DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has learned that the Council has left with Spike on a plane, and is off to Sunnydale to try and figure out where…

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

Chapter 18: Waken

It was beginning to feel wrong again. A quick glance into the skies showed the clouds beginning to roil in coal-streaked waves as they clumped and bunched across the heavens, while the leaves in the trees that lined the street were already starting to dance in the quickening breeze. As her eyes darted from the building to the road before them, Buffy’s foot tapped nervously against the floor of the car, her face tense, hands balled into fists in her lap.

“What the hell is taking so long?” she muttered, shooting yet another frustrated glance at the door her friends had only moments before passed through.

“Giles is probably going over weapons and warnings and such,” Dawn said from the back seat. “I’ll bet he’s just trying to make sure Cortina’s safe while we’re gone.”

“If he’s so worried, he should make her come with us,” Buffy grumbled. “We don’t have time for this.” She didn’t really mean it---she knew even the fading afternoon sun was deadly for the Vrolek---but her ill-temper was bleeding into frustration, and the Slayer was feeling the first nibbles of impotence along her too-taut limbs. The Soul Eaters were still here in Sunnydale; the impending storm was testimony to that, and the fact that she now believed she could feel them herself only contributed to the sense of urgency that was growing in her gut.

“Are you really mad at Spike?”

The question was softly spoken, and it took Buffy by surprise, swiveling in the front seat to turn and stare at her little sister. “Why are you asking?”

Dawn shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just…thinking about you two fighting…makes me remember about…” She ducked her head, pushing her hair behind her ear. “Spike’s family,” she murmured. “I don’t want to lose him, too.”

Buffy sighed. “You’re not going to lose him,” she said quietly. “We just had a…disagreement. I’m not really mad at him. Just…slightly tiffed.” And scared, she added silently. Don’t forget a huge pot of scared.

“That’s OK, then.” The teenager tried to smile, but failed, her eyes darkening as she slid herself forward to perch her chin on the headrest in front of her. “When this is all over…can he…well, without Mom around, I was just thinking…” She bit her lip. “Maybe Spike could move in with us…you think?”

It surprised her that she hadn’t thought of that herself, and the sudden image of waking up to Spike every morning---actually being there in body as well as in spirit---reined her nerves, wrapping her in unsuspected warmth. “Would you be all right with that?” Buffy asked carefully, hazel eyes probing the younger Summers girl’s. “You don’t think it would be weird?”

Dawn shook her head. “I think it would be right.” She looked ready to say something more, but her gaze jumped to the side, past her sister’s shoulder. “Here comes Giles.”

“All set?” Buffy asked as her Watcher slide behind the steering wheel.

“There are far too many impossibly stubborn women in my life,” Giles muttered, jerking the key in the ignition, revving the engine as the car jumped to life beneath him.

“I take it Cortina didn’t want to stay,” the Slayer commented.

“Oh, no,” he said harshly as he screeched into the street. “Quite the opposite. She couldn’t seem to get rid of me fast enough. Wouldn’t even listen while I tried to go over what they should do in the event of an emergency.”

The look that passed between the two girls only thinly veiled their amusement. “Cortina’s a grown demon,” Buffy said, carefully enunciating her words as if she was speaking to a child, barely able to hide her smile. “I think she can take care of herself for the half hour it takes for us to switch cars, and grab some clothes and weapons.”

“It’s still a risk,” he rejoined. “Even though the Council seems to have left Sunnydale, they still need her in order to do this binding ritual. We can’t let our guards down for even a moment, or they’ll be there, sneaking in and snatching her away again before we can even blink to stop them.”

His knuckles were white as he twisted the wheel in his hands, forcing the girls to reach hurriedly for their arm rests to right themselves as he swerved around the corner. Buffy’s amusement faded as she caught the play of emotions across his face…the anger, the frustration, the…

Oh. My. God. Giles was in love with Cortina. When did that happen?

“We’ll get back as soon as we can,” she assured, keeping her tone as neutral as possible. “In and out. I promise.”

“I don’t understand why we just can’t continue using my car,” he said. “Then, there’d be no reason for this unnecessary trip in the first place.”

“Because I think Cort’s getting tired of being curled up on the floor under a blanket,” Buffy said. “And let’s face it. As cute as your car is, it’s severely lacking in the leg room department. Mom’s is bigger, and she doesn’t…” Her voice choked as she realized what she’d been about to say, her face flushing as her eyes darted back to meet Dawn’s. The unspoken apology leapt between them.

The younger girl’s gaze was shiny as she slid back into her seat. “It’s OK, Buffy,” she said quietly. “You’re right. She doesn’t need it anymore.”

They drove along in silence, each lost in the web of their emotions. “You promise you’ll be quick?” Giles finally asked, his eyes locked on the road ahead of him.

“Promise.”

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

She could tell from the squealing of the tires that he was angry, but at the moment, Cortina didn’t care. She didn’t have a lot of time, and getting him out of the witches’ apartment had taken far too long. “OK, girls,” she said as she strode determinedly away from the window to the table where Willow and Tara sat. “You two are about to become my new best friends.”

Willow looked up, her eyes wide, fingers frozen over the keyboard of her laptop. “Huh?”

“How long before they get back?” the white demon asked, oblivious to their confusion.

The girls exchanged a quick look before turning back to face her. “Buffy’s place isn’t too far from here,” Willow explained. “So if they’re just going to grab some clothes and pick up the car, maybe…half an hour?”

Cortina nodded, as if somehow the answer satisfied her. “And how long before you can find out where the Council took Spike?”

The redhead relaxed at this query. “Oh, that’s easy. Ten minutes. Tops.”

“She’s really good,” Tara added unnecessarily.

“And once you know that, how long would it take to do a locator spell on Spike?”

“Oh.” This question took Willow back to being surprised. “Um, that usually takes about twenty minutes…half an hour to set up. But then it’s fast.”

Cortina frowned, chewing at her lip. “That’s cutting it too close,” she murmured. “Can you start the set-up before you actually know where he is?”

“Well, yeah, but---.”

“Then do it.” The demon ignored the frowns exchanged between the two witches. “I need some things. Candles, and tabarka ash if you’ve got some. I brought what I had, but I’m not sure it’s enough.”

“For wh…” Willow’s voice trailed off as the list of ingredients tolled its familiarity in her brain, and she slowly leaned back in her chair as her mouth thinned. “I thought Giles said he didn’t want any outside help in dealing with the Council,” she said slowly.

“He said he didn’t want help in fighting the Council.” Cortina’s face was resolute. “I’m not. I’m just making a friendly call on an old friend.” Her pale eyes scanned the two women’s faces, softening slightly. “This is for Buffy and Spike,” she explained, leaning toward them, her white hair falling across her cheek. “Nobody’s going to get hurt. I promise. Now…do you have them?”

Slowly, Willow nodded. “But if Giles asked if we helped---.”

Cortina smiled. “---you had nothing to do with it,” she finished.

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

It wasn’t interfering. Well, it was, but it was interfering in a good way, and it in no way contradicted what Rupert had requested. He didn’t want demons fighting humans, which was understandable, but not once did he say that demons couldn’t help in other ways. Not everyone had to fight to be useful.

As she lit the last of the candles, the circle that surrounded Cortina immediately extinguished, leaving her in the fading afternoon light of the bedroom. Normally, she would’ve expected them to relight themselves within seconds, but this time, she found herself waiting, the digital clock on the nightstand ticking over once…twice…a third time, and, with each passing minute, her hope faded. Damn it, she thought. I didn’t think she’d actually been serious.

She was about to rise from her seat within the ring, calling the whole thing off, when the flames jumped to life, and the gaseous form before her visibly sighed.

“This. Is not. Your cave,” scolded the arrival, her annoyance edging her words. “Which means…this is not a social call.”

“No, it’s not.”

Another sigh, and then the shape solidified before her, taking on the familiar woman’s form, the shock of green hair tumbling over her shoulders. Dolly stood in the center of the room, her head almost touching the ceiling, and grimaced. “We wiped the slate, Cort. You can’t be asking me to bail out your little human pets every time they have a problem.”

“I’m not. This is my problem. I called because I need your help for me.” Slowly, she rose to her feet, and gazed sadly up at her old friend. “It’s the Soul Eaters. They’re back.”

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

The rain had started by the time they pulled up in front of the apartment building again, pelting their skin with thousands of miniscule razors as the girls made a mad dash for the front door while Giles locked up the car. They had been even faster than promised, neither female eager to spend too much time in the empty house at the moment, tossing only the most essential of items into their bags before making a break for the SUV in the drive. Of course, their haste was helped considerably by the Watcher’s insane speed on the roads, but no words were uttered in rebuke, the growing sense of dread silencing their tongues.

Standing in the doorway, Buffy shook the rain from her hair. “Please tell me you guys figured out where they’re going,” she said, not even looking into the room. “Because we don’t have lots of time.” She was halfway across the threshold when she finally looked up, but when she did, she froze, hazel eyes caught by the three pale faces that stared back at her. “What?” she demanded. “What is it?”

They didn’t have a chance to respond before the air thickened between them, and the Slayer held up her arm, holding back Dawn and Giles who had rushed up behind her. Although they had told her afterward about what exactly had happened after the cleansing ritual, and though she’d had access to Spike’s own memories of the events, Buffy had never actually witnessed Dolly’s comings and goings herself, so seeing the immense demon suddenly appear in front of her was disconcerting, to say the least. She wouldn’t even have been sure it was her if it wasn’t for the green hair that flowed down the woman’s back.

“What’s going on here?” she repeated, taking the few steps into the room. Only then did the new arrival turn, and Buffy’s breath caught in her throat as she saw the unconscious form in her arms. “Spike…”

Gently, Dolly stooped to lay the vampire out on the floor, watching as the Slayer rushed forward to kneel at his side. “It’s a good thing I know you’re under a lot of stress right now,” she commented, “because normally I get really pissy about people being that rude when I’m doing them a favor.”

Buffy looked up, confusion coloring the gratitude in her eyes. “Thank you,” she said, and then turned to face the trio on the couch. “But I don’t understand. What the hell happened while we were gone?”

“Yes, I’m very much interested in hearing this.” Giles’ voice was crisp as he strode into the arm, leaving Dawn hanging back by the open door. His blue eyes were locked on Cortina, who seemed to melt into her seat under his gaze. “You said you wouldn’t get anyone else involved.”

“Hear her out.” Dolly’s voice was commanding, and she folded her arms across her heavy breasts as she pulled herself up to her full height. “And thank you so much for lumping me in as anyone else.”

“Fine. You want the story. You’re going to get it.” Cortina straightened, thrusting out her chin as she spoke. “Just don’t interrupt me too much because Buffy’s right. We don’t have very much time.” Her pale gaze flickered over the group. “We have three issues at hand right now. One. The Soul Eaters are here in Sunnydale. That storm out there? That’s their train, and they’re getting ready to get on the rail and find what they came for.” Her eyes settled on Buffy. “You can feel them now, can’t you?”

The Slayer nodded. “And they know we’re here,” she said, avoiding her Watcher’s surprise as he turned to look down at her.

“Which means we have to get you off this track and somewhere safe,” Cortina said. “That’s two.”

“We got the info on the flight almost right after you left,” Willow volunteered. “The Council’s headed for South America.”

“Issue number three. The Council needs me to bind the Soul Eaters, and they’re not going to stop until they find me. They’ve pretty much got the Hellmouth covered, and my caves are no longer completely safe, so that means until we get more answers, I need to get the hell out of Dodge.”

“But I don’t---.”

Cortina cut Giles off with a wave of her hand. “Do you at least agree on those three points, Rupert?”

He hesitated, feeling the eyes of the women in the room on him, and then reluctantly nodded.

“Good.” She took a deep breath. “So…I decided to call my favorite teleport service for some help. And before you say a word, Rupert, it’s the fastest way to get everyone to safety, and if that’s not your number one priority right now, then you’re not the man I thought you were.”

Two pairs of blue eyes locked in silent battle, but it was the set behind the spectacles that ducked first. “You’re right,” he murmured. “Safety is our primary concern.” He turned to Dolly. “Just so long as teleporting is all you’re going to do.”

The demon snorted. “Trust me. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s these damn Soul Eaters again, I wouldn’t even be here. But I’ll play taxi as long as it keeps Cort alive, and when this is all over, you guys can just plan on owing me in a very large way.”

“How did you find Spike so fast?” Buffy’s gaze darted from Cortina to the witches, her brow furrowed.

“Well, once we knew where they were headed, we figured we’d do a locator spell---,” Willow started.

“Magic doesn’t work around Cortina,” Giles interrupted with a frown. “The spell would’ve failed.”

“I was going to have Dolly whisk me far enough while they actually did the spell,” the white demon explained. “But as it turns out, she didn’t have to.”

“Yeah,” the redhead said, jumping back into the conversation. “Once I was in the air controller system, finding the coordinates on the plane was simple. That’s pretty much all Dolly needed.”

Rising to her feet, Cortina crossed to Giles’ side. “Doll’s agreed to split us all up,” she said. “She can drop Buffy and Spike off somewhere safe, and get me away from the Council at the same time.”

“For how long?”

“Until we have answers. It took the Soul Eaters a week to get to Sunnydale. We should be able to hide Buffy and Spike from them for a few days, at least.”

He was silent for only a moment. “I’m going with you.”

She didn’t even bother hiding her smile. “Somehow, I knew you were going to say that.”

Buffy sat back on her heels. “Look, Cortina,” she said. “Not that I don’t appreciate all the help here, but I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’m tired of playing hide-and-seek with these things. I'm ready to start fighting them.”

“And how do you plan on doing that?” The white demon’s gaze was level, but kind. “Do you know how to kill them? Or do you know anything about this binding ritual that the Council has? Do you even have any idea why the Council kidnapped Spike in the first place?” She shook her head. “You can’t fight what you don’t know, Buffy. Sometimes, the best plan is to hide and wait. It doesn’t mean you’re any less strong. In fact, I’d probably say it means just the opposite. Find your answers first. Then you can fight.”

Though she looked at the Slayer as she spoke, Cortina’s words were directed at all of them, hoping it would be enough to convince them to accept her offer. It had been difficult to talk Dolly into helping the others as well, and if it had been for anyone else, the Vrolek just might have given up and hidden on her own. But it wasn’t. It was for Buffy, and it was for Spike, and most importantly, it was for Rupert, and that meant she would stand by them, even if it meant getting killed as a result of the Council’s little ritual. Not the happiest place to be in the world at the moment, but she couldn’t just back away from them. Not now. Not after realizing how much she really did love the Englishman. She wasn’t Cortina the Destroyer anymore. She wasn’t.

And maybe if she repeated that often enough to herself, she might one day believe it.

Buffy’s look was long and searching, and the room held its breath while it waited for her to respond. “No wonder you and Giles get along so well,” she finally said, with a small smile. “You sound like a Watcher.”

Cortina grimaced good-naturedly. “Oh, god, hit a girl below the belt, why don’t you,” she joked, stealing a peek at Rupert to see him lower his head to hide his own grin.

Behind all of them, Dolly let out a huge sigh. “Please tell me the show is over,” she complained loudly. “Because I’ve got a meter running here.”

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

He was still unconscious.

She hadn’t given it too much thought while back in Sunnydale, and in the flurry of getting their things to prepare for leaving, Buffy had let her worry slip behind her Slayer mask, putting herself through the ultra-efficiency motions that set everybody straight and got the job done. After extensive arguing with Giles, she had finally won in the battle of where Dawn was going, and right now, the teenager was asleep in the next room, hopefully dreaming of cute teenaged boys and proms that didn’t get crashed by demon dogs. The issue of research had been more difficult, with Tara and Willow pushing to be allowed to stay at Cortina’s caves to continue going through her library, while each couple---Buffy and Spike, Giles and Cortina---took their own share of books to read. The witches had won that fight, and now, Buffy was perched on the end of the double bed, their few belongings dropped unceremoniously to the floor, staring at the still form of her lover.

He wasn’t actually that still. Somewhere in the depths of his sleep, Spike was dreaming, moaning and twitching and whimpering in response to some unseen stimuli, and with each passing moment, the tension was twisting within Buffy’s stomach, desperate for him to wake and be rid of whatever it was that was haunting him so. Was it one of those dreams he’d told her about? Was he at that very minute fighting a Soul Eater? In a way, she was almost jealous. Outside of the playground dream, she didn’t think they’d intruded into her subconscious quite as insidiously as they had with Spike, which meant that maybe she wasn’t the important player here. Maybe the Council was wrong. Maybe they didn’t want her. Maybe they were only interested in Spike.

But she knew that wasn’t true. She’d felt them curling around her legs, preparing to feed on her while she’d been locked in ice, staring at her Mom on the couch. They wanted her. There was no mistaking that. But did they want Spike more?

His head jerked then, whipping to the side as the veins in his neck bulged, his hands clawing at the blankets beneath him as his back arched. In a flash, Buffy was there, straddling his hips, strong hands forcing him back down into the mattress. “Spike!” she said sharply, fairly sure just the sound of her voice wasn’t going to work. “Spike!” she repeated. “Wake up!”

He gasped, gulping at the air, almost as if he were trying to breathe, and the Slayer shook him again, more violently this time, desperate for anything to snap him out of this. He’d been unconscious long enough. Time to rejoin the real world.

As her arm drew back to hit him---sorry so sorry---Spike’s eyes shot open, his body jerking upright, sending her tumbling backwards onto the bed. There was a moment of panic in his wide blue eyes as he stared at her, unseeing, and then, his hands began to claw at his t-shirt, tugging at its hem as he pulled it from his jeans, yanking it up and over his head as if frantic to shed a second skin. He was awake---she could feel the confusion mingling with searing pain scouring through his head---but unaware, his only impulse to rid himself of the fire that sheathed him---burning burning hothotsofuckinhot---but even that didn’t prepare her for the sight of his bare chest as it bared to the cool air.

Five curling scratches splayed across the porcelain skin, converging into a blistered burn at their center, almost as if a hand of fire had reached into the vampire’s flesh and just squeezed…

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

Travers’ free hand shook as he reached for the cup of tea on the desk, but that one motion was the only indication that anything was amiss with him. His eyes were blank as he stared at the young man, coldly detached as he sipped quietly at the drink, and he took his time replacing it before him. “How?” he asked, the one word more deadly than any reprimand that could’ve come from his lips.

“We don’t know,” the young man admitted. “He was there when we took off, and he was gone when we landed.”

“What happened to the guard?”

“He…fell asleep.”

“And there’s no dust? He couldn’t have been killed mid-flight?”

The young man shook his head. “But Ms. Summers’ body was left untouched,” he offered, as if that would make any difference. “And there are no signs of a struggle.”

Quentin sighed and lifted his hand in dismissal, watching as the messenger turned on his heel and practically bolted from the room. Spike was gone. He knew it had to be Buffy and the influence of her witch friends; somehow, they must have perfected some sort of teleport spell that had snatched the vampire back, right from under their noses. It was the only possible explanation. Under any other circumstances, he would’ve been proud of her cunning; those types of intelligence and instincts were what made her such a valuable asset to the Council, were why he’d been so diligent in protecting her from the children of the wind in the first place. But now…

Leaning back in his chair, Travers closed his eyes, striving for some semblance of peace from the dread that was filling him. “God help you, Buffy Summers,” he murmured. She was going to need it.

 

To be continued in Chapter 19: Lulled by the Coil