in front of her, she felt the vampire settle himself behind her, legs straddling either side of hers, hips pressing gently into her ass. For a moment, she thought she felt a hard reminder of his earlier arousal, but it quickly disappeared when Spike eased himself back, separating their bodies with the narrowest slivers of air.

His right hand took hers and rested it on the keyboard. "This is middle C," he said, trying not to make it obvious that he was drowning in the scent of her hair. "Everything starts from here."

"Everything?" Her voice sounded like a squeak to her, and she couldn't help but wonder…when did the air conditioning stop working?

"Yeah. Let's do a scale first."

Her bottom lip jutted out of its own accord. "I want to learn a song," she said, the slightest of whines tingeing her voice.

He heard the pout in her tone, and immediately flashed back to the previous autumn, when the pair of them had been under Willow's spell, and the most delicious thing in the world to him had been the taste of that bottom lip. His mouth watered at the memory, and Spike swallowed, resisting the urge to just bury the crook of her neck in hungry kisses.

Relax, he chided himself. Keep it slow. One wrong move, and she's goin' to stake you for good.

It was eating at him, though, he had to admit. He wanted nothing more than to just get all the cards out on the table, right then, right there, but with Buffy's history, and her penchant for jumping to the worst possible conclusion about him, Spike knew that would be the worst thing he could do. He'd thought for awhile at the club that she might be seeing him with just a little more respect, that hearing how he was esteemed and feared by demons that seemed a cut above the norm might make a difference. That had been shelved, unfortunately, as soon as the issue of his killing the other Slayers had come up. She might've been able to forget before that, but the reminder that he had two Slayers under his belt was most likely what drove her to act out so rashly in confronting Iris while under the influence.

That was actually his fault, and he knew it. He should've warned Buffy ahead of time. Iris was one of the most powerful vampires in New Orleans; they were on her turf at Midnight and any unprovoked attack on their part would've surely cost both of them their lives. It was the only reason he'd let the bloody bodyguard live. Kill one of Iris' minions? Only if Spike had a deathwish, which, in light of his current situation with the Slayer now situated between his knees, was the farthest thing from his mind.

"You learn a song later," Spike replied in answer to her complaint. "First, you've gotta learn your scales. Consider it a building block." Deftly, his fingers skated over the keys, the strains of the simple scale the only sound in the small cottage. "See? Easy. Now you try."

She fumbled like a child with her first few attempts, and in spite of the vampire's coaching, was no better on the fifth try than the first. Part of him thought she was being difficult on purpose. Part of him was already so frustrated that he just wanted to slam the lid down on the piano and say sod it all to the entire exercise. But he bit back against both those parts, squelching his impulses, knowing that anything retaliative on his behalf would send the Slayer scurrying faster than a cockroach in sudden sunlight.

"Like this," he said resolutely, and placed his hand directly over hers, forcing her fingers to meld to his and follow the deliberate motions of the scale. Up, and then down, and it wasn't until their thumbs were back on middle C that Spike realized that her heartbeat had accelerated, the temperature of her body rising in discernible degrees. It wasn't the effect he'd been after, but nothing he was going to argue with at this point.

"Again," he said, this time softer. She started it this time, keeping her hand pressed to his as she faltered through the scale. If it would've been possible, Spike was certain his palm would've been sweating before they'd returned to home position.

"And again."

The rote continued two…three…four more times. On the fifth, after Buffy had managed the last pass with little assistance from the vampire, he lifted his hand away, hovering just above hers as she executed it on her own.

"See?" he said, and fought to keep the huskiness out of his voice. "Not so hard."

"Can I learn a song now?"

"Scales now. Song later."

"You know, you're as bad as Giles."

"That's hittin' below the belt, pet."

"So I can learn a song?"

"No. Scales."

When she did that sharp exhalation he recognized as her frustrated sound, Spike tensed, knowing this was his cue that she was going to bolt. Patience was not one of her strong suits---usually not his either, but for Buffy, he was willing to work at it---so when her fingers began gliding over the keys again, he was surprised, dropping his hand to his side as he watched her play.

"Did I mention yet that I really don't like Iris?" Buffy asked nonchalantly.

His frown of confusion was accompanied by the thought, she's tryin' to make conversation with me?, and Spike held himself straight, ready for the other shoe to drop. "Did you find anything out from her?" he asked carefully.

"Nope. She was all about the word games." She sighed. "Why can't you vampires just give a straight answer when someone asks you a question? Why do you have to play at being so cryptic all the time?"

"Because it's our job to mess with you humans," Spike joked. "And not all of us do it, you know. I rather fancy myself as the straightforward---."

Buffy's bark of laughter took him by surprise. "Oh, please," she said. "When was the last time you were straight with me when I asked you a pointblank question, Spike? You revel in the entendres. Single, double, triple, whatever the sitch calls for."

She was still playing, her scales not interrupted by their conversation, when he responded. "Just give what I get, luv," he said, not masking the annoyance that crept into his tone. "When was the last time you gave me the same courtesy?"

She had no answer to that, and hesitated. Why do we always end up arguing? she wondered. The memory of his hand on hers still burned into her flesh, and she surprised herself---although maybe only a little bit---by wishing he would put it back. Get the conversation back on track, she ordered herself. You can do this. You did it in the car, you can do it sitting at a stupid piano.

"I guess I'm not going to get a chance to wear those other dresses," Buffy commented, resuming the steady pace of the scales. "I think we burned our bridge with Iris. She's not so thrilled about having a Slayer hanging around her club."

She's trying, he thought. I'll be a son of a bitch, the Slayer's actually puttin' an effort in here not to turn this into something ugly. He'd thought he'd blown it with his crack, but the retort had been said in reflex, not meant to be said out loud even if he did believe it to be true. It was then that he decided to hell with it.

She wasn't running. She wasn't being a bitch. And she smelled like heaven.

"I'm sure if you want," he said casually, "we can probably find a reason for you to wear 'em. But have to tell you…" Spike lifted his left hand and began tracing circles across the top of her bare thigh. "…don't think one of them could hold a candle to seein' you in my shirt."

Her breath hitched at his first touch, her fingers stopping to settle on the keys. As soon as they did, though, his hand disappeared, and Buffy almost moaned in frustration. "You…stopped…" she breathed.

"So did you."

"Huh?" She twisted to look back at him. "What're you talking about?"

Spike nodded to the piano. "You stopped playin'," he said.

"And your point would be…?"

"You stop. I stop. Sounds like a fair trade to me." His eyes were dark, flickering to her mouth, drinking in the slight tremor in its bottom lip before rising back to meet the hazel. Would she rise to the bait? Either way, Spike thought he'd finally get a clue as to what she really wanted. The choice was going to be hers.

Time stopped as she stared at him, her skin crawling to protest the tantalizing promise of his body being withheld from it. A beat…then another…and slowly, deliberately, she turned back in her seat, her hand returning to the keyboard.

When the first note came from the piano, Spike's lids fluttered closed in disbelief, his jaw dropping ever so slightly as his teeth caught the tip of his tongue. Though the proof of her arousal hung in the air, burned through the cotton of the shirt to sear his chest, part of him hadn't thought she'd still be sitting there. Yet there she was, and she was doing those bloody scales, and…why wasn't he touching her yet?

Feather light, his fingers returned to the satin of her thigh, and he pressed himself forward, allowing his erection to nestle in the cleft of her ass. The small gasp that escaped Buffy's throat made him smile, and his head bowed forward to hover just beside her ear.

"Think I promised you a chat," he murmured.

"Now?" It was bad enough he was expecting her to continue with the playing just to get him to touch her; now he wanted her to talk, too?

His other hand joined the first, a single finger running along the length of the well-defined muscle. "Told you this couldn't go any further without us gettin' some kind of understanding between us, pet. 'Course, if you want me to stop…"

"No…don't…" Even as the words came out, Buffy couldn't believe herself. At that moment, nothing seemed more important than Spike, and his hands, and that mouth she was just dying to turn around and kiss. Reason seemed to have fled, but she didn't care. Not when she felt like this.

Alive.

"What is it you want, Slayer?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper. "Is it like Iris says? Just fancy a walk on the wild side?"

His hands skimmed to the top of her thighs, palms brushing across the surface, raising the goosebumps across her skin in tiny shivers. Somewhere deep within her hips, Buffy felt a tingle begin to pulse, and chewed her lip, trying to focus on the black and white keys before her. "How'd you…know she said that?" she breathed.

"Overheard you two." Spike's tongue snaked out, pointedly skirting the inner curve of her ear.

Her hands fell from the piano, ready to turn and confront him about eavesdropping, but as soon as the music stopped, Spike pulled back, forcing himself to separate from the lure of her skin. Buffy froze.

"Told you I'd stop," the vampire said unnecessarily.

But she couldn't bring herself to start again, every nerve in her body racing, blurring the muscle memory in her hands so that she knew it would be impossible to return to the scales. What was it she wanted? A pointblank question, and here she was, wondering what the shortest answer was that she could give Spike so that he would just go back to touching her.

Her hesitation cut through his euphoria, and Spike silently reproached himself for insisting on the piano game. Stupid idea, of course she wasn't going to go along with it. He had to bring up the chat and bugger the whole arrangement up.

Except a part of him wanted that chat, wanted the truth the chat was supposed to bring. Everything had been going so good. She wanted him, and he wanted her, and…

…and she was playing again, not well, not even, but still…playing.

His hands were back on her in a shot, strong fingers gripping her thighs to prise her legs apart, allowing him access to the soft inner satin between her knees. "See, I'm of the opinion," he murmured, "you don't know what you want. Or rather, you want it both ways. You want the birds singin', bells a-ringin' romantic claptrap that those nancyboy college prats gave you, but you also want the fire that comes from lettin' those wild instincts of yours take over.

"Problem is…" His mouth dropped down the side of her neck, blunt teeth nibbling the length of the vein that ran there, tongue trailing to the curve of her shoulder. "…it scares the hell out of you because it means lettin' go, putting your trust in something you hate. Except…" Spike's voice dropped to a silken growl. "…you don't hate me, do you, pet? And that's actually just a tad bit scarier..."

"You've…" Her breath was coming in short pants now, his cool fingers stroking the length of her inner thigh, each time higher, closing in on the damp between her legs. "…helped us," she managed, and wondered how in hell she was doing all this at the same time, talking and playing and god that feels good and listening to what he had to say. "Like now. With…Willow."

She could feel Spike shake his head. "Excuses," he said. "Something tangible for you to lay the fact that you and me might have more in common than you want to believe." He sucked at the muscle at the nape of her neck as one hand left her leg to sneak under the t-shirt, pressing flat against her abdomen as he held her closer.

"I'm not a monster," she protested amidst the shivers that ran through her small frame.

"No," he agreed. "You're a warrior. A strong…" And his mouth was on the other side of her neck now, lapping at the slight tang of sweat it found. "…beautiful…" A nip just under her ear. "…glorious fighter, who needs someone strong enough to keep up without havin' to hold you back. That's why you don't hate me, luv." One finger caught the waistband of her panties, sliding beneath it to follow its path to her side, gliding down the hollow where her leg met her hip. "Because you know that that someone's me."

In spite of the exquisiteness of his touch, the cockiness in Spike's voice raised Buffy's hackles, and she straightened against him. "Gee, conceited much?" she commented, and was annoyed when he reacted by chuckling.

"Tell me I'm wrong," he dared. "'Cept we both know you'd be lying."

It was true, and she disliked him intensely at that moment for being so damn astute, but let her body relax anyway. "So…" Her hands were shaking now, fingers almost unable to continue the damn scales he was insisting she do. "…let's say I do…like you. That doesn't mean I'm looking for another vampire boyfriend. Been there, got the t-shirt, remember?"

Spike growled, his grip leaving her legs to yank her roughly against him, arms around her waist. "I'm not Angel," he rumbled.

Her hands were no longer on the piano, but neither of them seemed to care, torsos locked together as the words hung in the air. "I know that," Buffy said softly. She swallowed, all too aware of the muscles of his arms cutting into her stomach, long fingers clutching at her sides. "I don't…want Angel."

His mouth was back on her neck, unable to stay away as if the taste of her skin was his necessary sustenance for life. Unexpected hope flared somewhere within his chest, and he burrowed even deeper, closing his eyes against it, suddenly fearful of what was going to be said next. "What is it you do want then?" he asked.

Pointblank.

Her second of reckoning.

"You," Buffy whispered. "All of you."

She was twisted in his embrace faster than she could blink, his mouth descending to hers in desperate hunger as her legs automatically lifted to wrap themselves around his hips. The pressure of his erection against her damp underwear sent electric tingles through her clit, and she found herself holding onto him tighter, nails digging into his back as their tongues fought for dominance. The promises of their earlier kisses were nothing compared to what she had unleashed with her admission, sweltering in frost as his hands tangled in her hair, pulling her closer while swiveling to lean her back against the piano bench.

When he tore his mouth away, she gasped for air, her head swimming as she found herself staring up at the ceiling. What air she managed to gain, however, was immediately sucked away as Spike tore the tee down the front, splitting it in two halves to expose her hardened nipples to the crisp air. Straddling the bench, he let his hands slide down her sternum, fingers encircling the swell of her breasts, studiously avoiding direct contact that would satisfy both of their itches.

Her scent was all he was aware of. Though his cock throbbed within his trousers, he knew that it would wait. It had to. The only thing he wanted right then was to taste her.

Buffy's eyes flew open when she felt him slide off the bench, pulling her down its length so that her hips rested on the very edge. As she propped herself up on her elbows, she was surprised to see him kneeling between her legs, his lips attaching themselves to the soft skin of her inner thigh before beginning the trek upwards. "What're you doing?" she asked, breathless. "I thought…you know…"

"Don't think we won't," he murmured into her flesh. He never even bothered to look at her, his nostrils flaring as he kept inhaling the intoxicating aroma of her musk. "Just…goin' to have a little appetizer first." Her little squeak of surprise gathered his attention, though, and Spike tilted in head in question when he saw the panic behind her eyes.

"Why?" she queried. "You don't have to, you know."

"Have to's got nothin' to do with it. More like want to." His gaze softened, understanding tempering his next words. "Relax, Buffy. It's not like I've never done this before."

She blushed, the pink staining her cheeks in embarrassment. "It's just…Riley wasn't…it's not like he didn't, he just…it wasn't his favorite thing to do. I'd rather…you know…"

"Ssshhh." He'd pulled her up, wrapping his arms around her, settling his lips over hers before she could continue. "Vampire, remember?" he said after they separated. "Kind of have a soft spot for oral satisfaction."

She giggled, and the freedom in it caused the hope to burn just a little brighter inside Spike's chest. With a gentle palm, he pressed her back onto the bench. "Now, just lie there and be a good little Slayer," he instructed. "I plan on this bein' a veritable feast for me."

Lean fingers hooked through the sides of her panties, pulling them down and over her legs. With the slight fabric out of the way, her scent was even richer, his mouth prickling in moisture as he felt his demon fight to emerge. It would be so simple to take her like this. If it wasn't for the chip in his head, he wasn't sure he would've had the control not to.

Instead, his head dipped, his lips parting to skate along her thigh, the pressure within his flesh surging in revolt as he forced himself to take it slow. Each inch took him closer to the nectar of her juices coating her slit, and he felt the tattoo of her pulse pounding into his skull as her hands found their way to his head, tickling along his cheekbones, guiding him ever so near.

When his tongue flicked over the tip of her clit, Buffy gasped, her hips bucking at the contact, driving her sex into his mouth in rapacious need. It wasn't like it was her first time, but already, the devotion Spike was attending her surpassed the half-hearted attempts Riley had made the few times he'd tried this. Too messy, he'd admitted in embarrassment afterward, and she'd felt slightly shamed, like it was her fault he didn't like to give oral. Now, though, the blond vamp seemed determined to drive her over the edge without even using penetration.

She could feel his tongue curling around her clit, sucking and pulling, joined swiftly by his cool fingers spreading her outer lips. "Please," she heard herself pleading, and for some reason, it sounded like the most natural thing in the world.

Spike chuckled, the reverberations throbbing through her pussy to ride in waves up her torso, inflaming her nipples to tiny buds begging to be taken. He didn't answer her, though, his mouth returning to its repast, sliding two of his fingers deep inside her. When he felt her clench around him, the sudden sensation of those same muscles squeezing around his cock flooded his head, and he almost growled as he began thrusting them in and out, nibbling at her clit, using the reflexive action of her hips pushing back against him to guide his rhythm.

Two fingers became three.

Nibbles became bites.

And Buffy's breathy gasps became an unrelenting stream of words, coaxing and driving Spike to add his thumb to the mix, stroking and rubbing so that she ground her pelvis against him.

"God…Spike…please…yes…don't stop…" And on it went, until every other word was Spike, her need rising, his rhythm increasing.

And then it was just…

"Spike…Spike…Spike…" Like a mantra she needed to root herself in the present.

Each sound of his name burned brighter than sunshine to the vampire, and when he felt her body begin to shake beneath him, wave upon wave of pleasure rocketing through her muscles, he tore his mouth away, forcing his hand to stay as he slid up her body, locking his lips to the pulsepoint at the base of her neck as she came. She clung to him, fingers lost in the curls at his nape, her keening from the sensations overwhelming her flesh surpassing the buzz of the air conditioner in the air of the cottage. It was only when it began to ebb, receding in velvet whispers to leave her languid, muscles as molasses, that Buffy lifted her eyelids, gazing down in wonder at the blond head nuzzled against her.

"If that's an appetizer, I think I'm a little excited about what the main course is going to be like," she teased with a smile.

"Only one way to find out," Spike said against her skin, but as his hands settled at the waistband of his trousers, a sharp knock at the front door shattered the peace that settled between them.

It startled Buffy into jumping, knocking the vampire to the side to send him sprawling to the floor. "Thanks, pet," he grumbled, rubbing his head as he rose to his feet. He frowned as the knock was repeated. "You didn't do something so daft as order takeaway before you came out here?" he asked.

Her Slayer senses were going into overdrive, and not all of it was because of the orgasm that was still feeding its effects throughout her system. "Whatever's out there isn't human," she informed her partner, and began scrambling for her underwear, all too aware of her naked state. "Maybe Iris decided we were a threat or something, and sent some of her goons over to take care of us."

Spike snorted. "Like they're goin' to bloody stand a chance," he said. "Still, a weapon wouldn't hurt."

Buffy held up the torn tee for him to see. "I'm thinking clothes might not be a bad idea, either."

Marching over to the couch, he picked up his tuxedo shirt and tossed it over to her. "I'll get the stakes."

Another knock, this time more insistent, only sped her getting dressed, and she was just fumbling with the last button when he handed her the wood. His blue eyes swept over her, pupils still dilated in desire. "How is it you make my clothes look so good?" he murmured.

The flush settled over her body at his words, but when the knocking turned to pounding, Buffy shook herself out of it, positioning herself at the end of the foyer, weapon at the ready. "Let's just get this---," she started.

"Spike! Open up!"

The voice from outside cut her off, and both of them immediately frowned, the vampire's hand dropping to his side as he tramped to the doorway. When he threw it open, Pablo's scaled form came whipping in, knocking him against the wall as he crossed the threshold.

"She's a Slayer?" he was demanding, beady eyes aglow in pink. "Do you have any idea what you're doing to my rep here by tricking me into letting a Slayer stay in one of my places?" He came up short when he saw her standing there, arms folded across her chest, the stake in clear and obvious view. "I didn't figure on you for being a sellout, Spike," Pablo continued, unable to tear his worried gaze away from her.

"First of all," Spike said, kicking the door shut, "I'm not a sellout. Secondly, I didn't trick you. You didn't ask. Thirdly, do you have any bloody idea what time it is? You interrupted---."

"Iris called me in to ream me out for getting you set up," Pablo broke in. "She's pissed as hell. Did you actually have the balls to sic a Slayer on her?"

"He didn't sic me on anybody," Buffy said. "I went to her on my own."

"That's not how she's telling it."

"She's wrong."

"So you didn't go to her quarters with a stake?"

She could've lied, but for some reason, Buffy didn't see the point. It wasn't like their cover wasn't already blown. Before she could answer, however, Spike stepped forward and curled his arm around her waist, pulling her against his side.

"Someone got a little jealous," he said to the other demon. "And then that same someone got a little drunk. I got her out of there as soon as I realized what she was doin'. You think I'm stupid enough to get Iris good and brassed off at me?"

For the first time, Pablo noticed their attire, Spike in his trousers, Buffy in Spike's shirt, and smelled the distinct smells of sex and alcohol in the air. His eyes widened, and he took a step backward. "So…you two…really are a couple?" he asked warily. "This isn't some crazy I Love Lucy plan to get the goods on whatever it is you're planning? 'Cause the way Iris is talking---."

"I was just pissed because Spike was flirting with her in front of me," Buffy said quietly. Her eyes were solemn, and she allowed herself a glance up at the blond vamp so that he could see the truth in the hazel depths. "I get a little possessive about things I think belong to me."

The dipping of Spike's head to capture his lips with hers caused Pablo to grimace, squirming uncomfortably at the deliberate show of affection between the two. "OK, now you're just trying to gross me out," he complained, and scurried back to the door. He stopped, his hand over the doorknob. "Look, Spike, word of advice. Old friend to old friend." He waited for the vampire to look up. "Don't go flashing your little Slayer girlfriend around any more demon hangouts. Iris has put the word out on you two, so…it might not be one hundred percent safe. I don't know how long you're planning on this little vacation of yours lasting, but maybe you should start thinking shorter instead of longer. Because like I said, Iris is pissed as hell, and I don't think even you want to be on her bad side right now. Not with the stuff I keep hearing is supposed to be coming down."

The warning sent shivers down Buffy's spine, and she pulled away from Spike to take a step closer to the scaled demon. "What's going down?" she asked, and shook off the vampire's warning hand on her shoulder.

His pink eyes darted between the two blonds, and he visibly debated how to respond. After a full minute had passed, Pablo sighed. "I am not the one who told you this," he prefaced himself, holding up a single finger. "Something happens, and I'll turn you over to Iris faster than Spike can snap your neck."

"What is it?" Spike demanded.

"There's this place outside the city. Something big's supposed to be going down there tomorrow night. Something Iris is very interested in."

"What place? What kind of something?"

Pablo shrugged. "I don't know details. I just know it's got something to do with the vodou mojo and this girl from out of town being brought in to get the ball of wax rolling. I heard Iris' guys talking about California and bus schedules, but I swear, that's all I know."

The look Buffy exchanged with Spike said it all. According to what he'd dug up in Sunnydale, Stella's bus was due to arrive in New Orleans mid-morning; the Slayer had been planning on being there in hopes that she could catch the singer. Her mind was in overdrive as he ushered Pablo the rest of the way out, not even noticing when he came up behind her when they were alone.

"You know you've got to get some sleep now," he said, hating that he was taking the high and mighty route in suggesting it.

Buffy nodded, chewing at her lip. "We've got to get to Stella before Iris does. I just know this is all about Willow." The look she shot him was apologetic. "I guess our timing really sucks, huh?"

The corner of his mouth lifted. "Don't be thinkin' I've got any regrets for what happened here tonight, pet," he said. "Told you. Appetizer. I still plan on havin' that main course at some point."

Buffy stifled the yawn that rose unbidden to her lips. "Sleep will be good," she admitted. She was halfway to the bedroom when she realized he hadn't moved, and stopped, turning to look back at him with a small frown. "You're not going to stay up, are you?"

"No, just thought---."

She knew what he thought, and after everything she'd admitted tonight, decided it was ridiculous. "It's a big bed, Spike," she said with a smile. "You promise me you're not a kicker and I'll let you share it with me."

The flame of hope in his chest was no longer a struggling cinder. Instead, he could feel it burning safely behind his ribs, fanned by her invitation, the soft gleam in her eyes doing more for him than any physical act they might have shared at that moment. He sauntered over the distance between him, fingers lacing through hers. "Least I already know you're not a snorer," he commented as he led her into the bedroom, and chuckled when she slapped playfully at his bare shoulder.

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

The bus groaned to a stop at the terminal, the stars above the city twinkling as they fought against the approaching dawn. Sighing, Stella waited until the other passengers had disembarked before rising herself, reaching overhead for the single bag she had taken with her to California. She hated traveling, and certainly not by bus. It would've been nice to be able to make the trip with Freddie, but they both knew that was risky. Better to keep them separated until they were ready to waken Willow. There would be fewer opportunities for screw-ups that way.

She sensed the presence as soon as she stepped from the bus, and froze, head swiveling to gaze at the gloomy shadows around her, searching for the subtle variances in shade that would tell her where they were hiding. Already, she was summoning some of her magic, preparing herself for whatever lay ahead, but her exhaustion made her slow, her reflexes sluggish.

An icy hand clamped over her mouth, its partner clenched around her neck, squeezing just enough to make the spots dance before her eyes, and Stella found herself unable to fight as whoever it was pulled her silently away from the station. Her feet stumbled, tangling with her assailant's, and she heard him curse under his breath.

"Don't hurt her." A female's voice rose from the night, and Stella stopped, straightening as a woman emerged before her. For one of the few times in her life, the singer found herself having to look up, meeting the golden aspect of Iris' vampire visage. It swept over her form before returning to her face. "You're early," she said. "That's good. It means you might yet be successful…"


To be continued in Chapter 13: Human Nature