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 got to Buffy too late to stop the ritual from starting, but Spike interrupted it, taking Daymon’s place as the demon.

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Chapter 35: And They All Came Tumbling Down

Something was different. He was himself, but not, and he didn’t know why, could feel only the yawning barrenness gnawing at his gut, echoing in his head, creating a tympani of tremors throughout his body. Unconsciously, Spike took a deep breath to try and steady his nerves, then froze. What the bloody fuck was that? his mind demanded. Vampires don’t need to breathe; what are you playing at? He tried holding himself still, steeling his chest, refusing to inhale, but within seconds his lungs were screaming for satisfaction and he gulped at the chill air. It was real. He was breathing.

Thoughts…questions…churned inside his skull. How was it possible? Humans were the ones who had to breathe, not…

And the reality of his situation began to crystallize, sending waves of shock rolling through his body. The ritual…jumping Daymon…then the light…The prophecy had been fulfilled through him, not the Greek, and if he opened his eyes, Spike knew that he would be greeted by a vampire Buffy. And Giles…he had known, had tried preventing him from coming. Why the hell didn’t he just tell me what could happen? he raged, only to be answered by a tiny voice at the bottom of his consciousness. Because he knew it wouldn’t make a difference, it said. You would’ve shrugged away the possibility and argued that Buffy needed you.

She still does, he thought. Not goin’ to let this happen. The magic that had been pinning him down seemed less now, and his eyes fluttered open, his head slowly turning. There she was. Her back was to him, but her head was turned, eyes staring sadly at the Scoobies congregated on the ledge. Golden eyes. Once upon a time, he’d loved another set of golden eyes, worshiped at the shrine of his ridged princess, but this…this was Buffy….this was…

He frowned, the disparity scratching at his skin…

…not quite right…

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

It had scorched her from the inside out as it smashed into her chest, and Buffy gasped as the pain began to eat at her innards. Nothing in her life had ever hurt this much, not even that stupid vamp the previous fall who’d managed to stake her with her own weapon. She knew she’d screamed from the agony, but she didn’t care; the only thing that seemed to matter was finding a way to vent the torture. She’d felt everything…the lifting of her body…the twisting sensation as whatever that had entered her took root…

And she could’ve sworn she’d heard Spike, but that couldn’t be…had to be part of the nightmare that was swirling around her. But what if it wasn’t? What if by some miracle of chance the vampire had managed to find her, to do his best to rescue her from Daymon? She had to look, had to see…

It had been a struggle to even lift her head, her body suddenly not her own, fighting as if walking through tar. When her hair had fallen from her eyes, she’d seen the gang, clustered along the rim of the cavern, their faces ranging from frightened to worried, to aghast. Something was wrong about them, though…off, as if someone had been playing with the color adjustment on the television. In fact, the entire world was like that…tinged in gold…

She saw him then, sprawled on the earthen floor beside her, frighteningly fragile-looking as he looked up at her with those deep blue eyes. Her heart wrenched as she realized just how achingly beautiful Spike really was…the mad desperation that carved his face in agonizing splendor…the trim muscles that seemed to scream to be touched…that chest she’d fallen asleep against just hours previously…

It was then that she saw it move, and almost immediately saw what had happened to him, what had happened to…her. It explained the gnawing hunger that was growing in her belly, the growing insurgence of thoughts that seemed foreign, yet familiar.
Turning her attention inward, Buffy concentrated on those, trying to make sense of them, understand just what they were…what they meant. Flashes of running girls, swooshing skirts…a high-pitched feminine laugh…the gentle sway of a subway car…and blood, lots of it…its smell, its taste, its power as it suffused her being…

And she understood, without having to ask, without knowing why. These were Spike’s memories, an integral element of his demon, now an integral part of her, and it all seemed to make sense at once. The images were coming in fast and furious now, and she felt her heart thunder in her chest as the wide range of his emotions manifested themselves in her core…the anger…the bloodlust…the frustration…the futility…and the strongest of all…

…the love…

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

He could feel the grit of the floor beneath his head, and the realization that he’d been thwarted began to burn in Daymon’s gut. The ritual’s magic was oppressive and only now, with the first step undergone, was it abating enough for him to lift his head, to survey his surroundings. The vampire had taken his place in the cleansing and now lay prone just a few feet away. Only, he wasn’t a vampire anymore. Daymon could smell the humanity on him, coating the air in layers of musk, the fear dripping off his skin.

And there, just above the platform she’d only recently rested upon, was the Chosen One, looking around with her newly formed demon eyes, and his hope plummeted. It was too late for him. The Chalice had already been filled.

The fury rose in his throat like bile, and Daymon swung back to survey the blond man who had brought about his failure. How many times had he had the chance to kill Spike, only to allow him to live, either through Buffy’s interference or his own vacillation, and now it was this same creature who repaid that favor by stealing from him the rebirth he had so desperately sought for decades. The irony of it shook him, and he slowly struggled to rise, fighting the heavy cloak of magic that still permeated the pit. Spike would pay for it…and Daymon would bathe in his blood…

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It started as a rumble, and Willow and Tara exchanged a look of alarm before the first tremor hit, sending the group stumbling to their knees. In the pit, Daymon was thrown aside as the vibrations began to multiply, pitching the world around him, growing louder, more intense. The quaking sent Spike rolling away from Buffy, but for the first time since the transference, he found himself free of the magic’s shackles, his muscles his own again, and he clambered to his hands and knees as he fought for his balance.

The only one not affected was Buffy, and she watched as the others in the cavern were thrown about by the earthquake. Dust from the ceiling began to sprinkle the air, to expand into larger clumps as the tremors grew in strength and in number. In one corner, an entire section of the roof caved in, allowing the sunlight to send sudden illumination bouncing around and exposing the results of the quake for all to see.

Giles lifted his head, his eyes widening in alarm as he saw the ground begin to split, chasms suddenly appearing throughout the cavern, and the irrational fear that they were all going to be sucked into some demon pit of hell flashed through his head. That was quickly dispelled, however, as the truth almost immediately made itself known.

Beside him, Xander’s sharp intake of breath only exacerbated the chills that were running down the Watcher’s spine. “What…are they?” the young man hissed.

“’The vermin who cling to evil’s underbelly,’” Giles quoted, his voice barely audible in the din, his gaze locked onto the hands that were clawing at the earth, pulling the re-animated bodies from the soil, their ridged faces empty of anything but hunger, their fanged mouths agape.

“Oh, sweet goddess,” breathed Tara. “What are they doing?”

The newly-born vampires were crawling toward Buffy, clambering over the debris in their way, even if it took the form of a scaled demon or a blond human. When the first reached her, it grabbed at her ankle, using it to hoist himself up, and the Scoobies could only look on in horror as it sank its fangs into the flesh on her thigh. Others followed suit, and it was only after the third and fourth had attached themselves to her did the young woman react, her legs kicking out as she flailed to free herself.

“They’re…feeding,” Giles murmured. He was transfixed by the strength that Buffy was displaying, battling the ritual’s magic as she fought for her own…humanity? His head whirled. But she houses Spike’s demon, he argued. She has the eyes, the power of a vampire. How can she still fight if she has been…

And the discrepancy that had been chewing at him became clear. “Willow,” he hissed. “Get your bag.”

The redhead frowned, but did as she was told. “But it’s too late, Giles,” she said as she pulled out the heavy book, struggling with it as another tremor sent her reeling to her bottom. “Buffy’s already a demon.”

“Not yet.” The Watcher took the tome and immediately began flipping through the pages, looking for the text that Cortina had pointed out to him in her library. “We still have time.”

“How is that possible?” demanded Anya. “Buffy’s our very own golden girl. You saw her eyes.”

“Yes, but I didn’t see any ridges,” Giles explained. “Plus, she’s still alive. That’s why the vampires are leeching her. In order for Buffy to complete the ritual, she must die. And we’re going to stop that from happening.”

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

Spike didn’t know why they were ignoring him; he was an easy kill. Without his demon strength, these new vampires could’ve taken him had they chosen, yet they didn’t. Instead, they concentrated on getting to Buffy, and his heart leapt to his throat when he saw the first bury its teeth into her tender flesh. Had to stop it, had to find a way…even if it meant he had to die himself…

With what energy he had remaining, the blond scrambled over the rising body of a nearby demon, clutching at the ground for support. The scabby fingers of the newly-animated corpse wrapped around his ankle, holding him back, and he glanced back, his face twisted into a snarl, lashing out, the boot of his heel connecting with the creature’s jaw, snapping its head back and breaking its grasp.

It seemed to take an eternity. For every foot forward, Spike was pushed back, and he could feel his strength start to wane. Each obstacle, though, only steeled his resolve, urged him onward, until, finally, he was at her feet.

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There were too many. In spite of the infusion of power surging through her veins, Buffy could sense that she was losing the battle, that the vampires who were drinking from her were slowly beginning to overwhelm her capabilities, and she began to panic. No, she thought. It can’t end like this. I refuse to let them win.

As she shoved yet another corpse away, her gaze was caught by the blond head swimming toward her in the sea of death. Seeing Spike only fortified the young woman’s tenacity, and she punched with extra vigor at a demon attached to her left arm, knocking it down into the throng, allowing her lover the extra clearance to reach her.

“Spike…” she whispered, and bent down, offering him her hand.

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

The sparks jumped over the heads of the feeding vampires, and Willow’s eyes widened as she witnessed the fusion of her best friend and former enemy. Unable to look away, she nudged her girlfriend gently, and together the two witches watched, spellbound, as the light surrounding Spike and Buffy electrified, charging the atmosphere of the cave with its power. With excruciating grace, the blond man rose to stand beside the Slayer, his blue eyes locked with hers, before turning to start beating down the newly born away from the young woman.

Their grip never broke. Using their combined strength, the pair became a symbiotic dance of death as they fought the horde, an elegant study of animal magnificence. Willow was mesmerized. If before she’d had any doubt, it was now banished. They were perfectly matched, their movements synchronized as if by some unseen force, complementing the other’s strokes as she’d never seen before. She almost didn’t hear Giles when he hissed, “Willow! Pay attention!”

Tearing her gaze away, the redhead resumed laying out the herbs as the book instructed. “I don’t think the cleansing is working,” she said. “I think Spike’s messed it up somehow.”

“Well, that’s a bloody surprise,” the Watcher muttered. “When doesn’t he?”

“I’m serious,” insisted Willow. “Look.”

An unwilling Giles lifted his eyes and was met with the sight of two golden-eyed fighters availing themselves against the onslaught around them. He was about to turn away, then stopped. Two?

“The demon’s confused,” Anya offered. “Spike’s put himself into the place of the Chalice and it doesn’t know where to go.”

“It would certainly appear so,” the older man murmured, and watched as a particularly powerful kick on the part of his Slayer sent a vampire flying through the air, crashing into the wall, landing directly in the pool of sunlight introduced earlier during the quaking. Almost instantly, it burst into flame, self-immolating before exploding into dust.

Willow and Giles looked at each other, the same thought in each of their heads. They were closer to the surface than anyone had realized. That meant…perhaps they weren’t as weaponless as they’d originally believed. “Tara can bring it down,” she said. “I’ll focus on the reversal.”

The Watcher nodded, and he grabbed the blonde witch by the wrist, pulling her away from the others. “This is what we’re going to do,” he started.

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

She’d never felt so powerful. The energy that bound her to Spike was invigoratingly robust, and she could feel the hunger inside her dissipating. Once, she stole a glance at the man beside her, and was met by his golden eyes glittering in the scattered light. Buffy didn’t question it but instead innately recognized the demon reflected there. After all, it was still a part of her as well.

The vampires were tiring, and in spite of the blood that now flowed freely from her various wounds, the Slayer’s strength never flagged. Her body was a whirlwind of kicks and punches, and it wasn’t until she saw the rising form of the scaled demon at the edge of the platform that she decided. Enough was enough.

She didn’t even have to tell Spike. Together, they turned to face Daymon, imbued with the force of their bond, and started their attack.

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

Against one, he might’ve stood a chance. Against two, the Greek demon found himself floundering, unable to gain control. Everywhere he turned, he was met with violence---a punch in the jaw, a kick to his chest---and the constant battering quickly took its toll. He felt his muscles begin to scream in protest under the barrage, a torturous exercise of fire and mutiny, and started to shrink away, the sudden fear that he would lose this battle overcoming his sense of honor. Must live, can’t fight, must run. As he started to back up, retreating from the two who were so determined to bring him down, the scaled demon tripped over the inert form of an unconscious vampire, landing on his back with his tail broken beneath him, helplessly staring up at the duo with black eyes suddenly shiny with fear.

As one, Spike and Buffy leapt from the platform, alighting atop Daymon, continuing their assault with hardly a break in rhythm. Left punch…right kick…power yielded as deadly as any sword, they were intent on their victim, venting their own angers on his now motionless form. As the world started to fade around him, he heard the chanting from the ledge, and wondered briefly what the witches were up to. It doesn’t matter, he thought, as he began to drift away. All is lost anyway…

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

Buffy saw the light in Daymon’s eye fade and the sudden elation that surged through her jump-started her heart. It was almost over. Glancing at her partner, she reveled in how his blond hair shone in the growing light in the cavern, his mouth a firm but sensual line. Almost imperceptibly, Spike nodded.

It was the only encouragement she needed. Breaking contact with her lover for the first time since he joined her on the platform, the Slayer leaned over and grasped the scaled demon’s head, wrenching it sideways with an audible crunch, the delicate bones in his neck shattering and the black eyes going cold and lifeless, before letting it fall with a satisfying thump back onto the earthen floor.

She was about to turn back to Spike when the sudden clump on the top of her head caused her to look up. There, in the ceiling, a fissure…and another…joined by yet more. What the…? she wondered, then saw the focused Tara chanting and gesticulating on the ledge. A spell for…And before she could finish the thought, a huge section of the cavern’s roof crashed to the ground, letting the bright Greek sunshine free rein to irradiate the dim space.

A group of the newly-raised vampires were caught in the blast, and almost instantaneously burst into flame. Buffy’s smile was wide. God, she loved having friends, especially ones that were as resourceful as the Scoobies. Around her, the remaining demons tried scrambling to safety, but their movements were too slow. One by one, they vanished into a sparkle of dust.

The sound of Willow’s voice began to rise above the din, and the Slayer swiveled to look over at her best friend, only to stop when she saw the flames beginning to lick up Spike’s arm. Her heart stopped, her reaction automatic as she launched herself at him, throwing both of them against the platform, her body covering his, shielding him from the deadly sunshine. Frantically, she beat out the flame with her bare hand, heedless of the sudden pain it was causing her, before looking back to see the ridges start appearing in his forehead. She didn’t know what was happening, but she didn’t care, as her eyes blazed with longing for him, her body all too aware of how he felt underneath her, his growing erection against her hips causing her own arousal to intensify. Without breaking his gaze, Buffy lowered her head, meeting his lips with hers, seeking and finding the sanctuary Spike offered her.

The crack pierced their eardrums, deafening all within the cavern, causing each to cringe in pain, and the sudden brilliance blinded them to everything surrounding. By the time Giles could look up, blinking rapidly in an attempt to clear his own vision, Tara was already gazing down into the pit, her mouth open, the fear etched in her eyes. Slowly, he turned his own gaze to the ritual platform.

Although he could barely make out the form of the vampire underneath her, the Watcher could see Buffy quite clearly and he knew what frightened the young woman at his side so.

With blood trickling from her ears and nose, his Slayer lay motionless atop an equally unconscious Spike…

To be continued in Chapter Thirty-Six: Unity