DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Quentin Travers is attempting to make a deal with Cortina, while Elvis has returned to the caves with knowledge of her whereabouts
"We need Buffy," Giles said.
"Why can't you just let her be?" Dawn hissed. "Doesn't it mean anything to you about Mom? Didn't you see how she was when Spike pulled her out of the library. Buffy never cries. How big a deal is that? And besides, you've got Willow. Can't she just do some abracadabra to get you guys in and out of there?"
"Normally, I'd say, woo hoo, I get to be magic girl," the witch said. "But that doesn't work around Cortina. She just kind of sucks up the magic vibe from around her, so my brand of rescuing ain't going to cut it this time."
"What about Spike then? Can't we just use him and leave Buffy out of it?"
"This is the Council we're dealing with here," Giles explained. "They're human. Spike will be useless in a battle against them."
The vampire grimaced. He hated it when Rupert was right. If they stood any chance of getting Cort back, he wasn't going to be of any use to them. What had happened to those hordes he could defend against? Too many enemies recently had been human. Celie, Daymon for a bit, and now the bloody Council. What he wouldn't do for a good old-fashioned demon hunt right about now.
"Trust me, Dawn," the Watcher was saying. "Cortina did too much for Buffy for her not to want to do this in return. And we have no idea how long she'll be at her current location. If we stand any chance at all at rescuing her, we have to do it quickly."
In his arms, the young blonde stirred, moaning slightly as she shifted her weight, lifting her knee to drape it over his. She was dreaming; he could see her eyes moving beneath her lids, but because of his own wakefulness, he had no idea who or what occupied those dreams, whether they were painful memories or a pleasant escape. Either way, her time within them was limited.
"Buffy, pet," he murmured, reaching up to push the hair from her face, exposing the fragile line of her temple as the strands clung tenaciously to her skin from the drying sweat. "Time to wake up."
The faintest of frowns flickered across her brow, and Spike watched as her
bottom lip jutted out. "Five more minutes," she replied, her voice
a husky whisper.
The soft knock at the door caused her to groan, and her frown deepened, lids lifting to reveal the soft hazel of her eyes. "Please tell me that wasn't what I thought it was," she said.
"Elvis found Cort."
That woke her up, and she propped herself up on her elbow to gaze at the entrance. "Come in," she called.
There was a hesitation, and then the doorknob turned, but before anyone could show, Willow's voice came through the crack. "Everyone decent?"
Spike chuckled. "What a thing to ask a vampire," he drawled. "I am deeply shamed that I actually have to answer yes to that."
"Come on in, Will." Her eyes were down as her head poked around, and Buffy laughed. "It's OK. We're not naked." She glanced down at Spike's bare chest. "Well, not completely anyway."
"We know where Cortina is," the redhead said. "Giles wants to get moving ASAP."
"Right. He doesn't happen to know where she keeps her weapons stashed, does he? 'Cause I'm thinking, they're going to be prettily heavily armed, so we're going to need every advantage we can get."
"Yes, I do." Although he didn't show his face, her Watcher's voice filtered from outside the room as he responded to her query. "Dawn and I will go get them. We'll meet you three back at the stream."
She waited until she heard the sound of their footsteps disappear down the hall. "I don't want Dawn going," Buffy said. "Things might get crazy. I don't want to have to worry about protecting her if I don't have to."
"We can drop her off with Tara," Willow volunteered.
"So that will make two stops," the Slayer mused, and met Spike's blue gaze. "I was hoping "
His eyes immediately crinkled as he frowned. "Oh," he said. "Right. S'pose that'd be the proper thing to do and all."
"You don't mind?"
"Stupid question, pet. Of course not. At least it makes me useful."
Willow bit at her lip. Giles had warned her about this new development in her friend's relationship, but watching it firsthand, hearing them have a conversation where only half of it was spoken out loud was a little weird. "Not to be nosy or anything," she ventured. "But would you care to enlighten those of us in the room who aren't all ESP-ing right now?"
"Told you we had to stop doin' that," Spike murmured, the corner of his mouth lifting in amusement.
Buffy turned to address her friend. "I want Spike to stop by my house and make the arrangements for them to come pick up my Mom's body," she explained, a hint of her sadness tingeing her words. "Obviously, if something's trying to kill me, I can't go around in case it's still hanging around, and no way do I want Dawn to have to deal with it."
"And since I can't help with the Council wankers," the vampire continued, "it might as well be me." He watched as Buffy pushed back the blankets and stood, stretching like a lazy cat, the fine muscles in her shoulders standing out in bas relief. The pain was still there, but with a job to do, with something concrete for her to focus on, it was manageable, temporarily shelved to a corner of her consciousness where she could come back later and dust it off. He would be there for that, help her bear some of the burden of what being left without a parent could do. His experience wasn't exactly the same, but
Spike blinked. It had never occurred to him before now. In light of the flood of memories each had shared, the thoughts that jumped between them even now as they went about their daily business, Buffy had to know. It wasn't possible that she couldn't, not when it was so much a part of him, part of who he was today and who he had been. Yet she walked as if in ignorance, treated him as if it didn't matter, when he knew---somewhere, deep down---that it did.
He heard the water running in the bathroom, could feel the
cool tingle on her cheeks as she splashed it over her face, and knew that
she was completely unaware of even this most recent realization. She didn't
know. It wasn't getting through to her, although why, he had no idea. Part
of him wanted to test his theory, force the memories forward to see if she
would see them, but an even larger part didn't. She loved him---he knew that---and
even having experienced through his memories what he'd been like prior to
coming to Sunnydale hadn't managed to curtail her feelings for him. But this
was different. And in light of what had just happened with Joyce
wait. No reason for Buffy to know all his secrets, especially ones that might
make her leave him
She regarded her Watcher with a steady gaze, her lips thin, jaw tight. "You don't have to do this," Buffy said.
"I'm not about to let you go in and face them on your own," he replied. "We don't know if they'll be expecting us, or even what we'll discover." He paused, shifting the weight of the crossbow in his arms as his gaze darted to the building beside them. "And, yes. I do have to do this."
She didn't want to ask, not seeing the steely determination in Giles' face. That was a look he reserved for apocalypses, not something she'd ever witnessed in regard to anything personal. The white demon was really getting to him.
"Too bad we don't have a way to disguise Elvis," Willow joked. "Then at least I could come in and help, let you know when Cortina was close by how much my magic got sucked up."
"Somehow, I don't think a rubber nose and a fake moustache will work on six foot demon dogs," Buffy said dryly. Inhaling deeply, she squared off with the back entrance of the building the Hound had led them to, the daggers she had borrowed tucked safely into her boots. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." He walked behind her as she stepped up to the steel door, watching as she tested the knob before breaking it off in her grip. "I don't suppose you've got a plan on how to locate Cortina," he murmured as he followed her inside the dark corridor.
"Yep." She grinned and glanced back at him over her shoulder. "Open
every door we see until we find her."
It didn't take nearly as long as she anticipated. The building was almost deserted, long since left vacant by whatever company had owned it previously, and in fact showed little to no sign of being disturbed in years. A thick layer of dust was settled over the furniture that resided in the rooms she exposed, opening door after door as they slowly descended the levels. Only once had they actually witnessed the presence of others, and the pair had easily avoided detection by ducking into a nearby closet, waiting until they had passed before venturing onward.
When they reached the heavy door, Buffy knew almost immediately that it was the right one, the fact that it was the first she'd encountered that had been locked being a dead giveaway. Motioning for Giles to stand back, she shattered the bolt in her grasp, pushing the door open as quickly as she could, hoping that by doing so she could surprise any guards that may be inside.
The room was pitch black, a sooty darkness that seemed to swallow the sounds of their feet on the floor. She stopped, ears straining as she sought to detect other presences. One moment two and there, just a few feet in front of her, a soft exhalation of someone breathing. Her first instinct was to attack, but Buffy held back, waiting as she continued to listen, quickly realizing that the gentle resonance came from a position lower than her own head, which meant that whoever it was wasn't standing up.
The sudden illumination from overheard blinded her, and the Slayer blinked as she tried to adjust her eyes to the new light level. "Sorry," she heard Giles mumble behind her, and then caught the white form on the bed that lay before her.
She was sleeping, or at least, Buffy hoped that Cortina was asleep and not unconscious from some torture that the Council might've inflicted. But and her eyes darkened, her brows knitted. The demon certainly didn't look like she'd been tortured. There wasn't a mark on her, and if it weren't for the tape over her mouth or the fact that her hands were bound behind her, the young woman would never have thought anything was remiss. Well, except for the dried blood stains on the sheets. That was most definitely not good.
When he saw no one else was in the room, Giles rushed forward, his weapon almost forgotten as he dropped it on the edge of the bed, leaning over to press a gentle hand to her face. "She's alive," he murmured, eyes searching over her skin for any signs that she might be hurt.
"Well, duh, she's breathing." Buffy glanced around with a small frown. "Question is, why isn't she being guarded?"
"That's a question we can worry about later," Giles replied, and set about loosening the cords that bound Cortina's hands, allowing them to fall to the bed before scooping her up into his arms.
The demon stirred as soon as she was lifted, pale lashes fluttering open in alarm that quickly softened. He could see her mouth working underneath the tape and with as little pain as he could manage, he wrested it from her face.
Cortina gasped as the cool air struck her reddened skin. "Knew I should've polished that set of armor of yours," she murmured.
"OK, time for flirting later," Buffy warned. "Right now, we've got to get out of here before they realized what we've done."
The demon frowned. "Travers " she started, only to quiet when Giles shushed her.
"Later," he promised. "Outside."
Buffy's hand stole to the wall and the light switch that her Watcher had found earlier, slipping the room back into the blackness that wrapped around them like a velvet cloak. This time, it wasn't as oppressive, her eyes adjusting more rapidly to the change, and, with catlike stealth, edged her way to the open door and back to freedom.
His face was impassive as he stared at the screen, the dim outlines of the trio barely discernible in the dark hallway. They had found her much sooner than he had anticipated, and he couldn't help but wonder as to their means. Perhaps Willow Rosenberg's magic had increased to such a degree that it could overwhelm the Vrolek's natural defenses. Even as he thought it, though, Quentin knew it wasn't the case. Cortina's capabilities were renowned among her species; it would take a much stronger witch than Willow to supersede them.
"Sir, I really think---."
The simple lift of Travers' hand was enough to silence the young man who stood behind him. "You were given an order. I expect you to obey it."
"But they're getting away!"
The older man sighed. "Next time, do try harder not to state the obvious,"
he reprimanded, and reached for a nearby telephone. As he held the receiver
to his ear, he leaned over to flip a switch on the monitor before him, changing
the perspective so that the forms of Buffy, Giles, and Cortina were now approaching
the camera instead of hurrying away from it. His face was tight, and it was
only when he heard the familiar click on the other end of the line, did he
speak again. "I want them followed." There was a slight pause. "You
heard me. Followed. They must not know and if they find out
threat hung in the air, and there was no hesitation as he replaced the phone
on its cradle.
At least the bloody storm had stopped. Evidence of its destruction lay everywhere broken branches scattered across the roads gutters overflowing from the rain that had been incessant since it started garbage cans overturned with the debris littering the sidewalks. Spike shook his head as he surveyed the mess that was the Summers' front lawn. We're goin' to have a bugger of a time cleanin' this up once this whole thing is over with, he thought irritably.
So lost in thought was he that he didn't even notice the stars twinkling through the break in the clouds, or the way the individual shafts of moonlight struck the puddles and skipped across the cement. The beauty of the squall's aftermath went overlooked by the vampire as he climbed the stairs of the porch, fingers trailing over the railing as his feet seemed to grow heavier and heavier with each approaching step. He knew he had to do this; with the threat to Buffy still unknown, there were no other options, not if he wanted her to be safe. Yet, the prospect of seeing Joyce's dead body, of having to handle the details of her removal, left an acrid aftertaste in his mouth, his gut churning for some unknown reason, and he found himself fighting the unfamiliar feelings of grief that suddenly threatened to crush him. Buck up, ol' boy, he said to himself. Vampire, remember? Creature of the night. Lover of all things evil and violent. Certainly seen enough corpses in your lifetime. Hell, you are a corpse.
But it wasn't working; he didn't really believe it. And as his hand stretched out to turn the knob, Spike noticed for the first time the almost imperceptible tremor in his fingers.
The scent wafted to his nostrils as he stepped across the threshold, and he frowned, pausing as he tried to discern where it was coming from. It seemed to be everywhere, a tangible presence in the air that stroked his skin, flittered across his lips, inviting him to taste when they both knew that it wasn't really there. But it had to come from somewhere. Like everything else in this world, it had to have a starting point.
Suss it out later, he chastised himself. You've got Joyce to take care of, remember? As if it was even possible he could've forgotten. Slowly, deliberately, his booted feet moved forward, placing him in the entrance to the living room, positioning him almost in exactly the same spot Buffy had been just a few hours earlier.
The curtains were still open, the moonlight streaming in through the glass, brightening the room in shades of silver. It was brightest on the couch, and Spike's azure gaze turned to settle on the exact spot he'd seen through Buffy's eyes, his body freezing as the truth of what lay before him slowly sank in.
They had both seen her. She had been dead. No rise of her chest to indicate breathing, her skin ashen in the pallor of death. But now it wasn't possible
The couch was empty. Joyce's body wasn't there.
To be continued in Chapter 9: Hectic Red