DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike has killed Duncan and Frank has the harness back. The group was debating whether or not to do the spell when something came from the stream…

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Chapter 49: On a Bank of Flowers

In many ways, it resembled the demons they’d been fighting since stepping foot into the Otherworld. A sleek ebony coat, large dark eyes, the toothless mouth. There, the similarities ended, though. Where the ones who’d attacked had towered even over Riley, this one barely came to Buffy’s shoulder, its slighter form and leaner muscles making it appear as a stray pet rather than a threat.

The biggest difference, however, was that this one stayed away, hovering near the edge of the stream as it watched the group with mild curiosity, eyes wide as they moved from person to person. There was no malice in the black depths, but neither was there fear, and Buffy felt the tension that had sprung to her limbs at its arrival begin to ease.

“Well, no wonder Xander had no problem killing the other ones,” she commented with just a hint of amusement. “This is like a baby kelpie or something. Except…didn’t you guys say the others were armed?” She turned away from the stream to look back at the three men who were staring at the new arrival. “We seem to be minus some swashbuckling here.”

“That’s not like the others,” Xander said, his eyes fixed on the creature. “Saying they’re the same is like equating Ewoks with Bigfoot.”

“The fuilafior,” Frank murmured. His grip on the harness had loosened, his attention transfixed in a combination of awe and disbelief. Buffy noticed he had taken a step away from the stream, and even now, seemed ready to run should the new demon approach any closer.

“What was that?” she asked.

“The fuilafior,” he repeated, a little bit louder, a little clearer, and the word brought an instant frown to Spike’s face.

“Please tell me that’s not part of our trial,” he said to the guardian.

Buffy grabbed his arm, pulling him around to look at her. “You know what it is?”

He shook his head. “But I know my Gaelic, which makes me just a tad uncomfortable if that’s s’posed to be what we’re sent here to catch.”

“Why? What’s a foo…fue…” She grimaced as her tongue refused to wrap around the word. “What is it?”

“A myth,” Frank said softly, shaking his head. “Not real.”

Spike snorted in contempt. “Standin’ there in the flesh makes it pretty damn real to me, Frankie boy. And anything that’s name means ‘blood from the water’ doesn’t make me pleased as punch when I’m s’posed to be settin’ to kill it.”

We’re supposed to be killing it,” an annoyed Riley reminded the vampire. “Don’t be getting delusions of grandeur about your own importance just because you happened to get rid of that other kelpie. This doesn’t happen without all three of us contributing. Giles and Colin made that perfectly clear.”

“What exactly did they say?” Buffy asked. “I missed this part of the research. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Just…would be kind of nice to know since we’re now stuck here, faced with the decision of whether or not we’re actually going to go through with it or not.”

“They didn’t know what kind of creature we’d encounter,” her ex explained. “All the texts referred to it as being ‘magically bonded’---.”

“The fuilafior were said to be created from magic,” Frank interrupted, the reverence deepening his voice as his gaze returned to the creature on the bank. “That is most likely what the books meant.”

“You weren’t offerin’ any of this back in the castle,” Spike said. “If you knew so much about our little closing spell here, why didn’t you speak up then?”

“I didn’t know then,” the guardian argued. “All my information regarding your spell came from the first witch who attempted it. And she had no idea what they would find here.”

“So you’re supposed to kill this thing?” Buffy asked, glancing back at the creature still watching them from the side of the stream.

“We’re supposed to capture it and put it in the urn somehow,” Riley said, and shrugged sheepishly. “We just…assumed it meant kill.”

Doubtfully, the Slayer looked from the fuilafior, to the small pot in her hand, before lifting her skeptical hazel gaze to the men. “Um, I don’t think so,” she commented. “Unless some mystical Cuisinart suddenly materializes to slice and dice him up into small enough bits to fit in here, there is no way that’s happening.” She sighed. “Look, I’m going to make a judgment call on this one, and Frank, I’m sorry, but it’s probably not going to have you doing cartwheels. The best chance we’ve got for Spike not bursting into flame when we get back is by not finishing the spell in the first place. So, let’s not. Let’s just ignore whatever this thing is, and whatever might show up on our way, and head on back to the castle. We can try closing the entrance again once we know how to protect Spike. Frank’s got the harness back, and as long as we’re careful about keeping an eye on the stream, there’s no reason this whole thing can’t wait.” She paused, waiting for some kind of reaction from the others, an argument as to why she was wrong. None came. Giving them a short, sharp nod, Buffy turned away, preparing to return to their journey along the stream’s bank. “Good. Let’s just go then. I hear the call of a long, hot bath in my very near future.”

Two steps forward, however, and the Slayer found herself face to face with the fuilafior, bringing herself up short as it barred her path. She frowned, and took a step sideways, only to have the creature mirror her movement, blocking the way. A step back in the other direction was met with the exact same reaction, and her lips pursed in exasperation.

“Someone else try going past it,” she instructed, never letting her gaze stray from the demon before her.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spike’s pale form immediately step forward, ready to circumvent the nearby stand-off. The creature saw it as well, and casually lifted the arm closest to the vampire, a single finger drawing invisible circles in the air.

There was no flash of electricity, no squeal of magic piercing their eardrums. Spike couldn’t even say that it really hurt all that much. But, as soon as he’d drawn level with the fuilafior, he was stopped, picked up like a ragdoll by some unseen child, and deposited ten feet back, landing on his rear with an indelicate grunt.

“Now whose turn is it to be the puppet gallery’s main attraction?” Xander commented, reaching out a hand to help the vampire back to his feet.

“Think our new friend here doesn’t want to be left alone,” Spike said when Buffy stepped back to re-join the group. “Which means we’re back to the original plan.”

Her displeasure was immediate. Avoiding completing the spell had seemed like the best opportunity for saving the vamp, and now the choice appeared to have been taken out of their hands. “Could it be another obstacle?” she quizzed, not really believing it but ready to grasp at straws. “How many of those things did you kill, anyway?”

Xander did a quick tally on his fingers, his lips moving noiselessly as he counted them off in his head. “Six,” he announced, and was met with a crestfallen Slayer.

“Which is a multiple of three,” she muttered, shaking her head. “Well, I’ll say one thing for this place. At least it’s consistent.”

“So, because Spike killed that last demon, we’ve now completed some…supernatural obstacle quota?” As he said it, it sounded catty even to him, but Riley was past playing the gracious loser. No reason to hold back on his true feelings anymore, not when he was pretty sure he’d lost any chance with Buffy.

“Hey!” Spike barked, stepping in front of him. “I killed number five. You were the one who offed the last thing that went bump in the night here. So if this is anyone’s fault, it’s yours.”

Nobody’s to blame,” Buffy interjected with a roll of her eyes. Frankly, she was getting a little tired of all the posturing going on between the two, and their petty arguments were doing none of them any good in finding a solution to their present predicament. “You did what you had to do, which means…we see this through to the end, and then deal with the consequences once it’s over.” She gave the three of them a shooing motion with her hands. “Now, go do…whatever it is you have to do to let us get past it.”

She waited expectantly, hazel eyes darting between the three, watching as each suddenly seemed incapable of meeting her gaze. Her brows lifted. “You do know what to do, don’t you?” she said, folding her arms over her breasts.

“It’s like Riley said, Buff,” Xander finally offered, an embarrassed flush to his cheeks. “We figured we had to kill the thing. We just thought it would be an itsy bitsy thing.”

“So go kill it.”

“And then what?” Riley asked. “You said it yourself, Buffy. It’s not going to fit into that urn.”

She sighed. “Maybe once he’s dead, the urn expands to accommodate him. Or he shrinks. Or he could get turned into some kind of Otherworld dust like vamps do. Or something. How am I supposed to know? It’s magic. I’m sure if this is what you’re meant to catch, something magicky will probably happen. That’s usually the way it works. Have none of you been paying any attention to the various disasters we’ve averted on the Hellmouth? Just…do it. We’ll deal with the fallout later.”

They stood frozen for another moment before Spike shrugged, picking up the sword that had flown out of his hands when he’d been barred from passing. “Looks like a grand night for carnage,” he said, strolling toward the stream. He didn’t get five feet from it, however, before the weapon was ripped from his grasp, sluicing through the air to bury itself tip first in the earth behind the creature.

The vampire stopped, shoulders stiffening. “He seems to prefer a good old-fashioned round of fisticuffs.” He smiled, eyes turning golden as the ridges molded onto his forehead. “My kind of demon.”

Buffy watched as a snarl ripped from Spike’s throat, his pallid muscles shifting in feline deadliness as he lunged for the creature. They grappled in tense harmony, rolling to the ground in a nearly silent tumble before the fuilafior backhanded him in a blow that sent the vampire flying.

“Thought this was s’posed to be a joint effort,” he shot back to the other two men as he hopped to his feet.

His tone spurred them into action, driving them forward in a flurry of fists and kicks. Buffy bit back the smile that rose to her lips as she surveyed the battle before her. Under normal circumstances, watching Spike fight was exhilarating, every move graceful, each swing carrying with it a deadly promise. Riley himself was an accomplished fighter, and what Xander lacked in technique, he more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Now, however, was a different story.

Each press forward was met with an almost nonchalant reaction from the demon, repelling each man with little effort. They were spending more time soaring through the air and picking themselves up off the ground than actually fighting, and if it wasn’t for the fact that none of them seemed to be taking any actual damage from the blows, Buffy would’ve stepped in and intervened herself.

Actually, and she had to bite down on her lip to restrain the smile, she was having problems not laughing out loud at the whole thing. The show presenting itself before her didn’t look like a demon fight; it more closely resembled some sort of primitive Scottish game where the men stood around and threw tree trunks. Except in this case, the men were the things getting thrown. How do you score something like that? she thought absently. Distance probably, maybe landings. They’d probably get extra points if they could actually stick their landings as well. Oops, there goes Xander again…

Her distracted musings were cut short when Spike caught his hand on one of the fuilafior’s claws, eliciting a growled, “Bloody hell.” Only then did she say a word.

“Stop!” she ordered, rushing forward to pull the vampire away from the fray, ignoring Riley and Xander as they rose from their respective seats on the ground. Grabbing his hand, she held it palm up, inspecting the slice across its fine sinew. Immediately, her head jerked up, eyes staring into his. “This isn’t a fresh wound,” she accused.

“Never said it was,” Spike replied, pulling away to lift it to his mouth, tongue flicking out to lap at the blood that was now running down his wrist. “Opened it up fightin’ off the Naked Chef. And as much as I love the idea of you playin’ nursemaid, I’ve got a little business to take care of, so if you’ll excuse me…” He turned, and before she could stop him, had launched himself yet again at the fuilafior.

It looked like any of the other attacks, the pair falling to the ground, the demon rearing its hand back to send the vampire airborne again. This time, though, Spike pre-empted the strike by throwing a quick punch into the demon’s maw, the blood still seeping between his fingers in tiny rivulets that appeared black in the moonlight. None of his previous hits had done more than slightly daze his opponent, but it didn’t stop him from trying again. He just wasn’t the sort to give up.

This blow was different. As soon as the vampire’s flesh made contact, the creature screamed, yanking itself away from Spike as if burned, scrambling along the stream to a safe distance several yards away, gazing back at them for the first time in fear.

“What did you do?” Xander asked, amazed, as he came up behind the vamp. “Why’s he turning tail all of a sudden?”

“Bugger if I know,” Spike muttered, eyes glittering in confusion as he slowly rose to his feet. He looked down at his still-clenched fist, turning it over in the light, once…twice…and then opened it to see the blood still oozing from the cut. There wasn’t even a lot of it---his healing capabilities were already kicking in---but it still managed to shine against his skin before disappearing between the crevices of his fingers to drip leisurely to the earth.

“Did you hit some kind of soft spot?” Riley quizzed.

Xander shook his head. “Couldn’t be,” he replied. “Even I got a punch in that landed on his mouth.”

“What did you say its name meant again?” Buffy’s voice was a ghost at his side, her hazel gaze settled on the blood that dripped from his fist, and when Spike caught the tiny line between her brows as her head turned to look at the fuilafior, the connection between the two sparked inside his skull.

He had grabbed the nearest sword and turned back to face the other two men with it raised before they could react. “Whoa,” Xander said, holding up his hands. “I thought we’d already established that going all Zorro was about as effective against this thing as throwing marshmallows.”

“Not for him,” Spike said, a grim smile on his face as he advanced. “This is for you.”

“What?” The suspicion creased Riley’s normally placid features. “Just because your chip isn’t working, doesn’t mean---.”

“Shut your gob, you stupid git.” Holding out his injured hand, the vampire slowly ran the edge of the blade over the slice already there, opening it up wider so that the blood flowed even more freely. “I’ve finally sussed out how to get at that thing on the damage front.”

“Not that I’m arguing against your self-mutilation, but what does one have to do with the other?” The ex-soldier seemed fascinated by the display Spike was making, the vamp clenching and unclenching his hand to make the wound bleed more profusely. When he seemed satisfied with what he had, he lifted his amber gaze to stare at the others in anticipation, causing both Xander and Riley to take an involuntary step backwards.

“Blood from the water,” Frank murmured, and turned wide obsidian eyes toward Spike, a newfound respect for the other demon glinting in their depths. He’d always assumed he was more a creature of visceral instincts, and to show an intellect like he had---even knowing the true meaning behind the fuilafior’s name---surprised him. His gaze flickered to Buffy, the understanding of the appeal the vampire held for her deepening before he turned to the other two men.

“Your blood has been infused with the spirits of the Otherworld,” the guardian explained. “Combined, it will carry with it the essence that governs my world. That should be what it takes to defeat your foe since he is a mythical creation.”

Xander grimaced. “Isn’t there a less painful way for us to do this?” he complained. “It can’t just be our blood that’s been sanctified here. What about spit? That’s a bodily fluid. Maybe we could just all spit on him.” He looked around expectantly, the hope glimmering on his face as he waited for a response.

“OK,” Buffy said. “First of all, can I just say, ewwww? That’s disgusting, even coming from you, Xan. And secondly, you both saw how that thing reacted when Spike hit him that last time. And the only difference was the blood on his hand. So stop with the sissy talk and let’s get on with this.”

“Could be worse, Slayer,” Spike said, a mischievous grin spreading his lips. “He could’ve suggested other bodily fluids.”

“Oh!” Xander brightened. “I didn’t think of that! It’d be like when you get stung by a jellyfish, right? I think I saw that on TV somewhere. Something about the ammonia.”

It took her a moment to realize what they were saying, but when she did, Buffy’s eyes widened before her nose and mouth scrunched into a moue of distaste. “And again with the ewwwww!” She couldn’t keep the shock at what they were suggesting out of her voice as she continued. “All bodily fluid talk ends now. Blood. This is about blood. Nothing else. No spit, no…nothing else. Capisce?”

As Spike took another step closer toward the other men, Riley stepped back again. “No offense---,” he started.

With an exasperated growl, Buffy set the urn to the ground and yanked the sword from Spike, marching to her ex to grab his hand in hers before running the blade cleanly across his palm. “Baby,” she muttered before turning to Xander and repeating the action.

His smile was one of delight as the blond vamp watched her glow in indignation, her face intent on her tasks at hand. When it came to getting things done, nobody really did it in the same style as the Slayer. Never had, never would. She was one of a kind. And his.

“Right,” he said when she finally stepped away. “Think the best way for us to do this without it goin’ all to cock is to go at it all together. United front and all that rot.”

When the men turned around, they saw that the fuilafior had returned to its previous post, no longer afraid, as if the recent memory of the blood in its mouth had been wiped from its mind. “Is this a count of three kind of plan?” Xander asked.

“This is get-the-soddin’-thing-done kind of plan,” Spike replied, and immediately charged toward their adversary.

Only seconds separated the vampire’s attack from the others’, and Buffy found herself holding her breath as she watched fists and feet become a blur against the demon, the delineation between the warring bodies unclear in the rush. She didn’t doubt that this was the way; she only feared what the outcome might actually be.

It had been noticeable before, not that she’d really paid that much attention to the strange white outlines in the trio’s eyes, but the moment that each of their hands made contact with the demon’s flesh, the white flared to silver, absorbing all color as the spectacle seemed to stop in time, every one of its players consumed by some inner power that locked their muscles in unrelenting arrest. The fuilafior’s scream rose in an agonizing wail, perforating the air with its pain, and as the young woman watched, its body began to steam, blazing from some inner fire, the wisps eddying and tunneling and swirling into the air before whisking its way to the abandoned urn at her feet.

Its brays lingered even after its body was gone, fading into the night’s ether like a cirrus draft whispered away by the wind. Only when the world was completely silent were Spike and the others released from whatever mortis had held them, sinking to the earth in a spent exhaustion, chests heaving from battling the forces within.

She was at Spike’s side in a millisecond, dropping to her knees while she watched Riley sit back on his heels, Xander curl his fingers into the grass. “You all right?” she murmured, thin hands sweeping over the angles of the vampire’s face, looking for something---anything---out of the ordinary before beginning their search down his bare torso, the tactile reinforcement to the visible testimony necessary to keep her own nerves in check.

Slowly, Spike reached up and secured her hands in his, oblivious to the open wound in his palm as he entwined their fingers, and leaned his forehead heavily against hers. “You Summers women are all a bunch of fussbudgets,” he said wearily, the faintest hint of a smile in his voice even as his eyes remained closed. Gone was his game face, vanished with the last vestiges of the clash, and when his lids finally lifted, the white had diminished back to a faint glow around the sapphire.

“Did it work?” Xander asked, his breathing still labored. He was still doubled over, holding on to the ground as if it was going to fall out from underneath him, and the question of when the world had decided to play tilt-a-whirl with his brain tumbled around inside his skull with all the comfort of a skittering bag of marbles “Please tell me it worked. I don’t think I have it in me to do that again.”

“It worked,” Buffy affirmed. “That should be it now. The entrance should be closed.”

Riley shook his head. “It just seems a little extreme to me,” he commented, looking down at his hand. “Why the cutting and the blood?”

The vampire rolled his eyes at the farmboy’s narrow-sightedness. “’Cause it’s always about the blood, you nit,” he drawled. “How’ve you lasted so long on the Hellmouth not knowing that?”

“Just once I wish it was about the donuts,” Xander muttered, finally able to settle back onto his bottom. He shook his injured hand, trying to cool the faint sting still remaining from the slice. “Can I just say that at this moment in time, the Hellmouth is seeming a lot more Xander-friendly to me than Scotland? I just want to get back to a place where I don’t have to worry about getting beat up by drunk rugby players, or being smote with gout, or getting turned into the bad guy’s butt monkey---.”

“Actually, there was that whole deal with Dracula,” Buffy offered, interrupting.

“---or getting the paper cut from hell,” he finished, ignoring his friend’s lighthearted reference.

Behind them, Frank cleared his throat. “Not that I’ve really had the opportunity to share this bit of information yet,” he said, “but there’s something I really do need to tell you about this closing of yours.”

Her eyes narrowed as the Slayer pulled herself away from Spike. “Now is not the time to be telling me bad news, Frank,” she warned. “I am sooo not in the mood for that.”

“Not…bad news, but not…great news…exactly…” His gaze darted from the urn, to the men on the ground, and then back to Buffy. “One aspect of suggesting using the power of the closing spell to come aid you escaped my…attention earlier,” he said. “While it’s true that Spike and the others can return to your world relatively…unscathed, the same unfortunately can’t be said…for you.” He seemed to visibly cringe as this time he was met with four sets of angry eyes, not just hers.

“What do you mean?” Xander demanded. “Are you saying we did all this for nothing? I thought we’d be able to take her back with us. Carry her or something.”

Frank shook his head. “The entrance will bar any living creature to pass through it that wasn’t a direct part of the spell,” he explained.

“Thought you said this wasn’t bad news,” Spike said, and there was no mistaking the menace in his tone. “’Cause it’s soundin’ remarkably like it.”

“Buffy can still go back,” Frank assured. “Just not with you. I will have to be the one to take her.”

“Are you saying guardians can still go through the entrance even though we’ve sealed it?” Buffy asked.

He shook his head. “No. But we can use the power of the harness to pass. The closure is a magical construct. The harness affords its bearer the authority to ignore magic.”

“You are not puttin’ that thing on the Slayer!”

She had to physically restrain Spike from going after the guardian, his fatigue forgotten in light of the coming threat from the kelpie’s mouth. “That wasn’t what he was suggesting,” she said, locking gazes with the other demon. “Because Frank’s not that stupid, are you, Frank?”

“No, no, not at all,” he rushed. “I can carry you while wearing the harness myself. That will work sufficiently.”

Everyone visibly relaxed. “Well, that’s all right then,” Spike said.

“Except…”

“No. No soddin’ excepts.”

“…I doubt I’ll be able to make the trek back on foot,” Frank apologized. “It would be too tiring.”

“You’re telling me I’m going to have to swim for it?” She was liking this less and less with every word that came out of his mouth.

“No, I can carry you once we reach the tunnel. That’s where we’ll have to part company with the others, I’m afraid. The dangers of traversing through the entrance are still very much real and in your weakened condition, it would be a risk to allow you to walk all the way to the new seal.” He tried to smile. “I’ll carry you above the water, obviously, since you lack the capacity for breathing under the surface for extended periods of time as I do. I don’t think your friends would look too kindly on me if I were to return with a drowned Slayer in my arms.”

His joke fell on deaf ears. Instead, Buffy was frozen from the sudden realization that they had actually done it. The guys were about to walk back to Dall Rath, and they were going to take their places within that damn triangle of stones, and Spike was going to go bye-bye in a grand puff of smoke, and what was she going to be left with? Ashes. And an ex-boyfriend who would be more than willing to pick up the pieces but left her feeling cold and empty, and…she was going to have to spend her last few hours in this whole adventure away from Spike, in the arms of a different demon, without being able to give him a proper good-bye.

Unless Willow or Giles came up with a solution.

Deep down, though, she didn’t believe it would happen. So much time had already been wasted in their quest for a resolution with no visible results. What could possibly have happened back in the dungeon that would change anything?

Spike felt the change in her body immediately, the tension knotting her shoulders, the thin set of her lips as she lifted her gaze to stare at Riley and Xander. “I have a favor to ask of you guys,” he heard her say softly…

 

To be continued in Chapter 50: One Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever

AUTHOR’S NOTE: For those of my readers who are following the Celtic mythology in this particular tale, I have a slight confession to make. I made the fuilafior up. Whereas I’ve attempted to make all the rest of the mythology as authentic as possible, I just couldn’t find a creature I liked well enough to use in the trial, so I went to my trusty Gaelic dictionary and made up a word that meant what I wanted. Creative license and all… :)