DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has learned that the Council has disappeared with Spike, and has gone back to Cortina’s to try and find him…

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Chapter 16: From an Enchanter Fleeing

“Buffy, this is ridiculous. For all we know, the reason you can’t sense Spike is because he’s dead---.”

“He’s not dead!” Her eyes shone in hazel fury, and her nostrils flared as she fought to control her breathing. “Did you see any vamp dust in the cave? No. Because he’s not dead. I just can’t sense him because…” Her mind raced for a logical explanation. “They’ve probably got him knocked out somehow, and I just didn’t realize what was going on because I was up to my neck in Council guys. So…not dead, got it?” Maybe if she repeated it often enough, she could convince herself of its truth.

Her Watcher’s face was an exercise of concern, the lines softened as his blue eyes gazed down at her. “Got it,” he murmured in acquiescence, and silently applauded his Slayer’s profundity of belief in her vampire lover’s ongoing existence. This was why she was such a strong fighter; she refused to give in, even when all signs pointed to the contrary.

“So, are you going to help me with this, or not?” she asked, and deliberately lowered her voice, trying to take back some of the anger she had lashed out at him, knowing that he was the last person to be deserving of her rage. The person she really wanted to get her hands on was Travers, to wring from his jowly neck just what in hell he thought he was doing by interfering with her life like this. And if she snapped it in the process, all the better.

“Of course.” He watched as she laid back on the bed she’d only just recently shared with the vampire. “You do realize that if your theory is correct and he is knocked out, he’s not going to have any idea where he is. Reaching him via your unconscious will accomplish nothing.”

“I can tell him what’s going on,” Buffy said. “With the Soul Eaters, and what we’re trying to do to get him back. That’s accomplishing something.” There was more but she didn’t vocalize it to the older man who now sat at her side. She needed to apologize for not being there, to let him know how much she loved him and how she wasn’t going to let this get in the way of anything. And since dreams were her only option at the moment, she would just have to tolerate whatever escapades she found herself wandering into to do it.

“Close your eyes,” Giles instructed, watching as his Slayer let her lids flicker shut, her hands folded across her stomach. “Listen to my voice. Concentrate on your breathing…”

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

She blinked, feeling the chill air against her skin, and rubbed her hands over her arms, hoping the increase in circulation would warm her. Her surroundings were instantly recognizable, but as she scanned the familiar landscape of the desert surrounding Cortina’s caves, Buffy began to wonder if perhaps something had gone wrong. This didn’t seem like the normal stuff of Spike’s dreams. Maybe it hadn’t worked.

She began to walk, footsteps swallowed by the night music, hazel eyes continually scanning the horizon for any sign of the blond vampire. “Spike?” she called out, knowing that if he was here, he would answer. If he could.

“Buffy?”

Her heart leapt at the husky cadence and she began to run toward the sound of his voice. Here, he was here, her soul sang, and skirted the curve of the hill to see him sitting on a blanket on the ground, torso twisted as he watched her race toward him, face spreading into a smile as she practically tackled him, the memory of their last dream tussle as children echoing through their adult bodies.

“Spike…I’m so sorry…god, please don’t hate me…” She was sobbing into his neck, her tears flowing freely now, an amalgam of relief and sorrow washing over her cheeks. She felt his hands come up and begin stroking her hair, those shushing noises he made in the back of his throat soothing her jumping nerves, and allowed her body to relax into his, lying against his chest, pressing him down into the cold earth.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, and rolled onto his side so that he could look at her directly. “What’s got you in such a lather?”

Buffy’s face wrinkled in confusion. “What do you mean?” she countered. “The Council grabbed you. That’s a huge pile of wrong right there.”

“I know that, luv. Well, at least I figured it was probably the Watchers who did it. Didn’t really get a good look at their faces before whatever they shoved into my system knocked me out.”

“I told Giles that had to be what happened,” she said triumphantly.

“Still doesn’t explain what you’re all worried about,” he replied. “Or why in hell you’d think I could ever hate you.”

Buffy bit her lip. “Because we can’t find you,” she admitted. “As soon as we realized what they’d done, we went back to where we got Cortina, but they’d already cleared out.”

“Oh.” The back of his hand brushed her cheek, pushing back the hair that had spilled there. “That’s not your fault, pet.”

“I shouldn’t have made you go after Dawn in the first place. If you’d just stayed with us---.”

“---it would’ve happened anyway.” He shook his head at her look of surprise. “It was an ambush. They were prepared for me from the get go. There was no way I was walkin’ out of those caves on my own two feet. We both should’ve sussed it out after they had a go at my crypt.” He rolled onto his back and stared up at the stars. “Wish I knew what it was all about, though. Not like I’m a novelty anymore. They had their chance to ask all sorts of questions back when they were doin’ that checkin’ up on you.”

“Now, on that point, I actually have information.” Propping herself up on her elbow so that she could look down at his face as she spoke, Buffy told Spike about the Soul Eaters and the Council’s intentions for Cortina as she understood them, watching as he absorbed the tale with a pensive frown. “So, it doesn’t have anything to do with the cleansing after all,” she finished. “Even if we don’t know exactly why they want you.”

He was silent, and she could see the thoughts playing themselves out in the dark depths of his eyes, his inability to keep his emotions from lighting his face allowing her to glimpse into his head even without the benefit of their usual connection. “Makes sense,” he finally said, but there was no anger in his voice, no retribution in his tone.

Buffy tilted her head. “Why don’t you seem surprised by any of this?” she asked curiously. “These demons feed on souls, and the Council thinks they want you, too. Is there something you’re not telling me here?” When he glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes, she could see the hesitation, the unspoken question on just how much he was prepared to share, and bristled. “No secrets, Spike. You have to tell me this. Do you have a soul now?”

“I don’t know.” His gaze returned to the heavens, his mood contemplative. “It would explain a lot, that’s for certain.”

“A lot of what?”

“Stuff that’s been goin’ on inside my head. Stuff that I couldn’t make head nor tail of.”

“And you weren’t going to tell me?” She couldn’t keep the hurt out of her voice.

“Didn’t want to be a moanin’ Minnie,” he replied, the corner of his mouth lifting in a small smile that spoke of greater fears than appearances. “I thought it would go away.”

“You know I can tell when you’re lying, even without being ESP girl, don’t you?”

Spike sighed. “I didn’t want you to have to piddle about with frettin’ on my head when you’ve your own worries to get through.”

“Not that I’m the relationship expert here,” Buffy said, “but it seems to me that if you want this to work, you have to let me in. You have to trust that I want to help you shoulder some of that pain, or confusion, or whatever the feeling of the week is.” When he cocked his eyebrow, she smiled sheepishly. “OK, practice what I preach, I know. But can we worry about that after I get done saving your ass this time?”

“I believe last time it was me saving your ass,” he said playfully.

“I definitely think there is too much mutual ass-saving in this relationship,” she mused, and began tracing delicate patterns on his chest. “I like it better when we’re saving other people. Less worrisome.”

“You’re bound and determined to make a white hat out of me yet, aren’t you, Slayer?” He was joking, and desperately hoping she wouldn’t go back to the other topic.

“You seem to be doing a good enough job of that on your own,” she replied, and let her smile fade. “But you’re not getting out of answering me that easy.”

There was going to be no escaping facing the truth, and he steeled himself for confronting the images yet again. “I’ve been having…dreams.”

Buffy frowned. “I know. I’ve been there, remember?”

He shook his head, closing his eyes as the pictures began to flood back. “Not for these you haven’t. These happen…after.” The heat of the imagined fire on his cheek caused him to wince and Spike briefly wondered if it was possible to dream within a dream. Wouldn’t that be just dandy.

“Are they like…the playground dream?” Though the dread that she’d been feeling had vanished within the proximity of his presence, it returned now with a sickening lurch that tilted the world around her in kaleidoscope shades of pain, forcing her to swallow, to fight the nausea that threatened to burn into her throat.

“They’re…similar.” His confession hurt, and the vampire found himself wishing for the first time in…well, probably ever…that he and Buffy were two normal people, leading ordinary, normal lives, who didn’t have to worry about the supernatural, where their most pressing fear was whether they were going to make the mortgage payment in time, or counting days because she was late and they weren’t ready to be parents yet. It came out of nowhere, and just as quickly as the desire had expressed itself, it was gone, leaving the vampire wondering yet again if this was another manifestation of this growing sense of humanity that had been pervading his being over the past ten days. How could he go about explaining such randomness to Buffy? How could she understand if he didn’t get it? Worse, what would she think?

“Stop thinking so much and just talk to me,” she coaxed, breaking him from his reverie. “Similar how?”

“It’s like how I knew Joyce wasn’t Joyce,” he said slowly. “If what Cort says is true, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out it wasn’t one of those Soul Eaters.”

“Getting into our heads?” This forced Buffy to a sitting position, the alarm in her widened eyes shining in the moonlight. “How? Why? How?”

Spike let his eyes open to gaze up at her. “I don’t know. Just…feels like the truth. Kind of like your Slayer dream, remember? That thing said it was ‘all.’ Maybe it can dig around in our skulls ‘til it finds what it needs to drive us truly and completely barmy. To…hurt us so that we’re distracted by the pain.”

His jaw twitched, his internal struggle a mask that was cracking from the strain, and Buffy felt her own fears get squashed by the anguish that was shattering him before her eyes. Carefully, she laid herself back down, pressing herself into his side, laying her head on his shoulder as her arm stole out across his chest, pulling him into her heat in an embrace that sang of solace. “I can think of better ways of being distracted,” she said, ready for him to back away from talking, to stop the torrent of memories that she was ripping from his lips. Anything to stop the pain. She didn’t need to know. Not like this. Not if this was the price.

He was grateful for the reprieve, expelling the invisible demons in a very audible exhalation, and tightened his arm around her back. “Shouldn’t you be waking up so that you can come find me?” he teased, slipping back into their familiar banter like a pair of his favorite shoes.

“There’s no rush,” Buffy replied. “Not in the not-finding you way. In the me waking up way. Willow’s already got Elvis on the scent.”

“What about one of her locator spells?”

“We already tried that. It didn’t work.”

“So we can just lie here for a bit?”

“If that’s what you want.”

Spike’s lips brushed against her temple. “That’s what I want.”

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

She hated feeling useless. Rupert was adamant about not enlisting demon aid in locating Spike, and as much as she hated it, Cortina was going along with his wishes, not willing to lose what ground they had gained in light of her recent confession. Willow and Tara were off giving instructions to the Hellhound, Buffy was off trying to reach the vampire through his dreams, and that left the Vrolek wandering around the caves in search of a purpose. Any purpose. Just something to distract herself from the sense of inadequacy that she hated so much.

She saw the young girl before she was seen herself, sitting at the edge of the grotto, absorbed in the book in her lap. The Slayer’s sister. Still grieving for her mother. Perhaps this was the diversion Cortina needed to keep her mind occupied.

As she stepped silently closer, the demon’s eyes narrowed as she recognized the text Dawn was reading, and realized just why the teenager had disappeared upon arriving. “It won’t work,” she said softly. “At least not while you’re around me.”

Cortina’s sudden appearance startled her, and she slammed the book shut, shoving it to the side farthest away from the Vrolek. “What won’t work?” Dawn asked innocently.

She smiled. This one was too cute. “We haven’t exactly met,” she said, settling herself down a few feet away.

“You’re Cortina. You’re Giles’ new girlfriend.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Dawn.”

“You know, you’re the first person to call me that.” Her smile widened. “I think I like it.”

“He’s been really happy this week, well, before everything happened. I’m glad he’s got you now.”

Cortina deliberately looked down at the book before returning her gaze to Dawn. “Since you know who I am, does that mean you also know that magic doesn’t work around here? Well, around me, I mean.”

“What makes you think---?”

She cut her off with a wave of her hand. “Don’t waste your energy trying to cover it up. We don’t have time for that now.” She leaned forward and extracted the book wedged at Dawn’s side, rolling it over to look at the spine. “I’ve got two copies of this back in the library. It’s actually quite a harmless little text, except for the whole raising the dead section in the back.” Her pale eyes bore into the teenager’s, who ducked her head, pushing her hair back over her ear in a nervous fidget. “You weren’t really considering it, were you?”

When Dawn lifted her eyes back up, they were brimming with tears. “Why not?” she said softly. “What’s it going to hurt? She didn’t do anything wrong, and if Buffy’s right and those…things killed her…what difference is it going to make? I just want her back. I know Buffy does, too. She wouldn’t argue with me about this.”

“Because it wouldn’t be her you got back,” Cortina replied. “I know it’s hard to look at this rationally right now, but just hear me out. If in fact it was these children of the wind who killed your mother, and you did this resurrection spell, what you would get is a shell that looked like your mother. Her soul is gone. You can’t excise it from whatever took it. You can’t get it back.” She stopped as she saw the tears slip down the girl’s cheek, and suddenly felt like a monster for saying anything in the first place.

“You don’t understand,” Dawn muttered. “You’re just a demon. You don’t care about family or losing someone.”

All of a sudden, she wasn’t so cute anymore, and Cortina felt her own grief return to the foreground, and began to wish she hadn’t stopped to talk to the girl. “I know you don’t really mean that,” she said slowly, choosing her words with care so that her own emotions wouldn’t overwhelm her in front of the teenager.

“How can you, though?” Dawn’s voice began to rise, a shrill knife cutting through the grotto. “It’s not like you’ve lost anything to these soul demons.”

“Yes, I have.” Standing, she slid next to the young girl, placing her arm around her shoulders. “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

The single touch was the only release Dawn needed, and she began to sob, collapsing against the white demon’s shoulder in a paroxysm of pain. “I just want to do something,” she said through her tears, her voice muffled. “I just want to help. I want the pain to go away.”

“I know,” Cortina soothed, and her gaze came to rest on the book she’d left sitting on the other seat. “But that’s not the answer…”

But something else might be…and the possibility began to roll itself over in her brain, the permutations working, twisting, molding to their circumstances, alleviating the grief as she focused on the other. It was a risk, and there was no guarantee that it would work, but it might prove a starting point…and it could very well save some lives…

 

To be continued in Chapter 17: O’er the Dreaming Earth