The Keeper of Truth

Chapter 13

Author's Note: Thank you all so much. I appreciate your reviews and emails more than I can tell you! I'm glad you've enjoyed the story as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Special thanks to all the people who faithfully reviewed each chapter, and to my beta Sass Angel (who's possibly the best human being in the whole world for the amount of patience and care she took in helping me with this story).



***** Sunnydale September, year 2000 *****





The Magic Box was dark, lit only by the glow of a fat candle sitting beside the cash register. Buffy sat up slowly from where she was lying, sprawled on the floor beneath the counter. Blinking, dazed, she ran her hands over her face, scrubbing at it, trying to clear her head.

She stood, holding onto the counter with one hand for balance. Looking around, she saw that her friends were scattered all around her, all coming back to consciousness as slowly as she was.

"What happened?" she asked, looking from Willow to Xander, who both sat slumped over the round table.

Straightening, Xander shrugged and reached out a hand to pull Anya to her feet. She'd been lying on the floor beside his chair. "I don't know. Last thing I remember, we were sitting around talking about Dracula and his pit of women. Then. nothing."

Tara came out from the back room. She flipped on the light switched, revealing a large bruise that bloomed across her forehead. "Ouch," she said as she touched her f ace gingerly and sat down beside Willow. "What's going on? Someone do a spell or something?"

"I don't think so," Giles said, popping up from behind the counter. He smoothed his disheveled hair with quick, dignified swipes of his hand. "None of us were in the mood for spells after our day with Dracula."

"Then what?" With one finger, Buffy touched the puddle of melted wax below the candle's wick. "Look. Only a little bit melty. But I lit it this morning. It should've melted all the way out by now."

A loud groan came from near the stairs to the basement. Spike walked in, one hand pressed against his eyes. "What the bloody hell did you wankers do to me?"

"What's bleach boy doing here?" Xander said, shooting to his feet. He moved closer to Buffy. "Maybe he did this."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "He didn't do anything. Look, he's as freaked out as we are."

Squinting as he walked into the light, Spike smirked at Xander. "I didn't do a thing, but maybe you did. Heard you found Drac's bugs right tasty. Could be he's still around somewhere, pulling your strings like a puppet."

Xander's hands clenched into fists. "I. me. no. It wasn't me. And why are you even here?"

"Don't rightly know. It's not like I'd be hanging around for your precious company, that's for bloody sure." He looked around Xander, meeting Buffy's eyes. "You sure it's not Drac working behind the scenes?"

"No, I dusted him." Buffy's lips twitched up at the corners. "Then, he came back. And I dusted him again. And. well, maybe he's dusty, maybe not. But still, it wasn't Xander. He woke up here with us."

"Well, we're all unharmed, and that's the important thing." Giles smiled down at Willow, who was gesturing with wordless angst to Tara's bruise. "Mostly unharmed, that is. I don't know what could've caused this, but whatever it was, it's gone now. I best consult my books."

"It was magic," Tara said, glancing at Buffy as if unsure of how her words would be received. "But not like any spell I've ever felt before. Something. something farther away, but more intimate, too. I dunno, that sounds wrong, but. it's like it is familiar and strange at the same time."

Raising her eyebrows, Buffy nodded slowly. "Uh-huh. Okay." She turned to Giles, who was pulling books off the shelf. "You do the research. Will, Xander, you'll help him? I've gotta get home and check on Dawn and Mom."

"We still don't know why Spike's hanging around. What was he doing in the basement anyways? Stealing. Stealing our stuff, our magickey stuff." Xander pointed his finger in Spike's face, jabbing him in the nose. "Pay up, or I'll."

Buffy shoved Xander away from Spike with a hard sweep of her arm. "You'll do nothing," she said. "Back off, Xander. I'm not going to let you hurt him. Back off right now." Sticking her body between his and Spike's, she reached back and took Spike's hand. The movement was so smooth and without premeditation, she felt like she'd done it a hundred times before. And by the cool pressure of Spike's fingers wrapped around hers, she knew he felt the same.

The air in the room seemed to thicken as everyone gaped at Buffy. Spike and Xander, wearing identical, jaw-dropped expressions, looked at each other in confusion.

"Did you really just do that?" Xander said in shock.

Spike dropped her hand, his eyes wide. "Defending me now, Slayer? And touching me?"

Willow and Tara exchanged a baffled glance. "Buffy," Willow said in reproof. "What are you doing?"

Confused, Buffy shook her head. "I. I don't know." She closed her eyes and leaned against the counter, pressing one hand against her chest. "Something wrong. I. I don't feel right. I feel."

Giles dropped his books and rushed to her side. Placing one hand flat on her back, he helped her over to the round table and lowered her into a chair. "Back off, everyone. Give her room to breathe."

"No, no. I'm fine. I just. for a minute there, I." Opening her eyes, she grimaced. For a minute, I felt something for Spike. But there's no way I'm telling them that. "I'm fine. Just. dizzy. Yeah. Dizzy. Go on, go do research and stuff. I'm just. fine."

Xander knelt at her feet, looking up into her face. "You sure? For a second there, I thought you were gonna take my head off.. For Spike. All I was doing was."

"I know," she said, cutting him off. Standing, she pushed away from them and walked to the front part of the store. "I just. hey. Where'd Spike go?"

"He took off when you closed your eyes." Xander snorted and took a few steps towards her. "Just like him, huh? When the going gets tough, the tough get. no, 'cause he's not that tough. I meant, when the going gets. I mean. Well, he's gone. Took off like the coward he is."

Her face flushed, and she'd marched three strides towards Xander before she realized what she was doing. What she was feeling. Anger, defensiveness. she wanted to hurt Xander for saying those things about Spike. But Spike. he was the enemy, not Xander. God, what's wrong with me? Feelings? For Spike?.

The Scoobies stared at her with concern. Willow stood and moved towards her slowly, her hands outstretched. "Buffy? Why don't you go home, check on your family. Maybe take a nap? You look a little."

"Psychotic." Xander gestured pointedly to Buffy's hand, which still tingled with the memory of Spike's skin. "You held hands with that. that thing."

Her face snapped shut on all expression. She looked at him with bleak eyes. "I know. Umm. a nap. That's a good plan, Will. I'll. just.. go now."

They watched her leave, and when the door banged shut, Xander turned to face the group. He shook his head. "What was that all about?"

Before anyone could respond, the bell above the door jingled and Riley strode into the room. "What's wrong with Buffy?" he asked, stopping in front of Xander.

Xander shrugged. "Good question."

"She rushed right by me, like she didn't even see me. I said hi to her, but. nothing. I wasn't even a blip on her radar screen."

"Maybe that's because she's blipping Spike."

Letting out a laugh, Riley started to tell Xander not to even joke about such a thing, but the laugh died as he saw the seriousness on Xander's face. "Spike. You can't be right about that. There's no way Buffy would ever.. Not with Spike."

"Yeah? Well, just a minute ago, she was ready to go all Slayer-happy on my ass protecting him."

"So? That doesn't mean anything. She's the Slayer. She protects the helpless, even worthless monsters like Spike. We don't get to judge her for that- it's her calling, not ours." Riley looked at the rest of the Scoobies, who were watching him closely. "What happened here?"

Willow took a step closer to Riley, her eyes soft with pity and confusion. "I don't think Buffy's 'blipping' anyone. but you, of course., but something *is* up with her and Spike." Her voice dropped to a tender whisper. "She. she held his hand. Just took it up in hers, like she'd done it a hundred times before. Like they were."

Working his jaw, Xander glared at Willow, cutting off her words. He put a hand on Riley's arm. "Spike's done something to her. A spell or something. Things went all magicky in here right before she made with the Spike-ick. He needs to be taken down, man."

Riley, his face flushing with anger as their words sank in, pushed an anxious hand through his hair and turned to leave.

"Where are you g-going?" Tara called, chewing her lip.

Xander's mouth raised in a half-smile. "Spike hangs out at that bar on the bad side of town. It's a demon bar, called Sparky's."

Riley barely acknowledged them. "I'm going now."

"Where?" Tara repeated.

"Hunting," he said shortly and left, letting the door slam behind him.

*****



He was running down a jungle path, chasing something or someone he could not see in the darkness. Leaves slapped his bare thighs, mud squished between his toes, but being naked seemed natural, as did the chase. When he fell, he landed hard on the path and slid in the mud on his rear. A voice rose behind him, the sound of laughter met his ears, and he closed his eyes as a small pair of hands touched his back. They curved around his shoulders and slid down his chest, warm and smooth, titillating, familiar.

"Spike." The woman said his name in a thick murmur, again and again as her hands moved over his chest to his back, then around his waist. Thin fingers danced over his hip bones, traced the hollows.

He gasped at the feel of her pressed up against his back. She was naked too, he knew, and muddy, and completely intoxicated him with her nearness. Pulling her around, he sat her in his lap, clutched her against his chest, and breathed in the scent of her hair. She smelled of flowers and of him, his scent on her hair as if imprinted there from years of closeness.

Inhaling deeper, he rubbed his mouth over her forehead. "Buffy," he whispered. "Oh god, Buffy."

Awakening slowly, Spike turned his face into the cold stone of the crypt sarcophagus on which he slept, as though it held the warmth of the golden skin and strong, small arms he'd dreamed of being wrapped in. The smell of crushed flowers, of jungle trees and something deeper invaded his senses, underlying the memory of her lips pressed against his, her hands on the skin of his back, drawing him closer, drawing him inside her body.

He sat up, his eyes wide with amazement. "Oh god," he rasped, raking his fingers through his hair. His tongue dashed over his lips, and he could still taste her there, sweet and tangy. Buffy taste. But I've never. "God, no. Not again."

Shrugging on his duster, he swept out of the crypt into the darkness of the empty streets. The lights of his favorite bar shined in front of him like a beacon of safety- the one place in town he could be sure the Slayer would never be. He couldn't face her, not when he could still feel her on his skin, in places she'd never touched.

"Sssssspike," said the serpentine barman as Spike walked in and down past the long row of stools. "Your tab."

"Not now," he growled without pausing and pushed open the door to the back room.

Inside, three demons sat at a round table, playing cards. Spike barely looked at them. He flopped down on one of the metal folding chairs, pulled out his flask, and drank long and deep.

"Hey, Spike," Clem said. He exchanged a nervous glance with the female vampire sitting across from him. "You want to play?"

Gulping, he swiped the back of his hand over his mouth and tipped his head in affirmation. "Yeah. Cut me in."

Clem cut the deck and started to deal. "You sure you're up for this tonight? You don't look well."

"Don't I? Well, it's no wonder." Frowning, he took another swig from his flask, and scooped up the cards dealt to him. Sorting them, he said, "You wouldn't believe the dream I had."

"A bad dream?" Clem gave a little shudder. "I have nightmares, sometimes. Once, I dreamed that I was lost in this huge block of swiss cheese, trying to get out by climbing through the holes, but only getting more and more lost until I started to eat my way out, and then, well. it got pretty gross."

"No, not a cheese dream," Spike said with gritty patience. "It was. hot."

Clem relaxed a little. "Was it the one where Drusilla's a human and."

"Who's Drusilla?" asked the other vampire idly as she picked at her long, painted nails.

Casting a wary glace at Spike from the corner of his eyes, Clem leaned towards her and whispered behind his hand, "His ex. With a capital X."

"Not Dru," Spike said, tossing a card onto the table. "Haven't dreamed about her in ages. No, it couldn't be that simple. Not for ole Spike, you understand."

"Oooohh," Clem said, his eyes widening as he started to understand. "You had another dream about the S-"

"Yeah, her," Spike interrupted, glaring at Clem and nodding towards the vampire.

"Don't worry on my account," she said, her voice drawling with boredom. "Word's out about you and the Slayer. Everyone knows you've switched teams."

Color rose in Spike's face. Grinding his teeth, he started to rise to his feet, a denial hot on his lips, when the strange demon sitting beside him put a calming hand on his forearm.

"Yeah?" Spike said, taking in the demon's strange appearance. Not a demon, he decided, but couldn't quite figure out how he knew that. He took another drink, slowly, giving the creature time to realize he was messing with someone dangerous, chipped or not. "Something you want?"

With a hapless smile, the creature said, "No, vampire, not me. It's you who's wanting something. Or. someone."

He snorted, incredulous. "I don't *want* her. Except in the very, very dead sense. It was just a dream, you nit. A dream, that's all."

Blinking his red eyes solemnly, the creature tossed his cards down on the table. "A dream, you say, and yes, it was that. But what creates such dreams in a vampire?"

"Nothing. There's nothing between us but bloodlust."

"Lust is a part of every love, true. And love it is, or the memory of such a love, driven to the depths of your dead soul's shadow by something nearly as powerful as what it's hiding. But love is not something trivial, to be put on and taken off at will. Love is physical. It's as much a part of your body as your bones and blood. Shut off from memory, it lives within you still."

Spike narrowed his eyes, confused but also intrigued. "You want to start making some kind of sense?"

"I never thought it right, the love between the Slayer and her vampire. Never, until I saw the greatness, the rightness of their passion."

"What are you talking about?" Clem shook his head, making the folds of loose skin jiggle. "No Slayer's ever loved a vampire. Unless you mean Angel, but he doesn't really count, having a soul and all."

"This vampire had no soul. Only the love of a good woman and the will to hold onto her, to keep the purity of joy he found in the life she led him to."

Snorting, Spike folded up his hand and snapped the cards, sending them flying. "Sounds like a fable to me. A tall tale to help the kiddies sleep tight in their coffins. 'Be a good little vampire and maybe you'll meet a Slayer on a white horse someday. She'll wisk you away to her castle and you'll live happily ever after. Bloody hell. You're nuts."

"This is no tale. This is what I remember, what my fairy-mind holds as the truth." Leaning back in his folding chair, the creature met Spike's eyes. "You should listen to me, vampire. You should remember. Remember."

"Remember what? I'm a demon. She's the Slayer. That's all there is to remember." Spike's voice held no sarcasm.

"You know what you should remember. Your unconscious throws it back at you in your sleep."

His mouth softened as he remembered his dream. The smell of her hair, the warmth of her body. it was almost too intense a thought to hold. "I'm a demon," he repeated, but his voice was too quiet to hold weight.

Before the creature could respond, the door was flung open and Riley crashed into the room. He honed in on Spike, ignoring the others. "Stand up," he growled, his hands doubling into fists. "You think you're man enough for Buffy? Get up and fight like one!"

Smirking, Spike scooted his chair back from the table. "You're late, soldier boy. Not two seconds ago, I was telling the blokes here that I'm too demon for the Slayer. Toddle off now, eh? Got cards to play, and you're not invited."

"Get. up." Riley ground out, "or I will get you up."

"Or you will 'get me up'? What kind of a threat is that?" Spike's bravado slipped a little at the sight of the stake Riley pulled from the back of his waistband. "Or, okay, it wasn't that bad."

"Up!" Riley grabbed him by the front of his shirt and shoved him up against the wall. Pulling the stake out, he reared his arm back and shoved it into Spike's chest, stopping just short of his heart. Breathing hard, he twisted it, holding Spike up as the vampire suppressed a groan. "You think you can mess with her? Make her touch you?"

"What. are you talking. about." Spike wheezed, trying to stay still.

"Xander told me everything, Spike. You put a spell on her. Made her protect you."

"Harris is a wanker, always has been. He doesn't know jack about spells, or about me. Or about Buffy for that matter, but-" He pressed his lips together. True as it was, telling Riley he didn't know jack about the Slayer was a bad plan at the moment.

"She held your hand. Buffy wouldn't do that, not unless you did something to her." Riley tightened his hand on the stake. "Start talking, Spike. Tell me how to undo it."

"Undo what? There is no sodding spell!"

Taking a sharp breath, Riley nodded. "Fine. Have it your way. Whatever hold on Buffy you have, I'm sure it'll break when I kill you."

Spike started to struggle, but Riley slammed his head against the wall, stunning him into half-consciousness. Behind them, Clem stood up, but Riley sensed the movement and said, "Stay back, all of you. No one else'll get hurt if you just. stay back."

Clem sank back onto his chair. "The Slayer wouldn't want you to kill him. He helps her. They're. like partners or something."

Slamming Spike's head back again, Riley said, "They are *not* partners." He tore the stake from Spike's chest and reared his arm back, ready to strike.

"Riley, stop," Buffy said, rushing into the room and kicking the stake out of Riley's hand. Tara came in behind her and hung back by the doorway. "Let go of him."

"Buffy," Riley said, dropping Spike to the ground. He rubbed his hand. "That hurt."

Buffy knelt beside Spike, helping him to sit. She looked up at Riley with a furious glare. "What do you think you're doing? You were going to stake him? Why? He's defenseless, helpless."

"Why are you defending him? You know he put a spell on you. God only knows what he's got planned."

Tara side-stepped into the room, avoiding the female vampire who ran out the door. She gave an uneasy glace at Clem and the other creature, then moved closer to Buffy. "There was no spell. A-at least, not cast by Spike. He's not adept enough to do magick of that level."

"See? He's too. he's just Spike, Riley."

"Yeah," Spike said sarcastically, his head lolling dizzily to one side as he sat with his back against the wall. "Harmless ole me."

"You. shut up," Buffy hissed. The urge to touch his hair ran through her like electricity; she folded her tingling hands together. "Just. hush, okay? I'll get you home."

Riley's eyebrows shot up. "You're taking him back to his crypt? Don't you think that's a bit. friendly?"

"I think you need to back off and go home. We're fine, no thanks to your testosterone poisoning." She stood and pulled Spike up with her, supporting him with an arm around his waist. "Call me tomorrow, if you're over this. If not, well." She brushed past him towards the door, not knowing how to finish her sentence.

"Wait!" cried the creature. He jumped up from the table and ran over to Buffy. Bowing deeply, he grinned at her. "Happy greetings, Slayer."

"O-kay?" she said uncertainly. "And you are?"

"A friend of yours, always, mistress. And his friend as well," the creature said, touching Spike's arm with an enormous hand.

"Friends are good. Really. But we have to go now," she said, starting forward.

"Wait!" The creature stood on his toes, making himself tall enough to whisper in Spike's ear. "Vampire?"

"Yeah?"

"The flower shop on Market street. They have orchids. The Slayer's favorite." The creature pressed his fingers into Spike's bicep and, nodding to Buffy, let them pass.



*****



Saying goodbye to Tara, Buffy walked slowly as she half-carried Spike down the street towards his cemetery. "You're heavier than you look," she said, trying not to trip over the curb as they made their way onto the sidewalk. Her arm was wound tightly around his waist. He'd managed to sling one arm over her shoulders, and she held it there with a firm grasp on his hand.

Looking at her sideways, Spike said, "I'm not a weakling, despite what you told Finn."

Meeting his gaze was too intense. She dropped her eyes to the sidewalk. "Who's getting carried home?"

"Let's see how well you walk after someone bashed your head into a wall."

They walked in silence for a few minutes, neither of them able to find any words strong enough to cut through the energy that cocooned them together on the dark street. Emotions rose and fell in Buffy's chest. She shook her head, trying to make herself focus on what was real instead of the insanity taking place inside of her.

Spike finally couldn't take the silence anymore. He stopped walking, making Buffy stop as well. "What's happening to us?"

"I don't know. But I don't think it's a spell. At least, that's not what's making me feel like this. I can't explain how I know, except." She blushed.

"We've been there, done that, before. Red's spell felt different. This feel's. older, somehow."

"Realer," Buffy muttered.

"That's not a word, pet. But yeah, more real." He tightened his grip on her hand instead of asking the words that pounded inside of him. Could this be real? Could we really love each other?

Feeling his fingers squeeze, she held him more firmly around the waist. His bleached head rested briefly against her shoulder. The pleasure of his closeness swept over her; amazed and dazed, she closed her eyes. "This is bad. That's what I should say. That's what I should feel. But it doesn't feel bad. It feels. yeah, like you said. Old. Like we've been. like this, for a long time."

"So, now what?"

Turning her face into his hair for the length of a heartbeat, she felt her muscles relax. Something about him put her at ease. Realizing it was a mixture of his nearness, the feel of his hand in hers, and the softness of his hair, she let out a sigh of confusion. "I don't know what to do. About you, about the way I'm feeling. even about my friends. Xander's back at the Magic Box thinking that I'm gonna kill him if he touches you, and really, that's how I felt. I would've stopped him, hurt him. for you. He's probably hating me about now. And Riley." She sighed again. "God. What am I going to do about Riley?"

Spike nuzzled his head against hers, but only once, only so lightly they could both pretend he hadn't. "Forget your mates, Buffy. Forget your. Riley. They're not feeling what we are. It's not their. their fight. Their dance. We have to figure out what to do now. Just us, not them."

"I don't know what to do. All I know is. this. Here, with you. And that it's good, somehow."

Her hair brushed over his face and he took in her scent. It made him shudder with memory. She smells like flowers and. like me. Impossible, but true. "Alright then. Come on, let's go."

"That's the wrong way," she said, frowning with concern. "You're hurt that bad? You don't know where you're going?"

"We're making a little stop first," he said, offering her a smile that widened when she returned it.

"Where at?"

"Market Street."