Spike reached down and held his hand out for Buffy to take, his other clinging to the sheer rock face of the mountain they were traversing. Buffy reached up and their palms slapped together. Spike grunted slightly as he lifted her off her feet and swung her slim form up and onto the ledge above his head.
“Gah, I think I left my stomach a few feet below me,” Buffy complained as she squeezed her fingers into the nooks and crannies of the rock face to hang on. “Can you see how much more of this we have to climb?” She blotted the sweat dripping off her nose onto her shoulder. Her body was tired, muscles screaming for respite as she clung to the slate rock face.
Spike squinted up into the waning sunlight and took an unnecessary breath. “Best I figure, another two hundred odd feet. Next time we do this, we pack rope, lots of rope and those pointy things that you stick into the sheer rock face and tie yourself to. Because this free climbing is enough to make a man lose bladder control.” He shrugged. “Well, if a bloke used his, that is.” Spike reached up and began to slowly climb the remaining distance to the small ledge he’d deposited the slayer on.
“Sheeyeah,” Buffy agreed shakily. Her fingers welded into the cliff face and her eyes were scrunched shut. The wind whipped her hair into a halo of wheaten gold, curls surrounded her flushed cheeks as she pressed her body as close to the rock as she could. Seriously, the giant had been hard enough to fight, but climbing up the near vertical mountain was draining her reserves. They had made camp near the beanstalk, spending the evening dressing wounds, eating, resting and holding each other. Well, after she’d made Spike wash everything including himself in the freezing stream near their camp. Sheer exhaustion had forestalled anymore conversation. Instead, she had curled up into his arms and fallen gratefully asleep.
The next day had been quiet and undisturbed by dangers, which had given them time to discuss and digest all of Anya and Giles’s revelations. Both of them were worried about Dawn’s disappearance and the ramifications of what would happen when they found her psyche and woke her up. Where exactly would she wake up, and with whom watching over her and how could they get to her to protect her? All these things were argued over and over, analysed as they had made their way to the base of the mountain and began to climb.
“Pet, you’re going to have to open your eyes at some point. It’s getting knackering worrying about you and trying to do a respectable Spiderman interpretation.” Spike grunted and pulled himself up next to her. His eyes softened with concern. “Come on, love. You’re doing so well, we just need to shuffle along the ledge and we’re up and away.”
Buffy shook her head, her lips pressed together tightly as her chin quivered; she was working on her last nerve. The last few days, in what she’d originally thought were Dawn’s dreams but in fact was some weirdass fairyland realm, had worn her out. The constant fighting of baddies, hiking and worrying about her sister all added up to Close To Meltdown Buffy. The only good make that amazing thing that had happened was the vampire that was slowly edging his body over hers and melting against her, offering silent comfort and support. His muscled form contoured against hers and she let out a shuddering laughing sigh and let herself lean back slightly. His chin tucked over her shoulder as she pressed her cheek to his, the cool strength of his body over hers giving her comfort, shelter and safety that felt like pure perfection.
“Thank you,” she whispered and turned her head to brush a sweet kiss along his sharp cheekbone. Spike inhaled deeply at the sensation of her soft lips on his skin. He’d taken a risk fitting his body over hers but it’d been worth it, just for this single timeless moment.
“Ready?” he asked softly, his close proximity allowed her to hear his voice over the wind. Buffy nodded and took a deep breath, bracing herself for the last leg of the climb.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
Spike slithered over her and took the lead. He shot her a sheepish grin and began to move along the thin ledge, his hand over hers as they made their slow painstaking way up the mountain to the plateau they had agreed to make camp on for the night.
“Not far now, pet. Keep going no matter what, right?”
Buffy gave him a thin smile. “No matter what,” she echoed bravely and opened her eyes.
Ole curled up tight in a small ball, hoping by making himself smaller that she would stop toying with him. He had crawled as close as he could to where the young girl lay trapped in her enchanted sleep, pushing himself practically under the Chaise. His body was far too weak to offer any threat to the evil fairy; he had barely been able to move as far as he had.
She had left him battered and bleeding with a cold laugh. Blaming him, over and over, for all her failures to prevent the two blondes’ passage through her abandoned realm. The evil fairy had convinced herself in her panic and madness that somehow Ole was communicating with them, warning them and assisting them in their battles. He wished he was, but in reality he was powerless to do anything but be a punching bag, an easy target for her venom to be vented upon.
Maleficent had beaten and tortured him for hours after she witnessed the death of the Giant, the one being she had been positive would’ve killed the girl and her companion. Her screams of frustration at being unable to go back into her realm and deal with the two interlopers had echoed through the halls of her castle for hours. Her vanity and greed was simply too much for her to overcome; if she returned then her youth, power and beauty would dissipate the moment her feet touched the ground in her abandoned realm. Instead, she had taken out her frustrations on her captive, working her will until the early hours of the morning. Then she had finally left him alone after one final hard kick to his already shattered ribs, leaving him panting and near death with a malicious smile on her full lips. As she sauntered away, she grabbed her crystal ball and left muttering that from now on she would summon her supporters elsewhere, to ensure he could not do something to intervene.
“Oh lord, I cannot survive much longer,” Ole whimpered softly. He raised a shaking hand and grasped one of Dawn’s lax ones gently. He bowed his head against the side of the chaise, and began to weep. He was beginning to doubt that he could live long enough for the Slayer and the vampire to defeat Maleficent. He needed to be there to help with the long term effects of their enforced slumbers, but if this lasted any longer, he doubted he would he around to help.
“I need help. Strength to survive.”
Ole jerked in surprise as he felt the girl’s fingers twitch in his hand, as if offering silent support and giving him strength. He sighed and let his eyes flutter shut. He wished his brother could intervene, but he doubted that Ole-Luk-Oie could sense his brother’s pain. Maleficent had been nothing if not inventive with her magicks and concealment spells.
He bowed his head and began to pray for the slayer and the vampire.
“Are you staying there all night?” Spike squatted down next to Buffy.
He tentatively reached down and smoothed her hair off her face. She was laying face down on the ground, arms and legs splayed. Spike grinned at the sight of her collapsed and groaning about muscles aching in her butt and thighs. He manfully tried to ignore the firm heart-shaped backside that she was grumbling about – but failed miserably. Spike’s eyes drank their fill as he plopped down and sat cross legged next to her relaxed body. They had just managed to clamber up and over the edge of the cliff onto the plateau they had been aiming for and he had to admit his arms and legs were quivering from the work out they’d received.
Buffy rolled her head sideways and peered up at Spike. She huffed and flopped onto her back and stared up into the twilight sky. Here and there were the beginnings of the stars glimmering in the deep blue-grey heavens. “Seriously not gonna want to do that again in a hurry.” She reached over and patted Spike on the knee. “Can’t we just stay here forever?” she pouted.
Spike chuckled and shook his head. “Come pet, up you get.” He cajoled as he helped her up. Buffy squeaked as her muscles complained and she grabbed hold of Spike and steadying herself within his embrace. “My legs are all noodley.”
“S’all right, love, hang on to me.” Spike curved an arm around her waist and supported her against him while he shrugged off his backpack and then helped her with hers, tossing them to the side against the curve of the rock face that enclosed them. The plateau was about thirty meters long and carved out of the mountain in a U form; there was a narrow fissure in the centre that was the access to the mountain trail they would follow to the summit and the castle in the morning.
So engrossed in each other, the two of them failed to hear the skitter of rocks as their next adversaries sized them up from the safety of higher ground. Forty pairs of eyes watched as the two figures moved away from the cliff’s edge and scanned their surroundings. The silent observers slowly withdrew to prepare for their assault.
“So what, make camp here, and then tomorrow squeeze through there?” Buffy asked hopefully.
“Good, cos this Slayer has no more climbing left in her.” She grinned tiredly at him then froze. Her eyes narrowed at the sound of more shale skittering down the side of the rock face. “What was that?” Buffy scanned around them her senses on high alert. “Did you hear that?”
Spike stepped away from her side and peered into the twilight gloom. “Yeah, but where did it come from?” His eyes darted around trying to pinpoint the source of the noise. He extended his senses, trying to locate anything, a heart beat or the sound of breathing – there was nothing. “I can’t hear anything.”
Spike knelt and pulled out the two swords they had claimed from the Snow Queen and tossed one to Buffy. He then armed both of them with short daggers. As he straightened, the first one struck. It leapt from above them, leaving its five compatriots to watch and assess the skills of the ones they were sent to kill by the evil fairy that had raised them from the dead and ordered them to do her will.
“Ahh!” Buffy ducked and twisted out of the way. She brandished her sword and swung downwards, neatly slicing off the assailant’s head. “Gotcha.” When the body began to crawl towards its head, she squeaked. “Okay, so maybe I didn’t get yah!”
Spike kicked the turbaned severed head off the plateau and then reached down and turned the headless body over. “It stinks. What the bloody hell is it?”
“No idea, but there’s more of them up there.” Buffy pointed to the wall of rock that curved around them and tossed her head back. “How many can you see?”
“Four, no five.” Spike cocked his head and peered into the twilight gloom, his foot pressing down hard on the still animated body. “This one stinks of death and deep fat frying.”
“What, so now we’re being attacked by a horde of pissed off dead short order cooks?” Buffy squatted down and checked the clothing on the body, “who come from the Middle East?”
“Wot?” Spike reached down and yanked the body up. Holding it at arms length to avoid being thumped by the blindly swinging arms, he scanned it from-- well not head to foot -- but severed neck to foot. “He looks like a poof: silk shirt, beaded waist coat and harem pants. Really, what did he do? Get dressed in the dark?”
“Ookay, Mr Fashion Critic. Wanna get rid of your stinky buddy cos sorry for the cliché but, look behind you!” Buffy pointed at the fissure in the mountain.
“Right.” Spike punted the squirming body over the edge and shifted around to check what she was pointing at. “Effing hell, how many are there?”
“Loads. Get ready.”
The melee that ensued was not one of their most elegant fights. It was fists, swords, head butts and fangs all the way. They fought back to back, fighting defensively. Neither of them able to kill one of their opponents, which had led to Spike filling the night air with expletives that she had never heard of.
“Gross!” Buffy shook a severed hand off her ankle and twisted slightly to stand back to back with Spike. She swiped the intestines off Spike’s duster with a grimace. “Seriously, that duster is gonna have to go to the dry cleaners when we get home.”
“Not really a big issue. At this rate we are going to be snuffed out by a bunch of Arabian poofters.”
“What did you say?” Buffy grunted as she took yet another hit to her face; her lips already split and bleeding. She ignored the pain and impaled the short swarthy bearded freak and jerked downwards. They’d learned the hard way that gutting them was the only thing to slow them down.
“Oh my god, how many of them do you think there are?” Buffy shoved Spike to the left and ducked a scimitar blade, squeaking in surprise at her realisation.
“Dunno, thirty to forty…hang on.” Spike’s jaw dropped as his brain clicked into gear. “You’re bloody joking, right?”
“It’s the forty thieves, it has to be, but why are they all dead?”
Spike swirled on his heels, pushed Buffy down and before swinging his sword around them in a massive arc to buy her a moment’s breathing space. “Because in the fairytale they all got deep fried in hot oil. At least that’s how they all snuffed it according to that Schehrezade bint who was telling the tales to her husband so he wouldn't shag her and then off her in the morning.”
“So zombie thieves all coming after us. That fairy is just twisted. Spike, watch out!” She reached up and yanked him down next to her. A thief flew over their heads and her forehead creased in thought. “Hey, I know this one! Zombies – hmmm, think Buffy think. Ugh, stupid brain.”
“Christ, get up and fight,” Spike growled. The thieves circled around them, becoming a wall of sneering faces, half rotted and the rest of their skin clinging to their bones red and shiny. He didn’t like their odds at all; it was a wall of steel and Shish kebabed thieves. The two of them circled around back to back, scanning the crowd surrounding them. Blades held ready. “I’m sorry, pet. I don’t think we can get out of this.”
“I don’t think shouting wait at them is going to stop ‘em, Slayer.”
“No, not them, and hey—” She pinched him hard on the ass. “Don’t be so gloomy. I just had an idea.”
“Not getting any nearer to surviving here. Whatever it is you have spit it out, pet.”
“Okay, look for a mask.”
“What? A mask? Slayer, have you gone barking?”
“No idea what that means, but if you’re calling me a bitch we are sooo gonna have words later.”
“Barking means nuts.”
“Oh, right. Okay, I fought zombies before, these are zombies. The mask controls them. Break it and they all go poof.” Her words tripped over themselves as she feinted to the right to avoid a blade.
Spike squinted at the faces of the thieves. “Nope, nothing.”
“Gahhh, I sooo thought that was it. Last time I just slammed her in the face with a spade and no more icky crispy dead guys.” She stomped her foot and sighed heavily. “Ohhh, what about that? It looks kinda shiny for these crusty guys. Doesn’t go with the shabby not-so-chic look they have going for them.” Buffy pointed at one of the few thieves who wasn’t injured. He stood slightly to the back of the jeering mob, his eyes flat and dead. Around his throat hung a round emerald that glimmered despite the darkness that they were all fighting in.
“Well done, pet. Hang on, I’ll be back in a sec.” Spike bent his knees and then leaped upwards; he twisted over the heads of the ring of thieves in a barrel roll. Landing in front of the leader of the mob of zombies, he cocked his head on one side. “Pretty bauble and all, but I think I’ll have that.” His hand shot out and grabbed the emerald. He tossed it to the ground and raised his foot.
“Spike, hurry,” Buffy screamed as she disappeared under a heaving mass of bodies. “I’m getting swamped here.”
“Get your rotting scabby hands off my girl,” he bellowed and stomped the bauble to pieces.
There was a gust of wind and then each of the reanimated corpses collapsed, all animation gone as their weapons clattered to the ground in a ringing chorus of noise. The headless thief who he had kicked off the plateau had just managed to clamber up during the fight; his fingers had appeared on the lips of the ledge just as Spike broke the emerald. He dropped backwards, spinning end over end and a crowing Spike was sure that if he hadn’t been decapitated earlier, he would have been screaming.
“Spike, help. Getting kinda squished here.” Buffy’s voice sounded muffled as she tried to struggle out from under the pile of bodies. Spike tossed them aside and pulled her out, then wrapped his arms around her in a relieved hug.
“That was too bloody close.”
Buffy nodded and snuck her hands under his duster to cling to him. “Are they dead now?” Her voice sounded paper thin with exhaustion.
Spike prodded one of them with his boot, “Yeah. Good work there, love.” He lifted her up and carried her out from the ring of bodies. Buffy flung her tired arms around his neck, smacking him up the back of the head with her sword. Neither of them noticed as they shared a relieved kiss as if they had all the time in the world left and had not just been fighting for their lives.
Buffy pulled away first and wrinkled her nose. “Okay, suddenly not the most romantic place…the smell is just ewww, they are rotting away!”
Spike carefully set her down on her feet and sniffed the air then pulled a disgusted face at the pile of gelatinous rotting forms behind them. Having destroyed the orb that animated them, their bodies were slowly reverting back to the semi rotted state they had been in as they clawed their way to the surface. “Bloody hell, we need to get rid of them.”
“Burn them?” Buffy covered her mouth with her sleeve and prodded at one of the bodies with the tip of her boots.
“No, chuck em over the edge.”
Neither Spike nor Buffy noticed that it had passed midnight, as they threw the last of the thieves’ dead bodies over the cliff’s edge. Their attention had been focused on the revolting task of removing thirty nine half rotted bodies from the plateau.
As Maleficent watched them through her crystal ball. She began to mutter and then using her wand, she directed a stream of light into the orb.
“If I can’t get rid of you through brute force, then I shall attack from within.”