DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
SUMMARY: The Scoobies are still trying to figure out what happened to Buffy and Spike, while Buffy has allowed Spike to feed from her in an effort to heal him.

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Chapter 10: First Steps

“Just call me Xan-xan, the answer man!”  His voice carrying over the door’s jingle, Xander strutted into the Magic Box with a white bag held high over his head.  “A little bit of sweet talk, a couple of dead presidents, and I single-handedly---.”  He stopped in mid-sentence as Dawn’s strident voice filtered to the front of the store.

“If I hear just one more person tell me I’m being unreasonable, I swear I’m going to scream!”

Giles’ voice was low and soothing, as he attempted to ease the young girl’s pique.  “That’s not what I’m saying.  I just think you’re attributing much more significance to my presence than it merits.”  Even from where he stood, Xander could see Dawn wasn’t buying a word of what the older man was saying, not with shoulders set that squarely.

“Special Slayer training that doesn’t need her Watcher?”  Dawn quizzed.  “At least if you’re going to lie about what she’s doing, you could come up with a better cover story.”

“He’s not lying, Dawnie,” Willow interjected.  “He’s just---.”

“I got that stuff you needed, Giles!”  Xander rushed forward, the bag held out in front of him.  “Took me awhile, but I finally found the ones you were asking for.”

“What I was…?  Xander, please, I’m trying to explain to---.”

“But I got what you were needing.”  The young man enunciated his words carefully, his brows slightly lifted as he met Rupert’s frown.  “The smokes guy came through with the goods.” Shaking the sack ever so slightly in front of the Watcher’s face, he waited expectantly for him to take it.

After a moment of hesitation, a small smile of relief relaxed Giles’ concern as he took the offering.  “He…came through, you say?  Wonderful.” 

“You came back for cigarettes?”  The doubt was clear in Dawn’s voice, but for the first time since she’d arrived and found Giles hovering over some books with Willow and Tara, she began to wonder if maybe she’d jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Xander turned to face the teenager, an amiable grin belying his jumping nerves.  “Actually, they’re cigars.  Santa Rosa Torpedos Maduro.  Quite an elegant little smoke, if you’re into that sort of thing.”  Reaching past a confused Watcher’s hands, he extracted a small box from the bag and held it out to an even-more confused Dawn. 

Staring down at the jet-black columns lined up so neatly under the cellophane, the young girl bit her lip.  “But Giles doesn’t smoke.”

“No,” Giles jumped in.  “You’re right.  But these particular cigars have a distinctive…odor that attracts the…Laelaps demon.  And I can’t very well teach Buffy how to fight something if I can’t get it to show up.  However, I…forgot these when I prepared for our session, so I returned to get some.”

 “Which is when he saw me and Tara trying to find that spell,” Willow added.  “And since he said he knew where it was---.”

“---he sent me to go out and get the cigars,” Xander finished.  He turned to the Watcher.  “By the way, you owe me ten bucks.”

A now-disinterested Dawn tossed the box onto the table.  “Why didn’t you just say so in the first place?” she asked as she flopped down into one of the chairs.

There was a moment of silence as the adults just stared down at the young girl, all memories of her recent outburst seemingly vanished from her head.  Finally, Xander picked up the cigars and turned to Giles.  “About that money…”

“It’s not coming from my register,” Anya piped up.  “We’ve had this discussion, Giles.  Every time you dip into the till, I end up spending hours trying to get everything to balance out right.”

He shot her a withering glance.  “Yes, Anya, of course.”  To Xander with a nod of his head toward the back of the store, “My wallet’s in the training room.”

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

“Thank you,” Giles murmured, once the door was closed safely behind them.  “She was refusing to even consider what we had to say.  I can’t blame her, of course, she’s much brighter than any of us really give her credit for and our story regarding the training really was rather inadequate.”

“Just glad I could be there for the save,” Xander said.

The older man peered into the small bag he’d been clutching before pulling out a tightly folded piece of paper.  “What exactly happened at the tobacconist?  And what on earth ever possessed you to go and buy cigars?”

“That smokes guy wouldn’t say boo to me until I bought something.  And I thought they looked kinda cool.”

Giles frowned as he scanned the scrap in his hand.  “What exactly is this?”

“The best lead we’ve got as to where Buffy is, so don’t give me any crap about it, ‘kay?”  Straddling a nearby chair, he continued.  “Once we got past the preliminary buy-something-or-I-remember-nothing phase, Smokey had plenty to spill.  Seems our stinky cigarettes are imported, some Greek island he said.”

“Greece?  Well, that would certainly be in keeping with the Hound, if the two are indeed connected.”

“I’m thinking they are.  A group of guys came in and bought Smokey’s whole stash.”

Giles brightened.  “Really?  Finally, something is going in our favor.  If they used a credit card, Willow should have no problem finding them on the computer.”  There was a long pause while the Watcher waited for the younger man to speak up.  In the silence that engulfed the room, his smile slowly faded.  “Please tell me you at least asked how they paid for the cigarettes.”

“OK.  I asked how they paid for the cigarettes.”  Under Giles’ scrutiny, he blushed.  “But I didn’t.”

Turning away from Xander, Rupert reached out for the doorknob.  “Well, we’ll just go over there and find out now.  It shouldn’t be---.”

Xander jumped up from his chair, grabbing the Watcher’s arm in an effort to stop him from leaving.  “Wait!” he said.  “Maybe I forgot about the credit card thing, but I’ve still got something we can use.”  He began bouncing on his toes in excitement.

“Well?”

“Smokey overheard our guys talking as they were going out.  Seems one of them was bragging about shooting some wildcat, something about getting in the way of the car and putting it out of its misery.  Anyway, this little incident happened to occur on a covered bridge, which around here can only mean one thing---“

“---Cortina Lookout---“

“---which as I’m sure you know is on a road that just goes into desert no-mans-land---“

“---and if you’re not local, that means---“

“---you can’t know about it unless you’ve driven over it.”  A triumphant smile creased his face as he watched Giles take off his glasses and begin chewing on the end, lost in thought.  “Since that definitely falls outside of the realm of your Sunnydale map, I’m thinking, pack a little picnic, take a long drive through the desert.  I bet we find where they’ve stashed Buffy.”

There was a long silence as Giles digested this last bit of information.  He wasn’t even looking at his companion when he mused, “Perhaps if Willow and I were to go out there, we could try another locator spell…”

“…because those are doing so well.”  Xander ducked around so that the Watcher was forced to look him in the eye.   “C’mon, Giles, you’re not seriously thinking of ditching me?  I’m the only one who’s come up with anything concrete.  The least you can let me do is ride in with the cavalry.”

The Watcher’s gaze was firm, his mouth set into that line Xander recognized from many a late-night debate in the library.  “Someone needs to stay behind in case Buffy shows up.  And then there’s Dawn.  She believes us now, but she’s…unpredictable.  I need to ensure she stays out of our way.”

“So what you’re telling me is that I get Dawn duty.” 

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”  He started to turn away, then realized he was still holding the scrap from Xander’s bag.  “And why exactly was this so important?” he queried, worrying the paper between his fingers.

“Oh.”  A dejected Xander barely glanced up as he slumped back into his chair.  “That’s just my receipt.  Like I said, you owe me ten bucks.”

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

More than anything else, he could smell her skin.  Vanilla, made spicy with the pungence of her blood.  It scorched his throat, staving the pain radiating from his shoulder, creating a kaleidoscope behind his eyes as he drank…and drank…

The pad of his thumb pulsated in rhythm with her pulse, but he felt the first flicker of alarm as, in a second that seemed to stretch for an eternity, it faltered, hesitated, before continuing its beat, although not nearly as strong.  The second vacillation merely moments later cut through his consciousness with a blade of fear, and he tore his dripping fangs away to scan her face.

Her eyes were closed, her lashes dark against the increasing pallor of her cheeks, and Spike noted with dread that her lips, normally so ripe and luscious, were now shading to a deep blue.  As his game face slid away, his fingers slipped forward to push the stray curl that had fallen over her forehead.  “Luv…” he whispered, and broke her embrace to prop himself up on his elbow.

Once out of the vampire’s clinch, the young Slayer seemed to waver, suspended in some frozen moment of her own creation, before a tiny hand reached out to clutch at the comforter, steadying her, her hazel eyes fluttering open.  The first thing she did was look down at him, a small smile providing a sharp contrast to her wan appearance.  “No more crap about me eating in bed,” she joked.  “You’re dripping on the sheets.”

Spike reached up and wiped the blood from his mouth, his unbidden tongue darting out to lick it off his fingers before he realized what he was doing.  “You OK, Slayer?”  His voice was a rumble, stronger than hers, but still a shadow of his previous self.  “I stopped when I thought---.”

“I’ll be fine.”  She interrupted him with a wave toward a box on the nightstand.  “Could you hand me a tissue, please?”

He watched as she daubed at the bites on her neck, putting a slight bit of pressure on it to stem the flow, before handing it back to Spike to dispose of.  “Thank you,” she murmured unnecessarily, then raised her head to glare defiantly at the doorway.  It was only then that the vampire noticed that they weren’t alone.

“Very impressive, Miss Summers.”  Daymon had straightened during this display, his back stiff, his arms like ramrods at his sides.  “Bewildering, but impressive.” 

“Next time, you should probably remember that a little research goes a long way.”  Buffy swivelled her head to face Spike.  “Don’t you dare tell Giles I said that.”

“So tell me,” Daymon started, his voice congenial but cold, “what exactly is preventing me from summoning my men to shoot your vampire again?  Only this time, perhaps I should instruct them to aim for the heart.  It leaves so little to chance then.”

“Because I’ll stop them again.”  Buffy matched her captor’s tone, and Spike felt a small smile curl his lip.  That’s it, luv, he thought.  Let’s show this wanker who he’s really dealing with here.

“You seem a little too concerned in keeping me alive,” she was saying.  “I don’t think you’d want to risk your men accidentally---oh, I don’t know---killing me, now would you?”

For the first time since Buffy cut herself, the Greek relaxed, and the amused smile returned to his lips.  “You are very perceptive, young lady,” he said.  “No, I would be most upset should something untoward happen to you at this time.”    

“That makes two of us then,” the blonde quipped.

Daymon chuckled.   “I just have to ask,” he said.  “Why does the Slayer choose to save one she’s sworn to eliminate?  Granted, Spike seems very…interesting, and watching you interact with your vampire could be most entertaining, but I was informed he was attacking you---.”

“You were informed wrong.”  The lightness had disappeared from Buffy’s voice, and Spike could tell she was done playing games.  “Speaking of information, I think since I’ve had my turn at showing, maybe you should start doing some telling.  As in, why are we here and what do you want from us.”

His laughter echoed through the room, taking both of its occupants by surprise.  “You Americans are so blunt,” Daymon chortled  “And while I can appreciate your rather straightforward manner, I’m afraid I can’t really share my plans with you just yet.  Suffice it to say, I’ve spent twenty years trying to find the Chosen One.  For a search that long, you can be assured your purpose will be quite significant.  At least…it will be to me.”

 “And Spike…?”

“His presence is unfortunate.  You must accept my apologies; I’m afraid Celie was a trifle overzealous in her hunt.  I hired her to find me the Chosen One.  I really have no idea why she chose to bring me both of you.”

“So bring her in here.  I’ve got a few choice words I’d like to share with Cujo girl.”

He shook his head.  “I’m afraid that’s not possible.  The plane returning her and the Hound has already departed.”

The silence hung in the air like a cloud, thick with unfulfilled promise.  Finally, Buffy crossed her arms and sighed.  “So that’s it?  That’s all you’re giving me here?”

“For now.”  Daymon’s voice was low, modulated, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  Spike could distinguish just enough behind the sunglasses to see their “host” wasn’t the slightest bit perturbed by this stonewall.  He was about to dismiss it out-of-hand when the sudden hint of musk in the air tickled the vampire’s nostrils.  Discreetly, he sniffed, hoping that he’d been wrong, but there it was.  The smallest line appeared between his eyes as he frowned.  Gotta tell the Slayer once we’re alone, he mentally reminded himself.

 “Since you’re now awake,” Daymon was continuing, “if you find yourself in need of anything---food, drink, etcetera---there’s a small buzzer under your nightstand.  Simply use it to summon the staff and tell them your requests.  They’re instructed to give you anything you may need.  Within reason, of course.”

Fingering the mark on her neck, Buffy glanced back at her blond companion before asking, “What about Spike’s---needs?”

There was a pause before Daymon responded.  “Haven’t you proven you can take care of your vampire yourself?”

The Slayer’s eyes widened and she leapt from the bed.  “Contrary to what you might think,” she sputtered,  “I am not his blood moll.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime, he’s-going-to-die-unless-I-do-this kind of thing!”

In spite of himself, Spike smiled.  He could smell the remnants of her desire; being his “blood moll”---and he particularly liked that term, must remember to use it later---had excited her almost as much as their foreplay prior to his getting shot.  No blinding headache from the chip just confirmed for him that he hadn’t been hurting her, had instead been giving her as much pleasure as she was giving him.  Well…almost as much. 

Out loud, he said, “Doesn’t have to be human.  Pig’s blood’ll do.  Just make sure it’s warmed before they serve it.  Don’t particularly fancy the chilled stuff.  Oh, and no novelty cups.”

Their captor just stood there, watching them, his long fingers tapping silently on the leg of his trousers.  “Very well,” he finally said. “I’ll direct the staff to also include your vampire’s needs.  In the meantime, I’ll send someone up with some clean sheets and extra clothes for you, Miss Summers.”

“Hey!” Spike interjected.  “If I’m not gettin' killed here, mate, the least you can do is clothe me, too.”

Daymon sighed.  “And for you as well, then.”  He started to turn, hesitated, and then looked back at Buffy.  “It’s not my first choice, but since you insist on keeping company with your vampire, I trust you have no problem with these---.”  He gestured, referencing the bedroom.  “---arrangements until our departure tomorrow evening.”

 “Departure?”  Buffy crossed her arms across her chest.  “And where exactly are we going?”

“Why, home, of course.”  And with that, he left the room, shutting the door behind him.

Buffy erupted as soon as they were alone.  “Where he does he get off saying that you’re ‘my’ vampire?  I mean, major ewww here.”

“Really?”  Very deliberately, Spike stood up, slowly enough so that his head didn’t swim from the sudden movement but decisive enough so that the Slayer wouldn’t realize just how weak he still was.  He stepped toward her, closing the gap between them, wondering when she would pull away.  “Don’t seem to remember asking you for this.” 

She just stood there like a deer caught in headlights as his hand reached up and his thumb caressed the bite mark on her neck.  “You were going to die, Spike,” she said as evenly as she could. 

He shrugged.  “Maybe.”  Blue eyes locked with hazel.  “Maybe not.  Still don’t see why you did it.”

His touch was hypnotic.  She had to swallow, moisten her now too-dry throat before she could reply.  “He said I couldn’t save you.  It pissed me off.”

“And…?”

And?  He wanted an and?  “And…you saved me.  From the fever.  I figured I didn’t have much of a choice.”

“There’s always a choice, pet.”  His eyes swept over her face, thrilling to the heightened color that seemed to be returning to her cheeks, noting with satisfaction the steadier beat of her heart.  “No one’s puttin’ a gun to your head.  I’m sure your mates wouldn’t hold it against you if you went back minus a Big Bad.  And I know it’d be easier on Rupert’s pocket if he didn’t have to keep paying me to cover your asses.”

Buffy’s head whirled.  Why didn’t she step away from him?  Here he was, invading her personal space yet again, just like he did every time he wanted to get a reaction from her… “Spike, please, can we not talk about this right now?” she finally croaked. 

His laughter was genuine.  “This world of denial you live in must be bloody comfortable, Slayer, since you insist on spending so much time there.”

“I just meant,” she said through gritted teeth, “maybe we should be talking escape plan instead of dissecting what I’m beginning to think was a really bad decision.”

He cocked his scarred eyebrow.  “You think you can get us out of here?”

“Only if you’re willing to play nice and do as I tell you, no questions asked.”  She blushed.  Oh God, she thought.  I’m doomed.  Even that sounded sexual.

Biting his bottom lip, Spike tilted his head as he gauged her discomfort.  In spite of her refusal to discuss it, Buffy still hadn’t moved, and he became acutely aware of her heat warming his bare chest.  Just an inch…her breasts would be pressed against him…it would be so simple…

“If it makes you feel better, Slayer, he’s got it all wrong.  Saving me doesn’t make me yours.”  He leaned forward until his cheek hovered next to hers, his voice a silky whisper in her ear.  “It makes you mine…”

To be continued in Chapter 11: In Search of Answers