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: Buffy and Spike have managed to kill Daymon, and, although the pair is now unconscious, it appears that the Scoobies have managed to reverse the ritual.

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Chapter 36: Unity

With a crisp grace, Giles leapt from the ledge, circumventing Daymon’s inert form as he bolted to Buffy’s side. The blood was dripping from the tip of her tiny nose, pooling on the earthen floor, while her hair was starting to mat where it coagulated amidst her tresses. Gently, the Watcher slid his hands under her stomach, lifting her away from the blond vampire, turning her carefully in his arms so that her head hung back, the elegant lines of her neck exposed to the open air. Although he was relieved to see the steady pulse that beat there, Giles was only too aware of the multitude of wounds that still bled across her body, weakening her with every passing moment.

“Willow!” he called, the harshness in his voice contradictory to the flurry of anxiety in his gut.

She was already moving, gathering her magic paraphernalia, scooping it into the duffel before easing herself over the edge and into the pit. The power from the reversal spell still surged through her system, and the redhead felt as if she could do anything at the moment, command whatever forces she desired; she only had to say the words. That, however, was the furthest thing from her mind right now. Right now, she had to help Buffy.

“She’s alive,” Giles said unnecessarily. “But she’s weak.”

“Whaddaya want me to do?”

“Get ‘er outta here.” His voice was weak, but steady, and the duo looked over at Spike with surprise, almost as if they’d forgotten he was there. At some point, his game face had slipped away, and now his clear blue eyes gazed up at them, the worry apparent even to them. “There’s still residual magic here,” he elaborated. “It’s drainin’ her. I can feel it.”

“But what about you?” Willow asked.

“It doesn’t want me,” Spike said softly. “I’m not the human one anymore.” He started to lift himself up onto his elbows and winced as the pounding in his head caused the world to swim around him. His discomfort didn’t go unnoticed, and the blond vampire was surprised when Giles pressed him back onto the floor, his touch firm but unthreatening.

“Don’t move,” the older man said. As Spike watched, he gestured to the remaining gang members, and waited until they were in a circle around him. “Get him up onto the ledge,” he ordered. “And make sure you keep him out of the sunlight.” Giles turned back to the vampire. “Remind me when we get back to Sunnydale that I wish to discuss your lack of impulse control, Spike.” There were no recriminations in his face though, the unspoken understanding passing between the two Englishmen as Xander eased his arm under the vampire’s shoulders, helping him clamber to his feet.

“So, we need to let our candles do the walking, right?” asked Willow.

“What?” A confused Giles blinked once before realizing what she meant. “Oh, yes. Dolly.” As the redheaded Wicca set up her transdemonic call, the Watcher wiped the blood staining his Slayer’s face, brushing back the hair from her eyes, remembering all too vividly the way she’d appeared during the ritual. His nightmares about her being turned had diminished over the years, but it didn’t make them any less frightening, any less disturbing. The ordeal might be over for her, but for Giles, it would last a lifetime.

Although he only had Spike’s word for it, somehow the older man knew that Buffy had reverted to her human self, that the vampire’s demon had been expelled from her body. What he didn’t know was if its temporary inhabitance would have any permanent effects. He’d witnessed her extra strength while she was fighting Daymon, and had seen how it had been augmented when Spike had joined her on the platform. He didn’t want to consider the grander implications of what that meant, but he’d be a fool to ignore them. Still, there was a time and place for everything, and right now, that meant getting Buffy out of here.

Dolly’s appearance was startlingly quick. As she materialized within the cavern, Giles watched as she turned around, surveying the fissures in the floor, the gaping holes in the ceiling. Slowly, she shook her head, her tongue audibly clucking in spite of not yet being solid. “You went and broke it,” she commented. “I know some demons who aren’t going to be very happy about losing their summer retreat.” When she turned back to look at the Watcher, she noticed the bleeding young woman in his arms for the first time. “Did you break your Slayer, too?” she asked.

He ignored her comments, rising to his feet with Buffy still held tight to his chest. “She needs out of here as quickly as possible,” Giles said. “Get us back to Cortina’s. Now.”

“You don’t want a hospital? I thought all you humans went running to the doctor every time you got a little scratch.” Although she didn’t cower, his withering gaze was enough to cause the demon to redden slightly. “All right, all right. Cortina’s it is, then.” She looked around at the others, adding as she started to fade, “I’ll be back for you guys in a bit.”

Spike was the only one who didn’t watch as the green-haired demon vanished with Giles and Buffy. He didn’t need eyes to know that the Slayer was no longer in the cave; the hollow in the pit of his stomach was more than enough to broadcast the lack of her presence. The bond they’d shared prior to their arrival in Greece had been strong; now, after everything, it was almost as if they shared the same skin, the same heart…even if his didn’t beat anymore.

Although he hadn’t lied when he’d told Rupert that she was human now, he hadn’t been completely honest, either. Yes, his demon was no longer housed within her body, but something had most definitely been left behind...some fragment of the essence that was Spike. The time they had been joined up on the platform…he’d felt everything she was feeling…had heard her thoughts as if they were his own…had experienced her memories as if he had actually been there. Some of it was expected---the overwhelming sense of duty and responsibility, her fierce protectiveness of her family and friends, the power sheathed within her tiny frame---but others had been a shock, and not all of it pleasant. For instance, going through her heartache as Captain Cardboard had lifted away in the helicopter was something the platinum vampire could’ve spent an eternity without knowing, as well as having to feel the innocent young love she’d had for Angel. Even the brief flash of it now across his mind’s eye was enough to bring a grimace to his features.

Mistaking his disgust for pain, Tara knelt over the blond vampire, her blue eyes searching his own for some sign of what was wrong. “Do you need something?” she queried. “I could probably do a l-l-little spell to ease the pain.”

“Not necessary. I’ll be right as rain soon enough.” He watched as she straightened, starting to turn away. Bollocks, he thought. Just do it. “Thank you,” he said abruptly, unable to meet her startled gaze as she looked down at him.

A crooked smile slowly spread across the witch’s face. “You’re welcome,” she replied.

It was as if Tara’s approach had opened some unseen door, and Spike could only watch as Xander sat himself down next to the vampire. Without looking at him, the young construction worker started speaking. “What you did for Buffy,” he said, “that took guts. And…you were right. Hooking up with Celie was a pretty dumb thing to do.” It was the closest he was going to come to an apology, and both men knew it. It didn’t matter. It was enough.

Red was next. “You do know that your intervention is what saved Buffy, right? If you hadn’t jumped in to save her, it would’ve been Daymon’s demon that went through the ritual and we would’ve been too late.”

“Too late for what?”

“The reversal,” she explained. “Vampires need dead hosts, and since Buffy wasn’t, that gave us enough time to do the spell. So, mucho gracias.”

“Is that what it was?” he grumbled. “Felt like a bloody stake in my chest. And how come Buffy didn’t spill about that little goldmine? She made it sound like we were pretty much puppets in this whole cleansing show. That kind of spell changes everything.”

“She didn’t know,” Willow admitted. “Shoot, we didn’t know until Cortina brought it up as a possible countermeasure. Even then, we weren’t sure it would even work. So yeah, you were pretty much Kukla, Fran, and Ollie there.” She frowned. “Wait. Wasn’t one of them of the non-doll-like variety?”

“Fran,” Anya chimed. “She was the host. Very much human.”

The witch turned back to Spike. “So, Kukla and Ollie then.”

“Well, on behalf of Ollie, the effort’s appreciated, Red.”

There was a long, comfortable silence, during which time the gang just looked around at each other, finally settling on Anya as she hung back near the cave’s wall. She bristled. “I didn’t do any of the magic or inadvertently get another bad guy involved in the mix, so I really don’t have anything to add,” she said defensively, “but since it seems I must say something…Spike, thank you for being the one who got set on fire instead of us.”

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Once away from the cave’s influence, Buffy’s Slayer healing skills started kicking into overdrive, and Giles realized there was very little that he actually needed to do for her, other than make her comfortable. Although she never woke, her breathing grew stronger, the bleeding from her various orifices seemingly stopping of their own accord. Even some of the bite marks were already fading, and the Watcher found himself wondering how many scars she would have as a result of this latest averted disaster.

Part of him felt as if it was his failure, his fault that Buffy had suffered as greatly as she had. He knew it was irrational, that prophecies had a sneaky way of happening whether you liked it or not, but as her mentor, he was the one who was ultimately responsible, whether she liked it or not.

Everyone was asleep. The others had returned not too long after he, and immediately crashed, each to his or her previous bed. Even Spike had disappeared, once he’d checked with Giles that Buffy was going to be all right. He had watched the vampire’s retreating form as he ambled down the corridor, and realized that the other’s presence was going to become quite a familiar thing, now that he was involved with his Slayer. The Watcher may not like it, but he could no longer ignore the fact that Spike had risked everything for Buffy, had in fact refused to accept the gift of humanity in exchange for the woman he loved. That in itself was admirable.

In the wake of all the excitement, Giles was restless, unable to stop thinking long enough to relax, pacing the hallways until he’d found himself standing outside Cortina’s library. There had been no sign of their hostess since their return; Dolly had said that she was still recuperating…wherever it was she’d been taken. Frankly, he’d been disappointed. A part of him---a big part of him---missed the white demon…her teasing…the laughing blue eyes…her forthright manner…and though logically he recognized that such serious injuries as hers required time to heal, Giles couldn’t help but feel slightly let down by her absence.

His hand hovered over the door knob as he debated whether or not he should enter. Surely, Cortina wouldn’t mind if he spent a few hours looking over her books; her earlier invitations had certainly seemed as if she wasn’t averse to his interest in her library. And it wasn’t as if he didn’t know how to properly treat such valuable pieces of literature; after all, he wasn’t Xander.
The room was in darkness as he stepped inside, and Giles wondered briefly where a demon would put a light switch, whether it would be on the wall or in some obscure place that he’d never imagine would house one. As his hand groped around the edge of the door, he heard the audible squeak of a chair behind him, and froze. Must be one of Cortina’s men, he thought. Better let them know who it is so I don’t end up as someone’s shish kebab.

“No need for alarm,” the Watcher said. “It’s only---.”

“Rupert.”

Her voice was the last Giles was expecting, and he blinked as the library suddenly flooded with illumination. His sudden erection took him completely by surprise, but the smile that spread across his face was unabashedly pleased. “But, Dolly said…” he started, taking a single step toward the desk, unconsciously taking off his glasses.

“Isn’t she the best?” Cortina teased, as she slowly rose to her feet. “It’s always nice to have friends who’ll help with…surprises.” Casually, she leaned against the desk corner, her robe draping just enough to outline the curve of her hip, accentuate the rise of her breast.

Giles’ eyes swept over the delicate features of her face, searching for any evidence of her previous trauma, and he was surprised---pleasantly so---to find her skin glowing blemish-free, the ravages brought about by the alcohol nowhere to be seen. “How…?” he queried, gesturing abstractly to his face. “I mean, do healing capabilities come as part of the Vrolek package as well? Not that I’m not thrilled you’ve been restored to such good health, but it just seems rather…sudden.” He blushed, his blue gaze ducking slightly. “You look marvelous, by the way.”

“I only wish I could take credit for it,” the white demon said, her fingers tracing lazy patterns on her leg, drawing the Watcher’s gaze back to her, to the hidden promise of her thigh. “Dolly teleported me to a dimension that handles time differently than this one. You might’ve only been gone a day or two, but I’ve been away for over a month. And as much as I appreciated the special nursing, I haven’t been that bored in decades.” Her head tilted, a sweep of hair falling against her cheek. “You have no idea how glad I am to be back. Or, how good it is to see you. I don’t think I have to worry about being…bored anymore.”

“Yes…well.” Glancing over at the books, Giles cleared his throat before continuing. “I must thank you for the texts you let us borrow. They proved most valuable in Greece.”

Cortina affected a pout. “You want to talk about work,” she sighed, straightening. “OK, if you insist, I guess I can do that.” As she began to close the distance between them, she continued, “Everything worked out all right then? Dolly said she brought both Buffy and Spike back.” She stopped before the older man, raising her hands so that they fluttered just at his collar, nimbly undoing the top button before dancing downward to the next.

The breath caught in Giles’ throat as he glanced at the elegance of her fingers skating across the cotton of his shirt. “All…right, yes.” He could only watch as another button slipped from its fastening.

“You didn’t need the witch?” And yet another escaped…

“No.” Although she wasn’t even touching him, he could feel the heat from her hands etching a dangerous path down the center of his torso. God, how long had it been since a woman had affected him in this way? Not a woman, a little voice argued. A demon. Giles shoved the thought away. Doesn’t matter…

“I haven’t thanked you yet for saving my life,” Cortina said casually, lifting her pale blue gaze to his face. “You impressed the hell out of Dolly with that one. Not that I ever doubted you were capable of something like that…”

His fingers wrapped around one of her wrists, locking her movement, preventing her from finishing the disrobing she’d started. “That’s not what…this is…is it?” the Watcher queried. “Because I don’t want---.”

Cortina’s free hand ran down the side of his hip. “One doesn’t have anything to do with the other,” she said. “Inopportune timing on my part. I’m sorry.”

Giles didn’t respond, only slid his grip, interlacing her fingers with his own, and lifted her arm to his mouth, his lips pressing firmly to the inside of her wrist before parting to allow his tongue to outline the tiny throbbing veins. She tasted of honey-roasted almonds, the perfume of her skin a delicate mixture of heather and freshly turned soil, and his mouth watered at the anticipation of further exploration. Gently, his teeth nipped at the tender flesh of her inner arm, traveling downward to the crook of her elbow, sucking at the heat it found there as if it provided some lifeforce necessary for him to breathe.

The sensations arched the white demon’s back, hardening her nipples so that they stood erect against the soft cotton of her robe, and she pressed her hips into his, feeling the outline of his erection straining against his trousers. “So,” Cortina breathed. “Who am I getting? The Watcher?” Her pale blue eyes gleamed. “Or Ripper?”

Giles tore his mouth away, letting her hand fall gently to her side, and brought his face within inches of hers, their gazes locked. “The joy of experience,” he murmured, “is that you get both.” He circled his arm around her waist, scooping her up against his chest, at the same time bending his head to devour her lips with his own.

The moment he made contact, felt the tiny point of her tongue sweeping along his teeth, Giles knew…knew how much he’d been wanting to feel her weight in his arms…knew how devastated he’d been when he’d thought she’d been killed by Celie…but most importantly…knew how much brighter his world seemed now that it was inhabited by her ivory splendor. It had been a long time since he’d felt such an overwhelming hunger for a woman, longer still since he’d acted on it. He wasn’t about to let this one go.

Never breaking the passion of their kiss, the Watcher stepped forward, carrying her to the edge of the desk, leaning the white demon backwards until her shoulders pressed into its hard surface. His arm slid out, hands sliding down to catch the hem of her robe, gathering it upward to expose the arch of her calf…the succulence of her thigh. His fingers quickly discovered that she wore nothing underneath as they found the naked curve of her hip disappearing into her tiny waist.

Cortina broke the kiss, pushing him away slightly with the flat of her hand. “I think it’s better off,” she said with a coy smile, taking the fabric away from his grasp. “I just hate the feel of all that material bunched up around my neck. It’s very suffocating.”

Giles watched as she whipped off the garment, tossing it behind him to land with a soft plop on a stack of books. He had to admit, he’d been wondering what she would look like without it, if her…demon-ness manifested itself in other ways, not apparent while she was clothed. However, for all intents and purposes, she appeared human…very much a woman…with full breasts that seemed to be begging for his mouth. There was no sign of her stabbing, no scar where it had sliced into her stomach, but even without that particular roadmap, Giles knew exactly where her wound had been, and laid his hand gently over the spot.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked, his voice a husky whisper. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Cortina’s laugh was gentle, but genuine. “Oh, Rupert,” she gasped. “And here I’ve been worrying about being the one to hurt you.”

His mouth lifted upward into a smile, and the gleam returned to his eye. “No reason for both of us to be holding back then,” he said wickedly, and leaned his head over, snagging the nearest erect nipple between his teeth while his hand raked along her inner thigh…


To be continued in Chapter Thirty-Seven: Full Circle