DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Well, the baddies are mine.
OK, Cortina’s mine, too. But everything else really is his. Too bad.
SUMMARY: The Scoobies are still on their way to rescue Buffy, albeit on foot now, while the Slayer, Spike, and Xander are preparing to leave Cortina’s.
There was a new scent in the air, familiar but not quite right…power not yet fully realized mingled with innocence both young and old. It traveled with two others, a perplexing pair of smells born of violence yet steeped in propriety, and together they approached him. They were still some distance from the Hound, but unless they changed their course, it would only be a matter of time before they arrived.
His caretaker lingered within the cave. Ever since the man had disappeared into its depths, she’d been engaged in preparations of the magical variety, too busy to notice her charge. She was obviously absorbed in her duties, her exhaustion seeping from every pore of her skin, but his own needs were becoming more and more vital, the growing hunger in his belly distracting him from his responsibilities. Whatever it was, he hoped that whatever she was planning would come to fruition soon…
Buffy just sat there, watching him scarf down the food in front of him. “Hungry much?” she commented.
Through a mouthful of pastry, the young man replied, “Xander starving. Xander eat.” He reached for the glass of milk at his plate’s side and downed it in three long swallows. “You should have some. I think your demon friend must have it trucked in from Donut Digs or something.”
The Slayer shook her head. “I already ate.”
“And Blood Boy? He’s all set to go, too?”
“Yep. But I still don’t see why you won’t just let some of Cortina’s guys walk you back to the entrance to get your things. They promised they wouldn’t drag you this time.”
“Believe it or not, at this point, I’d rather have Spike as a bodyguard,” Xander said. “At least that way, I know that I’m not going to get hurt without him getting a monster of a headache.”
“Well, we’ll have to make double-time,” Buffy replied. “I want to get back here so that we still have time to get to Sunnydale before sunrise after Cortina shows us her maps.”
Xander sat back in his chair. “Whoa, back up. We? You think it’s going to take two of you to help me find my stuff?”
She tilted her head, her hazel eyes annoyed. “No. I think if I leave you two alone together for more than five minutes, one of you will say something that only pisses the other one off, and you’ll go storming off, and then I’ll have to go looking for you, and that just screws up the whole timeline. You guys most definitely need to be refereed if I’m going to get all of us out of this intact.”
As he reached for another pastry, the young man cast his gaze downward, unwilling to meet his friend’s face. “Listen, Buffy,” he started, then stopped, unsure how to continue. She still didn’t know about Celie; he’d carefully edited that part out of his narrative. If she came back with him and Spike, she’d discover that he’d sold the vamp out, and right now, he wasn’t sure exactly how she’d take it.
“It’s OK,” the Slayer was saying. “I think I know what’s bugging you.”
His brown eyes lifted, widened. “You do?”
“Sure,” she replied. “And it’s partially my fault because I’m trying to be all uber-Slayer and everything. I want you to know, I’m not ignoring everything you’ve done in trying to find me, really. I know you guys have worked overtime on this one, and with the Glory mess and Mom, I haven’t exactly been appreciative girl lately. I promise, when we get out of this, you will be lauded as Scooby Extraordinaire to all who will listen.”
Her wide smile was genuine, and Xander felt his stomach sink. “It’s OK, Buff. We understand the pressure you’re under.”
“Nope, I’m serious,” she said. “As soon as this is all over, we’ll have a bash to celebrate Scooby goodness, complete with cake and other sugary substances to overload our systems with.” And hopefully by then, she added silently, I will have been able to tell you guys about me and Spike.
There was no point in arguing with her. “Sounds good,” he said simply, and sank his teeth into the donut.
It had been embarrassing when they’d found him unconscious in the young girl’s bathroom. What was even worse was the fact they’d stolen his amulet in order to escape. When the orders had been made to send him and his men out in the trucks to search the night, there had been no displeasure apparent in Daymon’s face; only the tightness in his voice conveyed his barely controlled anger. To return without the girl and her vampire had been an extreme failure on the guard’s part, and he’d been reluctant to face his master’s wrath. Instead of expressing anger, however, he’d merely barked additional instructions before disappearing in the bowels of the house and it was only now, almost twenty-four hours later, that the men were hearing anything from the Greek.
His stomach lurched in fear as he approached the basement door. Daymon had specifically requested that the guard who’d been discovered in the Slayer’s room be the one who was sent to him, so he knew that now was the time to face his retribution. He had no idea what it might entail; Daymon was known as a fair but firm employer, so perhaps he might get away with just a demotion among the ranks. But then again…
“Sir?” he called out. The cellar of the house was pitch black and he groped blindly for the light switch. It clicked loudly in the darkness, but no illumination sprang forth as a result. I must inform housekeeping about that, he thought, as his foot inched out in search of the top stair.
The first thing he noticed was the smell. At some point, candles had been burning in the nether regions, but now, there was an oiliness permeating the air, a thickness that almost made it difficult to breathe. Holding his hand over his nose and mouth made it better, but only slightly, and he began taking short, shallow breaths in an attempt to clear his lungs.
This time, there was a response. “Please, come on down.”
The guard hesitated. Although there was no mistaking the master’s voice, there was a certain sibilance to his speech that seemed somehow foreign. Perhaps he’s had an accident, the man thought, and hope flared in his gut. This could very well be his opportunity to get back into his good graces.
He took too long to respond, as the distinct sigh floated up from the cellar’s depths. “Are you deaf as well as incompetent?” Daymon asked. “Must I do everything myself?”
That was all the guard needed to spur him into motion. As quickly as he dared, he navigated the remaining stairs until his feet came into contact with the packed dirt floor of the basement. “I’m here as you requested, sir,” he said.
“Good.” The voice was nearer, but in spite of the guard’s peering into the darkness, he still couldn’t make out his master’s form. “I am in need of your assistance.”
“Oh, yes, sir.” His pleasure at being able to redeem himself brightened his words and he stepped forward, eager to be of service. “Whatever I can---.”
The words were cut off with a gurgle, followed quickly by the dull thud of his head hitting the floor. Daymon’s slitted eyes surveyed the decapitated body slump lifeless to the dirt, and his wide nostrils flared as the scent of fresh blood began soaking the air. He had no patience for ineptitude and this soldier obviously needed to find his calling within the organization elsewhere.
Ignoring the fallen head, Daymon slithered to where the body rested, the blade in his hand hanging loosely at his side. It had been more than twenty years since he’d tasted a fresh kill, and his forked tongue was salivating at the prospect. Yes, this man most definitely serves a purpose, he thought gleefully, as he raised the sword to begin carving.
She’d just finished brushing her hair back into a ponytail when she heard the bedroom door open, his boots cross the threshold. An unbidden smile lifted the corner of her mouth, and for some unexplainable reason, Buffy felt the urge to start humming. She stifled a giggle. Somehow, the whole thing just felt entirely too domestic, and she wasn’t so far gone that she didn’t see the humor in feeling like some dewy-eyed freshman going to the prom with a senior.
He appeared in the doorway of the bathroom and leaned against the jamb. Cortina had come through with what the vampire had requested; he was wearing a black t-shirt that matched those from home, albeit one that was just a trifle too small, outlining the muscles of his chest and shoulders in even more detail than usual. Buffy glanced down at his hands, half-expecting to see them still shiny wet with black nail polish, and was surprised to see the lit cigarette dangling from his fingers. “I see Vrolek demons don’ t have any hang-ups about smoking,” she commented dryly.
“Doesn’t mean she’s got good taste in brands,” he responded, grimacing. “Besides, I didn’t think Harris would recognize me without one. We wouldn’t want the whelp getting any wrong ideas, now would we?”
Buffy sighed. “I told you, I’ll tell him. It just wasn’t…the right time.” As he closed the distance between them, she turned to check her appearance one last time, only to be jolted as the discontinuity of his arm slipping around her waist collided with her lone reflection. She hated this aspect of vampires; it had creeped her out with Angel, and it still managed to give her the wiggins.
“Doesn’t matter,” Spike said as he bent to kiss her neck. “Not when I’ve already got you.”
Gently, the young woman broke free from his embrace, using her boots on the toilet as an excuse to busy herself elsewhere. “Now remember,” she said. “You promised to behave.”
Turning on the faucet in the sink, the vampire extinguished his cigarette before flicking it into the nearby bin. “I’ve heard the lecture a dozen times, pet. I’ll be good and proper as long as the pillock keeps his yap shut.” He shook his head. “Can’t say I’m really looking forward to this, though. I don’t really fancy having to listen to Xander whinge for an hour just so he can get his stuff. And what I don’t get is, why in hell did he leave it there in the first place?”
Buffy shrugged. “He said he got dragged away too quick to grab it.” Zipping up her second boot, she stood, straightening her shirt. “Besides, if you’re a good vamp,” she continued with a smile, “maybe I can think of some kind of reward for you when we get back.”
His response was to grab her hip, pulling the Slayer forward so that she was forced to lean against him. “How many times do I have to tell you?” he taunted, his lips lowering to meet hers. “I’m the Big Bad…”
In spite of all her warnings and preparations, the trio’s trek through the cave had not gone well. In fact, they had only been walking for five minutes before Xander had made an unfortunate comparison between Spike and a case of syphilis and, true to his word, that was the line the vampire had refused to let go unnoticed. After that, there had been no holding back as demon and construction worker laid into each other, their words growing increasingly venomous. Buffy had been able to tolerate only a few minutes of their virulence before exploding, threatening each with death and dismemberment---not necessarily in that order---if they continued. Since then, the cavern had been silent.
They trudged along, the only sounds coming from Spike’s boots kicking at the occasional loose stone. After almost an hour like this, he finally stopped in his tracks.
It took a second before Buffy and Xander realized what he’d done. When they turned around to look at him, the vampire just stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets. “This is stupid,” he remarked.
The young woman glanced at her friend, before replying, “OK, I’ll bite. What’s stupid?”
“I think maybe me and Harris need to have a little talk. You know. Clear the air.”
Her hazel eyes widened in fear. “Spike, that’s not necessary. I think the air is plenty clear right now.” She sniffed pointedly.
“See? Breathing just fine.” She tried a bright smile, but felt it fading around the edges even before she could finish it.
“No, for once, I think Spike’s got a point.” Buffy turned in surprise at Xander’s affirmation. “A little talk might do us some good. Just mano et…vampo.”
The two men just stared at each other, leaving the Slayer’s head swiveling between the two like she was watching some silent tennis match. Finally, she sighed. “I just want to go on record for saying that this is a really bad idea. OK. Have your little confab. I’ll go on ahead a bit and wait. But if you’re not caught up to me in ten minutes---and I mean both of you---I’m going to come back here and kick both of your asses into next Tuesday.” With one last look at them, Buffy disappeared around the bend.
There was a moment of silence as the two regarded each other. “You don’t like me,” Spike finally said.
“If this is going to be a confession of obviousness and understatement, I’m going to go catch up to Buff right now.” Xander straightened his shoulders as he spoke, trying to make himself look more fearless than he felt.
“Look, I’m trying here,” the vampire exclaimed, his annoyance shining clear. “For her sake, if not for your sorry skin. She just wants everything to be all cakes and puppies, with everybody playing nicely and gettin' along. I, for one, am willing to give it a go, but you seem determined to throw a spanner into the works no matter what I try. So you tell me. What’s it goin’ to take?”
“You’re in love with her.” He’d wondered about it before, but now, with the Big Bad Annoying One standing before him, Xander knew. “You’re in love with Buffy,” he repeated.
There was no point in denying it. “Like you’re not,” he snarked, pulling his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He began to light one, only to find it batted out of his mouth and dashed to the ground. Brows furrowed, he glowered at the younger man.
“That’s different. That’s not ‘in love.’ That’s just ‘love,’ like she’s my friend love. And that means I care about what happens to her and that I worry about her getting involved with another vampire.”
“Because none of us are any good for your precious Buffy, is that it?” Spike had reached the end of his tolerance, and squared off with Xander. “If I remember correctly, you were never too keen on ol’ Angel hangin’ around, either. Not that I blame you on that one, ‘cause the broodin’ bit does get a little old after a while. But he had a bleedin’ soul and you still wouldn’t cut him a break.”
“He made her life hell!” Xander exploded. “Not to mention torturing Giles, and killing Miss Calendar.”
Spike rolled his eyes. “That was Angelus, you wanker.”
“Still a vampire. You think because you’ve got a chip now, that makes you all peaches and cream? That Buffy will just ignore the fact that you’re a killing machine and come running into your arms because you help her occasionally? Let me just jog your memory, in case you’ve forgotten. She pays you for information. To her, you’re just another snitch out to make an easy buck.”
“Buffy needs me.”
Xander shook his head. “No, she uses you. And if you’re too blind to see that, you’re even more pathetic than I thought you were.” He took a step closer, bringing his face within inches of the vampire’s. “You can never give Buffy what she needs because you’re evil, Spike. Inherently, forevermore evil, incapable of doing anything that doesn’t ultimately reward you in the end. And she deserves better than that.”
Spike had opened his mouth to counter Harris’ argument when a resounding thud reverberated through the cave’s walls, sending dust to fly through the air, settling onto the ground in disquiet. There was a moment of hesitation as both men just looked in the direction the Slayer had disappeared, neither sure of what had just happened but both already fearing the worst. It was the crackle of electric energy in the air that eventually spurred their feet to break into a run down the path. Within fifty feet, however, the cave took a sudden turn to the right and it was there that both Spike and Xander skidded to a halt, their eyes widening in alarm.
Against the stone wall, a thrashing Buffy was suspended in mid-air, a nasty gash on her forehead dripping blood down her face, while opposite, a focused Celie had all her magics concentrated on the young Slayer…
To be continued in Chapter Nineteen: Choices…