DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
SUMMARY: Xander has found Buffy at Cortina’s, while the Scoobies have more information as to what is going to happen to the Slayer.

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

Chapter 16: Battle Lines

The last thing he expected when the door opened was to see a soaking wet Slayer. Stopping in mid-pace, Xander gaped as she turned to the woman standing behind her.

“It’s OK,” he heard her say. “He’s a friend of mine.”

The woman in white looked over at him, frowning. “He’s not another boyfriend, is he?”

“Oh, god no!” Buffy exclaimed. “Just a regular friend who happens to be a boy.” She turned to face the young man, her head cocked, hands on her hips. “A very unexpected boy. Not that I’m not glad to see you or anything, but what the hell are you doing here?”

“It’s a rescue mission, of course,” he replied. “And it was going great until her goons showed up and dragged me in here.”

Buffy glanced back at Cortina, who just shrugged. “He was resisting coming quietly. Dragging was their only option.”

“And thank you very much for the difficult moment I’m going to have explaining to Anya how I got these marks on my back,” the young man commented. “I can kiss sex goodbye, that’s for sure.”

“Xander, be real. Anya won’t stop having sex with you just because of a few scratches. Now, she might call in one of her vengeance pals…” To her hostess, she added, “His girlfriend’s an ex-vengeance demon.”

Cortina nodded knowingly. “Not usually a good idea to upset them. My apologies if I’ve made things hard for you.” Looking back and forth between the friends, she said, “Well, since this is all kosher, I’ll just leave you two to talk. You know how to get back to your room?”

“Yep,” said Buffy, and watched as the white demon closed the door behind her. Once they were alone, she crossed her arms and sighed. “I’m not sure if I want to know if you came alone, because either way, it was really, really stupid. Brave and appreciated, but stupid.”

Xander just stared at the door, before his brown eyes swept back to his friend. “You have a room here?”

“Of course,” she said. “Cortina’s being super-nice---.”

“That’s Cortina?!?” At Buffy’s nod, he shook his head. “I’ve got to start taking these local legends more seriously.”

“Don’t worry, she’s not a threat or anything. Once she found out I wasn’t here to kill her---.”

“And she’s a demon?” Xander’s eyes kept getting wider, and he began pacing the room again. “Next thing you’ll be telling me is that she’s offered to help you get out of here.”

Buffy bit her lip. “Well…”

He flopped down into a nearby chair, shaking his head. “Buff, you’re not seriously believing her, are you? That must be some serious mojo she’s working if you’re falling for demon lines now.”

“Look, Xander,” started the young woman, crossing the room to sit on the bed opposite him. “You have no idea what I’ve been through the past couple days. Cortina is absolutely the least of my worries right now. What’s really important is that we find the guy who kidnapped me in the first place. Now, I think Spike and I should be able to figure out where he is, but I’m going to need you to go and get Giles and the rest of the gang before we make any sort of attack.”

“So Mr. Undead is still around?” asked Xander. “I would’ve thought he’d be blowin’ in the wind by now.” He grinned, thinking of the friction between his friend and the vampire, and expected Buffy to join in, but found his comment met with silence.

“Like I said,” she finally said, her voice low, her hazel eyes on the floor. “A lot’s happened. And, believe it or not, I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for Spike.”

The words of the witch came floating back into Xander’s head. …because he loves her. He’d dismissed it out of hand at the time, but now, seeing the gravity of Buffy’s expression, he was beginning to think that maybe he’d been too hasty. Something had obviously gone down and it was something big enough to make his friend shut him out of it completely. For a while there, he’d been feeling a little guilty about turning the vamp over to Celie. Now, knowing that Spike had done something to seriously upset Buffy, those feelings were gone.

“I’ll ask Cortina to bring you some new clothes when she gets me some,” the Slayer was saying. “Maybe we can hide those marks from Anya for just a little bit longer.”

“Sure,” agreed Xander, but his head was elsewhere. Come sundown, a certain chipped vampire was finally going to get what was coming to him.

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

At Willow’s request, they’d closed the curtains against the sunlight so that she could better concentrate on the markings for the spell. Carefully, she lit the last of the candles and stood back.

“Close your eyes, Dawnie,” she instructed.

Sighing, the teenager at the center of the chalk circle did as she was told. She still didn’t understand what the big fuss was about. When Giles and the girls had shown up at her door bearing tons of supplies, she’d actually gotten excited for a minute, thinking they were finally going to let her go with them on some Scooby biz. Instead, all they wanted was for her to be their guinea pig for this spell of Willow’s. Boring.

She had no idea what they were doing, but the sound of Tara’s chanting mingled with Willow’s. She was about to comment about two witches for the price of one, when a blinding flash filled her mind’s eye, followed almost instantaneously by the sensation of a vise being loosened around her head. Her blue eyes shot open.

“Buffy!” she screamed.

Giles caught the girl as she bolted to her feet, ready to run for the door. He grappled with her for a moment, struggling to keep her still, before she seemed to slump in his arms.

“Yep, it was a forget spell,” said Willow as she wiped the dust from her hands.

Carrying Dawn over to the couch, the Watcher gently laid her down. “Dawn?” he asked quietly. “What do you remember?”
Her lids flickered open. “Buffy and Spike are gone.”

“And Xander? What about Xander?” Anya’s strident voice chimed in as she stepped forward.

“He left with the dog lady.”

“Tell me what happened, Dawn,” said Giles. “You know about Buffy’s kidnapping?”

The teenager nodded. “The woman with the dog said she could help Xander get her back.” Her eyes widened. “You should’ve seen this thing, Giles. It was absolutely massive with these little red eyes…”

“Yes, we know,” he murmured as he looked at the others. “Did you remember to bring the map?”

Willow nodded. “Everything’s out in the car, ready and raring to go.”

“Good. We’ll have to---.”

“Why does the dog lady want Spike?” interrupted Dawn.

A frowning Watcher swivelled back to look at the young girl. “Spike? What do you mean?”

With all eyes on her, Dawn explained, “That’s what she wanted. She told Xander she’d help him get Buffy if she could have Spike.”

“Anya, do you remember reading anything in the books about a vampire with the ritual?” Giles asked, the furrows in his brow growing deeper.

She shook her head. “Just Buffy.”

The four females in the room watched as the older man stood and began pacing, the earpiece of his glasses firmly entrenched between his teeth. “What is it, Giles?” Willow finally asked.

“It doesn’t fit. We know she’s a witch, so she’s not the one who wants the ritual. But since she was the one who was originally hunting Buffy, we can assume she works for whoever does.” He paused, his mind racing. “But this issue with wanting Spike complicates things.”

Anya sighed. “Of course there’s complications. It wouldn’t be Life with Buffy unless there were,” she moaned.

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

Leaning her head against the stone wall, the Slayer closed her eyes, exhaling long and slow. Talking with Xander had been difficult, an exercise in avoidance, and she was angry with herself for not telling him the whole story. Spike deserves better than that, she thought, then froze, her heart quickening as the import of her realization slammed into her gut. It wasn’t possible, not after everything, not so soon…

She whirled as his scent filled her nostrils, and she watched him round the corner of the cave, a stack of clothes in one hand, a small paper bag in the other. The glow from the walls sent pale shadows dancing across his face, and Buffy felt her palms itch, anticipating the satin of his skin. When the flutter in her stomach flew to her throat, her hazel eyes went round as saucers. Damn…

He stopped when he saw her. “So much for beatin’ you back,” he said dryly.

“Are the clothes from Cortina?” She did her best to keep her voice neutral, to keep him from noticing her racing pulse.

Spike nodded. “Wouldn’t want to see her drycleaning bill.” He moved past her to the door of their room. “Get everything all sorted?”

Buffy held back as he pushed the door open with his hip. “Xander’s here,” she said simply.

The vampire stopped, halfway into the room. “How in hell did the whelp ever find us?” he said incredulous.

“I have no idea.” She felt silly hanging back in the corridor, and mentally shook herself. You’ve been here before, she scolded. Stop being such a baby. “I didn’t think to ask,” she added as she stepped inside.

When Spike closed the door behind her, it dawned on Buffy that even without seeing him, she knew exactly what he was doing, where he was situated, how he was standing. She knew without looking that he was watching her…that he’d slowly dropped the clothing onto the chair by the door…that his blue eyes were roaming over her back…and that he was hard, dripping with desire for her. This was more than Slayer senses, and she knew it. What she wondered was…did he?

“Where are Rupert and the witches?”

Without turning to look at him, she began undoing the buttons of her blouse. “Xander said they were using a locator spell out in the desert to try and find me. Apparently, some of Daymon’s men left a trail back in Sunnydale wide enough for a pack of elephants to follow. Thank god I have smart friends and stupid enemies.” As casually as she could manage, Buffy slipped the cotton from her shoulders and dropped the wet fabric onto the floor, ignoring Spike’s presence behind her. Her skin broke out into goosebumps as it met the chilled cave air and she scuttled into the bathroom. “You didn’t bring any extra towels, did you?” she called back to him.

His eyes were contemplative when she stepped back into the bedroom, watching her rub the fluffy towel over her flesh. “What are you doing?” he finally said. There were no recriminations in his voice, just a low concern shading its timbre, and Buffy hesitated, knowing what he meant but reluctant to go there just yet.

“I’m drying off,” she answered. “If you hadn’t noticed, I’m all wrinklies and ridges.” She waggled her fingers in front of her and grinned. “You go into game face and we’ll match,” she joked.

As her hands reached for the button on her trousers, Spike closed the distance between them, grabbing her wrist and stopping her disrobing. “What did Harris say to you?”

“Why do you think he said anything?”

His gaze softened, and he cocked his head in order to force her to look at him. “Because you’re doin’ Gypsy Rose Lee without blinking an eyelash, and as much as I may appreciate it, I’m not so thick that I can’t see you’re using it to keep me distracted.” Reaching behind him, he grabbed Buffy’s top from the pile of clothing and handed it to her. “Go on and get yourself dressed. When you feel like talkin’, I’ll be right over there.” He gestured at the bed.

Tracing the stitching on the fabric, her measured response was hushed. “It’s not so much what Xander said to me, as it is what I didn’t say to Xander.” She lifted her chin, and Spike was surprised to see the shame in the hazel orbs. “I don’t know what you’re expecting from me---.”

“Absolutely nothing.” The vampire’s finger ran along the curve of her cheek, down the line of her jaw. “You really think I was expecting any of this? If I’d thought for one second that I stood a bleedin’ chance in hell with you, you would’ve known about it a helluva lot sooner, even if it meant chaining you to a wall to make you listen to me.”

Buffy grimaced. “There are better ways to get my attention, Spike.”

“Besides,” he added, “Rupes would’ve staked my ass for sure if he thought I was goin’ to sully his little Slayer.”

“If it makes you feel any better,” she said lightly, “I don’t consider myself sullied.”

Even Spike couldn’t resist her little joke, and his face relaxed into a half-smile. “I don’t expect Harris will react to the news as well as Red and her girlfriend did, anyhow.”

Buffy stepped back. “Willow and Tara know? How did that happen?”

“Hell if I know,” the vampire shrugged. “And I was there.” His shoulder ducked as he turned on his heel, picked up the bag he’d entered with, and walked to the far side of the bed. “Don’t worry, Slayer. I won’t say a word to the whelp.”

All she could see was his back as he perched himself on the edge of the mattress, kicking the sack under the nightstand. His porcelain shoulders were bowed, weighed by some unknown worries, and his tussled hair was just starting to curl against the nape of his neck. Slowly, Buffy’s hands returned to her waistband. “You’re always putting words in my mouth, and yes, before you say it, sometimes those words belong there.” She began to peel the wet pants off her legs. “But I think for right now, I’d like it very much if you just shut up for a minute and let me do the talking for a while.”

Spike looked over his shoulder, his jaw slightly dropped, to see the Slayer step out of her trousers and climb onto the bed behind him. As she crawled on hands and knees toward the vampire, her eyes shone, but from what, he had no idea. “If I thought apologizing for the last three years would make a difference, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But you know and I know that neither one of us would’ve done anything differently, so what’s the point in saying we’re sorry about it?” She knelt behind him and placed her hands on his upper arms, kneading them gently. “I’m a firm believer that actions speak louder than words, which is why having to re-orient my world to accommodate a non-evil Spike has been about as easy as drilling my own teeth, and about as much fun, because let’s face it, your body count pretty much puts mine to shame.”

As he started to turn back to look at her, his mouth opening to refute her accusations, Buffy grabbed his head and straightened it, forcing him to look forward again. “I said, shut up for a minute.” Her hands returned to his biceps, and slowly began to massage downwards. “I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but you’re always managing to be Mr. Insightful. Most of the time, it’s infuriating as hell because I’d like nothing more than to just be able to slide you into my little cubby labelled ‘demon’ and forget about you, but you just don’t make that possible. Instead, you go and get yourself chipped, start helping the gang, turn into an asset instead of just an ass, and now you say you’re in love with me.” She rested her chin on his shoulder, her mouth just inches from his ear. “You realize then, that any admission I make will be entirely your fault, don’t you?” she murmured. “That if I tell you I’m grateful you’re on my side now, or I’m sorry you have to deal with Bitchy Buffy so much, or that every time you walk away from me, it feels like someone’s just turned off all the lights, you’re completely to blame for it.” Her breath was warm against his neck. “But my hang-ups about what to say to Xander are my responsibility, and I’m not going to allow you to take on that as well. I am going to tell him, I want you to know that. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet without his head exploding.” She chuckled. “So go ahead. Insight all that.”

He didn’t move. He didn’t even look at her. For a long second, Buffy wished that he was actually alive so she could see his breathing just to confirm he was still with her. “Don’t tell me I’ve actually made you speechless,” she joked, sitting back on her heels.

Very carefully, Spike leaned forward and pulled the paper bag out from underneath the nightstand. His back blinded her to its contents as she heard him open it and extract something. When he turned around to face her, his hands were filled with tiny purple buds, their tantalizing fragrance drifting to the Slayer’s nose. “See, the plan was, I got back first so I’d have time to get these out. Cort’s not got much in the way of flowers down here, not that I blame her ‘cause the buggers’ve got a way of dying when they don’t get sunlight.” He began dropping them onto the bed, letting them fall through his fingers onto the floor. “But the good thing is, no nasty thorns to prick delicate Slayer skin.”

Picking up one of the diminutive flowers, Buffy rolled it around in her palm, watching the light play with the violet hues. “I’ll say this, Spike,” she said, “you’re never short of surprising.”

The blond vampire grinned. “Just part and parcel of the whole Big Bad package,” he said.

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

The grit ground into his forehead as he lay prostrate on the ground, the candles flickering around him, the heavy aroma of incense hanging in the air. His muscles were stiff, and for a moment, he scolded himself for allowing his body to get so out of shape. Too much comfortable living, he thought. Never again. Once the cleansing was over, it would be a strict regimen of exercise, a proper diet that would keep his form trim and capable until the arrival of his inevitable death. Until then, though…

Smoke began to fill the small room, and the outlines of the altar before Daymon began to shimmer, fading against the blackness. A deep hum began to vibrate his eardrums, and he felt the familiar closing around his head as the figure began to thicken…solidify…until it towered in front of him.

“It’sssss been a longggg time, my friend,” the demon slithered, its serpentine form undulating in rhythm with its words.

“I am in need of your expertise,” Daymon replied. He raised his head and stared at the sightless being. “The Chosen One has escaped.”

“Ah, yessssss, your cleansssssing. I sssshould’ve persuaded you twenty yearsssss ago to renounce thisssss folly.”

“You do not exist in this half-state as I do. I’m neither truly demon nor truly mortal---.”

“Or both, if you choose to sssssee it that way.”

Rising to his knees, Daymon shook his head. “I grow weary of the debate, old friend. If I had not been so impetuous back then, beginning the rite without knowing the full requirements, perhaps it might have been a different story. But without the chalice, I cannot complete what was started, and now, she’s gone. My men have failed to retrieve her so I’m left with no alternative but to find her myself. And for this I need your aid.”

The snake-like demon bowed its head. “The rebirth will be painful,” it murmured.

“As will the cleansing, but I am prepared. I must find the Chosen One in time, and at this point, this is my only means to do so.”

“Ssssso be it.” It waited as Daymon returned to his prone position before coiling itself around the altar. “Let the resurrection begin…”


To be continued in Chapter Seventeen: Into the Fire