DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy is trying to come to grips with her mother's death, while Elvis has found Cortina, who has been captured by the Council…

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

Chapter 7: Destroyer and Preserver

Her pale eyes were cold as she stared at Travers, her face immobile. He wasn't sure what he'd expected---fear, apology, boastful pride even---but this hostile passivity was unnerving, diverting his train of thought sufficiently enough so that he just sat there and stared at her for a full minute after his introduction. When he heard the newest arrival quietly cough into his hand, Quentin straightened, pulling down his coat as he quickly composed himself.

"I'm certain you're aware that in spite of the fact that the Council has not had direct contact with you in more than a hundred years, we haven't forgotten about your latent abilities. However, I would very much like to speak with you, yet I know that as soon as we remove the gag, you will scream." He gestured to the equipment off to her right. "Technology has come a long way since you last encountered us, Cortina. No longer are we forced to deal with you on your terms, but on ours. That device will simulate the effects of sunlight and should I instruct my colleague to turn it on, we would be treated to the show of watching you boil before our eyes."

For the first time, she showed some emotion, her eyes widening just ever so slightly as they darted between the apparatus and her interrogator. Quentin allowed himself a small smile. "I'm not saying I will, of course," he continued. "What I would like to do is remove your gag so that we might have a civilized conversation. The device is merely an incentive not to attempt to incapacitate us. Do you understand?" He waited until he was met with a single nod. "Good."

The first thing she did after the tape was gone was suck in her cheeks, exercising the muscles in her face as their inactivity had left her feeling palsied. "You're not as nice as the last Council head I knew," Cortina said, her gaze locked on Travers' face. "Of course, he didn't last very long."

He nodded. "I assume you're referring to Cabot," he said. "Yes, our records indicate he was rather a soft touch, which, inevitably, cost him his life."

"Is this going to be about old times?" she queried. "Because if you just wanted to wax nostalgic, a letter would've probably sufficed, or a phone call. I think the kidnapping thing is going just a tad far, don't you?"

"Does Rupert know?"

"No!" Her denial was vehement, and the sparks flashed from her eyes. "And if you in any way hurt him, or drag him into this, I will personally see to it that maggots chew out your eyeballs before I cut out your heart with my bare hands. Understand?"

Quentin chuckled. "It's nice to know our dossier on you is accurate. My predecessors were quite vociferous regarding your…colorful speech."

"I'm glad to know I don't disappoint."

"No, in fact, I must admit to being quite impressed in your ability to stay hidden from us for so long. How many years has it been now? One hundred? One hundred and ten?"

"One hundred and thirty-seven." Her lips twisted into a cruel smile. "Give or take."

"And have you been here on the Hellmouth that entire time?" She nodded. "As I said. Very impressive."

"You're not here to talk about my phenomenal hiding abilities," Cortina said. "And I'm not chained up like some animal because you want to appreciate my beauty. So why don't you just lay your cards out on the table, Mr. Travers? I'm sure it'll make you feel better."

"I only have one card, and I'm afraid it's not nearly as interesting as you might think."

"Try me."

"Circumstances have arisen where your talents would be most appreciated." Quentin smiled. "In fact, the Council believes that you may very well be our only hope."

She rolled her eyes. "You Watchers never change. Always going for the melodrama. How Rupert ever got involved with you, I'll never know."

"Now, now, Cortina. Lying does not become you." His smile vanished, eyes growing serious again. "We are perfectly aware that you have been breaking into our libraries over the last century, pilfering texts, rummaging through our resources. How, we have no idea, unless teleportation is a Vrolek skill we're unfamiliar with?" He waited for an answer, but her lips only thinned as she pressed them together. "Rupert may have been taken in by your charm, but only because he doesn't know of your true history. Do you think he would've been so quick to share his bed if he knew you'd slaughtered half the Council before your disappearance? Or that your reputation as the Destroyer was renowned throughout the Vrolek species? That even your own kind feared you, and in fact, attempted to turn you over to us themselves?"

"There were extenuating circumstances, and that was a long time ago." Her voice was frigid with barely controlled anger. "Rupert doesn't know that Cortina, because she doesn't exist anymore."

"Oh, but we believe she does. You are still a demon, with demon instincts, and hiding from the world for decades does not constitute a reformation." He frowned as he saw her eyes dart to the apparatus. "Don't make me hurt you, Cortina," he warned. "I think we would both very much regret that."

"Somehow I doubt that." Her pale gaze flickered over him in disgust. "Although watching you squirm from being boiled from the inside out might be kind of fun."

"Are you not even remotely curious as to why we would go to all this effort to locate you?" Travers asked. "Your existence was such an embarrassment for the Council, we've even eliminated all references to Vroleks from our texts. Convinced dozens of our members around the world that you don't even exist as a species anymore. Yet, here I am, on the Hellmouth, ready to offer to clear your record with our organization, to promise never to bring you to justice for the crimes you perpetrated against us, and ask only for your help in one specific matter."

"Council promises are worthless to me," Cortina replied. "There is absolutely no reason for me to trust you."

"This doesn't have to be ugly, but if you prefer, we can always resort to threats. I'm sure there is something out there you value highly enough to grant us this small favor. Or someone, perhaps."

He didn't have to say the name; she could see it in the watery depths of his eyes, and fought to suppress the urge to open her mouth and let out the scream that she knew would shatter his eardrums, maybe even cause a cerebral hemorrhage. "You. Will not. Touch him," she finally said through gritted teeth.

"And we don't want to," Travers said. "I am not fond of hurting those within my own organization, but if that's what it will take, then I am prepared to make the order, regardless of my feelings for Rupert."

"And you wonder why I don't like you."

"You don't have to like me to do this for us. We shall just consider it a business transaction, a simple trade. I'm certain once you've heard the particulars of our request, you will be more than happy to comply."

She snorted in derision. "Really? And why's that?"

"Because it involves two people we suspect may mean something to you." His smile returned. "Spike…and Buffy Summers."

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

Finding their old room had been the easy part. Separating himself from his own grief so that Buffy could have space to let hers go was not.

Everything was as they had left it…the tasteful decoration, elegant armchairs angled to each other in the corner, the enormous bed that took up the center of the room. It was there that they sat, she curled up in his arms, the sobs wracking her thin frame as memory after memory insisted on presenting itself. Some of them were hers---the smile on Joyce's face when she'd given Buffy her first set of skates…the feel of her mother's shoulder on her cheek as they had one of their marathon video sessions---but some of them were Spike's…the image of an axe-wielding Joyce, sensations of hot chocolate coursing down her throat as her mother talked about the gallery. She'd never quite realized how much time he'd really spent at her house without her, how many secrets Joyce had shared with the vampire that had never made it to Buffy's ears. In a way, it almost made her angry, knowing that her own mom didn't trust her enough to ask her opinions…

"It's not what you think," Spike murmured, the gentle caress of his hand over her hair almost automatic as he struggled to be the strong one. "You were her daughter. She needed someone from the outside. Someone unbiased. A friend."

"I c-c-could've helped," Buffy stuttered through her tears. "I've g-g-got life experience, too, you know."

"Not the same thing, luv. Besides, she felt she couldn't protect you from the beasties of the night, least she could do was protect you from the beasties of her own life."

For a few, long minutes, the only sounds in the room came from Buffy's sobs and Spike's occasional shush as he began to rock her within his embrace, unconsciously hoping the soft movement would lull her into slumber, rest he knew she would need in order to incorporate her grief into something manageable. He could feel her pain as a tangible blade in his gut, twisting in red-hot fury as it burrowed its way inside, scraping out everything that lived within them like a hide being cleaned, leaving behind a gnawing void that threatened to swallow what light remained. He didn't know how she managed it, dealing with this depth of feeling on a day-to-day basis. Sure, he knew love, he knew hate, and the offshoots that either produced---vengeance, frustration, anger. It was the remorse he was having problems fathoming, almost a sense of guilt for still being able to walk the earth while Joyce would soon be committed to a cold and dark grave. These were new sensations, and though he didn't voice the thought so that Buffy could hear, Spike knew---at least, suspected---when they had started. The day of the cleansing. More specifically, those moments when he had shared the Slayer's soul.

"How am I going to do this without her?" Buffy whispered, her tears momentarily slowing as she leaned back to look up into his face. "I don't know how to take care of a teenager, or how to balance the checkbook, or even cook." Her eyes widened. "I'm never going to have her hot chocolate again. I can't believe I never bothered to find out how she makes it. I'm a bad daughter---."

"You're not." His hands gripped her upper arms, holding her steady as he stared into her face, blue eyes just daring her to look away. "And we'll suss it out together." The corner of his mouth lifted. "And just ask your sister about the hot chocolate recipe. I think it's about the only thing I ever saw her do in that kitchen that didn't require a fire extinguisher. That cooking gene of Joyce's must've skipped over both of her kids."

Through her tears, Buffy smiled, leaning forward to brush her lips against his. "Thank you," she murmured. "How would I be able to get through this without you?"

"You'd find a way. You're the strongest person I know, luv. You'll get through this." He felt a flutter of surprise when her mouth trailed across his cheek, her hands coming up to press against his chest as she used them to support her weight. For a second, Spike felt the instinct to pull away, to chastise Buffy about a time and place for everything, only…

Please…don't…

Slowly, he let his arms wrap around her torso, pulling her close so that her heartbeat vibrated against his own skin, closing his eyes as she rained kisses down the side of his neck. The need wafted from her flesh, the hair on the back of her neck prickling as she nuzzled into his shoulder, and Spike felt her sigh against him, her lashes wet as her eyes fluttered closed. Words were unnecessary; both felt the emptiness in each of their spirits lessen as they clung to the other, the needs of their bodies temporarily offering refuge from the pain. Hesitatingly, their lips met, stumbling as if it was their first, too tender, too gentle, frightened of causing even more ache.

It wasn't about the act. It wasn't about want. It sure as hell wasn't about numbing themselves from feeling. As he gently leaned Buffy back against the bed, hands never daring to leave her, afraid almost that if he let go she would somehow disappear, Spike knew the why of it, accepted it, understood how it was necessary. It was about being thankful…about relishing the fact that they were still alive…

And it was about coming together and proving to the other that they would get through it together…

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

The knock at the door startled them, causing Giles to fumble with the stack of books he was carrying back to the desk, Willow to drop the pencil she'd been playing with as she read, and Dawn to jerk her head up from where she'd fallen asleep. Their eyes swept to the entrance as it was pushed open, one of Cortina's men hovering just outside as he barked out a short sentence.

"Thank you," Willow replied, and the others looked at her with a frown. She shrugged. "Since I've been coming out to feed Elvis and stuff, I've picked up on some of their language," she explained. "It helps a lot, you know, no misunderstandings when we're trying to communicate."

"Do you know how to ask for ice cream?" Dawn asked.

"Uh, no. Surprisingly, that topic of conversation hasn't come up."

"What did he say?" questioned Giles.

Willow's mouth settled into a thin line. "Elvis is back. Which means I should probably go see if he found Cortina." Closing the book in front of her, she stood and was halfway to the door when Dawn spoke up.

"Should I go get Spike and Buffy?"

The redhead hesitated, unsure of what to say, but Giles beat her to the punch. "We'll let them be for now," he said softly. "They…need this time together, and we're not even certain the Hound has found anything useful."

Willow nodded. "I'll be back as soon as I have some answers."

The return of silence to the library was enough to spur the Watcher to resume his searching, but Dawn just sat there, watching as he settled in the chair opposite her. "Giles?" she asked, her voice tremulous, almost as if she was afraid of disturbing him from his work. She bit her lip when he looked up. "Can I…ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"What happens now?"

"Well, if Elvis has found Cortina---."

"No." She leaned forward. "What happens now…with me? When they find out Mom is…am I…" Her face wrinkled as she struggled to get the words out of her mouth, fighting back the tears that threatened to start spilling again. "I don't want to leave Sunnydale," she finally managed.

Giles' eyes softened, and he pushed aside the book in front of him to lean forward and rest his hand over hers. "You're not going anywhere," he assured the young girl. "Your family is here, and we're going to make sure everything turns out all right."

"They can't make me go, right? I mean, if I don't want to?"

"They won't. Buffy won't allow it."

The mention of her sister's name seemed enough to comfort Dawn for now, and she slouched back against her chair, a tiny smile on her lips that didn't quite meet her eyes. "Thanks."

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

They rested. Not because their appetites were sated, for that in essence never truly happened. No, the children of the wind slumbered in the trees of the Hellmouth in order to regain their strength, recoup the penalties for having pushed themselves so assiduously in their search to answer the calls of the feast. Even the consumption of the other was not enough to fortify them, though the elixir of her purity had been momentarily intoxicating. For a brief moment, they had touched upon the dark when it had stumbled amidst them, and the heady taste it had offered was enough to convince even the most voluble dissenter to stand down.

They would continue…

They would find them…the dark…the light…

And they would dine…

…until they were all…


To be continued in Chapter 8: Moving Everywhere