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: Daymon has told Buffy that killing him will kill Spike, and Celie has learned about her employer’s true demon nature.
His words curled icy tendrils around her heart, squeezing it, freezing her muscles with terror. She so wanted to just give a quick twist, to be rid of the demon once and for all, but his threat stayed the Slayer’s impulse. Spike’s with the witch, she tried convincing herself; killing Daymon won’t do anything but erase at least one problem from this mess that is my life. But if that was true…why couldn’t she just go ahead and do it?
Her hesitation was the opening he needed, the one he was hoping for. “I can take you to him,” he hissed. “Before Celandia …” He let the thought trail off, allowing Buffy to fill in the blanks herself.
“And see, here I thought you were going to offer something of the useful variety,” she said coldly. “We already---.”
“---know where he is, yes…” His forked tongue darted out, licking his lips. “But can you reach him in time? Can you travel fast enough, find where Celie has him quick enough…?” When he tried to shift underneath her, the young woman’s grip on his head tightened again, and he chuckled. “Kill me, Miss Summers, and you will never know. Could you have saved your vampire if you’d accepted my offer? Will nightmares of his death haunt your sleep, even after you’ve died?”
Against her will, Buffy’s eyes widened as sudden images of a tortured Spike flooded her mind. Blood dripping from open wounds…those deep blue eyes drowning in pain…his lips screaming her name… “I can’t accept an offer that hasn’t been made,” she said tightly.
Through his pain, Daymon smiled. “Such an intelligent young lady you are,” he crooned. “I do so regret not having the opportunity to spend more time with you.”
“Enough of the charm school routine. What’s your offer?”
“A trade.” His gaze was steady. “You spare my life and let me go. In return, I guarantee to deliver you to your vampire before Celie has…disposed of him.”
“I don’t understand,” Xander whispered. “What’s Buffy doing out there? Why hasn’t she killed him yet?”
Tara squinted, peering around the horned demons who were now effectively blocking her view. “I think she’s talking to him.”
“Talking?” The young man took a step forward, only to be held back by his girlfriend’s hand on his arm. “This isn’t talking time. This is supposed to be killing time.”
“I’m sure she’ll get around to it any minute now,” Anya comforted.
“I don’t even know why I’m listening to you,” Buffy said.
“Because you don’t want to risk losing your…Spike…” Daymon responded. “Tell me…do you love him? He loves you, you know. He wears it as a badge of honor for those who care to notice.”
Her cheeks flushed. “What my feelings are, are none of your business!” she snapped. “This is probably just a bluff anyway. I’ll bet you don’t even know where he is.”
“At my ranch, of course.” Silently, he thanked every demon god in existence that he’d waited to approach long enough to overhear their conversation about the vampire. “And who else but the ranch’s owner would make a better, faster guide?” He saw the doubt return to her eyes and pressed his advantage. “Tick, tock, Miss Summers. The longer you wait, the more likely you’ll find that your vampire has joined the winds of the desert…”
There was no reason for Buffy to trust him. Daymon had spent so many resources just trying to find her in the first place for this cleansing thingamajig; why did she think that he would suddenly walk away from that? But the answer lay between her own two hands, and she stared down at the black slits of his eyes, knowing that it would only take one twist to kill him. It was his life he was bargaining with, and it certainly didn’t seem that any ritual was worth that to him.
And then there was Spike. Sexy, smart, seductive Spike. Her thighs warmed just at the memory of his face…that strut of his when he walked into a room, owning it as no one else could…his biting sarcasm that cut to the bone with its truth…the way his eyes softened when he spoke her name…He had proven himself over and over again these past few days, giving without asking for anything in return. Hell, he’d made the trade with the witch without blinking an eyelash, his life for Buffy’s, and here she was waffling?
“This happens on my terms,” she said firmly. “Any resistance from you on that, and you’ll be dead before you can blink.” The smile that spread across the demon’s face was the only response she needed.
Rushing down the corridor, Giles pushed his glasses back onto his nose, readjusting the box under his arm as it started to slide from his grip. Finding Cortina’s herbs had been relatively quick; navigating his way through this endless maze of stone walls had not. He’d lost track of how many times he’d come face to face with yet another dead end, only to have to double back and try and pick up his path. Even now, he was beginning to fear that he was taking too much time to return, that the white demon would already be dead, that his Slayer may have already been vanquished by Daymon, that in fact, the entire Scooby gang had been slaughtered…
He rounded the corner and skidded to a halt to avoid running right into Cortina’s prone form. Dropping to his knees, Giles placed the box between himself and Willow, asking, “How is she doing?”
“She’s still alive, thank you for asking,” Cortina replied.
The Watcher looked down into her face. Her pale skin was taking an ashy tone, and there were lines around her eyes…eyes that were already starting to cloud and darken. He did his best to offer her a brave smile. “I’m afraid I don’t know your physiology well enough to know which herbs to bring, so I brought them all,” he said, opening the box and showing her its contents.
When the demon struggled to lift herself up onto her elbows, Giles slid his arm under her shoulders, raising her just enough to peer into the container. Her thin fingers picked through the various plants and packets, extracting first one purplish branch, then several multi-colored leaves, before handing them over to Rupert, the trembling in her hand apparent even to Willow behind him. “The violet one is b’taka root,” she explained.
The line between the Wicca’s worried eyes deepened. “But that’s poisonous,” she said.
“Only to humans,” Cortina elaborated. “You need to…rub it around the edges of the wound. The oil in the bark interacts with the oil on my skin and cauterizes it.” Her eyes blinked once…twice, and both Giles and Willow could see her struggling to even out her breathing. After a moment, they fluttered open again, fixing on the Watcher. “The other herbs need to be eaten, but in a specific order, or they won’t work. But we have to…stop…” Her voice got cut off by the sudden cough that shuddered throughout her body, a wet hacking sound that made Rupert want to wince in empathy. The sudden spreading of crimson across the abdomen of her robe, however, sharpened his attention, and he stiffened, clearing his throat.
“…the bleeding,” he finished. He handed the leaves over to his companion. “Hold these,” he instructed. “Give them to her as she needs them.”
Right, he thought. First step, get to the wound. His hands hovered over
the fabric of her robe and Giles found himself hesitating as he realized
he was going to need to rip it from those very curves that he’d been
admiring only an hour earlier. Don’t be a bloody idiot, he chided
silently. She’s a demon, nothing more, and she needs your help, so
get off your ass and get to it.
Efficiency crisped his movements as the Watcher’s nimble hands tore the ivory material, laying bare the gaping injury as it continued to bleed, scarlet rivulets dripping down the curves of her sides, pooling in the small of her back. Laying one palm above the gash, he held her torso still as he slowly drew the flattest part of the root around the wound.
The reaction was immediate. Before his and Willow’s eyes, the edges of the cut burned and sealed, staunching the flow of blood with an audible sizzle. His blue eyes flickered up to her face, and Rupert was surprised to see Cortina’s own gaze fixed on him, her jaw locked in determination. The realization that the white demon was in agony, that she was bearing the pain in silence, only augmented his growing respect for her. “Now…the feathery leaf…” she murmured.
The redhead placed the herb on Cortina’s waiting tongue, and together, she and Giles watched as the wounded demon chewed it slowly, grimacing as she swallowed. “Tastes like…medicine,” she joked, before opening her mouth for the second. As she waited for the remedies to take effect, her eyes fluttered closed, her breathing slowed.
Absently, the Watcher reached out and pushed the long white hair off the demon’s forehead, his long hand cupping her cheek for a brief moment before pulling away. Willow’s gaze darted between the older man and their patient, and she bit her lip in amusement, busying her hands with the box. Maybe the earlier flirting had led to something more in the library, she thought mischievously. It’s about time. Giles really needs a girlfriend.
The color in Cortina’s face heightened, returning to its normal shade of ivory, and she opened her eyes to look up at the duo. Her lips lifted into a smile. “You’re cute when you play nursemaid,” she directed at Giles.
His responding blush was the only impetus he needed to settle back onto
his heels. For the first time, he noticed the overwhelming quiet in the
grotto, and he swiveled to look around. “Where’s Buffy?”
he queried, slowly rising to his feet.
Willow scrambled up behind him, watching as Rupert stepped out to look around the edges of the stream more intently. “Well…um…” she stuttered, and flinched when he whirled to face her.
“And where’s Daymon?” he demanded.
“They’re…well, they both kind of…” The redhead flushed at the anger and worry in the older man’s voice. “They left,” she finally managed.
Marching to the other Scoobies, Giles glowered as he grabbed the duffel and began digging through it. “What happened?” he said through gritted teeth.
Xander exchanged a look with Willow as she came up on the Watcher’s heels. “There was a fight. Buffy won.”
“So Daymon is dead, then?” His tone softened slightly as he pulled out the bandages he’d been searching for.
“Not exactly.” The younger man edged away, pressing himself closer to his girlfriend. “More like in chains.”
“And she just left with him?”
“She said they were going for Spike,” Anya piped up. “That snakey demon thing was pretty beat up, plus she had its sword so at least this time she’s armed.”
Absently, Giles handed the bandages in his hand to Willow. “Go wrap Cortina’s wound,” he ordered. He turned to the remaining gang members. “Get your things together. We’re going after her.”
As he turned away, the Watcher was stopped by Xander’s grip on his arm. “Hang on there,” Harris said. “I’ve got an idea…”
The click as she returned the receiver to its cradle seemed to boom in the empty office, and she froze, waiting to see if her presence had been detected.
His cologne still permeated his workspace, hanging in the air like thousands of fingers massaging her senses, and Celie found herself reluctant to leave behind the reminders of her employer. The vampire’s accusation still rankled; how Spike could ever conceive of the notion that Daymon was such a monster was beyond her comprehension. After eight years of working for the Greek, she knew he was a man of upstanding moral character, fair and just to his staff, a lover of the aesthetically pleasing. It was unthinkable he could be a demon.
But still…Her hand hovered over the doorknob. His zeal in finding the Chosen One had bordered on the fanatical. How many dead ends had he dragged her on…Iceland…Moscow…Jamestown…the list seemed endless, each failure only strengthening his resolve. In all that time, she’d never questioned why, never doubted the virtue of his quest, but if she’d been mistaken, if her loyalties had been misplaced…Perhaps a quick search of Daymon’s office wasn’t completely out of order. She might not get this opportunity again.
His office was immaculately organized, but Celie hardly expected any differently, her employer’s demand for cleanliness infamous amongst his staff. There was little to actually be found, and the dark-haired witch was beginning to feel foolish in allowing the vampire’s allegation to cloud her judgment. About to resign her hunt, she looked down with a frown when her hand, quickly opening and closing his desk drawers, was stopped in its exploration.
Unlike the others, this drawer was locked, which in itself was curious as there were no keyholes or mechanisms to open it. Glancing around as if she might be observed, Celie extended her index finger in the direction of the desk, her silent incantation popping the inner lock, and the drawer slid open. Her eyes closed in relief. Whatever had been inhibiting her magic earlier now seemed to be gone, and she’d never been more grateful for anything in her entire life. The fear that something was sapping her strength, denying her the full range of her powers, had nearly crippled her, leaving her more helpless than she’d been in years. She didn’t want to go back to that.
The drawer was empty. Mentally, the witch shook herself. Of course it was empty; Daymon had nothing to hide. It was ridiculous that she had ever considered anything else, that for a brief insane moment, she had entertained the vampire’s claim. Experience should’ve reminded her that demons were not to be trusted and this one especially was all talk…
He kicked at the straw as he paced. After brainstorming for what seemed an eternity, Spike finally had a germ of a plan to escape, but in order for it to work, the witch had to be present. She’d disappeared soon after his telling her about Daymon, and though he’d kept his ear to the ground, he had yet to hear her return. Once she did, though, he was ready for the fireworks to ensue.
He dragged deeply on the cigarette, the tip a crimson flare in the darkening shadows, and he returned to the train of thought that had been keeping him distracted from the nightmares he’d had about Buffy’s death. Prior to meeting up with Xander, the Slayer had joked about rewarding the vampire for his good behavior; although he knew he’d blown it within seconds of the whelp’s syphilis crack, it didn’t mean he had to stop fantasizing about what she might have done.
Reward number fourteen…That one happened in Cortina’s grotto, where this time, he was the one walking in on a naked Buffy swimming in the stream. He’d stand back, watch as she emerged from the water, golden hair dripping down her spine, stopping just as the cleft of her ass became visible. She’d half-turn, spy him out of the corner of her eye, call out his name…
He almost didn’t hear her, so lost was he in his reverie. She’d call out his name---wait…
He stopped in his tracks. That hadn’t been part of the daydream, had it? His nose lifted…twitched as the scent of her blood drifted into the stable…and was that vanilla…? The hints sent him reeling into the whirlwind of his nightmare, setting the nerves along his skin skittering in nervous anticipation of her weight against his, his mind racing as he tried to understand…
A little louder, and no mistake this time…not a dream, most definitely real. He got as close to the pen’s wall as the spell would allow him, but he couldn’t see her. Outside maybe…He ran to the opposite wall, stared out into the clear night sky. She was here, he almost didn’t believe it, but more importantly…
…Buffy had come for him…
To be continued in Chapter Twenty-Five: Showdown…