DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.  And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffy has admitted to Spike about wanting him---all of him---leading to a brief tryst on the piano bench, while Iris has shown up at the bus station to meet an arriving Stella…

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

Chapter 13: Human Nature

Glints caught on the amber of Iris’ eyes as she surveyed the black singer before her.  “I don’t know why you’re so scared,” she commented nonchalantly.  “Oh, wait.  Yes, I do.  Because you know I can kill you.”  She smiled as Stella thrashed in her minion’s grasp, but it quickly disappeared when he jerked just a little too roughly to calm his captive, the audible crunch of a bone being broken cracking the night air.

“You idiot!” Iris hissed.  “Kill her, and we might as well have let Spike and his little Slayer find her.”  She took a step closer, and allowed her vampface to slide away as she returned her gaze to Stella, watching the pain shine behind the unshed tears in the singer’s eyes.  “You are a very popular lady, you know.  You should really feel quite flattered.”

“I’m hungry,” one of the guards flanking Iris whined.  “Can we eat her now?”

The blonde shook her head in mock disappointment, rolling her eyes conspiratorially at the other woman.  “I hate surrounding myself with such halfwits,” she complained.  With a casual toss over her shoulder, she said, “Go find yourself some tourist to snack on.  This one’s not for eating.”

When she turned back to her hostage, Iris was met with Stella’s widened gaze, surprise etched above her hurt.  “I told them to grab a bite before we left, but do they ever listen to me?”  She sighed.  “Now, as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I’m getting kind of tired of standing here talking to myself, so I’m going to tell my man to let you go in about a minute.  Do you promise to be a good little girl and not try with the hocus-pocus?  Because if I can sense anything magical about ready to come spilling from that pretty mouth of yours, you can guarantee that your blood will be spilling even faster.  I don’t care if you are necessary in getting back the voix mortelle.  Understand?”

There was a hint of hesitation, and then Stella nodded as best she could within the vampire’s grasp.  A corresponding nod from Iris, and the singer was released, crumpling slightly, breasts heaving as she struggled to restore her breathing to normal.  Pain radiated through her chest, and she felt the uncomfortable scrape of bone along her ribcage, knowing that the demon had snapped something there when she’d struggled.  “Who are you?” she rasped, eyes locked on the blonde.

“Did I forget to introduce myself?”  Iris tutted under her breath.  “I get so used to people knowing me already, I totally forget my manners sometimes.  I’m Iris, you’re Stella, and where is the girl you were supposed to be bringing back from California?”

She waited too long to respond.  “There must be some mistake.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Iris sighed.  “Have I not already made it clear that I can kill you if I have to?” she said.  “Don’t lie to me.  I’ve had more than my fill of that tonight.”

From the direction of the station, a woman’s shriek pierced the air, quickly stifled with a gurgling cry, and Stella stiffened, fear crawling down her spine.  She was fully awake now, and probably could’ve mustered the strength to focus her magic for one good spell.  She didn’t, though.  Though she’d walked in a world of magic since she’d taken her first step, consorted with the occasional lwa in her vodou studies, coming face to face with the demonic visage of one of the monsters who dwelled in the shadows of her existence shattered any preconceptions about her own strength she might have had.

Part of her was intrigued by the vampire’s power, jealous of the force she commanded, the fear she evoked.  Wasn’t that why she had pursued the voix mortelle in the first place?  It was all about the power, and who had it.  In the face of that, however, an even larger part of Stella’s being was screaming in terror, knowing full well that her life lay at the mercy of this soulless creature.  She didn’t want to die, never had, and she wasn’t about to encourage it now by doing something foolish that might anger the vampire.

“I traveled alone,” Stella finally said, keeping her tone as light as possible.  “We thought it best that way.”

“We?”  A carefully groomed eyebrow lifted.  “You have a we?”

“The girl is probably already here.  My friend brought her.”  She smiled, desperate to appear calm in spite of her pain.  “Now, do you care to share how you know about the voix mortelle?”

“You humans are so constrained in how you view your actions.  Did you really think you could try and toy with such powerful forces, and the demon world wouldn’t notice?”  She shook her head.  “You disappoint me.  Here I was, hoping that the Stella I’d been hearing about was this brilliant tactician, coming up with this frankly ingenious plan in retrieving what’s been lost this last century, and instead I get…you.  Pity.”  She glanced into the sky, sniffing pointedly at the air.  “We should really get going.  The sun will be rising soon.  I can’t very well protect you if I’m a big pile of dust, now can I?”

“Protect me?  From who?”

“From Spike and his Slayer, of course.”  Iris’ eyes narrowed as she scanned the blankness in Stella’s gaze.  “And you have no idea who they are, do you?”  She didn’t wait for a response.  “Strange.  He even had a picture of you.  It didn’t do you justice, of course, but at least it gave me the means to recognize you here.  If he hadn’t come waving that thing around…”  She let the thought trail off, lost in her musing, and began strolling into the shadows from which she’d emerged, ignoring the singer getting shoved along behind her.

Stella grimaced in pain as the vampire who’d been holding her roughly grabbed her arm.  “Are you going to tell me who this Spike is?” she asked of the female vamp’s retreating back.  “And what’s a Slayer?”

“At the moment, your enemies and a pain in the ass,” Iris replied.  “A powerful pain in the ass, though.  Don’t go underestimating him.  The vamp never ceases to surprise me.”  She stopped, turning slightly so that Stella could see the profane smile distorting her smooth features.  “But this is your lucky day, because I’m your friend now.  And I’m more powerful than both of them put together.”

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

He had yet to sleep.  Though he could feel the heat of the morning light seeping through the walls of the cottage, Spike stayed in almost exactly the same position he’d been in ever since Buffy had led him to the bedroom---on his side, head propped up on his left hand, his right arm curled possessively around the Slayer’s waist as she slept spooned against him.  He was going to have to wake her soon; the time on the clock kept ticking dangerously close to the bus’ scheduled arrival.  Then, she would leave, and he would be forced to stay behind, prowling around until nightfall when he could make himself useful again.  He knew it was for the best---getting their hands on Stella was their best chance at locating Willow quickly---but it didn’t mean Spike had to like it.  Buffy was still new to the city, and even in daylight, Iris was a formidable enemy.  He wanted to be able to be there to help her fend off any potential attacks.

This wasn’t what he’d been expecting.  Being with Buffy was supposed to be all fire, and fighting, and maybe a laugh or two before one of them said something to piss the other off.  A lark.  A means of getting her out of his system so that he could go back to his orderly unlife, minus the Slayer fantasies and distractions that went with it because he would’ve had his taste of the wares and been satisfied.

Somehow, it wasn’t turning out that way.

When did it get to be about tenderness, he wondered.  Or about feeling like I could drown in those little sighs of contentment she makes in her sleep?  He had been lost in watching her all night, occasionally lifting his arm from her waist to trace a finger along the slope of her shoulder, basking in the golden sparkle that seemed to emanate from her skin.  More than once, he’d leaned forward, just to inhale the scent of her hair, his nose nuzzling against her neck, and had been rewarded by tiny whimpers escaping Buffy’s throat as she burrowed back against him.  He was hard, and though he’d considered the notion of rousing her with sex, fulfilling his promise of more, Spike held himself back, a lingering desire deep within…somewhere wanting her fully there when it actually happened.  To have her know completely that she was making love to a vamp---.

Ice ran through his veins as his brain skidded to a halt and he viewed the wreckage of the thoughts that had just been racing through his head.  Making love?  Where the hell had that come from?  Back it up there, mate, he told himself, and deliberately rolled over, extracting himself from her body to stare blankly up at the ceiling.

So…yeah, maybe once, or twice, or…hell, maybe half a dozen times, he’d considered what it would be like to be at her side all the time, to show up back at the Hellmouth hand in bloody hand, showing it off to her little slaymates, to be her back-up in the fight, able to watch her battle with unabashed pride.  Not having to skulk around after her like a sewer rat was a definite bonus as well.  He’d have a place again.

Maybe that’s all this was.  Maybe he was just hankering after a little respect and being at the Slayer’s side could give it to him.  That could be it.  Probably all it was, really.

Except…

…and he couldn’t help but turn his head to look at her as he remembered.  That look in those gorgeous eyes last night when she’d referred to him as hers to Pablo, stark vulnerability shining from the hazel, cutting honesty that he’d only glimpsed on the rare occasion when she was speaking to her friends.  She’d meant it.  There was no doubt in his mind that Buffy had wanted him to know how much she’d meant it, which was why he’d been unable to resist kissing her again.

And each time he did, he lost just a little bit more of his heart to her.

As he watched, a restless mumble accompanied the slightest of lines between her brows, and she turned herself over, her arm reaching out to flutter over his chest.  “You moved,” she complained sleepily, nestling into his shoulder.  “I was all comfy.”

The flush of heat as she pressed herself back into him spurred Spike to wrap his arm back around her, mouth lowering to brush lightly over her mussed hair.  “Goin’ to have to rise and shine here, pet,” he said, though having her get up was the last thing he currently wanted.  “The clock’s tick-tockin’ away, and you don’t want to miss the songbird’s bus when it gets in.”

The mention of Stella drove Buffy’s lids up, and she pouted as she lifted her chin to look at him.  “Spoilsport,” she said.

He would forever be slave to that bottom lip, Spike decided, and had crossed the distance to take it between his teeth before he could even consider otherwise, feeling her yield to the nibble by rolling herself on top of him.  The arousal he’d been trying to ignore now ground into her pelvis, the delicate fabric of her panties the only thing preventing him from sliding into her then and there, and the vampire groaned as the nibble deepened into a kiss.

Say sayonara to another slice of that heart, he thought as he tumbled into the incandescent eddy of her caress.

When reason finally returned, strong hands grabbed her wrists, pulling them away from their bodies as he tore his mouth from hers.  “Not the best idea,” Spike said huskily, not really believing it but knowing it had to be said.

Doubt flickered behind the hazel, and Buffy sat up, jerking herself free as a veil seemed to descend over her features.  “You keep trying to get rid of me,” she said, annoyance shading her words in gray.  “You roll over, you try to kick me out of bed, now you won’t even kiss me.  What’s the deal?  You’re not…having doubts…are you?”

Too fast, she thought.  I went too fast.  He’s had time to think about it, and now he thinks this is crazy, and he probably regrets everything that happened tonight.  Fear gripped her heart.  How did I mess this up already?

His eyebrow lifted in sardonic amusement at her query.  “That has got to be the stupidest thing you have ever said, Slayer,” he said dryly.  “Do I feel confused to you?”  To punctuate his declaration, Spike grabbed her hips, forcing her to press harder into his erection, watching as her pupils dilated, her mouth softening to part in reckless desire.  When she gasped in pleasure, he smiled, letting his thumbs caress the bones of her pelvis in soothing circles. 

It would be so simple to just say fuck it, Spike realized.  Ignore the rest of the world and surrender to their bodies, wile away the hours as they submerged themselves beneath the claret waves of the attraction they had both denied for so long.  A week ago, he probably would’ve done it, no questions asked.

But a week ago, she had yet to offer him the possibility of something more.  And for some reason, he found himself holding out for that.

“Red’s probably in town already,” he said in explanation, sitting up so that her legs scissored around his waist, her arms automatically coming to anchor themselves around his neck.  Tiny shivers cascaded down his vertebrae as her fingers toyed with the stray hairs there, and he cupped his hands around her back, holding her steady on his lap. “You and me, we’ve got all the time in the world to be wasting it away in bed.  It’s Red whose clock is tickin’.  Something happens to her and you’ll never forgive yourself.”

He was right.  She knew that.  One of these days, all the stuff she’d been learning about him over the past week was actually going to sink into her skull and she was going to realize that Spike was a lot smarter than she gave him credit for without jumping to the wrong conclusion every time.  With a sigh, Buffy’s head inclined, and she rested her brow against his, letting the tenor of his touch assuage her lingering insecurities.  “You know you’re bucking for another comparison to Giles by being Mr. Maturity, don’t you?” she teased.

He chuckled.  “S’long as it’s my bed you come back to, I might be able to learn not to hear those,” he joked in response, and grew serious, returning to the topic at hand.  “I was thinkin’, while you’re checking out the bus station, I can start seein’ what I can dig up on whatever’s goin’ on tonight.  I know some people---.”

“Ha!”  She couldn’t help the bark of laughter that spewed from her lips, her head jerking back as the smile spread across her face.  At his confused stare, she said, “You’re kidding, right?  I think we need to make that your catchphrase for this little trip down Big Easy way.”  She did a bad impersonation of his accent.  “‘I know some people.’  Maybe we should put a ‘bloody’ in there.  Might make it sound more authentic.” 

Her joke fell on deaf ears.  “There’s this guy, works down at---.”

Her hand came to his mouth, settling over his lips to silence him.  “Look, Spike, I appreciate that you want to help here, but after what happened with Iris, getting any more involved in people or demons you might know is probably not the best thing for Willow.  I mean, sure, if it comes down to a fight, I want you right there beside me because, let’s face it, that’s what you’re good at.  I certainly heard enough of your war stories last night to have learned that much.  But, whatever happens tonight, it’ll be you and me facing them down.  Just you and me, all right?  I don’t want any more outsiders involved in this.  Just people I can trust.”

She didn’t even wait for his response, leaning in to give him a quick kiss before peeling herself away.  “I’m going to hop in the shower really quick before heading out,” she tossed back over her shoulder.  “Get some sleep.  I’ll call you if I turn anything up.”

Alone in the room, Spike stared at the open door, disbelief mingling with frustrated anger in his eyes.  Like it was his bloody fault Iris had cottoned on to her being the Slayer?  He was the reason they had as much information as they did.  If it wasn’t for him, they’d be shacked up in some cheap hotel, scrambling for whatever leads they could sink their fingernails into, not calling it rich by sleeping on satin, or getting fancied up for a night out on the town.  Leave it to Buffy, and they’d both be dead, just because she couldn’t control those impulses to stay away from vamps without a stake in her hot little hand.

As he heard the shower start up in the bathroom, he slumped back onto the mattress, staring into nothing as his emotions boiled under his skin.  Yeah, he was pissed.  He had a right to be.  She had just discounted everything he had done for them by turning it into a bad joke.  But, under that, lurking in the corners of his heart, cowering for fear of exposure that would shred him finer than worries about what was happening between him and Buffy, Spike was hurt, bitter throes twisting his gut as the simple joys from the last twelve hours fled in the face of reality.

Fists and fangs.  That’s all he was to her.  After everything---after all her words, after all his explanations, even after that damn “All of you” she’d uttered when he’d asked her what she wanted at the piano---she still only saw him as someone who could offer her some help in a fight.  Not as an equal, or even a partner.  Not someone with a brain to help suss out the answers, and the experience to contribute in getting past the problem.  In spite of her protestations to the contrary, she still didn’t get it.

Fists and fangs.  That’s all.

Spike’s lips twisted as the memory of her pressing against him flared in his brain.  Don’t forget cock, he thought bitterly.  Buffy’s showed she’s more than interested in that part of me as well.

But it wasn’t enough.  Not now.  Not after everything.

I’ll show her, he decided, letting his eyes flutter closed as the cessation of the water returned the cottage to quiet.  Let her think I’m goin’ to sleep and as soon as she’s out that door, do what I can to find out where Red is.  She’ll see then.  She’ll have to.

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

“I think this is new,” Tara said from her seat on the couch.  She lifted her head to gaze wearily at the two men in the room, watching as Giles rose from the desk to stand behind her and look down at the book that rested in her lap.

“What is it?” he asked, leaning over for a closer look.  They had had little sleep over the last twenty-four hours in their search for some answers.  He was ready to grab onto whatever straws they could find.  “Have you found the identity of the djab yet?”

“I’m not sure, but…”  Her fingers traced over the spidery words, searching for the passage she’d just found.  “I’ve been wondering why they would take Willow to New Orleans instead of doing whatever they need to here.  So, I was looking at the different djabs, and that was when I learned that some of them are restricted to where their power can be effective.  Like they’re bound to it.”

“Yes, I remember reading that as well,” Giles agreed.  “But there are dozens of references to such places around New Orleans.  We have no way of narrowing our search parameters without more information.”

“That’s what I thought.”  She was perking up, enthusiasm for her discovery revitalizing her worn features.  “Then I started thinking about how weird Willow acted around Stella the night she disappeared.  She got so wrapped up in the singing.  And that’s when I found this.”  Holding up the book, Tara kept her fingers on the text she wanted Giles to read, waiting expectantly as he took it from her grasp.

“’…and it sang with the serpent’s voice, stupefying those who listened, until the mortals revolted and separated the tongue from the crown, destroying the power and banishing the serpent to the morass from whence it came.”  The Watcher frowned, turning the tome over to look at the title on the spine.  “Where did you find this?” he asked the young witch.

She pointed to a nearby pile.  “It was one of the books Anya said she’d looked at.”

From his seat on the floor, Xander sighed, leaning back on his hands in exhaustion.  “Have I mentioned recently how sorry I am I couldn’t find her?” he said.  “I don’t know what’s going on.  I mean, I know she and Willow have never been best friends, but it still doesn’t explain why she’d deliberately try to hide this stuff from us.”

“She acted scared,” Tara commented. 

“And Anya is not exactly known for remaining stalwart in the face of what she fears,” Giles added distractedly.  He was scanning the text, walking over to the desk as he did so.  “This morass the tale refers to is located outside of the city’s limits.  I’ll ring Buffy and tell her about it so that she can look into it further.  Perhaps they will have discovered something else that will aid us in our research.”

“Does anybody care to fill the non-college student on what exactly this morass is?” Xander asked.  “Because to these vocabulary-challenged ears, well…you really don’t want to know where my mind is going with that one.”

“A morass is a swamp, an area of soggy ground,” the Watcher explained.

“Well, this just gets better and better,” the young man grumbled.  “Vodou demons.  Swampy serpents.  Buff’s going to love hearing about this one.”  In spite of his jocular demeanor, Xander was blaming himself for the shambles everything seemed at the moment.  Anya was gone, and he hadn’t been able to find her.  Willow was gone, and each day that passed made the odds of finding her even worse.  And Buffy was gone, on the other side of the country with the bleached wonder, probably running around in circles, all because they couldn’t give her anything more concrete than “vodou.”  Which brought him back to Anya.

The young man sighed.  What he wouldn’t give to know what was going through his girlfriend’s head at that exact minute.  Why did she feel like she had to hide from him?

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

With a firm blow, Anya scattered the ash from the palm of her hand and watched it settle within the circle she’d inscribed on the floor, standing back to watch as the sharp clap cleaved the air, followed immediately by the brilliant flash of light announcing the arrival.  She folded her arms across her chest and stared back at the surprised face of Halfrek smiling back at her.

“Anyanka!” the vengeance demon exclaimed, taking a step forward.  “This is a---.”  She stopped, halted by the invisible barrier provided by the circle, her smile immediately vanishing.  “What is this?” she demanded.  “You’re containing me?”

“I’m keeping you from going off in a cloud of smoke before I get some answers,” Anya replied grimly.

She kept her face impassive.  “Oh?  Answers to what?” Halfrek queried nonchalantly, her hand straying to her neck to play with her pendant.

“Look.”  Anya held up a warning finger.  “Now is not the time to fuck with me.  I’ve been hiding out from my boyfriend for the last twenty-four hours, I’m tired, I’m hungry, and to top it all off, I’m PMS-ing like there’s no tomorrow.  So, no more games, Hallie.  No more cryptic warnings.  Answers.  Friend to friend.”

“I was of the opinion friends don’t cast containment spells to keep them from leaving.  Is that something you’ve learned from being human?”

“Friends also don’t pop up out of nowhere with fake forewarnings of doom when they haven’t bothered to keep in touch for the past year.”

“I told you.  I’ve been busy.  And it wasn’t fake---.”

“Can it.  I’m tired of excuses, and explanations, and having to hide out from my favorite orgasm partner.”  Sighing, she leaned against the table behind her, gaze firm as she stared at her ex-friend.  “Now.  I’m going to ask you one question.  You answer it truthfully, I’ll let you go.  If you don’t, I’ll make you sit in there until the cows come home.  Got it?”

Reluctantly, Halfrek nodded.

“This mess in New Orleans.  The one you tried making me steer clear of.  Does this have anything to do with the voix mortelle?”

The tension was thick between the two women as they surveyed each other, neither of them willing to look away for fear of appearing weak.  Finally, Halfrek sighed.

“It’s got everything to do with it,” she admitted, resignedly.  “And D’Hoffryn is going to kill me for telling you that…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 14: You’re Under Arrest