DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy was kidnapped by a Greek half-man/half-demon (Daymon, the bad guy) who needed her as the host for his demon in a cleansing ritual. Spike got snatched at the same time, and during their time together, the Slayer realized her true feelings for the vampire, as well as learning of his feelings for her. They met and befriended Cortina, who lived in a series of caves out in the California desert, only to be separated when Spike got snatched by a crazy witch determined to use him for her own means. Buffy rescued him, but at the expense of getting back into Daymon's clutches. The Scoobies raced to save her, but arrived too late. Spike interrupted the ritual and inadvertently took the demon's place, temporarily becoming human while Buffy housed his vampire demon. The ritual was able to be reversed though, and everyone lived happily ever after. Except for Daymon and the witch, who were both killed. Oh, and Giles and Cortina fell for each other in a hard way.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a sequel to my first fic, The Hunt, and will most likely not make any sense to a reader unless that's been read first. Because I've already hooked Buffy and Spike up, obviously I'm going AU from the show from this point on, although I will be incorporating certain aspects and/or plotlines from the rest of Season 5 into this story. As most everything I write, this is primarily Buffy/Spike, but there will be a strong element of Giles/Cortina in at as well. I'm also going to go out on a limb here and say, this will most likely not be a very light fic. I don't anticipate it being super-heavy, but I'm pretty sure you'd never be able to call it fluffy. That being said, I hope you enjoy…

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Chapter 1: Breath

It breathed. With gentle palpitations against her bare arms, the air around her resonated in a quiescent whisper that spoke of frailty and despair, relaxing her vigilance to the point where her arm lowered, the weapon in her hand forgotten. We are not your enemy, it seemed to say. To oppose us would be to slaughter your own innocence.

I'm not an innocent, she wanted to respond, but the words caught in Buffy's throat, fixed in melancholy silence, her hazel eyes sweeping over the desolate landscape. In daylight, she didn't doubt that it could be quite beautiful---callow knolls punctuated with the occasional shrub, the bent forms of flower stems bowing in the breeze---but in the advent of the storm, the sky hung low, a sepulchral study of death, with portentious clouds blanketing the earth. This was not beautiful. This was a warning. And Buffy hadn't survived being the Slayer for the past five years by ignoring the obvious.

His arm slid around her waist, his skin somehow capturing what little light there was to gleam in a pale splendor, and she felt the feather touch of his lips on the curve of her neck. "I'm goin' to say this one's courtesy of your Slayer subconscious," Spike murmured, his mouth mere millimeters from her ear.

Buffy nodded. "I don't think you've experienced one of these yet," she said, her voice equally low. Anything louder would have seemed a sacrilege to the barren surroundings.

"Hate to break it you, but I've been poppin' into these dreams of yours for a week now," the vampire reminded, his amusement evident.

"Not one of these. Those were just normal, Buffy-working-through-her-stress-type dreams. I'll lay you two to one that this one's a prophetic Slayer dream."

Two sets of eyes watched as the grasses undulated in the wind, quickening their dance as it began to gain momentum, catching the tendrils of the Slayer's hair to float raggedly in the breeze. "And it's tellin' you…what?" Spike asked. "That it'll be windy tomorrow? Thought that's what the weather channel was for."

"No." She leaned back against his chest. "Can't you feel it? There's something…here."

His senses reached out, searching the night sky for any signs of a presence, human or otherwise, but found nothing. Spike frowned. This was the only place he and Buffy didn't share experiences, this netherworld of their dreams, and it was only here that he felt so completely cut off from her, devoid of the life that she breathed into him during their waking hours, returned to his pre-cleansing state of being utterly alone. He had yet to decide if he liked it or not.

"Do you know what it is?" he asked.

She shook her head. "But it's trying to tell me something. I just can't understand what. I don't suppose you speak wind?"

His sapphire gaze glanced down at the sword in her hand. "Probably sayin' 'please don't kill me,' though I think Excaliber there might be a tad over the top for the job." His hand came up, smoothed her hair down over her shoulder, trying his best to tame it against the wind, but it was a losing battle. Even as he did so, the air grew more virulent, and the whispers it had been sharing earlier began to turn into screams.

Buffy's eyes darted around, knowing that they were not alone, unable to find the owners of whoever had summoned her to this place. How can you fight what you can't see? she wondered, and took a tentative step forward. Almost immediately, she was buffeted back, slamming into the vampire behind her, sending them both sprawling to the ground.

"What the bleedin' hell was that?" Spike growled as he stumbled to his feet, his hand automatically going out to assist the Slayer up as well.

"That is what's trying to talk to me," she replied, and lifted the blade again, readying herself for whatever battle seemed to lay before her.

"What did you do to piss it off?"

She glanced back at him. "What makes you think it was me?" she queried. "Maybe it was pissed off before I got here." His cocked eyebrow was his only response, and Buffy rolled her eyes as she turned away. "Not like these dreams ever make any sense anyway," she muttered. "For all I know, the whole thing is just one big metaphor."

"First time I ever fought a metaphor," Spike said, joining her at her side. "'Bout time I had a challenge."

The grin he shot her was enough to bring a smile to her lips, and she shook her head in mock dismay. "Big-headed vampires are always the first ones to get staked," she taunted.

"Oooo," he said, pursing his lips before burying his mouth in the curve of her neck. "That a promise?"

The tremors that went through her body seemed to echo against his skin, and Buffy sighed as his tongue lapped gently at the scar on her neck, tilting her head to allow him better access. "I'm working here, Spike," she murmured.

"Workin' usually happens when you're awake," he laughed. "I think this qualifies as playin'." He felt her stiffen in his arms, and looked up, eyes ready to search the horizon for whatever menace had captured the Slayer's attention, his own muscles freezing when he saw the spectre hanging before them.

"Somehow, I don't think it's in the mood for tiddlywinks," Buffy commented, as she separated herself from the vampire's embrace.

It hung there, a diaphanous dance that shimmered in spite of the lack of light, neither male nor female, yet somehow eerily both. Instead of eyes, two endless pools of ebony gaped back at them, and its mouth was a lipless hole, locked in a palsied scream that sang of sadness, a silent cry for ears that would never hear it.

"Who are you?" Buffy asked, not really expecting a response, but desperate for some sort of reaction, something she might be able to use.

I am all. Its mouth didn't move, but the words were unmistakeable.

"All?" she quizzed. "Isn't that laundry detergent?"

I am all, it repeated. As are you.

"OK, now I know it's a metaphor," Buffy groused. She glanced back at Spike. "You were the poet. What the hell is it talking about?"

He shook his head. "Bugger if I know," he said. "Things were a little more literal back then."

You must go.

"Wish I could," she replied, turning back to face the spectre. "But I don't usually get a say in these matters."

You must go.

"Broken record much?" She sighed, the sword in her hands lowering just ever so slightly as her annoyance began to fester. "I heard you the first---."

It slammed into her stomach, drilling her backward onto the ground, pinning her to the cold earth with invisible fetters, and she felt the first drops of rain begin pelting her from the sky. Spike's voice seemed to come to her as if from far away.

"Buffy!"

But she was helpless, unable to move except for the blinking of her eyes as she tried to shield them from the icy onslaught of the heavens…

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

It was only her ceiling. No rain. No clouds. Definitely no wind. Just the plain and simple white of her bedroom ceiling, staring back at her as if to ask what the hell was wrong. The sensations from the impact to her gut were already fading, drifting into the ether of the dawn, and she glanced over at her closed curtains, spying the faintest filaments of orange already beginning to peek through.

Though she was alone in the room, Buffy knew that Spike still slept, probably off in his own dreams by this point, and marvelled yet again on this strange side effect from the ritual. Ever since the aborted cleansing a week earlier, every time one of them started dreaming, the other would join in---provided, of course, that he or she was sleeping at the time---and they would experience the dream together. It was weird. In many ways, it was as if they were still awake, like they'd been prior to their time in Greece, just spending time being together, with the exception of how they interacted with whatever was happening in the dream. So far, Buffy had had to help Spike kill a group of motorcycle demons, while he in turn had been forced to follow her around while she chased Brian Boitano for his autograph. He was still making her pay for that one.

Tossing back the blanket, Buffy hopped from her bed and strode over to the window, ready to throw open the curtains to face the morning but already feeling the urge to leave them drawn. That was another thing she'd noticed. All of a sudden, sunlight made her feel squicky, and she found herself avoiding it when she could. Not that it hurt or anything; it was more like being aware of its potential dangers more than anything else. Probably just leftover vampire crap, she'd decided. It'll just pass in time.

Have to remember to tell Giles about the dream, she thought. Maybe he can make some sense of it. And, just maybe, it'll bring him back to earth again, help him refocus on the current situation in Sunnydale. Though she knew why he'd been a little distant since returning---and not that she was begrudging him any kind of happiness---Buffy was anxious to get this issue with Glory and Dawn sorted out, the knowledge that they'd lost precious research time because of Daymon and his little ritual all too keen in the Slayer's mind. Time didn't stand still on the Hellmouth, although, to be honest, if it happened one of these days, she wouldn't really be all that surprised.

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

His head rested in his hands, his elbows perched on the edge of his desk. The paper stared back at him, the words bleeding into a black mush, and Giles felt the bile rise in the back of his throat, an acidic burning that seared its path into his nostrils. He should've known, should've anticipated that they would pull such a stunt, but in the wake of the gang's return from Greece, he had allowed himself to momentarily forget about the bureaucratic beast, savoring instead the new lease on life he'd felt he'd been granted. Stupid, stupid, stupid, he mentally scolded. How could I have been so short-sighted?

It wasn't as if he'd even given them all the details; his report had really been just a cursory outline of the events of Buffy's kidnapping. He'd left out all mention of Cortina, and Celie, and the Slayer's involvement with Spike, yet somehow, they had found out. How, he had no idea, but here it was, gazing back at him in black and white.

The tinkling of the shop's bell jerked him from his reverie, and he quickly pulled a book over to cover the paper, hiding the very obvious crest of the Council's letterhead from any errant glances from a passer-by. He rose when he saw Buffy, stepping away from his seat before she took the time to come to him. No need to worry her, he decided. She's certainly under enough pressure right now as it is.

"You look well rested," she commented as she settled into one of the chairs. "Does this mean no more midnight drives to the desert?"

Giles blushed. "Cortina had…business," he said. "And, really, it's none of your concern."

Buffy laughed. "When you sleep through two of our last three training sessions, I think I get the right to give you a hard time." She glanced around at the empty shop. "Where is everyone?"

"Anya asked for the day off, but for what purpose, I didn't have the nerve to ask, and frankly, I stopped listening as soon as she mentioned the word costume. As for Willow and Tara, I presume they're at classes. They did say they had a lot of make-up work to do."

A twinge of guilt wiped the smile from the Slayer's face. "I guess I kinda forgot that life goes on as normal, even on the Hellmouth. My bad, I'm sorry."

Giles shook his head. "You've been pre-occupied," he said. "It's certainly understandable." He sat down in the chair opposite her. "I'll probably regret asking this, but where's Spike?"

"At his crypt. I assume, still sleeping." Actually, she knew for a fact that the blond vampire was still off in la-la-land, but Buffy kept that confirmation to herself. She and Spike had decided not to share that aspect of their newfound connection with anyone just yet; it was hard enough for the gang to adjust to them being a couple as it was anyway.

"I'm afraid without Anya here to mind the store, we won't be able to train today."

She shrugged. "That's fine. I have something else for the agenda, if you don't mind." As she related the details of her dream, taking care to edit out the details about Spike being there, Buffy watched the frown lines on her Watcher's forehead deepen, the blue of his eyes grow increasingly murky.

"Interesting," he murmured when she finished. "And you have no idea what summoned you to that particular spot?"

"Nope."

"And there was nothing regarding Glory or this key business in it?"

"Nope."

"Interesting," he repeated, and stood to cross to the nearest bookshelf.

"Glad you think so," Buffy said. "'Cause it's bugging the crap out of me." Her head tilted as she watched him pull out a thick, leather-bound volume. "So what do you want me to do?" she queried.

"Pardon?"

"What do you want me to do? I'd rather not be wasting my energy on something other than finding out what's going to get rid of Glory, but if you think this is important…"

"Oh, no." Giles looked over at his charge. "Don't worry about the dream for right now. Concentrate on protecting Dawn. I'll take care of the research for this. Unless, of course, you have another dream, in which case we'll have to lay a little more credence to the possibility of some additional danger."

"Good." Buffy visibly relaxed, sinking back into the chair. "I was kinda hoping you'd say that."

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

He was breathing, and it hurt like hell, but somehow, Spike knew that stopping was not an option; stopping would mean certain death. He walked into the mist, feeling it part before him only to close again as he passed through it, inhaling deeply the musky scents of the cobbled streets, and wished not for the first time that he didn't have to go down that path, that he could choose instead to stop dead in his tracks and just wait for consciousness to return. But that was not an option, not now, and so his feet moved, inexorably drawing him closer to his destination, yet one more pitstop in the field of his memory.

Buffy knew none of this. For some reason, this only happened when he slept alone, when he knew Buffy was awake and walking around in the outside world, and he lay alone and unconscious in his bed. He almost thought it was better that way. When he'd made that first sojourn, it had scared the rocks out of him, leaving him with an impending sense of panic when he woke up, and Spike had worried that she would sense that, just as she was now sensing everything else that seemed to be going through his head. She hadn't; she had, in fact, seemed oblivious to the entire experience, prattling on about how Joyce had invited him over for dinner and how thrilled Dawn was going to be when she was officially told about them being a couple. Thank god for minor distractions.

The house loomed in front of him, its long, thin windows all too familiar, the glint of a candle visible from behind one of the drawn curtains. Already, his heart was starting to race, his nervousness about walking up those stairs to knock on that particular door crushing the air out of his lungs, and Spike wished bitterly that he didn't always need to be human during these escapades. Sometimes, there were serious advantages to not needing oxygen, or not feeling a heartbeat, and this definitely qualified as such. Still, his body climbed the steps, an echo resounding throughout the street each time his boot met the sculpted marble, and he steeled himself to face the house's occupant…


To be continued in Chapter 2: With Living Hues