DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Cortina decided to run away without telling anyone, only to be stopped by Giles, while Buffy and Spike are starting to see that the changes that have been happening to them recently have not all been good
The sun was bright, flooding the earth like an over-exposed picture, and he had to squint behind his glasses in order to see the forms on the playground. Bloody great, he thought. Another one of Buffy's dreams. His initial irritation was eased, however, when the realization that it meant the Slayer was finally sleeping crossed his mind. Must mean she's around here somewhere, he mused, and began scanning the people who mingled about.
When he saw Joyce sitting on the bench, Spike froze, eyes fixed on the top of her head as she looked down at the book in her lap. One of her hands absently played with the blanket that trailed out of the nearby pushchair, and even from that distance, he could see the small smile on her lips, his eyes starting to brim with tears as he realized what Buffy was doing. Gotta play it out, he thought, brushing angrily at the salt that slipped down his cheek, and marched over to the edge of the play area.
"Hi, Joyce," he said, hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.
She looked up, her smile widening, tilting her head in that I'm-not-really-annoyed-but-I-should-pretend-to-be mum way, and it was all he could do not to hug her on the spot. "Now, William," she said. "You better not let your mother hear you call me that. You know how she hates it."
"Oh. Right. Sorry, Ms. Summers." That was when he realized that, though she was sitting and he was standing, he was meeting her at eye level. Spike frowned, glancing down at his body, and had to bite back the curses that automatically sprang to his lips. No wonder he couldn't find Buffy. She'd made both of them kids in this little romp through Memoryland, which meant His hands went to his face and he scowled. Yep. Stupid glasses.
"I suppose you've lost Buffy again," she said, recapturing his attention. "I swear, if you don't keep a closer eye on her, you're going to lose her for good one of these days."
Although her tone was light, the words frightened him, and Spike cocked his head to stare at her. "Can you tell me where she is?" he asked slowly. "I promise this time---."
Her tsking was matched by the slight wave of her finger. "Don't go making promises you can't keep," she warned, and the same chill went over his spine. It didn't sound like Joyce. She'd never been like that. If he didn't know better
His head jerked around, searching the other benches, blue eyes dancing from one mother to the next, watching as this one picked her baby up from the pram and that one leaned over to help her son tie his shoe. "She's not here," Joyce said behind him, and the words stung. "She asked me to keep an eye on you for a while."
He wasn't going to turn around. Not Joyce, he reasoned. She's dead. Just a dream. "Where's Buffy?" he repeated, his voice hard.
Her sigh was unmistakable. "Buffy's where she always is," she replied. "On the merry-go-round."
That area of the playground was deserted, and Spike knew she didn't see him as he approached, her long hair trailing behind her as she pushed the empty wheel in circles before jumping on to ride out the speed. Without having her pointed out, he wasn't sure he would've known it was her, her face mostly hidden as she played, her voice silent in spite of the laughter that came from the other children. It was only when it slowed to a stop and Buffy hopped off, glancing up and noticing him for the first time, was he certain. It was the eyes. It would always be her eyes.
"You wanna ride?" she asked. "It's super fun. I'll even push." She was already getting her hands into position on the bars.
He saw her shoulders stiffen, head whirling to look at him, and the smile spread across her face like wildfire. "Spike!" she yelled, and leapt, tackling him so that they went tumbling to the ground, rolling in the dirt until they finished with her straddling him. "Look," she giggled. "I'm on top again."
"And you're bloody heavy " he gasped, pushing at her legs so that she wasn't sitting on his chest.
Buffy slid her bottom down so that it rested on his hips and sat up, gazing at his face quizzically. "You look way different," she commented. "I forgot you wore glasses before you were turned. And your hair." She reached out and twisted a couple of the light-brown curls between her fingers, another giggle escaping her lips. "You're a geek."
"Am not!" Heaving with all the strength the child's body allowed him, Spike pushed her from atop him, sliding back so that he could scramble back to his feet. "It's your stupid dream," he reminded. "Although " His voice trailed off, his brows knitted together as he looked around at the cheer that surrounded them. "Kinda Mary Poppins, don't you think? You know considerin' "
She immediately sobered. "I used to play here a lot when I was a kid," she started. "Well, not here exactly. It didn't look quite like this, but pretty close." Her face grew pensive as she looked around the perimeter of the park. "Some of my easiest memories are of this place. Mom would sit over there and read, while I'd run around and do the playing thing. Sometimes, even Dad would show up on his lunch break or something."
Spike frowned, scanning the adults in the area. "Is he here now?"
Buffy laughed. "God no. Wouldn't that just be too much fun " Sitting down on the edge of the merry-go-round, her face crumpled as her sneakered foot kicked at the dirt. "I just realized I have to call him. Tell him about Mom." Her eyes were shiny as she looked over at him. "How come I'm only just now thinking of that? Huh? Told you I was a rotten daughter."
"You're not." He sat down next to her, the silver bar separating their thighs, and took her hand in his. "It's only just happened. You've got to be patient with yourself."
"I'm going to have to start paying you for all the free therapy you keep giving me," Buffy joked harshly.
"Nope. Won't happen. 'Cause if you do that, it totally mucks up the whole sleeping together thing." His blue eyes twinkled behind the lenses of his glasses. "Wouldn't be ethical for the doctor to be shagging his patient." His smile faded. "So why aren't you over with your mum, luv? Why're you playin' all by yourself?"
"I'm not. Not anymore."
His head tilted. "Y'know what I mean. Guess you were always just a little thick, huh?" When she punched him playfully in the arm, his grin returned. "And you always answer first with your fist. Nice to know some things never change."
"She did." Her hazel eyes were fixed on Joyce's form on the bench. "When the dream started, I was sitting with her. It was nice at first and then " Buffy glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "You're going to think I'm weird."
"Too late for that, so try me."
"She started talking about things. Slaying things. Things I never told her about. And, yeah, I know it's just a projection of my subconscious; I did get something out of psych class, thank you very much. But, it wasn't what she was saying so much as how. Like I can't believe I'm even saying this it made her hungry. And it gave me the wiggins. So I told her I was going to play for a while."
For once, he was glad of the privacy the dreams gave them, that Buffy couldn't see inside his head, that she couldn't feel the sense of dread that oozed around his heart at her observations regarding Joyce. So it wasn't just him. He hadn't been imagining it. Dream Joyce could've stepped straight out of his nightmares and into Buffy's, but somehow, having that knowledge in hand didn't make him feel any better.
"So let's play," he said, hopping to his feet. "All we're goin' to get to do when we wake up is work on gettin' some of these riddles sorted, so we might as well enjoy this while we can."
"You wanna push or you wanna ride?"
His smile was crooked. "You've been goin' at it a bit, pet. Why don't you let me push so you can just have fun, 'kay?" The kiss she planted on his cheek was unexpected, and Spike felt himself blush as she clambered onboard.
"You're kind of cute for a geek, you know that?" she said, as she settled herself down, tossing him a quick smile.
He didn't respond, just shook his head, and grabbed hold of the silver bar to begin the ride for her. Their mingled laughter floated through the park, catching the attention of several of the adults, who watched the two children play, but nobody noticed when Joyce lifted her head, her eyes fixed on the pair, nor did they see when the book in her hands dissipated into dust, catching on the wind to float off in the direction of the merry-go-round. It was just as well. Buffy and Spike were having too much fun.
He knew there was blood dried on his face, but he also knew he had to report back as quickly as possible, lest anyone started suspecting something went amiss and came after him. He liked his job; the last thing he wanted to do was jeopardize it. He just had to make sure that nobody found out that he'd been seen, since that had been the only really explicit part of his orders.
When he saw the light in the hallway, though, he froze, his heart suddenly pounding. Shit. In the three days they'd been set up in the abandoned building, this light had never been on, which could only mean that someone was actually here waiting for him. He wanted to run, but knew he wouldn't. Face the music. Take it on the chin. Even if Quentin Travers did scare the holy crap out of him.
"At least tell me you know where they are," he heard Quentin say as he stepped into his quarters. No hi-how-are-you. Straight for the jugular.
"Yes, sir," he said, back rigid, eyes focused forward. "I can take you there whenever you wish, sir."
"You'll be needing medical attention first. Is it broken?"
"Yes. I think so, sir."
Quentin's eyes narrowed. "Who did it? Rupert? Spike? Although with his chip---."
"It was the Slayer." His eyes grew thunderous at the memory. "She's dangerous, sir. She would've killed me---."
"Don't exaggerate." All gentility was stripped from Travers' voice. "Buffy Summers is one of the best Slayers we've had this century. She would never kill a human being."
"No offense, sir, but I think your intelligence regarding the Slayer may be outdated. She was ready to do it, and she would've, too, if it wasn't for the vampire."
Travers frowned. "Spike? What did he do?"
"He talked her down, kept her back so that I could get out of there."
"Do you know why?"
Quentin rose from his seat near the bed, forehead wrinkled as his brain worked at the conundrum posed before him. Their information regarding the cleansing was perfunctory, at best, and though they knew the effects had liberated the children of the wind, they were not prepared for adverse ramifications that may make the Slayer a potential threat. And yet she had been stopped by Spike, no less. Perhaps it wasn't quite as bad as this employee painted.
"I will send the doctor up to tend to your injury," Quentin said as he strolled toward the door. "I suggest you rest. You will need your strength for later."
She wouldn't let him touch her, though his hands itched to just grab her by the shoulders and hold her down. Instead, Giles had to watch as Cortina paced around the edges of the library, her fingers trailing along the shelves, occasionally reaching out to touch a spine of a book, all the while refusing to meet his eyes. He leaned against the closed door behind him, sighing.
"How much longer are you going to keep this up?" he asked quietly. "You're going to have to speak to me sooner or later."
"I vote for later."
"And I vote for sooner."
"So it's a draw." She stood behind the desk, pale blue eyes sweeping over the scattered texts on its surface. "Do you not teach your protégés to clean up after themselves? It's going to take me forever to reorganize all this."
"You're changing the subject."
"Hard to change it when we didn't really have one in the first place."
"Damn it, Cortina! This is not a time for playing games!"
The muscles in his arms were tightly sprung, and she could see him fighting to maintain control as he folded them across his chest, his hands bunched into fists under his armpits. It ached to know she was the reason for it, and with a sigh of resignation, the white demon sank into one of the chairs.
"You're right. It's not." She pulled out the chair next to her and angled it toward her. "Would you sit over here, please?" she asked. "I'm a glutton for punishment."
He didn't need to be told twice. Within seconds, Giles had crossed the room, seating himself opposite her, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees as his hands stroked her leg through her robe. "Did he threaten you?" he murmured. "Is that what you're afraid of?"
Cortina laughed. "Quentin Travers may be a pompous, calculating jerk, but he is most definitely not the source of my fear. Although, I will give him credit. He is very good at his job."
"So what happened? I assume they're interested in studying you that that was their purpose in abducting you in the first place."
"Oh, Rupert." She sighed, her head bending so that her hair fell over her face, a snowy shield that hid her from him. "This would be so much easier if I didn't care about you."
"Cortina look at me "
"I can't. I can't bear to see the disappointment in those gorgeous eyes of yours."
"Disappointed? Why would I ?"
"Because I'm not who you think I am." She looked up then, unable to resist the pull. "Or rather, I'm more than you think I am. And more is not better. It's such a long story. I don't even know where to start."
"Start with this." Leaning over, Giles extracted the book Cortina had so carefully placed in middle of the table, holding it up between them until she looked at it. "I saw you pull this out, and I saw you deliberately place it in a spot so that we would find it in the morning. What's in it that you so desperately wanted us to see?"
It was easier to focus on the black binding than on his face. "Some of your answers," she said softly. "That book is the only one of its kind in existence. All the rest have been destroyed."
"And what is it?"
"Wrong question," she murmured. "Don't you want to know where I got it from?"
"All right." Giles took a deep breath and lowered the book. "Where did you get it?"
Her pale eyes were sad. "I stole it. Over a hundred years ago. From the Council libraries. Now go ahead and ask the next question."
"So that they couldn't have it." Her voice dripped with venom, in spite of the unshed tears that had suddenly sprung into her pale eyes, and she smiled. "Now. Aren't you glad you decided to follow me? I told you it would've been better if you'd just stayed asleep."
Gently laying the book back on the desk, Giles returned his hands to her knees, massaging the tight muscles of her legs as he contemplated his next words. "I meant what I said," he finally managed. "I like my life much better with you in it. Whatever this is that's troubling you, I want you to know that I'm here to understand. But I can't do that if you don't tell me what exactly is going on."
Cortina took a long time to answer. Settling against the back of her chair, her gaze grew pensive as she just looked at the Englishman's face, memorizing the lines as if they were sustenance. "I don't like hurting people I care about," she finally said.
"I know that---."
"You know that of me now," she interrupted. "That wasn't always the case."
"We all have a past." He shook his head. "I know whereof I speak, remember?"
The air in her lungs burned as she held her breath, but found herself unable to let it out, the confession inside burrowing its way to the surface. "I know what's after Buffy and Spike."
It was the last thing he expected to hear. "You know " Giles straightened, hands sliding back onto his own lap. "Wait. Did you say Buffy and Spike?"
Cortina nodded. "That's what Travers wanted to talk about---."
The mention of his employer's name caused the tension inside him to erupt. "Travers is in on this?" he demanded. "What in bloody hell is the Council trying to---?"
Her hand snaked out and gripped his wrist, stopping him from bolting from his chair. "They're trying to save her," she hissed. "They're doing everything in their power to get them back under control---."
"Them? Back under control? Are you trying to tell me that they are the ones responsible for whatever threat is out there?"
"No, I'm not!" Her own anger was rising, but hers was born in frustration, not the fury and hatred that was seething in the Watcher. Picking up the book, Cortina thrust it at him. "It's all in here. Read it. It'll explain it a helluva lot better than I am!"
Giles just stared at the text, his rage clenching around his skin like a strait jacket. "Just. Tell me." Dangerous blue eyes met her pale ones. "What are they and how do we kill them?"
"The Council calls them, the children of the wind. That's how they travel when they're free to do so. In the demon world, they go by another name, one that is just a little more descriptive." Her chin lifted. "We call them the Soul Eaters and you can't kill them, I mean "
To be continued in Chapter 12: Through My Lips