Uncertain Ground - Chapter 8
Giles stared at the medallion in his hand. It glowed and pulsed with a frenetic energy indicating that they were very close to their targets. He figured that the lava tube they were in must lead to a lager chamber a few hundred or so meters ahead of them and turning back towards his companion, he raised his finger to his lips and showed her the coin. She nodded and they placed their packs on the ground, huddling together so they could keep their voices to a low murmur.
“They can’t be more than a few minutes’ walk ahead. We should turn back and set up camp,” he suggested.
“I want to do a little recon, see if we’ve really found them. I can hear something from here, but I need to see for myself.”
“Fair enough. But, Buffy,” he said, his voice taking on a very serious tone. “Neither of us is in any shape to do any rescuing. Just go in, gather information, and come out. We can form a plan once we know more.”
She nodded her head in agreement. “Got it, Giles.”
He placed the medallion in her hand and held it. “I’ll wait for you here,” he told her.
Giving her Watcher a reassuring smile, she squeezed his hand and took off down the corridor, Ethan’s coin glowing and humming in her hand.
Her progress was slow. Buffy had turned off the head lamp on her helmet so as not to give herself away, and it took several minutes for her eyes to adjust to the dark. When she finally came to the opening of a great cave, she shuddered. Lit with torches, the huge chamber before her resembled the one in her dream exactly. It took her a moment to tamp down the fear the memories triggered from her dream, but once she recovered her bearings, she noticed that from somewhere across the room, a generator thrummed, echoing noisily off the walls.
Keeping to the shadows, Buffy scouted around, looking for Dawn. Off in the distance she saw two male shadows engaged in conversation, but her attempt at listening in was drowned out by the drone of the generator and she knew she’d have to get closer to hear anything. As she neared Riley and Ethan, she saw her sister lying asleep on a cot, one hand cuffed to it. From that distance Dawn looked no worse for wear and it appeared that she was being treated well. Continuing to approach closer, Buffy started to catch parts of the conversation between the two men.
“You’re stalling, Rayne! I thought you wanted your freedom,” Riley ground out, his anger clearly directed at Ethan.
“Unless you want an unruly, murderous demon hoard on your hands, you will need to wait until the sun is lower in the sky,” Ethan counseled, clearly trying to keep his cool. “We’ve talked about this before.”
“They will yield to me. The power is most effective at the time of the solstice. I will have this!”
“Listen, mate,” the sorcerer started in a more congenial tone. “I am the magick user here, and if I tell you that the spell will be effective no matter what time of day it is cast, then it is best if we wait until the sun has reached its lowest point in the sky. They won’t survive in the direct sunlight and you won’t be able to control them down here.”
“Don’t question my orders!” Riley barked, shaking violently with rage. Schooling his emotions, he spoke again, his tone low and dangerous, “The ritual will begin at my command: the exact moment the solstice begins. Now prepare yourself. You’ve got six hours.”
Buffy flattened herself against the wall as Riley left Ethan and Dawn. She briefly contemplated a rescue despite Giles’ request not to, but decided against it. As miserable and as harried as Ethan looked, she still felt she couldn’t trust him. The cagey sorcerer was hard to read and the counsel he had given was wise, and if his plan all along was a double cross, she knew she would be powerless to fight against his magick while Riley distracted her with a physical fight.
Years ago, knowing she had taken out both Riley and Ethan before, she would’ve just damned the torpedoes and gone in, but Riley wasn’t the calm, cool, collected, and predictable soldier he once was and she was riding a wave of exhaustion as her body used its energy for healing. Giles was right, she was in no condition to mount a rescue mission. Common sense trumped all, Riley still held the advantage. Buffy banged her good fist against the wall as she fought back the disappointment and frustration at having to leave Dawn behind. Blowing the hair from her eyes in disgust, she retreated and made a silent promise to her little sister that she would get her out of there soon.
Leaning against the wall, Giles looked up once he heard footsteps drawing near. When she came into view, Buffy gave him a smile and sidled up next to him.
“Successful mission,” she greeted warmly. “I’ll tell ya about it over tea and dinner.”
He smiled at her and pushed himself off the wall. “I found a hidden alcove some distance back and stored our gear there, and there is water already warming on the stove.”
“You are a god!” Buffy declared, taking his arm as they turned to head towards their camp.
When they arrived at the alcove, she looked around approvingly. It provided them with some camouflage and it was large enough that they had some room to move around in.
As they ate from their meal packets, Buffy briefed him on her scouting expedition.
“A running generator plays to our advantage,” Giles stated, finishing up the last of his meal. Placing the pouch down beside him, he scratched at his beard in contemplation. “But I don’t understand why Riley would risk starting the ritual so early, he is a better strategist than that. It doesn’t make sense.”
“He’s thinking like Walsh programmed him to. Rituals hold power, the symbolism of the solstice. Just like you said,” she answered.
His eyebrows knitted together in thought. “But she stressed technology, not the mystical. It’s why she always underestimated you. A-and Riley is a modern soldier, who, until six months ago, relied on technology to hunt down and kill demons.”
“Yeah, but he thinks he’s becoming a demon. That’s a little different.”
Giles pulled off his glasses and his eyes widened with recognition. “Adam was created to be very methodical and precise, devoid of empathy and sympathy. Riley, on the other hand, is succumbing to his emotions and the id whilst being bombarded with the hallucinations of transforming into a demon. His current need is to be accepted and he must do the ritual properly in order for that to happen.”
“Don’t go all Walsh on me,” Buffy teased.
Giles sent her a nasty glare. “Heaven forbid!”
She gently placed her hand over his. “I was wrong, you know, back then. You’ve always been the smartest person I know.”
“It’s easy to become star struck,” he dismissed as he stood to clear away the mess from their dinner. “And you were young and stupid,” he teased.
“Giles!” she protested in mock indignation, but he refused to fall for it and laughed as he cleaned up. Removing the splint, she bent her wrist a few times to test it and winced. “Not quite yet.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said as he packed up the stove. “It was rather swollen and bruised when I wrapped it.”
“How’s your shoulder?”
“Not as bad as it was.”
“Which is Watcher speak for ‘it still hurts like a son of a bitch’?”
“I’m fine, Buffy, honestly. It’s sore, but I’m not incapacitated.”
She stood up and walked over to him, taking his left hand in hers. “I know you’re not, but it’s okay to admit you’re hurting, you know. It’s not fair Watchers don’t get healing powers.”
Giles looked down at their hands and squeezed hers. “It’s not bad, but I certainly don’t want to be carrying any weight on it,” he acquiesced, changing the subject before he gave into the urge to kiss her again. “Now, we need to rest for a few hours. I want to be at the entrance to the cave well before the ritual starts so we can strategize.”
Buffy nodded and reluctantly let go of his hand. As they set up their sleeping arrangements, neither Buffy nor Giles would look at the other, both keenly aware of the kiss they had shared earlier that day and the proximity of their sleeping bags.
As he prepared himself for sleep, Giles thought back to earlier that morning. It seemed so long ago now, but he couldn’t help the memories of Buffy cuddling up beside him and the ease at which they’d found themselves despite their years of estrangement. Of course, they’d immediately fought again, but after the scare of her falling down the crevasse, he was determined to put the hostilities behind them.
Buffy rifled through her pack and pulled out a brush. “I’ll be glad when we get back to civilization. Right now I’d kill for a hot shower and a soft bed,” she said wistfully as she brushed her hair. “I totally remember now why I quit the Brownies.”
Scratching at his beard, Giles agreed, “A hot bath is definitely in order and then I think I will sleep for a week in total darkness. I can’t wait to shave this thing off as well.”
Putting the brush back into her bag, Buffy walked over to him and ran her fingers along his jawline. “I don’t know,” she began in an amused tone. “I kinda like it.”
“It’s at the itchy stage and I don’t have the patience to grow a proper beard,” he dismissed lightly as he circled his arms around her waist and drew her to him. “You know, I think you are flirting with me.”
“You think?” Her eyes twinkled with merriment in the low light and she brought her arms up around his neck.
“I do,” he answered, his voice growing husky. “If there is any truth to it, I would very much like to kiss you again.”
“Oh it’s true,” Buffy confided, her tongue peaking out to wet her lips in anticipation.
Giles leaned down and lightly brushed his lips against hers, starting with small sensuous tastes and touches that quickly built in intensity and pressure until, at last, he coerced her mouth open and introduced his tongue to hers.
She let out a soft moan, combing her hand through his hair, their tongues exploring and mating as the heat between them rose. He brought his hands up to her face, cupping her cheeks and taking full possession of the kiss, making love to her with his mouth.
Before things could spiral out of control, Giles ended the kiss and drew in a lung full of air before returning to the light teasing kisses he’d started with. When they finally broke apart, both were left breathless.
Buffy looked up at her Watcher in wonder, the emotions he’d conjured within her rendering her speechless. When she finally could form a coherent thought, she searched his eyes and asked, “I need to know-“
“I’m not going anywhere, Buffy, not without you,” he vowed in a whisper. “Never again.”
She hugged him to her tightly. Somehow, when they were connected, he always knew what she needed. Pulling himself out of her embrace, Giles tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers.
“If, right now, all this is, is comfort,” he began as she started to protest. He shook his head and gently placed a finger over her lips, a sad smile gracing his, and started again, “Should all this be is comfort, Buffy, I give you my word to sort things between us. Neither of us can go on the way things have been. I can’t fight with you any longer.”
Tears stung her eyes. “Giles, it’s-“
“Shh. After we rescue Dawn,” he reminded her gently. “Now, we need to get some rest.”
Buffy nodded and they both settled into their sleeping bags. When they were situated, Giles turned off the torch on his helmet.
After a few minutes, Buffy groaned and rolled towards him. “I don’t think I am going to be able to sleep,” she said with an audible sigh.
“Come here,” Giles said, rolling onto his side to face her, and she snuggled up against him much as she had earlier that morning. Resting his right arm over her waist, he requested, “Tell me the details of your dream again. Maybe we can find something that will help us stop Riley.”
Buffy blinked her eyes open and immediately went into panic mode, sitting up quickly and shaking her Watcher awake. “Oh my god, Giles, wake up! What time is it?”
Giles groaned as he sat up, his muscles aching after so many nights sleeping on the ground, and though his injured shoulder was better, it still hurt and would until he could rest it to let it heal properly.
“Shit!” he hissed, looking at his watch after turning the torch back on. He quickly unzipped his sleeping bag and started to change. “We have an hour before the ritual starts,” he told her, angry at himself for forgetting to set the alarm on his watch. “I am sorry, Buffy, this is my fault. We’ll leave our things here and come back for it later.”
“We’ve still got time, Giles,” she reassured him, breathing a sigh of relief. She’d slept in the same clothes she was going to battle in. “We’ll leave as soon as you’re ready.”
She grabbed the supplies they needed and watched Giles as he laced up his boots, grumbling to himself. When he was done, she handed him a protein bar and they headed towards Riley’s lair in silence.
On to Chapter 9