Uncertain Ground - Chapter 7
Resolved, Giles stood up and wiped the tears from his face. There was no way he was going to leave his Slayer down at the bottom of the crevasse, dead or alive, and he threw off his backpack, pulling out all the climbing gear and the extra length of rope. His main concern was that he only had 120 meters of rope at his disposal, and he had no idea how far down it was to the bottom.
He knew some crevasses on the ice cap could go down a whole kilometer, but at the moment he pushed back that panicked thought and focused on setting the piton at the top of the ledge. The fastest way down was to abseil, though it was one of the riskier moves and he needed to think of a way to get himself down quickly while keeping in mind that they would need to climb back onto the ice after he found her.
Jerking the head torch out from the bottom of his pack and fixing it to his helmet, Giles strapped his backpack back on, knowing he didn’t have enough space in his pockets to carry all he might need to tend to his Slayer at the bottom of the crevasse. He tested his rope and harness and when he was satisfied, he climbed over the ledge and leaned back. Everything felt secure and he started his descent, using the rope to steady his pace while digging in with his crampons as he walked down the ice wall. The crack was fairly narrow and at an incline, and he hoped that Buffy had at least slid down most of the way instead of falling.
About fifteen meters down, he reached the rock face and pulled off his crampons, hanging them from a free loop on his harness before continuing his descent. Coming to the end of his first length of rope, he retrieved another piton, grabbed his axe from another loop and hammered the piton into a crack in the wall. Fixing the second length of rope, he tested the integrity of the hold and continued downwards.
Periodically Giles would call to Buffy, hoping for an answer, but he got none and his heart sank further and further into darkness as he continued downwards. The last words they had shared were in anger and, as trite as it sounded even to him, it made him realize that life was, indeed, too short to allow the anger of past hurts and slights to rule his life. He made a promise to himself and to her that if he found her alive, he would fix the rift between them. Whatever she wanted of him he would do, and he focused on those thoughts because thinking about losing her again was too much to bear.
Nearing the end of the second rope, Giles braced himself and looked down. The torch highlighted the floor, which was maybe another ten meters below his current position. Making a pass with the head torch he saw his Slayer crumpled in a heap on the ground, her backpack still on her back. He closed his eyes, banishing the memories of the last time he’d seen her lying on the ground after a fall, silently begging any deity who might be listening for mercy, to spare him from finding her dead again.
“Buffy!” he called out again, but she didn’t move.
As Giles grabbed hold of the wall to start his free climb down to the ground, the earth roared and rumbled and shook. Ice, snow and rock fell from above and he flattened himself as best he could against the rock face to avoid being hit. Hearing something rush by his ear, he opened his eyes to see one of the ropes fall past him and to the ground.
He held on as tightly as he could, not knowing which of the two ropes gave way. His fingers burned in pain as they strained to hang onto tiny holds jutting out from the rock face before, unable to hold on any longer with the violent tremors testing his physical limits, he fell to the bottom of the crevasse, shoulder first, with a dull thud. With the adrenaline raging through his veins, he rose to his feet, threw off his backpack, and ran over to Buffy, taking care not to touch her and shielding her body with his to protect her from the falling debris.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the shaking had stopped and he moved off his Slayer, checking her pulse, breathing easier when he found one. She had fallen on her side which made it easier for him to assess her injuries, and he gently pulled apart the straps from the frame of her pack to remove it from her back. He then carefully unzipped her coat and very lightly ran his hands over her ribs and along her spine checking for injury, and while he felt none, he dared not move her. She was scratched and bruised, and considering she was unconscious, she’d probably hit her head on the way down, making him thankful she had been wearing her helmet. Examining her hands more closely he found her right wrist swollen and discolored, and if he had to venture a guess, she’d probably fractured it.
Taking a moment, Giles looked around him. The fissure above was completely sealed by rock and ice, blocking out all external light, and he was glad his helmet torch was strong. He knew there could be aftershocks and that she was lying in a dangerous area, but if he moved her, he risked causing more damage to her or worse. He didn’t have much of a choice, and he didn’t like it, but he kept her where she was. He would just have to shield her again if he felt the earth begin to shake.
Rummaging through his pack for the first aid kit, Giles took great care to clean up her superficial wounds and splint her injured wrist. When he was done he tidied up their area and put the kit away before taking off his helmet and covering his Slayer with her sleeping bag. He then laid down next to her and, very gently, so as not to move her, he sidled up next to her to keep her warm as the cold rock floor leeched the heat from her body.
Having nothing else to do, his mind wandered and the gravity of their predicament kicked in. “Oh god, Buffy, I’m sorry! So, very, very sorry!” he whispered to her as tears welled up in his eyes. “Come on, Buffy, wake up, please,” he pleaded quietly as he ran the backs of his fingers along her cheek. Even after days in the field, her skin felt as soft and silky as it looked.
Lying back down and pillowing his head against his arm, Giles closed his eyes, contemplating his feelings surrounding his Slayer. What had seemed so impossibly complicated even just a couple hours ago seemed so simple now. He wanted the endless bickering to stop; a permanent ceasefire to the animosity, the circular arguments, the blame, and most of all the hurt. But most importantly, he wanted to share the quiet moments with her, to wake up together and enjoy the simplicity and intimacy shared in those honest and sleepy moments just before full consciousness kicks in. He’d always loved her, but in just the past couple days he’d fallen in love with her and he let out a soft whimper at his newfound awareness as he reached out and curled his fingers around her good hand, needing her touch.
Buffy woke up in near darkness, which wasn’t right because she couldn’t recall it ever being this dark in Iceland over the past few days. She blinked several times, trying to look around as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Her body ached and her wrist throbbed and, as she slowly remembered what had happened, a wave of panic rose within her. She was lying against someone and when she quickly attempted to escape his embrace, she felt nauseous and fell back against him, waiting for the immediate feeling to spill her insides to pass.
Giles immediately jolted awake and his eyes focused on his Slayer as she recovered in his arms. He made to move, but felt a thudding pain in his shoulder and winced. Apparently he’d injured himself in his fall, as well. He just hadn’t noticed it through his concern and his fear for Buffy’s wellbeing. Pushing through the pain, he took her hand in his and squeezed lightly.
Slowly turning in her Watcher’s arms, the Slayer pulled him into a tight embrace. “Hey,” she greeted.
He closed his eyes tightly to prevent the tears from forming and responded weakly, “Hello.”
“You okay?” she asked.
He took in a deep breath and laughed, “I should be asking you that.”
“I’m a bit sore and my wrist hurts, but you probably know that already since you splinted it up.”
“I’m fairly certain it’s broken,” he said, moving out of their embrace to look at her. The scratches had almost healed up and the bruising was gone. He touched her cheek with his fingers. “But everything else looks like it’s on the mend.”
“Thank you.” She gave him a grateful smile. “How long have we been down here?”
Looking at his watch Giles answered, “You’ve been down here about three hours. It took me a little longer to climb down.”
“I should be mad at you,” Buffy said gently.
“Why?” he asked, searching her eyes.
“You should have just continued on to find Dawn and contacted Graham to come look for me. Once you called, he’d have the coordinates.”
“I... I couldn’t leave you, Buffy. Not like this, not knowing whether-” he stopped himself and looked past her, saying meekly, “I don’t want to fight anymore.”
“Me neither,” she agreed, leaning in to hug him again and he reflexively tightened his arms around her. “Thank you for coming after me.”
“Always,” Giles replied.
“Any thoughts on how to get out of here?” Buffy asked, pulling out of their embrace and looking upwards towards the crack.
“The way in was blocked by rocks and ice that fell during the earthquake.”
“Earthquake? Geez, I miss all the fun stuff.”
“It wasn’t fun,” he corrected, as they both moved to stand up. “We can’t go up, but we can follow the fissure to the left. It takes us in the proper direction. Hopefully we’ll find a way out.”
“Have you tried calling Andrew? He’s got all the geological survey maps.”
“I can’t get a signal down here. The phone can’t locate the satellites.”
“Looks like we’re out of options,” she sighed in resignation. “If you promise to take it slow until I get my bearings, we can start again.”
“I think we can manage that,” he answered, knowing his body needed the rest too.
After turning on the head torch, Giles walked over to his backpack and tried to sling it up onto his back, but yelped in pain and dropped it on the ground, grabbing his injured shoulder.
Buffy ran over to him, her expression one of grave concern as she sat him down. “What’s wrong?”
“I fell off the wall during the earthquake, and it appears my shoulder took the brunt of the impact,” he grimaced. “I had no idea I was injured, though. It only started hurting when I woke up.”
She reached in and unzipped his coat. “Let’s take a look.” Carefully peeling it off, she frowned. “You would’ve had to put on fifteen layers today and all of them without buttons.”
“Just three, but the lack of buttons does make it problematic,” he agreed, gritting his teeth as he tried to work his good arm through the sleeve.
“Let me help,” Buffy said softly as she leaned in, fingering the hem of his sweater. Peering into his jade colored eyes, she saw a softness in them she’d not been privy to before and it took her by surprise.
Giles held her gaze as they worked out a system to remove his sweater and shirts with minimal discomfort, the air between them thick with a newness neither could describe. As she removed the last shirt, she trailed her gaze over his shoulders and chest, and she bit her lip to repress a pleased smile. He was all strength and lean muscle, though his tummy was a little soft from sitting behind a desk too long, and the soft smattering of hair that had always been hinted at when he wore v-neck collars amused her. She wanted to reach out and run her fingers through it.
A little nervous, Buffy focused on his injured right shoulder. “That’s... that’s quite the bruise you’ve got there,” she stuttered, lightly prodding her fingers along the deep blue bruise on his collarbone. “Uh, it’s a little swollen but nothing feels out of the ordinary. It could be soft tissue damage,” she added quickly.
Covering her hand with his, he reassured her, “A couple of pain killers and all will be well.” When she didn’t look at him, he moved his hand to gently raise her chin. Searching her eyes, he said huskily, “I promise.”
“But, you’re really hurt,” she countered.
Giles ran his right index finger down her splint to her fingers and caressed them, whispering, “So are you.”
“I’ll be fine,” she dismissed, her gaze dropping to his mouth. His touch ignited a fire within her and the instinct to kiss him overwhelmed her senses.
“As will I,” he murmured as he followed her gaze downward, caught in her spell. Her breathing had quickened and he waited to see what she would do next.
Buffy moved in slowly, unable to resist the urge any longer. Giles rose up and met her half way, their lips crashing together desperately, each pouring the words they’d longed to say into the kiss. Forgiveness begged and granted again and again as the heat between them rose. Absolution had never tasted so sweet.
Neither wanted to stop, but both knew when to end the intimacy, and instead of pulling away, Buffy rested her forehead against his. “Promise me when we’ve stopped Riley and have Dawn back that we’ll figure all this out. That you’ll still be here,” she asked, her voice shaky.
Giles cupped her cheek and searched her eyes. “Buffy, I-”
“Shhhh,” she whispered as she found his lips again. “When we have Dawn back.”
Taking a deep breath, he answered, “When we have Dawn back.”
They followed the fissure in the general direction towards the ice cave on the map until they came to an entrance to an old lava tube, where they made the decision to carry on into the mountain. Buffy had rigged Giles’ backpack with an elaborate rope system so that he didn’t have to carry it on his injured shoulder while still remaining balanced on his back. The painkillers had done him some good, but he kept his right arm as still as he could to keep from using his shoulder.
Their path wasn’t strenuous, but they set a fairly ambitious pace, the underlying concern being that they had no idea where they were or if they would reach Riley in time after veering so far off course. And though Buffy was worried about making it in time to save her sister, her mind kept drifting back to the kiss they’d shared earlier and she couldn’t keep from stealing backward glances at her Watcher as he followed her, smiling to herself as she caught his intense looks of concentration, confusion, or amusement. Occasionally their eyes would meet and she’d grin at him.
Admittedly, Giles didn’t quite know what to think after having kissed his Slayer. He just knew it had been the most intense and wonderful event in his life thus far, that he wanted to keep doing it, and it seemed that she wanted to as well. He’d promised her they’d talk after they stopped Riley - assuming they did. After they had found themselves down the crevasse with no hope of climbing back onto the ice cap, he wasn’t so confident they would succeed. Wouldn’t it be just his luck for him and Buffy to find each other after everything, only to have it ripped from them by losing Dawn in the process. He shook himself from his thoughts, looking up to catch her looking at him again. She blushed and he couldn’t help but smile as she turned from him in her embarrassment. Ducking his head, he shoved his left hand into his trouser pocket, his fingers knocking against something metal.
Stopping in his tracks, he removed the object to look at it, raising an eyebrow. Ethan’s necklace. He then peered over his glasses at Buffy as she continued onwards. Giles bet that Riley wouldn’t have Ethan cloaking them anymore, and even more, he bet that he could persuade Janus to lead him to the god’s lost son. Closing his fist around the coin and chain, he started after Buffy with a bounce in his step.
Giles stared at the chain and medallion hanging from his middle finger, contemplating the spell he would need to enlist Janus to lead them to Ethan.
“Everything’s put away,” Buffy commented after cleaning up from dinner, snapping Giles from his musings. He smiled as she approached and sat down next to him on the ground. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m going to charm the coin again. I think Riley feels rather safe at the moment and probably has Ethan recharging his strength for the ritual tomorrow night. You and I both know we’re running out of time and we haven’t come across the ice cave. Nor do we know whether we are even on the right path.”
She leaned her head against his good shoulder and he wrapped his arm around her. “You think it will work?”
“Yes, I think so. Ethan abandoned his talisman. Gods don’t like it when their children go astray. It upsets their balance. Janus will want him back.”
Nodding, Buffy changed the subject, “You never explained why Riley would do the ritual in the evening when the Solstice takes place in the morning.”
Giles couldn’t help himself from kissing the top of her head and she snuggled closer into him. “As you know, most demons don’t like direct sunlight, and though it’s the longest day of the year and Riley will be performing the ritual underground, they will want to emerge as quickly as they can to hunt and feed.”
“Makes sense,” she said with a shudder.
Tightening his grip around her in support, Giles reassured her, “We’ll find them, Buffy. I just need to retrieve a few things.”
After he finished the incantation the coin glowed and Giles felt a psychic tug in the direction they had been heading.
“We are definitely on the right path,” he told his Slayer, “and we’re not too far from Ethan.”
“How can you tell?”
“By the intensity at which the coin is glowing,” he commented. “The question is, do you want to stay here for the night or keep going?”
Renewed with hope, Buffy gave him a smile. She wanted to continue, but she knew that he must be tired from casting and hurting from the events of the day, which had included falling about thirty feet onto the rocky floor. “How are you feeling?” she asked sympathetically.
“I can go on for a bit, but it’s entirely up to you.”
“Do you know how close we are?”
“It’s hard to say, maybe a couple hours, maybe more.”
“Let’s keep going,” she suggested. “We’ll stop soon. It’s been a rough day for both of us, but I’d like to go a little further.”
With the plan decided, Buffy helped Giles with his backpack again and they followed the pull of the coin.
On to Chapter 8