DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
SUMMARY:  Xander has found a lead for the Scooby gang but is stuck keeping an eye on Dawn, while Buffy is working on the plan to get her and Spike out of Daymon's hold.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Due to FanFiction.net's decision to no longer host NC-17 stories, I am posting this as an R-rated continuation of The Hunt.  For those interested in the NC-17 version (including the first 10 chapters), please see my bio for the sites where it may be found.  For the thrust of the story, there are very few changes; only the addition of more graphic sexual content will differentiate the two.

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

Her foot tapped impatiently against the air, beating out an imaginary staccato rhythm, and she sighed as she flipped the page of the book.  No one had come into the shop in over an hour, and Anya was beginning to regret telling Xander to go ahead and take Dawn home.  "Go on," she'd said.  "We can't have sex after we close with her here anyway."  Stupid boy.  Since when he did start listening to her?

Giles had left explicit instructions before he'd left.  "The replacement copy of the Tract of Telemus arrived yesterday," he'd said.  "Please look it over, see if you can find anything regarding the Hound." 

"It's a little late for research, isn't it?" she'd argued.  "They've already got Buffy."  The dirty look he'd shot her made her shut up, but for a fleeting moment, Anya had wished she could just cast one more spell, something that would maybe give Giles an unfortunate horn, or temporary uncontrollable giggles, or pustules along his…

The telephone ring cut through the hush of the store and Anya jerked upright as her hand snatched it up.  "Good evening, Magic Box," she chirped into the receiver.  Her smile vanished.  "For the sixth time tonight, this is not Sombrero Ole!"  The force as she slammed down the phone reverberated the countertop, sending the book skittering over the edge onto the floor.  "Damn it," she muttered, and bent over to pick it up.

Her fingers froze over the page, hovering just inches from the paper, as the image stared back at her.   Oh shit, she thought.  Where the hell is Giles when you need him?  As she scanned the tiny script, her mouth silently forming some of the words, the line between her eyes deepened.  We should've known about this sooner, she worried.  Without even bothering to pick up the book, she hopped off her stool and scurried over to the ladder.  "Please be there, please be there," she intoned.

At the sight of the books stacked up in the corner of the loft, Anya sighed.  I told Giles he needed to go through these.  I'm never going to find it now.  But she was wrong.  There it was, right on top, almost begging her to pick it up.  Its emerald leather seemed to gleam under the fluorescents, the gold lettering glittering in anticipation.  She hesitated.  I could be wrong, she thought, then laughed out loud.  Good one, Anya.

It was right where she thought it would be, tucked between the entry about the Grand Evisceration and the one with the dream trolls.  Without the Tract of Telemus, there would've been no way for them to connect the dots.  But still…the ex-demon bit her lip as she re-read the passage.  Giles needed to know about this as soon as possible, although having known yesterday would definitely have been better.  With him and the witches out in the desert, however, there was nothing that could happen until morning.

Straightening, she shut the book and tucked it under her arm.  Morning it is then, she thought.  Maybe Xander will still be awake when I get home…

***********

"Is there a reason we couldn't do this in the morning?" Willow asked.

Giles glanced at her reflection in his rear-view mirror before looking back at the Sunnydale street before him.  "We've lost a day already," he replied.  "We really must be expeditious in this."  He frowned, glancing at her again.  "Are you all right?  Not feeling ill, are you?"

"Oh, no," said Willow.  "Haven't had a headache for, oh---."  She glanced at her watch.  "---twenty minutes now."  Next to her Tara smiled reassuringly, squeezing her lover's knee.

"I don't foresee any problem with casting the spell," Giles continued.  "The weather promises to be clear, and being so near the full moon, we should have fair enough illumination."

In the back seat of the car, the redhead slumped, her arms folded across her chest, and muttered, "Sure, for being miles from civilization, surrounded by crazed wild animals."

"Pardon?"

Willow sighed.  "I'm sorry, Giles.  Just not feeling like ra-ra girl for Operation Desert Spell.  I mean, yeah, it's great we finally have some info to get Buffy, but being out past the Lookout, in the middle of the night, with the full moon so soon…it's just giving me the ooglies."

Tara leaned over and whispered in her girlfriend's ear.  "What's so bad about the Lookout?"

From the front seat came, "They're just old wives' tales.  Nothing for us to be concerned about."

Willow waited until the Watcher was through the red light, concentrating on the traffic ahead of him again before leaning conspiratorially into Tara.  "The Lookout is named after this Spanish woman who supposedly ran away from her husband when he murdered their children.  She hid in the caves, only coming out at night to hunt for food and water, and eventually went crazy and started attacking anyone who trespassed.  They built the covered bridge to act as a kind of marker, so that people would know where Cortina's land started and keep away."

The car had come to a stop again and the girls heard Giles mutter, "Load of rubbish."

"Oh, I don't know," Tara argued.  "It sounds to me like it could've happened."

"No," Giles replied.  "I mean literally, a load of rubbish."  He pointed to the dumpster that had been overturned in the street, blocking any cars from passing.

"I guess that means we'll just have to try again in the morning," Willow chirped.  "Darn the awful luck."

Giles frowned at her in his mirror.  "A small detour, perhaps," he chided.  "If you insist on relating that silly story, at least tell it in its entirety."

"There's more?"  A wide-eyed Tara looked at her partner expectantly.

Willow squirmed against the leather seat.  "Oh, just silly details," she evaded.  "Nothing of the important."

"Come now, tell her how the children were killed."
There was no escaping the withering tone of his voice.  "…The husband ate them."

"And what happened to the bones?"

"…Cortina stole them…"

"And…?

"And…used them to dig out the caverns."  Her voice was getting smaller with each response and she seemed to be shrinking in her seat.

"Which housed…?" 

"…The bodies of the children she kidnapped to ease her loneliness."  Willow had shaded a deep red with each admission, embarrassed at the absurdity of it all.

"Like I said, old wives' tales," Giles stated.  "Fiction created by worried parents to scare children from exploring caves that could very likely prove to be dangerous if they were to get lost."

Tara snuggled against Willow's shoulder, one arm looped through her girlfriend's, with her free hand stroking the redhead's knee.  "It's OK," she soothed.  "The story gives me the ooglies, too."

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

They'd opened the curtains as soon as the sun had set.  From where he was situated, Spike could see the near-full moon hanging in the velvet sky, the promise of her chilly caress filtering through the window.  It framed Buffy in silver as she stood looking out over the desert, and the vampire couldn't stop the smile relaxing his features.  God, she was magnificent. 

A simple silhouette against the glass, the Slayer's body was an insurgence of muscular curves.  Although Daymon's men had brought up a change of clothing for her, she still wore the tank and trousers she'd arrived in.  One look at the long skirt and high-necked blouse her captor had chosen and Buffy hadn't been able to control her laughter, joking about some bird named Ingalls before tossing the outfit into the corner.  Just as well, Spike thought.  Can't very well kick their ass if you're tripping over your knickers.

"Are you ready?"  A mere man wouldn't have heard Buffy's question, but the vamp had no problem picking it up, even with her back to him.

"I think I got it, Slayer," he said sarcastically.  "Not exactly brain surgery here."

She glanced back, more at the room then at Spike, and he tilted his head to try and see her features better.  "You're right," she murmured.  "Sorry."  Stepping away from the window, she perched herself on the edge of the bed.  "You comfortable enough?"

The vampire chuckled.  "You've got me tied to a chair," he replied, shaking his head.  "What do you bloody think?"  He expected some kind of reaction---anything, really---but Buffy seemed light years away.  "Hello?"  Nothing.  "Look, Buffy, this Houdini of yours kinda relies on you being present and accounted for, not roaming off in some mind field.  At least if you're going to bail on the plan, let me rip these off and have a good stretch before we turn in."  He shook the makeshift ties that bound his wrists behind the chair.

That seemed to wake the Slayer up.  "Nice try, Spike," she said dryly.  "You know this won't work if they think you're a real threat."

"Could you rub that in a wee bit more, luv?  'Cause I don't think I'm feeling low enough just yet."  He grimaced.  "And you tied me up too tight.  I'm losing my circulation."

She rolled her eyes.  "Spike, you don't have any circulation."  But she rose anyway, crossing to behind the chair.  The vamp could feel her loosen his bonds and wished for a moment that Daymon hadn't bothered bringing up another shirt for him.  Right about now, he would've done just about anything to feel her hands on his shoulders, massaging his neck, maybe a little kiss here, a little bite there…

"I need to know, Spike," Buffy was saying.  "Do you really believe in all that choice mumbo-jumbo?"  She hovered behind him, the heat of her body burning through the chair, his shirt, searing his back, until he had to consciously fight the urge to rip his bindings and just grab her.

"Well, yeah," he said.  "Sometimes fate steps in, decides to change the specials on you, but doesn't mean you don't get left with a new menu."

Stepping around, the Slayer stood in front of the bound vampire.  She wouldn't meet his eyes; instead, her attention seemed transfixed by the edge of the bandage just visible beneath the collar of his shirt and unconsciously, her own fingers began to play with the bandage now on her own neck.  "You think that's why your chip didn't go off?  Because I specifically chose to save you?"

Finally, she was making sense.  He knew where her head was now, and in spite of her earlier protestations, it wasn't on the plan.  Spike's head tilted, his tongue running along his teeth as he contemplated how he should answer.  Should he remind her that it had taken her nearly an hour after Daymon had left to even think about covering up the bite mark?  Or maybe he should tell her that, even after everything that had happened over the past two days---the potion, the fight, the fever, her saving him---she still glowed as if from some inner light?  "Think the answer to that one's fairly obvious," he finally replied.  "My bite didn't hurt you.  No hurt, no headache.  Simple as that."

Buffy finally met his gaze, and Spike was surprised by the darkness he found there.  "But why didn't it hurt me?"  The distress in her voice echoed in the room, beckoning the vampire for his aid.  This is just eating her up, he thought sadly.  "Well, let's look at this logically," he mused.  "I wasn't exactly your first vamp, now was I?"

"No…"

"And did it hurt with the poofter?"  No way was Spike going to say the name; didn't want to break the spell.

"That was different…"  But he could tell that even she didn't really believe that either.

"And then there was good ol' Drac."

She stiffened.  "Totally not responsible for that one.  He had that whole thrall thing going."

"Yeah, that's Brood Boy's specialty.  Question is, did it hurt?"

There was a long pause as she remembered her encounter with the Dark Prince, and Spike noted with satisfaction the tiny wrinkle in her nose.  Not all peaches and cream, he thought.  Good.  "Yes, I think it did," Buffy finally admitted.  "Parts of that night are still blurry, like I wasn't really there, so I can't say for sure about the whole thing, but yeah, definitely in the beginning."  She glanced away.  "That still doesn't answer my question."

"Yes, it does, Slayer."  No way was he going to let her run away from it now, not when she was so close to finally admitting the truth. 

Whether they acknowledged them or not, the words hung between them, palpable in the cooling air.  It makes you mine…They still smoldered, scarlet embers in Buffy's head that threatened to flare up in rebellion against her common sense, rekindling the desire she'd been struggling to control ever since that damn dream.  So he's sexy, she argued silently.  A leather jacket can make just about anybody look good.  Except it wasn't the coat and she knew it…

The short knock at the door shattered their fragile truce, and Buffy straightened up, all thoughts of whys and sex and Spike shuttling to the back of her brain as the plan came rushing forward.  "It's showtime," she said firmly, her jaw jutting out as her body automatically steeled itself for battle. 

In the chair, the blond vampire ducked his eyes so that she couldn't see the hope that flickered in their depths.  Any time now, luv, he thought.  Any time…

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

The streets of Sunnydale were nearly deserted as Dawn and Xander strolled down the sidewalk.  In spite of the clear sky, the brisk air meant the teenager was huddled in her light jacket, hands thrust deep into her pockets.

"…and so Robin, she told Mike that he was a big douche baby, which only made him madder, so---."  Dawn's seemingly endless saga of the trials and tribulations of a junior high student were cut short by a very loud sneeze.

"Gesundheit," said Xander.  "You're not coming down with anything, are you, Dawnster?"

"No," she replied.  "Just a little cold."  She hugged her coat even closer.

"Here."  Shrugging the brown mac from his shoulders, Xander slipped it over the teenager's, who snuggled into it gratefully.

"Aren't you going to get cold?"  Dawn asked, stuffing her hands in the pockets.

"Nope.  Got a tiny little motor inside me, keeps me all toasty warm."

"What's this?"  The cellophane crackled as she pulled it out of the jacket.  "Giles let you keep one?"

Reaching over, Xander plucked the cigar from the young girl's fingers.  "Oh, sure," he answered.  "It's not like he needed---."  He caught himself just in time.  "---all of them."

Dawn's face brightened.  "Can we smoke it?"

"I think not, oh ye of the minority under-age."  He grinned.  "But since I am very much a major, I do believe I'll give it a go."  Ripping the plastic off, Xander popped the cigar into his mouth.  "I don't suppose you've got a match?"

"Ummm, no."  A giggle escaped her lips, followed quickly by another.

"What?"  He reached up, touched his face, trying to figure out what so funny, only to set Dawn off into more laughter.  "Glad to hear you happy, but do you care to share in the source of your merriment?"

"Your fingers," she sputtered.  "And…your face…"  Her laughter was starting to drift down the street as it grew louder, but she seemed oblivious to it.

Glancing down at his hands, Xander saw the black streaks on the fingers that had been touching the cigar.  "Oh, just great," he muttered.  To Dawn, he said, "It's on my face, too, isn't it?"

She nodded wordlessly, still smiling, and pulled out a compact from her inside pocket.  "Well, that's twenty bucks I'll never see again," Xander complained once he saw his reflection.  On the teenager's quizzical look, he added, "Anya and I had a bet that I wouldn't look stupid if I tried to smoke it."

"Oh."  She was about to make a comment about how Groucho Marx-ian he appeared when a low growl from behind them caused the pair to stiffen.  "Xander?" she said in a small voice.  "Please tell me that was your stomach."

"Unless it's floating above our heads behind us, Dawn, I'm going to have to disappoint you on this one."  Very slowly, he turned around.

On the sidewalk in front of him, the Hound crouched on its hindquarters, effectively blocking the way.  Its tiny eyes glowed crimson in the streetlights, and Xander audibly swallowed.  He slid over so that his body shielded Dawn's, not that it would take more than a second to get past him should the demon dog choose to attack anyway, but he was at least going to make the effort.

"I wish Buffy was here," the teenager whispered, her eyes wide.

The shadows behind the Hound seemed to solidify, grow stronger, paler, until the form of a tall woman stepped forward, stopping at the dog's side.  "Perhaps I can help you with that," Celie offered.

To be continued in Part 12…