DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
SUMMARY: After a confrontation with the Hound behind the Magic Shop, Buffy has collapsed.

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Chapter 6: Fever

Buffy thrashed in his arms, forcing Spike to tighten his grip on her wrapped-up form. Even through both their sets of clothes, her body was a living flame against his, and the flush in her cheeks only made her hazel eyes seem even more brilliant in the starlight. They flickered open now, staring up at him in confusion before again fluttering closed as she slipped once more into unconsciousness.

"What's the problem, Red?" he growled.

Ahead of him, Willow stood in front of the crypt door, pushing ineffectually at it. She blushed with embarassment. "I can't get it open," she confessed.

Rolling his eyes, Spike lifted his boot and lashed out at the stone, driving the door open, pushing past the witch to get Buffy inside. Although the crypt wasn't much warmer than the evening air, it was at least better protected against the elements, and the sooner the Slayer got into bed, the better. Nothing had been said out loud, but he knew this sudden fever was a result of the potion. That was the only reason a worried Giles would insist Willow tag along.

"Bed's downstairs," he grumbled as he noticed the young witch looking around. "Follow me."

The blankets were still tousled from Buffy's slumber the night before, and Spike waited as Willow pulled them back. She frowned when she saw the black satin sheets, refusing to meet his eyes, but held her tongue as she watched him lay Buffy gently down. "Can you get me a cloth and a bowl of cold water, please?" she asked, removing her jacket and tossing it over a nearby chair.

He didn't answer, only disappeared around a bend, to return a moment later with the requested items. She noticed the furrow between his blue eyes, but couldn't quite look past the shields he'd erected to see what might be causing his distress. Tara had made some cryptic remark earlier, something about being able to rely on Spike, so maybe this was related. Regardless, Willow's primary concern at the moment was getting rid of Buffy's fever.

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To her burning eyes, the room seemed hazy...smoke-filled...too bright...Breathing was an exertion, a vise around her chest, and Buffy found herself having to settle for short, shallow gulps of air. The familiar satin under her cheek sent her mind whirling..."Where...?" she mumbled. "Spike...?"

Willow reached forward, pushing her best friend's sweat-drenched hair away from her face. "Sssshhh," she soothed. "It's OK. You're going to be OK."

"Thirsty," she croaked. Within moments, the cool texture of a glass pressed to her lips and she sucked greedily at the water she found within. It felt as if all her blood was boiling right under her skin, leaving her core glacial, allowing the river that ran between
to wage its war against her body.

When her eyes flickered open again, she blinked, once, twice, trying to discern the figure leaning over her. Who was it? She knew that voice, but the name of its owner escaped her. "Spike...?" she tried again.

Oh goddess, Willow thought. Maybe I should go and get---.

"I'm s-s-so sorry, Spike" Buffy was saying. "I sh-sh-shouldn't have..." The trembling overtook her for a moment, setting her teeth to audibly rattle, and Willow began to worry that maybe she needed to get another blanket for her friend.

"Relax, go back to sleep."

"No!" Buffy's fervent denial bolted her upright and though it took all the young witch's strength to press her back into the bed, Buffy still clung to her shoulders in a desperate hug. "Y-y-you've been trying s-s-so hard, and I've been such a b-b-bitch about it..."

Willow heard the heavy boots descend the ladder and glanced over her shoulder. "Were your ears burning?" she asked.

"How is she?" Spike murmured as he came closer to the bed. His normally clear eyes were cloudy under his concerned brow, and his lean fingers tapped agitatedly against his thigh.

"She's hallucinating."

"...don't...must hate me...try...harder..." Buffy's arms fell from Willow, and she began muttering, too low for even Spike to catch.

"What has she been saying, Red?"

Willow shook her head. "Just gibberish. There was something about her being sorry, though." Her brown eyes looked up at him. "Did you guys have a bigger fight than normal or something?" His shrug was noncommittal, but she could see the thoughts swirling behind his hooded gaze. She'd try a different tack. "Tara said---."

His reaction was immediate, violent, and she shrank back as his fist slammed into the wall, sending shards of stone and dust flying through the air. "Bloody hell!" he yelled. "Can't any of you keep your bleedin' mouth shut?!?" Stomping across the room, he began pacing, paralleling the wall, his tread heavy and sullen. "I suppose you've gone and told the Watcher, too. Should probably be expectin' some early morning guests to drag my undead ass to fry out in the sunshine, right?"

"Spike, I haven't---."

"You're all so damn protective of her; nothin's ever good enough for your little Slayer, is it?" He stopped in front of the young Wiccan, lowering his face until his eyes were level with hers. In a calmer but no less dangerous tone, he continued, "Well, so what if I've got feelings for her? I wouldn't be the first vampire in her life, now would I? And, for your information, she's having sex dreams about me, too, so maybe it's not just a one-way street, know what I mean?"

Willow's eyes widened. This was so not what she was expecting. Tara hadn't even hinted that Spike might...wow. Spike in love with Buffy? It would explain so much. But...Buffy having dreams about the blond vampire? She shook her head as if to clear it of the fog that seemed to have suddenly settled there. Not possible...she would've told Willow about them...

Spike knew almost immediately that his little tirade came as a revelation to Willow and mentally kicked himself. He ducked his head, muttering, "Me and my big mouth." Stepping away, the vampire turned his back on the young witch, unable to meet the disgust he just knew would be in her eyes. "It's not like I planned it or nothin'," he went on, a little louder. "Bloody inconvenient, if you ask me."

The mumbling from the bed stopped, and Willow glanced back to see that Buffy had passed out again. "Does she know?"

Laughing, Spike commented, "You think she would've agreed to this little arrangement in the first place if she did?"

Willow smiled in spite of herself. He had a point there. Still...she could hear the pain beneath his seeming good humor. "Do...you want to talk about it?" she offered, hesitantly. "I don't think Buffy's in a listening kind of place right now, and it might...help you to get it off your chest."

For a long moment, he just stood there, his black t-shirt pulling across his shoulders, outlining his honed muscles, and she began to think she'd made him angry. Willow watched as he reached over for a spare pack of cigarettes and lighter that rested on a nearby dresser and couldn't help but notice the tremor in his fingers.

"Might as well get comfortable, Red," he said, sliding a cigarette between his lips. "This could take awhile."

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She stood outside the crypt, a cloak wrapped around her ample frame, staring at the stone door. The hunt had not progressed as she'd anticipated; they hadn't expected the Slayer to be surrounded by such potentially powerful allies. She could still feel the reverberations of the witches' spell, and was grateful for the extra care she'd taken in preparing the hound. And the young man with the gun...not a weapon for which they'd planned, and all too dangerous to all involved. But the blond one, the vampire...

Her nostrils flared as the memory of his fangs, his golden eyes, flooded her inner eye. The Hellmouth was a beacon for many creatures of the night, so she'd expected vampires to be around, just...not working with her prey. And now that she'd seen one...how could she not use this opportunity to exorcise her own demons?

She turned around to face the group of men milling around, waiting for her command. "The Slayer's inside," she said. "You know your instructions; she's not to be harmed. She must be delivered in one piece and alive. The man who fails dies as well." Pausing, she hid her eyes so they couldn't see the flurry of emotions churning behind them. "She's not alone. There's a vampire and a witch in there as well, so take caution."

A man spoke from the back. "Do we use any means necessary?"

"No. I want no reason for the authorities to come after us, so, though the witch will most likely be protecting the Slayer, disable her with as little force as possible. The vampire, now..." She hesitated, her dark eyes even blacker with the knowledge that her hunters were not going to like what came next. "I know some of you have encountered them before, but I don't want you to kill this one---."

"But they're a scourge! We can't just let it go---!" The complaints among the group were vigorous, too loud in the tiny cemetery, and she held up a hand to quiet them.

"You're not. I want this one taken. Alive." She pulled herself straight, daring them to defy her, her jaw locked and jutting forward. No need for them to know her reasons; they wouldn't understand anyway.

Some shuffling feet and angry grumbles remained among the men, but no one voiced any more dissension, and she let her shoulders relax as she turned back to the crypt.

There would be few problems with their attack. Something was wrong with the Slayer; for some reason, she was weakened, making her more susceptible to an easy capture. She'd watched from afar as the blond vampire had carried the young girl inside, and her skin crawled that the red-haired witch could have allowed such blasphemy. From observing the fight in the alley, she knew, for some inexplicable reason, the monster wouldn't harm the Slayer, so the important thing was that her prey still lived. For now...

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Willow sat stiffly in the chair, her hands folded in her lap, her lip caught between her teeth, while her head mulled over this new information. Over the last ten minutes, Spike had been spilling his unbeating heart to her, confessing it all, from the dreams to the
lurking, to his own hopes for reciprocity from Buffy. She now understood Tara's comment, and in spite of her own history with the platinum-haired vampire, she could appreciate what he was going through. She of all people knew that you didn't get to choose who you fell in love with.

He was watching her now, trying to gauge her reaction, pretending he didn't care but hoping that she'd understand. For some reason, he'd always liked Red, and her burgeoning powers certainly made her one of the more interesting members of the Scooby gang. If he could get her approval, maybe the Slayer wouldn't be too far behind.

Willow was about to speak when the squeak of the crypt door filtered downstairs, pricking Spike's ear. Cocking his head to listen more closely, he held up his hand to the young witch, warning her to be quiet. He was trying to count the number of visitors upstairs, but the footsteps were too many, too muffled. "Stay with Buffy," he murmured, and started the ascent to face his guests.

There were six of them waiting as he emerged from below. All were swarthy, armed to the gills, and unknown to Spike, and his launch towards them was more reflexive than deliberate. As his fist met the jaw of the closest man, though, the pain exploded in the vampire's head, blinding him with white heat, shooting down his spine until he folded in half from the torture. Humans...? Who the hell had he pissed off now...?

Strong arms held him down as the manacles went around his wrists and ankles. One of the group stood in front of Spike, holding up a large cross, his black eyes glittering with hate. They even know I'm a vampire, he thought. My lucky day.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two more men hunched over, speaking in some foreign dialect, gesticulating toward the hole in the floor. Buffy! his mind screamed and was about to echo it aloud when the black tape was slapped over his mouth, effectively shutting him up. He could only watch, helpless, as they disappeared into the chasm.

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

Gentle hands were on her shoulders, shaking her awake, and through the ether of sleep, she could hear Giles' low voice. "Willow! Willow, wake up!"

Her brown eyes blinked, tried to focus, but all was a blur, and what was that pounding in her head? Her fingers fluttered to her brow as she winced against the pain, only to touch the dried patch of blood that had formed there during the night. "What...? Where...?" She tried to speak, but the room was spinning and her only thought was to lie back...

"No, you can't go back to sleep!" His touch was rougher now, forcing her to stay awake. This time when she opened her eyes, she could see Giles staring down at her, his own gaze wild with worry. "You've got a concussion; you must stay conscious. Do you understand?" She nodded as best she could. "Now, what happened? Where's Buffy?"

In spite of the pain, Willow turned her head to look over at the empty bed. "Oh goddess," she breathed. "They took her..." She turned wide eyes to her mentor. "There were these men, I don't know how many. They...hit me with...something, before I could use any magic to stop them. Spike had gone up..." She froze, afraid to ask the next question. "Did they stake Spike?"

Giles shook his head. "He's not anywhere around, and there's no indication of any vampire dust in the crypt, just...normal dust."

"Then..." Their eyes locked as the truth crystallized for each of them.

Both Buffy and Spike were gone.


To be continued in Chapter Seven: Captive...