DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The Council has attacked Cortina's caves and kidnapped Spike
"But that doesn't make sense," she argued, her pitch higher than normal as it strained with anxiety. "Why would these things be after Spike? He doesn't have a soul."
Giles and Cortina exchanged a quick look before the demon returned her pale gaze to Buffy's confused face. "I don't think that's entirely true anymore," she said gently.
"We believe this might be one of the residual effects from the cleansing," Giles interjected. "You've said yourself, there is a connection between you two that wasn't there before. It is possible that you might be sharing your soul, or in becoming human for that brief time, perhaps Spike inadvertently reacquired his own." He settled into the chair next to the Slayer, his eyes now level with hers. "Right now, the how is not important." Her brows lifted in surprise. "Yes, I realize the irony of that, but please, try to focus."
"Quentin Travers was very clear, Buffy," Cortina said. "The Council is convinced they're after both you and Spike, and to be honest, I'd be inclined to believe that they're telling the truth. When it comes to the Soul Eaters, the Watchers seem to know what they're talking about. And that means you're both in danger."
"Well, I am, at least," Buffy said bitterly, and rose from her chair to resume pacing around the small library. When she'd first realized she couldn't feel her lover's presence any longer, the first thing she'd done was race through the tunnels to check to see if Giles' car was still there, hoping against hope that maybe he'd just had an accident as opposed to the more logical conclusion that the entire fight with the Council had been a diversionary tactic just to grab him. She hadn't even made it outside. It hadn't been necessary. There, in the dirt just inside the exit, lay Spike's lighter, half-hidden in the loose grit, the unmistakable outlines of footprints surrounding it almost like sentinels.
"I just don't get why they'd snatch him," Buffy mused. "I'm the one they're supposed to be all concerned with protecting, not a chipped vampire they've never shown any interest in before."
"On that one, I can't help you." Cortina rested her hand on Giles' forearm. "I'm going to tell her about the other."
The Slayer stopped in her tracks, her arms folded across her chest as she stared at the pair seated at the desk. "Other?" she demanded. "There's more? How can there be more?"
"The reason the Council took me in the first place." The Vrolek sighed. "They know how to stop the Soul Eaters---."
"Oh, my god. They don't need to kill Spike, do they?"
"No. They need to kill me."
Giles looked at Cortina over the rim of his glasses. "We don't know that," he argued. "It's entirely possible---."
"It doesn't matter," Buffy interrupted. "I'm not going to let them kill anybody. Now that I know who the enemy is, I'll just take care of them myself. Can't be any harder than trying to find a way to get rid of Glory, and she's a god."
"You can't battle with the Soul Eaters," her Watcher said. "They're non-corporeal."
"What does that mean? They're ghosts?"
Cortina rose from her seat. "Oh, I am not having this conversation again," she commented, and began heading for the door.
Giles straightened. "Where are you going?"
"I assume Buffy wants us to go get Spike." The white demon looked over at the Slayer for confirmation and was answered with an emphatic nod. "I'm going to see if I can scrounge up some help for you. It's almost daylight. I'm not going to be of any use."
"I am not going to let this turn into a war between demons and Watchers." He stood, facing off with the Vrolek. "We have more than enough resources to handle this on our own."
The sudden tension between the two acidified the air, and Buffy found herself glancing between the two, watching the silent battle of wills in confusion. There was more going on here than they were letting on, but unless they decided to share the details, it was going to continue being silent, because she didn't have the time to be dragging it out of them.
Cortina's shoulders relaxed, and her smile was small. "If that's what you want," she said. "I was only trying to help."
"There are other ways," Giles murmured, relaxing as well. "Just as I know there must be another way to stop the Soul Eaters."
This time the demon laughed. "Ever the optimist," she said, shaking her head.
"So, we'll arm up, go get Will and Tara, drop off Dawn at Xander's, then go get Spike back." Buffy ticked the list off on her fingers as she spoke. "And when we get back here, we'll figure out how to kick ghost butts without having to kill any of our friends." When Giles opened his mouth to speak, she waved him silent. "Yeah, yeah, not ghosts, I know. But it rolls off the tongue much easier than non-corporeal so I'm sticking with it."
Though the pen was poised within his grip, its nib just millimeters from the paper, Quentin hesitated, contemplating yet again the ramifications of his signature on the document. Killing them would serve absolutely no purpose other than to rid the Council of an unnecessary burden, and though it wasn't possible for them to serve any current function, he found himself reluctant to order their deaths. It wasn't their faults the Soul Eaters were now free; if anything, they deserved life in payment for their contributions, even if they had been involuntary.
Quentin sighed, and set the pen back down onto his desk, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. "Are the preparations complete?" he asked quietly, not bothering to turn and look at the young man who stood in the doorway.
"Yes, sir," came the response. "The vampire is securely stowed, and the staff has been disbanded. We're just awaiting clearance. And for yourself to board, of course."
"Thank you." He waved his hand in dismissal, eyes still gazing at the paper. No. Not yet. It wasn't needed. He would consider it again once the Soul Eaters' issue was dealt with.
Not everyone was vacating the Hellmouth. With the targets soon to be divided, his team could concentrate on retrieving the Vrolek again, and the time he was praying he was buying would allow the Slayer to remain safe, to slip the reins of this new threat so that she could continue her calling. It was a tremendous gamble he was taking, but Buffy Summers was worth it. The current situation with Glorificus demanded the presence of such a strong fighter, and it was his job to ensure that she stayed here, even if it meant a few sacrifices along the way.
She watched them pull away from the curb, the car lurching slightly as she knew Giles struggled with the gear shift, and Dawn's lips thinned as she pressed them together. Getting left behind. Again. Welcome to her life.
Buffy had said that the Council had kidnapped Spike and they were going to rescue him, but had she even stopped to ask if Dawn wanted to come along and help? Oh, no, because that would just be too considerate. Forget that Spike was her friend too. Forget that she was in just as much pain, or that she could contribute to the gang just as much as any of the others. Forget that she even existed because that just made the Slayer's life easier. No sister, no problem.
"How 'bout pancakes for breakfast?" Xander asked from behind her.
Dawn settled back onto the couch, turning away from the window, still imagining she could hear the car as it drove away. "No thanks," she said. "I'm not hungry."
"They're blueberry," offered Anya. "Or if you're not in the mood for pancakes, we've got some of those frozen waffles you just pop into the toaster. Or cereal. I'm pretty sure we have some Fruity Pebbles in the cupboard."
Xander smiled apologetically. "Actually, Ahn, we are currently Pebble-less."
"I just bought those two days ago!"
"And I had a midnight craving for some Flintstone goodness."
"What's the point of me going grocery shopping if all the food just disappears around here?" She flounced off into the kitchen.
"I thought that was the point of groceries," he said, following after her.
Dawn watched as the pair continued their lighthearted bickering in the adjoining room, oblivious to her presence on the sofa. If it wasn't one extreme, it was the other. Willow and Tara had hovered, wanting her to talk about Mom's death, trying to coax her into letting out what she was feeling. Xander and Anya were coping with the news of Joyce's death differently, resorting to the banter and nit-picky issues in their own lives to keep them focused and their minds off the morbid reality of someone so close to them being murdered. Both couples didn't get it when it came to the teenager. For that matter, neither did Buffy.
Her hand curled around the comfortable weight of her bag at her side, the thick outline of the book inside it a tangible solace for her to hold onto. Contrary to what they might all think, she wasn't powerless, or non-helpful, or an albatross to be borne in not-so-silent complaint. No, Dawn was more than willing to take that extra step, do what had to be done. She just wasn't usually given the chance. It must be the Summers gene, she thought. 'Cause Buffy was all about the do-what-has-to-be-done thing.
"Hey, Anya," she said, rising from her seat and crossing the room. "If Buffy's not back before you go into work, can I come into the Magic Box with you?"
The ex-demon exchanged a look with her boyfriend, who shrugged. "Sure, that should be OK," Xander said. "If that happens, we'll just leave a note for Buff, let her know where you're at."
"Thanks." In spite of her earlier protestations, Dawn's stomach grumbled audibly as Anya poured the first of the pancake batter onto the griddle. She blushed when they looked in her direction. "Maybe I'll have some of those after all," she said. "Best way to start the day and everything."
The soft purr of the engine was doing nothing to ease Buffy's heightening anxiety, her nerves skittish as her foot tapped noiselessly on the floor of the car. In the back seat, Willow and Tara were preparing a few spells they thought might help, huddled over their book, but every once in a while, she would catch their eyes in the side mirror, looking up into the front seat, their concern etched in fine lines around their mouths. They had been told enough of the situation to know how dislocated the Slayer was feeling, even if they didn't completely understand it. She just wished they would all just stop feeling so sorry for her.
He glanced over, saw her staring at her hands, and his frown deepened. She'd said barely half a dozen words since leaving Cortina's caves but her fears were running rampant across her face, in spite of her silence. There was more to her separation from Spike than she was telling; he only hoped she was finally ready to talk about it.
"Yes?" he prompted, after nearly a minute of nothing.
"Which do you think it is, Spike has his own soul, or Spike has part of my soul?" She turned her head away from him, hazel eyes fixed on the road outside, but he could hear the worry shading her words, and felt his own unease jump in his stomach.
"I really don't know," Giles admitted. "As far as I understand it, what happened between you is entirely unprecedented. Everything. This link you two have while you're awake---."
"It's not just while we're awake."
He almost didn't hear her. "What are you saying, Buffy?"
The two witches in the back seat pricked up their ears to hear her reply. "I'm saying, that when Spike and I are both sleeping, it's all he-said-she-said in whosever dream gets started first." She looked over at her Watcher. "That's how come he knew about my Slayer dream. He was there. He saw it all."
Giles sighed. "When were you going to tell me this?"
"I'm telling you now. Don't I get points for that?"
"This isn't a game, Buffy. I'm not keeping score." The silence filled the car as he slowly turned the wheel, directing them down the street that housed the Council. As he pulled up to the curb, he glanced at his charge, blue eyes full of worry. "When we get him out of there, I want to sit down with both of you and discuss everything that's been going on. Perhaps, together, we can find answers that just might alleviate some of your fears."
She smiled. "Thanks, Giles. I was afraid I know Spike's never been one of your favorite people. I didn't want to make things worse for you."
The corner of his mouth lifted. "Worse than seeing my Slayer with another vampire?" he joked. "Somehow I don't think that's possible."
She still had no answers, and though she dreaded actually finding them out, currently Buffy had a job to do, and it was time to focus her attention. Twisting in her seat, she looked back at Willow and Tara. "Ready?" she asked. When they nodded, her hand gripped the door handle. "Then let's go."
The quiet echoed around her, and Buffy felt her heart stop as she pushed open the last door, almost hoping that the entire Council would be waiting on the other side, armed and ready for her. At least then she would know that they hadn't made this trip in vain. When the dim emptiness greeted her, though, the fear that she had momentarily closeted away returned with a vengeance, gnawing at her insides with diamond teeth, and the dagger in her hand went flying, embedding itself into the far wall, as if grateful to be escaping her anger.
She wanted to scream, and to cry, and to shout, and to sob, but none of it would come, her body immobile in its impotence. Of course they wouldn't have brought him back here. That would've been too easy. Travers knew she could find their little hideaway and stashed Spike someplace else, and if Buffy had even given it one little extra thought, she would've known that instead of jumping on the bandwagon to return to the original scene of the crime. She had assumed that they would move too fast for the Council to pick up house, and now she was paying for that arrogance, the precious time she had lost now as gone as the vampire.
She didn't even turn when she heard the footsteps behind her, her hazel gaze fixed on the hilt of her blade as it still reverberated from her force in the opposite wall. "Don't say it," she said. "I already know."
"Elvis can find him," Willow said. "We've just got to get back---."
"I've got something else I can try, too," Buffy said, her words clipped.
"Don't worry, we'll find him," soothed Tara.
That turned her around, to face the trio with ice. "I know," she said calmly. "This is far from over."
He saw the warning light go on from the pilot and knew that they were about to take off, his hands automatically going to his seatbelt to double-check that it was buckled. Although he knew it was going to be a long flight, he could take a small pleasure in the fact that he wouldn't have to spend the entire time in the hold, having already made arrangements to trade shifts with Rick at the door. Not that it was a hard assignment. Just that it creeped him out having to babysit with stiffs.
His gaze stole to the inert form strapped down to the gurney. Vampires were better when they were moving around; at least then, he knew how to fight them. Seeing them motionless like this set off a whole number of warnings in his head, almost like it was too good to be true and that any second they would pounce, and he'd be dead, or worse, a vamp himself. This one was supposed to have some sort of technology in his head that prevented him from hurting humans, but frankly, he'd believe that one when he saw it. Of course, the bleached demon also had enough drugs in him to keep him knocked out for the duration of the flight, but he wasn't taking any chances. His crossbow was ready and waiting at his side.
No, the male body wasn't the one that bothered him so much, maybe because he knew that it was a vampire and something he could deal with, should the need arise. The one that really bugged him was the woman, and he began to wish he'd asked that she stay covered up. She was stretched out on a second gurney next to the man, her skin ashen, blonde hair falling in limp waves. Logically, he knew he had nothing to fear from her, but that didn't stop the feelings from bubbling under his skin. It was just something about dead bodies
To be continued in Chapter 16: From an Enchanter Fleeing