DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Miles Davis.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The gang has rescued Anya and Freddie from Sandrine’s clutches; Spike has told Buffy that he loves her but hasn’t yet confessed the truth about the chip…

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

Chapter 31: When I Fall in Love

As delicious as the scalding hot shower had felt when she’d started it, now, with the steam so thick in the bath Anya was convinced it would be visibly sticking to her skin should she peel away the towel to look, she was anxious to escape the small room and breathe more freely in the cool hotel air.  The aches within her body were receding, and while the scrape across her brow from where she’d hit it on Sandrine’s cairn that morning smarted as she wrapped the other white towel around her wet hair, it was minor compared to the relief she felt at being rescued. 

Not that she hadn’t thought it was going to happen.  OK, maybe that was a little fib.  Lying sprawled at Sandrine’s feet, bleeding all over the carpet, staying optimistic when she was used to seeing the bad in a situation had been about as likely as staying awake during one of Giles’ lectures on demon history.  Would that man ever remember she’d been a demon herself for well over a millennium?

But Freddie had finally seen reason and called Buffy.  And she’d never been so glad to see the Slayer in her entire life.

They were questioning him right now, but Anya had begged off, her disheveled state granting her a stay of execution from the inquisition, disappearing to her and Tara’s room to clean up.  All she’d wanted was to wash away the detritus of the past twenty-four hours, and maybe spend a few minutes fantasizing she was anywhere but in New Orleans at the moment. 

It had worked to a degree, but now it was time to step back into the real world.  Time to face the most recent apocalypse.  And maybe get some answers on how to help Willow at the same time.

She squeaked in startled shock when she opened the door, stopping short when she saw Xander sitting on the edge of the nearest bed watching her.  “What are you doing here?” she demanded, pulling her towel even closer around her.  “Don’t tell me they’re done with Freddie already.”

“I don’t know,” Xander admitted.  “I snuck out of there about five minutes after you left.  I was hoping we could talk, but you were already in there,” he gestured toward the steam-filled room behind her, “so I decided to wait you out.”

“Oh.”  A glimmer of hope began to spark inside her chest, but Anya squelched the desire to smile in relief.  Part of her shower fantasies had included a ski lodge, being snowbound, and a contrite Xander waiting on her hand and foot, but she’d known even as she’d imagined his scraping and bowing as he peeled her grapes that it was just a dream.  She just wasn’t as important as Willow to him.

“Did it help?” he asked as she skirted him and the bed to get to the dresser.

“Did what help?”

“The shower.  Cleaning up.  Do you…feel better now?”

She shrugged as nonchalantly as she could manage.  “I feel clean now, if that’s what you mean.”  Her fingers trailed over the black satin, where the dress she’d been wearing sat crumpled into a ball on the dresser.  “You don’t think Buffy will make me pay for this, do you?” she mused with a frown.  “I’d hope not.  After all, she didn’t exactly pay for it herself.  It wouldn’t really be fair to expect me to reimburse her for it.”

“I think she’s just glad we got you home in it while you were still breathing, Ahn.”  His voice was so quiet, so reserved compared to its usual jocularity, and she couldn’t resist sneaking a peek at him over her shoulder.  Not even a shadow of his usual grin graced his lean features, and his brown eyes were darker in gravity.  I’m glad you’re home still breathing,” he added.

“Have you…found out any way to stop Sandrine yet?” she asked.  It wasn’t what she wanted to say, but fear held her in its thrall, driving her tongue to address the mundane and not the questions that lingered inside her gut.

“We haven’t even been trying since she got you last night.  We’ve just been concentrating on getting you back.  We even got the Chipped Wonder to help out on it.”  He rose to his feet, hesitating only when she took a step away from him, pressing herself into the dresser.  “I am so sorry, Anya,” Xander said.  “I should never have…”  He stopped, the specifics of what it was he shouldn’t have done escaping him.  “It shouldn’t have happened,” he finished lamely.

“You’re right.  It shouldn’t have.”

Her words brought a flinch behind his eyes, but her satisfaction with it was fleeting.  Why wasn’t hurting him, even a fraction of how much he’d hurt her, making her feel better? she wondered.  She stood there awkwardly, tugging at the corner of her towel to tighten its tuck, and felt the flush creep upward from her neck when his head dropped.

“And here I thought anything you might say couldn’t make me feel worse than I already do,” he said in a low voice.  “Color me stupid.”

Her cheeks burned as the heat finished its trail.  She had a funny feeling that this was what shame felt like; did she really have to be so hard on him when he was trying to make her feel better?

“Were you with Buffy this morning?” she asked, her tone deliberately lighter.  “Is that why your face looks like a Monet painting?”

His eyes lifted then, and she caught the ghost of a smile returning to his lips.  “And here I was hoping for Picasso,” he joked.

“Your nose would be on the side of your head then.  Not really the most attractive of looks.  Although I did know this guy once whose wife actually found him more appealing after I put his penis on his---.”

“I get the picture,” he hastily interrupted, wiping his grimace at the image it produced as quickly as possible.  Taking a deep breath, Xander stepped forward, and this time, she didn’t move away.  “Like I was saying,” he said.  “I’m sorry we didn’t get to you in time.  And I know, broken record here on the sorries, but I’ve never felt so---.”

“I know.  It’s all right.  You don’t have to keep saying it.”  Well, it would’ve been nice if he would, but she had to be willing to give on something here.

One hand reached up to tentatively grasp her upper arm, his thumb stroking her damp skin.  His exuberance of earlier was gone, replaced by this gentle hesitation, a fear of hurting her more, especially as most of her bruises were now beginning to bloom just as deeply as his.  When the gooseflesh erupted along her arms, Anya shivered, almost swaying to close even more of the distance between them.

“When I realized you were gone,” he said, and she looked up to see the deep brown of his eyes fixed intently on hers, “something inside me clicked.  Like…it made sense.”

“Me going missing made sense to you?”  Maybe she’d been too quick to stop that string of I’m sorry’s.  Her voice was rising, taking on that whiny tone even she hated, but… “It made sense?” she repeated.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant.  I mean, it did, but not in the way you’re thinking.”  Xander’s hand dropped, leaving her feel oddly bereft in spite of the return of her anger.  “I just…it wasn’t until then…damn it, how I do explain this?”  Another deep breath.  “When Willow went missing, you saw how I reacted to that, but that was because I knew what her place in my life was, what it had always been.  But when you weren’t there…”  And it was back, only this time when he touched her, she could feel the tremor in his fingers, as though fear was squeezing his wrist and cutting off his circulation. 

“What?”  Her heart was pounding in her chest, a combination of anticipation of his coming words and the heat of his hand.  She missed him---god, how she missed him---but how could she even consider letting him back into her bed when he still didn’t get it?  Except his words were clouding the certainty she’d believed that up until a few minutes ago.  And god, did he smell good.

“Even when we were fighting, after Will was gone, you were still there, so I didn’t have to think about what it might be like if you weren’t.  I wasn’t…forced to think about it.  And then when I was…god, Anya…I didn’t know everything---life---could be so boring.  And empty.  You can’t not be there.  I need you.”  He swallowed, and she was mesmerized by the graceful bob in his throat, unsolicited memories of other talents his mouth possessed crowding in to confuse her befuddled head even further.  “I love you, Anya.”

She’d been so rapt in the remembrances, she almost missed the last.  “You…what me?” she asked, eyes wide.  Oh good, the whine was gone.  Now she sounded like Tiny Tim except without the helium effect.

“I love you,” Xander repeated.  “That’s what finally made sense.  I didn’t know it until you weren’t there.  And then seeing you today, even just hearing you on the phone, you have no idea how relieved I was.  Because I knew I had to tell you as soon as possible.”

“As soon as possible would’ve been at Iris’,” she said faintly, not even aware that she was arguing with him as she stood there transfixed.

He smiled.  “Covered in vampire dust and looking like I’d just been pummeled by The Rock?”  He shook his head.  “That might be Spike’s idea of romantic but that’s not mine.  I wanted to wait until it was just you and me.”

“You love me.”  It wasn’t what she’d been expecting him to say.  More apologies, more lame explanations on why Willow was so important to him, those would’ve been expected.  How had he managed to surprise her so thoroughly?  “You love me,” she said again, this time with a small smile.  A nice surprise, though.  A very nice surprise.

“I love you,” Xander said, laughing at her obvious shock.  Gingerly, his arms slid around her back, tugging at the end of the towel wound around her hair so that it fell with a damp thud to the floor.  “Please don’t leave me again,” he murmured as he tucked a loose strand behind her ear. 

Anya was mute as his lips, soft and probing, descended to hers, her arms lifting automatically to wrap around his neck.  He resisted her urgency, battling her tongue’s attack with a slide across her cheek, and her eyes flickered shut as he pulled her tight against him, for the first time ignoring the bruises on both of their bodies.  The whimper that escaped her throat when his mouth began sucking at her throat was both a measure of her desire and her pain.

“I should…still be mad at you…you know,” she panted, fingers curling into his hair.

“I know,” he said against her skin.  

She gasped when his teeth caught her earlobe.  “Just because you said, I love you, doesn’t mean that…everything’s now…all right.”

“I know.”

His tongue swirled the inner shell of her ear, and Anya’s hard nipples rubbed against the rough terry of her towel as she pressed herself harder into him.  “Sex doesn’t…solve everything,” she breathed.

That made him pull away, a wide grin splitting his face.  “You sure you didn’t get a concussion when you hit your head?” he asked jokingly.  “Because now I know you’re just playing with me.”

She grinned in kind and shrugged.  “Yeah, but it sounded good.”  One hand grabbed his, pulling him toward the bed, while her other yanked the towel from her body.  “I think we’re way behind on orgasms,” she said, and toppled with him onto the bed.  “Time for you to start trying to catch me up.”

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

There was no way in hell he’d ever admit it out loud, but at that exact moment in time, Spike was wishing that it was Harris pacing around the room nattering on about nothing and everything instead of that prat Freddie.  Every other word out of the tosser’s mouth was a complaint, or some barmy story, or a piece of nonsense that didn’t even make sense to the Watcher, and in spite of Buffy and Giles’ attempts to keep the young man focused, his effortless slides into tangents was making Harris look like Stephen Hawking.

They’d been able to glean a few details from him---confirmation that Sandrine wanted to summon Sira in order to establish a power base here in New Orleans, her snatching of Anya to learn the location of the crown portion of the voix mortelle, the fact that she had yet to retrieve the staff half of it.  But other parts, some twaddle he kept coming back to about losing his best friend and how he was certain to rot in hell, only made Freddie’s babble rise in incoherence, his nerves skittering like a virgin on her wedding night.

And if Spike had to listen to one more minute of it, he was going to thump the lad and say bugger off to any hopes of getting any sense from him, the witch’s fate be damned.

The smell of sunset had never been more appealing, and as soon as its siren call reached the vampire’s nose, he was on his feet, his hand on the door, very much in a repeat of the previous night when he’d stormed out after listening to them have a go at Buffy.  This time, though, it wasn’t the Slayer who stopped him.

“Where are you going?” Giles asked, looking up from his notepad to see Spike standing in the doorway squinting up at the dusky sky.

“I believe the word you’re lookin’ for is out, Rupert,” he said.

“But we’re not done here.”

“And I’m doin’ what exactly?  Not that sittin’ around, twiddling my thumbs and lookin’ pretty doesn’t mean a grand night out for these old bones, but I’ve got better things to be doin’ with my time than watching you try and put a cork on Freddie the Freeloader here.”

“Like what?”

“Like eating, for starters.”  He caught Giles’ frowning glance at the clock, and smirked when the other Englishman flushed.

“Oh, dear Lord, I hadn’t even realized.”  He looked up, obviously flustered.  “I normally rely on Xander’s stomach rumbling to remind me…”  A pause as his gaze swept the room.  “Where is Xander?”

“Scarpered off about five minutes after this whole charade started,” Spike replied.  “Never thought I’d say it, but I think Harris might be the smartest of the lot of you right about now.”

“Why would you say that?”  This was from Tara, the first thing she’d really had to say since returning from Iris’.

“Because he’s either eating or makin’ up with his vengeance bird, and if he’s not totally daft, he’s doin’ both.”  He straightened his shoulders, tossing Buffy a knowing look before stepping outside.  “I’ll be in my room if he actually decides to be helpful for a change.”

He didn’t even have to pause on the balcony.  Within seconds of him closing the door, it opened again and Buffy slipped out, stopping short when she saw him waiting for her. 

“Big dramatic exits work a helluva lot better if I don’t run into you on the other side,” she complained, folding her arms across her chest.

His head tilted, the distant sound of a phone being dialed reaching his ears.  “Not so dramatic when I know your Watcher just called a dinner break,” he drawled.

“He did not,” she argued.  “I told him you were right and walked out.”

“And that’s why he’s in there ordering a pizza…”  He paused, listening.  “…with ham, pineapple, and extra cheese?” he finished. 

Both of their mouths quirked at the same time.  “You can be a real spoilsport, you know that?”

“Just don’t want you to start thinking you can pull the wool over these eyes whenever you fancy, pet.”

His irritation with the interrogation was dissipating, the rush and glow from the post-battle moments at Iris’ apartment building returning to settle somewhere inside his torso, oddly concentrated in two very distinct spots both above and below his belt.  Not a word had been said on the car trip home, Buffy much more reserved in front of Tara in spite of the witch’s knowing the truth, and Spike had settled on the satin touch of the back of her hand under his fingertips as he drove back to the hotel.  Once there, questioning Freddie had driven away any talk of who was together with who and who was currently without any hardware in his head.  Little things like that seemed not so important in the face of finding out what exactly Sandrine had in mind.

Now, though, it looked like the time might be at hand for certain little things to get said.

“How long is the headmaster adjourning class for?” Spike asked, nodding toward the closed door. 

“We’ve got two hours, so that gives us until ten-thirty.”  She smiled, stepping closer so that she could run slim fingers along his waist, tracing the hard edge of the denim.  “Were you serious about wanting to eat?  Or do you think you might be…up for a little dip in the pool?”

When her hand dipped to squeeze his erection on the word “up,” he growled, pulling her roughly against him.  “Wouldn’t be so little,” he murmured, but when he ducked his head to nip at her neck, Buffy laughed and twisted away, darting in the direction of their room.

“Last one in’s an evil, bloodsucking fiend!” she called behind her.

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

She beat him to the gate of the pool area, laughing and taunting the entire way, but truth be told, Spike had let her do it.  Give up watching those lean muscles flex and stretch as she ran ahead of him?  Not enjoy the sight of the firm globes of her bottom tucked snugly inside the shorts she was wearing to swim in?  He was competitive, but he sure as hell wasn’t stupid.  No way was he not savoring that view.

The pool was tucked away from behind the hotel, away from prying eyes of most of the guests and lost to the sight of the road he could hear in the distance.  A sign bolted to the wrought iron fence that surrounded it announced that its open hours would be over in less than thirty minutes, and he was about to growl in frustration for not having more time when he saw the accompanying notice about the whirlpool’s hours underneath it.  Eleven.  So, wouldn’t be a total rout after all.

Buffy stopped just inside the gate, surveying the deserted interior.  “Looks like we got lucky, evil bloodsucking fiend,” she tossed back in a tease.  “No audience of unsuspecting kiddies.”

“It’s not exactly high season for the Big Easy’s tourist trade,” Spike replied.  He sauntered past her, dropping the towels he’d been carrying to one of the plastic loungers before tugging at the hem of his tee.  “And can’t say that I’m all that fussed at havin’ an audience.”

Her eyes widened when she saw his hands drop to his waistband.  “What’re you doing?” she demanded.

“Looks like I’m gettin’ ready for a dip.”  He chuckled as her eyes jumped around, trying to assess if they were being watched, sliding down the zipper to free his raging erection from the confines of his jeans.  “Don’t know what you were expecting, pet.  I’d’ve thought by now you’d sussed on to the fact that me and underwear don’t mesh.”  His darkened gaze dropped to the delicate bra she was using as a bikini top.  “Well, least not the kind I’d wear,” he drawled.

“What about shorts?”

He cocked his eyebrow at that, pushing the denim down around his ankles and kicking them away.  “Outside of that very unfortunate drying incident at Harris’, have you ever seen me in anything remotely resembling shorts?” he asked.  He stood there, naked, enjoying the flush that was creeping over her golden tan, knowing it was both embarrassment and desire that was causing it.

“But…this is a public pool, Spike.  Well, almost public.  Semi-public for being part of the hotel.  Anybody could come on by.”

“And again, I ask you…do you honestly think I give two figs?”  With a smirk, his body pivoted from his perch, diving cleanly into the blue water, and Buffy walked forward, stepping out of her sandals near the edge, as she watched his pale form slice through the length of the pool.

Her eyes glittered.  The water did nothing to distort the sleek beauty of his arms, all sinew and lean muscles that made her thighs quiver.  The power in his back as his strong strokes made his swimming seem effortless was matched only by the strength in his thighs, and the sudden flash of how they felt against hers made Buffy’s breath quicken.

He loved her.  He’d said it.  So, OK, he didn’t exactly pick the most romantic time to tell her, but there had been no denying the force of the moment as relief knowing he was all right combined with the relief of a mission succeeding without casualties for a change.  She’d been just as taken with it as he, swept along the tide of his confession, and grateful that Tara had granted them just a few minutes of peace to seal his declaration with a fitting kiss.

Life was beginning to look good again.  Anya was back and hopefully Xander was fixing whatever was wrong between them, Freddie would help them figure out how to stop Sandrine, and she had Spike.  Now she just had to figure out how get her best friend back and tell everyone she was in love with a vampire.  Again.  She wasn’t one hundred percent sure which one was going to be harder.

His head broke through the surface, the water dripping down the planes of his face as Spike gripped the edge of the pool right in front of her.  “So who’s the evil, bloodsucking fiend now?” he teased with a smile.

“Excuse me?  I believe I was the one who got here first.”

“Yeah, but you were also the one who said first one in.  Which would be me.”  His grin widened.  “Pool’s too big for just one, pet,” he drawled.

Before she could react, his hand shot out, latching onto her ankle and carefully hoisting her into the air so that she went flying over his head.  Her outcry of surprise was stifled when she splashed into the water behind him, and Spike turned in his spot just in time to see her come spluttering back up to the surface.

“I was coming in!” she argued, pushing her hair away from her eyes.

“Maybe,” he conceded.  “But my way was a helluva lot more fun to watch.”  He darted out of her path when she splashed at him, laughing the entire way. 

“It’s not nice to try and dunk an unsuspecting person when she’s been drowned before,” Buffy said, affecting an exaggerated hurt even as her eyes danced.  “You could’ve seriously traumatized me.”

“Guess that means I shouldn’t do this then.”  Using the tiled wall as leverage, Spike propelled himself forward, ducking below the surface to tackle her around the waist, dragging her down with him to the bottom of the pool.

Trying not to laugh, Buffy twisted in his arms, kicking out with her heel to slam against his hip.  It knocked the vampire just enough off-balance to loosen his grip and she tore away, breaking for air and the opposite end before he could react.

One hand held on to the side, while the other helped her tread water, watching Spike kick off from the bottom to swim to her side.  He didn’t come back up though, and she had to squelch the niggle of fear for his safety as she reminded herself of his lack of need for air.  A brief question of how he could be attacking her so without his chip firing flashed across her brain, but she just as quickly explained that one away as well.  Doesn’t hurt me, can’t hurt him.  Mystery solved.

What is he doing down there? she mused as she felt his hand begin skating up the back of her calf.  His touch was artificially warmed from the heat of the pool, and at moments, it was hard to discern the pressure from his fingers from that of the water’s.  His bowed head partially blocked her view, but when she felt his other hand tighten around her ankle again, Buffy tensed, ready to fight whatever assault he had planned now.

It didn’t come.  Instead, Spike’s grip held her firmly in place, forbidding her movement as his shoulder nudged her flat against the tile.  The touch of his fingers grew firmer, and she gasped as the gentle strokes turned into playful pinches, awakening her muscles as they slid up her leg, traveled around to the softer skin of her inner thigh.  Her arms spread out to her side, supporting her weight against the wall, as her head fell back and she stared up into the dark sky.

“Spike…” she murmured, not really caring if he could hear her or not.  His touch had grown tender again in the more private apex of her thighs, his hand that had rooted her gone to join its mate.  Buffy knew without even having to look that the vampire was worshiping her flesh, his mouth now engaging in the play, and she felt his teeth pull at the waistband of her shorts in an attempt to shed them from her skin.

Wonder if I can count this on the list of positives to having a non-breathing boyfriend? she thought as the fabric was freed from her legs.  Funny, but I’m not convinced Giles really wants to hear about how lucky I am Spike can go down on me in the pool without having to come up for air.  If the sound of smacking weirds him out, his head will probably explode trying to come up with that imagery.

Her legs were lifted to rest on the vampire’s shoulders, and Buffy held her breath, waiting for the sensation of what she knew was coming next.  Lean fingers boldly caressed her outer folds, tickling at her opening in a delicious tease before sliding up the opposite side.  Her inner walls clenched in anticipation, and when the delicate bite finally came at her clit, she bucked against his face, fighting the swell of the water to drive him closer.

Vibrations against her inner thigh told her Spike was laughing, and his grip tightened, spreading her before him to allow his tongue to follow the path his fingers had blazed.  This time, instead of finishing the route, he stopped at her entrance, slipping inside to begin a languorous thrusting she matched with the movement of her hips.

Each slide in and out made her skin burn hotter, her breathing growing increasingly erratic as every movement seemed to steal away more of her air.  When his hand snaked up her bare stomach to pinch the hardened nub of her nipple through her bra, Buffy’s back arched away from the wall, the force of it driving her forward and causing Spike to fall back toward the bottom of the pool.

Immediately, his hold on her disappeared, and the Slayer kicked to regain her balance, struggling between the pounding within her flesh for more and the need to stay above the surface so that she could breathe.  Her hand shot out to grab onto the tile, steadying herself, a bleached head bobbing up next to her.

“What happened to that super Slayer sense of balance?” he teased.

“You’re the one who fell over,” she countered.  And let go, I might add.”

“Only ‘cause I didn’t want to drag you down with me.”  His smile softened, and Spike reached up to cup the side of her face.  “One of us still requires air to breathe, you know.”

Her response was to drift closer to him, her lips meeting his as her arms took the place her legs had just enjoyed around his shoulders.  The tip of his erection brushed against her hip, and she lifted herself just enough from the water to hook her ankles around his waist.

Spike growled as his cock lay nestled in Buffy’s slick folds, the water lapping against their bodies as he deepened the kiss, his tongue sweeping against hers in a sympathetic rhythm to their sway.  The sudden desire to taste more than his mouth swelled through the Slayer, and when she broke away to gasp for air, she released her hold on his hips to thrust him hard against the wall.

His eyes were almost black, lids hooded, as Buffy sidled around to his side, her hand scratching down his abdomen to rake along his thighs.  The water softened the sting where her nails broke the skin, but his sharp hiss was one of delight when she dove beneath the surface to take the length of his cock into her mouth in one fell swoop.

He was already pressing against the back of her throat, long and hard, but as Buffy tried to slide her lips back up his length, she was countered by the rising of his hips, pulling away and leaving her frustrated.  She blinked as she emerged from the water, tiny drops raining from her lashes onto her cheeks, and saw him stretched out on top alongside her, floating as he maintained his balance by gripping the tile behind him, the head of his erection breaking through the soft surface to bob along of its own mind.

“Might as well make it easy for you,” he said with a smirk.

She was about to retort in kind when laughter filtered from somewhere near the gate, and her head jerked when she caught the unmistakable sound of voices.  “Crap,” Buffy muttered, pulling away from his porcelain frame to look frantically for her shorts.  Good thing I didn’t wear underwear, she thought as she darted forward to grab them.  Sliding into them when they were so wet was distinctly harder than when they’d been dry, but she managed it, even swimming halfway back to the other side of the pool before the new arrivals showed up.

Spike’s face was a thundercloud as he saw the three young women come through the gate, nubile bodies be damned.  Couldn’t they read the damn sign? he groused.  Bloody pool was only going to be open for another fifteen minutes; what was so damn important about a swim that they had to bugger up his moment with Buffy?

The trio was giggling as he moved to join the Slayer, and she realized in horror that the pale curve of his ass gleamed beneath the clear blue water. Grabbing one of the towels, she dropped it to him as he reached the side, watching it sink into the wet, and then grabbed the rest of their clothes. “Whirlpool,” she said in a voice low enough so that he was the only one who could hear. “Now.”

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

Though he’d briefly considering not bothering with the towel---since when was Spike embarrassed to show his usually hidden assets?---the idea was dismissed when the possibility that it would piss Buffy off enough to forgo any more fooling around sprung into his head. So, he wrapped the sodden terry around his waist and dripped the entire way to the whirlpool room, tossing the young girls a smirk when not even the weight of the wet towel could keep his erection from tenting out the front.

He’d barely pushed open the door when he felt the knob twist in his fingers, causing the slightest of stumbles as he stepped into the sultry space.  Buffy was on him in a flash, tearing at the covering to bare his skin to the steam, the heat of her flesh rivaling that of the small room.  “Luv,” he groaned as her sweat-slicked skin slid down his, her tongue smoothing the way until she was on her knees before him.  He leaned back against the wall, fumbling to his side to close the door.  Maybe she was right after all.  Maybe they didn’t need an audience.  He wasn’t willing to share her with anybody.

Her tiny hand pumped down the length of his cock, and Spike could feel her breath across its head wafting in audible pants.  The anticipation of feeling her mouth around him again, without the encumbrance of the water to soften the sensation, made his toes curl into the floor, his hands clawing at the wall behind him.

One lick, right across the dripping tip, and this time, his groan ripped itself from his throat.  “Buffy, please,” he begged.

Her laugh was low.  “Somebody’s sounding a little anxious, I think,” she singsonged.  “Maybe I should stop…”

“Don’t you fucking dare!” he growled, and his eyes glittered in gold as he looked down to see her smiling at him.

Slowly, deliberately, she held his gaze as her lips parted, her mouth descending to encircle the head of his cock, never breaking away from his eyes as she slowly slid down the rigid shaft.  The hand that had been holding tight at its base now relaxed, sliding down to fondle the heavy sac that hung between his legs, and Spike’s legs quivered as she began to suck and lick the length. 

Hotter than he’d ever imagined.  Burning and teasing and searing his skin as every touch, every flick of her tongue, every nip of her teeth, coaxed him closer and closer to the edge.  He had to fight to keep his hands away from her hair, from twining his fingers in the wet strands and holding her there so that he could pump away at her willing mouth.  Instead, Spike let his fingertips dance over the slope of her cheek, running down the side of her neck in a barely there feather that urged her skin to flame as high as his.

When he felt the familiar tightening in his balls, it took every ounce of his control to push her away, taking her by the hand to pull her to her feet and lead her to the whirlpool.  For the first time, he noticed that she’d removed her clothing before he’d arrived, and his heavy gaze slid over her, drowning in her golden beauty before it disappeared in the churning water.

Buffy yelped in surprise and Spike chuckled as she looked over her shoulder to see the blasting jet she had just sat down on.  “One plus over the pool,” he murmured, and tugged her forward.  “C’mere, luv.”

“You’re being bossy tonight,” she complained good-naturedly.  “Since when do you get to be the one in charge?”

“Considering how many times I’ve had to put up with you leading me around by the short hairs, I’d say I’ve earned my turn.”  Spike pulled her onto his lap, deliberately arranging it so that his erection was pressed between them. 

This was his chance, he knew.  If he waited any longer to tell her, no matter how well she took it, Buffy would be angry at how long he took, let alone that she wasn’t the first to know.  Still, his stomach boiled in revolt, arguing that ignorance was bliss, while his still-throbbing cock seemed to have even other ideas about what exactly bliss was.  But he’d been planning this from her first suggestion, attending the needs of her body in the pool before they’d been interrupted, trying to keep it focused on her as he tried to charm her into as good a mood as possible.  Distraction through desire seemed a good enough idea to him.

“Have I said lately just how beautiful you are?” Spike started, brushing his knuckles across her cheek.

She smiled.  “Your mouth’s been a little busy elsewhere for that,” she joked.

“I’m serious, pet.”  Dark eyes lifted to lock with hers.  “I’ve always thought so.  Even that first time I saw you.  Absolutely glorious, you were, dancing around the Bronze like you owned the place.  Probably should’ve known then you’d steal my heart away.”

Her smile stayed but softened, sadness tingeing it around the edges.  “That doesn’t even seem like this lifetime,” she mused.  “We were both totally different people then.  I was with Angel and you were with Dru.”

“Ever wonder…what if we hadn’t been?  Think it would’ve still turned out this way?  You…me…straddling…”

Buffy slapped playfully at his chest.  “Oh, because the Slayer and the Scourge of Europe were a match made in heaven,” she said.  She kept waiting for him to join in her teasing but the solemnity of his eyes riveted her in her play.  “You’re serious,” she said needlessly.

Spike nodded.  “Maybe it was meant to be, no matter what.  Dru saw you before I knew, and that Clara bird certainly had her own ideas.  Who knows?  We could’ve been together all this time if things had played themselves out a tad different from the start.”

“But you know that’s impossible.”  Her words, though soft, sliced through his heart as effectively as if she’d used her stake.  “You didn’t have the chip then.  Sooner or later, you would’ve done something all Big Bad-y and I would’ve had to kill you for it.”

“I’m not the chip, luv.  Don’t you think---.”

“No, I don’t think.  I know you hate it, Spike, but that little piece of plastic is the only reason we’re together now.”

His brow was furrowed, eyes searching hers to try and understand what she was saying.  “Because you can see me now that I’m leashed,” he finally said, words carefully chosen and articulated.  “That’s it, right?”

“You were a menace before.  Have we forgotten about the numerous death threats you gave me, including our little slaying in the sunshine when you got the Gem?  Having the chip means we can get past---.”

He didn’t give her a chance to finish.  “Maybe it was that way in the beginning, but what about now?”  Without realizing it, his fingers were digging into her hips, his frustration at her obstinacy driving his blood to surge in anger.  “What happened to you believing me makin’ my own choices?  You said that, remember?  Or was that just all lipservice to stop the depressed vamp from turning into Brood Boy?”

“I meant that, every word.  You know that.”

“Then tell me why you think I’d go back to that, knowing what we have now.  Knowing what we could have tomorrow.  Just…tell me, Buffy.”  The entreaty in his blue eyes shone, even through the steam that swirled from the eddying water around them.  Every fiber of Spike’s being was screaming out to her to understand what he was saying here, but even as the words tumbled from his mouth, he could see the belief in her peeking its head out and felt his hope crumble.

“Because that’s what you are,” she murmured.  “You’re a killer.  That’s what you do.  You’ve told me that yourself.”  She’d said the words so many times, having them come out now was reflexive.  Yet as they hung between the blond pair, Buffy couldn’t help but wonder if they were still necessarily true.  She had told him he was capable of making good choices; she’d witnessed it firsthand with Pablo.  And she loved him, there was no denying that.  But was it possible to love someone who didn’t have some measure of good inside?  And if there was good in Spike, how fair of it was her to try and slap such an awful label on him?

“When?  When was the last time I said that?”  He shook his head, the damp from his tousled curls spattering droplets across their shoulders.  “I love you, Buffy.  I know I only said the words today, but the feeling…it’s…fuck, it’s been around in one shape or another for a bit now.  Maybe it’s been there from the beginning.  I don’t know.  I do know that I’m not the same person I was when we first met.  Just like you’re not.  And yeah, maybe I think about what it was like before, and I remember how much easier life was, how much simpler, and just maybe I’ve wished I could have that back again, all of it.  It doesn’t mean I would.  Because it’s all about choices, right, pet?  I can choose not to do that again if I want.”

In spite of the heat of their flesh, and the fire from the water, her body was rigid within his arms, growing cooler with each passing second.  “What is it you’re trying to tell me here, Spike?” she asked. 

The knock at the door made both of them jump, and her hair slapped him in the face as she whirled to look at it.

“What?” Spike snarled, his eyes flashing gold.

The door eased open, and Tara’s ducked head poked inside.  She kept her eyes averted from the two blonds in the water as she spoke.  “Mr. Giles w-w-wants everyone back in the room as soon as possible,” she rushed.  “Freddie’s f-f-freaking out.”

“We’ll be right there,” Buffy assured.  As soon as they were alone again, she hopped from the pool, grabbing the lone dry towel to begin scrubbing at her skin.  “We’re going to finish the conversation as soon as we can,” she said as she dried off.  “I want to know what’s going on inside that bleached head of yours.”

Numbly, Spike nodded.  His moment was lost, his anger at being interrupted receding to a dangerous ebb aimed specifically at himself.  Whatever happened now, he had no doubts how it would turn out.  Buffy had made herself more than clear.  She couldn’t see him as anything but a killer without the chip in his head, and no amount of persuasion on his part was going to alter that fact.  She needed that crutch in order to allow herself the leeway of loving him.

The only question now was…was it worth it to risk the truth if it meant losing her in the process?

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

She was even more terrified than she’d been in those first few minutes after realizing Sandrine had control of her body.

Within the confines of her thoughts, Willow shrunk back as she witnessed the ravaging the woman was doing to Iris’ living room---glass flying from the shattered window embedding itself into her bare arms, peppering her skin so that the dozens of pinpricks seemed to bleed black in the dark of the room.  She’d hurled the lamp through it once she’d realized just what had happened, rage boiling from nowhere to bury everything else in its rush to explode.  The curses she screamed pierced the eardrums of the vampires who hung back in the doorway, and even Iris seemed to shy away from the rampaging redhead, not even trying to intervene when a shelf of collectible crystal dissolved under a blaze of magic.

Though she was happy that Anya had been rescued, Willow was more frightened of what was going to happen next, now that Sandrine had seen the surveillance tapes and witnessed firsthand how Freddie had sold her out to the Slayer.  She could feel the ice beginning to creep past the fury, squeezing its path into her veins even as she destroyed the interior of the room. 

Sandrine wanted someone to pay for betraying her.

Willow just wished she knew who that someone was going to be.

 

To be continued in Chapter 32: Freddie Freeloader