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: Daymon is using Spike as bait to lure Buffy away, while Celie’s powers have been knocked out by the arrival of Cortina and the Scoobies.

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

Chapter 26: Up and Away

Tilting her head, Buffy sighed as Daymon slithered toward the plane, his ebony slitted eyes never leaving hers. “You do not have to come, Miss Summers,” he said. “I have no qualms about allowing Spike here to join the dust of the desert without the pleasure of your company.” As if to illustrate his point, his grip on the vampire tightened, and he chuckled as Spike kicked out, trying to loosen the hold.

“You know,” the young woman said, exasperated, “these ultimatums everyone keeps giving me tonight are really getting old.”

As the distance stretched between them, ten yards turning into twenty, the demon hesitated. “It is your choice after all. He is only a vampire, albeit an interesting one.”

The Slayer’s eyes darted to Spike’s dangling form, his muscles bulging under the t-shirt, his boots doing their best to connect with the scaled body of his captor. Only a vampire? God, how she wished that was true. It would certainly make her life easier, if not very much fun. But it just wasn’t. Spike was a lot of things---irritating, seductive, bigheaded, loyal---but only a vampire was not one of them.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she muttered, lowering the sword and starting to walk toward the plane. “I’m coming.”

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

Xander bolted upright in the driver’s seat, his eyes like saucers as he took in the unbelievable sight before him. “Uh…Giles?”

Glancing up from the white demon asleep in his lap, the Watcher stiffened as he realized what his charge was doing. Quickly but carefully, he slid Cortina’s head onto the seat and opened the door. “Give me full beam,” he ordered. At the younger man’s confused frown, he barked, “Turn the bloody brights on!”

As Giles stepped out into the sudden illumination, Buffy finally became aware of the Hound and car parked merely yards away. She stopped, hesitating, her gaze darting between the retreating Daymon and her furious mentor rushing towards her. Seeing the demon’s eyes narrow, the Slayer held up her hand to Giles, yelling, “Don’t come any further! He’ll kill him!”

The older man halted, his blue eyes blazing. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing!” he demanded.

“I think I’ve been working too hard lately,” Buffy said. “I feel like a little vacation, someplace warm. Greece, maybe. I hear they’ve got great beaches there.”

“This is madness. You are not getting on that plane.”

“I have to. If I don’t, he’ll dust Spike.” Her face softened. “Don’t worry, Giles. Nothing’s going to happen to me as long as Daymon’s around. Well, not until the ritual anyway, but I plan on killing him before then.”

“He’s a demon, Buffy, he’s not to be trusted.”

“OK, know that now, and before you say it, yes, I agree, it was stupid to leave without you guys. But honest, this guy seriously doesn’t want me getting hurt. You should’ve seen how pissed he got with that Celie witch when she tried to butt in.” She frowned. “And then her magic went all wonky. You don’t have Cortina stashed in the trunk of the Love Bug, do you?”

Giles glanced back over his shoulder. “Actually, she’s in the back seat. Xander suggested we bring her along to neutralize any of Celie’s spells. He thought it would…help Spike.”

“That was Xander’s idea?” Buffy couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice. “He hates Spike.”

“But he knows that you…don’t,” the Watcher replied. He lowered his voice, opting to try a different tack as it was clear that forceful father figure wasn’t going to work. “Buffy, just…walk away. You can end this right here, right now. It’s just Spike.”

“But it’s not.” She didn’t know how long she had left before Daymon reached the plane, but the young woman knew that this was the time, she had to explain it to her mentor. “If Spike dies, part of me’s going to die as well. And I’m not real peachy-keen on that happening.”

“I understand you shared a very…powerful encounter, but---.”

“It’s more than that, Giles. It’s…” She couldn’t help but look back at the diminishing form of the blond vampire. The fight in him was weakening, but if it was because he was tiring or because he thought she was giving up on him, Buffy had no idea. She turned pleading eyes back to the older man. “I love him. I don’t know how it happened, or when, but it did, and I do. I’m sorry, I have to do this.”

He watched as his Slayer turned and began jogging toward the pair of demons near the aircraft. The sound of her annoyed voice filtered back to him. “Keep your pants on, I said I was coming.” The tiny forms of Daymon’s men began swarming around the trio, and Giles could only shake his head as Buffy handed over her weapon, putting her shoulder under Spike’s, her arm around his back, supporting him as they boarded the plane.

“Please tell me I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing, because what I think I’m seeing does not look like the happy ending we were hoping for.”

Xander’s presence behind him couldn’t rend Giles’ gaze from the ensemble in the distance. “She loves him,” he murmured. “She’s risking everything---her family, her calling, the fate of the world even---for him.”

“And this surprises you because…?” The younger man stepped around, blocking the view to the plane, forcing the ex-librarian to look at him. “This is typical Buffy modus operandi. She’s got her own mind when it comes to affairs of the heart.” He began ticking them off on his fingers. “She did it with Angel, hiding him when he came back ‘cause she was all worried about us going Charles Bronson on him. She stuck with Riley when we were worried about him being commando guy. And, as much as I may really, really hate to admit it, she’s going to stick with Spike on this one, regardless of anything we think or feel.”

Giles watched as the plane’s engines began to rev again, preparing to lift off. “I would hardly have placed you as a member of the Spike fan club, Xander.”

“I’m not,” he argued. “I’m very proud of my lifetime membership to the Anti-Bloodsucking Coalition. I am, and always will be, ABC to the core. But I gotta admit, I don’t get the switcheroo he pulled for Buffy back at the cave. I mean, yeah, he claims he’s in love with her---.”

The Watcher’s blue eyes whipped away from the plane to stare into Xander’s. “Spike told you he was in love with her?” he asked incredulous. “And you believed him?”

“Well, yeah. Apparently, us Scoobies are the only ones who don’t know this tidbit of information. Celie saw it before I did and made a point of letting me know. That one’s definitely nightmare fodder, lemme tell you.”

“Cortina suggested the same thing, but I didn’t want to believe her…”

The sound of the airplane lifting into the air diverted both men’s attention from their conversation, and they just watched helplessly as Buffy and Spike disappeared into the midnight sky. Giles sighed, removing his glasses, and rubbed wearily at his eyes. “Whatever happened to old-fashioned slaying…” he muttered under his breath. To his companion, he added, “Would you think it remiss of me if I confessed that sometimes I actually wish for the days when Spike didn’t have the chip?”

Xander just looked at the Watcher, his brown eyes steady, his eyebrows raised.

“No, you’re right. That would be a bad thing.” The older man stared off into the sky. “I think.”

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

There seemed no logical explanation for it. All her life, almost every waking moment, she could remember having the power, being able to command it to do bigger and greater things as she grew older, knowing that time and death would be her only bars to utter control. Yet, here she was, sitting on a pile of hay in a malodorous stable somewhere in the middle of the California desert, and she couldn’t even summon the forces necessary to levitate a simple twig.

Celie rubbed at her exhausted eyes. It was over now, she knew that. She wasn’t deaf; she’d heard the plane land, heard it take off again, and somehow knew that Daymon was onboard. Her bitter smile belied the dismay of her spirit. All her work---convincing the pilot his return was an official request of his employer’s, ensnaring the vampire whose blood would have saved future generations from the horror of the demon existence---all of it was for nothing, because now she was just a mere shell of the powerful witch she had been.

Slowly, she stumbled to her feet. Daymon---the monster---whatever he was, would most likely have alerted his men to her presence. If she didn’t wish to be captured and tortured, or worse, her best plan was to make her escape now. Her black gaze swept over the broken pen that had recently housed Spike. What could possibly have happened? she wondered. Is there a stronger witch counteracting my magics nearby? Somehow, she doubted it, but the questions still plagued her as she lurched through the opening in the stable wall.

Celie almost cried when she saw the velvet pelt of the Hound, his head resting on his front paws. He’d managed to find her, must have followed her scent from the cave. At last, something working in her favor. She began to walk toward him, then stopped when she saw the redhead stroking his fur, leaning over to murmur in his ear. But who was this? She peered into the darkness. The witch…from the vampire’s crypt? That would mean…

And for the first time since emerging, she noticed the car and the two men standing in its headlights, gazing into the night sky. When she recognized Xander, she didn’t know if she should feel frightened or relieved. He would not be happy about her treatment of the Slayer, yet she also knew that he was relatively harmless. His friends, however, were a different story. The witch---hadn’t there been another in the alley?---was a potential threat, and since Celie no longer had her powers, so was the older gentleman. Her only hope was to get to the Hound.

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

Willow felt the dog stiffen under her hand, his muscles tightening as his eyes slowly opened. “Hey, guys?” she called out, not too loudly as she didn’t want to disturb the Hound too much but loud enough so that she could be heard by the others near the car. “Something’s spooking Elvis.”

Giles frowned. “Elvis? You…named it?”

“Well, yeah,” Willow explained. “I can’t go around just calling him puppy. Would you like it if we walked around calling you ‘Limey?’ He needs a name.”

“So, it’s Elvis because…he ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog?” Xander couldn’t keep the sarcasm from creeping into his voice.

The witch pouted. “I thought it was clever.” She turned back to the Hound as a low growl rumbled from its throat, and began stroking his muzzle to calm him. “We like it, don’t we, Elvis?”

“I think I know what’s bugging him,” Xander offered, his brown eyes fixed over the dog’s shoulder.

Giles turned, and Willow peeked around the bulk of the Hound to see Celie standing near the hole in the side of the stable. She was silent, motionless, staring directly at the one person she knew could recognize her. Quizzically, they looked back at their friend in explanation.

“I’d say it’s good to see you,” Xander said to the dark witch, his arms folded across his chest, “but that would be a lie. Please tell me the reason you look like hell is Buffy-related. ‘Cause she was a little miffed about the whole pinned-to-the-wall thing. Not to mention you disappearing with Spike. Personally, that part didn’t bother me, but, you know, Buffy’s my friend. You’re not.”

Celie regarded each of them in turn before responding. “I’m only interested in recovering my charge,” she said, stepping slowly toward the Hound. When it sat up on its haunches, its hackles rising, she hesitated and frowned.

“I don’t think you’re one of his happy shiny people right now,” warned Willow, her body edging forward as if she were trying to shield the canine from the dark witch.

“What have you done to him?” Celie hissed.

“What’ve I done?” The redhead’s eyes went wide. “Hello? News flash. You’re the one who left him out in the cold, without any food or water. You’re just lucky I can’t report you to Doggy Social Services.”

“Girls, girls, girls!” Xander stepped forward between them, his palms held up to stop the two women from their bickering. "We’ve got more important things to be fighting about right now than which one of you gets to be all love me tender with poochie here. Or have we forgotten about Buffy and Spike and their bid for more frequent flyer miles?”

Celie stiffened. “Daymon…took the Chosen One…with him?”

“Yep. Got her on the plane using Spike as his gouda.” At his best friend’s frown, he elaborated, “Gouda…cheese…bait…?” He shrugged. “Never mind, my genius is lost on you people.”

“So what are we going to do with her?” Willow nodded with her head toward the other witch. “We can’t just leave her here. As soon as we get far enough away, she’ll be all magicky again. How do we know she’s not going to go after Spike on her own this time?”

“We take her with us.” Giles’ voice was low, but it carried through the still night air, and the trio as well as the Hound turned to look at him. “She’s not a threat as long as she’s in close proximity with Cortina. And, as much as I’d like to use…Elvis, again in locating Buffy, something tells me that his particular skills might not work under our current circumstances.” His eyes were daggers as he confronted Celie. “You, however, can help us, by telling us where he’s taking her and what his plans are.”

“I wasn’t privy to Daymon’s plan,” she spat. “My job was to find the Chosen One, that’s all.”

“But the plane? Surely you know where he’s taking Buffy?” Her silence was the only affirmation he needed. “Right, then. Xander, make sure she doesn’t have any weapons and bring her to the car.” He started to move away, but was stopped by the young construction worker’s hand on his arm.

“Listen,” Xander said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Can I pass on the patting down part?” He glanced back at the parked car. “Last time I had to do that for Buffy, Anya thought I was getting a little too friendly-like and refused to talk to me for two days afterwards.”

“I would’ve thought that was a good thing,” Giles replied, but the earnest request in the younger man’s face only made him roll his eyes. “Never mind, I’ll do it,” he said.

“And about the traveling arrangements,” Xander continued. “Somebody’s gonna have to walk if you want witchie poo onboard,” said Xander. “’Cause that mid-life crisis of yours ain’t goin’ to hold another body.”

“Well, our…guest needs to stay as close to Cortina as possible,” the Watcher said. “We’ll just have to ask either Anya or Tara to give up their seat.” The two men looked back at the car at the same time, then at each other. “We’ll ask Tara.”

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

It was Giles’ voice she heard first as the group approached the car, and its melodic timbre sent warm shivers down her spine. Her pale eyes fluttered open when the door opened and she looked up to see the worry etched in his face. “Relax, Rupert,” she said softly. “I haven’t died on you.” The pain in her abdomen still burned, but she chose to ignore it as she struggled to sit up.

He was aiding her in an instant, his warm hands under her arms, sliding into the vehicle so that she could rest her head on his lap again. “You mustn’t tax yourself, Cortina,” he said, pushing the white hair out of her eyes.

“I hope you don’t tell your Slayer that,” she teased. “That Council of yours will replace you with someone who’s not such a big softie.”

Giles smiled at her slight gibe. “I think Buffy would disagree with your assessment.”

“Are they all right?” Cortina couldn’t resist asking the question, even knowing the relationship between his charge and the vampire set him on edge. “I assume they took care of that Daymon they were fighting.” She frowned as the older man averted his eyes, glancing out the front of the car, playing with her hair…anything but looking her in the face. “What happened out there?” she asked again.

“Buffy is…fine…”

“And Spike…?” The anxiety jumped into the white demon’s face. “Please tell me Spike’s OK.”

“He’s…also fine…”

She took a deep breath. “You’re holding back on me, Rupert. Just tell me what happened.”

There was a long moment when the Watcher just looked at her, assessing her, before he finally answered.

Daymon…threatened to kill Spike unless Buffy came with him. There was…a plane. They’re both gone.”

Cortina’s eyes closed and she sighed heavily. “Damn…”

“We’ll get them back before the ritual. I’ve just got to figure out how.”

She locked gazes with him, blue to blue. “You’d better. Because I think you need to take another look at that prophecy…”


To be continued in Chapter Twenty-Seven: Fires That Burn