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 and Spike are on their way to Daymon’s home in Greece, while Giles has enlisted Celie’s aid in finding them.

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Chapter 29: Soul and Spirit

Her elegant fingers gripped the doorframe as Cortina felt another wave of dizziness tilt the world around her. Although she knew it was just a side effect of the herbs, she began to wonder if perhaps she should’ve stayed in bed after all, waited just a little longer before venturing out to join the group. But she was here now, and a very worried Rupert was practically running across the room to help hold her up, so how could she go back?

His strong arm slipped around her, gliding across her back, bracing her to stand even straighter. Although the demon knew she didn’t have to, she pressed herself slightly into his side, matching his hip with her own, her breast melding against the lean muscles under his shirt. Cortina felt him momentarily stiffen at such close contact, then hid her smile as he relaxed into her touch. She knew the younger people didn’t see it---couldn’t see it really, not with his mentor role so firmly embedded in their minds---but Rupert Giles was a man of intense passions, caged within that Watcher façade he wore with pride, waiting for just the right moment to allow those urges to run free. As they began the trek toward the desk, she caught the bemused eyes of Willow. Well, maybe one of them could see it…

“I thought you agreed to get some sleep,” Giles was chastising as she eased herself into the chair behind the desk.

“I changed my mind. Woman’s prerogative, you know.” Noting the open atlas, her smile faded. “So it is Greece. Just my luck he’d take her to one of the sunnier places on the planet.”

The Watcher hovered behind her, leaning over her shoulder to point to the exact location on the map. “Well, as long as you’re here, I don’t suppose you know anything about Taenarum, do you?”

She shook her head. “I’m afraid anything related to the Mediterranean is out of my depth. When one has a sunlight issue, one tends to avoid the bright, shiny places.”

“But…you’re in California,” Giles said, frowning.

“And that’s a story for another day,” Cortina laughed. “Maybe if you’re a good boy, I’ll fill you in on the details some time.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, a wicked smile curling her lips, sending a furious blush across the Watcher’s cheeks. “But I can still get you there, if you want.”

“I didn’t know Vroleks could teleport,” said Anya.

“We can’t,” the demon replied. “But I have a lot of friends. I’ll just call in a few favors, get somebody to help you guys out.” She looked up at Giles. “Have you told them yet?”

The older man ducked his head. “No, not yet.”

“Told us what?” asked Xander.

The group looked at Giles expectantly. Sighing, he picked up the Tract of Telemus and opened it to the appropriate page. “Cortina has a rather…unique interpretation of the prophecy.”

“Great,” the construction worker groaned. “In Watcher talk, unique is just another word for bad news for Buffy.”

“It’s just an interpretation,” Giles argued. “There’s no saying that it’s correct.”

“Oh god, yes,” Cortina chimed in. “There’s nothing I want more than to be wrong about this one.”

“And that interpretation would be…?” coaxed Xander.

The older man cleared his throat. “Well, Cortina seems to think that perhaps Daymon isn’t the threat in this cleansing ritual.”

“You think there’s another d-d-demon involved?” a worried Tara asked.

“Yes.” He took a deep breath. “The prophecy lends itself to suggest that maybe…Spike is the actual danger to Buffy.”

The announcement was met with stunned silence as the occupants of the room digested this latest bit of news. Without saying a word, Willow reached for the book in Giles’ hands, taking it from him without argument, and carefully re-read the text. “Oh, goddess…” she murmured, before looking up to face the older man, a thin line between her brows. “How did we miss that?”

“Because we didn’t know about recent…developments,” he replied.

Xander raised his hand. “OK, for those of us who are prophecy-deficient, do you care to share where exactly our favorite undead fits into all this? And just so you know, I’m kidding about the favorite part.”

Cortina watched the worried looks pass between the redheaded witch and the ex-librarian. “Why didn’t you tell me they’re all in just as much denial as you are, Rupert?” she commented. “If it wasn’t so sad, it would almost be kind of cute.”

“I don’t think this is really the time---.”

“No, you’re right.” The white demon took the book from Willow’s hand and laid it down in front of her. “OK, boys and girls, time for Prophecy Interpretation 101. And don’t worry about taking any notes. The only test you’re going to have to worry about passing is getting Buffy and Spike back in good health.” She took a deep breath. “All right. What have you learned about cleansing rituals?”

“They don’t work,” Anya said. “Well, not generally anyway.”

“True, but we’re not up to that yet. More basic. Give me a definition.”

“Someone wants to rid themselves of their demon self, so they find a chalice, do the ritual, and voila! Demon-free mortal,” the young shopkeeper explained.

“Right.” Cortina pointed to the first few lines of the passage. “The chalice acts as a receptacle for the demon once it’s been expelled. There are a ton of awful side effects, including a mass summoning of other demons and a tendency for both the Chalice and new mortal to get killed, which is why the truly desperate are really the only ones who ever attempt it.”

“Still not seeing where Spike fits in,” said Xander, shaking his head.

“Even if we didn’t have the drawing of Buffy in the book,” Giles continued, picking up where Cortina left off, “the first few lines describe her fairly accurately so we can safely assume she’s going to be used as the Chalice. But it also describes a demon, which could be interpreted as the one in the ritual.”

“But that’s Daymon,” the young man argued. “Buffy told us he was a guy, and then he showed up here all Godzilla-like, so obviously he’s really a demon who wants to be a guy.” He paused. “OK, now I’m confusing myself.”

“Seers are generally not the most coherent of people,” Cortina added. “They love talking in circles so you have to learn to look at the prophecy and pull out only the most important parts. In the first line of this one, Chosen, equals Chalice, equals Buffy.”

“Right. Got that.”

“Then you’ve got this description of a demon. One she ‘wars,’ or fights with, one who also possesses her. Body, soul, and spirit.” She looked up at him, her blue eyes kind. “I know Spike’s not your favorite person, Xander, but you do realize that Buffy loves him, don’t you? That’s the soul and spirit part. That’s probably the part you’re missing. I mean, I assume you knew they were having sex, which is of course the his-possessing-her-body bit.”

“Spike and Buffy were having sex?” Anya’s eyes were wide as she looked at her boyfriend. “I thought you said they just thought they had feelings for each other.”

“Does it really matter right now, Ahn?” He turned his worried brown gaze to Giles. “What do you think? Do you think Cortina’s interpretation is right? No offense,” he was quick to assure the white demon.

She shrugged. “None taken.”

“I don’t know,” the Watcher finally admitted. “But the possibility of Spike getting involved with the ritual somehow is certainly viable, considering how he always manages to be with Buffy when Daymon is around.”

“I don’t think Spike would ever hurt Buffy,” offered Tara.

“As much as it pains me to admit it,” Giles said, “I don’t either. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared, though, just in case.”

“So bottom line is, Spike’s demon might be getting a new address, mainly one in the Buffy zone, right?” asked Xander.

“Correct,” the older man agreed. “But that’s only if the ritual occurs. So, our job is going to be to ensure it doesn’t happen at all. Thus, end of story, end of confusing prophecy.”

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

He heard it before she did, a low rumble that disappeared almost as quickly as it made its presence known. Buffy blushed. “Sorry,” she said.

“When was the last time you ate anything?” Spike asked. The deepening of the rose in her cheeks was the only answer he needed. Jumping up from their comfortable position on the floor, the vampire began going through the boxes he’d wasted so much energy earlier in kicking around. “Gotta be something to eat around here someplace,” he grumbled. “Wanker thought of everything else, why not food?” His nose led him to an untouched crate near the wall, and he pulled off the top to expose an assortment of fruit and pre-packed sandwiches. “Well, it’s not exactly fine dining, but it’ll do.”

The young woman jumped up and practically ran to the vampire’s side. “I didn’t realize how starved I was,” she commented. “I think I could even eat some of Dawn’s cooking, at this point.”

He stood back and watched her sink her teeth into a pear, the juice dribbling down her chin. It was all he could do not to shake his head. When the Slayer was hungry, any sense of etiquette went flying out the window. He really must remember to have a word with Joyce when they returned to Sunnydale.

“What about you?” Buffy asked between bites. “You haven’t had any blood since Cortina’s. Aren’t you hungry?”

Spike shrugged. “I’ve gone longer. I’ll do.”

Almost unconsciously, Buffy’s hand went to her neck, fingering the tiny marks that were the only physical reminder she had of her earlier donation to the vampire. “You…really should…eat,” she said

He cocked his head, mesmerized by the movement of her tiny hand. The memories of her blood surging past his teeth…steaming down his throat…energizing his veins…brought back his erection, and he felt his skin tighten as he relived them. “You don’t need to do that,” the vampire managed to get out.

“What? You’re turning down a fresh meal? That’s not like you, Spike.” Setting down the fruit, Buffy crossed the distance between them in just a couple steps, flipping her hair back over her shoulder to expose the length of her neck even more. “What if I said…I want you to?”

The muscles in his jaw twitched as his teeth clicked shut. She did not just say what he thought she said…did she? He could honestly go without feeding for quite a bit longer; there was no actual need for her to make such an offer, and yet here she was, and all she was missing was the silver platter. “Wouldn’t be necessary, luv,” the vamp said, taking a step back and nodding his head at the crate. “I didn’t get left out of the party this time.”

The Slayer glanced down and saw the packets of blood stowed carefully under the produce. She was shocked at the sense of dismay that rocked her core when she spied them; yes, it was a genuine offer on her part but she’d thought it was only because she worried about his wellbeing. This strange sense of loss seemed to indicate something deeper than that, something more correctly rooted in a need to share with him something which he truly desired. Go ahead, the tiny voice in her head whispered. Do it anyway…

“Besides,” Spike was saying, “you need to keep your strength up.”

“So do you,” Buffy murmured, and inched toward him, her hazel eyes locked with his blue. “Don’t you want it?”

“God yes…” The admission was a gurgle, choking his throat, and he tried to calm the nerves that suddenly seemed out of control. She couldn’t know what she was doing to him, couldn’t see how he longed for just one more taste, one more embrace… “But it’s not necessary, Buffy,” he asserted, trying to keep his voice steady. “We can’t be messin’ around like this when---.”

She silenced him with her mouth, her hot tongue sweeping into his, her hand stealing down to his waist. Spike felt her index finger trace around the head of his cock, brushing against the tip before tickling its way down the throbbing vein, and moaned into her kiss. Damn it if she wasn’t doing this deliberately, distracting him with the pleasure of her touch, clouding his head to anything but desire for her…

The vampire broke away, ducking his head so that she couldn’t see his unwillingness to do so in his eyes. “I don’t want games from you, Slayer,” he growled. “You keep that up, and you’ll be in for a rude awakening.”

Buffy frowned, trying to catch her breath. What had she done wrong? “I’m not playing games,” she said.

He turned glittering eyes toward her. “I love you, you know that. But do you know what means for me? Do you know what loving you makes me want to do?” He began to pace around the room, keeping his distance, his face growing more and more wild as he spoke. “Everything I do, everything I think, everything I am, is flavored with you. I go out for small spot of violence, I wonder if I’ll run into you. I get settled in my chair to watch a little telly, I wonder if you’re goin’ to come stormin’ in to interrupt me. Not a minute goes by when you’re not in my head in some way, and it gets to the point where I think if I don’t see you, I’ll go completely barmy. And now,” the vamp gazed at her through his thick lashes, his head low, “you’ve gone and given me an actual taste for it all. Let me feel firsthand what its like to have you, even gone so far as lettin’ me drink your Slayer blood. Do you know what I want when I see you, Buffy?” He didn’t wait for her answer. “To devour you.”

Her heart pounded in her chest. “And you don’t think that’s what I want when I look at you, Spike?” she whispered. “You think you’ve got this monopoly on feelings? It’s taken me a long time to actually admit any of this to myself, and damned if I’m going to let you just sweep it all under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

“Admit what? That Big Bad might actually be good for a bit of the rough and tumble?”

“Is that what love is for you? Sex?” she demanded. “’Cause yeah, pretty amazing stuff, but lemme tell you, it’s not nearly the entire package. But if that’s what it means to you, maybe I’ve made a mistake. Maybe you’re not who I thought you were. And maybe falling in love with you was the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

There it was again…those words…The blond vampire stopped his prowl around the hold, turning to face her with hands thrust deep into his pockets. He hadn’t misheard her this time; there was no orgasm to blame it on. She’d said it…well, nearly said it. “You know me better than that,” he responded. “Of all the people in that godforsaken hellhole of a town, you’re the last one who should think I equate love with sex. I mean, Christ! What more do I bloody have to do to prove it to you?”

Buffy’s face softened as she felt the anger dissipate from her body. He was right, as usual. She knew better than that, but the heat of her frustration sometimes overwhelmed her better judgment, releasing words from her mouth that she didn’t really mean, didn’t really believe. She needed to make this better, but how, when everything she said seemed to make it worse? “Nothing,” the young woman said. “You’ve done so much for me already. What right do I have to ask for anything more?”

He was at her side before she could blink, tipping her head up to look into his face. “Say it,” he said, his sapphire gaze searching hers, begging her to give him what he needed to hear. “You want to wipe the slate clean? Say it.”

There was no mistaking the need in his voice and Buffy’s heart ached when she heard it. What had he ever truly asked for? She’d taken so much---his help, his pride, she even would’ve had his life if Celie had had her way---and not once had he ever really asked for anything in return. It was so simple and she felt like such a bitch for not having given it to him sooner.

“I love you, Spike. I know I talk big, and I make a big show about being the strong one---you know, put a brave face on for the gang, make them believe that Buffy the Vampire Slayer can handle it all. But deep down, that’s not entirely true. ‘Cause those dark places that live inside me scare the living bejeezus out of me sometimes, and you are the only person who has ever really gotten that. You see through all the shit---you always have---and, you don’t care. You love me anyway. Hell, I’m beginning to think you love me because of it. You are probably the only person I know who isn’t trying to change me, or mold me into something that I’m not. And that means more to me than you could ever imagine.” She paused, taking a deep breath, steadying her racing pulse before she could even think about continuing. “Being with you---just being in your presence---wakes me up like nothing else in this world ever has. Everything seems bigger, everything seems brighter, and then when you’re not there…” Buffy shook her head. “God, I must sound like an idiot to you, trying to explain this. I sound like one to me.”

Spike’s gentle stroke of her cheek as he cupped her face sent shivers down her spine. “If memory serves,” he commented in a low voice, “I never asked you to explain anything. I just wanted to hear you actually say the words.”

Unbidden, the smile spread across the Slayer’s face as she leaned forward, her mouth only inches from his ear, her skin just a promise away. “I love you, Spike,” she whispered…

 

To be continued in Chapter Thirty: Perchance to Dream