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Summary: Buffy and Sark find more than the Rambaldi artifact they were searching for in a remote castle.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Alias(Recent Donor)SweetChiFR1317,948398456 Dec 116 Dec 11Yes
Written for the 2011 LJ Wishlist
Requested By: Xgirl2222
Fandoms: Alias/Buffy
Characters: Sark/Buffy
Summary: Buffy and Sark find more than the Rambaldi artifact they were looking for in a remote castle in Romania.
Disclaimer: I don't own BtVS or Alias, this was written purely for enjoyment.

Searching

It was a dark and stormy night. No, seriously, it was. Uber-dark and wicked stormy. The last place Buffy wanted to be was hiking up a huge freaking mountain while the rain pelted her like little freezing needles, the wind actively tried to blow her away and the lightning tried to fry her. She'd have to add crappy weather to her list of reasons to hate Romania - right under crazy, cursing gypsies that ruin your pelvic-happy-fun-time.

Another streak of lightning flashed a little too close for comfort, making Buffy flinch and give up her careful approach for a full out sprint the last half mile to the giant castle at the top of the mountain. The temperature had dropped drastically the further up she went, so, soaking wet and bone weary, she was shaking like a leaf when she finally reached the twelve foot tall doors at the entrance.

She gave them an irritated shove, barely taking notice of the intricate carvings that decorated their surface, and was surprised and relieved when they actually swung open easily at her touch with nothing more than a slight whine of protest. The inside of the castle was just as dark as it was outside, only the occasional flicks of lightning showing through huge windows offered any light at all. It smelled old and damp. Kinda like a moldy mummy. She took a step forward, wrinkling her nose and wondering if Impata had smelled like that. She'd have to ask Xander the next time he annoyed her…

That was her last thought before the giant axe swung down at her.

*******

This place was a maze. Every time Sark thought he'd finally figured out the floor plan, it was like it changed and he was lost all over again. Plus, it seemed that any kind of electronics were useless here. None of his high tech equipment was working, even his phone was completely dead. That was unfortunate because that meant he'd miss is rendezvous and would have no way of rescheduling. If they didn't hear from him, then they wouldn't come again until tomorrow, which was the next scheduled pick-up time. The thought of spending a whole other day in this godforsaken country was less than appealing…

This particular Rambaldi artifact was becoming more and more troublesome to obtain. It had taken months to narrow down the location and they still had no idea what exactly the thing looked like or what it did. Sark personally thought it was a wild goose chase, but Irina Derevko wasn't a woman you told such things to. One did not question anything regarding Rambaldi if they wanted to continue to get paid and breathe air. That put him here, in a castle half the size of a New York City block with no logical floor plan and no idea what he was looking for. It was going to be a long night.

He exited the room he'd just been searching to hear the creaking sound of what had to be the massive front doors opening, as the sound of howling wind and pounding rain accompanied it. Had some idiot actually just walked in through the front doors? The very obviously booby-trapped front doors? This he had to see.

He stepped back out into the hall that was apparently much closer to the front door than he'd originally thought, and went toward where he'd thought the sound of the swinging doors had come from. He'd specifically scaled the side of the castle and gone in through one of the upper windows to avoid those doors with ancient threats carved into their surface. He heard a swishing sound of something huge displacing air just as he reached the balustrade. He leaned over, expecting to see some fool getting burned, beheaded or impaled on the floor below. But that wasn't what he saw at all.

A woman was on the floor as a giant blade sliced the air just above her. When it had passed into the high end of its arc, she rolled into a back handspring, regaining her feet. As the blade swung back down, she gave a perfectly timed and placed kick to snap the head off the axe and send it skittering across the stone floor into the dark.

So another agent was here then… One that might even be a little bit of a challenge. Good, he'd been in danger of becoming bored.

*******

Booby-traps. Fan-freaking-tastic. Just what she needed to make this trip even better. Buffy shook her head and brushed off the dust coating her side from her roll to safety.

When Giles sent her on this mission to retrieve some Baldy-guy's doodad, he neglected to mention a) that the mountain was really a mountain, b) Romania had really crappy weather, and c) that there would be booby-traps in the castle. He was so going to get it. She reached for her phone, scathing sarcasm already boiling to the surface for use - except her phone wasn't there. Buffy took a deep breath and counted to ten, then looked around on the dusty floor, hoping maybe it had fallen out when she'd done her duck and dodge thing, but no such luck. Then her eyes drifted toward the still open doors to the stormy night beyond. No doubt her phone was lying in some puddle halfway up this stupid mountain.

She took a step toward the hall and felt the stone depress under her foot just before the foot-long needles came flying out of the far wall at her.

"You've gotta be kidding me," she whined, using a nearby table to jump up and grab an old wrought iron chandelier thing, leaving the needles to fly under her and bounce harmlessly off the opposite stone wall.

She dropped to the floor and felt another stone sink beneath her.

"Son of a-"

*******

Sark couldn't help but smile at the woman's frustration as she unerringly triggered trap after trap. It had to be some kind of backwards talent, really - no one's luck was that bad. What had nothing to do with luck was the way she avoided each deadly obstacle. She moved like water - smoothly flowing up over, under and around everything that came at her. And when the need called, she was an unmovable force, violently destroying whatever stood in her path. It was simply breathtaking to watch.

After having worked with Irina for years and crossing paths, knives, and guns with her daughter, Sydney, more than a few times - not to mention his occasional association with Anna Espinoza - he definitely wasn't one to underestimate a woman. But he'd also thought there could never be anyone that would top the three of them, either. Until now.

This person had Anna's penchant for reacting more than planning, but Irina's quick eyes and mind, plus Sydney's adaptability and fluid movements. But she was also different from all of them. She had levity that none of them possessed. While she cursed and complained about the constant traps, coming up with words that didn't even exist and mutilating the ones that did, she did so with a flippancy and annoyance - no real anger. He could watch this all day.

He shifted his weight to get a better view of her jumping over a chasm that had appeared from nowhere in the middle of the floor below, wondering about the amazing lengths someone had gone to secure this place. It was then he heard an ominous click and whir from the handrail he was leaning on.

*******

Buffy had finally reached the far hall after leaping what looked like a pit of snakes when part of the upper level exploded. She hunkered down in the relative safety of the alcove while fiery bits of carpet and railing rained down from above. Someone had obviously mixed up their booby-trap signals if her reaching the hall set off an explosion that looked like it was on the third floor. How was that supposed to hurt her? She narrowed her eyes, waiting for it to trigger some domino effect that would end in her running from a huge boulder or something, but nothing happened.

She gave a shrug and pulled a little flashlight from her pocket as she took slow and careful steps down the wide hall, paranoid now that any move at all could set off another series of traps. As she passed room after room, her stomach started to sink. She didn't even know what she was looking for! All Giles had said was that it would have a crude carving of an eye on it, like a diamond shape with a circle in the middle. According to the Codex Whatever he was reading, it could lead to an apocalypse if it fell into the wrong hands. But the further down the hall she got and the more rooms she peeked into, the more she realized how impossible this was going to be. This place was gigantic and there was random stuff all over - statues, paintings, furniture, weird decorative crap… The artifact could be any of this stuff, or it could be hidden away in some safe or vault or secret room. How in the world was she supposed to find it?

Shaking her head and feeling her damp hair slap against her neck didn't improve her pessimistic feelings any. She should've brought a team with her. That's what Giles had suggested, but nooo, she had to be all "No sweat, Giles. I think I can handle hunting down one little artifact without a squad of slayers." Great idea.

Really, she'd just wanted to get out of headquarters for a while. All those girls - staring, weighing, judging, worshiping… It was weirdly stressful and grated on her nerves, leaving her twitchy and uncomfortable and with the need to just get out. She'd thought this would be a great chance to get away, like a mini vacation. Turns out, not so much…

Sighing, she headed for the top floor, deciding to start her search there and work her way down.

*******

Sark winced as he sat up, rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head. He hadn't quite been quick enough to completely escape the blast and had ended up slamming into a wall. It gave him a new appreciation for the strange woman's obviously heightened reaction time. Speaking of, that explosion would have clued her in on the fact she wasn't here alone, he should get moving. He'd like a little more time for his head to clear before he had to face her.

Climbing to his feet, he brushed himself off and pulled out his flashlight. He wasn't eager to give away his position so easily, but given how damned dark the inner rooms of this place were, he couldn't exactly get anywhere without it. He tried to head deeper into the castle, thinking the never-ending rooms and halls would provide the perfect cover for him while he thought up a trap for the castle's newest guest and let his headache dull a bit. Unfortunately, proving itself to once again be absolutely incomprehensible, the layout of the place led him astray and he found his path dead ended into a stairway that only went up. With a growl of frustration, he turned around to retrace his steps and found a wall where there had been hallway before.

"You must be joking," he said in complete bafflement.

He'd thought before that it was like the castle's layout was changing, but he hadn't meant in literally. That was just… Maybe he'd hit his head harder than he thought. It wasn't that he hadn't seen any truly bizarre occurrences before, because working with Irina brought them about all the time, but moving castles just wasn't something he'd ever considered. He supposed it was possible, given the amount of bobby traps the place contained, maybe there was some mechanism that shifted the walls periodically. He let out a sigh, realizing how much harder his job had just become.

Not having much choice in the matter, he followed the stairs upwards.

*******

The top floor didn't seem much different to Buffy than what little she'd seen of the bottom. Halls and rooms. Paintings and statues. Ancient furniture and dust covered knickknacks. Sighing, Buffy decided she might as well just start searching and went into the first room. This one, at least would be easy to search - it only had two couches, otherwise the room was empty except for the paintings filling every inch of wall space.

Starting by the door, she clamped her light between her teeth and started pulling the canvases from the walls, looking for any eyes painted into them or items taped to the backs. They were all beautiful pieces and she found herself studying them longer than necessary. It was amazing to her that they were still here at all. Giles' info must have been correct about the local's fear of the place.

According to area legend, the castle had been abandoned until the late 1800's, when a young rich couple had moved in not long after their marriage. Both of them had come from nothing, so the wealth was new to them and they'd splurged. First on renovations to the dilapidated castle, then on various collections - mostly art and unique objects they came across - wanting to surround themselves with beauty after a life of squalor.

Over time their collections grew and more rooms had to be added to house them all. They became obsessed with finding new items to add and spent much of their time searching for more, spending more and more time apart to cover more ground. Over time it became harder and harder to find each other in the ever growing castle until finally both were hopelessly lost in their own home - unable to find neither an exit or their spouse. It wasn't until their final days, lost and starving that they finally realized what was important and ran through the estate calling out for each other, wanting only to see the face of the person they loved again in their last moments on earth. But they weren't able to and both died still searching. It's said that their ghosts still wander the halls today, calling out for their lost loves.

Buffy gave a little shiver as she pulled the next painting from the wall, no longer finding them as pretty as she had before she remembered the story. So the villagers thought the place was haunted and that's why it hadn't been looted. Well, that and the booby-traps…

By the time she was done checking the room she was feeling a little less damp. She thought that was a good thing until she caught sight of herself in a mirror once she was back out in the hall. Her hair was a wreck. It had dried in wild waves leaving her looking half lion and half sex kitten. She started furiously finger combing it, barely sparing a glance to the dark haired woman standing behind her.

When what she was seeing registered, Buffy whipped around but the spot was empty. She looked back at the mirror again and the woman was gone from there as well. Apparently the stories of ghosts in the castle were more than just rumor… Hopefully this would be more of the creepy stalker ghost that just stands around and stares at you than the pissy kind that-

The paintings from the room she'd just been in came flying out into the hall, crashing into the wall behind her – breaking apart much like her hopes of a violence free spirit encounter. More paintings came flying out of the room and Buffy took off down the hall. Give her something substantial - a vampire, a demon, anything with a freaking body. But what was she supposed to do about a ghost? She ducked and a painting sailed over her head.

Apparently the answer was to run faster…

She rounded the corner at the end of the hall going full out - and immediately crashed into another person.

*******

A trickle of sweat made its way down the side of Sark's face as he ran down the length of hallway - a whirlwind of statues crashing into the walls and floor behind him. He had no idea what kind of mechanics were involved in something like this and the thought that it was some sort of illusion was dashed when a marble bust slammed into his shoulder and almost knocked him to the ground. The odd thing, okay, the odder thing, was that it felt like he was being herded. He'd tried to turn right at the last intersection and more items had come flying out of the room in front of him, corralling him back into the original hallway and joining with the statues to push him in the direction he'd been going before. It felt like a trap, but there wasn't much he could do about it at the moment.

He was coming up on another hallway and wondering if he should try turning down it or keep going straight when a figure came barreling around the corner and smashed into him. He tried to grab them and spin them so he'd end up on top, but the impact was just too forceful and he ended up flat on his back with the other sprawled out on top of him.

After a few seconds where his main concern was getting back the air that had been knocked out of him, he regained his senses to find himself staring into a pair of startled green eyes framed by wild blond hair.

"Uh…" She said articulately.

"How about we begin this introduction with you getting off of me?" He asked.

In all honesty, the feeling of her body on his was anything but unpleasant. Unfortunately, it also kept him from getting at his gun, which since he was now facing an unknown agent with physical skills such as she'd displayed, that was a top priority.

"Oh, sorry!" She said, jumping up in one impressively smooth motion, snatching her flashlight off the floor next to them as she did.

He gained his own feet a little slower, not taking his eyes off of her even as he collected his own light. His movements were loose but cautious, ready for the attack he was sure would come. But she wasn't even looking at him anymore, she was looking around the hall. He followed her gaze down the stretch of hall she'd come flying from, but saw nothing interesting. Then, realizing he wasn't being pelted with bits of decorative masonry, took his eyes off her to look back down the way he'd come from. There was nothing there.

"So… You didn't happen to come running this way because a crap storm was chasing you, did you?" She asked.

"Unless you mean actual 'crap', then yes, I did."

"Yeah, me too," she said grimly, walking toward the nearest room.

While the problem of what had cause those objects to chase him, them, was important, it wasn't the biggest problem he had right now. That would be getting rid of the competition. He rested his hand on the butt of his gun, oddly reluctant to take the next step. He was surprised to find he really didn't want to kill her. She was already so interesting and he'd knew practically nothing about her - he wanted more. But years of training and the thought of Irina if he were to return without the artifact forced his hand and he pulled the gun from the holster, aiming it at the woman's back.

*******

"So what are you-"

She heard the soft slide behind her and put it together as the sound of the man pulling the gun she'd noticed at the stranger's hip just in time to dive behind a creepy looking statue in the hall. The report of the gun in the huge, empty castle was deafening, covering her creative cursing as she crouched down and flicked her flashlight off.

She'd been so stupid to turn her back on him like that, more concerned with the ghost and what it was up to than the strange man wandering around the castle. She hadn't exactly trusted him, but hadn't really classified him as a threat either. He was human, after all. You'd think by now she'd know better than to think human automatically equaled ally. He'd been carrying a gun, for god's sake, and she'd just been all "Oh, neat-o, maybe he's a soldier." Idiot, idiot, idiot. But in her defense, the homicidal maniac was cleverly hidden by a hard body, a very nice face and eyes the literal color of the sky on a summer day. People with eyes that pretty weren't supposed to try to blow your head off.

"I truly am sorry about this," his cultured voice called from the direction the shot came from, reminding her to add sexy-as-hell accent to her list of excuses to why she'd been distracted. "You seem rather interesting. I wouldn't mind working with you sometime. But I can't risk you finding the artifact before I do."

"The artifact?" She said blankly before realizing what he was talking about. "Oh! The Baldy guy's doodad? That's why you're shooting at me? Seriously?"

She heard a slight huff of laughter and pinpointed his location by his next words. He'd turned off his flashlight as well, but both of them seemed to have forgotten it was so the other couldn't see where they were. Talking was just as big of a target.

"Yes, I'm here for 'The Baldy Guy's doodad'," he said with obvious amusement. "My employer is very insistent on my retrieving it, and they aren't someone who takes failure well."

She had used the time he'd been talking to silent creep up on him and as soon as she was in reach, she kicked out hard with her right leg, catching his gun hand and sending it clattering down the hall. He didn't waste any time trying to go after it though, instead he turned on her with a lot more speed and skill than she'd been expecting - once again she'd underestimated him because he was human. He managed to land a couple harsh blows before she upped her game and kicked him in the chest. She'd thought she'd hear him crash into the wall, knocking him unconscious. But instead she heard him stumble further away, his steps suddenly echoing as he entered an obviously much larger space. Had there been a room there before?

"Was there a room here before?" He asked, a little winded but mostly just sounding confused.

"I was just thinking the same thing," she answered, following him into the room cautiously and trying to get her eyes to see more than they could in the pitch black.

"Lights?" He suggested cautiously from what sounded like about ten feet away.

"Okay," she agreed, pulling her flashlight from where she'd tucked it in her waistband.

After a second of hesitation, both lights came on simultaneously. Keeping her eyes locked on the stranger, she reached out and sat it on a small table near her, letting it work like a tiny lamp while freeing her hands. They guy did the same, except he slowly squatted and sat it on the floor since he didn't have a handy-dandy table next to him.

Both their eyes slowly came off of the other and looked around the mystery room. It was much like the first room Buffy had searched, except instead of paintings, the walls were filled with weapons.

"I think things just got more interesting…"

His words were like the starting shot to a race and they both dove for their nearest walls. Buffy ended up with a sword and the mystery man was facing her with a wickedly curved double bladed thing that Giles had probably named one time or another but she couldn't remember what it was called.

"I'd like to at least know your name before we do this," he said, the slight smile on his face showing nothing but anticipation for the fight ahead.

"Buffy," she answered, starting to circle him. He mirrored her movements and she added, "And yours?"

"Bob."

"You are so not a Bob. We're trying to kill each other and you can't even give me your real name?"

"And Buffy's not a fake?" He chuckled.

She gave a shrug and he twirled his weapon. She dove at him, sword swinging in a low arc toward him. He blocked with a textbook maneuver that made her smirk a little and wonder if he had his own Giles somewhere drilling defensive moves into his brain. Then he followed it up with a feint and a dirty jab to her gut with his left elbow - a move much more suited to Faith than Giles. She glared and he grinned. Damn if she didn't like him… Even if he was trying to kill her.

"You're really very good, you know that?" He said, his cultured voice sounding even more scrumptious with her adrenaline pumping.

"Yep," she answered. "I know."

She followed up her statement with a kick to his thigh, getting a grunt out of him as his leg buckled. She tried to use the opening that left to kick his weapon away, but he fell back and rolled to his feet before she could.

"You're not trying to kill me," he said, sounding confused as he regained his feet. "You could've taken my head off just then."

"I don't kill people," she shrugged. "I'll just beat you unconscious, maybe maim you a little, but I won't kill you."

Weirdly enough, this seemed to make him angry and he came after her with a vengeance, his weapon a blur as they danced around the barely lit room.

"If you're not willing to kill for what you want, you'll be seen as weak - an easy target," he bit out.

"Probably, but I don't care," Buffy said, shocking him into a standstill. She lowered her weapon a little and looked his eyes, more grey than blue in the low light. "If people see me as weak or see me as an easy target, fine - makes taking them down that much easier. Underestimation is a girl's best friend. I don't kill people for my own reasons, no one else's matter."

He came after her again, but his movements were slower, his eyes more thoughtful, until finally she'd had enough. She stepped in close to him, locking her blade in the curve of his own and jabbing it in the wall beside them.

"Okay, we both know I'm not going to kill you. And you're good, but not good enough to kill me, so why don't we just call a truce."

"A truce?"

"Yep, well, kinda. Not like a 'hey let's be friends truce', but more like a 'you go your way, I'll go mine' truce. You find the old-ass thingy first and you it's yours. If I find it, it's mine. This place is big enough that we might not even see each other again."

He smirked, but lowered his weapon. "I think we both know neither of us have any intention of allowing the other to leave with that artifact. We'd just be postponing this fight until later."

"That's fine with me," she said with a shrug. "Who knows - maybe the stupid thing isn't even here, then we'd be fighting for nothing."

He seemed to consider this, then nodded. "Okay, a temporary truce while we search the castle."

"Right then, Bob," she said, with a little smile. "I guess I'll see you around."

She backed out of the room, not making the mistake of turning her back on him again, and snatched up her flashlight on the way. She was about to take off down the hall when his voice stopped her.

"Julian," he called.

She paused and then smiled. "Definitely a Julian."

"And your real name?"

"I was telling you the truth - it's actually Buffy."

He looked at her dubiously, but when she just shrugged in response, he broke out in a smile that took her breath away.

"Buffy… I like it."

She spun and jogged down the hall before he could see her blush, wondering what the hell she was doing.

*******

Sark watched her go, wondering what the hell he was doing. He'd just told an enemy agent his name. His real first name. He shook his head and placed the latajang back on the wall, instead selecting a few smaller daggers that would be easier to carry around. He briefly wondered if Buffy would be safe carry that sword around while trying to avoid the strange booby-traps in this place then immediately pushed the concerned thoughts from his head. He was being ridiculous. He couldn't leave this place without that artifact which meant that in all likelihood he'd have to kill her.

He grabbed his flashlight and went searching for his gun, cursing the spike of regret he felt at the thought of Buffy's death. The darkness had swallowed her by the time he made it to the hall and he listened carefully for her steps. Nothing.

Not finding his gun, he went back to searching for the artifact - pushing away his thoughts on what would happen once one of them found it. Maybe she was right, maybe they wouldn't even see each other again. The castle was certainly big enough for that. But ten minutes later, after he'd searched the room next to the weapons room and come up empty, he heard it.

"Marco!"

He tried unsuccessfully to smother a grin as he went out into the hall once more. It sounds like she was a floor below and a little to the east - closer to the railings that over looked the entrance. He studied a few paintings in the hall, debating what to do.

"Marco!" She called out again.

"…Polo," he answered.

*******

Buffy barely heard that returned 'Polo' - not because it sounded really far away, but more because she thought Julian had probably just said it instead of yelled it. He didn't seem like a yeller… What was she doing? Playing Marco-Polo with the enemy? But was he really the enemy? She wasn't sure. She got the feeling he was very, very dangerous – he had tried to shoot her in the back, after all. But she'd never exactly been one to go for the "safe" guy, had she? Plus, he'd said Polo! He couldn't be that bad…

Still smiling she rounded a corner and came face to face with Julian, also smiling slightly. But as soon as their eyes met, their expressions turned to shock.

"But you were just-"

"I heard you-"

"I went down a level and all the way to the other end," Buffy said, still baffled.

"And I stayed where we met," Julian answered grimly, taking his eyes off her to look around them suspiciously.

"Then how…"

"I'm not sure," he said. "Let's try this again. I'll go to the ground floor, you go back to the top. I'll go east, you go west."

Buffy nodded and turned toward where the stairwell had been before, except now the left hand turn to get there was gone.

"What the-"

She turned to see what Julian thought of that, but he was already gone, the only sign he'd been there at all the disappearing ambient light from around the next corner. Shaking her head, she turned back around to find that the mysteriously missing turn to the stairs that had disappeared had just as suddenly reappeared.

"This place is too wiggy for words," she mumbled.

She went up to the top floor, but of course this time it looked completely different than the first time she'd been up there. Maybe she'd just gone up a different set of stairs. Or maybe the house was seriously screwing with her. Stupid house. Thought it was so funny.

She actually got through searching three more rooms before crazy stuff started happening again. It was a repeat of the events the first time she'd been up there - the whirlwind of objects chasing her. She had no choice but to run, it wasn't like she could fight whatever was causing it, and getting beaten unconscious by the bust of some old dude she'd never heard of wasn't exactly on her things to do today. So off she went, hoping that, like before, it would just wear itself out and give up after a few minutes. She came flying around the corner and in a burst of déjà vu, crashed into another person.

"Julian," she said in surprise, blinking down at him.

"We really should stop meeting like this," he said, his eyes locked on hers.

"I'm not complaining." Her eyes widened at what she'd just let fall out of her mouth and she jumped to her feet. "Uh, I mean, because it makes all the stuff chasing me disappear. When you show up. I mean, when we run into each other. Not because I like being on top of you. Not that that there's anything wrong with you! You're a nice person to be on top of. Shutting up now."

Julian was laughing slightly and on his feet again by the time she'd stopped her embarrassing ramble.

"Well, since I'm so nice to lay on top of, I give you permission to do it as often as you like. To keep things from chasing you, of course."

Buffy hoped he couldn't see her blushing in the dim light. To make sure, she turned around and saw once again that all the objects that had been trying to pummel her had disappeared.

"Maybe we should just stick together," she said. "It seems like we keep running into each other anyway. This place is so wonky, it's impossible to have any idea where we are or where we're going."

"And when we find the artifact?" He asked, his voice serious.

She turned around to see him watching her somberly. She shrugged. "I guess we cross that bridge when we get there."

*******

The next few hours were spent searching the floor they were on. They weren't sure which one it was, but decided it didn't really matter for the moment. Things in that place changed so quickly, it seemed the smartest move was simply searching where they could before the rooms mysteriously disappeared.

While the search was going well, Sark was wondering if teaming up with Buffy hadn't been a huge mistake. Not because she was detrimental to the search - she was actually surprisingly thorough - but because she was simply extraordinary. She drove him to distraction. She had a sharp wit and easy smile that made him unable to stay serious and focused. And knowing that barely contained violence lay under that beautiful exterior, that she could hold her own (and more) against him in a fight set his nerves on fire. In short, she made him feel things he had no business feeling. Not for a rival agent, not for anyone. The thought of what would happen when they finally found that artifact-

A gasp from her drew his attention and filled him with dread. He turned slowly to see her holding a strange shimmering object about a foot long. He could see the eye of Rambaldi on it from where he stood.

She looked at it and then at him eyes wide.

"Julian…"

Why did she have to say his name like that? Why had he given it to her in the first place? To hear that name, uttered with such feeling, it made him ache and angry at the same time.

He pulled the dagger from his belt.

She looked at it sadly and gently sat the object back on the pedestal where it had obviously come from.

"We don't have to do this," she said, shaking her head.

"Yes, we do, Buffy," he said, noting her slight flinch as he said her name. It was nice knowing he wasn't the only one affected. "We knew this moment would come."

"I need this thing to save the world, Julian," she said. "People will die if I don't take it somewhere safe and lock it away."

Her words made him pause, not because they sounded crazy, but because they should've sounded crazy and didn't. He'd often wondered where the collection of all these Rambaldi pieces would lead. Wondered if it was somewhere terrible. But that wasn't his place. He was an agent ordered to retrieve them - his job was simple. Or it had been.

"I'm sorry," he said softly.

He came at her with an underhand swipe that she dodged easily, as he knew she would. Then followed it up with a kick to where she'd dodged to. She grabbed his leg and pulled him off balance, but he grabbed her arm, taking her down with him. She rolled, twisting the arm that had grabbed her and forcing him to drop the knife - he let it go a little more easily than maybe he should have.

She noticed of course. "Julian…"

He threw his weight to the side, catching her off guard and using the moment of distraction to get his legs between them and kick her away from him. She tumbled across the floor away from him but was on her feet again just as quickly as he was.

"I don't want to do this!" She yelled, looking pissed for the first time. "We don't have to do this!"

"Are you going to let me leave with the artifact?" He asked simply.

"No."

"Then we have to do this."

"For what? Why's that thing so important to your boss?" Buffy asked waving her hand at the pedestal.

The now empty pedestal.

They both gaped at the vacant spot for a moment.

"What the- It was just right there!" Buffy yelled, then spun to look at him again. "You saw it, too, right? That's why we were fighting, right?"

"I saw it, too," Sark said, looking around the room suspiciously. "Maybe we're not as alone here as we thought. I thought I saw a man earlier…"

"Ghosts," Buffy grumbled. "I hate ghosts. Ghosts don't have asses that can be kicked."

Sark raised an eyebrow. "I was thinking more along the lines of another agency."

"Agency?"

He smirked. She was good - she actually sounded confused. "I think we're past these games, don't you?"

"I'm not- oh my god! Are you with the CIA or something? Was I just beating up a federal agent?"

"You weren't 'beating me up'," he said, a little irritated. "There was equal beating going on. And I'm not with the CIA."

"Well, that's good to know. So, who are you 'with'?"

"My loyalties are flexible," he said evasively.

"That's all I'm going to get?" She huffed, putting her hands on her hips.

Sark shrugged, finding the thought of telling her he was the equivalent of a terrorist distasteful. She must've read something in his reluctance though.

"You're one of the bad guys, aren't you?" She asked softly.

"I'm not a good person, Buffy," he said, angry again and not sure why. He walked toward her and the fact that she stood her ground, didn't tense up or go on guard made him even angrier. "I've killed people. So many that I've forgotten the faces of most of them. They were less than nothing to me."

"I've heard this story before," she said, watching him intently. "It doesn't matter what you've done - it matters what you're doing now. What you plan to do in the future."

"I plan to be just as cruel and ruthless as ever. The only person that matters to me is me."

"Then why am I still here?"

He didn't have an answer to that. He might not be able to beat her in a one on one fight, but he'd had ample opportunity to ambush her. But he hadn't. He didn't want to. The thought of killing her… He swallowed hard and turned away.

"I'd say we should split up, but you're right, it seems pointless," he said, looking around the room instead of at her. "It seems that we continue to run into each other no matter which way we go, so we might as well search for the artifact and who ever took it together."

"And when we find it?"

He walked toward the door. "Let's go."

*******

They found the artifact three more times in the next two hours. And each time they did, they broke into a fight for it. Then it would disappear. It was obvious that whatever was taking it was doing so while they were distracted with kicking each other asses, but she wasn't sure what else to do. She didn't want to hurt him too badly, they were in the middle of nowhere - what if she broke something or gave him internal injuries or a concussion? There wasn't even a hospital in the town at the base of the mountain. He could be dead by the time she got him help. Likewise, he seemed to have shifted from trying to kill her to just trying to take her down, but that just made it even harder on her to keep from hurting him accidentally. It was like two warriors trying to take the each other down with pillows - ridiculous and going nowhere.

They both knew it, she was sure, but neither knew what to do about it either. Their snarky small talk had dwindled to nothing, leaving an irritated and confused silence hanging between them. When they entered the next room and saw the artifact, once again on its pedestal in the middle of the room, they both just stood there.

"Obviously we're triggering something when we fight," Julian said. "So we need to approach this differently."

"How about you just let me take it? Since I'm using it to save the world and all."

"How about you just let me take it? Since my employer won't feel the need to kill me if I come back with it."

Buffy sighed, knowing what was coming next. It wasn't like they hadn't been through this already. She made the first move this time, making a run for the artifact in a hope she could just grab it and get away without hurting Julian. The knife whistling through the air behind her forced her off track though. She cut to the right even though she was sure he hadn't been aiming to kill. Well, pretty sure, maybe he'd finally had enough of this game and had decided it was worth killing her to get his hands on the stupid thing. She turned to face him as he came at her, blocking his blows and throwing half-hearted ones herself.

Suddenly the room went icy cold and Julian's eyes widened at something behind her. She spun, hoping this wasn't just some trick to get her off guard. But it wasn't. There, standing next to the pedestal, was a shimmering figure in a long, beautiful dress, a look of fury on her delicate features - the woman from the mirror.

"Stop ignoring what's right in front of you!" She screamed. "It'll be too late!"

Then the room exploded.

*******

Sark couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. He'd thought Buffy had been kidding when she'd suggested ghosts were the culprits of the castle's oddities - but there one was. His mind tried to go to logical reasons for what he was seeing - some kind of intricate smoke and mirrors act, maybe. But it just wasn't sticking. The whole evening had just been so strange, a ghost oddly fit in to the picture quite well.

"Stop ignoring what's right in front of you! It'll be too late!"

The screamed words were just registering with him when the room imploded. Pictures burst off the walls, splitting into pieces. The statues in the corners blew into flying chunks of rock. The antique desk by the window flew into the air, cracking in half and flying right towards them. Buffy grabbed his arm and jerked him to the ground, letting the pieces fly over them. Both their flashlights dropped to the ground, sending swirling beams of light over the chaos around them.

"We have to get out of here!" She yelled.

Instead of answering, he jumped to his feet, grabbing her hand and pulling her with him. They ran for the door, dodging what they could but not being able to get out of the way of everything. Suddenly he was jerked to a stop by a hand wrapping in the back of his shirt - just in time for a sharp piece of wood from a frame to fly where his head would've been. He started forward again, turning his head to thank Buffy for the save. But when he did, he saw the chair from the obliterated desk flying at her back. He acted without thought, yanking her forward the last few steps out of the room and diving on top her. His body shielded hers from the shattering chair as it hit the door frame above them.

His eyes were level with hers, only inches apart, his arms protectively wrapped around the top of her head, body covering hers.

"See, told you it was ghosts," she whispered, the air from her words brushing warmly across his mouth.

But ghosts were the last thing on Sark's mind right then. He had a moment of clarity, staring into those green eyes - the words the ghost had yelled suddenly made so much sense. One of his hands closed slightly, wrapping his fingers in that wild blond hair. The other slid behind her neck, pulling her face up to his. She tasted like honey and fire.

"I see it," he said softly when he pulled back. "I see what's right in front of me."

The sudden silence was deafening. The sound of crashing and ripping disappearing from the room behind them leaving just the soft hush of shared breaths and beating hearts. Buffy's eyes widened, a look of understanding crossing her face.

"They lost sight of what was important. They could've had something so much better than all the things they were collecting if they'd just looked right in front of them."

"What's that?" Sark asked, distracted by the movement of her lips.

"The people that lived in this castle last. They- Oh, never mind," she laughed and kissed him again.

When they finally became aware of their surroundings again, soft grey light was filling the hall. Dawn had finally arrived. Sark stood up, offering a hand to her. He didn't let go after he'd pulled her up, and she didn't pull away.

They walked into the room together. It was absolutely destroyed except for a small space in the middle where the pedestal was sitting with the artifact still there. They walked toward it, hand in hand and stopped just in front of it. After a moment's hesitation, Sark reached out and wrapped his free hand around it. It was so small and delicate - hard to believe it could be the cause of an apocalypse.

He handed it to Buffy.

She looked down at it for a moment, before giving him a soft smile.

"Flexible loyalties?" She asked.

"I think they just became a little more firm," he answered.

The End

You have reached the end of "Searching". This story is complete.

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