DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Well, the baddies are mine. OK, Cortina’s mine, too. But everything else really is his. Too bad.
SUMMARY: The Scooby gang has converged at Cortina’s before going off to find Spike, while Buffy and Willow have had the talk about the Slayer’s newfound feelings for the vampire.

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Chapter 21: Watching

His fingers caressed the leather spines, tracing the gold lettering as he scanned the titles. “You have the most extraordinary collection,” Giles murmured. “The Druxadian Diaries, the complete Minoan Chronicles…” He pulled out a thin black volume, and flipped it open to the title page. “I thought all the copies of Torvald’s Grand Histories were destroyed in the ice storms of 962.”

Cortina smiled mysteriously. “Obviously, not all of them.”

“I have to admit,” the Watcher said, removing his glasses, “I’m rather jealous of the resources you must be able to command with all this literature at your disposal. I know it would certainly make my job much easier if I had access to such a wealth of information. I’m very grateful you’ve allowed me to view them.”

“How else is a demon going to lure a librarian to her lair?”

Rupert’s eyes widened, turning to view a somber Cortina just staring at him with those translucent blue eyes. A moment of fear gripped his throat, constricting it, before the demon collapsed into giggles.

“Only kidding!” she said through her laughter. “God, you mortals are so easy!” She shook her head. “I guess Spike is the only one of you guys who knows anything about Vroleks.”

Giles relaxed, replacing the book back onto the shelf. “I’m afraid the Council’s official line is that your species is extinct, so there aren’t any details regarding your particular foibles in any of our texts.”

Cortina closed the distance between them, stopping only when she was a few inches away. “So, I’m sure you’ve been doing what you Watchers do best since you got here. Tell me what you’ve learned about…my kind.”

“Well, Buffy gave me some details. Allergic to sunlight and alcohol. This rather remarkable ability to impede magic is very intriguing.” His cleared his throat as the demon tilted her head, giving him a coy half-smile. “And there’s the sense of humor, of course.”

“Damn,” she said. “And here I was, going for charming and delightful.”

Giles laughed, in spite of himself. “I wouldn’t presume…”

“Ever the gentleman,” Cortina giggled, stepping back slightly to allow the Watcher a little more room to maneuver around the bookshelves. “Don’t think I’m going to let you hide behind that façade for too long, Rupert. I know all about your colorful history…Ripper.” She allowed him to see the twinkle in her eyes before ducking her head, turning to the desk and pulling open the bottom drawer. “Now, about those maps…”

A bemused smile twisted the Watcher’s lips as he watched her bend over, the ivory robe clinging to her curves. Although very little of the demon’s skin was actually visible, he found himself slightly aroused by her sensual grace and wondered absently if this was yet another trait of the Vroleks. “Cortina,” he started, “one thing still puzzles me.”

“Oh? What’s that?” Her voice was muffled as she dug around in the drawer.

“Now don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate all the help you’re providing. I just…don’t understand why, and I suppose I’m waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.”

The white demon straightened, her arms full of rolled-up charts. “And here I thought we were friends,” she joked. “It’s like I told Buffy when she refused to believe that I didn’t have some ulterior motive. I like my solitude and I’d like to keep it that way. And if doing this for the Slayer improves my odds, then I can do this one little thing. And as for Spike, well, that one’s just too easy. I’m a sucker for young love.”

The Watcher frowned as she began poring over the maps. “Young…love?” he queried.

Cortina’s eyes flickered shut. “Shit,” she muttered before looking directly at Rupert. “Another Vrolek trait? We suck at keeping secrets.”

Fumbling with the text in his hand, Giles felt the backs of his knees start to give and reached for the chair to steady himself. “And there’s a…secret concerning Spike and Buffy?”

“Well, I suppose the cat’s already poking out its head. I might as well let the whole thing out of the bag. Just don’t go telling that I was the one who blabbed.” She sighed. “You’re going to want to sit, I’m pretty sure.” She watched as he just dropped to the floor where he’d been standing. “OK, I meant the chair, but that works, too.”

“You’re not about to tell me that anything…untoward…is going on between Buffy and Spike, are you?” Please, he thought, not again. I’m not even blind this time.

Her laughter tinkled in the air, light and crisp, as she looked down at him. “Oh, hon, if untoward is what you’re worried about, you really don’t want to know about the six guys it’s taking to clear the cave-in they caused.”

Giles’ jaw snapped shut with an audible click. Buffy…Spike…sex…no… “Please…tell me it was a spell…even if you have to lie…” Willow had done it once, perhaps it had happened again.

Tilting her head, Cortina looked down at the Watcher as he removed his glasses and began chewing on the earpiece. His case of denial was definitely cute. “I believe we covered this already, Rupert,” she explained. “I’m a Vrolek, these are my caves, hence, no magic…”

“But Buffy wouldn’t…I mean…she couldn’t…not without…” His blue eyes peered up into hers, the lines on his brow standing out in stark relief. “My Slayer would know better than to get involved with someone so blatantly…evil.”

“Look,” the demon started, settling down on the floor beside him. “I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about when it comes to Spike. He is absolutely head over heels for that girl. He’d never do anything---.” Giles’ sharp laughter cut her off, and she frowned. “What? What’s so funny?”

“I presume I can add incredible naivete to my list of Vrolek qualities,” he said harshly. “Those two have been trying to kill each other for years. I see no reason for their animosity to simply vanish overnight.”

Cortina shrugged. “Maybe you’re not watching as closely as you should be then,” she commented. “Because I just know what I saw.” Her delicate hand reached down, and began playing with the fabric of his trousers, making tiny pleats along his thigh. “And here’s a question for you. Let’s say I’m right.” As his mouth opened to disagree, the demon lifted her free hand to cut him off. “For argument’s sake only, if that makes you feel better.” Giles’ mouth slowly closed. “Let’s say, Buffy and Spike do have genuine feelings for each other. That maybe, for some unknown reason, Spike is exactly what she needs right now. Why ever in the world would you want to take that away from her?” She turned wide blue eyes to meet his, oblivious to the effect her touch was doing to distract him.

“I’m her Watcher. It’s my duty to protect her to the best of my capabilities.”

Cortina rolled her eyes. “Well, that doesn’t sound too much like something straight out of the Council handbook. Slayers don’t exactly have a long shelf life, Rupert. Let the girl grab what happiness she can.”

“I’m not against Buffy being happy,” Giles argued. “I’m against Spike. You don’t know him like we do. He’s spent the last hundred years torturing and terrorizing thousands of people. Chip or no chip, he is still evil.”

“Because he’s a demon?” Her voice was subdued and her smile had disappeared. “I’m a demon. You think I’m evil?”

He looked down at her tiny hand on his leg. At the moment, he didn’t know what to think. His arousal was now full-blown; Rupert was certain that she could see his excitement through the thin fabric of his pants, that she was deliberately baiting him in an attempt to make her point. Very carefully, he shifted his weight so that her grip on his thigh loosened. “You certainly don’t seem…” but he couldn’t finish the thought. Taking a deep breath, he tried again. “The only emotion that Spike could ever have for Buffy is hatred. He’s made that abundantly clear, time and time again. If he’s professing otherwise now, it’s because he must have some secret purpose that we’re just not aware of yet.”

She took a long time to respond. “Someday, Rupert Giles is going to come face to face with something that he’s not going to be able to explain away too easily. And I do believe that one of two things will happen.” Very slowly, Cortina rose to her feet. “Either he will become the best Watcher the Council ever trained, because he’s finally learned how to exist outside that tiny little box he’s been closeted away in. Or, he’ll go completely off the deep end and we’ll find him locked away in an English monastery, trying to convince the local townsfolk that the next Big Bad is living in that funny-smelling wardrobe stowed away in the loft.” She glanced down at him. “Personally, I’m voting for the former.”

Giles watched Cortina pull two of the maps from her pile on the desk and tuck them under her arm. She was a curiosity, this demon; if it weren’t for their present circumstances, and that included this Buffy/Spike issue---mustn’t dwell too long on that---he was certain that she would provide quite a few hours of interesting discussion, with her rather unusual…viewpoint.

She gestured toward the books behind him. “Feel free to borrow whatever you’d like,” she offered.

“That’s…very generous of you.” Slowly, Rupert stood, a genuine smile creasing his face.

“Not really,” the white demon said, crossing to the door. “I need to give you some kind of excuse to come back and see me.” And with a fleeting glance back at the older man, she floated out into the hallway.

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

She stared down in disbelief at the book spread out in her lap. “Do I really look like that?” Buffy asked, her voice incredulous. She held it up so that the picture was right next to her face. “My hair’s not that poofy…is it?”

Tilting her head, Willow’s forehead crinkled in concentration. “It’s more like freshman hair,” she said. “Kinda like that crimpy thing you got stuck on for a while.”

“Figures I’d be captured for all posterity with last year’s hair,” the Slayer sighed. She was about to toss the book aside when Anya lunged for it, snatching it from Buffy’s grasp.

“Do you have any idea how hard it was to get this edition?” the ex-demon defended. “You don’t just go throwing it on the ground. It’s still valuable merchandise.” She wiped a bit of imaginary dust from the cover before tucking it back into her bag.

“Merchandise or not,” Buffy continued, rolling her eyes, “there’s no way that prophecy’s coming true. I’ll just kill the demon before he can do the ritual.”

“And you don’t think he’s back at the ranch?” asked Willow.

The Slayer shook her head. “Daymon said we were flying ‘home,’ wherever that is, so he obviously wanted to take me to the demon. With my luck, it’ll be some dirty hole in the ground in Podunk, Iowa.”

“Actually, Daymon’s from Greece, so the d-d-demon’s probably there,” explained Tara.

Buffy brightened. “Oooo, Greece would be nice. Warm sand, hot sun, definitely a step up from the normal doom and gloom that is my life. So. All we’ve got to do is find Daymon, force him to take us to his boss, kill his boss, and then get back to Sunnydale and deal with this Glory disaster.” She snorted. “Since when did being the bad guy mean it’s OK to start passing the buck so much? I mean, this demon gets Daymon to find me, Daymon used Celie, and Celie used the Hound. Nobody takes pride in doing a job themselves anymore.”

“Be careful,” giggled Willow. “You’re starting to sound exactly like Giles.”

“And here I thought I wasn’t delusional from that fever anymore,” Buffy said. “Somebody slap me.”

“I heard that.” The Watcher’s voice came up behind them as he and Cortina entered the grotto, she carrying the maps and he with a stack of books. “Since you’re discussing the demon and the cleansing ritual, should I presume you’ve changed your mind about finding Spike?” he asked as he came up beside the group.

“No.” Her voice was firm, and Giles couldn’t help but notice how she refused to meet his eyes. “Spike comes first. There’s no way I’m going to let that witch lay a finger on him, and if that means I have to beat her senseless to do it, well, that’s just a bonus for me, isn’t it?” Brushing past her mentor, she went to Cortina, taking the charts from the white demon. “You said there’s only one way she could’ve gone.”

“Yes.” She stood behind the Slayer as the young woman rolled the maps flat onto the rock bench. “We’re here,” she explained, pointing with a dainty finger at the paper. “Normally, my influence prevents magic within a circle, but this…” Her hand slid across the page to a mountain range. “…manages to act as a barrier somehow. Magic works on the other side of it, just as if I wasn’t around.”

“And you think that’s where she went?” queried Giles, as he peered at the map over his charge’s shoulder.

“No, I know that’s where she went. There isn’t anyplace else close enough for her to teleport to safely. If she’d tried moving within my sphere of influence, her spell wouldn’t have worked at all, she would’ve just bounced back into the cave where she disappeared from, and you wouldn’t be here right now trying to figure out where she is.” Cortina smiled. “But I’ve got something else interesting to show you,” she added.

Buffy frowned. “Interesting good, or interesting bad?”

“Just…interesting.” The demon pointed to a third spot on the chart. “This is the cave you were in when my men found you. And based on what you told me about how far you’d traveled and landmarks you remember seeing…” Her voice trailed off as her finger returned to the mountain range.

“…that’s where Daymon’s ranch is,” the Slayer finished. “She took Spike back to her boss.”

Cortina shrugged. “Or at least near to his hold.”

“So, we could conceivably kill two birds with one stone,” offered Giles. “Rescue Spike, and at the same time, find Buffy’s abductor.”

“Finally!” The blonde began stretching her arms, bouncing on her toes. “Think we can find some vamps on the way? I am so in the mood for a good slay.”

The white demon smiled. “Not this far out in the desert, I’m afraid,” she apologized.

“Yes,” agreed the Watcher. “You should save your energy for our…confrontation.”

The smile that creased Buffy’s face wasn’t phased by her mentor’s mild chastisement. Good news was good news, and no stuffy Watcher was going to take that away from her. Just hang in there, Spike, she thought. Help’s on the way…

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

From the bowels of the adjoining cave, the only acknowledgment he made of having heard the Scoobies was a slow blink of his black eyes. So, the vampire was with Celie. What a shame he wouldn’t be around; he’d so looked forward to witnessing the bleached one’s pain. Oh well. He would’ve sighed, but he knew that silence was his best weapon at the moment. At least now, he thought, I have an explanation of a sort as to why the witch grabbed Spike in the first place. Her agenda remained a mystery, but since Daymon was now so close to obtaining the Chosen One, he no longer cared. Let her have her fun…

His one regret was that Buffy now knew of the ritual’s existence and would fight even fiercer in order to prevent it from occurring. His wish to keep from harming her would most likely not be met; he only hoped that her advanced healing capabilities would work well enough to mend what damage he might have to inflict. Although he couldn’t see them, he knew that those who accompanied her were the friends that Celie had briefly mentioned. They were an unforeseen encumbrance, but casualties were to be expected in a battle for supremacy.

And he fully intended to win…


To be continued in Chapter Twenty-Two: Revisited