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: Buffy has disappeared with Daymon to find Spike, and Giles is rounding up the Scoobies to go after her.

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

Chapter 25: Showdown

Through the ether of his pain filtered the desert music, the scritching of thousands of insects both above and beneath the loosely packed dirt, the far-off cry of a hungry hawk, the dry whistle of an occasional breeze. Normally, he would be basking in the seductive beauty of the night, but the chains he currently bore made that impossible.

She was so much stronger than he’d ever imagined; perhaps he should’ve been more diligent in learning more about the Slayer prior to seeking her out. All the texts, all the prophecies…they had all only referenced the Chosen One, so when he’d discovered that the two were one and the same, there had seemed little need for further research.

In spite of his recent injuries at her hands, however, Daymon’s respect for Buffy Summers was only growing. Here was a woman of vast beauty, incredible physical prowess, a shrewd and quick mind, with surprising compassion for her enemies. Under other circumstances, he would have enjoyed the opportunity to dally with the young woman. Now, though, his quiescence was over. For all her positive qualities, there was one that would prove most unfortunate for her…

The Slayer was far too trusting…

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

He was near, that Buffy knew, although if someone had asked her how she could be so sure, the young woman would have been at a loss to respond. How did you explain color to someone who had never seen the light of day? Or describe wind without using your hands? She just…knew. Yes, part of it was because of the whole Slayer/vampire thing, but more of it was because of something…bigger…deeper…and fully beyond her capability of expression at the moment.

When she’d been sure there was no one around, Buffy had called out the vamp’s name, hoping he’d hear her and shorten her search. She hadn’t expected Daymon’s ranch to be so expansive, or for that matter, that he’d be so difficult, so she’d left the demon at the edge of his property, chained to a large stone outcropping. She doubted he would escape. Between his earlier thrashing and their breakneck traveling, he was virtually exhausted, barely putting up a fight as she’d lashed him to the rock. What she was going to do with him when this was all over, she had no idea, but right now, it wasn’t worth wasting the brainpower on. Her priority was finding Spike.

The stables loomed in front of the young woman. Outside of the house itself, this was the last place for her to check, and she sincerely hoped she wouldn’t have to venture directly into Daymon’s hold. Running into his men was at the top of her list of things not to do, just as she hoped to avoid the witch, or at the very least, surprise her before Celie had the opportunity to use any magic. Again.

“Spike!” she repeated, her voice barely above a hiss.

This time, she was answered by more than the night silence. “Buffy…?”

Her heart leapt at the sound of his reply. Strong, steady, he didn’t sound as if he was hurt, or that he was worried that the witch might hear him. Good. Breaking into a run, she bolted for the building.

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

Escape was at hand, he thought, Buffy’s hand, to be exact. The irony of the situation didn’t escape the platinum vampire; in fact, in spite of seeing her running form disappear around the edge of the stable, Spike wasn’t entirely convinced that the Slayer was there just for him. She’s probably come back with the gang to tackle the Daymon issue, he justified. And I’m just a happy coincidence.

Had she ever actually said anything about her feelings for him? the vamp wondered. His mind raced over everything from the past few days. All her words, all her gestures…every smile…every frown…they were all emblazoned in his memory, forged there from long practice of savoring what tidbits he could glean from her. In it all, she’d never once voiced her feelings out loud. There had never been an, “I love you, Spike,” or even an, “I like you.” Innuendo, yes, a few cryptic references, but nothing concrete, nothing to suggest that he was anything more than a shag buddy, hardly worth going out of the Slayer’s way to save.

Yet…she was here. He heard her footsteps as she approached his pen, and the familiar flicker of anticipation at seeing her began its path up his gut to the cold void of his undead heart. These were the moments he could almost swear it was beating, come to life by the sheer force of his feelings for her…his Slayer.

Buffy stopped outside the door of his cell, knowing without having to look that this was where he was. The sword in her hands lowered, its tip touching the floor, and she suddenly felt a butterfly of nerves tickle her throat. Please be OK, she intoned silently. Please…just be OK.

Hazel eyes lifted to gaze over the heavy wooden slats of the door. He stood against the far wall, outlined in black by the streaming moonlight, and the young woman was struck yet again by his sheer physical beauty, the warming of her thighs the most natural reaction in the world for her now. The smile that curled her mouth was genuine as she saw that he was unharmed, and slowly, she pulled open the pen door.

“Took you long enough,” Spike drawled, his eyes never leaving her face.

“You try running with Excalibur strapped to your back,” she quipped. “Like you’d make better time.” Buffy began to stride forward to join him in his cell, only to be met by the resistance of Celie’s containment spell, forcing her to stop and step back. Her frown was immediate, mirrored almost instantaneously on the blond vampire. “Another spell?” she asked, already knowing the answer.

“Why isn’t that bloody amulet working?” Spike complained. “How many of the things does the bitch have?”

“It’s not working ‘cause it’s not on me,” Buffy said slowly. “You have it.”

He just looked at her, his head tilted. “Well, that makes sense,” he commented. “’Cause hanging around in here’s good for my health. You have the bleedin’ amulet, Buffy.”

“I don’t! You’re the one who carried me out, remember?”

“With the talisman clutched tightly in your hot little hand, if memory serves.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Lemme guess. You left it at Cortina’s.”

The Slayer frowned, her mind racing as she struggled to replay the events of the past day or so. Broke out of the bedroom…got caught in the cave…took a nap…She bit her lip as the image of the amulet on the nightstand came onto her mind’s eye. Shit. Spike was right.

The vampire sighed. “Guess it’s back to my original plan, then.” He pulled out his lighter and waved her away. “Better make yourself scarce. This won’t work if the witch knows you’re here.”

“What’re you planning on doing?”

“The witch thinks I’m valuable property,” he said, the unbidden pride creeping into his voice. “She wouldn’t want to lose me to a little barnfire, now would she?”

Buffy couldn’t help the surprise in her face. “You’re going to set the place on fire?” she asked, dumbfounded. “Are you insane or just incredibly stupid?”

“Look,” Spike started, his hands on his hips as he stepped closer to her, “I wasn’t expectin’ any help from the Sunnydale A-Team, so why don’t you just run off and go help out your little Scooby friends before someone turns them into little Scooby snacks. I can take care of this myself.” He turned and began piling up a pile of straw in the far corner, doing his best to ignore her remaining presence.

“That’s going to be kinda hard,” the young woman said. “None of them came with me.”

“You came to try and beat Daymon on your own? Now who’s the stupid one?”

Buffy frowned. Didn’t he get it? “I didn’t come for Daymon. I came for you.”

There was a slight hesitation in his work. She didn’t…did she? Quickly, the blond vamp resumed his gathering, hoping that she hadn’t noticed how her words had affected him. “Find that one hard to believe, Slayer. How could you know that I was here?”

“Cortina helped me narrow down the choices. I took a shot. I…had to.”

This stopped him, and he slowly turned his head to stare at her. “I never asked for paybacks, Buffy.”

“This isn’t about settling anything.” She swallowed, the sudden lump in her throat choking her words. “You really think I could just let you go poof without doing my damnedest to get you back?”

Spike walked forward to the pen door, halting only when the containment spell physically prevented him from getting any closer to her. His left hand came up, pressed against it. “You just love messin’ with my head, don’t you?” he murmured, the faintest hint of a tease coloring his voice.

Buffy’s right hand came up to the invisible wall, mirroring the vampire’s position so that their palms were level. “It’s one of my favorite body parts,” she joked. “I’m glad it’s still attached.”

“One of? What other parts of me could possibly be more interestin’ than my head?”

She laughed. “Pig.”

Two could play this game. “Tease.”

“Hey!”

“Sorry, luv, just call ‘em like I see ‘em,” but his smile belied the insensitivity of his words.

His blue eyes stared down into hers, and the overwhelming urge to just blurt it out, admit it and get it over with, filled Buffy like an inflating balloon. Do it, her inner voice urged, do it, do it, do it. “Spike…” C’mon, you can do this, just open your mouth and let the words come out. “I…don’t understand why you let this happen.” Chicken, she scolded herself.

“Thought I made that clear at Cort’s.” God, how he wished that he could touch her, run his fingers through those golden waves, brush his thumb over those waiting lips. For a brief second, a scorching hatred for the witch swelled inside him, shading his thoughts in black and red. “I love you, Buffy. I’d do anything for you. Anything.”

She knew it was true, could see it in those azure depths. But the knowing hurt, even as much as she prized having it, because the young woman also knew that the blond vampire didn’t believe it would ever make a true difference to her. How could he, when she didn’t have the nerve to share it with her friends, her family? They’d discovered what little they knew by accident, through a third party, and although Spike didn’t know about Daymon’s little slip, he wasn’t so blind that he wouldn’t acknowledge her lack of strength when it came to facing the gang. And he’d be right.

“Spike, I---.” She cut herself off when his head suddenly whipped around, staring back at the lone window in the pen. Instinctively, her ears pricked, searching for the sound that had ensnared the vampire’s attention. Footsteps…soft ones…approaching the stable. When his blue eyes turned back to meet hers, the Slayer just nodded and picked up the sword.

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

Everything was in place. Within the hour, she and the vampire would be on their way, and the culmination of her life’s endeavors would finally be within her grasp. Celie smiled to herself. Sometimes, life could actually be good.

Pulling open the door to the stable, there was a definite bounce to her step as she approached the vampire’s cell. Once I’ve finished it all, she thought, I’ll return for the Hound and for Daymon. He’ll most likely be very appreciative of what I will have done, and the Hound will forgive me for temporarily abandoning him once he gets his favorite treat. The dog may have been an excellent hunter, but it certainly wasn’t the brightest animal she’d ever worked with.

The demon was curled up in the straw in the corner, his face averted. Must have gone back to sleep, Celie thought. Probably just as well. He’ll be less trouble this way. Turning away to return to her own bed, her black eyes widened at the sudden presence of the young woman.

Before the witch could react, the Slayer’s fist had drawn back and connected with her jaw. “Just thought I’d let you know,” Buffy said as Celie crumpled, “nobody touches my boyfriend but me.”

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

As he rose to his feet, Spike couldn’t help the smile of satisfaction on his lips. She’d called him her boyfriend, without any prompting, and what’s more, she’d laid out her claim for someone else to hear. OK, it was just the witch, but still…The swagger in his hips as he walked up to the pen door was unmistakable. Bugger what she thinks, he thought. I’ve got every right to be chuffed to bits about this.

Buffy was bending over the prone form of the dark witch, searching through the pockets in her clothes. As he watched, he saw her go back over the same spots, each time coming up empty-handed. “Please tell me you actually saw her wearing an amulet,” she said without turning her head.

“Well…no, not exactly.” He stiffened when Buffy glanced back at his pen, her eyes blazing. “You ever been teleported? Hurts like hell if you’re not careful with the landing, which she wasn’t. And seein’ as how I’m not really one of her favorite people, she didn’t spend a whole lotta time just hangin’ out.”

“But then how was she expecting to get in and out? That needs an amulet thingy, doesn’t it?”

“Not if it’s your spell.”

The demon’s voice in the entrance of the stable jolted Spike’s attention from Buffy and the witch. Scaled and snake-like, but standing like a man, the vampire didn’t recognize him or his type. However, whatever or whoever he was, the thing was big, that was undeniable. But that voice…why did it sound so familiar?

“I guess you’re feeling better,” the Slayer commented, slowly rising to her feet. The vampire watched as her eyes darted to the empty pen she’d stowed the sword. Shit, too far away to just casually reach for it. “Not really a chainy kind of guy, huh?”

“I don’t appreciate being shackled on my own property,” the scaled demon replied, “especially since I’m the one who so conveniently aided you in finding your vampire.” Again, Spike was struck with the thought that he should know this guy, that that voice was someone…

He turned wide blue eyes to Buffy. “You came here with Daymon? Have you gone completely barmy?”

“I needed to get here fast. Besides, I made a deal with him---.”

“Oh, because he’s just so trustworthy---.”

“He was barely standing!” The young woman could feel her anger rising, but had to fight the urge to turn away and face the blond vampire. Can’t let this one out of her sight, not after this little trick. “And like I said, there were chains.” From where she stood, she could hear his snort of derision and bristled. “And a really big rock!”

“Obviously, not big enough,” Spike muttered.

“I am so sorry to disappoint,” Daymon commented. He straightened to his full height as he glided slowly into the stable. “But I’m afraid this is your night for disappointments, my dear.”

“Don’t count on that,” Buffy said through gritted teeth. “I beat you once, I can beat you again.”

“Yes, but you don’t have your Vrolek friend here to help you this time.” The glee in the demon’s voice oozed and Spike’s fingers itched to tear the bastard’s eyes out. He had to settle for watching, however, as Buffy began to inch her way toward her hidden weapon.

None of them were expecting the blast from behind the Slayer, slamming into her back, propelling her through the wooden door of the pen she’d been approaching, smashing the slats into pieces as she was thrown against the wall.

“No!” screamed Daymon, swiveling his head toward Celie and her outstretched hands. “How many times must I tell you, the Chosen One is not to be touched!”

The witch’s eyes went wide. No…it couldn’t be… it wasn’t possible…the vampire couldn’t have…been right…Slowly, she rose to her feet. “You’re not…”

The scaled demon chuckled. “You lack vision, Celandia,” he accused. “And your usefulness has just expired.” He lunged forward, ready to grapple with the young woman when her hands came up, discharging a bolt of magic, stopping his movement and sending him into a twisted heap.

“I do not consort with demons,” she muttered angrily.

“Told you so,” Spike commented, leaning against the invisible wall of the containment spell. “Didn’t want to believe me, but then again, everyone has a tendency to dismiss the chipped vampire.” At the witch’s angry glare, he shrugged. “No, really, go on with the show. I love having front row seats for this. Not sellin’ any popcorn by any chance?”

Across the stable, Buffy’s eyes blinked as she struggled to sit herself up. Gotta stop getting slammed with magic, she thought, turning her head to view Daymon and Celie facing off. The scaled demon was rising to his heavy feet, his head low, watching the dark witch through veiled eyes. After brawling with him earlier, she saw his move coming, anticipated his sudden charge. What she didn’t expect was the sudden flash of magic sending him flying against Spike’s cell, bouncing off the containment spell, and rolling past her own.

“You tricked me,” accused Celie. “You lied to me.”

“And you use far too much magic,” Daymon countered, rushing her yet again.

In spite of herself, Buffy shook her head in disbelief. Hello, magic girl is going to hit you again, moron, she chastised silently. Go for the hands. But her gaze widened as he dodged past her, heading straight for the invisible wall around Spike. Oh, nice one, she added. Use the ricochet to get her from a different angle.

But it didn’t come. As she watched, the scaled demon crashed through the door, slowing only slightly as he met the containment spell, rolling into the dry straw on the floor of the vampire’s cell. The blond one jumped back, as surprised by his sudden guest as the Slayer was, and felt his back touch the outside wall. He frowned. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Tentatively, he reached forward, his hand passing through the empty space of the window, and he smiled. Thank God for small miracles, even if they did come in the shape of big ugly snake guys…

With a roar, Spike jumped on the demon, his fury erupting in a violent rage, his fists pounding into its scales. An incensed Daymon whipped around his tail, knocking the vampire off his back, sending him through the wall of the stable and out into the night. “So it will be this way,” he said, following him through the aperture.

Edging around the pen, the sword dangling from her hand, Buffy emerged behind Celie. “I don’t have long, so I’ll make this quick,” she said, lashing out with her foot.

As before, the witch went flying through the air, landing in a pile of dry straw. She rolled, her hands coming out to fight back with her magic. Automatically, the Slayer spun out of the way, her head quickly darting back to look at the damage the bolt did behind her. Except…it hadn’t.

Celie looked down at her hands. “I…don’t understand,” she murmured. “My…powers…”

“I’d love to stick around and help you figure it out,” the young blonde said, jumping to her feet, “but I’ve really got to go kick your boss’ ass.” And without a glance backward, Buffy bolted for the opening in the wall.

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

The tires squealed to a halt, sending up clouds of dust into the night sky. “Xander! Please! This isn’t the Grand Prix!” chided Giles from the back seat.

“Sorry,” the young man mumbled, and pointed. “ But I think we’ve reached the end of the road.”

The Watcher looked out in the direction of his finger, past the hulk of the Hound as it came to a stop beside them. There, in the moonlight, Spike squared off with Daymon, each circling the other. The vampire appeared unhurt, and Giles felt a wrench in his gut as he realized that this was the first time he’d seen the chipped one since learning about his and Buffy’s involvement. He still wasn’t sure how to feel about the whole thing, and he could feel his reluctance staying his movement from the car.

“You think we should get out there and help?” asked Xander, voicing what the older man was thinking. As he spoke, however, Buffy appeared in the gaping hole left in the side of the stable. “Then again, it looks like he’s already got some.”

Giles looked down at the sleeping face of Cortina in his lap, his hands absently stroking the hair away from her eyes. "We’ll…give them a moment,” he said softly.

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

He danced around on the balls of his feet, the power surging through his body. “Haven’t had a good spot of violence in ages,” Spike drawled. “Aren’t you the lucky demon…” He faked a lunge to the right, before darting left under Daymon’s outstretched fist. He laughed. “Gonna have to do better than that, mate.”

Buffy saw it coming first. “Spike!” she called out. “Look out for his---.” She cringed as the demon’s tail swept around, knocking the vampire off his feet and flat onto his back. “…tail,” she finished. How did he manage to fall for that one twice? she wondered. If she didn’t know better, she would’ve thought the vamp was losing his touch.

He would’ve been winded had he had any breath in his lungs to worry about. Instead, it was his pride that was bruised, getting sent to his ass for the second time by the scaled demon, and both times in front of the Slayer. She’s going to start thinking I’m a nancy boy who can’t take care of himself, he thought grimly as he rose to his feet. All right, no more Mr. Nice Vamp, and, switching into game face, Spike jumped for Daymon’s throat, his teeth bared in his best nonverbal threat.

The bulky demon swung, grabbing the blond vampire around the throat, staying his leap with an abrupt gurgle. “I think not,” he murmured and straightened to his full height, Spike dangling from his grip, kicking and clawing at the hand holding him.

verhead, the low roar of an engine whispered in Daymon’s ears, and he turned with a smug smile to face Buffy. “It appears that this is just not your night, Miss Summers,” he laughed.

Raising the sword, Buffy took a step closer to the demon. “You’d be surprised how often I hear that,” she commented. “You weren’t really going for the whole originality prize, were you? ‘Cause, have to tell you, not really feeling the threat here, seeing as how I’m the one with the big pointy sword.”

“I have my own weapon.” His fist tightened around Spike’s neck, causing the veins in the vampire’s jaws to pulse as he struggled to get free. “He’s much like a dandelion, don’t you think? It only takes a moment for the head to just…snap off.” His black eyes narrowed. “And I do believe that’s as effective a method for slaying vampires as any other. But, you tell me. You’re the expert.”

Her face froze. “Let him go. He’s not the one you’re after.”

“No, that is correct. But he is extremely powerful bait, don’t you agree?” Daymon began gliding backwards, closer to the escalating thrum of the plane’s engine.

Buffy’s hazel eyes darted up to see the faint lights of the aircraft as it coursed through its descent. Daymon’s, maybe, the one he’d been planning on using to get her to Greece? But he’d been with her the whole time, what was it doing here now? It didn’t really matter, though, as the young woman watched it coast to a landing in the not-so-far distance, her adversary slowly creeping toward it with her lover still firmly in his grasp.

Damned if he wasn’t right. This really wasn’t her night…


To be continued in Chapter Twenty-Six: Up and Away