Spuffy Ficathon Challenge
Written for: Andrea
Timeline: Season 6, pre-Smashed
One or two things you want to see: much UST, a black-tie event
One or two things you don't want to see: Riley
Rating: Hmmm, definitely R
Disclaimer: The characters don't belong to me, but I love Joss Whedon & Co. for sharing them with us.
Distribution: Don't have a website. If you're interested in archiving, please ask. I'd be more than flattered.

A/N: This was my entry in the April 24 Spuffy ficathon, conducted by Lara. There are nine chapters that I'll be posting as I can since my online time is sadly limited these days. Hope it pleases. If so, praise is happily accepted and kept in a little place in my heart that I go to from time to time. If not, by all means let me know why. Constructive criticism is sometimes bad for the ego but always essential for those who wish to excel at their craft.

It took so long to write this that I skipped the usual endless polishing and tweaking process. Unfortunately, no betas were injured in the making of this story, so all mistakes and inconsistencies (hopefully not too many) are mine and only mine. Gulp.

Also, the translation thing mentioned by Giles? Totally made up and not even remotely authentic.

Just in case you were wondering. ;-)

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Touching Fire
By Night Owl

Buffy ducked just in time to avoid the dagger as it whizzed past her head and embedded itself with a solid thunk into the skull of an Ishnara demon. The slimy creature had charged her just as she was finishing off its twin. Now, it fell to its knees, swayed drunkenly, then toppled face-first into a muddy patch of ground.

Scowling first at the muck splattering her jacket, then at the dagger hilt protruding from the dead demon, Buffy turned to shoot an accusing glare at the leather-clad culprit.

"Had to act fast. Sorry, love." Spike threw her an apologetic shrug before he whirled and slammed his fist into the face of yet another oncoming demon. Buffy didn't know what this one was, but it looked and moved something like a two-legged rhinoceros. The creature bellowed in pain or rage, or perhaps both, as Spike followed up his assault with an unrelenting flurry of kicks and punches that forced the massive demon into a staggering backward retreat.

"Showoff," she muttered, a reluctant smile tugging at her lips. But her brief role as interested bystander was cut short when two more demons rounded the corner of a nearby crypt, making a beeline straight for her. "Okay, that's it! What is this? Free-admission night at the cemetery? Big demon convention in town, and nobody told us?"

Turning to face the new threat head-on, Buffy spared a quick glance around to take in the bodies of seven recently deceased demons littering the vicinity. A few yards away, Spike was still whaling away on the eighth. All had appeared out of nowhere, and with the exception of the slime twins, no two were alike. Most had been armed to the teeth, literally, while she and Spike had started out with only a handful of stakes between them. Luckily, they'd been able to liberate a few of those weapons, giving them a distinct edge. But that was slowly changing. As quickly as one demon went down, others arrived to take its place.

Adjusting her grip on a sword she'd confiscated from a big, scaly, lizard-looking thing, Buffy waited until the nearest demon was within arm's reach, then dodged to one side as the momentum of its charge sent it barreling past her. Stepping forward again, she wielded the blade in a swooping arc and neatly severed the head of the second demon that followed close behind. The body lurched forward another step or two before it seemed to notice its head wasn't along for the ride. Then, as if its bones had suddenly liquefied, it slumped to the ground, forcing Buffy to leap over it as she whirled to face its companion.

The first demon had recovered from the botched charge and was now closing in for a second try. This one looked a little familiar, but she couldn't quite place it until a wicked-looking bone skewer suddenly shot out of a thickly muscled forearm.

Oh, yeah. It was one of those Polka…Polga…whatever…thingies, like the one Maggie Walsh had used to give Adam his lethal forearm. As it lunged toward her, she dodged the skewer, leaping onto a waist-high headstone and lashing out with one booted foot. It was just enough to send the demon staggering back a step or two.

Pushing off from the stone, she sailed through the air, colliding with the creature and sending it crashing to the ground, Buffy on top. At such close quarters, the skewers were useless, but it gave her just enough room. Her sword hacked off one, then the other, before plunging deep into the demon's chest, prompting a final, outraged bellow as the creature jerked and fell still.

She jumped up and spun to face the next attacker, but the only demons left standing were Spike and the hulking rhino-thing he was still fighting. It was obvious Spike could have taken the thing out by now if he'd wanted to, but she could tell by the wicked grin on his face that he was enjoying himself too much to end it.

And then it happened, so fast that for an instant Buffy thought she had imagined it. One second Spike was dodging cumbersome swings from the slower demon, the next second something sharp and horribly familiar seemed to materialize from thin air, clutched in a large fist as it took another swipe at the vampire.

This time, the blow connected..

Spike froze, staring down in shocked disbelief at the stake protruding from his chest.

"No!" Buffy heard the shout, only dimly realizing it had been torn from her own throat. All her attention was riveted on the scene before her as she helplessly waited for Spike to explode in a shower of dust.

Spike, it seemed, had other plans.

Slowly, his head raised, moonlight glinting off the white of his hair and the pale, sharp angles of his face. He stared into the eyes of the towering demon with a smile of pure, menacing delight. "Missed, you wanker!" he growled just before his fist punched straight through the demon's chest, dripping black gore and blood as it emerged out the back. The demon doubled over, roaring in pain. With his other hand, Spike grabbed a massive shoulder to steady himself and wrenched his arm free. Then, lifting a booted foot, he placed it squarely on the demon's head and shoved. The force sent it sprawling onto the ground where it lay unmoving, dead eyes staring up at nothing.

Shaking off as much of the gore as he could, Spike grinned at Buffy and glanced around. "What? That's all they've got? Piddling little dozen demons? C'mon! We're just gettin' warmed up here!" Spotting a handy bush, he leaned over to wipe his leather sleeve on the leaves but stopped with a sudden grimace. "Ow! Bloody hell." He frowned, looking down at the stake still lodged in his chest. "Forgot about that."

Looking up again, Spike caught her staring. "Reckon I could use a bit of help here, pet." When she didn't move, a puzzled crease formed between his brows. He tilted his head. "Slayer? Demon got your tongue?"

She finally remembered how to talk. "You want me to pull the stake out?"

"Well, yeah. Could do it m'self, but it was a near miss. Want to make sure it comes out nice and straight. No little side trips." He smirked, clearly offering her a bit of fun at his expense. When she didn't bite, he arched a brow, eying her with concern. "You all right? Not hurt, are you?"

A slight flaring of his nostrils told her he was checking for hidden wounds. The realization brought Buffy to her senses. "I'm fine," she said tersely. "I'm not the one who looks like a walking coat rack."

"Ooh, less-than-snappy comeback there, Slayer. Not up to your usual standards. Not sure I want you operatin' on me if you're all worn out from a little demon ambush." He smiled at her, then his puzzled look returned. "Speakin' of which, what do you s'pose that was all about?" He motioned to one of the bodies on the ground, the movement causing another grimace. "That there is a Kraylok demon. And the one just beyond is a Mak'shon. The two are sworn enemies. Their kind would rather rip out their own tongues than speak a civil word to each other, let alone team up. Somethin's off here."

Buffy found herself moving toward him. "Never mind that now. I'll ask Giles about it later, see what he thinks." As she reached him, she wrapped her right hand around the end of the stake and placed her left palm against his chest for leverage, her gaze carefully avoiding his. "Hold still," she warned, then yanked.

A hissing intake of breath was the only sound he made as the stake slid free. She steadied him briefly as he swayed on his feet but he caught himself, legs bracing against the surge of weakness, and Buffy stepped away.

Kneeling, she used the grass to wipe Spike's blood off the tip, still unwilling to look at him. It didn't help. She could feel his gaze on her just as surely as she could sense a vampire at twenty yards.

She rose, keeping her face expressionless as she tucked away the stake and finally met his eyes. "We'd better knock off early tonight. You need to rest and heal, and I need to get home to Dawn." She hesitated, her gaze dropping to the dark stain on the front of his black T-shirt. "Why don't we skip tomorrow night, too? I can handle it on my own."

The puzzled crease in his forehead deepened, a hint of confusion coloring his eyes. "That's not a good idea, Buffy. Leastways, not until we find out what's happening. Could be that same someone who was messin' with your head before is aiming to make more mischief."

Buffy shook her head, remembering her disastrous job hunt a few weeks back and the conviction that someone was out to sabotage her life, such as it was. "I don't think so. It doesn't feel the same."

"Maybe not, but still –"

"Spike." She stared at him a long moment. "Go home. I'll let you know when I need you."

She turned and walked away, leaving him standing there.

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A short time later, Buffy watched from the shadows of a large oak tree as Spike disappeared inside the crypt he had called home for the last two years. After leaving him in the cemetery, she had doubled back, making sure to stay far enough away that he wouldn't be able to detect her.

A tiny frown marred her brow as the door swung shut. He hadn't seemed that badly hurt after the fight, despite the close call with the stake, but his whole demeanor as he'd made his way from the other cemetery to this one had been decidedly unSpike-like. The swagger was gone and there was a marked air of weariness about him that Buffy had never seen before, not even after the hours of torture he had endured at Glory's hands the previous year.

Maybe the battle-driven rush of adrenaline had worn off and he was just now feeling the effects of the staking. Whatever it was, at least he was safely inside. No more demons lying in wait along the way, hoping to finish up what the others had started. Not that she'd really thought there was any danger of that, but a nagging doubt had drawn her back, and she'd followed him home just to make sure.

The area around the crypt was silent and still. Nothing stirred but a few branches blowing in the night breeze. Buffy waited a few more minutes then turned back toward Revello Drive. As she made her way home, her mind began to replay the events of the night in an endless loop, forcing her to think about the fight and the unsettling revelation that had followed.

During the mini-battle, she'd been keenly aware of the differences between this fight and countless others she'd faced in the past. The primal rush, the thrill of flying fists and whirling blades, joyfully dancing the line between precious life and certain death – all of it was lacking or strangely muted, like an old, faded photograph with fuzzy images. It seemed like an echo, like an afterthought, like peering at something through a haze, faintly distorted and unreal.

It had been that way since she'd come back. From there. From that place where she could finally rest and be at peace. She had tried hard to get past it, to find the girl – the slayer – she'd once been. And she'd succeeded to a point, enough to fool her friends into thinking everything would be okay. That all she needed was a little more time.

Buffy knew better. Time wasn't her friend anymore, and the future stretched ahead of her like a bleak, colorless void.

But in that split second when she'd seen the stake heading for Spike's heart, even before it had plunged into his chest and she'd heard the crunching impact from several feet away, everything had crystallized. The world was suddenly sharp and clear and exquisitely painful. The searing panic, the anguished horror suffusing her, had taken her off guard. It seemed like an eternity since she'd felt anything so deeply. Even her brief reunion with Angel a few weeks before, though poignant and hard, had failed to cut through the layers of dull indifference that cocooned her.

She loved Dawn and her friends. She loved Angel. In their presence, she still felt happy and sad, amused and annoyed. But never content. And never did her emotions have the same vibrant clarity she'd experienced for that one moment in the cemetery.

So why now? When had Spike become someone she cared about? When had he gone from being a pain in the ass to someone who mattered? And what was it about him that made her feel so…

That made her feel.

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TBC in Part 2