DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Well, the baddies are mine.
OK, Cortina’s mine, too. But everything else really is his. Too bad.
SUMMARY: Celie has stolen Cortina’s flask, and Buffy and Spike are still on the plane on their way to Daymon’s home in Greece.
They slept. In the early morning hours, the caves rang silent, void of life and bereft of activity as its inhabitants embraced the world of dreams. Even the guards slumbered, lost in whirlwind images, relaxed for the first time in weeks. There were no midnight vigils, no uninvited visitors roaming the edges of the tunnels, no quiet distractions to wile away the time. Tranquility reigned throughout Cortina’s territory, and the night crept on.
In the rooms that housed guests, anxiety had been replaced by anticipation, knowledge that when they awoke, they would be on their way to save Buffy. Partners cozied up to each other, curling into familiar bodies, holding onto loved ones’ resting forms as if they were the only two left in a sea of debris. Tara slept with a smile curling her lips, her head nestled against Willow’s breast, her arms tucked safely around the redhead’s waist. In Xander’s room, an exhausted Anya lay wrapped in the bed’s comforter, forcing her boyfriend to press himself directly against her in an attempt to share the warmth. And in the library, a weary Watcher dreamt of laughing little blonde girls playing in the sunshine.
The silence was deceptive though, and an onlooker would’ve been easily lulled into believing that all was well behind the closed doors. Two in particular were not asleep, were not relaxed, were instead making plans, each of her own design and method. Neither wanted to wake the others, and they worked as quietly as they could.
…And still the others slept…
She knew she should rest, have some more time to heal before summoning assistance, but Cortina feared that waiting would prove to be a mistake, allowing anything to happen to Buffy and Spike in the interim. Better to be safe than sorry, she thought, and lit the last of the candles.
The reaction was instantaneous. The candles immediately extinguished, replacing the ambient light with darkness, relighting themselves just seconds later. The white demon looked up from her seat on the floor and smiled.
“Don’t ever stop answering on the first ring,” she teased. “It’s so refreshing.”
The gaseous form before her shimmered. “I suppose you’re going to make me take human form.”
“Do you mind?” asked Cortina. “I’ve had a rough night and watching you fade in and out is just going to give me a headache.”
The shape seemed to shrug. “Suit yourself.” It wavered, solidified, wavered again, before settling into a woman’s figure…a very large woman’s figure. She towered over Cortina, easily outstripping her by a foot and several hundred pounds, with a shower of long green hair tumbling over her shoulders. The smile on her face was genuine, though, and as her body finished rooting itself, she collapsed on the nearby bed. “Corporeal forms are so…exhausting,” she complained. “One of these days, I’m going to make you come visit me. See how you like being bossed around by your host.”
“I’d love to, Doll, but first you’ve got to stop living in the clouds. Still have the sunlight issue, you know.”
Dolly grimaced. “Oh yeah.” She sat up, gazing down at the white demon, and was about to speak when she suddenly sniffed. The demon frowned. “You’ve got people here,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“That’s kind of why I called.” Cortina folded her legs underneath her, trying to ease the strain sitting on the floor was putting on the wound in her abdomen. “They need to get to Greece as soon as possible.”
“Isn’t that what they have planes for?”
“Normally, I’d say yes. But there are extenuating circumstances this time.”
“I can’t believe you want me to help a bunch of humans,” Dolly snorted, lifting her bulk from the bed. “That takes a lot of nerve after what happened with those Brazilians. What the hell’s going through your head? Why would you get yourself mixed up with…” She stopped, cutting herself off and audibly groaned. “Oh, god, please. Don’t tell me. This is about a guy.”
Cortina couldn’t help the blush that flew to her cheeks. “Well, yes, there is a guy, but I got involved with Buffy’s problems before Rupert ever showed up---.”
“Buffy?” The incredulity in her voice boomed throughout the room. “It’s bad enough you’re caught up with humans, but you want me to help one named Buffy? How pathetic is that?”
“I wouldn’t talk, Dolly,” the white demon retorted, stressing the other’s name. “And she’s not just any human. She’s the Vampire Slayer.”
Her guest flopped back down onto the bed. “Oh, this just gets better and better,” she commented. “Have you conveniently forgotten she kills our kinds as well? She’s been on the Demon Corps’ 10 Most Wanted List ever since that Ascension debacle two years ago. They find out you’re helping her, they’re going to drag you out into the sunshine faster than you can say Hellmouth.”
“They’re not going to find out.” Cortina’s voice was firm. “Because it’s none of their business. And Buffy’s not like what you’re thinking. She’s a lot more on the ball than any of the other Slayers I’ve met. Plus, she’s got a vampire for a boyfriend.”
“Oh, big surprise there. Slayers have been sleeping with vampires for centuries.”
“Maybe, but this time it’s different.” The white demon’s blue eyes softened. “C’mon, you remember what it’s like to be young and in love.”
The duo sat there and stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, Dolly sighed. “You said there was a guy…”
“Her Watcher.” Cortina’s face lit up, and the corpulent demon opposite her was struck by the sudden animation in her voice. “Rupert Giles. Incredibly intelligent, with these eyes that just pierce right through you. Every time he looks at me, I just feel my stomach turning into slush. Oh! And he’s British, too.”
“Figures,” Dolly said. “You and accents. You’ll never change, Cort.” She began playing with the ends of her hair. “If I do this---and I say if---this makes us totally even. For everything. No calling in favors later on. Capisce?”
“And I just have to take this Slayer to Greece, right?” She waited for a response, but was met only by Cortina’s uncomfortable silence. “Right?” she prompted.
“Actually, she’s not the one I need you to teleport,” the white demon hedged. “Well, I’ll need for you to bring her back, of course, but for going out there…it’s more like her Watcher and some of her friends.”
Dolly shook her head. “You must have it pretty bad to be doing this for a human. You do know he’ll never last, don’t you? Ten minutes with you in bed and he’ll be on oxygen.”
Cortina’s smile was coy, her pale blue eyes dancing. “Oh, I think he might last longer than that,” she said. “He’s very…surprising.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” She stood, and stretched to her full height, cracking her back as she did so. “I want to have a talk with this Rupert fella. Then I’ll decide if I’m going to help.”
“He’s asleep in the library. I can take you there---.”
Dolly waved a hand in dismissal. “Don’t bother; I remember my way around. Besides, you should get some sleep. Were you even going to mention the fact that someone took a stab at you tonight?”
“I took some stuff for it. I’ll be all right.”
“Yeah, sure. That’s why you’re sitting there like someone’s shoved a redwood up your ass.” Before the white demon could argue, she was scooped up into her friend’s arms and laid gently down onto the bed. “Go to sleep. And that’s an order.”
Cortina snuggled down into the blankets. Rest did sound appealing, and the comforter was toasty from Dolly’s massive body heat. “Maybe just a little nap.” She watched as her guest began to shimmer in front of her, seemingly evaporating before her eyes, and she let her own lids slide shut. Almost immediately, the visiting demon’s voice came floating back to her.
“I haven’t said yes yet…”
Cortina’s smile was unconscious. “You will,” she murmured, before drifting off to sleep.
He watched her playing in the sandbox, the grains running down the sides of her legs as she poured the bucket over her knees, a huge smile on her face as she delighted in the novelty. A dog barked in the distance, answered quickly by a familiar shout, but Giles didn’t look away from his charge, couldn’t break away from enjoying her innocent glee. Although the book in his lap was open, he hadn’t read a word since arriving at the park. The gratification in watching Buffy was more than what he could get from some silly adventure novel.
The dog was closer now, still barking, and the ex-librarian felt a momentary pang of annoyance. Couldn’t people keep their pets on leashes anymore? he wondered. Or wasn’t it PC these days to constrain your animals? For a moment, he thought he heard someone call his name, but shook it off. You don’t know anyone out here but Buffy, he argued silently. But then…there it was again.
He was about to turn when he felt the large hand clap down on his shoulder, shaking him…
“Will you just wake up already?”
Giles bolted upright in his seat, his arms jerking out reflexively, sending his glasses skittering to the floor. The hand was still on his shoulder, the heavy grip loosening as he glanced around, bending over to retrieve his eyewear from under the desk. Blinking rapidly to clear his blurry vision, he straightened, and was immediately met with the sight of an extremely large woman standing in front of him, her foot tapping impatiently, fingers playing with the ends of her…green hair?
She visibly relaxed. “Yep, you’re the guy. You sleep like the dead, you know that?”
“I’m sorry,” Giles stuttered, trying to shake the fog from his head without looking too foolish. “Have we met?”
“Officially? No. Well, actually, not unofficially either. My name’s Dolly. I’m a friend of Cort’s.”
“Oh.” Without even thinking, the Watcher’s mouth stretched into a yawn, and he flushed a deep red as he tried to cover it up. “Excuse me,” he apologized through his fingers. “I haven’t slept that soundly in years.”
“I’m sure Cort would’ve let you have one of the rooms,” the demon said. “Or are you just as nutso about books as she is and couldn’t bear being parted from them?”
“She did offer, yes, but…” He cut himself off and stared at her, his blue eyes slightly narrowing. “Does Cortina know you’re here?” he questioned.
“Here, and with her blessing,” she replied. “And hopefully by now, she’s as out of it as you were when I got here.”
Giles nodded. “Good. She hasn’t rested nearly enough to heal properly. She puts a brave face on, but she’s really not very good at taking of herself, is she?”
“Cort’s got a tendency to get wrapped up in others’ needs ahead of her own,” Dolly said slowly.
“Yes, she’s most definitely a caretaker, with an order of romantic on the side, I do believe,” he assessed, oblivious to the demon’s narrowing gaze. He was waking up, feeling more refreshed than he had in ages. He couldn’t have been asleep for that long and for him to be so invigorated, it would’ve taken hours in his own bed, with no undue interruptions. Perhaps it was Cortina’s alcohol…
His gaze flitted down to the desk and he frowned, at once concerned. It was empty. He didn’t remember putting the flask away; perhaps he’d knocked it onto the floor when he awoke.
Dolly watched in amusement as the man got down on his hands and knees and began searching around the desk, bumping his head more than once and cursing under his breath, finishing by opening each and every one of the drawers. Her smile faded, though, when he rose, his face a thunderous mask of anger, blue eyes blazing. “Was there anyone else in here when you arrived?” he asked.
“No,” she answered. This was a different man than the one she’d materialized in on, and for a brief second, she saw what had attracted Cortina’s eye. Barely suppressed fury crystallized his movements as Giles grabbed the duffel bag from against the wall and slung it over his shoulder. As he brushed past her toward the door, Dolly heard him mutter, “Celie…”
Even with his previous flight through the corridors, Giles found himself frustrated as they began to blend into each other, doors closed against him, not one of them with a guard. He hadn’t bothered to ask Cortina where she was putting the witch up for the night, hadn’t really thought it necessary, and now he was kicking himself for the oversight. Celie had heard all of their conversations---stupid, Rupert, he chided himself, how could you be so stupid?---which meant that she knew about the white demon’s hold on her magic, and about the alcohol, and most likely what the drink would do to her. And now the flask was missing…
The other one, Dolly, was trailing after him, not helping but not getting in the way either. Giles didn’t care; his only concern was to get to the black witch before she…
He stopped abruptly as he rounded the corner and saw the demon’s inert form lying on the ground. The pool of blood under its head was already beginning to attract the insects, and it was all the Watcher could do not to stare at the clean slit across the creature’s neck. Wrenching his gaze away, he skirted the body, poking his head through the open door behind it. It was empty. Celie was gone.
Abruptly, Giles knelt down and gave the demon a quick search. Definitely dead, most likely had been sleeping when she’d snuck up on him from behind. But she’d been unarmed; how did she…? He found the empty scabbard under the man’s jacket, and he closed his eyes in dismay, his head hanging as his heart thumped in his chest. Now…she had a weapon.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong, or do you want me to guess?”
Giles straightened at the demon’s voice, his jaw locked, the muscles twitching. “Cortina’s in danger,” he said, and reached into the duffel hanging over his shoulder. He almost didn’t see Dolly begin to fade out, but as soon as he noticed, his eyes widened. “You can teleport?” he asked. Without waiting for a response, he leapt over the dead body on the ground, crossing the distance between them with a speed that alarmed the green-haired demon. “Take me to her.”
It was a demand, not a request, and seeing the determination on the human’s face, Dolly merely shrugged. “Whatever,” she said.
He wasn’t sure what to expect, but the sinking feeling in his stomach was nothing compared to the dread that clutched his heart. Please, he begged silently as he cocked the crossbow, don’t let me be too late.
Even before he had taken solid form, he could see the occupants of the room, could see Celie’s hunched form over a struggling Cortina, could even see the rag clapped over the white demon’s mouth and nose. He desperately wanted to use the weapon he held tight in his hands, but Giles knew without looking that he wasn’t there just yet, was only a diaphanous figure in the corner of the room. He heard her, though, and the bile that rose in his throat was real enough to burn.
“They are fools to trust you,” Celie hissed. “They do not see that you are evil, that all demons must be destroyed. But they will. Once you are dead, I will have my powers back and then---.” Her words were cut off in a strangled scream, as an arrow embedded itself in her upper arm. Clapping a hand over the blood that had already started to flow from the wound, the witch looked up to see the Watcher standing near the doorway, the crossbow ready in his arms.
“Step away from her.” His voice was low and deadly, and she could see the hatred burning in his eyes. Very slowly, she rose to her feet.
“You are too late,” she said with a vicious smile. “That allergy of hers is quite sensitive.” She gestured toward Cortina’s form with the rag that still dangled from her fingers. “Even the touch of alcohol on her skin proves quite effective. I am certain she is dying even as we speak.”
Giles took the risk and glanced down at the white demon. Sure enough, where the fabric had been pressed against her face, deep red burns and welts sizzled along her skin. His step toward her was unconscious, but he stopped himself, swiveling his head to face the witch again.
Celie’s smiled widened. “It is better this way, you will see. She was---.”
The second arrow found its mark with the precision of a surgeon’s hand, knifing into her chest, sending her stumbling backwards against the wall. She looked with wide eyes at Giles, unbelieving, before slumping to the floor.
“---a better person than you will ever be,” the older man finished, his voice cold as he stared down at her lifeless form.
Dolly brushed past him and went straight for the bed, lifting Cortina into her arms. Quickly, her eyes scanned her friend’s face, before glancing back at the rag that had fluttered to the floor. Stooping to pick it up with a free hand, she gave it a deep sniff and then turned to face the Watcher. “Damn thing’s soaked in liquor,” she explained. “That means she’s going to have internal burns as well. They can be treated, but I have to---.”
“Do whatever you must,” Giles insisted, unable to tear his eyes from Cortina’s now unconscious face. It wasn’t until the pair had disappeared that the first prick of a tear stung his own eyes. “Whatever you must,” he repeated to the empty air.
They sat around the desk, silent in the aftermath of the Watcher’s story, a note of sobriety hanging in the air. No one knew exactly how to respond, and each was lost in his or her own Scooby thoughts. It was Anya who finally shattered the quiet. “And you’re sure she’s dead?” she queried.
“Positive,” Giles replied, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. “An arrow through the heart works just as effectively on humans as it does on vampires.”
“Now don’t get me wrong,” started Xander, “’cause god knows, I’m all ding dong, the witch is dead, here. But, with Celie out of the picture, and Cortina poofed away to Neverneverland, how exactly are we going to get to Buffy?”
It was the question they had all been considering, but none had been brave enough to voice. Turning expectant faces toward the older man, the four younger people waited for him to come through with his usual save-the-day solution.
“I don’t know,” Giles admitted. “I’ve been going over and over it since…” He couldn’t even say her name, the memory of the scarlet burns on the delicate white skin still etched on his brain. “Perhaps we could attempt the teleport ourselves. Now that her influence is gone from this area, Willow, Tara and I could try our hand at some magic…”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Giles looked up to see Dolly standing in the doorway, somewhere between her solid and gaseous forms. Half-standing, he leaned forward, the worry shining in his eyes. “Is she…?”
“Healing,” the demon replied. “She’d be dead now if you hadn’t stopped the witch.”
A relieved Watcher sank back into his chair. “Thank god,” he breathed.
There was a moment while Dolly just watched them, seemingly waiting for them to do something. Finally, she sighed in exasperation. “Well, chop chop,” she said. “Get your stuff. I don’t have all day, you know.”
“Our…stuff?” Giles queried. “What in the world are you talking about?”
“Whatever you’re going to need to help your Slayer,” she clarified. “I’m taking you to Greece.”
To be continued in Chapter Thirty-Two: Best Laid Plans…