Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
SECTION 4 - ELSEWHERE
I love the time and in between
The calm inside me
In the space where I can breathe
I believe there is a distance I have wandered
To touch upon the years of
Reaching out and reaching in
Holding out and holding in
This is heaven to no one else but me
And I'll defend it
As long as I can be
Left here to linger in silence
If I choose to
Would you try to understand?
(Sarah McLachlan, Album - Fumbling Towards Ecstasy)
Thanks also to Emma for suggesting this way back
when I started FTE, even if it did take me three
months to follow through.
Hope she's still reading.
Sunday, May 19th, 2002
Buffy replaced the phone in its cradle and turned to Tara and Bee. "Sounds like Clem is getting stuck with the clean up from last night. Lily is going to take me. I have to meet her at her place."
"I'll drop you off," Bee volunteered before Buffy had a chance to consider how to get there.
Buffy continued with barely a glance to acknowledge Bee's offer of help. "After that I'm not sure how far it is. How long have we got to find him before he's due at this Maple place?"
Tara lifted her bare wrist and looked uncomfortable. "I don't know exactly. We wasted a chunk of time when we thought he was sealed in, and I think Dawn was with him for a while after the call before... well. Then, with all the phone calls... Not long."
"We better-." Buffy looked up as Wes pushed through the front door.
"He's gone. Paid his bill this morning and left. Either he spotted Willow following him last night or he just wasn't taking any chances on being tracked down once he showed his hand. We managed to bribe the manager into letting us check through his room before the cleaning crew went in, but other than a taste for expensive aftershave there's not much we could tell you. They couldn't even come up with a better description of his car than silver."
"Em... there were some books lying on the path as we were coming in...."
Bee looked over at Buffy. "Time we were both at my place, anyway. I'll pick the books up later and skip the lecture."
She strode toward the front door and Buffy was swift to follow, but just as they reached it Giles appeared in the doorway, Bee's books cradled protectively in his hands and Bee had to brush past him to get out of the house, her breasts rubbing against his arm as she turned sideways. Giles, however, was not to be stopped.
"Buffy, why on earth were these books lying in the middle of your yard? Some of the pages have been creased and there are even grass stains on two of them."
Before Buffy could say anything Bee yanked her after her, calling back towards the house as she stomped to her car and started it up. "Ever so sorry that someone screaming seemed more important than a pile of leather and paper. Tell you what, since you prefer them to actual beings with feelings and emotions why don't you go ahead and help Tara with her research while we find Spike? And if the nice Rupert gets back before I do, assure him that I will leave him in your dubious care no longer than is necessary. Better still, leave him with Tara and, you, stay as far away from him as possible."
The classic car roared into life, and Bee pulled out with more speed than finesse, her driving reminiscent of Grace Kelly's in the film 'To Catch a Thief', which had been responsible for a great deal of that particular model's cult appeal.
Giles looked on, stunned into silence once more until Tara tugged on his sleeve. "Come on, Giles. There's not much else we can do at the moment. We might as well do as she says."
Giles sighed. "An excellent idea in theory, but in practice, I must admit that I don't even recognise the languages that most of these books are written in and those I do recognise I'm not exactly fluent in."
"Oh!" One word conveyed the Wiccan's disappointment. "Maybe you can look over the notes I made from the council database, then and see-."
The phone rang, yet again, and Wes who was nearest to it was the one to answer. "Summers residence. Wes speaking. How may I help?"
"Wesley Wyndam Pryce? No, I don't think you can help me. You've betrayed the Council's mission just as much as the necrophiliac slut you choose to associate with."
"I may no longer be either naive enough or paid enough to follow blindly Quentin Travers' political agenda, but I assure you that neither Buffy nor I are the ones who have lost our moral direction."
"Lies." Robin listened to the First as it stood at his shoulder, wearing his mother's face. "He associates with demons. He calls them friend and does their bidding. He's abandoned the mission I died trying to protect."
"You're lying. My mother lived and died according to her mission in life. You betray everything that she and the Council stand for. First you beg the Council to spare Angelus' life, then you become his lackey and when he had enough of you, you come to whore yourself out to his grandchilde and that degenerate bitch of his. Watchers are supposed to aid slayers when they hunt vampires, not hump them. Or maybe she thinks if she rakes enough scratches in his back she'll claw out his heart or if she rides him fast enough and hard enough he'll burn up in her filthy cu-."
"Enough!" Wes spoke loudly but with a chilly authority. "I don't care who you are, or what happened in the past to turn you into the obviously bitter and depraved individual you would seem to be today. I don't even care that Spike is responsible for your mother's death. I won't listen to any more of your twisted ramblings. Buffy lives by her mission, just as your mother did. She isn't hung up on the letter of that old piece of propaganda that watchers have been ramming down the throats of their charges for centuries. She doesn't kill for the sake of killing... but where demons threaten the community, she is there and she does not stint in her duty. The fact that she has brought Spike onside is a far greater victory for the forces of light than if she had merely dusted him. It is you, in your hunger for a pointless revenge, who would rob us of a warrior both fearsome in his own right and invaluable as the slayer's ally. You distract her from her calling by threatening her mate. You allow evil breathing space. You would break both her heart and her will to continue the fight, even though she's the only slayer since to rival your mother's longevity and success. Or is that the real reason for your actions?"
"She doesn't even deserve the title slayer," Robin argued spurred on by the figure at his side. "...But my fight is not with her, unless she chooses to make it so and if she does, then she sentences herself. I will have revenge for my mother, one way or another, though since your slayer of slayers has now failed to make it to his rendezvous, I may have to settle for simply causing his painful and lingering death rather than seeing it. If he lasts that long, have him make another try tomorrow, same time, same place. In the meantime, why don't you check out w w w dot painful dash vampire dash death dot org? Since your undead friend or is that master? ...didn't make it in time to see his little playmate in person, you'll just have to make do."
Wood terminated the call from the cloned cell phone and switched it off. He flicked through the cameras he had positioned around the network of sewers and other tunnels that made up Sunnydale's underground. Most of them had the green tint of low-light footage, but one was in normal colour. It showed a female vampire lying on the bed in a basic but homey looking room. Half the room looked like your average studio apartment except for the absence of windows. The other half, which looked as if it could be separated off by a rich burgundy floor to ceiling curtain, held a variety of paraphernalia and magazines that made it obvious what trade the vampiress plied when she wasn't bleeding out from her ears, eyes and mouth and running a temperature so high that the chill air of the underground room seemed to steam around her. Her body was one massive reddish bruise and her face was contorted in a rictus of pain that made it hard to believe that she'd once been a beauty queen, despite the pictorial evidence on the walls. Robin gave a satisfied smile and then flicked through the other feeds until he came to the one that showed his adversary slumped on the tunnel floor.
"You can't really wait until tomorrow," his mother told him. "It needs to be done today."
"I know that. The construction crew would make life slightly inconvenient but I don't see any harm in letting his whore and the turncoats stew for a while."
"That's my boy. Now, switch back to the other channel. We don't want to miss the best bit. You know once the bleeding starts there isn't long to go."
"May I?" Wes gestured to where Tara sat in front of Spike's computer.
"Sure." She stepped aside to make room for the former watcher. "What did he say?"
"Nothing worthy of being repeated, other than the fact that he claims that Spike failed to make the appointed rendezvous. He also seems to think that that will force us into waiting for another game of cat and mouse tomorrow but I'm afraid I don't believe he has any intention whatsoever of telling Spike what the cure is. He also provided a... somewhat... macabre... web... address." As he finished speaking Wes hit the return key, bringing up the site's main page. He clicked the mouse over the link saying enter and found himself looking at the same video feed that Robin Wood and the First Evil were currently watching.
"What is this?" Tara looked over his shoulder.
"If the clock on the wall is anything to go by, I would say that it's a live video feed. I think it's where Spike was supposed to go, a demonstration of what he's likely to face if he doesn't play along."
"But how? I mean did he ambush some vampire and force feed her the poison instead of just staking her just so he could make his little film or are there vampires dying all round town because they chose to buy animal blood rather than attack humans?"
"I don't know if we'll ever know, but I think perhaps we should let Buffy know the current state of play."
"I can call her on my cell," Tara offered.
"Wouldn't it be cheaper to use the land-line?" Wes asked.
"Free minutes," the witch pointed out, turning to the elder watcher. "...But Giles is going to need the land-line in any case to call... Everard Howarth." She read the name from the sheet of paper she took from her pocket. "He says you were right . That the Council is looking into appropriate action and that he was anxious for you to get in touch so that he could find out how you knew. He also said that you would know where to get in touch with him and that Wes's father apparently hasn't broadcast the fact that he's in Sunnydale."
Wes's attention seemed to focus on an imaginary speck of dirt on his jeans as he made his shame-faced reply. "That would be at least partly because he was unaware that I had relocated from LA."
"Oops. Sorry, Wes. But what does all this mean, Giles?"
"The Council has confirmed what Buffy and Spike saw in their vision the other night. The First Evil has begun what would appear to be a war on the slayer line."
"So if that's the plan, why's it taking time out to play with Spike's head?" Tara asked. "You would think it would be kinda busy."
Giles removed his glasses and rubbed at them with the bottom of his shirt. "That is another piece of the puzzle that I suggest we work on after we discover a cure."
"Back there, you said after we find Spike."
"Well, it's not like I'm in a great rush to share table space with that watcher friend of yours and I'm not totally incapable when it comes to looking after myself. I'm stronger than I look and if, as I suspect Rupie has followed him, then..." she leaned over and pulled open the glove compartment, pulling out what looked like a PDA. "...This might prove useful."
"I don't think we're going to find Robin Wood in your contacts list." Buffy tried again. "Look, I'm the last person to judge anyone for being short and female, but I'm already taking Lily, who isn't really a combatant, and those shoes aren't really what you need for a good old fashioned sewer hunt. Trust me. I know this.
I also know that by all accounts there's stuff that you could read as easily as your morning newspaper that grown watchers would struggle with. I can find Spike without your help, but the answer as to what to do with him after that could be in your books and no one is more familiar with them than you. Of course, if your palmtop has a map of the sewers..."
"No such luck. Rupie isn't normally that keen on getting dirty. Just standard GPS, same as you can get in a newer car except it shows you how to get to Rupert instead of some destination you type in."
"Huh? I never heard of anything like that."
"Well, dad helped out with miniaturising the bits that go on his collar. Not all that diamante is actually diamante."
"So, it would show us what's above us and where the cat is. Or where his collar is. No offence, but I've never known a cat to be much for following a relative stranger." Buffy took the device from Bee and replaced it in the glove box.
"Rupert isn't a typical cat."
"Which makes it all the more likely that he'll find his way home on his own."
"At least take the tracker with you. It's not like it can do any harm."
Buffy screwed up her face and left the unit where it was. "It's too Initiative-y. Look, if you don't hear from us in the next hour you can give it to Wes and he can come look for everyone, but for now, please, just see what you can find in your books."
Bee gave a grim-faced nod, obviously not relishing the prospect. Nevertheless, it wasn't as if Lily wouldn't be able to pick up the vampire's scent as soon as they crossed paths or as if Buffy didn't have her own unique bond with him. When the car stopped in front of Lily's apartment, Buffy climbed out and then bent over to say thank you one more time. "I know you want to do the wade in and help thing, but brains are going to help more than brawn - and don't tell Giles I said that. I know sitting reading can be the boring end of the job and I tend to let others get on with it whenever I can get away with it, but you have skills in that department that I'm never going to have-."
"It's okay. I get it, Buffy. Lily's waiting for you. Go find him."
Bee knocked gently a couple of times before letting herself back into the house on Revello. When she saw Giles pacing the living room, phone in hand, she abruptly turned toward the dining room.
She could hear Tara discussing her research of this morning with Wesley. "These symptoms suggest that one, but there's no mention of the vomiting and the progression of the other symptoms seems to be slower than the database would suggest... but the database talks about the bruising spreading out from the poisoned wound, so I'm wondering if perhaps the vomiting and the slower progression are because it's been ingested rather than going straight into the blood stream or maybe... see, this one causes vomiting, but not the bruising or the fever so maybe it's a combination of both or maybe it's something that isn't even in the database."
The witch's voice seemed distant, however, the words not making any sort of unified sense as Bee's attention was riveted to the computer screen. "Stella?" She turned to Wesley. "What is that? Why are you watching it?"
"You know her?" Wes asked.
"Yes, now I asked you what the hell this is." Bee's eyes betrayed her fear, darting back and forth between Wes and the computer screen and when Giles moved towards her she began to sidle away from the door, getting a solid wall at her back so that she wouldn't find herself trapped between the two watchers.
"Bee, I know this looks suspicious, but it's not our doing." Wes kept his voice as level and calm as possible. "Do you really think we could have fooled Lily last night if we were planning something like this?"
"There are drugs. I'm not stupid or I suppose I am for thinking that watchers could ever change."
"Bee, if you know her, maybe you know where she is. Maybe if we get to her we can help her. You have to believe that we didn't do this. Bee?"
Bee stared at the screen in horror as first one then two small licks of flame appeared on Stella's body and in seconds the bed was an inferno, clouds of dark smoke obscuring the camera's view. A few seconds later the feed changed. The room was as it had always been. The clock on the wall had jumped back ten minutes and Stella was lying there once more, her bedroom intact.
The small woman was startled by Giles voice next to her. She grabbed the nearest thing to hand, a small framed print from the wall at her back, and smashed him over the head with it before darting toward the front door.
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