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
Giles dusted the pieces of broken glass from his hair as Wes dashed after Bee, hoping to stop her before she left the house. Tara's eyes glazed over in concentration and she raised a hand, gesturing at the air in front of her. Heavy bolts fell into place with a series of loud clicks just as Bee's hand came to rest on the door handle. Wes placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, trying once more to reassure her, even as she looked around for another means of escape, but Wes was now between her and the door into the living room.
"We aren't the ones who set that up. The man who poisoned Spike called again. He told us to look up the web address. It was his way of letting us know what will happen to Spike if we can't find a cure. If you want to, you can leave now but, given the fact neither I nor Giles are likely to find what we need in those books of yours half as quickly as you would, I think Spike would have a far better chance if you stay... please."
Bee's eyes became slightly less wild as she considered his words, but her indecision was still obvious. "If I can go, why's the door locked?"
Tara reversed her earlier hand gesture and walked into the hall. "It's open now. I just didn't want you to rush off in some sort of panic. We wouldn't hold you against your wishes. How about we go through to the kitchen and I make us some camomile tea and you can tell me about Stella while Wes takes Giles upstairs and cleans up those cuts?"
Bee's eyes were drawn to where Giles leaned against the doorpost, dabbing at a cut near his hairline with what had recently been a pristine, white, cotton handkerchief. Like all head injuries, the amount of blood seeping from it seemed disproportionate to the size of the wound.
"Oh god! I'm so sorry. It... I saw Stella and the rest was pure 'fight or flight'."
"Or in this case both." Giles gave a dry smile. "Find Spike's cure and we'll call it even. It wouldn't be California if someone didn't hit me over the head. At least, this time I'm still conscious."
"Come on," Tara almost whispered, taking Bee by the arm and leading her toward the kitchen, trusting Wes to see to getting Giles patched up.
"Did you know Stella well?" she probed gently, ushering Bee to a seat at the counter while she put the kettle on.
"Barely at all, if I'm honest. We have maybe a couple of friends in common. Lily takes-... took Rosa there for her haircuts. It doesn't make it any easier to watch a person go up in smoke. It's really strange what you remember, I mean she looked so feminine but she was way into football. Steelers fan. I can remember being at the same Superbowl party the year they won. It must be nearly ten years ago now..." Bee's words petered out. She was obviously having problems reconciling the past with the footage she had just seen.
"We... well, we wondered if maybe she had been poisoned the same way as Spike, or if maybe this guy Wood had chosen her specifically, as an example for some reason... like say if Spike knew her."
"Probably," Bee speculated, "so far as I know there isn't anyone else in town cutting hair for the reflection-free, but they weren't close, I don't think. Clem or Lily might know better. As to the other, she probably got caught the same way Spike did. I'm not saying she didn't hunt, but she's been around too long to have been making a habit of it with a slayer in town."
"Spike got a haircut yesterday after we went to sort out the wedding outfits. He told Buffy she couldn't go with him because he wasn't having her stake the only hairdresser in town that wouldn't freak because he didn't have a reflection."
"I guess that tells us why she's the one on film, then," Bee answered with a sigh. "If he's keeping tabs on Spike... and I guess her having the video set up there for the vamps would make life easier for him. Chances are he got her the same way he got Spike, but if he hadn't, your guy would probably have helped her along anyway."
"Do you know where the film was made?" Tara asked.
"Judging by the hairdressing stuff, it'd be her place. There's a dam outside of town. There used to be a hydro plant there, but after the 'quake in '78 they decided that it wasn't safe. They had to drop the water level and they filled the top two levels of the dam with rebar and concrete to reinforce it. The power plant is gone, but the dam still acts as a reservoir. From above ground it's sealed up tight, but from what I hear there are tunnels that lead straight from there to the middle of town. Stella's supposed to use some of the rooms on the lower levels."
The kettle boiled and Tara turned her attention to sorting out a range of mugs, teabags, milk and sugar. "You feel up to doing some research while you drink this or do you want to stay here and have some time to pull yourself together a bit?"
"I think, if it means I don't have to see anyone else that I know go up in flames, I can hack the research." Bee pushed her way to her feet and picked up two of the four mugs before heading for the dining room.
"Be careful, will you?" Giles protested as Wes used a pair of tweezers to pull a sliver of glass from his scalp.
"That's the last. They're all pretty superficial from what I can tell. That one at the front could do with taping up. The rest will probably be okay to heal up on their own once we put a bit of iodine on."
"Well, get on with it then, man. That damned woman. I should have known she was nothing but trouble the minute I saw her."
"Really?" Wes drawled raising an eyebrow. "I must say, I found her quite charming. Perhaps you have some irrational dislike for pretty, well-educated, intelligent women."
"When they cast me in the starring role of their persecution complex, I consider it to be a very rational dislike."
"And yet, when you were talking to her last night I would have bet my shirt that you were attracted to her..."
"That does nothing to change the fact that the woman is pathologically insane, violent and far too young for me, not to mention the fact that I have a very intelligent, attractive and discerning young lady who means a great deal to me, waiting back in England."
"This is just a flying visit, then?"
"That depends on the opposition, I suppose, but once The First is dealt with, there should be no more reason for me to stay. Buffy no longer needs a father figure."
"That doesn't mean that there isn't a place for you here if you chose to stay."
"There's a place for me in England, too."
"Do another sweep, baby. We gotta stay on the ball." The First gave Robin the same dazzling smile he remembered so well from his brief childhood.
"Sure," he answered as he began flicking through from camera to camera, pausing when one of the feeds showed Lily leading Buffy through the maze of tunnels below Sunnydale's streets.
"They're too close. Way too close." Robin wasn't sure whether the words were his own thoughts or whether the approximation of his mother had placed them straight into his head. It didn't matter because she was right. Unless he did something soon, the bitch was going to spoil all his fun. So much for letting the demon come to on his own. He was going to have to go fetch him. He checked the relative location of the two cameras, planning his route so that he would hopefully be able to get to the vampire and spirit him away just in the nick of time. He took out a package about the size of a pack of cigarettes from a drawer of the desk his computer sat on and pushed it into the back pocket of his jeans. If the slayer was searching for her fucktoy in the sewers, then it was time he got him back above ground. The race was on.
"Wait a minute, honey. There's one more thing you gotta do for mommy before you go..."
Giles took the phone from Tara's hand with an expression of distaste. "You took longer than I expected, Quentin. Did Everard have problems getting through? Or did you have to get the board in for a discussion before you had the nerve to phone?"
"Everard said that you refused to discuss how you knew about Istanbul with anyone other than myself."
"That is because I believe you and you alone are responsible for the fact that that particular source of information may soon no longer be available to us."
"And if I said I had no idea to what you are referring?"
"I would say you are a bloody liar." Giles veneer of chilly anger slipped. "You forget that I know how you work. I know that it takes your sort of political maneuvering to put a headmaster with no teaching qualifications whatsoever into a high school on the hellmouth."
"Ye-es, well, I don't recall you having any teaching qualifications when you were placed there either."
"I was, however, amply qualified for the position which I held. From here, the only qualification that Robin Wood appears to have is his willingness to act as your assassin."
"You used to believe in our mission, Rupert."
"I still do. I simply disagree with your implementation of it. What did you supply him with?"
"I may not have had this discussion with you directly, but I believe young Wesley passed on the Council's view when it comes to saving vampires."
"I suggest you reconsider that policy if you want access to our information source. Otherwise, William's contacts may not be so helpful in future."
"I'm sure Ms Summers would be able to persuade any contacts the vampire might have to cooperate , Rupert."
"And I'm sure that now you've as good as implicated yourself in Spike's attempted murder that Ms Summers will have no incentive to do any such thing," Giles informed his former boss.
"However far Ms Summers may have slipped from the ideal, I doubt that she will allow the slaughter of innocents simply to satisfy a vindictive streak."
"Spike may not be innocent but having him on our side certainly means that more innocents get a chance to live. If you're prepared to ignore that, why should Buffy be any different? I believe it's time you had a rethink regarding your policy on saving vampires and if you don't wish the hellmouth to get out of control I suggest you arrange it so that Buffy doesn't feel compelled to relocate her family out of the area in order that her sister can attend a less hostile school. Until you do, I think that there is little point continuing this discussion further. Good day, Quentin."
Rupert replaced the handset in its cradle. "Let's just wait and see how much Quentin is prepared to gamble."
Bee looked up from the book she was currently comparing with Tara's notes, giving Giles an apologetic smile. "I guess I need to apologise for calling you a council lackey now, as well.
If it helps, this text describes a poison known in Recendist, at least, as 'The Harbinger of Second Death'. It seems to be identical in every respect to what is described in Tara's notes as 'The Killer of the Dead', except my text makes clear reference to how to prepare it and the effects both when it's ingested and when it contaminates the bloodstream directly. Tara says you've had experience with it before, so if it had been missing entirely from the database you would presumably have noticed. My guess is that they just took out the references to what happened if you swallowed it and hoped you wouldn't catch on. All of which, I gather, leaves you with a bigger problem..."
"Marvellous!" Giles sank into one of the dining room chairs and dropped his glasses onto the table in front of him. "Absolutely, bloody marvellous! Well, we all know what Buffy is going to say to that." The Englishman's tone betrayed that he thought the news was anything but. "Would anybody care to tell me how this day could get any worse?"
"Em, guys, you know that painful vampire death site? They're not showing that loop of tape any more." Tara sounded nervous. "It's a bit grainy, and it's that green low-light type thing... but it looks like Spike... I think. It's kinda hard to tell."
Lily somehow managed to speed up even further, despite the fact that Buffy was already pleasantly surprised by the grandmother's bustling pace. "I think wind carry William's smell. We close."
"How can you smell him? We're in a sewer. Are you sure?"
"I sure and this no sewer, this storm drain. If sewer no could smell him." The old demon paused suddenly and Buffy almost ran into her. She peered at a far distant junction before pointing at what looked like a heap of rags or perhaps an abandoned carcass lying half in half out of a side tunnel. "I think maybe that is William."
Buffy pushed past her in an instant, her legs swiftly eating up the tunnel between her and the figure on the ground, though without the advantage of Lily's nightvision Buffy had to get far closer before she could make out any detail.
Lily called after the slayer as she ran. "Be careful. Could be trap."
Buffy ran heedlessly forward. The armies of hell could be waiting in that side tunnel and she wouldn't care.
"Spike!" Her voice echoed up and down the tunnels over and over and the scarecrow figure seemed to try to move, raising his face from the muddy water at the bottom of the tunnel.
"Buffy?" His voice sounded weak and only the tunnel's amplifying accoustics allowed her to hear at all. His next words chilled her to the bone. "Goodbye, love."
If it was possible, Buffy ran even faster as she saw his head slump forward once more but the tunnel seemed to stretch ahead of her for miles and Spike was still so far away. Even as the first flames appeared on his hand he reached out toward her, and Buffy told herself that he couldn't burn, not while he was lying in two inches of water. He couldn't burn.
And still he did.
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