Beyond the Sleeping Refuge
"Umm," Cordelia said softly, her voice somehow breaking over the heated debate currently taking place in the Hyperion lobby. "I have a really bad idea, but I think it might work."
That was all the incentive Spike required. He promptly broke from conspiring with Wright and whirled on his feet. "Well then," he answered eagerly. "Let's hear it."
Cordelia nodded and cleared her throat, tossing a cautious glance at Wright. "Some of you aren't going to like it."
Gunn and Wesley stopped talking at once. Wright stiffened. Spike narrowed his eyes.
"Okay,” she said, “all of you aren't going to like it."
"Then don't tell us," Wright snapped. "We'll think of something else."
"There isn't time to think of something else," she argued. "Even if it is a bad idea. It just might be the only idea we come up with."
Gunn arched an eyebrow. "Ummm...just for the record...how bad are we talking?"
"It involves me being used as leverage."
That was it. End of discussion. "No," Wesley, Wright and Gunn chimed together.
Cordelia rolled her eyes and jumped to her feet. There had been little variation in the conversation since the others had gotten back from Caritas. People talking over each other, not coming to any conclusions.
Just, in Spike’s opinion, wasting a lot of bloody time.
And Spike knew he had to get the hell out of here soon. He’d been here too long already. Angelus and the others would be wondering where he was.
"Puhlease," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. "As all of you know, there's nothing Angelus likes more than live bait."
"Which is exactly why you're not going to be bait," Wright all but growled.
"I must agree," Wesley said. "I don't like the idea of—"
"You haven't even heard my idea."
Wesley nodded. "Yes, well, by suggestion alone, I am prone not to like it."
"Gotta say, Cordy," Gunn agreed, shaking his head. "I'm agreein' with Scary and English, here. We're already short one slayer that I've never met but have, somehow, developed a life-and-death-interest in." He tossed a brief glance to Spike, who smirked at him, even if it was a shadow of his usual showiness.
Wright frowned. "Scary?"
"Spur of the moment."
"What, and I don’t qualify?" Spike glared at Gunn. "And you can always call him Zangy, Charlie. Seems to irritate just enough."
Gunn scowled. "Stop calling me that."
"Guys. The point. Remember?" Cordelia waved. "Listen, I know everyone here's not exactly onboard the Bad Plan Train, but really—and to both reiterate and state the more than obvious—we're running out of time."
"I don't wanna get you hurt, pet," Spike said softly. "Don't get me wrong, I'll do anything to get her out, but—"
She shook her head. "You guys seriously don't think that I've lived every day since working for Angel and not thought about what I might eventually have to do? Granted, I really hadn't given much thought to Evil Incorporated plus two major undead hussies involved—and Buffy, never woulda saw that coming—but I can do this."
"No," Wright said shortly. His voice carried a note of finality.
Cordelia's gaze narrowed. "Listen," she said shortly. "I don't know if you heard me, but there's not exactly a long list of options. And I can so take care of myself. I've been doing it for a long time, Zack." She held her hand up before her other colleagues could object again. "And you two oughta know me well enough by know to guess that whatever you say's not going to work. And I'm not worried. My plan involves Spike—which you'd know if you'd let me tell you—and I know he'd never let me get hurt."
Spike shuffled uncomfortably and opted for a noncommittal, "Thanks," before looking away.
"Not that I wanna say you can't trust him," Gunn offered, holding up a hand. "But you're putting a lot on faith here. Spike's only one vamp, and Angel's a bad mother with, as you said, Hell Incorporated supporting him. If, say, he gets in kill-mode and has Darla and Dru help him out…"
"I can handle Dru," Spike said, but the thought made his insides squirm. "If it comes down to it."
"And it probably will," Wesley stated.
"I'll handle it." Spike sighed and shook his head. "It’s not like I'd wanna hurt her or anything. Despite everything that's happened, Dru's...well, she'll always be a part of me. But that doesn't mean I won't stake her if she stands between me and Buffy."
"She's a monster," Wright said softly.
"She's also my..." He paused, exhaled dramatically. "Let's just say it'd be no easier for any of you to kill the first chit you loved, would it? Doesn't matter how bloody monstrous she is, or even that I don't love her anymore. I just don' wanna kill her. But I will if that's what it comes down to."
"I don't think we could ask any more," Cordelia said before anyone else could get a word in. Then she turned her attention to the others. "And I'm doing this whether you want me to or not. Spike can help me if it comes down to it. So deal. Okay?"
Wright made a noise of disgust and turned away.
"Might help if you'd clarify what this is," Wesley suggested.
"Well, Spike's going to take me to Wolfram and Hart," she said. "Not now, but soon. And when I say soon, I mean tomorrow at the latest. I'd still like for him to talk to Lindsey and figure out if we have any alternatives." Her eyes narrowed at Spike. "Which I expect you to do directly when you get back, okay?"
Despite the severity of the conversation, he found it within himself to answer with a cheeky, "Yes, Mum."
Gunn perked a brow. "I'm not liking this, already."
"Neither am I," Wright said, back turned to them.
"Well..." Cordelia frowned. "Tough. Anyway, in my plan, Spike would give me to Angelus—"
"I see your not liking and raise you a hating," Wright told Gunn, then turned to Cordelia, his eyes blazing. "Are you out of your mind? He'd rip you apart in seconds. Or worse—"
"Or worse, he'd do to me what he's done to Buffy," she volunteered. "I know."
"No," Wesley intervened, staring at Cordelia as though he’d never seen her before. "She's... Cordelia, when on earth did you become so noble?"
She smirked. "Gee, thanks."
"I mean no offense, but—"
"Yeah, yeah. Two years ago, I was ready to kill Buffy to be Homecoming Queen. My, how not being in high school or having any friends changes people." A determined sigh sounded through her lips. "But I don't think it's going to come to that. Slayer or not, she didn't know what she was up against when what happened to her happened. I do. I know exactly what I'm doing and what the odds are. And, if this goes accordingly—"
"Hold it right there," Spike barked, his eyes wide. "Bloody hell, I thought you Sunnyhell alums knew not to jinx yourselves like that."
Cordelia covered her mouth. "Oh god. Sorry."
"That's it, pet. Deal's off."
"What? No! I didn't even finish my sentence."
"You jinxed yourself," Gunn added hopefully, though it was clear he wasn’t sure what he was saying. "Can't risk it now."
"You guys suck. I'm doing it." Cordelia leveled her eyes with Spike's. "And you're gonna help me, or else I'll be doing it alone."
Spike wove a tapestry of obscenities under his breath with a dejected sigh. Wright still refused to look at her.
"I'm going to be struggling too much for Angelus to have much to do with me," Cordelia continued, still focused on Spike. "And you're gonna help me. Of course, you'll have to do the thing where you're trying not to be obvious in the fact that you're helping me. In fact, you'll actually have to pretend like you're helping Angelus. Then you can pull your pit-pocketing stunt and get me outta there."
The entire lobby fell silent for long seconds.
"That," Gunn said, disbelievingly, "is your plan?"
"But worth it." She glanced to Wright. His expression was stony at best. "Spike told me he's good at petty theft—"
"Yeah," the vampire agreed hotly. If this was the girl’s big plan, she was off her rocker. "I also told you that robbing the sod is bloody suicide. I'm not about to put you in that kinda danger if that's all you got up your sleeve."
"If he's preoccupied with me, and in the middle of a struggle, he won't notice."
"Spike, do we really have any other options right now?"
Wright, apparently unable to stand still a moment longer, prowled forward, his face contorted with something between rage and fear. "Other than stupid schemes that will not only result in a dead Buffy, but a dead Cordy as well? I can't believe you'd actually consider doing this."
"Believe it," she snapped.
"You're going to get yourself killed."
"I so am not."
Wright closed another couple spaces between them. "You're not invincible, Cordelia! You go in there and try to pull this bullshit, he's going to fucking tear you limb from limb and fuck what's left over."
Gunn winced. "Let's not get crude or anything."
"Worry less about my being crude and more about her being a fucking idiot."
Spike fought the urge to wince. He might not be too skilled at the ins and outs of human courtship, but he didn’t think that line was going to play too well.
As he expected, Cordelia was nearly vibrating with fury. She had that if looks could stake expression that Buffy had so often worn, only the full of it was aimed at Wright, who, idiot that he was, didn’t look intimidated.
Spike sighed. That there had been a brief romance. And here he’d been pulling for them.
"Maybe,” Cordelia said in a dangerous tone, “being a fucking idiot is better than being proactive instead of reactive. This is the best that we can do, and for your information, nobody asked your permission. There's this little thing called learning from your mistakes. Since you obviously haven't taken that step yet, I'm going to have to take it for you. Learn from your mistake and not stand by twiddling my thumbs while a girl gets fucking raped and tortured and god knows what else every single day."
A cold, callous breeze filtered through the air. Wright matched her gaze with such intensity that Spike wasn’t sure if he wanted to hit her, scream at her, kiss her, or rip her head off. In the end, he opted for none of these, and instead turned on his heel and marched toward the staircase.
Wright had only been gone seconds when Gunn decided to lighten the air. "And again," he said uneasily, "I'm out of the loop."
Wesley frowned. "I believe I am, too."
Spike said nothing at first. He watched his friend disappear to the upper levels of the Hyperion, drew in another unneeded breath, and turned Cordelia with more of the same. "Pet—"
She turned to him sharply. "Don't. Just go. Go to Lindsey, figure out if there's something else you can do. If not, just come back and get me."
"I don't like this."
"Well, I don't, either, but I'm not going to stand back and do nothing." She glanced wordlessly to the staircase. "Not now that I've seen what they're capable of."
Spike followed her gaze. "Zangy—"
"He'll have to deal, okay? I'm not doing this to spite him. He's just not used to a woman in charge."
"Nikki," Gunn pointed out.
Spike snickered. "Wrong kind of 'in charge', mate."
Cordelia shook her head. "Whatever Zack's problems are, they're his, not ours.”
"Right," Spike agreed solemnly, and nothing more would be said on the matter.
The note that settled over the Hyperion as he took his leave was somber at best. There would be no peace between any of them while things remained as they were. They were beginning to war with themselves, which was never good.
Buffy could not be saved while her rescuers had nothing better to do than argue.
And for the moment, that was what kept Spike going. Flashing back to her face. The way her skin felt under his touch. The way she whimpered into his mouth. The way she’d begged him not to leave her.
It was time then.
Spike wanted to be certain that when she next made that request of him, he could fulfill it. Now through eternity. Cordelia's offer notwithstanding, it kept him motivated. Kept him moving forward.
Kept him resolved on the understanding that he would get her out. No matter what it took. No matter what it cost.
She was worth it.
It was a miracle that he could see where he was going, much less make it to his bedroom. The years had taught him many things—namely to trust his senses. He didn’t recall a time he’d ever been blinded by fury, not even after Amber had been murdered. Then, he’d channeled his rage into fuel. He hadn’t allowed himself to stop.
Now was an entirely different matter. The raw bluntness of his outrage had nothing on its intensity. The past two days had been hell enough on his conscience without adding an argument with a woman he barely knew to the list, even if it was over her determination to do something that scared the shit out of him.
His feelings for Cordelia were admittedly jumbled. Though she was practically a stranger, she possessed the ability to strip him down more thoroughly than anyone before her. He didn’t know if he liked that. Actually, he was pretty sure he hated it. Life had been hard enough without worrying about developing feelings for another woman.
He had never resented Amber for putting him in this position. He would trade what they had shared for nothing, but those years with her had—he’d thought—ruined him forever for others. And he’d been okay with that. He’d wanted that. Amber was the only woman he’d ever loved or ever wanted to love. Even looking at someone else felt wrong.
What he had known with his wife was the closest thing to fairytale perfection he figured anyone had ever come. That wasn't to say they went their daily lives without the expected squabbles and fights over this and that. But it was homey. Happy. Even toward the end, when he’d been a dumbass who had worried more about money than his wife’s feelings. When his own deep-rooted sense of inadequacy had fueled the devil on his shoulder, making an ugly part of him resent the baby growing inside her, and her for not understanding how desperate their situation was. One kid had nearly bankrupted them. A second might have finished the job. But even then, even when he’d been so entirely stupid, he’d known he had a fairytale. Because there was no Zack without Amber. He’d never wanted anything or anyone else.
And losing her and their child had destroyed him. More than that, it had left him shell-shocked. They had never had any enemies. No jealous exes, no scorned lovers, no greedy coworkers—nothing. That shit happened in the movies, not in his world. So even when Darla had entered the picture, even when he sensed she was unbalanced, he hadn’t taken her seriously.
Seven long years had passed since he’d lost his wife. Since he'd felt anything but cold, the drive to go on. There was love, of course. Love for Rosalie. Hell, he loved his daughter with everything he was, even when he thought himself empty of everything but resentment and fury. He’d sworn off sex after that one crazy night in San Antonio but had never bothered to swear off the idea of loving another woman, because the thought alone had been too ridiculous to give serious thought.
Then he’d met Cordelia and he had no idea how he’d gotten himself into this fucking mess. But it felt like he was betraying Amber. Betraying a woman seven years dead by allowing himself to feel.
Cordelia had tapped into whatever part of the old Zack he had left. He didn't know what to do with himself. If there was anything to do. It was wrong but it wasn't. He hated her and himself for feeling the way he did. And a part of him hated Amber, too, for not letting him go. For haunting him now. For showing him what happened to people he was dumb enough to love.
He hadn’t had a choice but to love Rosalie and he’d promised he wouldn’t love anyone else. Not even Nikki.
Then Cordelia had fucked that up. Not necessarily because he thought he loved her now, but because he knew—he felt—that he could.
Cordelia, who was preparing to do something entirely stupid.
She was going to let herself die.
Not only that, she’d had the audacity to throw his own reservation back at him. That alone was enough to make him want to wring her neck, even if it would do no good. Very little could be said or done for headstrong women, Cordelia was definitely that. Much more so than Amber had ever been. She didn’t fight hurt; she fought mad.
She fought like him.
Nikki had never argued with him like this, either. They had their fights, of course, but she always deferred to him in the end. She trusted his judgment. After all, it was what had kept them alive all these years.
Cordelia blatantly refused to see that.
And it was going to get her killed. He couldn't lose her now. Not to Darla. Not with these stupid ass feelings he had for her.
If he lost her, he feared he would never recover.
A gentle knock on the already-open door broke him from his thoughts. He knew it was her without needing to turn, and he stiffened. He was in no place to talk to her just yet.
Not that she cared. She’d do whatever she wanted, no matter how ill-advised.
That's not fair, his mind warned.
"Well fine," she said when he offered no greeting. "I'm coming in whether you want me to or not."
Wright's eyes narrowed. "You're good at doing things I'd rather you not."
There was a pained sigh. "Look—"
He held up a hand, still refusing to face her. "I don't wanna hear it."
"I'm sorry, okay? But it has to be done."
Zack heaved a sigh and hung his head, some part of him conceding defeat. "Why bother talking at all? Why bother anything?"
"If it makes you feel any better, I don't like this."
"Well, it doesn't!" At that, he twisted sharply on the mattress, feeling naked and vulnerable and a bunch of other shit he hadn’t known he could still feel. More of that resentment bubbled. He hated that she made him feel like this—out of control and emotional and powerless. It wasn’t fair. "This is insane, Cordy."
"Yeah. Getting that."
"And you don't care. You really don't care."
"Care? Care that I might get killed to the ninth degree or worse? Of course I care." She took a few steps forward, not covering the space between them but not backing down either. Her gaze remained locked on his. "But I'm not going to let Angelus win because I'm afraid."
"This isn't the only option."
"I know it's not. Or maybe it is. Maybe we waited too long and all the other options are gone. Point being, it's the only one we've got right now. We don't have time to sit around and wait for something else to spring to mind." Then she was moving again, and the next thing he knew, the mattress dipped with her weight, and she’d taken his hand. "I've been too selfish all my life to let that stop me now."
Wright trembled, pretty damn sure he was going to lose control entirely. He didn’t want to know what that looked like. "It's dumb," he whispered. "It's too dumb."
"It'll be all right. Spike'll be there."
An inarticulate snort. "Yeah, that’s not exactly comforting. Spike's not the best example for...anything."
"He wouldn't let me get hurt."
"For the love of god, don't tell me what he is. I know what he is. Hell, one of what he is—up until recently—signed my paycheck. It doesn't matter." Her grip on him tightened. "And you know it. Spike doesn't like to admit that he's got a conscience, but he does. He's...for whatever reason, he's become a friend. To all of us. Even you."
Wright looked up sharply at that, a thousand used and abused objections waiting on his tongue, but none of them tasted like they had a few days ago. Fuck, now that he thought about it, he was tired. Tired of pretending, ignoring. Tired of being a fucking demon hunter. He’d wasted too many years in the cold winter of his own discontent. Thawing back to life was a tiresome, nearly painful process.
"I know," he said softly.
And the weight of the world fell down upon him. A collapse—a confession. He hadn't asked for this—hadn't wanted to trust Spike. Hadn't wanted to lose himself all over again. Hadn't asked his unlikely friend and the woman currently cradling his arm to tap back into his compassion. He hadn't wanted it, goddammit. And yet here he was.
"I don't want you to get hurt," he whispered softly.
Cordelia smiled and pat his hand. "I won't."
"You can't know that."
"Well, I'm pretty stubborn, you see. When I put my mind to something, I don't rest until I see it through."
"This has to be the dumbest plan ever."
She quirked an eyebrow. "Oh, I don't know. I never got through telling you all my adventures a la Sunnydale."
Wright nodded and closed his hand around hers, braving her eyes at last. "Tell me when it's over," he said.
A smile at that and a nod for agreement. "Sounds like a plan."
Yeah. A plan. Seemed to be a lot of those going around.
He would allow it, of course. He had to. He had no place intervening, and no authority over her. She was determined, and Cordelia determined was its own force of nature.
He would just have to hope she knew what she was doing.
Spike knew it was stupid so soon, but the minute he set foot inside Wolfram and Hart, there was no other truth. He had to see her again.
At times like these, he wondered if he did himself more harm than good simply by being in existence. His judgment was not exactly reputable and he had a tendency to get himself in trouble simply by opening his mouth. And yet, despite his awareness of such things, he could not help himself. It was beyond reproach. Like the bloody moth to the bloody flame, he was drawn to her. He needed to see her, to be near her. To see she was still alive.
Such was his determination that he didn't think to check on the others. Make sure Dru was entertained, that Darla and Angelus were torturing someone else or fucking each other’s brains out. In these last days, his patience had all but plummeted. And while logic attempted to throw itself at any open window, he didn’t stand still long enough to give it a fair shake.
He had to bloody see her.
Though he wasn’t a complete idiot about it. As he drew nearer to her torture chamber, his senses went on high alert. Angelus's scent wafted in the dreary downstairs, but it was an old smell. Old enough to tell Spike that his wanker of a grandsire wasn’t in there at the moment. That was all he needed to push him onward.
He’d just pop in. Check to make sure she was all right. Couldn’t hurt, after all. Just one peek.
Except it couldn’t be just one peek.
Spike would have thought the shock of seeing Buffy in her current state would have dulled a bit, not cut through him quite as deeply. He’d had time to get used to it, seeing as he saw her every time he closed his eyes. She haunted every corner of his psyche.
But no. He was wrong. Seeing her sliced through his every nerve. As though he was bleeding eternally for every one of the lives he had ever destroyed, and could never find solace in death.
Spike felt his chest tighten as his demon roared to life. A rush of hatred so fucking pure it would have poisoned a normal bloke seized his veins, and at once, it was hard to stand still. To look at her and not immediately hunt down the bastard that had done this to her. To see her and know he couldn’t help. Not yet.
Yet her eyes lit up when she saw him. And for that, he would touch the sun.
He couldn't stop himself if he tried. In seconds, he had paraded to her taken her face between his hands. Sore eyes did not wish to inspect her for new scars. He didn’t want her to see his rage. That face wasn’t for her. "Told you I'd be back."
Spike smiled in spite of himself. "Yeah, love. I'm real."
Buffy pulled back at that, tears flooding her eyes that he could not bear. God, how was it that he always ended up the source of such pain when all he wanted to do was wish it away?
But he saw, after a moment, that there was no hurt behind her gaze. Rather, there was awe.
"I thought I had dreamed you," she whispered. "I thought..."
"I know, baby."
"But you're here. Not a dream."
"Not a dream."
"Real." The word escaped her a tortured gasp. "You're really real."
"Here for me."
"Only for you." He pulled back, dropping his hands to his sides again. "And the cavalry's on its way, Buffy. Soon. All right?"
She nodded, though it was clear she didn't understand. "You're very strange," she informed him.
A strangled chuckle fought through his throat. "You don't know the half of it."
"Here for me." She tilted her head. "Spike, why? Please tell me."
And there it was. The open window. She had given it to him before, but he had not leaped through. Something about the timing. Something about everything there was to have reservations about. But she had not flinched away from him then, and she was not now. The tears she sported now, while shards against his nonbeating heart, were not the product of pain.
She could never feel the way he did—he stood by that. But she deserved to know. She deserved to know something.
Even if the timing could never be appropriate. If not now, then not when she was recuperating. If not then, then not on the drive home. If not home, then never. He would take his love to the end of the world before he scared her off with it.
But it had to be said. At least once, if never again.
"Buffy," he began, heart in his throat. "I—"
An intrusive scent hit the air and squeezed his throat shut. Something that stirred his monster to life with more enthusiasm than he had known in his long years, such that he feared it would burst free and cast his skin aside.
"Well, well," Angelus said from his place at the doorway. "Isn't this interesting?"