DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy is worried about Dawn's safety and is enlisting Spike to go and get her, while Giles and Cortina have come to an understanding regarding her confession. Meanwhile, outside the caves, Travers and his crew are about to embark on some plan…

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Chapter 14: Commotion

They had been prepared to fight ever since her return. Though intruders often wandered onto her lands, threatening her privacy, no real menace had endangered the white demon in decades, and those she enlisted to guard her well-being were anxious to repay Cortina for the years of sanctuary she had provided. This was their duty. This was their honor. And this was their pleasure.

The humans thought their presence was a surprise. This worked to the guards' advantage, hastening them to positions of defense that would enable them the greatest spread. With so many entrances to the caves, it was impossible to cover them all, but this new threat was sloppy, predicating their proximity with noise that may have escaped the attention of lesser beings but was a patent signal for those whose life work was to protect, and protect they would.

The first was dispatched in silence, a swift strike through the chest with a rapier that emerged from the shadows, crumpling in a black heap to the dirt floor. A cursory examination of the human's lifeless form confirmed what they had been warned about, that the attack when it came would be by those well-armed and prepared to battle for as long as necessary. Stripping him of his weapons, they were even more prepared for the second.

And the onslaught began…

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His hand traced the delicate hollow of her spine, fingers trailing up over the white tendrils that slid over her shoulders before skating back down to linger at the curved juncture between her back and buttock, then repeating the dance in a soothing rhythm that slowed Cortina's breathing to an even in and out that fanned across his bare chest. All thought of cold was banished, the heat of her bare flesh against his eradicating it from memory, leaving behind only the sorrow that wrapped them both in its tight embrace.

"I'd really rather you didn't go," Giles said softly. "You're protected here."

"I can be an asset," she argued. "If you've got me, they can't do any magic. And it's not like I can't defend myself. I think I've pretty much established I know how to fight when I need to."

"You've only just recently been injured. Your hands have hardly healed enough to warrant fighting."

"Not all weapons require hands."

He hesitated, momentarily intrigued by the possibilities she was suggesting, but finally said, "Regardless, the Council will be playing for keeps, especially once they realize we're after Quentin. It's not wise."

"I worry about you and Buffy trying to take them all on your own, though." Cortina lifted her head, gazing up at him, her eyes still slightly red-rimmed from her earlier crying. "Won't they be expecting you?"

"We were able to get you with little problem," he countered.

"And I still think it was too easy. They didn't even place a guard on my room after they made me the offer, like…they were done with me."

"Perhaps they assumed we wouldn't find you so quickly," Giles said, but inwardly doubted his own assessment. It had been too easy, and he feared to consider why.

"Well, I only hope I'm wrong. I hate it when I turn out to be right about these kind of things."

"I'll have to…tell Buffy and Spike about the Soul Eaters." His tone was low, his pace measured, and he averted his gaze to stare up at the ceiling.

"I know. It's OK."

He knew that would be what she'd say; he only hoped she wouldn't be surprised by what his response to that would be. "I see no reason for them to know of the…repercussions of the Council's first attempt at the ritual. As far as I'm concerned, those are private issues that have nothing to do with our current situation."

Her chin rested on his chest, and for a moment that she refused to allow to linger, Cortina felt a swell of emotion bubble into her throat, the love she'd dared not admit to herself before now threatening to tumble from her lips as she contemplated her words. It had been a long time since she'd let anyone get to her the way Rupert Giles did---too long, he would probably argue---and she only regretted that they would not have more time to enjoy it. "Thank you," she said simply, and saw the relief relax his mouth. "I appreciate that, even though I'll probably end up telling them myself anyway." She smiled when he looked down at her. "What's a little mayhem between friends?"

The sharp knock shattered her brief moment of levity, and Cortina groaned as she rolled away. "I can't believe I forgot to tell them not to come get me," she grumbled, reaching for her robe as she strode for the door.

Giles watched the grace of her shoulders as she slid the silk over her skin, leaving the front to hang slightly open with a guileless disregard for any shame. It wasn't going to be simple, and the risks were great, but there was no way he could allow this woman to slip out of his life, to hell with her past.

It took only a moment of rapid-fire speech from the demon at the door for Cortina's eyes to widen, then narrow as her lips thinned, her jaw tensed. As she barked back a response Giles didn't understand, she glanced over at the Watcher on the bed, the cold fire that burned in her eyes pulling him to a half-sitting position.

"What is it?" he asked as she closed the door.

"At least we know now why they let me go so easily," she replied, dropping the robe from her shoulders as she marched over to the wardrobe.

He swung his long legs over the side of the bed, watching as she pulled out one of the few pairs of trousers she owned before reaching for a long sword that hung at the back of it. "Why?" The dread deadened his voice, though he was fairly certain what was coming next.

"It looks like Travers has decided to move the party to my house." When she smiled at him, Giles saw a glimpse of the danger that had threatened so many a century previous, and felt a stab of fear skewer the pride within his gut. "Do you want to help me let him know what we think of people who show up without an invitation?"

Offering him the hilt of the sheathed blade, Cortina waited as he stood and crossed the room, hand folding over hers as he took the sword. "I guess this settles our disagreement, then," he commented as she released her grip.

The demon smiled. "Yes, and this way we both win." At his confusion, she clarified, "I get the protection of my men, but I still get to help. Win win. I like those odds."

Giles' frown relaxed. "So do I," he murmured. "So do I."

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They were halfway to the car when they heard the noise behind them, echoes of metal mingling with cries that were both demon and human. Their turns were simultaneous, each looking back to stare at the empty corridor that led into the bowels of the cave, the luminescence of the walls casting pale shadows across the planes of their worried faces.

"That doesn't sound good," Spike commented.

"No," Buffy agreed, and frowned as the weight of her options began to bear down on her shoulders.

"We're already here," he said softly. "You know I love Dawn as much as you do, but as far as we know, she's sound asleep and perfectly safe with the witches. We stay, we can help whoever's in danger back inside…"

"Giles…" she murmured. Turning on her heel, she began heading back toward the din, her pace gradually increasing.

"Actually, I was thinkin' of Cort," Spike said, running to catch up to her side. He smiled at the annoyed look she shot him. "But, saving Giles is good, too…"

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As she rounded the corner, Cortina spied the fracas in the widening corridors, the scattered bodies of both men and demons dotting the dirt floor, with even more of them still standing, facing off in battles that were most often one-on-one. If it weren't for the presence of Rupert at her side, she would've ended the thing right then and there with a war cry, but to do so in the manner that would finish the intruders would prove deadly to her lover as well. And that was something she couldn't allow to happen.

Upon more careful consideration, Giles had returned the sword to her wardrobe, opting instead to arm himself with a crossbow and dagger. "I may not like them," he'd said, "but they are still men. I'd like to let as many of them live as possible." Personally, though she understood his rationale, Cortina suspected that the weapons he'd chosen were just as lethal, especially in his trained hands, but if it made him feel better about fighting those he'd held in such alliance for so many years, so be it. The sword she'd kept for herself, ignoring the ache in her hands and wrists, determined not to let the Council win on this one small point.

They were separated almost immediately, drawn into separate battles as they fought the men who suddenly showed up in front of them. The thrill of adrenalin coursed through her system, and the white demon felt the familiar tang of power as she ran her blade through her attacker's stomach, a salty elixir that threatened to intoxicate as she moved on to the next, slicing into his flesh as easily as melting butter. Unlike Giles, she had no qualms in killing the intruders. This was her domain and they were trespassing; she would do anything she had to do to protect hers and her own. Even if it meant Rupert's contempt when they were done.

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When she saw the first black-clad figure, Buffy's heart sank. The Council. Shit. Her mind flashed back to the man in the desert, and everything became clear. Cortina's escape had been so simple because they wanted her free, out so that they could follow her and discover where she lived, where they were hiding. And Buffy had walked right into their plans. Like an idiot.

Stop being so hard on yourself, Spike thought as he came up behind her and saw the melee before them. You couldn't have known.

It's my job to know.

No, it's your job to be the bloody hero in this mess, so stop feelin' sorry for yourself and get out there and kick some Council ass.

And what about you? Buffy looked back at him, saw the concentration narrowing his eyes. Are you just going to stand back here and bake me some cookies for when I win?

The shrill scream of a demon, followed almost instantly by a dull thud which sent a shower of dirt crumbling from the ceiling, pulled her attention back, and the Slayer squared her shoulders, bracing herself to leap into the conflict. Back to our original plan, she directed to Spike. Go get Dawn and take her to somewhere safe. Once this is over, I'll find you and bring Giles and Cortina to wherever you are.

Right, she heard in her head and felt him ease away, slipping back into the corridor with as much as silence as he could muster, allowing her to keep the element of surprise just a little bit longer. Be careful, luv.

Buffy smiled, eyes glittering as she considered where she was going to enter the battle. Always.

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At one point, he caught a glimpse of Buffy, her hair flying as she landed a hard kick to the man's chest in front of her. When she tackled the intruder, they rolled out of his line of vision, and Giles returned to concentrating on the fight before him. His own knuckles were bloodied, his crossbow long since discarded since cracking the trigger when he'd used it to bludgeon a particularly hefty assailant, and the fine cut on his brow from the edge of some dagger was dripping erratically into his eye, forcing him to wipe at his face every so often to clear his sight. Still, a small part of him had to admit that the fight was quite a rush; it had been a while since he'd been so heavily caught within the fray.

He knew from the number of bodies littered around him that Cortina and her men were taking no prisoners, leaving the Council's troops dead or dying as they fought to protect the caves. Casualties of war, Giles rationalized, who knew the potential price they may have to pay when they signed up. As far as he was concerned, as long as at least one of them remained alive for them to question afterward, he would be happy.

His heel slipped on a pool of blood, and the Watcher went down in a heap, landing with a force that sent knives of pain into the small of his back. Above him, he saw the black-clad figure hesitate, eyes narrowing as his chest heaved, then pull a stiletto from a sheath at his side. The blade flashed in the dim light of the cave, and just as Giles was tensing to roll aside, he saw the rapier erupt through the man's abdomen, showering the Englishman in blood before crumpling to the ground.

A gloved hand grasped his own, hauling him to his feet, and Giles found himself staring into the horned face of one of Cortina's men. Violet eyes met blue, the tacit understanding passing between them instantly, and the demon gave him a curt nod before turning to riposte an oncoming assault. Sides were drawn, and for once, it felt good to be on the demons'.

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He could feel the fight as he ran towards the entrance that would lead him to the car, flashes of black across his eye, the occasional scent of blood filling his nostrils, even an odd jolt through his leg as one of Buffy's powerful kicks met the body of one of the intruders. As much as he hated not being able to participate, the Slayer was right. Against the Council, Spike was more of a liability than an asset, his inability to fight the humans without the chip firing muzzling him more efficiently than if he'd been hogtied. Stupid bloody technology, he grumbled, whipping himself around the corner. Part of him almost wanted to say to hell with it and go fight anyway, but the fear that Buffy would end up sharing his headaches held him back. He could handle his own pain; he knew he'd never be able to stomach being the cause of hers.

The entrance to the cave loomed in front of him, and Spike quickened his step, aware that time was slipping by and he still hadn't sussed out a plausible safehouse for him to stash Dawn when he got her. For that matter, he wasn't so sure he shouldn't grab the witches, either. Though their magic wouldn't do them any good with Cort around, the Council was well aware of their connection to the Slayer and may consider them a bargaining chip in whatever plan they had in mind. Probably would be a good idea to take them along for the ride as well.

So intent on getting outside, he never saw the shadows leap from the recesses of the wall, dragging him to the ground. Surprise dissolved into anger, but before Spike could lash out in defense, he felt the tiny pinprick in the back of his neck, and the world melted around him into black.

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As she felt the man's nose crunch under the impact of her fist, Buffy tasted the bloodlust in her throat like bile, and had to physically restrain herself from leaping forward and smashing the Council member against the wall, to slam his head against the stone and feel it shatter beneath her power. Instead, she just watched as he fell to the earth, the blood coursing freely from his ruined face, one eye already swollen shut. The scent was heady, and she swallowed as she stepped back, noticing for the first time since joining the clash that the caves were now silent.

Her head swiveled and she saw Giles bent over, hands on his knees while he seemed to be regaining his breath, while in the far corner, Cortina was wiping the blood from her sword using a torn strip from her scarlet-stained shirt. Though there were many of her guards still around, the only Council members that remained were lying on the floor, and Buffy frowned as she stepped over the bodies to her Watcher's side.

"Where'd they all go?" she asked, scanning the various exits as he straightened. "Don't tell me we won already."

"I'm sorry you're disappointed," Giles said, barely able to keep the wheeze from his voice. "Personally, I'm rather grateful they've retreated."

"Something's not right here," Cortina argued as she joined the pair. "The Council I know wouldn't give in so quickly."

"And it's not like we were really winning," Buffy said. At her Watcher's raised eyebrow, she hastened to add, "Yet. Winning, yet. Because we would've. Just not…yet."

"Bloody women are never satisfied," Giles muttered, dabbing at the blood that ran down his face.

"What did they want? Any ideas?" Buffy looked quizzically between the two, only to be met by twin shakes of their heads.

"At least once, they had a chance to grab me, but nobody took it," Cortina said. "They just wanted to fight."

"At least I know what that man I saw outside earlier wanted," the young blonde commented, turning to look at the damage around her.

"What man?"

She glanced back at her Watcher. "I went for a walk and ran into a guy prowling around in the desert. He took off when Spike---." She broke off, suddenly aware of the silence in her head, the slow chill freezing her muscles as her thoughts reached out…searching…anything…no…

He wasn't there…


To be continued in Chapter 15: Scatter