DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
SUMMARY: Buffy & Spike are seeking temporary refuge with the demon Cortina, with Xander and Celie not too far behind them.

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

Chapter 15: The Naked Truth

She was waiting for them as they pushed open the door, letting the bright morning sunlight stream inside the dim shop. “Where have you been?” Anya demanded shrilly. “Is Xander with you? Did you find Buffy?”

Giles blinked against his employee’s onslaught and hesitated, allowing Willow and Tara to slip past him into the store. “And good morning to you too, Anya,” he said, shutting the door gently behind him.

“No, it’s not a good morning, Giles,” she barked, following right on his heels as he walked to the counter. “Xander didn’t come home after dropping off Dawn yesterday. I really need for you to tell me he was with you last night and that right now, he’s back at the apartment sleeping it off.”

“No, I’m sorry, I haven’t seen him since we left.” The Watcher frowned, glancing at the witches before continuing. “Did you see if Dawn got home all right?”

“Well, no,” Anya admitted. “Dawn’s got her own family to worry about her. I spent the night worried sick about Xander.”

Willow crossed to the telephone. “I’ll call the Summers’ house.”

“Did you at least find Buffy?”

The ex-demon’s question seemed to fluster the trio, and Willow turned her back as she dialed, hiding the faint blush on her cheeks. “The spell worked,” Giles replied. “We’ve got coordinates on the map of the desert for where she was at that point.”

“So? You just left her there? Are you crazy?” Anya’s voice was getting higher and louder with each question, the worry lines between her brows deepening.

“We weren’t exactly…prepared for a midnight hike.” Taking off his glasses, Rupert seemed intent on cleaning the lenses, avoiding the young woman’s eyes.

Anya looked over at Tara. “Giles got a little scared,” the blonde witch said in a low voice.

“I did not!” the Watcher said vehemently. He took a deep breath and added more calmly, “It was dark, and we didn’t have any tools.” Both girls just looked at him. “I wasn’t scared,” he repeated.

“So what are you doing here? Get your things and get out there and find her!”

“Anya, did you learn something while we were gone?” asked Giles. “Did the Tract of Telemus have some answers for us?”

“Oh, I’ve got answers,” the young woman grumbled, crossing to behind the counter. She pulled out two books and dropped them onto the surface. “I’ve got answers coming out of my ears. Fat lot of good they’ll do if you don’t get Buffy back in time.”

Replacing his glasses, Giles picked up the top book and looked at the spine. “Why? What did you find out?”

Anya opened the remaining tome on the counter, turning to a section she’d already marked. “That is what we’ve got to worry about,” she said, her finger jabbing at an entry at the bottom of the page.

Tara came up to read over the Watcher’s shoulder as he scanned the passage. “This is a ritual that occurred over five hundred years ago,” he finally said. “I really don’t see what this has to do with Buffy.”

“Neither did I,” Anya replied, and took the other book from his hands. She began flipping the pages, skimming the contents until she found the picture that had jumped out at her the previous evening. “Not until I found this.” She set the book down in front of him on the counter.

His lungs seemed to stop working as he gazed down at the book. Behind him, he heard Tara’s breath catch in her throat. “Th-th-that’s…Buffy,” she murmured. “How could a picture of Buffy be in there?”

“Telemus was an ancient Greek seer,” Giles explained, automatically switching into teacher mode. “This is a collection of his prophecies.”

“As seers go, he’s fairly accurate,” Anya continued. “He predicted Menudo.”

“What does he say about Buffy?” the older man queried, his muscles finally relaxing so that he could pick up the tract to scan it himself.

“Basically, a very old demon is going to use her for this cleansing ritual and that it’s not going to turn out very pretty,” Anya stated matter-of-factly. Behind her, she heard the click of the receiver as Willow replaced the telephone. “Well?” she asked as the witch came to stand next to her.

“I think we got trouble,” the redheaded witch said. “Dawn’s home and all, but she claims that she walked home alone last night.”

“That’s not true!” Anya’s voice started climbing the register again. “She left with Xander!”

Willow shook her head. “She says that when she left, you two were all making with the smoochies here at the Magic Box.”

The ex-demon whirled to face Giles. “Now I know something is wrong, because I definitely didn’t get any ‘smoochies’ last night. We’ve got to get out there and find Buffy!”

“I agree,” he murmured, still absorbed in the text. “We can’t let this ritual happen.”

“Is Buffy in danger?” asked Willow.

“Extreme danger,” the Watcher replied, as he lowered the book. “As are all of us, should this cleansing occur.”

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

The bed seemed too big for just her as Buffy rolled over for the umpteenth time that morning. Sleep had been elusive, as thoughts and memories kept flickering through her head, causing diaphanous dreams of strong lips and a deep British accent. She couldn’t escape his smell, and though he’d not returned to the room after his rather stormy exit, the Slayer could’ve sworn that he was lying right next to her. The sense of loss when she’d turn over and not find him there was too crushing even for her to ignore.

It was just supposed to be about sex, something Buffy had finally decided was not only acceptable but desirable, but Spike’s proclamation now made that impossible. If they continued the physical part of their relationship, he would expect some sort of emotional commitment and she didn’t know if that was something she was prepared to do at this time. After the Parker debacle, how could she do that to someone else, even if it was Spike? Sure, he was all Big Bad and everything, but she’d witnessed firsthand how deep his feelings could run. He’d been willing to risk it all for Drusilla; if he now loved her, how far would he go for the Slayer?

Her thoughts went back to the vampire’s actions over the past few days. Everything seemed to make sense now---his tender assistance when she was under the fever, his concerted effort not to drain her, even his determination not to allow her to throw herself at him when she’d drunk the dog potion. Everything he’d done had been for her, and now he thought she still considered him disgusting…

Jumping up from the bed, Buffy grabbed the shirt off the pile of clothes Cortina’s men had dropped off during one of her brief naps. I need to talk to him, she thought. He needs to know the truth. If nothing else, she was going to convince him that he’d jumped to the wrong conclusion earlier, that her exhaustion prevented her from speaking her mind clearly, that she didn’t in fact think of him as disgusting. He’s going to listen to me this time, she thought grimly. If I have to beat him senseless to do it…

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

She heard him before she saw him. Well, she heard the water, at least. As Buffy rounded the corner of the cave, she found herself at the edge of a wide stream, a cascade of water trickling down the opposite wall, landing on the stones with a gurgle. Benches had been carved out of the banks, allowing seats for those who might choose to swim there, and it was on one of those that she first saw his black jeans. Her hazel eyes scanned the water surface until she saw his platinum head break through near the far wall, and her breath caught in her throat as the rest of him emerged.

The water dripped over his chiseled muscles, running down his back, over the curve of his buttocks, down the back of his thighs, before melding with other droplets still in the stream. His skin shone under the phosphorescent glow of the walls, a blanket of white velvet that suddenly seemed important for Buffy to touch. She bit her lip as she caught the dark flash of his pubic hair and the irrational realization that he didn’t bleach himself all over flashed through her head.

“Hope you’re enjoying the show, Slayer,” he commented, his words a quiet rumble echoing through the cave, his eyes not bothering to meet hers as he began to wade through the water for his jeans.

She wasn’t going to rise to the bait. “Did you find Cortina?” she asked, doing her best to keep her gaze up…on the vampire’s face…away from…temptation…

“If that’s your way of asking if I’m drunk, the answer is no. I forgot alcohol is as deadly to Vrolek demons as sunlight is.” He ran his fingers through his curls, shaking out the excess water, oblivious to the effect his naked form was having on Buffy.

“Well, that explains what she might’ve had in common with a vampire then,” she joked, trying to keep it light. At Spike’s frown, she hurried to add, “The sunlight thing, I meant…” The young woman bit her lip as the silence between them stretched into awkwardness. Why was this so hard? It was just Spike…

“Look, Buffy,” the vamp started, then stopped as he watched her unconsciously toss her hair over her shoulder, exposing her bare neck.

It was gone. Some time since he’d left the room, she’d removed the bandage covering his bite and now bore it in naked testimony for anyone who might see. His gaze flitted to her face and he realized…she wasn’t even aware of what she’d done. Maybe…

He watched as she stepped into the water, wading around the shallows until she reached his side. “I came looking for you because I thought we needed to talk,” Buffy explained. “And I mean, talk. Not snipe, not flirt, and definitely not yell. Talk.”

He folded his arms across his chest. “Talkin’ goes two ways. Or is this goin’ to be the Buffy-talks-Spike-takes-abuse Hour?” He was glad to see her color in shame. A week ago, she would’ve just taken his comment in stride, shooting back with her own cutdown; now, it looked like she was actually beginning to be aware of her words with him.

“How…? I don’t…” Both thoughts trailed away and Buffy just stood there flustered. This would be so much easier if he wasn’t naked. It was taking all her concentration not to stare at his cock, and she wondered how he could stand there so nonchalantly, so at ease. “You’re not disgusting,” she finally managed.

His scarred eyebrow raised in amusement. “Already knew that,” he drawled. “Question is, do you?”

The candor of his query stifled her ready response. Of everyone she knew, Spike was by far the most perceptive. Maybe it came with being a vampire, but he always seemed to know what was really going on, how she was really feeling, how to get into her head with truths that she found it increasingly difficult to deny. When she’d been getting ready to find him, she’d stared at herself in the mirror, her gaze fixated on the bandage on her neck, and the realization that she’d let him drink from her---saved him with her own blood and did so voluntarily---set her stomach aflutter. She cared what happened to him. There. She’d admitted it. Regardless of everything else, there was something between her and the vampire, and it was time for her to stop pretending it didn’t exist.

“Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this is a better time for Action Buffy than Talking Buffy,” she said, casually tossing his own words back at him. His head cocked, his blue eyes locked with hers, and thus was unprepared when, with one liquid motion, Buffy’s foot shot out, sweeping the vampire’s legs out from under him, sending Spike sprawling in the stream.

“What the bloody fuck was that for!” he sputtered, his anger boiling to the surface then quickly ebbing as her laughter filled his ears.

“You know, I don’t usually like the water,” she said lightly. “Ever since the whole drowning and dying thing, it’s kind of lost its joy for me.”

“Really?” Spike growled as he righted himself onto his hands and knees. “Sorry to hear that…” With vampiric speed, his hand shot out and grabbed her ankle, yanking the Slayer toward him so that she landed on her ass with a splash.

“Hey! Clothed here!” But there was no real anger in her voice and he could see the lights dancing in her eyes. She lashed out with her heel, smashing his fingers against her shin, but his grip remained steel on her leg and he dragged her closer, the glint in those blue depths unmistakeable.

“Losing your touch, Slayer,” he goaded. “That didn’t even hurt.”

“Then maybe I should try harder.” As the vampire pulled her against his chest, her legs scissored around his waist and she flung herself backwards into the water, flipping Spike over her head. He sailed through the air, splashing into the center of the stream, his blond head disappearing under the surface.

Wiping the water from her eyes, Buffy waited for Spike to reappear, a smile twisting her lips. After a moment, though, the glee began to fade as the ripples atop the stream smoothed. “Spike?” she called, and began moving deeper into the water. OK, vampires don’t need to breathe, he’s not going to drown, she reassured herself. Still… “Spike! This isn’t funny!”

Just as she saw a white streak cut through the water, the world seemed to tilt around her and her body flew backwards as Spike tackled the Slayer. Her face went under and she’d swallowed a lungful of the stream before she could resurface. With blonde hair hanging over her cheeks, she struggled to her feet, coughing and gasping for air.

All she could hear was the vamp’s laughter. “Now, that’s funny.” As her vision cleared, Buffy was greeted by the relaxed smile on Spike’s face, and she couldn’t help the grin that creased her own.

“I’m going to have to ask Cortina for more clothes,” she commented, wringing the water out of the hem of her shirt.

She could see the sarcasm on his lips as his mouth opened, then closed. Instead, he stepped forward, the water swirling around his hips, and pushed the gold strands from her forehead. “You’ve got to know, I didn’t mean for you to find out like that,” he said, unable to meet her eyes. “Was supposed to be romantic and all, with moonlight and such, maybe some leather…”

“God, you are the luckiest girl.” At the sound of Cortina’s voice, both Buffy and Spike turned to see the demon standing at the edge of the stream, watching them with wide-eyed forthrightness. Her frank appraisal of the vampire’s nudity was met with an amused chuckle, and she just smiled wider. “I’m so glad to see you two made up. I hate it when couples fight.”

“Fighting’s half the fun,” came from Spike.

Cortina rolled her eyes. “Vampires,” she sighed.

“Tell me about it,” Buffy added, and gave the blond vampire a shove, forcing him to lose his balance in the water again. “We weren’t too loud or anything, were we?”

“Oh, god no. These caves totally suck up all the noise.” Glancing back over her shoulder, the demon added, “Actually, I stopped by because I have a little favor to ask you, Buffy.”

“Oh? What?” The young woman began wading out of the water, leaving Spike sitting in the shallows.

“I’ve had a little…situation come up that I’d appreciate your help with.” Cortina stepped back as a dripping Slayer emerged. “I know it’s hard to tear yourself away, but if you could give me just a couple minutes, it would make my life a lot easier.”

“Go on,” said Spike as he stood up. “I’ll just go back to the room and…dry off.” His hooded gaze sparkled and he made a special show of stretching, which set off another round of giggles in Cortina.

“You ever get tired of him, I’ll be more than happy to take him off your hands,” the demon whispered in Buffy’s ear.

“I heard that…” drifted Spike’s voice as they strolled away from the stream.

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

“So…you’re a Vrolek demon,” Buffy started as they walked down the corridor.

“Yep. You’re a lot smarter than the last Slayer I met. She thought I was some albino vampire just because my boyfriend had a thing about bloodsucking.” Cortina shook her head. “You have no idea how refreshing it is to meet someone who gets the big picture. I mean, I just get so tired of having to argue with these wannabe demon hunters who keep showing up here, thinking they have to prove something.”

“Ummmm, thanks,” Buffy muttered, a slight blush high on her cheeks. “But, confession here. Spike was the one who actually told me what you were.”

The demon gave the young woman’s shoulders an affectionate squeeze. “Yeah, I figured as much. But that’s OK. You’re still miles ahead of that other one in the brains department. And you’ve got great taste in boyfriends.”

Oh, if you only knew, Buffy thought. Out loud, she asked in a voice too cheery in the dim cave, “So other than alcohol and sunlight fetishes, what else makes a Vrolek tick?”

“Oh, we’re boring,” Cortina shrugged. “Melanin-challenged magic-drains, that’s what we are.”

“Magic-drains?”

“For some reason, magic just kind of fizzles around us,” the white-haired demon explained. “Don’t know why, but not going to argue with it. It’s saved my life more than once.” She stopped in front of a closed door.

Buffy looked down at her still-sodden clothes. “You don’t need me to beat something up, do you?” she asked. “’Cause my mobility’s a little hampered here.”

“No, it’s nothing like that.” She reached out, grasped the knob. “My guys brought somebody in, keeps saying he knows you.” The demon pushed the door open.

Buffy’s eyes widened. “Xander…?”


To be continued in Chapter Sixteen: Battle Lines